Remarkable Duel
Thursday of Pentecost 10
22 August 2019
In Luther's "astonishing duel" between Christ and the law, we stand on the sidelines receiving the benefit of Christ's victory over the law. But this victory is worked at a great price. The law works its worst on the Savior who loses all to the law: His dignity, His honor, His exercise of authority, His life. And in that losing He wins, taking from the law its authority to work like things against us. He Himself fills full the truth: "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mk 9:35). He becomes the law's servant and ours. He places Himself completely under the law, as though He owed the law all we owed it. In the power of His indestructible life He hefts its weight off our hearts and sets us free from its burdens and plaguing power. It arraigns Him and then has no right to arraign us. It accuses Him and then has no right accuse us. It kills Him and then has no right to kill us.
The law admits no double jeopardy. It has spent all its power on this man, who is God's Son. It has been exhausted upon the Rock of salvation, who, like Gibraltar against the sea, withstands all the howling fury of the law against Him. He is the well-founded house (Mt 7:25). The full price has been paid.
Legalism wormed its way into the human heart when our enemy, Satan, argued a case of casuistry with Eve and Adam in the garden. He was looking to reduce their relationship with God into a discussion about transgression: how close could they come to disobeying the Word of God without crossing the line. "He did say, 'You must not eat,' but maybe we could touch it." Nearer and farther, closer and more remote are the law's terms. The war could not be fought on those terms to a successful conclusion. In their doubt of the divine Word our forebears ignored God's gracious gifts to them by His grace. They played a game of legalistic chicken with the onrushing power of the law when they ought to have been quietly touring the garden in the perfect fellowship of their God. Jesus puts a stop to that legalistic game of chicken by stepping in front of the law's career. When God's Son and the law's power meet headlong the law is smashed into useless smithereens, as the tablets were smashed by Moses on his descent from Sinai (Ex 32:19). In the great duel with the law, God's Son loses that God's sons might win in Him.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Paul speaks this way about this remarkable duel in many places. To make the subject more joyful and clear, he often portrays the law by personification as a kind of powerful person who condemned and killed Christ. Christ then overcame death and conquered this person in turn, condemning and killing him. Thus in Eph 2:14-15: He has slain the hostility in Himself; and again, in Eph 4:8, on the basis of Ps 68:18: 'When he ascended on high he led a host of captives' He uses the same personification in the epistles to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Colossians: 'for sin he condemned sin' (Rm 8:3). By this victory of His, Christ has driven the law from our conscience, so that it can no longer confound us in the sight of God or drive us to despair and damn us. Of course, it does not stop showing our sin, accusing, and terrifying; but when the conscience takes hold of this word of the apostle: 'Christ has redeemed us from the law,' it is encouraged by faith and receives consolation. Then, with a kind of holy pride, it insults the law and says: 'I am not threatened by your terrors and threats at all, because you have crucified the Son of God, and crucified Him in the highest act of injustice. Therefore the sin that you committed against Him is unforgivable. You have lost your jurisdiction, and finally you have been conquered and strangled not only for Christ but even for me as a believer in Him, who has granted us this victory.' So the law has gone out of existence for us permanently, as long as we abide in Christ. Therefore 'thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ' (1Co 15:57).
"This also pertains to the idea that we are justified by faith alone. For when this duel between the law and Christ was going on, no works or merits of ours intervened. Christ alone remains there; who having put on our person, served the law and in supreme innocence suffered all its tyranny. Therefore the law as a thief, blasphemer, and murderer of God's Son loses its rights and deserves to be damned. Wherever Christ is present or is at least named, it is forced to yield and to flee this name as the devil flees the cross. Therefore we believers are free of the law through Christ, who 'triumphed over it in Him' (Col 2:15). This glorious triumph, accomplished for us through Christ, is received not by works but by faith alone. Therefore faith alone justifies."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.4-5
Ephesian 2:13-22

In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)
Lord Christ, You have overturned the law's precedent by defeating the law's power in Your death and resurrection. Grant that I might remain in You by faith so that what You have done might be mine. Amen.
For all military veterans that they would be called blessed by the people who enjoy the freedoms they defended, sometimes with the ultimate price
For President Dale Meyer and the faculty and staff of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis that the Lord would support them in the work of preparing men for the holy ministry of the church
For Anita Markwardt, that the God who bring life and healing would grant her a recover of health
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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