A Sermon on Romans 5: 12-19 – INSIDE THE GATES OF EDEN

 

 

March 5, 2017

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

The scripture passages from Genesis and Romans that have been read in your hearing this morning concern one of those stories in the Bible that practically everyone knows something about. I imagine that if you were to go out into the streets of Lynchburg and ask folks questions like “Who lived in the Garden of Eden?” or “What were the names of the first two people in the Bible?”, even the most non-religious people could probably tell you that the answer is “Adam and Eve.”

 

This morning’s sermon begins with a different look at the story of Adam and Eve. It comes from one of America’s most celebrated authors, Samuel Clemens—better known to millions of readers as “Mark Twain.” Clemens’ religious views were initially formed by his strict Presbyterian upbringing in Hannibal, MO. As he grew into adulthood, though, he came to reject much of what he had been taught there. But it is also clear from any decent survey of his writings that Clemens had read his Bible thoroughly. Exploring faith and the relationship of God to humanity was a topic that he returned to time and time again. On the subject of faith, Twain could sometimes be satirical and sarcastic—especially when it came to the failings of organized religion. He could also be skeptical and sometimes humorous in his observations. And as one might suspect, Twain’s musings on the Bible were seldom dull or predictable…

 

One topic which repeatedly attracted his attention is the stories contained in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. Twain seemed to be particularly taken with the story of Eve, the first woman. He published what he called “Extracts from Eve’s Diary” in 1893. A few years later, he wrote—then revised—a different work called The Autobiography of Eve. What follows is a portion of Twain’s The Autobiography of Eve, telling the story from Genesis two and three from an entirely different perspective from what we are used to hearing—the story being told from Eve’s point of view:

 

Today, in a wood, we heard a Voice.

 

We hunted for it, but could not find it. Adam said he had heard it before, but had never seen it, though he had been quite close to it. So he was sure it was like the air, and could not be seen. I asked him to tell me all he knew about the Voice, but he knew very little. It was Lord of the Garden, he said, and had told him to dress the Garden and keep it; and it had said that we must not eat of the fruit of a certain tree and that if we ate of it we should surely die. Our death would be certain. That was all he knew. I wanted to see the tree, so we had a pleasant long walk to where it stood alone in a secluded and lovely spot, and there we sat down and looked long at it with interest, and talked. Adam said that it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

“Good and evil?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“What is that?”

“What is what?”

“Why, those things. What is good?”

“I do not know. How should I know?”

“Well, then, what is evil?”

“I suppose it is the name of something, but I do not know what.”

“But Adam, you must have some idea of what it is.”

Why should I have some idea? I have never seen the thing, how am I to form a conception of it? What is your notion of it?”

 

Of course I had none, and it was unreasonable of me to require him to have one. There was no way for either of us to guess what it might be. It was a new word, like the other; we had not heard them before, and they meant nothing to us. My mind kept running on the matter, and presently I said—

 

“Adam, there are those other new words—die and death. What do they mean?”

“I have no idea.”

“Well, then, what do you think they mean?”

“My child, cannot you see that it is impossible for me to make even a plausible guess concerning a matter about which I am absolutely ignorant? A person can’t think, when he has no material to think with. Isn’t that true?”

“Yes—I know it; but how vexatious it is. Just because I can’t know, I all the more want to know.”

 

We sat silent a while turning the puzzle over in our minds; then all at once I saw how to find out, and was surprised that we had not thought of it in the beginning, it was so simple. I sprang up and said,

 

“How stupid we are! Let us eat of it; we shall die, and then we shall know what it is, and not have any more bother about it.”

 

Adam saw that it was the right idea, and he rose at once and was reaching for an apple when a most curious creature came floundering by, a kind of which we had never seen before, and of course we dropped a matter of which was of no special scientific interest, to rush after one that was[1]

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Good…evil…die…death…At this point in the story inside the gates of Eden, these are words that had yet to be added to the human vocabulary. By contrast, in the world of the 21st Century, we are all too aware and too familiar with them, aren’t we?  We know all those words.  And we understand them. What’s more—we struggle with the emotional baggage that they carry for us. That is particularly true of those last two words in that group—die and death.

