The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost July 6, 2014
2 Corinthians 3:4-11
2 Samuel 12:1-13
2, 377(1-6), 377(7-10), 370
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
We have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
There are many different kinds of preaching. Every preacher has his own style, there are different texts, and there are different types of sermon structure. These kinds of differences are unavoidable and are a good thing because they provide different avenues of insight into the truths of Scripture and give variety to help our sometimes easily distracted minds.
There is another difference in preaching that is more significant and of greater consequence. The difference is not so much in style but in the content and the dominant message in the preaching.
I can stand up here and preach the harsh reality of the Law to you. I can look each of you in the eyes and say to you, “Your sins damn you to Hell. Repent! before it is too late!” I can speak of God’s wrath being like waters piling high behind a dam, ready to break its barriers and completely destroy you, so repent! I can tell you about the bow of God’s anger which is bent and has the arrow ready to fly and it is aimed for your heart. Sinner, O sinner, consider the danger in which you are living. It is a furnace of God’s wrath, a wide pit full of fire, and you hang by a slender thread over it all! Repent! Turn from your sinful ways lest you fall into it! [cf: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards] I could stand here and preach that way to you and not without cause because we are all sinners and our sin provokes the wrath of a just God.
On the other hand, I can stand up here and never mention the word sin at all and certainly never speak of Hell. Or if I do mention these sinister things which tend to take the smile from faces, it will only be in the context of those wicked evil people out there—the hardened criminals and the tyrants. But for you and me, we don’t have to worry about such things because God is a God of love. Don’t worry about your little mistakes. Be happy with the way you are. Rejoice in yourself and in how you live your life. Love one another! Be good! God will surely look upon you with His favor.
I have now given you two different kinds of preaching. They are both wrong. If I stand up here and preach in a way that follows either of these two examples and that is as far as I go, I will be preaching you straight into hell-fire.
The first sample was Law and condemned you in your sins which God’s Law surely does, but if our preaching goes no further, we will either be left in despair like Judas or left in self-righteous pride like the Pharisees.
The second example contained no Law and only a muddled view of the Gospel with no indication that we are sinners in need of repentance. Such a “gospel” is really no Gospel at all and cannot save.
Scripture leads us to the conclusion that the Law of God cannot save us and the works we do cannot earn favor in God’s eyes. Our salvation comes through the Gospel.
If the Gospel—the Good News about Jesus—is our salvation, do we then need the Law? Is there a use for it? A value? The answer to all of these questions is “yes” for THE LAW SERVES THE GOSPEL I. The law’s death is the need for the Gospel’s life, II. The Law’s fading glory contrasts the Gospel’s greater glory, and III. The Law’s fearful ministry gives way to the Gospel's confident ministry.
We all know what law and rules are. They define what is acceptable behavior and what the punishment is in the case of disobedience. If the threat of punishment is great enough it will, to some extent, keep people obedient to the law even if they don’t care about the lawgiver.
Laws against stealing, murder, and other obvious sins are on the books of our country and states, but they originate in God’s law. The threat of prison time, or maybe even the death penalty, keeps the outbreak of these sins in check. Now, it may not seem like the law is keeping things in control, but just imagine what the world would be like if there were no threat of punishment at all. Then there would be nothing to stop anyone from doing anything to anybody. It would be mayhem to say the least.
The Law of God keeps the coarse outbreak of sin in check. However, God’s law goes deeper than just the outbreak of murder and theft. Like any other law or set of rules, God’s law gives a list of what He expects and what the punishment will be for any failure to live up to those expectations. God’s Law requires that you never have anything more important than He is. He is always your first priority. His will is always your first choice for your life.
You’re required to use His name properly at all times. That means no cursing, no swearing, no relying on things like the stars, the cards, or lucky numbers. It means no hypocrisy whatsoever, and never uttering a word that misrepresents the Word of God.
God’s Law expects that you will not despise His Word or the preaching of it by neglecting the opportunity for worship with like-minded believers, avoiding Bible Study, or approaching church worship and Bible Study as a less-than-urgent need, or just not listening to His Word.
God demands of you that you give honor, respect, and obedience to the authorities He places over you, that you seek no harm to your neighbor directly to his body or by making his life miserable in other ways. God demands that marriage not be defiled with adultery and fornication, lustful thoughts, and impure pursuits. He requires that nothing be stolen, that nothing be said against your neighbor with the intent to hurt him even if what you are saying is factually true. God commands that there be no sinful desires for what we do not have, but rather that we live contentedly with what God has given us.
