Text: Romans 5:12-19
Date: Lent I + 3/5/17
Today, especially in this first year of our three-year lectionary, we are blessed to begin again the ancient journey of the catechumenate, the starting line of the Christian race of faith, the journey of beginning to discover what it means to be a Christian. The catechumenate is guided by the ancient traditional gospels from St. John. For those going through this journey for the first time it will culminate in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism at the Vigil of the Eve of Easter. (Shhh! Don’t tell the new ones what to expect!) For the rest of us it is to be like going back to our beginnings, to rediscover the miracle and freshness of faith and the joy of our new spiritual birth (John 3), of satisfying our spiritual thirst (John 4), of regaining our spiritual vision (John 9), and of overcoming the last enemy of death (John 11).
We enrolled in this journey on Ash Wednesday, each of us individually reminded, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This journey is a matter of life and death. Death is the enemy. Death is the wages of sin. Sin is our universal disease. Today we are reminded of how that came to be with the account of the fall of Adam. Then we also discover that the ancient serpent of Genesis 3 is none other than that fallen angel, Satan, the devil who still lures us into sin and torments us with his accusations. But through it all the beloved Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, is leading us through to His gift of life. What we are to begin with today is the certain and sure promise that by faith in Jesus we will succeed to life in the end.
As we have been praying this year, “Thy kingdom come,” so we began this Lenten journey with Martin Luther’s famous hymn. Usually identified with the festival of the reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is actually about the struggle of faith, “though devils all the world should fill.” It sings the confidence of faith in the words,
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth (LSB 656:4).
So far we have been speaking of the Kingdom of God as the rule and reign of God. God is the ruler. Christ is the King. But for this reason one sentence from today’s Epistle, Romans 5:17, caught my eye because it speaks of other rulers. On the one hand the reign of death we all inherited through the one man’s trespass. And then though you would expect the second half of that sentence to speak of the reign of Christ, but it says “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” That is, in Christ we the righteous reign. It says we reign! Jesus said to His apostles, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28). The apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy, “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12). So says St. John’s vision in Revelation 20, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4). You see, by your holy baptism you are not made mere “subjects” of God’s kingdom, but, higher and more blessed than that, co-heirs, co-rulers with Christ.
Today we must learn that, on the one hand, our sin is the fault of Adam yet on the other hand it is also our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” St. Paul says both that our sin is inherited but it is also demonstrated through our own sinful acts, thoughts, words, deeds, what we have done and what we have failed to do. So death reigned from Adam and still reigns today. That is the struggle of the kingdom in this fallen world.
Now St. Paul makes the amazing statement that “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,” that is overflowed “for many.” The grace of God is for all. The saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the full and sufficient payment, redemption from all sin, of the sin of the world, the sin of every sinner. Yet, what do we see? Though that gift is there for everyone, not everyone receives it, claims it or even agrees with it. The last struggle of sin is not to give God all the glory but to try desperately to hang on to some credit or claim for our own efforts, as if there is anything, something yet in us that can play that game. But the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, His cross and resurrection for us and for our salvation, is more than sufficient, count more than the commandments against our sin.
“Those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” The free gift is God’s declaration of righteousness, that is, not by our own works, not by our own cleaning up of ourselves and getting our act together, but solely for the fact of faith in the evidence of the death of Jesus Christ does God declare sinners truly forgiven, sinless, righteous. We are because He says so. That’s because our sin no longer counts for anything in God’s sight. That’s because Christ’s payment on the cross counts for everything in God’s sight. God looks at the innocent suffering and death of His beloved Son on the cross and, knowing that payment was not for His own sin, now counts that payment to the account of all sinners and the sin of the world. By faith in Jesus Christ God here and now and forever declares you righteous, working again the way God originally intended. It is Christ’s death that counts. It is God’s declaration that counts. Receive it with joy.
Let us ever walk with Jesus through these blessed forty days that we may grow in grace and faith and joy. Come, let us follow Him.