2 Corinthians 3:4-11
And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a 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, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
When I was young, I thought that people were the same, more or less, no matter where they lived. I have lived a while since then, and witnessed the oddity of humanity, and I no longer believe that. People are genetically similar, but what one group of people think is alright may be absolutely nuts to another group. That is, in part, due to the circumstances in which we live and grow and learn. It can be something simple: the older generation tends to be better at reading printed material than computer screens, while the younger people find the glowing monitor easier to read and follow than the printed page. It has to do with how we wired our brains when we were young with experience and education.
Sometimes the difference is greater. I remember being absolutely flummoxed as a young pastor, when the women of the parish would rather work for hours to do something they could have accomplished by spending just a small amount of money – and the Ladies’ Aid had a huge Savings Account. I also could not understand people who would deny themselves something they wanted– and would otherwise get for themselves – simply because it would mean driving the three miles to town twice in one week, and they just only went to town once a week. The big city, thirteen miles a way, was a trip they would take only once a month - and I, as a young city-raised pastor, would not hesitate to drive to the big city twice a day, if needs be. Their odd behavior, as I perceived it, had to do with growing up in rural Nebraska during the depression - and before the depression when life on the farm was just very solitary and stay-at-home, and cash-poor.
Then some differences are truly dramatic. Take for example the Islamic terrorist who will strap a bomb to his body and kill himself just because he can take a few others to the grave with him. That behavior is just insane, to me. It has to do with their upbringing, their religion, of course, and the culture in which they live.
I think that the differences between the modern Western world we live in and the world of the days of the New Testament are as great as the difference between the Islamic-terrorists and modern Americans. I sometimes wonder if we can understand anything the Bible has to say in any way similar to the way that those who were the first to read it did. Our perceptions of reality and of the nature of reality and of what is necessary and what is important are significantly different. That may be why they could do so much more with so much less - building hospitals and schools and churches with almost no wealth, while we struggle merely to survive while being the richest people in the history of the world.
Take, for instance, the idea of glory. What is it? What does it look like? What does it mean? Yet Paul writes about it. He wrote about the glory shining from the face of Moses, and how the people could not look at Moses’ face because of the glory that was reflected there. Then he goes on to talk about the glory of the Gospel. He compares it to the glory of the Law, although he never calls the Law “the Law” in this passage. He calls it “the ministry of death”, or “the letter”, or “the ministry of condemnation”. He refers to what the Law accomplishes rather than what it is. The exception is when he refers to the Law as the covenant “of the letter”, and then says that the letter kills.
Which is where the Law becomes - or earns the title of - the Ministry of death. The Law works only to put us to death by revealing our sinfulness, and actually stirring it up. It serves to kill us by stimulating the sin in our nature, and by setting forth the standard which we cannot keep. That is why it is a ministry of condemnation. It serves our condemnation. Thus, theologians speak of the Law with the phrase, Lex semper accusat. The Law always accuses.
Paul’s point in bringing this up is that the glory that was so unsettling and powerful reflecting from the face of Moses was the glory of the ministry of death and condemnation, that is, the glory of the Law. He expected that the people of his time would understand that concept - and then he asks, ‘if death has so much glory, how much more life and salvation?’ That is why our theme this morning is “More Glory”.
Now look around you. Does this look like glory? We are a congregation of about fifteen members, worshiping in rented quarters, still, after nearly ten years. We have had people leave this congregation because it wasn’t big and impressive. People have visited us and walked away, telling us that they needed more – more people, more building, more something. They could not see the glory of the ministry of the Spirit - which is the work which the Gospel does in us and through us.
What do you count as glory? What does it mean to you? Or is it just one of those words we throw around in the church that doesn’t seem to have any real-world meaning? In the ancient world they though in terms of glory in ways we do not.
We think in terms of pomp. We think in terms of WOW! It is the show, the appearance that our society has taught us to value. Glory often came with those things, but those outward trappings are not an integral part of glory. Glory is the surprising goodness and the delightful worth of something. That delightful something that Paul is talking about in our text is the Gospel. We have been made adequate by God to live in and serve God under the new covenant - the New Testament - of life which is mediated by the Spirit of God. We were nothing all by ourselves. We do not deserve or merit this, but every good thing about our salvation is gift. That is at least part of the glory of God, and the glory of the Gospel.