These are the expectations of God’s law. The punishment which His law prescribes for any breech of these rules is death and damnation in Hell. There is not a one of us who does not fall under the full wrath of God and the complete condemnation of His Law—and that means death. Like any Law, God’s Law condemns the lawbreaker. That lawbreaker is you. It is me. It is everyone who lives. The letter—the Law—kills.
Whether it is parents, police, or some other authority the one who imposes punishment on the wrongdoer is the one who is often painted as the “bad guy.” Since the Law condemns every sinner to eternal destruction, it appears to us sinners as if it is some dark foreboding menace, afterall, the Law kills! However, the Law kills, not because it is sinister and evil, but because we are sinners. The Law is just as much God’s holy Word as is the news about Jesus. To despise or think lightly of what God says in His Law is just as much a sin as to think lightly of Christ your Savior. The problem is not the Law. If we could live perfectly by the Law and have no sin then the Law could save us. The problem is that we are born sinners, therefore, the Law kills.
In Romans, Paul writes, “By the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). It is a mirror that shows us for what we really are. It shows us that we break God’s Law daily and are deserving of death. It shows us that we are those sinners hanging by a thread over the fiery pit of God’s wrath in need of daily contrition and repentance. “The letter kills but the spirit gives life.” [v.6]
The announcement that Jesus fulfilled the Law’s expectations for us and offered Himself as a victim for the death the Law imposes upon us—that is the Gospel. The Gospel gives the spiritual blessing of life for our souls and the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts to believe the good news. The Gospel pulls us from the fire.
The law condemns and shows our sin. It cannot save us, but it serves the Gospel by showing us our death so that we see the need for life and cling to the Gospel for that life.
Moses talked face-to-face with God on Mount Sinai. During the time that Moses spent on the mountain, God gave him the moral law which is summarized by the Ten Commandments. God engraved these commandments on two stone tablets. When Moses came down from the mountain his face was shining, but Moses did not realize it. When Aaron, Moses’ brother, and the other children of Israel saw Moses’ face they were at first afraid to come near to him. Then Moses called to them and they came, they met together, and Moses gave them the laws that God had given to him. When they were done meeting, Moses put a veil over his face. Whenever Moses would go into the tabernacle to speak to God he would take the veil off until he came out, then he would meet with the people, and then he’d put the veil back on to cover his face. [Exodus 34:29ff]
When Moses stood in the presence of the LORD and received His holy Word—in this case, the Law there was an effect on Moses’ face. Part of the glory “rubbed off” and was visible on Moses, but as soon as he left the LORD’s presence that glory started to fade. After Moses was done speaking to the people he covered his face so that they would not see the fading glory. The shine on Moses’ face faded because the glory was not his own. Each time Moses would return to the LORD his face was “recharged” and it shone brightly again, but apart from the LORD it would begin to fade again.
Paul uses this event to further explain the contrast between the law and the Gospel. “But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.” [v.7-11]
Moses was receiving and giving the Law. The Law is God’s holy and glorious Word. The glory, both of the LORD Himself and His Word, gave temporary glory to Moses; but because Moses was a sinner, he could sustain the glory. It faded. The Law of God written on stones is holy and glorious of itself, but to us who are sinners it is a ministry of death.
The glory of the Law fades for us because it cannot save us. We might be able to keep God’s Law outwardly for a time, but inwardly we are still sinners. We might be able to find glory in the Law for a time through our outward obedience, but soon enough the reality that we are still sinners will show itself, the glory will fade, and the Law will still bring death to us. The heavy arm of the Law may change people’s way of life, but it cannot change the heart. The Law has only a fading glory among sinners in this sinful world because it cannot save.
If the Law which is a ministry of death to sinners has a glory, albeit fading, how much more will there not be glory in the ministry that brings righteousness to sinners. So great is the glory of righteousness and salvation through the Gospel that it makes the fading light of the Law seems as if it isn’t even light!
We can put on the righteousness of the Law but that will fade when see sin. The righteousness we have with Christ is constant. The glory we have with Him through the Gospel does not fade because it does not depend on our life but rather on His holy life. “God made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Or as the hymn writer says, “Jesus Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are my glorious dress.” (TLH 371:1).