 

In Romans 5, the topic concerns sin and the death that results from it. The starting point of Paul’s argument is found in today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis. He is presupposing that we have a knowledge of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden.  And in that story, they introduced sin and death in the world (either wittingly or unwittingly) by disobeying God and eating of the forbidden fruit. Thus is the origin of what is wrong with our world and what is wrong in each of our lives. Ultimately it is the problem of sin which hampers us in every area of who we are and in all of our endeavors. And with that sin comes death. The thrust of Paul’s message is that, just as everyone has sinned because of the sin that Adam brought into the world, the free gift of righteousness is available to all through redemption in Christ.

 

In the New Testament, death is best described as a separation. The Greek word used here for “death” is the word thanatos, which is the normal word used for death of any kind. The most common use of the word in the New Testament and elsewhere is the description of what happens when the spirit is separated from the body. It is the essence of what it means to physically die. In death, the spirit is gone from the individual. It is only the lifeless corpse which remains.

 

But often in the New Testament, and particularly in the writings of the Apostle Paul, this separation is also taken figuratively to mean not only the separation of the spirit from the body, but also the separation of the spirit from God.[2] That is why he says in the beginning of today’s scripture, “Death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” The Apostle Paul makes the analogy that, just as physical death means that the spirit is separated from the body, so in the realm of the Spirit, sin equals death because sin separates the spirit from God.

 

Though sin is the problem that plagues us and our world because of the way it separates us from God, Paul tells us that there is an answer. All is not hopeless. Verse 15 tells us that God’s remedy is to be found in Christ. He writes, “For if the many died through one man’s trespass [that is, the sin that Adam brought into the world], much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift of grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” And again in verse 18, he makes the same point again:  “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so by the one man’s obedience leads to justification and life for all.”

 

What God has done through his son Jesus is the antidote for the sin and death that plagues our world and that plagues each and every one of us. Sin brings death. Jesus brings life.

 

For far too long in the Christian faith, people have thought of Jesus bringing life in the midst of death as something that is in the future—at that time when we leave our earthly bodies. That is true—as far as it goes. The salvation that God offers us through Christ carries on beyond the grave to the new creation that God has in mind. But the life that God brings us is not only for some point in the future. Christ came to bring us life right now.

 

Paul says that sin has brought death. We have all sinned. We are all sinners. We all experience what it means to be separated from God in our lives. None of us are all that we have wanted and desired to be. That is the effect of sin. And it taints us all. It taints everything we do.

 

This is the first Sunday in the Christian calendar known as Lent. It is a time for spiritual reflection. It is a time to take stock of who we are as followers of Jesus. It is a season in which we examine our commitment to God to see how we might strengthen and nurture it. It is a time to clear out those things which hinder us in our relationship to God—to clean up those things that are sin and which bring separation from our Lord. There is no better time than the present to embrace the abundant life that Jesus offers to his disciples…

 

As we prepare ourselves to come to the Lord’s Table in a few minutes, I am reminded of Jesus’ words in John chapter 6. In this passage, he talks about what it means for him to be “The Bread of God.” He also talks about how he has come to bring life. Hear his words: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life…for I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up in the last day…The Spirit gives life…The words I have spoken to you are spirit…and they are life.”

 

Wherever you are in spiritual journey this morning, won’t you turn away from those things which sap your spiritual energy—those things which result in failure to be all that God intends for you to be? Won’t you choose life instead?

 

To God alone be the glory! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough, eds. The Bible According to Mark Twain (New York: Touchstone Books. 1996), 57-58.

[2] www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G2288&t=KJV (Accessed March 1, 2017)