You may have already recognized that we are talking about what we call “grace”. Paul begins in our Epistle to talk about his confidence in God - the same sort of unconditional confidence that you should have, and can have, toward God and everything He has promised us. We can sing, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives!” with absolute confidence. We can actually talk about God being on our side, confidently. I know that in this modern world we are told, often even by our own religious teachers, that we should not talk like that. Others know God too. Fine. Let them boast in the Lord as well. We know Him, and know His love for us, and have the promise of everlasting life in Jesus Christ. I can say for sure that I am going to heaven. I don’t say it because I am something special, but like Paul, my confidence is in God!
I can stand up and boldly say that here, in this little congregation, is the Christian Church. We are the true Church. So many in this world want to avoid saying it, and want us to avoid saying it too! It sounds so proud, so arrogant, so boastful. But I am not saying anything about me - I am saying it about the Gospel, about the promises of God and His grace toward us in Jesus Christ.
Paul was chasing the same set of cultural expectations, only in the world of his day. How dare you say you know the absolute truth? How can you possible assert that you are right and that all of those who disagree are wrong? Where do you get off proclaiming your superiority? How can you maintain that your God and your doctrine and your way is truth and everything else is error?
Of course, I am aware of no one who says all of that. When I say I am right, I am not accusing others of error. They do that to themselves when they argue with God’s Word. I cannot read minds. I can only tell you what is true according to God’s Word. I speak of what God has spoken, and what He has done, and the promises He has made. I do not judge either myself as superior, nor consign anyone else to condemnation. In the words that Paul used, Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. When I proclaim the absolute truth of the Lutheran faith, and the absolute certainty of salvation, I am not speaking about me, or you, or Lutheranism, really. I am confessing my confidence in God, who has given me such confidence by His Spirit, through His Word.
It is like with the Law, Paul says. The Law is great and glorious, but it loses that glorious luster in comparison to the glory of the Gospel, for the Law can only accuse, condemn, and kill us, but the Gospel brings life and salvation and resurrection to us through Jesus Christ. The Gospel outshines the Law in much the same manner as the sun outshines a candle. The candle is perfectly good in a dark room, but when you take it outdoors on a bright and sunny day, you can actually be unable to see the flame on account of the brightness of the sunshine. The Law is glorious, but its glory is hidden in the presence of the glory of the Gospel. That is what we mean by More Glory.
So, is the Law of God good? Yes.
Should we live in accord with the Law? Yes. To a point. We should hear what it tells us is the will of God, but we who believe should not listen to the threatening of the Law.
Can the Law save us? No.
Then how can we be saved? God has made us adequate through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the Law is true and holy, we live in the light of the Gospel. We build our hopes on the Gospel. We do not disparage or dismiss the truth of the Law. We confess it, then we celebrate the gift of God in Jesus Christ which sets us free from our own failures and weaknesses, and rescues us from the condemnation of the Law.
We confess, but we are not confessing anything about ourselves. We are confessing Christ. We celebrate God making us adequate for salvation. He did that by forgiving us, and calling us to faith in the Gospel, and confirming us in that faith, and nurturing that faith in us by both Word and Sacrament. On Sundays we come to celebrate – and to receive – the gifts of God. We bask in the glory of the Gospel – the wonderful and joyful goodness and truth and worth of salvation by grace through faith.
You see, the greatest glory of God that we know is that He loved us so much that He took on our nature and our flesh to redeem us. He is Lord of all, and yet Servant and Savior of all that believe. He bore the unthinkable to rescue us from what we cannot imagine completely. He became sin for us who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And we are saved by grace, pure gift – a salvation we do not deserve, received through faith in Him and His promises. That is His glory!
You see, this faith is not about us. It is not about our doing something, or our giving something. It is about the greater glory of being made adequate by God for this cure for death and the promise of life in glory. In other words, it is about God. When we boast, we boast in this, as it says in Jeremiah 9:24, that we know God, and know His love. We boast that the Gospel shines with more glory than the Law, as glorious as that is.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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