Why death has been defeated - Romans 5:12-21

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 18th November 2001.

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One of the pains of modern life that many of us now have to contend with is computer viruses. My anti virus software on my computer tells me that there are around 50,000 viruses that my computer could get. Now most of them are pretty harmless or at least a little bit annoying. But occasionally some viruses hit the national headlines because they are so devastating. Recently there was the "I love you virus" which affected many offices and companies, shutting down systems around the world. Then there was the "Anna Kournikova" virus which again affected many computers over the globe. And apparently there are people in the world who spend all their time making up these viruses which they then release over the internet or through email. Now I am no expert, but one thing is clear- it is possible for one person to create a massive problem for millions of people across the globe. One person’s work can have devastating effects.

Now when we come to the second half of Romans 5 we find that Paul is telling us that the work of one man has had devastating effects, not in ruining computers, but in destroying the lives of every person who has ever lived on the planet. Through the rebellion of Adam, death and sin came into the world and we have been living with the consequences ever since. But Paul also tells us that another man, the God-man Jesus Christ, has come to reverse that devastating work of Adam, and has done a work even more amazing in its good effects than the destructive work of Adam. And it is this contrast that Paul is making throughout our passage which we are looking at together this evening- Adam and Christ. Several times in the passage Paul will say: "For if Adam did such and such, how much more has Jesus done such and such…." And "just as Adam did such and such, so also Jesus did such and such…" And Paul’s conclusion will be that Jesus has done a far, far more greater work than Adam.

But we may ask, "Well that is all well and good, but why does Paul spend all this time telling us about Adam. Surely this is a bit alien to us?" Well some of the concepts may well be foreign, but Paul is making a very important point. In these central chapters of Romans, chapters 5-8, Paul is assuring his readers that Jesus has done everything necessary to bring us safely to heaven. He has defeated death and sin and the law and has given us everything we need to get there. There is nothing that can stop the Christian getting to heaven. We are free from the grip of death, sin and the law. Jesus’ death had covered everything. If you remember last week we saw that there are wonderful benefits coming from the death of Christ- we have peace with God, forgiveness and hope. And Paul is now reinforcing the point and showing us that Jesus has done everything needed to reverse the terrible consequences of Adam’s sin. So do you ever doubt that God has done enough to get you to heaven? Do you ever doubt that this world’s pain will ever end? Do you ever doubt that God loves you and will keep loving you? Well be assured from this passage that God has done everything and more to secure our salvation and to set us free from the most terrible of our enemies- death itself. So come with me to this remarkable passage and we’ll see three wonderful truths to challenge us and spur us on to live the Christian life this week.

1) Our Ruin (Vv 12-14)

2) Our Rescue (Vv 15-19)

3) Our Reign ( Vv 20-21)


1) Our Ruin (Vv 12-14)

So first then, Paul tell us about our ruin in verses 12-14. Verse 12: "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." Now Paul never quite finishes this verse because his quick mind leads him to talk about something else. He begins with a "just as" and you expect him to go on to say "so also", as he does elsewhere in the passage. And we can guess that Paul would have gone on to write something like "so also righteousness came to us through Jesus," or words to that effect, and in fact he’ll say that in verse 18. But here in verse 12 he is talking about our ruin. And there is a deadly progression that takes place. Sin enters the world through Adam, death comes through sin, and so all sinned and thus die. Paul is taking us back to the garden of Eden where we are told that Adam ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and thus breaks God’s command. It is a clear rejection of the kingship of God. Adam wants to be the boss of his own life. But the judgement that comes upon Adam is death. "For dust you are, and to dust you will return," says God. So sin, rejection and rebellion against God enters the world and so death comes in too. And thus the whole of mankind is ruined.

Now Paul is teaching something very important here. He is saying that because of Adam’s sin, the whole human race is condemned. Adam represents all humanity, and because of him, the whole of humanity is ruined. Now we might be a little taken aback at this. Why should we be condemned when Adam sinned? To us twenty first century individualists such representation and corporate identity is unfair. But actually it is not as alien as we might think. Consider for a moment a football fan. When his team loses what does he say? He comes back from the match a disgruntled person and says: "We were terrible, we just didn’t play to our best ability." Was he playing? No. He just stood on the sidelines, shouted and ate a disgusting pie! But he is identifying himself so much with his team that when they lose he loses, when they win, he wins. Or take the current situation in Afghanistan. You are talking with your colleagues at work and what do people ask you? "Do you think we should go in to Afghanistan?" Are they asking you personally to don your khaki trousers from the Army Surplice store and go to Afghanistan? No. All they are saying is whether you think the government should send British troops in. But we align ourselves so much with our country and government that what they do we do- to a certain extent at least. We hurt when our troops get involved. We rejoice when our troops are successful. Now those illustrations don’t fully work, but they show us that we do think as a unity in some situations be it our favourite team or our country. And it is the same in the Bible. What Adam did, we did. He is our representative. When sin entered the world through him, all were ruined.

