God's Extravagant Gift
Sermon 1844 Romans 5.12-19 February 26, 2023
If you have chosen the girl wisely, an extravagant gift can get you into trouble. I found this out when I was first dating, let’s say, someone special. She was in one time zone, I was in another. I sort of liked her. I thought I’d get her something nice. Being single and actually having a paycheck, with nobody to put the brakes on my life (my buddies were just as clueless as I—that is to say, they were single and were going to stay that way for a few more years)—I went to the jewelry store and got her an extravagant gift. A watch. Gold chain. Chiseled crystal face. Swiss craftsmanship. Chocolate face. It was beautiful. I think it cost me two week’s wages, maybe more. I don’t remember when I gave it to her, but when I did, she almost broke up with me. It was extravagant. What kind of character would throw money around like that on someone he hardly knew? But she never gave it back. And she never broke up with me.
Someone else went way out on a limb.
God’s Extravagant Gift
1. Beyond the beyond (12-17).
2. Now never out of our possession (18-19).
The trouble with an extravagant gift is that it is beyond the beyond. It is out of scale with present realities. Guy goes out with a girl for a few times, gives her an extravagant gift, maybe even an engagement ring. He’s rushing it. He is at mile marker 40 and she is still punching in the address on Google Maps.
God’s extravagant gift was beyond the beyond.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (12).”
Paul condemns the whole world as sinners because of Adam’s Original Sin. You know the story. It is recounted for us in today’s Old Testament lesson. You can eat from any tree in the Garden, but you must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The day you eat of it you will die. And that’s the tree Adam ate from when Eve, having tasted it, shared some of its fruit with him. Adam sinned. God told him not to and he did. He had the express command of God and he ignored it, rejected it and walked all over it.
But that’s Adam and Eve. How could Paul say all sinned?
“For before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come (13-14).”
No, there were no explicit words of command from God to all the generations from Adam to Moses. God had written his Law on man’s heart. People, even from youth, knew the difference between right and wrong. Yet they were sinners. Paul proves it by saying they all died. Death reigned over them. The wages of sin is death and since they all died, they all were under the condemnation of death which Adam brought into the world. If we want an explanation, though none is needed, by Adam’s sin the natural state of created man, holy, righteous, that image of God, was destroyed, was lost and replaced with not only something that was dead and broken, but something that was actively set against God and aggressively promoted evil. We call it the sinful human nature or the Old Adam.
Since it still might seem a little unfair to some, Paul continues.
“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! 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 (15-16).”
Though there was no explicit command, there was lots of sin—from everyone! Cain and Abel. Some guy named Lamech. All the people around the time of Noah. Don’t get me started on Sodom and Gomorrah. The world was a mess. People were cutting off every limb they were sitting on. And sin is dangerous stuff. After only one sin, that one act of disobedience on Adam’s part, judgment fell on every person. What could happen after the repeated sins of every one of Adam’s descendants?
I hope you realize you and I are in this mix, too. We die. Our gray hairs testify against us. We are aging. We have sinned. The stories our parents can tell us about how we were so naughty when we were little attest to that. Our terrible twos show we have a big pot of envy and greed boiling inside us. As we grow up, it is still boiling, but we’ve acquired some socialization skills to keep the lid on.
“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 (17).”
God’s extravagant gift went beyond the beyond. In spite of all the sins of all the world, in spite of continued sinning when God had explicitly set forth a summary of his holy and unchanging will, the Ten Commandments, God gave the gift of Jesus to the human race. We didn’t deserve it. Far from it. Like a girl getting a fancy watch from a guy she’s gone out on a date, like, six times, we were shocked. We couldn’t believe it. We didn’t want to believe it. To accept it would put us at such a disadvantage. How could we ever repay God for this? Yet God plowed ahead, not counting the cost. He sent his Son to live the perfect life for us. As soon as Jesus was baptized he went out into the desert and for forty days and forty nights resisted the repeated and continual temptations of the devil. Even when he was running way past empty Jesus relied on the only power left to him, God’s Word. It is written. And he defeated the devil.
He sent his Son to die the perfect death for us. We’re going to hear more about that in the weeks ahead, but the cross in front of our church and in front of any church that isn’t ashamed to call itself Christian hammers home the message. Jesus died for you. He died for me. God’s gift of forgiveness is free—that’s what grace means—but it sure wasn’t cheap.
