Kruiz edited
The Law Has No Chance
Polycarp of Smyrna, Pastor and Martyr
23 February 2018
Advocates of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution often trot out the truism, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." Despite our culture's definite problem with the issue of personal responsibility and its mythological corollary that there is a technological fix for any problem, this is a truism because, well, it is true. Taking guns off the street does not resolve the underlying social problems that give rise to violence. The problem is people, not guns. People are immoral, and so use weapons in an immoral way. It doesn't matter whether the weapon is a machete or a revolver. John Henry Newman said that "useful is not always good, but good is always useful." In other words, a weapon may be useful in the hands of someone who uses it to defend the weak or for national defense, but the morally right person will never abuse the power of the weapon. Only the moral person can make the weapon useful. The problem is the susceptibility of humans to evil and the weakness of the human flesh threatens by the firepower of modern weapons.
 
The law kills for a similar reason. It kills only because humans, weakened by sin and depravity, can no longer hear the law purely as a blessing from God (Ps 1). It only kills because of the weakness of humanity and our fallen depravity. Before its power we are powerless, like human flesh torn by bullets from an automatic weapon. It becomes a ministry of death because we have become subject to death. Before the fall, our first parents were not susceptible to the power of law. The bullets bounced off them, so to speak, as though they wore vests of kryptonite. The law was no threat to them. So the problem is not the law, just as the problem with modern violence is not the guns.
 
The law then kills and destroys, but we Christians can face this dying all the day long, as the Lord faced His dying with the confidence that His Father would rescue Him from death, nor "would He let His only one see decay" (Acts 2:27, 31). We are no more finished by this dying than was Lazarus (Jn 11). In 1587, Mary Stuart "Queen of Scots" went to the executioner's block. As she approached the ghoulish scene she absolved her executioner, "I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles." She blamed not the block, the blade, or the executioner for their ministration of death, for they carried out a higher tribunal's condemnation. Nor did she believe that that human condemnation was ultimate.
 
We Christians grudge not the law's ministration of death, for we are certain that there is a more glorious ministry in the gospel of life, filled as it is with all that Christ has done for us sinners through facing down the law's power clad only in our poor mortal nature. Yet He triumphs through death and over it stands as victor. If our mortal flesh was thus carried through the cross and tomb, shall we not also together with Him be victorious? Furthermore, we are immersed in the ministry of the Spirit through the gospel. The gospel is not just a ministry of things, but the ministry of the third person of the holy Trinity. No wonder the law has no chance against the gospel.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"'Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?' (2Co 3:7-8). Now by 'ministry of death' Paul means the law. And note too how great the caution he uses in the comparison so as to give no handle to the heretics; for he did not say, 'which causes death,' but, 'the ministry of death;' for it serves unto, but was not the parent of, death. That which caused death was sin; but the law brought the punishment, and showed the sin. It did not cause it. For the law more distinctly revealed the evil and punished it. It did not propel into the evil. It did not serve the existence of sin or death, but the suffering of retribution by the sinner. In this way, it was even destructive of sin. For that which shows it to be so fearful, makes it something from which we flee. For example, the executioner who takes the sword into his hands and executes the condemned, serves the judge that passed sentence, and it is not the executioner that is the criminal's destruction, although he executes him. Nor is it he who passes sentence and condemns, but the wickedness of the one who is punished; so truly here also it is not the judge that destroys, but sin. The law both destroys and condemns, but that by punishing undermined sin's strength, by the fear of the punishment holding it back.
 
"But Paul was not content only to establish the superiority of the gospel; but he says, 'written, and engraved on stones.' See how he again cuts at the root of arrogance. For the Law was nothing else but letters. An assured rescue was not found leaping forth from the letters and inspiring them to combat, as is the case in Baptism. But pillars and writings bearing death came forth against those who transgress the letters. By his very expressions even Paul lessens the law's authority, speaking of stone and letters and a ministration of death, and adding that it was graven. For hereby he declares nothing else than this, that the Law was fixed in one place; not, as the Spirit, was present everywhere, breathing great might into all. The letters breathe much threatening, and threatening too that can not be effaced but remains for ever, as being engraved in stone.
 
"Having said, 'written and graven in stones, came with glory,' Paul added, 'so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly upon the face of Moses;' which was a mark of Israel's great weakness and groveling spirit. He did not say, 'for the glory of the tables,' but, 'for the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away.' He showed that he who bears the tablets is made glorious, and not they. For he said not, 'because they could not look steadfastly upon the tables,' but, 'the face of Moses;' and again, not, 'for the glory of the tables,' but, 'for the glory of his face.' Then after he had extolled it, see how again he diminishes its even the glory's importance, saying, 'which was passing away.' It's power to accuse was not passing away, but its glory was in eclipse; for he did not say, 'the law was corrupt or evil,' but, 'what was being brought to an end.'
 
"'How shall not rather the ministration of the Spirit be with glory?' for henceforth with confidence he extols the things of the New Testament as indisputable. He opposed 'stone' to 'heart,' and 'letter' to 'spirit.' Then having shown the results of both, he does not set down the results of both. Having set down the work of the law, namely, death and condemnation, does not just set down that of the spirit, namely, life and righteousness; but also the Spirit Himself, which added greatness to the argument. For the New Testament not only gave life, but supplied also 'the Spirit' who gives the life, a far greater thing than the life alone. Therefore, he said, 'the ministry of the Spirit.'" 

 John Chrysostom,
Homilies on 2 Corinthians, 7.1
2 Corinthians
3:6-18

God has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
 
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. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
 
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, Your ministry of glory is the gospel. Help me to believe it with all my heart, that the law's worst ministrations might never overwhelm me. Amen.
 
For Ileene Robinson, who is undergoing therapy for Leukemia, that the Lord Jesus would grant her strength, divine peace, and bodily healing
 
For all Christians, that they might place themselves under the will of God, acknowledging that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts
 
For Louann Weber, that the Lord would grant her the ministrations of life with the gifts of modern medicine as she continues to undergo diagnostic testing
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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