One Man for All Men
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“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“The fate of all mankind hung in the balance.” It is a statement so melodramatic and overused as to be cliché. But there, that day in the garden, it was never more true. Eden was truly a paradise, heaven on earth. There was no sin, therefore no pain or suffering or injury or tears. And more to the point, there was no death. It was all very good. Perfect in fact.
In that garden, dwelt all mankind—the man, Adam, and his wife, Eve. And the Lord had provided for them all sorts of good things to eat. There was a large variety of trees with good fruit, including the tree of life, from which they might eat and continue to live forever. Out of all the trees in the garden, there was only one that God made off limits—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had warned the man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Note what the Lord did here: He gave His Word to Adam. His Law and Gospel. His command and His promise. His blessing and curse. And Adam was entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of sharing that Word with His future family. If they only would listen to that Word, they would have paradise forever.
But forever, in this case, did not last long. The serpent crept into the garden and seduced Eve. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” When she pointed out that there was one tree from which they were not to eat, the tempter insinuated that God was lying and holding out from them: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). Smooth talker that he is, the devil made sin sound better than paradise; and Eve liked what she heard. She ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
And where was Adam, God’s son, (Luke 3:38), who had been entrusted with God’s Word? Where was he? He was right there at Eve’s side, listening as the serpent tempted his bride, the mother of all living. Rather than stepping in and protecting her, he watched as she fell into temptation, and then participated in the sin himself. Adam failed to preach the Word, and so sin came into the world; and with sin, death and decay. The garden paradise turned into a desolate wilderness.
The Church is often accused by feminists of oppressing women because of the fall. But they are very much mistaken. Apart from calling this story a myth rather than recognizing it as an historical account, they say we blame women for sin because of Eve. And certainly Eve receives her share of the blame for giving in to temptation, but in our Epistle, the blame for sin and death is clearly placed upon the shoulders of Adam. He knew the Word. He failed to preach it. And as a result, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Paradise was lost.
I’m sure this won’t come as a total surprise: You don’t live in paradise. You live in a world where all sorts of evil fruit abound, including sickness, pain, injury, worry, depression, tears, and death. All of these are the wages of sin, brought into the world by Adam long ago. You were born into a sinful, broken world and you are sinful and broken yourself. You don’t even start out innocent like Adam, a blank slate, only choosing later on to give in to temptation. You are born without a free will, but with a will under bondage to sin and Satan. You don’t have a choice; you are conceived and born under original sin (Psalm 51:5).
Our Lutheran confessions call this “concupiscence,” a word that sounds almost as bad as it is. It means to be naturally born without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin. Concupiscence is a disease that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) (AC II).
But in all likelihood, you probably live your life relatively oblivious to the real effects of original sin. It is easy to underestimate the disastrous results of the first, original sin. In fact, each of us is, to one extent or the other, in the act of denying it. But the evidence is undeniably front and center every time we gather at a death bed or grave site.
It’s a hopeless situation. But into this hopeless world, comes Hope Himself, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the beloved Son of God, the Second Adam. This is the One whom God promised that day even as His children and all creation began to suffer the curse of sin. Though spoken to the tempter, God’s curse also contained the first promise of a Savior: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Philip Melanchthon explains this verse:
The promise concerning Christ and His benefits was first revealed to Adam immediately after the Fall, so that even though he had fallen under death and the wrath of God, he yet might have the consolation by which he could know both that God was again and would continue to be favorably inclined toward him and that death at some point would be overcome. That first promise clearly sets forth these two benefits, even though it seems to be rather obscure to us; but to Adam in his status at that time it was not obscure… Here is a description of the beginning of the punishment for sin, that because of sin the devil with his cruel tyranny is gong to oppress the human race with sins and death, as the very history of the world testifies and which is all shown in the terrible sentence laid upon Adam.
Then there is added in this verse a brief description of the reign of Christ, that it is in the future, that the seed of the woman is going to crush the head, that is, the kingdom of the serpent; that is, that He will destroy sin and death… [Adam] recognizes that he is at peace with God, even though he sees that he is unworthy and unclean. He sees what he has lost, but awaits that Seed by whom his lost righteousness and eternal life are to be restored to him… The words that are added, that the devil ‘will lie in wait for the heel of the Seed,’ Adam understood to mean that Christ and the saints will be afflicted in this life but that Christ will nevertheless overcome the kingdom of the devil (Loci Communes, translated by J.A.O. Preus, pp. 82-83).
Finally, after thousands of years of God’s faithful people watching and waiting, the promised Seed of the woman, the Second Adam arrived. And once again, the fate of all mankind, in fact, all of creation, hung literally in the balance.
Jesus had just been baptized by John. There in the Jordan, Jesus identified Himself with a world of sinners. The heavens were opened, the Spirit descended, and the heavenly Father identified the Man: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Immediately the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to face the tempter. He’s the Son of God, but He is also fully human, and according to that nature He was weakened and hungry after fasting forty days. The devil, never one to play fair, seized this time to tempt the one Man representing all of mankind.
