Sunday, February 11, 2018

Adam and Jesus

Why is Paul’s letter to the church in Rome so long? He set out to explain to these saints the Gospel that he preaches. I think that we’d all agree that he accomplished that in the first few chapters. Chapter one: the Gentiles are sinners worthy of the wrath of God. Chapter two: the Jews are also sinners and also worthy of wrath. He pulls this together in the beginning of chapter three with a list of Scriptures that starts with,
None is righteous, no, not one; Romans 3.10
He’s made it clear that everyone is guilty.

With that settled, he then launches into the key Gospel themes, things like how Jesus’ death deals with the wrath of God, how we are declared righteous before God because of what Jesus has done and how all of this is ours by faith alone. That’s the rest of chapter three. He then illustrates these things in chapter four pointing to Abraham and David and ending that with a declaration about the key role of faith.

Okay, he’s covered the Gospel: God, sin, Christ, faith. Isn’t that enough? Paul, isn’t it time to end the letter? You’ve accomplished your goal, no?

Well, obviously not. It seems that Paul thought that there was more of the Gospel for those saints to know. And the Spirit thought the same for us, which is why this letter is in the Bible.


A great danger these days is being satisfied with a merely adequate understanding of the Gospel. If that’s all a Christian has, he may well make it into heaven, but he’s open to all sorts of attacks and dangers, things that might well keep him from making it into heaven.

So, I think that we need to agree with Paul. What is needed, back then as well as today, is an understanding of the Gospel that goes deeper, an understanding of the Gospel that is always going deeper. That kind of understanding of the Gospel will lead to a richer understanding of God which, in turn, will lead to a richer understanding of yourself. Understanding God and yourself better and better is indispensable when it comes to being able to live wisely. The goal in going deeper into the Gospel is not to be able to spout arcane theological terms. The goal is to understand reality so that we can live well.

So, this morning we’re going to dig a little deeper. Listen to what else Paul wrote as he explained the Gospel.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5.12-21
Don’t feel bad if that sounds a bit overwhelming. Even the really smart people say that Paul gets pretty deep here. But we’re not going to try to figure out everything that’s here. We’ll just hit a few of the big ideas.

Let’s start with the question that Paul is answering. It’s not a complicated question, but it is a more theoretical question. It’s a question that wants to take a look under the hood. How does the Gospel actually work? That is, how does anyone get out of the sinful mess that is his life? Paul begins to answer that question by answering a different question. How did we get into this mess in the first place? The answer to that second question is simple. It’s Adam’s fault. Listen again to what Paul wrote.
… sin came into the world through one man…  Romans 5.12
That’s Adam’s sin.
... many died through one man’s trespass… Romans 5.15
His sin resulted in not just his death but the death of many, including us.
… by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…  Romans 5.19
His sin not only resulted in our being cursed with death but also our being made into sinners.

And then, the result of all of this.
Therefore, … one trespass led to condemnation for all men… Romans 5.18
So, why is it that we, all of humanity, find ourselves in this situation of being sinners, being condemned and under the curse of death? It’s Adam’s fault. When he ate that piece of fruit, he represented all of us. As a result, when he was judged to be guilty, we also were judged to be guilty. And the penalty placed on him was also placed on us. Adam acted for all of humanity after him. It’s all his fault.

Now, there are those who react to this. They don’t like it and say things like, ‘It’s not fair! Why should I be held accountable for the sinful actions of some guy from long ago that I’ve never met? That can’t be right. It’s just not fair.’

When Linda and I were raising our kids, there were some basic house rules that we enforced. Here’s one of them: You can’t use the word ‘fair’. In our house, that was a banned four-letter word. And the reason is obvious. Who knows what it means? It’s all about how the speaker feels about something. It’s his subjective assessment. And why should one person agree with another person just based on what that other person is feeling at the time?

It’s much better to work from something objective, something that has to be true, something like what God has to say about the topic. And I think that I just read to you what God has to say about Adam and his sin and your life.

But then, also consider this. Why are you declared righteous before God? It’s because He holds you accountable for the righteous actions of another guy from long ago that you’ve never met. So, if someone doesn’t like Adam representing him, can he have Jesus representing him?

And actually, that’s the reason why Paul writes all that he does about Adam. He wants to explain further what Jesus has done. He wants to explain further how a person gets out of the sinful mess that is his life. Jesus is presented as the contrast to Adam.

Listen again to what Paul wrote.
… if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. Romans 5.15

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Romans 5.17

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 5.18-19
We got into this sinful mess because our lives were tied to Adam. And we get out of it because our lives are now tied to Jesus.

