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A few of your classmates were being loud and goofing around. When the teacher entered the room, she issued a universal verdict. Everyone in the class has to stay in for recess. The drill sergeant saw one person break a rule and he issued a universal verdict, everyone does pushups. You know what you were thinking if you have ever been in that kind of situation, especially if you were doing what you were supposed to do. You were thinking. “It’s not fair! Why should I have to suffer for what someone else did?”
This morning the Apostle Paul tells us about two universal verdicts issued by God to which our first reaction is, “That’s not fair.” But as we study these verdicts, we can’t help but praise God because although it might not seem fair that we die because of Adam, we sure are thankful that we live because of Jesus.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, the effects were immediate. They immediately felt shame. When they heard God walking in the garden, they foolishly tried to hide from him. When they were confronted with their sin, instead of confessing their sin, they tried to blame each other, the devil, and even God himself. They were banished from the beautiful garden God had made for them. They had to work hard to raise enough food to eat. They experienced pain. They became subject to death. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Paul explains that Adam’s one act of disobedience was like a lightning rod, a conduit that brought sin into the world; it was like opening the wrong door at the CDC and unleashing a deadly infectious disease. Every part of creation was now affected by sin. The consequence of sin, which is death, permeated Adam and Eve like a mutant gene that was then passed on to all their descendants.
We can try to argue all we want that it isn’t fair that because of something one man did thousands of years ago, we are still dying today, but arguing about it won’t change the facts. When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost the image of God. They had children in their own image, not God’s image. They passed on their defective genes, their sinful nature, to everyone who came from them—to every human being who ever has or ever will live. As proof of this fact, Paul says, just look at history. What has happened to every person who has ever lived on the earth? Everyone has either died or is dying. Drugs and surgery may extend our lives a little, but eventually, no matter how advanced medicine gets, everyone’s body eventually wears out. Death came to all men, Paul says. Death reigns.
Now someone might argue that people die because, like Adam, they disobey God. But that’s not completely true. Everyone does disobey God. Everyone commits sins and breaks God’s commandments. But even if we never broke a single commandment, we would still die simply because we are descendants of Adam and we have inherited his sinful nature. That’s why we say in our confession of sins that we are by nature sinful. That fact all by itself is enough to condemn us.
Paul emphasizes this point by reminding us that people from Adam and Eve to Moses didn’t have specific commands communicated to them directly from God. Adam had the specific command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but God didn’t give any other specific commands like the one he gave to Adam until he gave the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. And yet, all the people between Adam and Moses still died, even though they didn’t break a specific command of God as Adam did. Even if people don’t commit sins against specific commands of God, they are still considered sinners and worthy of death. Like it or not, we die because of Adam. Paul says, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned.
It is absolutely necessary that we understand what God is telling us here. If we don’t; if we try to change this teaching of original, or inherited sin, as we often call it; we will end up teaching all kinds of false doctrine and miss out on the true comfort of God’s amazing grace.
The failure to see how powerful and pervasive original sin is leads to false teaching about conversion. When we understand that in Adam we lost the image of God and are born in Adam’s sinful image we realize, as Luther says, that we cannot by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus. We can’t make a decision for Christ by our own power. We are born in the image of Adam which means we are born spiritually dead.
The failure to understand original sin also leads to a misunderstanding of baptism. Babies aren’t innocent in God’s sight until they are old enough to commit sins against specific commands. Already at conception they are in the image of sinful Adam, counted as sinners before God and worthy of physical and eternal death. Left on their own they will never choose to believe in Jesus. They need to be brought into contact with God’s grace which he tells us is active in connection with the gospel in word and sacrament.
We can argue all we want that it isn’t fair that we are born in Adam’s sinful image and that because of what he did we are subject to physical and eternal death, but all the arguing in the world won’t change the facts. We do, however, have something to be thankful for. God hasn’t kept us in the dark about the problem. He has made it clear to us that the reason we face physical and eternal death is that we are sinful from birth, from the time our mothers conceived us, and to make matters worse, we have added sins against specific commands of God. We will die, and we do deserve God’s eternal wrath and punishment. Don’t just say the words of confession each week without thinking. Think about what they really mean. Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.
Because of what Adam did we are counted as sinners in God’s eyes. Because of what Adam did we are unable to keep from sinning. Because of what Adam did we are going to die physically and we deserve to die eternally. You can say, “It’s not fair,” but it’s true and there is nothing any of us can do about it. Thankfully, there is someone who could and did do something about it. God. What he did could be called unfair as well. I’m sure Satan considers it unfair. But it’s the kind of unfairness we rejoice in because it means we can be confident that we have eternal life.
Paul reminds us that Adam was a pattern, a type, of the one to come, a picture of Jesus. The point of comparison is that what Adam did affects everyone. Iif what Adam did affects everyone, and Adam is a type of Jesus, then what Jesus did also affects everyone. What seems unfair on the one hand is pure grace and blessing on the other.
Listen again to the way that Paul presents God’s overflowing love and grace to us in Jesus. 15But the gracious gift is not like Adam’s trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of this one man, it is even more certain that God’s grace, and the gift given by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ, overflowed to the many!
16And the gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin, for the judgment that followed the one trespass resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the gracious gift that followed many trespasses resulted in a verdict of justification.
17Indeed, if by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through the one man, it is even more certain that those who receive the overflowing grace of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ!
18So then, just as one trespass led to a verdict of condemnation for all people, so also one righteous verdict led to life-giving justification for all people. 19For just as through the disobedience of one man the many became sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will become righteous.
Did you notice how many times Paul used the words gift and grace? He makes it completely clear that our forgiveness, our salvation, our eternal life is something that, like sin and death, comes to us from outside of us, from someone else. We don’t do anything, which was all a part of God’s plan because he knows we can’t do anything to save ourselves. He did it all. He sent Jesus as the second Adam, as a representative of the whole human race. And even though many sins had already been committed and will still be committed before the last day, God issues a universal verdict, that what Jesus did counts everyone.
Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit so that he was born without original sin, and he lived his whole life without committing any sins. He lived in perfect obedience to his Father in Heaven. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, in the garden, on the cross and any other time Satan tempted him to sin. And God has chosen to credit us with his righteousness. He has chosen to declare the whole world not guilty and to offer forgiveness and life to everyone for free. Forgiveness and eternal life are a gift of God’s grace. God has issued two universal verdicts; we die because of what Adam did, but we live because of what Jesus did.
Again, people want to argue that it’s not fair that we live because of Jesus. They want to be able to claim that they did something to contribute to their salvation, that they have eternal life because of something they have done, even if it’s just choosing to believe in Jesus, but that’s just another lie of Satan. He’s still trying to get us to think that we can be like God by something we do. Paul makes it clear that death proves there is nothing we can do, and the perfect life, innocent death and glorious resurrection of Jesus proves that God did it all for us. Jesus is the second Adam. We are declared not guilty, we are justified before God only because of him.
Thank God for his two universal verdicts. We all die because of what Adam did, but we live because of what Jesus did.