We are in the solemn, yet anticipatory forty-day season of Lent. From the earliest times it was customary for Christians in most places to fast before Easter (known then as “the Paschal Feast”). Lent was a fasting before the feasting; a celibacy before the celebration. The earliest reference to a forty day fast leading up to Easter is the Second Festal letter of Athanasius in 330 AD; though the practice may be traced to the late 200’s.
Lent had two major emphases: First, it was seen as a time of repentance and denial of self. All Christians were to examine their lives according to the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ summation of the Law in Mark 12:30-31 and repent accordingly, in light of what it cost their Savior to redeem them. Second, it was a time of instruction for catechumens, that is, those who desired holy baptism and, for the baptized themselves, to live in the light of the resurrection to come and baptismal resurrection itself.
At the time of the Reformation, some radicals wanted to eliminate Lent since Scripture did not explicitly command it. Luther, however, urged it be kept as an opportunity for the strengthening of faith and distinctive proclamation of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.
Lent is one of the six seasons of the Christian calendar and is the forty-day period (representing the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness) beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with the celebration of the Easter Vigil on Easter morning. The period is actually 46 days, but since Sundays are feast days, they are never included in the count. These six Sundays, then, are not referred to as Sundays of Lent, but Sundays in Lent, because on these days of celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, fasting should not apply.
Sin, transgression, selfishness and treason in the world makes an ashtray out of the grandeur of God’s wonderful world, so much so we can forget there is a God, forget there is meaning to life, forget the high value to being human; forget beauty, truth, love and grace. That is life in this vail of tears: Overwhelmings, disappointments, everything is blemished… everything!
Paul says, yes, all that is true, but lift your eyes! Get some perspective: You are on the precipice of glory — just like in Lent: mounting and repentance during the week, but on Sunday the glory of resurrection life! There is another, more stunning vision. Step back and see the magnificent forest rather than crouching down to stare at the weeds and the trees. Sometimes you need to see the Big Picture and not the pixels, says Paul, especially when it comes to hope and understanding where reality is going and who is in charge.
Get some perspective: You are on the precipice of glory — just like in Lent: mourning and repentance during the week, but on Sunday the glory of resurrection life!
The Big Picture sobers our myopic vision of the world. View the world rightly and the main point in life grows much bigger, better, and more hopeful than the world could ever offer. What the Lord has going on in it is staggeringly grander than “Your Best Life Now” or “Your war on chocolate” during Lent. God our King is in charge of the Big Picture—moving all things according to His infinite wisdom from His Alpha point to His Omega point. Fix your eyes on that, or perhaps meditate on it through Lententide rather than your waistline, and watch how the Spirit of Christ puts all the “big deals” of our drama-filled lives into perspective. This view, the view of the Big Picture according to God, turns out to be profoundly liberating, life-giving and may even cause you to laugh at how unimportant most things really are, because what you have heard before is only the half of it. In vv. 12-19 Paul sets out the full implications of the Gospel for us; and it is on a whole new level of amazing which makes this present life pale in comparison. Sundays during Lent are intended to give us this perspective.
The main point Paul has been getting at in Romans is what God has done in the One man Jesus the Messiah—the rightful heir of God’s earthly kingdom—is far, far more than simply putting the human race back where it was before the intrusion of sin. Paul is standing back from the minor arguments and backing up to give us perspective of the whole. This means telling the story of Adam and Jesus: The First Adam and the Last Adam. He explains in vv. 1-11 that the point of the covenant with Abraham, in Genesis, was to undo the primal sin of humankind, the basic treason which led to the dissolution and decay of genuine humanness, resulting in death itself (the ultimate form of dehumanization) separating spirit from body and tearing the soul apart. Sin destroys us as death separates us from the source of life Himself. From human treason death poured into the world and death reigned and rained over a humanity separated from God (spiritual and moral death) but even separated from itself (physical death). That is the ‘Big Problem’ within the ‘Big Picture’ concerning humanity.