Having succeeded in his initial attempt, the tempter saw no need to change tactics, each wilderness temptation a subtle variation of those in the garden. Instead of “Eat the fruit,” it was “Command these stones to become bread.” Instead of “If you eat, you will not die,” it was “Throw Yourself down from the temple, and You will not die.” Instead of “you will be like God,” it was “Since You are the Son of God, take charge and start acting like God! Forget the suffering and the cross. Use that God-given power to take care of Yourself.”
Each time, though, Jesus did what Adam didn’t do. For one thing, He resisted temptation. Furthermore, where Adam failed to speak the Word of God, Jesus spoke the Word. Each time the devil tempted, Jesus quoted Scripture against him. Thus, the Second Adam succeeded completely at what the first Adam failed. Jesus was at work in the wilderness to reverse the curse of sin. And this was just one battle in the war that would culminate at the cross. It took place right after Jesus’ baptism, where He fully identified with sinners by bearing our sins.
Luther describes just how fully Jesus identifies Himself with sinners:
When Christ so took sin by association, He not only transgressed the law, but placed Himself ‘under an evil lord.’ What links all of us together as sinners is not just that we are misbehaving in similar ways according to the law, or that we are conspiring, aiding and abetting to commit such sins, but that we have a common, tyrannical, demonic, lord, so that whatever we try to do, even the world’s very best and noble things, is used for evil purpose: ‘whatever is in this age is subject to the evil of the devil, who rules the entire world’ (LW 26:39).
Steven Paulson explains:
Now when the law does its work, and sees that Christ has associated with sinners, it takes Christ to be no different than you or me…. the law is no respecter of persons, it does not identify Christ among the sinners as an exception to the rule. This entire world is under the divine curse, and Christ determined to enter this with us, born of woman, born under the law… This reveals Christ’s real temptation by Satan. Satan wanted Jesus to segregate Himself from sinners and be righteous all by Himself. The devil wished that Christ would perfectly fulfill the Law as a true, sinless human being, and return to His Father undefiled—with the Law’s accusation now made eternal. Christ refused it whenever the devil tempted Him, because He loves sinners. Unlike Satan, Christ had no interest in making the Law the eternal mediator between Creator and creatures” (Lutheran Theology, p.104, Steven D. Paulson).
And so Jesus continued on His journey to the cross, still bearing the sins of the world, still facing all the assaults the evil one could muster. From that temptation, He went about His ministry. He healed, defeating the devil’s weapons of sickness by taking our infirmities upon Himself. He cast out demons, sending the evil one’s minions into the abyss. He raised the dead, defeating Satan’s chief allies—death and the grave. And just like His baptism, the healing and casting out of demons and the raising of the dead, Jesus endured this temptation for you. He does not teach you how to do it for yourself, because you can’t do it for yourself.
This is a common misunderstanding. We don’t say, “Jesus healed people to show us how to heal people.” We don’t say, “Jesus raised the dead to show us how to raise the dead.” But we’re always (for lack of a better word) “tempted” to say, “Jesus resisted temptation to show us how to do it.” But that is incorrect. Jesus resisted temptation because we couldn’t. The one Man, Jesus resisted temptation for all men, in our place. Then He continued to carry our sins with Him all the way to the cross in order to die for all of our sin.
All of Christ’s work, both His active and passive obedience, brings to you this hope: For the sake of His Son, God the Father says to you, “I don’t hold your sins against you, and I do not remember the many times you give in to temptation. My Son took all of your sins upon Himself, and when I condemned Him on the cross, I condemned them. When I raised Him, they remained dead. Therefore, you have no sins left for Me to see. In the place of the sin, My Son has given you the credit for His perfect obedience; therefore when I look at you, I see only His righteousness. And because you are forgiven and righteous, heaven is yours.”
That’s your hope. It’s not that you can save yourself if you only learn to resist temptation enough. Your hope is that Jesus has saved you by His obedient suffering and death, and by His perfect resistance to temptation.
Where do we go from here? Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you will still face temptation: this very day, this very hour, and the battle is too much for your flesh. Each of these temptations is designed to deceive you into misery, and eventually to make you abandon your Savior.
However, the Lord has given you His Word, so that you may recognize and be strengthened against the devil’s coaxing. That’s why it is essential to read and meditate upon God’s Word each day. Otherwise, you enter into your daily battles without your sword, without the strength to resist his parries and thrusts.
But even so, you will still give in, and thus you will sin without excuse. This should only affirm your own sinfulness and your need for a Savior, the fact that you cannot work out your own salvation. What do you do then? Repent and believe! Rejoice in your Savior! Christ Jesus has reversed the curse, redeeming you from sin and death, with His perfect obedient life and His sin atoning death!
Where one man’s disobedience led to condemnation for all men, so one Man’s act of righteousness leads to life and justification for all men. Where by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Where one man brought the curse, so by the one Man we receive blessing after blessing. Where Adam brought the fall, Jesus brings the resurrection. Where Adam brought the wilderness, Christ has regained paradise for you. Indeed, the paradise of heaven is yours because for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.