Sermon 1692 Romans 5.15-17 March 1, 2020
We have all gone through it. Recounting our family medical history to our new doctor. Cancer on my mom’s side. Heart problems on my dad’s side of the family. Oh, and strokes, too! It doesn’t help when your sister sees a picture of you and says, “You look a lot like Uncle Phil did.” Genetics. The gift that keeps on giving. Why couldn’t I have been an orphan?
Oh, but it can work the other way, too. Those chocolate brown eyes, that full head of hair, your dad’s height, that absolutely adorable nose from your mom. Genetics. The gift of one generation to another.
Today we are going to talk about gifts. One set is bad, the one that came from Adam, but I want to focus on the other set, the spiritual gifts that came from Jesus.
The Greatest Gift
One gift for the many.
One gift after many.
First of all, let’s clarify things. “The many” is not to be understood as “many, but not all.” In the paragraph before our text, actually in the same reading for today, Paul says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people (12).” “The many” is a synonym, another name, for all. It simply emphasizes the huge difference. We are going to be talking about how the actions of two individuals affected all of us. Can the actions of one person have such sweeping effects? Yes! It affects the many, the all. So, here we go.
The greatest gift is one gift for the many.
“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus, Christ, overflow to the many! (15).”
It is clear that Adam’s fall into sin, as related by our Old Testament reading for today, was devastating. Someone who could walk and talk with God now covers up. In the next verses we find out how Adam runs away in terror, hides, lies and hangs his wife out to dry. The head of the human race becomes a heel. As history unfolded, it was also clear that Adam’s fall into sin had devastating consequences on everything else. Death came into the world. The Lord killed at least two animals to dress Adam and Eve in their skins. As soon as Cain is born we hear he comes into the world bearing Adam’s image, not the image of God. And then there’s that terrible genealogy. So and So lived x number of years and became the father of So and So Junior and then he died, and then he died, and then he died. Death came into the world to all people, and, come to think of it, to all animals. Everything that had the breath of life would now die. And that includes you and me. Everybody dies. Because of Adam. That’s because everyone sins. We were born with a sinful human nature and we daily act it out. As a result, we all fear morphing into zebras. Wait. None of us fears morphing into zebras. It is impossible for us to become zebras. We only fear what is possible. As a result of everyone being a sinner, we all fear death, from our earliest days. It is a possibility, always.
As the first Adam gave to all, to the many, that worst gift ever, sin and death, coupled with fear and hell, the second Adam, Jesus Christ gave his gift of grace to all, to the many.
Remember how the Apostle Paul put it? “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”
Bad news is bad news and nobody wants it. But good news, everyone wants in on the action. God’s grace is that good news. For the sake of the one, Jesus Christ, God made the gift of forgiveness overflow to the many. You saw the pictures of the flooding as well as I. Just last March the Mississippi’s delta region was flooded by well, the Mississippi. For miles there was nothing but water and trees and tops of houses sticking above the muddy flood waters. Nothing was spared. That’s overflow. It cannot be contained. God’s grace cannot be contained. It overflows to reach everyone. It didn’t matter if those farmers in Mississippi were haphazard farmers or farmers that kept everything top notch. All were flooded. It spared no one. So God’s grace leaves no one out. None of us are missed. God’s grace flows over us all.
God’s grace is so wonderful, Paul immediately describes it as “the gift.” The gift is forgiveness of sins. “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,” Paul would write elsewhere. The gift is eternal life. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation,” Martin Luther once wrote, crisply setting forth biblical teaching.
This is the greatest gift because it is for all, one gift for the many. I think we have already established that, but let’s put the final nails in the coffin, because the sinful human nature has so hoodwinked some, otherwise wonderful Christians, that they think Jesus only died for the believers. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” Since there is no limiting adjective to world, it has to be the whole world. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Same argument. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.” All is all. If all isn’t all, what does it mean? If your all doesn’t mean all, you are either a liar or a politician.
Let’s move on. The greatest gift is one gift after many.
“Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (16-17).”
A police officer or a district attorney would say Adam had no priors. He had no prior history of wrongdoing. His slate was clean, a good, upstanding citizen. But then, blam! One sin changed everything. At first glance we might think that’s harsh, but that’s the way things work. How many neighbors are surprised a murderer lived next to them, “because he was such a good neighbor, kept to himself and never had any trouble with the law”?
Look what the greatest gift had to overcome. Jesus came and laid down his life on the cross after many transgressions, after a world of transgressions. Imagine we only sinned three times a day and one month we were really good and didn’t sin at all. That would be one thousand sins a year. And there are seven billion people in the world. Twenty one billion sins a day. Seven thousand billion sins a year—a trillion! Best case scenario. Every year. Just since Jesus was born that makes, well, a lot! But by his one sacrifice on the cross, Jesus took away so many sins. He paid the price for a huge mountain of moral debt. He took away all that guilt and shame. He didn’t have to die many times to gradually chip away that mountain of sin. “He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day; he sacrificed once for all when he offered himself (Hebrews 7.27).”
How great is something that works the first time. One pill and poof! The cancer would be gone. One oil change and poof! Your car never needed another oil change. One coat of paint and poof! Your house would stay new looking forever. I’d get that pill. I’d get that oil change. I’d get that paint job. We all would.
Here we have something that works completely the first time. We were saved when Jesus died on the cross. All of our sins were paid for when he cried out, “It is finished.” It was. His life of being the sin sacrifice for all the sins of all the world was over. God did not count sins any longer. The sins of the past didn’t count against a person. The sins to be committed by a person didn’t count against them. They were all forgiven.
We have that full and complete forgiveness of sins every time we take the Lord’s Supper. It is not just for the sins of the week behind us, but it is for the forgiveness of sins to come. It gives us the assurance that we are not an on again, off again Christian, like the blinking neon lights in town. We are always forgiven. We are always God’s children. We are always heirs of heaven. “Our sins, they are many, his mercy is more.”
The Greatest Gift
One gift for the many.
One gift after many.
The greatest gift. It isn’t genetics. Great hair. Great build. High cholesterol. High blood pressure. It’s better than genetics. It lasts forever. It is for everyone. I wouldn’t want to be orphaned from God. I want that greatest gift on my spiritual records. Don’t you?