With Pentecost and Holy Trinity past, preachers now properly enter the long season of Pentecost; with its green paraments, evocative of God’s abundant provision in Word and Sacrament. The readings from Matthew and Romans pair well for this time, offering a view of the ‘big picture’ from God’s perspective. This perspective, it turns out, liberates and bestows life. In Romans 5:12-19, Paul sets out the full implications of the Gospel, first articulated in verses 1-11. This week’s pericope spans both and so, may be justifiably expanded to include earlier or later verses.
The main point Paul gets at in Romans concerns what God has done in the One, Jesus the Messiah; the rightful heir of God’s earthly kingdom. This is far, far more than simply returning the human race to where it was before the arrival of sin. Paul stands back from the minor arguments to give us a perspective on the whole. This means telling the story of Adam and Jesus, the First Adam and the Last Adam. He explains in 5:1-11 that the point of the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15) 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; tearing the soul apart. Sin destroys as death settles in to separate 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). This is the larger problem within the big picture concerning humanity and it is known and felt through the righteous standard of God — the Law.
But Paul has been showing how the promises to Abraham are fulfilled in and through Jesus the Messiah: Promises to do Himself what humanity all along has been obligated to do in terms of serving God 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 humanity 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.
Paul has been showing how the promises to Abraham are fulfilled in and through Jesus the Messiah.
But it is only a ‘sketch.’ He begins in 5:12 as if he will outline a balanced picture (“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 Paul suddenly stops because two things come to mind which are necessary to strike the counterbalance with the Gospel.
First, verses 13 and 14 explain a hindering puzzle. It is the big picture question of what happened between the time of Adam and Moses. Adam, of course, committed high treason. Israel (God’s son, like Adam) behaved no different under Moses. But between them, human beings kept sinning, and dying, even without tablets of codified law. Nothing but sin and rebellion with no hope of fulfilling our obligations to our Creator-King, except for the sole means of being justified by believing God would make good on His Word to single-handedly save us from sin and death.
Second, verses 15-17 sketch a future vision for those justified by Christ’s righteousness in deed and blood. For those whom God justifies by His grace through faith in Christ (God’s personal answer to the plagues among humanity) it is far greater than simply a reversal of Adam’s sin and its deadly results. The “trespass” and the “gift” are not equal but polar opposites; think north and south. 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 categorically nothing but sin to be seen, 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.
Death is purely negative. God’s gift of life cannot simply be compared with it, as though death and new life were antonyms.
Then, Paul unveils the loaded model of God’s love in Christ: “One will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die” (Romans 5:7). True, both history and legends celebrate those who lay down their lives for another. Love is the motive. Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Yes, for his friends. But who would lay down his life for his enemies? Our text tells us: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (5:10). Yes, “…perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:7-8).
This is the unique love of God. Where does it come from? It does not arise from the qualities of the person who is loved. It simply comes from God Himself. It is internal to His nature, who and what He is. And it was manifested in Jesus, who laid down His life for us. Luther summed up this dimension of the Gospel as sheer grace emerging from the merciful love of God, saying, “The love of God does not find, but creates that which is pleasing to it.” It is not like the love of man, “…which comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.”
Two crucial facts depend on this gift. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God” (5:9). So, we have been justified. Christ has fulfilled the whole will and Law of God, and gone to death for us, so we have been justified by His blood. This is what the text says, we have been justified by His blood; past tense, deed done.
But there is another certainty too. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.” This follows on. Since we have been justified, we shall be saved; future tense, yet to be. The assurance is accomplished, that is clear, but the act is still to be done. We are going to be saved from the wrath of God, His necessary and righteous judgment. If we are justified, and we know that all who believe in Jesus and trust in Him are justified, we will be saved from God’s wrath. The wrath of God is revealed in judgment. At that point, in the judgment of God, another steps in our place and delivers us from it. He saves us from it, so we shall be saved. Judgment passes over us and onto Him, Christ the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and the judgment of God, and instead of being condemned to death, we bask in life and the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Romans 5:6-15.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 5:6-15.