Hell Before Heaven
Wednesday of Pentecost 25
9 November 2016
The Steve Miller Band, the popular 1970s rock group, sang a song with the lyric, "You know you've got to go through hell before you get to heaven" ("Jet Airliner"). I am not sure what the Steve Miller meant by this (I was never sure what rock lyrics meant), however, the phrase summarizes correctly the purpose of the law. The law is primarily to preach us into hell, so that the Lord Jesus Christ can rescue us. Only when the law has done its proper work can the gospel do its proper work. The law cannot rescue from the pit created by our sin. No, it can only show us that we are there. The law gives us a clear picture of our situation before God. Only by the law can we know the depth of our depravity and damnation. Only by the law do we become aware that we have been shut up until righteousness should come to us in Christ.
In his masterful novel, Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote Raskolnikoff into the hell of a Siberian prison. Only then did he fully recognize his guilt and receive a shining redemption of new life together, at the last, with his beloved Sonia, "in those white and worn faces already beamed the dawn of a restored future, and full resurrection to a new life." Lost in a reverie considering the hell of his imprisonment Raskolnikoff was transported by the sublime recognition that "all-even his sin, and sentence, and exile-appeared to him as if they had not occurred, or were swept away." Here is the conscience freed by true and full forgiveness redeemed into the new life.
The dialogue of law and gospel goes on in the life of the Christian like this every day. The law damns and brings despair. The gospel frees the heart and conscience. The gospel breaks down the bars of death and releases the prisoners. The law exacts a price that the conscience does not have the resources to pay. The gospel proclaims that our substitute Christ has paid the price and commuted the sentence that was against us; and if He is for us, what could be against us? The law hurls down into hell. The gospel raises up to heaven. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"The true use of the law cannot be measured by any price, namely, when the conscience that has been confined under the law does not despair, but becomes wise through the Holy Spirit and declares in the midst of its terrors: 'All right, I have been confined under the law, but not eternally. In fact, this confinement will turn out to my benefit. How? If, when I have been confined this way, I sigh and look for the hand of the One who will help me.' In this way the law is like a stimulus that drives the hungry toward Christ, in order that He may fill them with His benefits. Therefore, the proper function of the law is to make us guilty, to humble us, to kill us, to lead us down to hell, and to take everything away from us, but all with the purpose that we may be justified, exalted, made alive, lifted up to heaven, and endowed with all things. Therefore, it does not merely kill, but it kills for the sake of life."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 3.23
Psalm 88:1-7, 13-18

O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. (ESV)
Lord Christ, uphold all preachers of Your gospel that they might preach the despairing into heaven. Bring to naught the efforts of all who would pervert Your gospel and thus deprive the faithful of resurrection to new life. Amen.
For President Ken Hennings of the Texas District, that he would always support the preachers of the gospel of new life
For Ellen Brda, that the Lord would give her a full recovery of health and strength
For Bruce G. Kintz, the eighth president of Concordia Publishing House, that CPH would continue to be faithful to the Lutheran confessional witness to the gospel of new life
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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