Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | March 10, 2014

Sermon on Romans 5:12-17


  1. Adam condemned us
  2. Jesus acquitted us

Text: Romans 5:12-17


Christian WorshipWho has been a major influence in your life? Who has influenced you in a way that has helped to shape you into the person you are today? Lately I have been thinking a lot about the influence of one particular pastor in my life. Choir members and participants in my Bible class have heard me mention the name Kurt Eggert quite a bit. Pastor Eggert was the project director for Christian Worship, the hymnal that sits before you in the church pews. As a senior in high school, I called up Pastor Eggert to audition to sing in the Lutheran Chorale of Milwaukee, a choir that he founded, made up of WELS members in the Milwaukee area. I got to sing under his direction for the last of the 36 years he directed the choir. As a 17-year-old I was exposed to music by great composers like Bach and Handel and Mendelsohn—not just listening to it, but drilling it for hours and hours and then singing it in live concerts. Two months after the final concert he directed, the Lord called the 70-year-old Kurt Eggert home to heaven. The Lutheran Chorale sang for his funeral service. I’ll never forget that day. It seemed like the entire Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod was there. I’ll never forget the sight of important pastors and synod officials crying at his graveside committal service. That event made me realize what a great privilege I had to sing for him during that previous year. At some point during my college years, thinking back on that experience, I thought to myself that if I ever have a son, I’m going to name him after Kurt Eggert. Twenty years after that experience, and after meeting my wife in the same choir that Pastor Eggert founded, I now have a son named after him. And I’ve been thinking about him a lot more lately now that I’m serving on one of the committees that is producing the next WELS hymnal, scheduled for publication in a decade from now. The rites committee met for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and the name of Kurt Eggert and his insights came up quite a bit during that meeting. So if you asked me right now, even though I only had one year of interaction with him and I was only a teenager at the time, I’d say that Kurt Eggert has been a major influence to me.

Who would you put at the top of your list of people who have influenced you? Your mother or father? A former pastor or teacher? A close neighbor or trusted friend? Most of us wouldn’t have too much difficultly coming up with a list of people who have influenced us. But our lists could also easily miss a few names. Typically we think of people we know directly as the ones who have influenced us the most. But sometimes there are people we never meet in person who influence us in significant ways.

This morning I would like to suggest that the two most influential people in your life are people that you have never personally met, even though you are acquainted with both of them fairly well. The two most influential people in your life are Adam, the first person to ever live, and Jesus, the first sinless person to ever live. Today’s Second Lesson from Romans 5:12-19 bring together the other two readings for today’s service (Genesis 3:1-15; Matthew 4:1-11), readings that reveal Adam’s first sin and Jesus’ perfect holiness. We’re going to study St. Paul’s words in today’s Second Lesson and realize how true it is that Adam and Jesus are the two most influential people in our lives. 


Not every person that influences us is a good influence. We wish that sports stars and Hollywood celebrities would be good role models, but then you turn on the television, watch the news and hear what they say and realize that all too often the people who influence us and our society are often a bad influence.

The influence that Adam, the first human being in this world, had on each of us was also a bad influence. In our reading, St. Paul draws a comparison between Adam and Christ. He begins by talking about Adam’s effect on the entire human race, then he makes a few parenthetical points in the verses that follow, points that compare Adam and Christ. Finally, he comes back to his original point of comparison in verse 18 and summarizes the differences between Adam and Jesus. Reading through these verses is like watching a tennis match as the ball goes back and forth from one side to another. In the sermon today, we’ll try to make this a little easier to follow by looking at all the statements about Adam first; then we’ll look at all the statements about Christ. We will also use a translation that was prepared by Professor Emeritus David Kuske of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary; it is my hope that the style of this particular translation will help us understand Paul’s words in this section more clearly.

