Wed Night Lent 1 – Pr Smith

Message for Lent 1 – Romans 5:12-19

In the name of the Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Just as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12) That’s how Paul starts this section of his letter. Paul is being a good teacher here and using a series of comparisons to make his point. There is the one-to-many comparison. Adam is the one man, yes, but Paul is speaking even more broadly, Adam is the one human, through whom death comes on account of sin, and therefore, because all descend from Adam, they inherit death from him. It is a statement of our human condition. Paul doesn’t use the dogmatic jargon of original sin here, but he’s describing, at least in part, the effect of what we call for the sake of a shorthand for these concepts, original sin. Even if we might not like dogmatic concepts or the organizing and systematizing of religion, Paul’s line stands: “death spread to all people because all sinned.”

If you were in church last week, you heard the echo of those words first spoken to Adam: “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” When Adam rebelled against God’s expressed will, he not only put himself under condemnation and earned the judgement of death for himself; he brought all of humanity—including you and me—with him.

Now it’s true that Adam and Eve did not physically drop dead the day after eating the forbidden fruit, but they did die and they started to die that day. Lutheran writer Helmut Thielicke explains it this way, that on that first day, death moved out of its “chronological confinement” and began to leave its imprint on their days. All the rest of their days were lived in the presence of death. So it is with us: we may or may not die tomorrow, but the threat is always there and therefore, in the back of our minds, so is the fear.

It is only through Christ’s death and His overcoming death in the resurrection that we have victory over death. That’s what Paul is saying later in the passage: “Consequently therefore, as through one trespass came condemnation to all people, so also through one righteous deed came justification of life to all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”

In some ways, the events of Holy Week fall backward like a shadow through the whole of the Lenten season. The death Jesus died on Good Friday finds its meaning and purpose in Bible readings like this one tonight that show us how and why we live in a world beset by death. We’re just accustomed to looking at a world overwhelmed and stained by sin and death. But it was not always this way, not at the beginning. God created Adam and Eve not just good but very good. Adam’s sin destroyed that. I will point out a distinction here that Paul is not so much concerned with original sin as much as he is concerned about original death. Paul is saying that Adam died because of his sin and everybody else has died since Adam too, and all of that death because of sin.

But Rabbi Paul is not content with this one comparison. He has four more, at least, and they are all from lesser to greater, if the trespass leads to death, how much greater the gracious gift that leads to everlasting life? If sin leads to condemnation, how much greater the decree of righteousness? If we’re ruined by Adam’s disobedience how much more so are we restored by the obedience of our truly human brother, Jesus Christ? That’s what Paul is getting at with verses, 15, 16, and 17.

But the gift is not like the trespass, for if by the trespass of the one, the many died, by much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, multiply to the many. 16 And the gift is not as through the one who sinned, for on the one hand, judgment from the one sin led to condemnation, but the gift, from many trespasses, led to justification. 17 For if by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through the one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was the second Adam but He is so very different from the first Adam, and so much better!

The contrast could not be any greater. Adam stands at the head of humanity, turned in on himself and therefore turned against God. And through Adam we would share his destiny of death were it not for the “second Adam”. He is the one who came and brought the free gift. In Adam there is condemnation enough for everyone. In Christ there is no condemnation.

A teacher of mine uses a story to try to help understand this.

A sculptor made a fine statue and it was put in the town square. The statue was of a man who had lived in the little seaside town all his life, and had become well known through organizing the coastguard service. He became famous when one day he risked his life to rescue a boatload of people caught off the rocks in a winter storm. The town was grateful and commissioned a statue of him from the sculptor.

But it wasn’t long before trouble arrived. The next summer, a gang of noisy youths came to the town looking for trouble. They rampaged up and down the little main street; they broke windows; they shouted rude words at passers-by. And when they got to the statue, they decided to have some real fun. First, they spray-painted it. Then they threw rocks at it. Then they took it in turns to run, jump, and kick it with both feet in the air. After a few minutes of this, the statue, which had not been made to withstand such treatment, snapped off its base and crashed into the road, smashing into pieces. The youths fled, still laughing at what they had done.

The town council debated what to do and called in the sculptor. They were determined not to be beaten. They wanted the statue remade exactly as it had been. But the sculptor had a better idea. He would remake it all right—but in a much tougher material. It would look better, too. He wasn’t just going to put things back as they had been. This was the opportunity to do something really spectacular.

The story could go on. I like to think of the youths themselves getting into trouble in a boat, being themselves rescued by the coastguard, and coming to their senses. But we have gone far enough to make the point that Paul is making here: that what God has done in the one man, Jesus the Messiah, is far, far more than simply putting the human race back where it was before the arrival of sin. The statue has been remade, and it is far more splendid than before. It isn’t a case of ‘what they knocked down, God will put back up’. Nor is it a case of ‘what they did wickedly, God will do graciously’. God has done far, far more. That is the point underlying verses 15, 16 and 17.1

It’s Lent. Now, this is not a season for self-destruction as much as it is for the rebuilding God wants for each of us who were created to bear His image in our world. Our task is not to find ways to beat ourselves up with spiritual exercises, (surely sin, death, and the devil have done enough!) No! It is to ponder the great mystery of the cross and the resurrection, to understand what maybe only Paul could have so brilliantly summarized in this line: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”

In Christ Jesus, it is not death that rules but life, for Jesus is the one who brings righteousness for all, for you. As children of Adam we shared his destiny, but as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, how much more we share His destiny—righteousness and resurrection to life everlasting! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

1 Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone, Romans Part 1: Chapters 1–8.

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