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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:56-57 The gospel in the particles

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, August 4, 2023

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The sting of death is sin. Without sin, death would not work; the weed of death would never have sprung up. Sin is the devil’s weapon that causes death, and death is the wages paid for sin; death is the price mankind pays for any and every sin, including original sin.

But just how is the power of sin the law? Isn’t the law of Moses for our benefit, and for our good? Yes—but the law is not the way of salvation. To sin is to be plunged into darkness without any light at all. After a while one can begin to grope around and find out where the main obstacles are, but everything is still all darkness all the time. The law sheds light on the darkness. It doesn’t remove one from the realm of sin. It illuminates the sins, shows their boundaries, shows their depths, shows the seriousness of the violations and trespasses.

What sin would any person ever think would be a small affair, a trifle, or just a little thing? Luther’s mother, who for most of her life carried wood on her back every day so that the family would have fuel for the fireplace and for cooking, was so frugal and so stern that when Martin was a boy and took a single nut from the table, his mother beat him until he bled (but later in life, his letters to her always begin “Dear mother” or “Dearly beloved mother”). Did God condemn Eve for murder, or adultery, or stealing? No, he condemned Eve on the one hand for biting into an apple or whatever fruit it was, but on the other he condemned her for idolatry. She had lifted up her own opinion and desires above his commandment. And the same is true with all of our petty sins. Basil the Great said, “No sin should be despised as small, because no sin is truly small when the blessed Paul declares this in general about all sins: ‘The sting of death is sin.’”

What a marvelous thing it is for God to shine the terrible light of his law on the sins we have piled up all around us? Without that light, we wouldn’t know just how deadly they all are; how far away from Christ our sins lead us! Every single sin runs away from Christ, pulling and dragging us along with it. Apart from the Gospel, our Savior is not a comforting Lord at all, not a rescuer of any kind, but a severe judge; a tyrant who makes us tremble. So rather than running to him, some run to Mary and the saints in prayer, and others pretend that there is no god at all, and still others preach that there are many ways to heaven apart from Christ—and every one of them runs away from Jesus, away from the resurrection to eternal life.

But Jesus, our dear Jesus, is not a tyrant. He is not stern or severe except to those who reject him or don’t believe in him. But for us, even our meager little candles and smoldering wicks of faith are received as saving faith and righteousness. So Christ turns to his Father in heaven and prays for us. He intercedes with his own death and blood. And the Apostle assures us that this is so by saying: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” This is so glorious, so majestic, and this arches and soars so high overhead, that we need to pause and ponder the words and treasure them. Let’s look at the three crucial words, the little particles, as my Greek teacher Professor Spaude used to say to us in the classroom and wrote on the old chalkboard, “Whoever knows the particles knows the language.” Let’s hear the gospel in the words “who,” “gives,” and “through.”

“Who.” Maybe this is easier to see in the NIV than in my translation here, but it isn’t a question. The “who” could be “he.” He is God, for the one who does all of these things for us, counting our sins as paid for by Christ, is God. In his mercy, he is the doer, the one who does and the one who already did everything necessary for our salvation. In him, it is all done.

“Gives.” This shows us how all of these accomplishments become ours. We don’t do anything to merit salvation. It is given to us by God. “We are unable to help ourselves in such matters. We are unable to accomplish anything against sin, death, and the devil by our own works. Therefore, another appears for us and in our place who definitely can do better; he gives us his victory, and commands us to accept it and not to doubt it. He says, ‘Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 14:19); and again, ‘I live, and you will live also, and no one will take your joy from you’ (John 16:22)” (Luther, to his mother).

“Through.” This word reminds us and preaches to us that salvation comes through Jesus Christ our Lord, and through him alone. Who else has won the victory of the cross over the devil, the grave, and all sins, apart from Christ? Any other supposed path to heaven leads back to a person’s own righteousness, which is no righteousness at all, but is everlasting damnation; it is hot fiery coals on the head (Psalm 11:6). But God has poured out his salvation “generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:6).

Praise God forever for his victory, given to us through Jesus. For the Lord will keep us safe and protect us forever.  Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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