But there is more to it than that. Because not only are we already ruined by being part of Adam’s line as human beings, but also we do exactly the same as he did. We are sinful to the core. That’s not to say there is no good in us, but that sadly we are thoroughly sinful, rebels against our maker. Paul proves that in verse 13 and 14. We’ve not time to study the details but his point there is that sin and death have been in the world since Adam’s fall. The law given to Moses didn’t change anything. As Paul says in verse 20, the law was added so that the trespass, sin, might increase. Law shows us where we are wrong. It is like a torch that shows up dirt behind the oven. It’s not the that dirt wasn’t there before the torch was shone. Rather the torch shows up the dirt. No, humanity is horribly corrupt, and we are truly ruined. Children are a perfect example of this. Have you ever known a child that has to be taught to be naughty and disobedient? As I heard one parent say recently, children do not have will power, they have won’t power. You don’t need to train children to sin. They are natural. We sin from our mother’s knee. And there is no way out of this terrible cycle of sin and death.

No, we are ruined. Understand that clearly from Paul. Our forefather Adam sinned by rebelling against his maker, and ever since then sin and death has been in the world. And we need to be honest about ourselves and admit that. Do you realise how horribly corrupt you are? If not then set yourself a little task. Try and be perfect for twenty four hours. I can bet you that within one hour and less you will have come unstuck. It’s not that Christians are obsessed with sin. It is that Christians are realists. And the sooner we see that, the sooner we realise what a terrible situation we are in and that we need to look outside of ourselves for help. Our ruin. That’s the first thing we discover from Romans 5.


2) Our Rescue (Vv 15-19)

But then secondly we discover our rescue from verses 15-19. And in these verses Paul is drawing both a contrast and a comparison between Adam and Jesus and in doing so he is helping us to see the incredible work of Jesus in all its glory.


a) The Contrast- Vv 15-17- Let’s look first at the contrast. And we can tell the contrasts by the words "if such and such, how much more such and such…" And in verse 15 Paul contrasts their work. " But the gift is not like the trespass. For if 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 many." The contrast in the work of Adam and Jesus is between Adam’s trespass, his sin in rebelling against God, and Jesus bringing grace. How much more was grace better than the trespass. The gift here refers to Jesus’ saving work on the cross. If the first man Adam sinned, then Jesus did a better work in bringing grace. You couldn’t have a greater contrast could you? One sins, the other brings grace. And in verses 16-17 there is another contrast between their results. Verse 16: "Again the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification." So the contrast of results is that Adam brings judgement and condemnation. He sinned and therefore brought God’s just judgement on the whole human race. But the results of Jesus’ actions were to bring justification, meaning to be declared right with God, friends with God again. His death for us on the cross, the gift of grace that he brings, allows to be justified, to have our sins forgiven. You could not have two more opposite results of two people’s work could you. It’s the difference between an assassin and a surgeon. The one destroys life, the other saves life.

But Paul also reminds us that Jesus’ work was far greater than Adam’s because it required a greater deed. Paul says in verse 16 that judgment followed just one sin, but that Jesus’ work of justification followed many. In other words Jesus had a greater work to do to reverse the effects of all the sin in the world. All Adam needed to do was to sin once and set the whole process in motion. Some years ago when my family were living in the West Country, there was a very bad winter in which snow was a real problem. And the problem was we lived at the top of a hill. It was easy to get the car down the hill. We just let the brake off and rolled down. But coming up was virtually impossible. We pushed and skidded and huffed and puffed, all to no avail, and eventually we left the car at the bottom. Well Jesus has done the much harder task of pushing the car up the hill if you like. He has reversed the effects of the fall and given us grace and justification. You couldn’t ask for a better rescue.


b) The Comparison (Vv 18-19)- But there’s also a comparison between Adam and Christ, and Paul shows us the comparisons by saying "just as… so also.." First a comparison of single acts- Verse 18- "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 to all men." Both Adam and Christ did one act- the only trouble for Adam was that his led to condemnation. But Jesus led to justification. Just one act of Jesus was all it took. One death on the cross of the Son of God was what it took to rescue us and brings us back from the grip that death and sin has upon us. But there’s another comparison- a comparison of single attitudes- Verse 19: "For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous." Adam’s attitude was one of complete disobedience against God. Jesus’ attitude was one of complete obedience to his father. And through that obedience many are righteous, forgiven, free from sins and guilt.

