How is Sin Death’s Sting?

Epiphany 3 Thursday

Isaiah 9:4

“For the yoke of their burden and the rod of their shoulder and the staff of their driver you have broken as in the time of Midian.”

I think that no one can interpret this verse better than St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he say, 1 Corinthians 15:55-56: “Death, where is your sting? Hell, where is your victory? But sin is the sting of death, and the power of sin is the law.” There St. Paul also recounts three entities whom Christ has overcome and from whom he has
redeemed us, namely, death, sin, and the law, just as Isaiah recounts three things God has over come in order to make us joyful and secure before him. We now want to see how Isaiah and St. Paul fit together. For Isaiah must speak of the same three things as St. Paul does, since God’s people cannot have peace or gladness where these three have not been overcome, death, sin, and the law. And if these three remained, it would not help us if it were possible that God gave us all things and even placed us into heaven. Who can be joyful and content if he has death, sin, and the law hanging over him and having them against him and experiencing them as such? Life, a good conscience, and freedom must be there, if there is to be joy. But now that Isaiah says that there is rejoicing before God because of the overcoming of the three things mentioned here, the understanding of faith cogently enough teaches that he agrees with St. Paul who also comforts the Christians with such a victory and commands to comfort them with it against death, sin, and the law. Now, the first is “the yoke of their burden,” he says. That is, the burden of those who rejoice before God as in harvest and spoils. Those who recognize and accept the gospel have as the first reason for their joy that Christ has broken the yoke of their burden which is the yoke of death. Alas, it is a great, heavy yoke and an unbearable burden everybody fears and flees while being unable to escape from it, but must put up with it and endure it. But I am speaking of the death you feel as the one terrified by the conscience feeling God’s wrath and judgment in death on account of your sin. This is nothing but the death that still reigns and is strong outside of Christ’s kingdom, as Adam and Eve felt it in paradise, Genesis 3:8; as David felt it when he was rebuked by Nathan due to his adultery, 2 Samuel 12. There is nothing but utter, eternal dying. The rogues, however, do not become aware of such death until their end; for they go their way and feel no sin. Because they do not feel it, they also do not feel death. This is why St. Paul says that sin is death’s sting, that is, death would have no power or claim, no cutting edge, no piercing point, and could not penetrate if there were innocence and no sin. A good conscience also cannot be afraid of it; it also knows of no sting, power, or claim of death. But where there is sin, there death penetrates and is powerful. For the sinful conscience must give death space and say that it deserved death. This is why the sinful conscience fears death so terribly. For it feels death’s sting, that is, the sins, in it and cannot fend off death.

St. Louis ed., 11:1982-1984.

This entry was posted in Daily Devotions From the Writings of Martin Luther. Bookmark the permalink.