We start with the first verse in our reading. “The reason for our joyful boasting is this: Just as sin came into the world through one man (and with this sin came death), so also death spread to all people, since all sinned.” Here is Paul’s commentary on today’s First Lesson. Adam and Eve received a simple command from God. They could show their thanks for the beautiful creation they were a part of if they just refrained from eating fruit from one tree that God had pointed out. It was so simple, and yet they didn’t keep God’s command.

The problem is that this little faux pas wasn’t so little. Their actions influenced and affected the entire human race that followed them. In verses 13-14, Paul begins a sort of parenthetical comment that explains how Adam’s sin caused everyone descended from him to be a sinner. “There was sin in the world before the law [of Moses]. But there was no formal accounting of sin during this time because there wasn’t any law code. Still, death ruled from the time of Adam to Moses. Adam broke a formal command God gave him. But death also came to the others who didn’t sin the same way Adam did.” This translation makes these verses a little clearer than some other translations, but we still need some explanation to grasp them more fully. God gave Adam a specific command: “Don’t eat from that center tree in the garden!” Adam became a sinner when he broke that command. A few thousand years later, the Lord gave the people of Israel another set of commands that expressed his will for all people. (Hint: There were ten of them!). But between Adam’s time and Moses’ time, there were no formal commands from God saying “Do this!” and “Don’t do that!” If there’s no formal commands to follow, someone might argue that there was no way people could have sinned. But everyone descended from Adam, even those who lived before the Ten Commandments were given, were sinners. Why is that? God’s standards are written in everyone’s conscience. People know God’s law pretty well even if they never hear about it from the Bible. And the second piece of evidence that people were still sinners is that they died. You see, sin is so much more than breaking a rule that someone established. Sin is a terminal disease that every descendant of Adam and Eve has inherited through their parents.

In parts of verses 15, 17, and 18, Paul tells us about the sad influences and results of this disease we inherited from Adam, a disease we usually call “original sin.” Paul writes, “By the failure of this one man many people died…Death ruled through one man as a result of his failure…The condemnation [resulting in death] came to all people by one failure.” The first end result of our sinful condition is that we’re all terminal. We are born, only to die. Every ache and pain, whether headache or heartache, says that we are all terminally ill. And that’s not the least of it. “The sentence, which followed this one failure, resulted in condemnation…The disobedience of one man brought the judgment of ‘sinners’ on many people.” Death sounds good compared to this! Our sinful condition also leads to a judgment, a condemnation. God looks at our sinful hearts and sinful lives and the perfect gavel of his justice comes down with a divine announcement. The verdict is guilty. The sentence is eternal death in hell.

Is God being unfair in all of this? Some guy named Adam who lived thousands of years ago caused us to be condemned because he ate a sinful piece of fruit? Adam was the one who was “busted,” why should I pay for it? After all, aren’t people basically good today? How am I supposed to accept this teaching that we’re all born sinners?

Are we really “good” from the start? Do we really start off life with a clean slate? I’m not so sure. Look at recent history. Look at the pure evil that came from the Hitlers and Bin Ladens of this world. Think about the mass murderers serving multiple life sentences, and the released convicts finished with their terms that no one wants living in their community. Think about how rapidly our culture is embracing gay marriage and how quickly the culture condemns those who uphold God’s standards. And then, before we become too quick to point the accusing finger, think about the shame and filth that enter our minds and cross our lips and are acted out by our hands and feet. As one Christian author wrote, “The disturbing truth is that we have each done the evil we are capable of. I may be no Hitler. But do I really get credit for not being as evil as Hitler if I have avoided some outward expression of evil simply because I was too timid or not talented enough, if I didn’t have the same opportunity as someone else or was fearful of the consequences to my life or to my conscience?”

There’s a reason that our weekly confession of sins starts out by confessing that we are “by nature sinful.” If the sermon doesn’t bring up a particular sin that you struggle with, you might walk out of here thinking you’re pretty good. But Adam’s influence in your life deflates any possibility of a self-righteous thinking. Adam’s sin is now our sinful condition, a condition that means that we are condemned. With the rest of the world, we stand before God guilty as sin.