Now I hope the point is clear. Paul is simply telling us that the work of Jesus in his death and resurrection is far better and greater than the work of Adam. Instead of condemnation, Jesus has brought justification. Instead of death, Jesus has brought life. Instead of bondage to sin, Jesus has brought grace and freedom. Now let me ask. Can you think of a message as liberating and wonderful as that? The answer is there is none. And are you tempted to believe sometimes that the Christian life is really not that important, that Jesus is just another hero to take or leave. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul gave his whole life to telling others this glorious message of freedom and life. There is nothing better. And that is why we so desperately need good facilities to carry out this huge task in our own parish. Without decent facilities to do gospel work, we will stagnate as a church and not grow. There is much work to be done. Thousands on our doorsteps do not know this life transforming message. Let’s pledge ourselves again this autumn to seeing this project through and giving ourselves a decent chance of reaching more with this message. There is no Saviour other than Jesus, and there is no rescue other than the one he provides. Our rescue.


3) Our Reign ( Vv 20-21)

But then finally we discover our reign in verses 20-21. Verse 21: "Just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Paul brings this chapter to a conclusion by showing us the two realms that we find ourselves. One realm or reign is the reign of death. Every human being suffers under that reign and rule. But Paul’s good news is that through Jesus there is the possibility of living under a new reign, and a new monarch Jesus Christ. This new reign is the reign of grace, and it brings to us through Jesus Christ eternal life. Adam brought eternal death, Jesus brings eternal life. And we must ask ourselves which realm, which reign am I in? Am I still in Adam’s reign of death, unforgiven, weighed down by sin and guilt and shame. Or am I living in the reign of grace, having come to Jesus for forgiveness and new life. That is why the Christian life is such a wonderful experience. Let no-one ever tell you being a Christian is dull. Rather it is life to the full, living in the confidence that death will not be the end.

Today of course people do all sorts of things to avoid death, and even after death some go to extreme lengths. You may have heard of the new science called cryonics. It involves having your body frozen immediately after death and then placed in liquid nitrogen, with the blood being replaced by freezer liquid. The hope is that when science invents a cure for the disease that you died of, then you can be thawed out and revived, all at the reasonable price of 60,000. But the Christian doesn’t need to put faith in such schemes. He knows that death reigns in this life. But a far more powerful force is at work in us. Jesus Christ has given us new life through his death and resurrection to give us eternal life. And that is the hope of the Christian. Life with him in his kingdom for ever where grace reigns, and wonderfully we too will reign with Christ as his co heirs.

Is that the hope by which you live day by day? Grace reigns through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. My grandfather was a committed Christian who loved his Saviour Jesus Christ, and sought to serve him as Lord. And one of his favourite books was Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. The book is a story about a man called Christian who is seeking to get to the Celestial City, and it is written in the form of a dream that Bunyan had, a parable of the Christian life. And at my grandfather’s funeral service, I read out the final paragraphs of the book which talks about death and the hope of overcoming it and so entering heaven. This is what Bunyan wrote: "Between the travellers and the gate of the city was a deep river, dark and cold, but there was no bridge. At the sight of the river the pilgrims turned pale and silent. The two angels said: "You must go through, or you will never get to the gate." Then they accepted the inevitable. Entering the water, Christian began to sink. He cried to his good friend Hopeful: "I’m sinking in deep water…" "Be of good cheer," said Hopeful. "I feel the bottom and it is good."…. Soon Christian found ground to stand on, and the rest of the river was shallow. So the pilgrims sped on towards the gate…. The pilgrims gave their certificates to the gatekeeper and were admitted into the Celestial City…. Just as the gate opened to let them in, I got a glimpse of the inner glory of heaven. The whole city blazed like the Sun. The streets were paved with gold, and the clothes of those who walked the streets shone with a lightness I had never seen before. And they wore crowns as kings. And just as they began to praise God saying "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty," the gate closed." That’s was my grandfather’s hope in the face of death. And it can be ours today as well. The reign of sin and death is defeated. The reign of grace and life will last forever. That’s the hope the Christian has. Our reign.

Well computer viruses are one thing, but sin and death is quite another. And yet in Christ sin, death and condemnation for all has been replaced by grace, forgiveness and life. So which realm are you in? Death or life? Thank God that because of Jesus we can move from death to life.


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