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The Memorial Moment is a devotion written every weekday by Pastor Scott Murray of Memorial Lutheran Church and School, Houston Texas. It includes a quotation from a church father, Pastor Murray’s ruminations on that text, a related Bible text, and a prayer. It is read all over the world by more than a thousand subscribers. It will arrive in your email every morning to start your day off right. Click here to subscribe.
Below is Friday’s Memorial Moment:
Israel is a curious choice, when God elects a people to serve. Without any fear of contradiction, Israel was the most rebellious, unfaithful, uncooperative, and disobedient people in the world. How many other great nations might have provided God a bigger and better stage upon which to reveal Himself to the world? Egypt, from whom God rescued these people, represented the pinnacle of human achievement in the ancient near East at the time of the Exodus. Her architects built glorious temples, tombs, and palaces. Her scholars searched the heavens and plumbed the secret depths. Her agriculturalists built and maintained a fantastic irrigation system along the Nile River. Why did not God choose such a people? Why instead did God choose those whom she had enslaved? The answer is simple; to show the power of the divine mercy. He chose those who could not rescue themselves and He saved them dramatically, and repeatedly.
In that sense, the Old Testament is not the story of an angry, avenging, and legalistic God. The Old Testament also tells a constantly new story. This is the story of God’s promised compassion on a sinful people. The old and new covenants are in both testaments; the new in the old under shadows, promises, and types and the old in the new under the threat of divine judgment against sin. The story is the same both before and after Christ: God rescues and saves those who will never deserve His rescue and salvation. This is the gospel solution to the law problem. This dialogue of law and gospel is found on every page of the Bible in the lofty commands of the Lord and in the gracious divine rescue which those commands show need to be given to us. We aren’t any better than ancient Israel with all our carping and complaining, our weakness and vacillations. Our heavenly Father had better save the likes of Israel or He will never save the likes of us!
The law is a kind of prison, which incarcerates us just where we need to be: under sin. When we are rescued from that prison, that is the good news, the gospel. There is a divinely-worked amnesty offered to those in the prison of sin and death. The man who sits in a cell in the death house at the state penitentiary knows his end is approaching, as do we. But when the reprieve comes his relief is palpable. Only another can free him, though. So it is for us, our relief is palpable for we have been rescued from the prison house of sin and death by Christ our Savior. We are no more likely than Israel to be worthy of it, yet God still does it.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (ESV)
Consider carefully what difference God has testified as existing between the two testaments: the old and the new. After saying, ‘Not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt,’ observe what He adds: ‘my covenant that they broke’ (Jer 31:32). He considers it their own fault that they did not continue in God’s covenant (testamentum), lest the law, which they received at that time, should seem to deserve the blame. For it was the very law that Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfill (Mt 5:17). Nevertheless, it is not by that law that the ungodly are made righteous, but by grace; and this change is effected by the life-giving Spirit, without whom the letter kills. ‘For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe’ (Gal 3:21-22). Out of this promise, that is, out of the kindness of God, the law is fulfilled, which without the promise only makes men transgressors, either by the actual commission of some sinful deed, if the flame of concupiscence has greater power than even the restraints of fear, or at least by their mere will, if the fear of punishment transcend the pleasure of lust. In what he says, ‘The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe,’ it is the benefit of this imprisonment itself which is asserted. For what is the purposes of imprisonment except as it is expressed in the next sentence: ‘Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed’ (Gal 3:23)?
The law was therefore given, in order that grace might be sought; grace was given, in order that the law might be fulfilled. Now it was not through any fault of its own that the law was not fulfilled, but by the fault of the carnal mind; and this fault was to be demonstrated by the law, and healed by grace. ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (Rm 8:3-4). Accordingly, in the passage which we cited from the prophet, he says, ‘I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,’ (Jer 31:31). What does it mean when He says, ‘I will make’ except ‘I will fulfill’? ‘Not, according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt’ (Jer 31:32).
Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.33-34
Almighty God, Your Son Jesus Christ has defeated sin and death for us, that we might not languish in the prison house of our fall. Grant us through knowing Him that we would be brought to know the fullness of true joy. Amen.
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