There is an old legend that says that Jesus’ cross was placed into the ground in the very same spot that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil stood, the tree that Adam and Eve ate from that brought sin into the world. It’s only a legend; we have no proof of that. Even if it were true, it wouldn’t be anything more than an interesting coincidence. But I imagine that this legend came about by understanding the connection between the two most influential people in our lives—Adam and Christ. Did you catch what Paul said at the end of verse 14 in our reading? “Adam was a picture of the one who was to come.” The point is that Adam’s actions affected the entire human race, and Christ, the “one who was to come,” affected the entire human race in a way that was even more profound than Adam.

In verse 15, Paul says, “By the failure of this one man many people died. But God’s undeserved kindness, his free gift, overflowed even more on these many people by the one man, Jesus Christ.” In other words, Jesus’ influence on us trumps Adam’s influence. As an example, imagine if your boss called you in his office one day and said, “I’m sorry, but our company’s profits are such that no one is going to get a raise this year.” Bad news. But the next day the CEO calls a meeting for all employees and announces, “Despite the bad news you’ve heard about, everyone will still get their annual raise.” The CEO’s words take precedence. In the same way, Jesus’ influence in our hearts take precedence over Adam’s influence.

So what does that “influence” entail? “The free gift, which followed many failures, resulted in acquittal… we are even more certain that we will rule where there is life through the one man, Jesus Christ. This is true of us who have received the overflow of God’s undeserved kindness, namely, his gift of our acquittal.” Jesus didn’t cause us to get a raise; he caused us to get an acquittal in his Father’s courtroom! The word “justification” is often used in translation; the idea behind that word is quite simply an acquittal, a “not guilty” verdict. Jesus came into this world to be the Savior of sinners. He gave his innocent self into death when he took on our guilty punishment at the cross, and the innocent verdict he deserved has now become the verdict given to guilty sinners who trust his saving work.

Based on all of this, here’s the conclusion Paul draws out for us. “Just as the condemnation [resulting in death] came to all people by one failure, so also the acquittal resulting in life came to all people by one act of obedience. This is true because: Just as the disobedience of one man brought the judgment of ‘sinners’ on many people, so also the obedience of one man will bring the continuing judgment of ‘acquitted’ on many people.” Quite simply, Jesus’ victory over our sin overtakes Adam’s sin. That’s more than a historical fact. It’s a continuing status that Christians enjoy simply through faith in what Jesus has done. Jesus acquits us.

Sometimes that truth is hard to believe. You know what I mean. When you wrong someone else, you’re expected to make up for it. You buy your spouse flowers after an argument. You make it up to a friend by striving to be exceptionally kind in the days ahead. Forgiveness just can’t be that easy—so we think.

We have indeed wronged God with our sins, but we can’t make up for it. We’re not even expected to make up for it. He made up for it. In this reading, Paul talked about God’s “undeserved kindness,” and what greater example is there than the holy Son of God entering into this sin-infected world and taking all of our sins and failures on himself? Paul talked about God’s “free gift” to us, and what other free gift could there be than the full and free forgiveness accomplished at Jesus’ cross? Paul talked about our “acquittal,” and the one and only acquittal from God was proclaimed at Jesus’ Easter tomb and received through faith in Christ, an acquittal that announces our heavenly destination.


The season of Lent brings us back to some of the basic, primary themes of the Bible. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we Lutherans love this season so much. On Ash Wednesday, the order of service focused on confession and absolution—the essence of the entire Christian life. During the other Wednesday evening services in Lent, we walk through the story of Jesus’ sufferings and death, some of the most important hours of human history ever recorded. During the Sundays in Lent, we review some of the most important themes and messages contained in the Bible. What greater themes could we have heard than the ones taught in this selection from Paul’s letter to the Romans? Sin and grace, law and gospel, Adam and Christ. After all, Adam, the first sinner, and Christ, the only Savior, are not just two characters from history, but they are the two most influential people in your life. Praise God that the most influential person for your soul is none other than Jesus, God’s Son, your Savior. Amen.



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