Instead of living in fear of death all our days, we rule, we are the boss of our lives through that right standing, righteousness, God has declared over us. Not guilty of sin. We have life, spiritual life with God through Jesus Christ. That’s God’s beyond the beyond extravagant gift,
God’s extravagant gift is now never out of our possession.
“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (18-19).”
Adam brought us sin and death. It’s as clear as the nose on our face. Bad news earthquakes. Bad news shootings. Bad news embezzlements. Bad news gossip.
Jesus brought us life and forgiveness. That’s as clear as the nose on our face, too. Every time a brother or sister in the faith passes from this world we have the firm belief that their souls already continue to live on in heaven. It’s almost the first thing out of our mouth. She’s with Jesus. He’s in heaven. I see it in the conversations of those who are approaching their last days. They are not fearful. They are not panic-stricken, trying to hang on to every day and extend their lives at all costs, even if for only another hour, another breath. Their Christian courage shows the reality of the righteousness Jesus has won for all people. They possess that righteousness by faith. When we were kids and went tobogganing or sledding, we could see disaster coming. A tree. A rock. We bailed. Broke a few toboggans, but never any bones. Don’t you think sensible people would bail out on Jesus at the end if they thought it was turning into a bad ride? Not a one of us do. We are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls. It keeps us going. It is never out of our mind.
It is like that way before our last days. From our earliest years we were taught our prayers to Jesus and every day we pray them. We learned our Jesus songs, songs at Christmas, songs at Easter, songs in the morning. We sang them. We sing them. Sometimes we don’t even have to look at a hymnal they are so much a part of us! And the words of Jesus, they echo inside us. They guide us. They sustain us. You can have two types of treasured possessions. One is an heirloom that is never used, never opened, carefully wrapped up and stored away, out of sight. The other is something you use every day, something that shows the wear and tear of life, stained with the oil from your hands, worn from the friction of your fingers running over it. Which one is truly your treasured possession? The one you never use? Or the one you use every day? One you have to remember where you put it. The other makes you what you are.
Don’t look for God’s gift of righteousness in the storage cabinet. Look for God’s gift of righteousness in our hearts, in our minds. Look for it in your Luther’s Small Catechism coming apart at the seams. Look for it in that raggedy Bible on the end table with all the highlighting and notes, bookmarks and bent over edges. One of your friends almost accused you of book abuse when they saw it! Look for God’s gift of righteousness in our lives. It produces good deeds. It produces a cheerful heart. One day closer. One less mountain to climb. One more chance to get it right. Look at the Holy Spirit who always makes us enthralled by the gift of God, never to tire of it, never to take it for granted. Ever new. Ever fresh.
Oh, if it were only true for me! Oh, if it were not only for the elite and chosen few! I have always felt left out. I have always gotten the short end of the stick. I always get to the door two minutes after closing and they never open it up for me.
Oh, God’s extravagant gift is especially for you, then. It is never out of our possession, for it is for all people. Look how Paul emphasizes that. “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)!”
This gift is for the many, not the few. One man had the power to affect the lives of the many. We sense what Paul is doing but we can’t believe it. The one is contrasted with the many. Yes, one man can have such power to change the course of the entire human race. One man, Adam steered our race into the Abyss of sin and death. Everyone was on that bus. One man, Jesus, pulled that bus out of the ditch and towed it back to the garage. Everyone was on that bus.
And then Paul says it again. Anaphora, the Greeks called it. He says it again in different ways so it hits home. He repeats himself with a different vocabulary so it sinks in. The words aren’t hard to understand. You don’t have to be a Ph.D. in English to fathom them. We have to simply believe that all is all and many is many. Adam brought death upon all. The many died in Adam’s trespass. God’s gift of forgiveness of sins flowed to the many. Justification brings life to all.
God’s Extravagant Gift
1. Beyond the beyond (12-17).
2. Now never out of our possession (18-19).
It is true. It is real. It is for all. But especially oh, especially, it is for you. Don’t decide to break up with God because you can never repay him. Don’t get skittish because someone loves you that much, loves you more than silver, more than gold, more than his own life itself. Believe and receive God’s extravagant gift of grace.