So, on the one hand, Paul’s talking about what’s been called ‘original sin’ which we all have received from Adam. Every person starts out from conception as a condemned sinner, cursed with death. It’s Adam’s fault.

But then, on the other hand, Paul’s talking about what’s been called ‘imputed righteousness’, which we have received from Jesus. Every saint is declared fully innocent before God and thus fully accepted by Him and on his or her way to a glorious forever. That’s Jesus’ ‘fault’.

Paul has explained an important aspect of the Gospel based on these two men, Adam and Jesus. It is a peek under the hood.

Now, there are all sorts of theological topics that I could bring up at this point.  Some of them are rather involved. But where I would like to go next is not some abstract theology, as interesting as that might be. Here’s what I want to talk about. God has used the lives of these two men, Adam and Jesus, to bring about tremendous change, absolutely tremendous change. They have had key roles in God’s master plan for humanity. What does that say about our lives, our roles in God’s master plan?

Let’s start with this. In your lifetime, you’ve been a part of two groups: the Adam group and then the Jesus group. You did not choose to be in the Adam group. God decided that before you were born. And you did not choose to be in the Jesus group either. God decided that, too, before you were born. There have been many things that have affected you very deeply that you did not choose.

You didn’t choose to be born into your family. You didn’t choose to occupy a place in peaceful, middle class America instead of war-torn and dirt-poor Somalia. You didn’t choose the color of your skin. You who are parents didn’t choose the kinds of children that you were given. And none of you chose your parents.

There are many things that have dramatically affected you and continue to dramatically affect you over which you have had and still have absolutely no control. If it wasn’t associated with such a negative connotation, I’d say that we are all pawns in a giant chess match, in God’s master plan for humanity. But seeing ourselves as those ‘little pawns’ especially makes sense when you compare who we are and what we do with Adam and Jesus, with who they were and what they did.

Here’s one result of grasping all of this: humility. And true humility always leads to a sense of peace.

Some of you will recognize these lines from a poem.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
How silly. The guy who wrote that is dead. Tuberculosis. He died at the ripe old age of fifty-three. I’m guessing that he didn’t want to be dead. But he is.

His silly poem captures the attitude of our culture, an attitude that, to a greater or lesser extent, has affected all of us.

Think about this. Each of you is a part of a master plan, God’s master plan. And this master plan is beyond your control or even your ability to grasp because it’s so big. Your role in this master plan isn’t all that great. Nobody here is another Adam or Jesus. How should you respond to that? Here’s my suggestion: relax. You have a role to play, a calling from God. Play the role. Fulfill the calling. But relax as you do that so that you can be at peace.

Or let me say that in a more provocative way. You’re not all that important. You are significant. Being created in God’s image makes you significant. But it doesn’t make you important, not like Adam or Jesus. And knowing that can be so very helpful.

Consider my situation. What am I? I am the pastor of a church that on a good Sunday includes maybe fifty people. I have a blog where a really noteworthy post might attract the attention of twenty people. I have a role to play and a calling to fulfill. But I think that I can say that I’m not that important. It won’t be the case that because of what I do I will see the world dramatically affected. That’s not going to happen. And that’s not a defeatist attitude. That’s reality. It’s humbling and very helpful.

It’s in understanding reality that we understand our lives. There are so many who are trying to ignore reality. They have been told that for their lives to matter they have to make a big dent. They have to do things that will get them noticed. The bigger the splash the better, even if it’s in a little pond. So, they do all sorts of things to make that happen. And they push and push and push. But what do they tell themselves when reality hits them in the face? When they come to see that they aren’t making that big of a splash. When they come to see that they aren’t that important?

Now, not being all that important isn’t the same as being worthless. Drop a pebble in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and you won’t see much happen. But that pebble will have an effect, however small. And that’s what we are called to do. We are all to drop our pebble into this life. We are to do that not expecting a big splash. But we are to do that in obedience to our calling by the Father and in the expectation that it will make a difference at some point. We do that in hope, believing something else that Paul wrote:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58
Our God is pursuing His master plan. There are huge things going on in this master plan, things like people being tied to Adam and then being tied to Jesus; things like that and more. We’re included in this master plan. Us and our little pebble.

So, understand reality and relax. Evaluate your expectations. Re-consider what contentment might look like for you. Take a second look at your desires for your kids. Be clear about who exactly God has called you to be and what He wants you to do. Understand how He wants you to drop your pebble. Do these things and then relax.

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