There are texts that grab you and won’t let you go until you say something about them. Romans chapter 5 is one of them. It more or less preaches itself, which saves the preacher a bit of trouble. But that’s not why I selected it. I want to preach this text because it goes to the heart of what we believe – that God justifies the ungodly in His Son, that God reconciles His enemies to Himself in the death of Jesus, that you and I as children of Adam are rescued from sin and death as a free gift of grace, God’s undeserved kindness, through faith.
Perhaps the greatest danger is that we already know this, or should know it, and so we’re inclined to say, “Been there, done that, Preacher. Now get on to something useful, something relevant, something we can use in our daily lives as we slog our way through this world.” But nothing we say is going to mean anything or have any value without this at the heart and core.
Think of a bicycle wheel. This is the hub on which all the spokes hang and around which the whole thing turns. If we don’t get this, and believe this, we aren’t Christian, no matter how relevant or useful our teaching may be. Take this away, then the Christian faith becomes nothing more than a second rate religion among the world’s religion.
I’m going to lay it out rather simply this morning. Three main points:
First, that Christ died for the ungodly.
Second, that this death reconciles us to God.
Third, that this death to applies to every child of Adam.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died for us. In our place. As our Substitute. Look at Jesus hanging dead on the cross and then think of all the biblical stand-ins – the ram that spared Isaac, the Passover lamb, the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah – “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Christ the stand-in for sinners, Christ the vicarious Victim.
Christ is godly, we are ungodly. Christ is sinless, we are sin-full. In His obedience to the Law, He becomes one of us and one with us in His death. Examples are hard to find. Paul says you might find someone who will die for a good person or lay down his life to save someone he loves. How about those hikers who were caught in a snowstorm. One saved the other two by using his body as a shield against the cold. His death is heroic – he laid down his life to save his wife and friend.
Or what about soldier who lays down his life to save a fellow soldier. The battlefield abounds with those kinds of stories of heroism. Or the hero who dies defending country and liberty. Those are certainlyh valiant, heroic deaths. But they aren’t vicarious in the sense we are talking about here. Heroic yes, but not vicarious. Not as substitute sacriices.
Christ died for the ungodly. For sinners. For His enemies. He took the place of His enemies. Not His family and friends, but His enemies. Those who wanted Him dead and gone. You and I are included that too. Yes, you good, decent, hard-working church-going, right decision making people are, apart from Jesus, ungodly, sinful, enemies of God. And this is how God shows His love – while we were yet sinners, dead in our sins as collective humanity, Jesus Christ died for us.
One life in exchange for another. He becomes the sinner in place of every sinner; and we in Him become the saint, holy and righteous before God. That’s what Paul means when he says we are “justified by His blood.” The blood of Jesus shed on the cross is your righteousness before God. It covers who you are with who Jesus is. When God looks on you, He doesn’t see your sin any more, but He sees the blood of His Son, that perfect life lived in your place. And even though your sins are many and great, that blood is greater. He became your sin in His death, and by His blood you are declared to be righteous, innocent, holy, blameless before God.
Do you see why this has to be repeated and reviewed and why we can never take it for granted? This is the part that is so unbelievable, what we cannot by our reason or senses believe – that Christ should come and die for the ungodly, for sinners, for His enemies, and that in this death we are justified before God.
You see what it means? It’s the end of all transactions with God, of all attempts to bargain with God or bribe Him or obligate Him. God acts. He loves us in His Son. And He does it without asking our permission. He just does it.
Second, that death of Jesus reconciles us to God. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, not that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” It makes peace. God has made peace with you in Jesus. This isn’t the kind of reconciliation we usually think of, where two parties are at war with each other and someone is called in to bring them to the bargaining table and work out terms for reconciliation. Labor disputes and marital disputes are settled that way. You give a little, you get a little, you get on with business.
But God reconciles the enemy while he is still the enemy. He makes peace with the sinner while he or she is still a sinner. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”
On Good Friday, in the darkness of Jesus’ death, God said to the world, “I am at peace with you.” In your Baptism, when water was poured on you in the Name of God, the Father said through His Son by the Holy Spirit, “I am at peace with you.” In the Supper, with Jesus’ own Body and Blood as gift to you, God says again, “I am at peace with you.”
Reconciled. Do you realize the implications? It isn’t a matter of “getting right with God” but of believing that in Christ you are right with God now as you are. And it applies not only to you but to the entire human race.
That’s the third point: The death of Jesus applies to every child of Adam without exception. Jesus is literally the Lamb of who God who takes away the sin of the world. Paul puts it this way. Sin and death came into the world through one man – Adam. And even before there was the law to keep an accurate bookkeeping of sin, there was death, the wages of sin. In Adam all die. Adam in his body “embodied” all of humanity so that when he died to God because of his sin, all of humanity died. Adam’s sin and death is also our sin and death. There is no escaping it. “Like father, like son,” as they say. And also like daughter.
But Adam was a “type of the coming One.” That means Adam, in his embodiment of humanity, was a prophetic picture of Christ in His incarnation, embodying all of humanity in His body. Jesus is the “second Adam,” the new Head of humanity. The first Adam brought sin and disobedience and death; the second Adam (Christ) brought holiness and obedience and life. He kept every little point of His own law and became obedient to it to death on the cross.
There’s the important part: As far as the sin of Adam goes, and it includes every human being ever born, so far and further goes the justification that comes with the blood of Jesus. As far as the death of Adam goes, and it extends to every human being ever born (we all die), so far and further goes the life that comes through that one man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive. If you can say it about Adam with respect to sin and death, you can say it about Jesus with respect to justification and life.
Today is Father’s Day, the flip side to Mother’s Day. As we remember our fathers and give thanks to God for them, and as we pray for all fathers everywhere, we are reminded that we are reconciled to our Father in heaven. He is good; He is gracious; He is at peace with us. He loves us in His Son Jesus. And we rejoice in God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
It’s basic, it’s foundational, it’s the hub, heart, and core of what we believe. And it bears telling over and over and over again, lest we for even a brief moment forget it.
In the name of Jesus,