The righteousness and glory we have with Jesus cannot fade because His perfect life is complete, established, and stands in place of our sinful life. God made Him to be sin for us so He has paid the punishment for our sins. His sacrifice stands complete. Jesus lived and died for all of your sins, nothing can change that fact, it’s done! It is a glory that cannot fade. It is a glory that comes to you through the Gospel and the faith which the Holy Spirit creates with the Gospel.
We have our ups and downs, our good days and bad days, but the glory Christ’s righteousness remains constant. The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation which Jesus won and offers to us is always there for the sorrowing soul that looks to its Savior for help. That constant unchanging glory of salvation through Christ is contrasted by the fading, hopeless glory of the Law should sinners try to earn salvation on their own.
The Law serves the Gospel by its contrast and showing the far surpassing glory that we have in Jesus our Savior compared to anything we might come up with on our own. The writer to the Hebrews had the contrast in mind when he wrote, “Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant…[our High Priest] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 7:22, 8:6).
Paul’s comparison between the Law and the Gospel in this letter to the Corinthians comes as part of a defense that Paul gave for the ministry he and the other missionaries were conducting. Just before our text begins, Paul said that the effect that their ministry had in the hearts and lives of the Corinthians was like a letter of commendation for their ministry (v.1-3).
Paul expressed a confidence in the work he was doing. However, Paul is quick to point out that the confidence does not come from himself, but from God. “We have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant… [v.4-6]
God made Paul, the others, and us ministers of the New Covenant—the Gospel. This fact in itself makes their ministry and our ministry unique, life-giving, and one of confidence. If we conduct a Law-only ministry we will only be condemning sin and offering no way of escape. If we preach only the Law either we will be preaching an “I’m better than you” message that condemns the sin in “you” but doesn’t see it in me; or else we will be afraid to say anything at all because how could I dare speak of sin against my neighbor when I myself am guilty of the same?
Recall the Gospel lesson and the adulterous woman whom the Pharisees brought to Jesus. The Pharisees and Scribes were self-reliant and believed they were righteous by their obedience to the Law. They looked down on the tax collectors, adulterers, and others whom they lumped together and called “sinners.” Theirs was a Law message that led to their own glorification, but no real salvation for anyone. When Jesus skillfully turned the mirror of the Law to them, they were left with nothing to say because they too were condemned by the Law. A Law-only ministry among sinners is a fearful thing because it condemns everyone, leaves no hope whatsoever, gives no confidence in anything, and really leaves no place to stand because we are all sinners who fall.
God called Paul, the others, and us to a Gospel ministry. It is a ministry of confidence. A full Gospel ministry includes using the Law to show sin, but once the sinner is convicted in his sin then the Law gives way to the Gospel. Then the Gospel comes with its comfort that Jesus has died for us and that God has put away our sin for His sake.
In a Gospel ministry it is no longer a message of “I'm better than you” and a hope of self-righteousness but rather it is a message that says, “Look! I’m a sinner too, but here is the solution that God has given for you and for me. Isn’t it just great?”
Jesus’ mission on earth was to seek and to save lost sinners. Jesus preached the Gospel. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Christ preached the Gospel, and yet we hear some of the harshest words of condemnation also come from our Savior’s lips. Yes, Jesus spoke in the stern words of the Law but always to serve His primary message by preparing sinful hearts to hear the good news of what He had come to do.
Each of us has been called to a Gospel ministry. Like Paul we consider that we have been entrusted with declaring the wonders of God’s grace and all that Jesus has done we will sigh “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Nevertheless, we are reminded by Paul that our sufficiency to be active in the work of the Gospel does not come from us. “Our sufficiency is from God,who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant.” [v.5-6]
We are ministers of the Gospel. The good news about our Savior is to be our dominant theme and the substance of our message. It is not a Gospel of our design but of God’s truth which means that the Law will also be a part of our message as it serves the Gospel. When used properly together, the Law serves the Gospel in a ministry of comfort, joy, and confidence.
We need to daily recognize the seriousness of every sin and not just “shrug them off” because God forgives us anyway. We do need to repent and turn from our sin lest we die. We also have a Savior who gives us release from our sins and rest to our souls. We have the Word of reconciliation with God through Christ. When our message is the Gospel news and we use the Law to serve that message, then we are ambassadors for Christ! May God help each of us to be so! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.