Romans 5:12-19

Each
of us has a unique story. We live our lives in the story mode, as the narratives
of our individual lives intersect with the stories of others. Each story is unique.
Each has its own heroes and villains, its own twists and turns of plot. Yet often
we have trouble understanding how our own story fits with other people’s
stories, and ultimately how it fits in with God’s story. In this section
from Romans the apostle Paul shows us how our life stories are intertwined with
the stories of the two most significant individuals to have lived in human history.

Adam’s
Story (5:12-14)

Romans
5:12-14 focuses on the impact of Adam’s story on our stories. Even though
Paul presents us with a bare thumbnail sketch of Adam’s life in these verses,
he assumes that his readers are fully acquainted with the biblical story of Adam
from Genesis chapters 2 and 3. Through Adam’s act of disobedience, sin entered
into the world. In v. 12 “sin” is personified, as if it were an actor
making his or her entrance onto a stage.1

In
some way that Paul does not fully explain, Adam’s first act of disobedience
opened the door for this character known as “sin” to walk out onto the
stage of human history. Like a shadow, death fol-lowed sin’s entrance. Wherever
sin went on the stage, death followed on its heels. Like a deadly toxin, sin spread
and infected everyone. The proof of this universal infection is the fact that
everyone sins.

Paul’s
point is to show us that our experience of sin and death is directly connected
to Adam’s disobedience. Until we see how our own story intersects with Adam’s
story, we won’t fully understand why sin and death plague us. We’ll
be tempted to explain away sin as a mere social phenomenon or the result of ignorance.

I
heard recently about an entire national forest in Oregon that had been infected
by a fungus.2 This fungus started as a single microscopic
spore, but it’s been weaving its way through this forest for about 2,400
years, killing tress as it grows. Today this fungus has infected 2,200 acres of
this national forest. Essentially the fungus is a gigantic mushroom you can’t
see from the ground, but it’s killed hundreds of thousands of tress, all
from a single spore.

That’s
similar to how Adam’s sin opened the door for sin and death to spread like
a fungus through the entire human race.

Christ’s
Story (5:15-19)

This
brings us to the other person our story is intertwined with: Jesus Christ. Just
as he sketched Adam’s story, Paul also sketches Jesus’ story. Here we
find that Jesus was able to “undo” all the consequences that Adam’s
sin had set into motion. The principle Paul seems to be assuming is that it takes
far more effort to clean up a mess than it takes to make the mess in the first
place.3 Although Jesus’ story and Adam’s story
share a certain correspondence, Jesus comes out as the superior figure because
through His death he was able to set right all that Adam set wrong. In these verses
Paul wants us to understand our own story as intertwined with the story of Jesus.

Just
as our experience of sin and death was connected to Adam’s disobedience,
our experience of restoration with God is directly connected to Jesus Christ’s
obedience.

We
can’t understand our story without also understanding the human story. And
we can’t understand the human story without understanding how the two most
important people in human history have impacted our lives. More than our parents,
more than our siblings, more than the world’s philosophers and rulers, we’ve
been impacted by Adam and Jesus. In Adam we all experience death. But in Jesus
we’re offered restoration with God, liberation from sin and death, forgiveness
and love.

People
often go to counseling to understand how other people have affected them. We often
find ourselves doing things we don’t understand, responding to other people
in ways that are destructive and don’t make sense. It’s that kind of
confusion that often drives people to a counselor or therapist, and of course
the counselor often tries to help the person understand how the significant people
in their life have impacted them. Once we understand how a father’s abuse
or a mother’s abandonment affects us, we can better understand why we cut
people off, why we can’t express our own emotions, or whatever our specific
problem is.

Freedom
comes through insight into how other people have impacted us. We find something
similar here: That we must understand the impact of Adam and Jesus on our lives
before we can truly understand what it means to know and love God.

1
Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary,
Anchor Bible Vol. 33 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 411.
2 The
Daily News (8/5/00), cited from PreachingToday.com.
3 Paul Achtemeier,
Romans: Interpretation Commentary (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985), p.
98.

____________________

Sermon
brief provided by: Tim Peck, Pastor of Life Bible Fellowship
Church in Upland, CA.

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