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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus


First Sunday in Lent

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.

To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 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!

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For 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.

Romans 5:12-19

I love a good mystery story – especially a good murder mystery. My favorite author is Agatha Christie, with stories like “Death on the Nile” and “Murder on the Orient Express”. Have you ever read, or seen the movie, “Witness for the Prosecution”? It’s great – don’t tell anyone the ending!

Here's a “Whodunit” for you: You’re travelling along and you come to a beautiful community, a kind of paradise, a Shangri-La where everyone is supposed to live forever. But people are dying all over the place. Some are being murdered, but others are dying with no clear cause. Sometimes they just seem to waste away over a period of time. In some instances they complained of pain. In still other cases, their lives were going along beautifully when, without warning, they passed away!

The mystery is especially complicated because in this community no one was supposed to die! And still worse, there’s no pattern in the deaths. In a murder mystery, the all-wise detective – like Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes – always look for similarities in the deaths that have occurred in order to identify the perpetrator. But, as I said, there were all kinds of deaths in this paradise – there’s no one pattern. This is a real “Whodunit”!

Well, centuries after these deaths began to happen, a great detective came along – the Apostle Paul! And in our Epistle Lesson for today he explains the mystery – the murder mystery, if I may say so. In a world that was a paradise – we call it “Eden” – there was not supposed to be any death! Nevertheless, death came, and with it all the things that contribute to death – things like pain, disease, and sickness. And Paul writes, in the opening verses of our text, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”

Paul is saying, in the style of a good detective, “Let me tell you how all this happened: You notice how deaths keep occurring? The death weapon is sin. That’s what’s behind all our troubles. We have the smoking gun: It’s sin. And we know the person who started it all: A fellow named Adam. He turned this whole story in the wrong direction. The adversary came to him and his wife one day, and talked them into doing what God had told them not to do. Here they had this paradise, with everything their hearts could desire, but when the temptation came, they grabbed it. God has said, ‘You can have anything but the fruit of this one tree. I’m telling you this for your own good, because if you eat of this tree, you’ll die.’ But the next thing you know, Adam and Eve ate of the tree that was forbidden. And when they did, they set loose on the world the murderer named ‘Sin’, and we’re still paying for their choice today!”

Now, if this was all there is to the story, I wouldn’t bother you with it today. I think it’s a pretty good mystery story. As a matter of fact, for sheer importance, it puts all other mystery stories in its shade. After all, compare this story with the stories of any serial killers, and this one makes all of them look like novices. Here’s a serial killer who’s been at it for thousands of years, and no one has been able to stop him. But Paul has more to say about this story! Paul says that just as it was that one person, Adam, brought the killer, Sin, into the world – so one person brought the remedy for sin. That person was Jesus Christ. Like any good detective, Paul is logical. Listen to these statements:

Many died by the trespass of one man. The gift came by the grace of one man.

Judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation. The gift followed and brought justification.

Death reigned through that one man. Righteousness reigns through the one man, Jesus Christ.

The result of one trespass was condemnation for all men. One act of righteousness brings justification for all men.

Through the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners. Through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous.

And Paul asks, “Do you really understand what happened in this murder mystery with a happy ending? I sure hope so, I said it five times!!”

So, how exactly did this work? Paul explains it in his second letter to the Church at Corinth: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

This killer, Sin, is a kind of infection. When we commit sins, it’s by our own choice, but the power of sin that’s in the world is like a highly contagious disease. It infects every one of us, even before we’re born! It has written itself into our very nature. We need an antidote, a cure.

And that’s where Jesus comes into the story. Jesus was born without the infection. Jesus didn’t have the germ. So Jesus chose voluntarily to “be sin” for us! He did this at Calvary. That’s when Jesus took on the sins of the world, including all of our sins! And He paid the penalty for them on the cross. That was the crucial pain of the crucifixion; not the beatings, not the crown of thorns, not the nails nor the scorn of the crowd, but the infection of the sin of our human race. That’s why He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And that’s how we got the antidote, the remedy.

I thought I should tell you this mystery story right at the outset of our Lenten services, so you can understand what’s happening as we move through these weeks leading up to Easter. It’s really a very wonderful, astonishing story.

Once there was a place where everything was perfect. And if sin, the mass murderer, hadn’t been set loose, our whole planet would still be like that today! But this fellow Adam and his wife Eve accepted a bad offer. They believed their enemy rather than believing their Lord! That’s quite astonishing. I couldn’t understand why they would do such a thing – except for the fact that I do equally foolish things myself!

That’s how the murdering of the human race began. But a couple thousand years ago, God sent the remedy at Calvary, where Jesus died for our sins. Since then, we’ve had an antidote, a cure. So we hear Jesus say, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die! Do you believe this?” Martha answered, “Yes, Lord.” How about you? Well, that’s the story with which we begin the Lenten Season. I got it from that first-century detective, the Apostle Paul. You can take his word for it.



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