Paul has been showing how the promises to Abraham are fulfilled in and through Jesus the Messiah: Promises to do Himself for us what we all along have been obligated to do in terms of serving Him with pure devotion, loving one another, and caring for His Earthly Kingdom. Here is the Big Solution to the Big Problem in the Big Picture, and from this high vista, Paul explains how it works out for us in terms of future hope. Viewing what God has done in and through Jesus Christ, as the answer to all that has gone wrong in the world, puts Paul in a position to sketch the horizon beyond the Big Picture, the picture from which he will then develop his account of God’s renewed people, those who have been baptized into Christ—born anew into the new creation as a new creation—in chapters 6 and 8.
But it is only a ‘sketch,’ and it is an ever-so-tantalizing morsel. He begins in verse 12 as though he is going to outline a balanced picture: As by one man sin entered the world, so by one man God deals with sin and death. But he stops halfway at the end of verse 12. He says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—” but suddenly breaks off. He realizes there are two things which need to be said before he can set out this balance. The first of these occupies the next two verses (13 and 14). The second thing is the theme of verses 15-17.
Verses 13 and 14 explain a puzzle that might otherwise get in the way. It is the Big Picture question of what happened during the huge span of time between Adam and Moses? Adam, of course, was given a direct command from God, His King, and broke it—high treason was committed. Likewise, God gave Israel a set of direct commands through Moses, and Israel systematically and habitually broke them—high treason was committed. But in between the two, in this broad-brush account of history, humanity kept sinning, and dying, even though there was no law on tablets to expose their sin. That piece fits the puzzle and clicks nicely between the law given to Adam and the laws given to Israel. It still paints the same dire picture: Nothing but sin and rebellion with no hope of fulfilling our obligations to our Creator-King, except the sole means of being justified through believing that the Creator-King would make good on His word to single-handedly save us from our sin, from death, from dehumanization, from our ideological bondage and powers of evil.
That is what verses 15-17 are about. These verses sketch for us a peek at what lay in store for those whom Christ has justified by His own righteousness. For those whom God justifies by His grace through faith in Christ—God’s answer to the plagues among humanity—is far greater than simply a reversal of Adam’s sin and its deadly results. The “trespass” and the “gift” Paul speaks about are not equal but opposite. Death is purely negative. God’s gift of life cannot simply be compared with it, as though death and new life were antonyms. The “condemnation” or “guilty verdict” which followed the original trespass was the direct result of what had been done. The penalty for the guilt of high treason is the condemnation of death, but God took the initiative in a situation where there was nothing but sin, coming to the place where humankind was in ruins in order to make of His human creatures something far better than they had been in the first place. This redemption is going to go crazy off the charts: It is not merely about polarities. Life instead of death. Innocent instead of guilty. Heaven instead of Hell. Not so quick. That is the stripped-down model. It is bigger. It is better than that.
This redemption is going to go crazy off the charts: It is not merely about polarities. Life instead of death. Innocent instead of guilty. Heaven instead of Hell. Not so quick. That is the stripped-down model. It is bigger. It is better than that.
Verse 17 takes this contrast in scale to an even greater length. The result of sin was the “reign of death.” Death, the ultimate in corruption and dissolution, rules at present over the whole world and everything in it. But, whereas we might have expected the other half of the contrasting pair to be “the reign of life,” Paul goes one further. What we now await is the reign of those who have been baptized into Christ; those who share in Christ’s covenant fulfillment in bearing the penalty of death and fulfilling of all righteousness. This is the privilege and prerogative of covenant membership in Christ Jesus. This is where being justified by faith and trusting Jesus has been God’s Big Picture answer to our Big Picture tragedy and needs ultimately leads—we shall inherit the Earth. We shall reign likes kings and queens of Narnia.
Paul is now ready to come back to verse 12, where he began and suddenly broke off, and lay out his straight comparison once more: As through one man, so through One Man. You are not people of the Old World any more than are you people of the Old Adam. That nature and its consequences were drowned in the baptismal font. You are part of a new type of humanity, let loose into the world through the life, death and resurrection of King Jesus.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Romans 5:12-19.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 5:12-19.