Imagine the uproar if an unbeliever were to call a pastor preaching about the 10 Commandments a “Minister of Death”. The battle lines would be drawn, would they not? Ah, but would the unbeliever be right?
…ugh! Yes, I was as horrified to write it as you were to read it. I cannot even imagine a Christian thinking such a thing…except one. In 2 Corinthians 3:7 the Apostle Paul writes: “7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory… 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?”
I have read this before, probably more than once, but this latest time I was stopped dead in my tracks. I could not leave it. I read, and reread, and reread. I read commentaries on this passage, read different translations, I tried breaking down the Greek, I even resorted to reading blogs about it, imagine that (just kidding), and still, nothing. I felt completely unsatisfied.
I have been very blessed in my life to have been exposed to amazing teachers and lecturers. I have also been fortunate to have heard extraordinary preachers and teachers of the gospel. And yet, I have never once heard a sermon or teaching on the “ministry of death”. So, I turned to the greatest teacher of all, the author Himself. Not Paul, although that would have been really cool, but here is what I believe the Holy Spirit had to say on the matter. For now.
“What is death?” It’s funny how the Holy Spirit answers a question with a question. Where better to find the answer than the first place death is mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 16 “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”
Interesting: you die only after the knowledge of good and evil. Please note, God did not say you die after you commit evil, rather when you first know about good and evil. The Hebrew word translated “evil” is rah, spelled in Hebrew RESH AYIN. The ancient Hebrew pictograph for the letter RESH is a man’s head and its symbolic meaning was the first or highest person. For AYIN it is an eye meaning to see, and not simply to see but to see with divine sight, to see how God sees. Thus, to know evil is for the FIRST MAN (or Adam) to SEE as God sees.
Why would the knowledge of good cause death? For that matter, why would the knowledge of evil cause death? Simple: none of us are perfect, yet we are.
And this paradox hurts our brain so much that it just kills us. No, not really. You see, none of us are righteous, and no amount of attitude adjustment, behavioral modification, or religious rule following will ever make us so. Yet, at the exact same time, we in Christ are wholly and completely justified before God. Spotless. Washed whiter than snow. Otherwise, Jesus’ sacrifice was insufficient.
The intent was never for man to be perfect, contrary to popular opinion. How could we? We are not God. Man’s ability to be in the presence of God, walk with God and fellowship with God was always a matter of divine gift. It is the knowledge that we are unable to do this on our own that causes us such grief. Therefore, God, in his mercy, asked man to not partake of the knowledge of good and evil, so that we would never realize our unworthiness.
Once man did obtain this knowledge, the process of teaching man this lesson began. Now, through Jesus’ sacrificial life and death, we are worthy again. Jesus was perfect, and as “He is, so also are we in this world.” 1 John 4:17. We can walk with God, fellowship with God and even be in the presence of God, and once again it is as a matter of divine gift: God’s gift of grace.
So, the ministry of death is aptly named, it is God’s 4000 year long lesson about overcoming death, or the knowledge of good and evil.