What Wondrous Love, Feb. 10
"What Wondrous Love" Romans 5:12-19 February 10, 2008
The French playwright VictorienSardou (1831-1908) went to a literary dinner party. What happened next has become a legend in literary circles. It shows how one thing can lead to another, whether that thing is good or bad.
Sardou knocked over his wine glass.
The woman next to him sprinkled salt on the stained tablecloth.
Sardou tossed some of the salt over his shoulder to ward off bad luck.
The salt hit the butler in the eyes.
The butler rubbed his eyes and dropped a platter of chicken on the floor.
The family dog began devouring the chicken and choked on a chicken bone.
The son of the house tried to loosen the chicken bone from the dog's throat.
The dog bit the boy's finger.
The boy's finger had to be amputated. [i]
Life is like that, isn't it? We start out a day with perfectly good intentions and by the end of the day we wonder what went wrong. It is sometimes said that there are three ways to get something done. First, do it yourself. Second, hire someone to do it. Third, forbid your kids to do it.
On this first Sunday in Lent, the church steps forth to offer the world hope! Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, there is good news. Good news of a glorious vision of the future; good news that can wipe away the mists of tragedy and waves of evil plaguing our human existence.
However, it is not enough for the church to confess that we are a sinful selfish and short-lived people. As someone has said, "The good news is that we are all bad." There is no hope, no grace, and no love in such a message.
In contrast, the real position of biblical anthropology is not just that people are rotten ... it is that through the grace and love of our Creator God, we are justified and brought to new life through the Cross of Jesus Christ.
As we look at today's passage, we must realize that much of our understanding of Paul's discussion on "sin" in Romans 5:12-19 is colored by centuries of church history and theology. For instance, nowhere in today's text or anywhere else in the New Testament is there any reference to something called "original" sin. That phrase was derived from the Vulgate's Latin translation of Paul's Greek text.
The statement in the original Greek points back less to one man, Adam, than it does to the cause of the universality of death among humankind. The sin of Adam did invite death into this world. But it is each new generation's original participation in this sin that continues to keep death stalking the land.
(5:12) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—
In verse 12, Paul is less concerned with fixing blame on Adam than he is with setting the scene for humanity's universal need for Christ's redemptive act. Indeed, redemption is the true focus of Paul's discussion here - not sin and death. Note that verse 12 begins with the transitional connecting phrase "therefore" (dia touto), which grammatically ties Paul's current discussion into his previous words.
Immediately preceding this text, Paul had focused on God's great reconciling act as carried out by the death of the Son.
(5:1) Therefore, having been justified by faith, we havepeace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Paul is more interested in praising this gift from God (5:1), than he is in finding a causal link explaining our sinful state. As an observant, Torah-educated Jew, Paul is well versed already on human beings as sinners and God the Creator alone as humanity's redeemer. To affect this redemption, Paul points to Christ's death on the cross as the great mediating event of our salvation.
It is in verses 15-16, that Paul further develops the contrast between the results of Adam's sin and the results of Christ's obedience, even to the Cross. Note that Paul continually stresses the "free" nature of God's saving act in Christ. Five times in verses 15-17 Paul refers to the "free gift" that is being offered to humanity, in contrast to the "trespasses" in which we have lived since Adam.
Thus, while verses 15-17 stand deep within the discussion of sin and death outlined in today's epistle reading, they, too, point back to Paul's previous topic in chapters 1-4: the grace of God that leads to our justification. Though we were ruined by sin, we were rescued by Christ.
"By Christ and his righteousness, we have more and greater privileges than we lost by the offence of Adam." (MatthewHenryCommentary) Grace was poured so plentifully from heaven that it did not only counterbalance sin, but beyond this it surpassed it." (Geneva Notes)
Paul's remarks in verses 17-18 on this comparison between the trespasses of Adam and the free gift of Christ reveal how Paul has tried to make both the tragedy of the first Adam and the miraculous gift of the Second Adam a highly logical, clear-cut argument.
Instead of emphasizing God's gift of redemption as undeserved and unmerited, he uses his classic skills as a debater and Torah-trained legalist to make a "logical case" for the wonder of the Cross. By holding up Adam with one hand and Christ with the other, Paul is able to demonstrate God's universal grace as a cure for sin's universal dominion over the world.
Just as one man's trespass brought death into the world, so it should be that one man's obedience should bring in the "dominion in life," the gift of life, to all those who receive this graced sacrifice. If one man can make us all sinners and condemn all to death, so then can one man make us all justified and redeemed to life.
In short, the power of sin came into the world first with Adam, but sin is carried forward by the choices of each new generation. We share a common, tragic history with Adam, even if it is not a genetic disposition. This is also why Paul speaks of Jesus in this text as a "man" - as one who is also now a part of our human history. We now have access to a salvation-history, offered to us as the remedy for our common history of sin and death.
We need a Savior. The world needs a Savior. The planet needs a Savior to save it from human greed and selfishness.
We have a Savior.
Decades ago, a missionary named JohnPaton tried to translate the New Testament into the indigenous language of the people to whom he was sent. During his study of the language, he found that there was no word for "believe."
As the missionary struggled over how to translate the New Testament into a language without any word for believe, one of the natives dropped by and flung himself exhaustedly in a chair. Then he stretched out and rested his legs on another chair. Laying himself out full-length on the two chairs, he muttered some words about how good it felt to "lean his whole weight on" those chairs.
Instantly, JohnPaton wrote down the word used for "lean one's whole weight on." He knew he had discovered the precise word for "believe."
You try it. Reread your Bible, and every time you come to the word "believe," insert instead "lean your whole weight on."
Here's John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever shall lean his whole weight on him, may not perish but may have eternal life.
The world has a Savior.
We have a Savior that we can "lean our whole weight on."
Let us pray:
Dear Master, in whose life I see
All that I would, but fail to be,
Let thy clear light forever shine,
To shame and guide this life of mine.
Though what I dream and what I do
In my weak days are always two,
Help me, oppressed by things undone,
O thou, whose deeds and dreams were one. Amen.
[i] (--RobertHendrickson, World Literary Anecdotes (New York: Facts on File, 1990), 214.)