As Neil Armstrong famously said on the surface of the moon, one small step for a man can be a giant leap for mankind. Sometimes the actions of one man or woman can change the course of history. One individual can sometimes have a huge impact on whole countries or civilisations – both for good or for ill.
For example, think of the malign impact of men like Hitler and Stalin on the history of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Think what might have happened to President Kennedy had Lee Harvey Oswald not pulled the trigger that killed him. And think what the past year might have been like had the first person not contracted coronavirus in China?
More positively, think of the enormous impact on human history of individual men and women like Winston Churchill, William Wilberforce, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther, Mother Theresa and many more. Wars have been won, slaves have been freed and countless lives have been changed for the better through the actions of righteous men and women like these.
In our passage from Romans today, the apostle Paul introduces us to two men in history who had an enormous impact on the human race. One for ill, and one for good. In today’s reading, Paul compares and contrasts the ‘life and work’ of Adam and Christ. These two men come from opposite ends of our Bibles – one in Genesis and the other in the Gospels – but have much in common. The actions of Adam and Jesus both had enormous spiritual significance, with implications for us all. So much so that in v.14 of our reading, Paul describes Adam as a “pattern” of Christ who was to come. When he walked the earth, Jesus was a new and better Adam. So let’s spend a few moments comparing and contrasting the lives of Adam and Christ.
One thing that both Adam and Christ have in common is that the Bible describes them both as God’s image bearers. Both possessed the image of our invisible Creator. But whereas Adam was made from the dust of the earth, Christ came from heaven.
Adam bore God’s image as copy – he was a son of God in a derivative, secondary sense (like photograph bears the image of it subject). But Christ was the original, authentic image of the invisible God. Jesus was God’s Word made flesh. In places like John’s prologue and Colossians chapter 1, the New Testament tells us that Christ was the Son of God in a supernatural sense. Christ was already God’s image bearer before he was born in Bethlehem – he pre-existed even before the Big Bang!
Sin and salvation
A second parallel between Adam and Christ is that the former brought sin into the world, while the latter brought salvation to earth. In the opening verse of our Romans reading, Paul reminds us that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate that piece of fruit in the Garden of Eden they rebelled against God, fell from grace and committed the first sin.
Whether you take the story of the forbidden fruit literally or not, there can be no doubt that at some point in the past the first human being went against their conscience and did what they knew to be morally wrong. And whether by biology or just bad example, sin has subsequently spread through the whole human race. Acting against our God-given conscience has become a rather depressing human habit, hasn’t it? Adam’s first trespass set off a chain reaction of sin throughout the rest of human history.
Christ, in contrast, was obedient to his Heavenly Father until literally his dying day. Even when faced with crucifixion, Jesus chose to obey his Father’s will rather than rebel against him. And through faith in Christ anyone can be forgiven our sin and justified in God’s sight.
The good news of the Gospel is that Christ’s righteousness can be credited to our account. Adam brought sin into the world, but Christ brought salvation. Adam’s sin aroused God’s condemnation, but Christ’ obedience has secured our acquittal. This is what Paul means in verse 19 today: “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.”
Death and life
The third and final point of comparison between Christ and Adam, is that whereas Adam brought death into the world, Christ came to give life. That’s what Paul means by this somewhat complex sentence in verse 17:
“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!”
Genesis tells us that when Adam sinned the whole of humanity died spiritually. Separated from God, Adam and his descendants had no hope beyond the grave, no future beyond their inevitable physical death. But Christ came to conquer death. He entered our world with the power to overcome death and to grant eternal life to all who would believe in him.
Of course, Jesus’ power over death was seen most dramatically in his own resurrection on the first Easter day. The stone was rolled away to show the world that the tomb could not hold him. But today’s Gospel reading from John 11 provides another wonderful illustration of the power of Jesus over death, doesn’t it? Christ comes to comfort Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus.
In the shortest verse of the Bible, Jesus weeps when he sees their grief at the loss of their sibling four days earlier. But rather than merely offering warm words and sincere condolences to the grieving sisters, he gives them a word of promise as well, doesn’t he? Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” If we read on in John’s Gospel we would see that Jesus backs up his words with a wonderful demonstration of his power. He asks the stone over Lazarus’ tomb to be rolled away and calls him out. And out shuffles Lazarus, still bound in his burial clothes, but completely restored to life.
The resuscitation of Lazarus was a foretaste of the resurrection that Jesus promises to perform for all who follow him. A foretaste of the future life to be enjoyed by all who choose to trust his promise to Martha. Adam brought death into the world, but Jesus Christ brings life.
I want to finish this morning by asking us all a question. Are you “in” Adam or “in” Christ? As human beings we are all born “in” Adam. We all share the inclination to sin that has characterised the human race ever since Eden. We are all, by nature, as mortal as Adam.
But Christ offers us all the potential to be born again. By faith in Christ we can transfer our allegiance from Adam to him. By believing in the promises of Jesus and trusting in him as our Saviour we switch sides spiritually. We are transferred from Adam’s camp into Christ’s. We are spiritually reassigned from the family of Adam to the family of Christ, and become forgiven children of God. When we go from being “in” Adam to “in” Christ, we become heirs to everlasting life.
So let’s make sure we are all In Christ by faith, and invite other to make that leap as well. To use a footballing metaphor, the transfer window is well and truly open – so let’s all take advantage of it, and show others the way as well!
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