There are some stories that we like to hear so much that we read them over and over and over again. Have you had a moment at a child’s beside when you finish reading a story and the child looks up at you with eyes of hope and expectation and asks, “Oh, I liked that one. Read it again. Please read it again?” Are there books on your bookshelves that are worn with wear from those times you had to read it just one more time? Do you find yourself drawn to stories like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Pride and Prejudice” or another great classic that draws you back in every time you read it? This morning we come to the Easter story. We have declared with power, He is Risen!” and sung with passion “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” There is so much that is familiar about how we celebrate Easter. Year in and year out we come to tell the story of how the risen Christ changes everything for you and for me. It is always the same story. Except, it is not just a story – it’s our story. It is the story who makes us who we are as Christians. We are an Easter people - a resurrection people – claiming life and faith through the one who was dead and is now alive. So, here I am this morning reclaiming the same story retold every Easter for two thousand years. It is our story.
Six weeks ago we started a sermon series that began at the beginning to give us a fresh look at the redemptive work of God. We watched as God created humanity in His image. We were created in the image of God for a real and personal relationship with God. We were created by God to walk with God. God gave humanity control over everything that would sustain us and bring us joy. Somehow it seems, all of God’s grand provision was not enough. Somehow the one thing, the only thing that God has set aside seemed irresistible. In a sad but predictable twist in the story Adam and Eve chose their own way rather than the way of God. Their choice created the spiral of sin that sweeps us into whirlwind of stumbles, bumbles, failures and falls.
In Romans 5 we hear Paul take us right back to that moment in the Garden. We hear Paul teach; 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.
We tend to think about sin as something we do – a distinct act, a moment when we step out bounds and do something that breaks our relationship with God or one another. But hear that Paul teaches us that it is more than this one by one action; it is a pattern that plays out over and over again in our lives. It is not taking a bite of the forbidden fruit like Adam, it is about choosing to back to the tree of disobedience and self-centeredness and making its fruit a part of our regular diet.
In another era we would have listened to pastors rail away at “sinners” and we tended to think that he was talking about someone else – someone who had done such bad things that we should avert our eyes in from the glare of their shame. But here we hear that the reign of sin and the spiritual death lies equally at our feet. In God’s eyes we are not good people who rarely and occasionally do something wrong or fail to do something right. No, at our core we are we are people who at our core chose our way over God’s way. We are Adam’s spiritual decedents. We, at our core, live in a pattern set by Adam, choosing a path that leads us away from God to brokenness and spiritual isolation. If left to our own, we like Adam and Eve, would end up hiding from God, rather than to walk open and honestly with God in the cool of the day.
Something had to happen to change the story. Something had to happen because our stumbles, bumbles, failures, and falls kept us from being the people we were created to be. Something had to happen because or we would forever be weighed down by self-destructive choices and secret shames. Something had to happen or we would live our lives separated from God. Something had to happen and we could not do it on our own.
This morning we come to celebrate God’s grand act on our behalf. When we come to the foot of the cross we see God pay a price for our salvation that almost too great to comprehend. The gift of grace takes on a painful and bitter face when Jesus taken on our sin and our shame on our behalf. The violence of the blood stained cross gives way to stillness of the empty tomb and we see that in Christ’s resurrection God’s promise of life and eternal life is made real. In simplest terms, God’s great gift makes the way for us to find our way back to God – it makes the way for people like you and mean who are broken to be redeemed and our relationship with God made right. Paul words it this way; 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! Charles Talbert, a great Baptist New Testament scholar hears Paul’s words this way; “Adam, by his sin, brought sin, brought death, condemnation and sin to all. Christ, by his obedience, brought justification and life.” [i] In the story of the cross and resurrection the price for sin and shame and the price for our stumbles, bumbles, failures and falls is paid.
I love the image that Paul claims. He contrasts what Jesus did against what Adam did, and talks about what Christ did for us as a gift. I do not know anyone who does like to receive a gift. I am sure that there is someone somewhere out there that might disagree, but I have never met them. There is something about see a box all wrapped up, with a bow on top, with our name on the tag. Paul wants us to understand that the gift he describes in now ordinary gift. It is a gift given by God.
There is a reason behind most gifts we receive. We receive gifts to celebrate our birthdays, marriage anniversaries, at Christmas, or as markers of other significant life events. But this gift is different. It is a gift of grace. It is an unmerited gift – we did nothing to earn this great gift. It is an undeserved gift – we did nothing to deserve this gift. It is an unqualified gift in scale – it is beyond price we could conceive or pay. It is a gift that only God can give. It is God making the way for our right relationship with God to be restored. Paul wants us to hear clearly that Adam’s choice for self, his choice for disobedience, his choice to choose his way over God’s way put all of us on a path of spiritual destruction. But with this gift God makes a choice to make the way for forgiveness and life for us. With this gift God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s promise of life now and life forever with Him overflows.
This is the great grace gift that God offers to us. But, like all gifts, it must be received. God does not force it on us. It is offered in love. It is offered in hope. It is offered in grace. But you and I have to make a choice. We, like Adam and Eve, were created in the image of God for a real and personal relationship with God. We, like Adam and Eve, have to make a choice between going our way or God’s way. We, like Adam and Even have to make a choice between hiding in the bushes in shame from God or standing opening and honestly before God. We have to make the choice of embracing God’s great gift of grace that makes the way for forgiveness and life with God for us or walking away on our own. If we claim the Easter gift of grace we choose a life of obedience – a life with God – a life walking God’s way. So, what will you do with God’s gift? Will you embrace it, or go your own way?