Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In our text for today, Paul speaks of a ministry that he identifies by various names:
The ministry of the Spirit:
The ministry of justification:
The ministry of the New Testament:
He also speaks of another ministry that he calls:
The ministry of the letter:
The ministry of condemnation:
The ministry of death.
"Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory."
What does this mean? Paul deals with the two great themes of the Bible. The Law and the Gospel. The Law is the holy will of God for each of us, revealed in its fullness to Moses on Mount Sinai. That is, the Ten Commandments. The Law is written in the hearts of men, for all have an idea of what is good and what is bad. However, the natural knowledge of the law is twisted by our sinful nature. God revealed in its perfection when He made a covenant with Moses and the people of Israel.
This covenant was an amplification of the covenant God made with Abraham to make a great nation of his descendants, a nation from which would be born the Savior of all nations. The universal moral law was integrated into this covenant because God wantedIsrael to be an example to the nations.
As Moses and our Lord Jesus Christ said, the sum of the universal law is this: Love the Lord your God above all things (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37) and love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39).
So why does St. Paul speak of the proclamation of the Law as the ministry of the letter, condemnation and death? Of course, the Law is the Word of God, is good and just. However, the Law is not the God's last Word. The good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is the last word of God. But Jesus himself is the last word of God, the Word made flesh. The old covenant with the people of Israel, that is, the Old Testament, was based on letters written on tablets of stone, but the new covenant with all nations, ie the New Testament, is based on the person of Jesus Christ, and sealed with His precious blood. So we say, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood."
Since the fall of Adam and Eve, none of us has been able to keep the Law of God as He wants us to fulfill it. So God's Law, if it is not kept, despite being the highest doctrine and the eternal will of God, must suffer than men keep only the letter of it and make an empty shell, because without bearing fruit in the heart, it does not bring life and salvation. Here is the ministry of the letter. In itself, it does not touch the rebellious human heart rebel. The Law teaches us that we must do and not do, but does not save us. The Law shows us our sin and the wrath of God, but without the Gospel, it alone produces anger at God and more disobedience. Therefore, the preaching of the Law is the ministry of condemnation and death.
Paul says he was sent as a minister of the New Testament, that is, the gospel. Also, we who are called and ordained by the Church to preach the Word and administer the sacraments are ministers of the New Testament. The Law is the instrument of death, because no man is able to meet its demands, and therefore each person is under sentence of death, but the Spirit gives life. The Gospel brings us news of the glory of God's grace in Christ Jesus. And the Gospel brings the Holy Spirit in the heart, its power is the Spirit Who inspires a new spiritual life in the sinner, gives joyful confidence of knowing God as Father, to live a life of gratitude, justice and purity.
As ministers of the Gospel, we must preach the Law to unrepentant sinners. However, our purpose, our mission, is not to condemn, but to reconcile the sinner with God. We do not preach the Law for the destruction of anyone, but for reconciliation. At the same time we preach the Law, we proclaim the forgiveness of sins because of Christ's sacrifice. We offer the gift of faith that justifies us in holy baptism, absolution of sins and present the true body and true blood of Christ in the sacrament. This is the ministry of justification and sanctification in the Holy Spirit.
May the peace that passes all understanding be with you forever. Amen.
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