Friday, September 12, 2014

God has no exceptions to the law; and no exceptions to grace


For if the ministry which condemns is glorious, how much more glorious will the ministry of righteousness be?  2 Corinthians 3:9

St. Paul asks us a simple question, but it’s not one we can answer so easily.  Sinful nature gets in the way.  We may not love the law but at least we understand it, we can deal with it even if we cannot fulfill it.  But grace confuses us, it crosses the wires of our minds, so the church is always engaged in teaching the gospel, not only to those who do not believe it, but especially to those who do.

St. Paul calls the law of Moses, which was the guidepost of every good Jew, “the ministry that condemns” and “the letter which kills,” but still he says that it is glorious.  How is that possible?  The law is glorious because its source is God who lives in unapproachable light.  We wish that it were not so, that it did not have such power to lodge its hooks deep into our souls.  Since the beginning men have tried to shield themselves from its impossible demands.  Self righteous persons, both religious and secular, think that they can keep it and thus it holds no fear for them.  What a surprise they will get on judgment day.  Others find solace in modern scholarship which teaches us that the law did not really come from God, but that Israel got it from Hammurabi the Babylonian lawgiver so there is no reason to fear.  People will believe anything, and the newest addition to the world’s song book is a piece we might call, “the hymn of relative truth.”  It may be true for you, the song goes, but that doesn’t make it true for me.  Again, how surprised people will be when Jesus returns and imposes His morality on everyone.

The law is glorious.  We know it because Moses shone with the reflected glory of God merely by coming into contact with it.  We read in Exodus that he had to put a veil over his face when he taught it, or the people could not bear to look at him.  How much more dear then, should we consider those who preach the gospel of peace?

The law is glorious because it imparts the highest quality of life and the greatest temporal blessings to all who practice it and love it.  Imagine a nation where people worship God instead of the government; where the first solution to any problem is prayer instead of worry; a society without envy, murder, lust or deception.  Yes, the Law is glorious, but still St. Paul calls it the ministry of death!  Why?  Paul says in
Romans 7:14 that, “the Law is spiritual but I am carnal, sold under sin.” The problem is not with the Law, but with human beings who are unable to keep it, who fall under its judgments, rather than enjoy its blessings.  We can romanticize about the good old days when business was done on a handshake.  We can display the Ten Commandments in our courthouses, but at the end of the day we love our bellies most of all, and every man does what is right in his own eyes.

Neither does the law aid us in the final judgment.  Its most ardent adherents will not withstand judgment by keeping it.  Instead they will be condemned to eternal fire because of their sin, and only faith in the name of Jesus, which we receive as our own at baptism, can save us from the coming judgment -- and save us it does!  Jesus lived a sinless existence for us and died the death that we deserve.  He rose again to give us life and to take away the curse that the law imposes.

Yet law is the only thing we understand, poor sinners that we are, and grace must always elude us, so the church preaches the Gospel not only once in order to convert us, but without ceasing to keep us in the one true faith, to strengthen us in temptation and to give us endurance in suffering.  Nothing else can do that, not church programs, not even elegant sanctuaries, but only the good news of Jesus Christ, taught in God’s word and distributed among us by His sacraments.  It is the power of God unto salvation.

The Gospel Paul preached to the Corinthians, and which the true church still preaches today, is superior to the law!  As the moon loses its luster when the sun comes up, so Moses fades in the face of Christ who is the Sun of Righteousness.  The law kills but Christ gives life!  He removed the sin that stands between us and the glory we always seek.  He does not only redeem us;  He also restores us.  What have you lost because of sin?  Your health, happiness, family, friends, future or reputation?  Christ promises to restore to us double all that sin has taken away.  He promises us a new covenant and a better kingdom.  The law kills, but Christ commutes our death sentence to life, not life in prison but life in heaven.

He gives us His Holy Spirit who enlightens us so that we reject every other hope of salvation, and put our trust only in Christ who was handed over for our transgressions and raised again for our justification.  The Spirit leads us to a new kind of life.  He inspired the Corinthians to repent of the openly immoral lives they were living, to reject the false apostles of their day who were preaching a different gospel than the one they received from Paul, and to renew their love for Paul as their father in the faith.  He does the same for us.  He keeps us in the one true faith.  He richly and daily forgives our sins and the sins of all believers, not in a theoretical way, but by bringing us to the word and sacraments where we find Christ with all His redeeming grace.  Consider what we are engaged in when we come to God’s house: examine the mass we pray, the creed we confess and the sacraments we receive.  They are concerned about nothing other than dissolving our sins so that our sins do not dissolve us.

The Spirit does more besides.  We say in the catechism that on the last day He will raise up me and all the dead and give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  Such a hope makes us very bold dear Christians; bold to call God our Father and Christ our Brother; bold to come back again and again seeking the same forgiveness for the same sins; bold to pray the same prayers for the same problems; bold to seek strength to mortify the flesh, and make this holy faith the guidepost, sum and substance of our lives.

God grant that we dedicate ourselves to it more fully than before, and that we place our hope for glory only in Jesus who is the Lord of Glory. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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