Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the grace of the One abounds for the many

Our text in Romans this morning invites us to see our life as moving in one of two directions. We are either moving towards fullness and human flourishing with Jesus or death and destruction with Adam. Now before you dismiss this contrast between life and human flourishing with Jesus or death and destruction with Adam as being too extreme, ask yourself questions like these? Have you yet loved others the way God has loved you? Have your actions ever broken the hopes and dreams of those who love you? Do you break promises that leave others picking up the pieces? What Paul is saying is this. With Adam, there was a trajectory away from trusting in God’s provision for humankind; with Jesus, there is a reverse of course and an open doorway to movement back towards trusting God.

According to the Biblical narrative, with Adam, there was a rebellion against God’s gracious provision in what began as a seed of doubt about the goodness and all sufficiency of God’s provision. With Adam, like the adulterer (whether adultery of the heart or adultery acted out in physical reality) there was a nurturing of an illicit lust and a greedy demand for more and more whatever the cost. In the midst of the serpent’s tempting words, the relationship with God appeared not good enough. There was a craving for the forbidden fruit. Adam left us with a separation from God’s love borne out of a misconstrual of and rebellion against God’s goodness. Jesus, in stark contrast, lived in full trust of God’s love and provision, even to the point of his own death on the cross and separation from God’s love. Jesus embraced his own death and the forsaken experience of separation from his Father as an act of obedience and love, trusting in God’s provision. In so doing he brought redemption and the promise of resurrection to the entire world: the grace of the One abounded for the many (Romans 5:19).

I suggest that a good way of reading Paul in this portion of Romans is to see the comparison and contrast between Adam and Jesus as setting up a framework in which we can understand better the dynamic of God’s grace at work in this world. What removes us from the destiny of Adam and unites us with the destiny of Jesus begins with a re-established honesty before God and a re-established trust in his goodness. Honesty and trust is what eroded in the first place with our primordial parents, Adam and Eve. Honesty before God and trust in his goodness is re-established in Jesus. However, on the other side of Eden honesty and trust have a different raw material to work with. The raw material that must be worked on in fallen people living in a fallen world requires us to bring to God the brokenness of our lives, our need for grace, mercy, and forgiveness. What is required of us is a hard-to-come-by honesty about who we are and what our lives are really like. Sadly, however, in little and big ways we signal to each other that we really don’t want honesty. We want happy faces and settled lives. We don’t want to embrace the reality and pain of ongoing struggles. The season of Lent reminds us in a very focused way that it certainly is obedience that God is looking for but that obedience begins with the obedience of honesty about who we really are and the obedience of ongoing repentance with regard to everything that robs us of God’s best for our lives. The list is long for each of us but the grace of God in Christ abounds through the One for the many. May God give us the grace to face ourselves honestly before him and then lead us to newness of life.

1. Before communion we talked about how the author of Hebrews words can be read as a theological and devotional commentary on the meaning of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). (Hebrews 4:14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested* as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.) What do you think it means to approach the throne of grace with boldness? Are you bold when you repent? Are you bold for others when they repent? Do you ever demonize yourself when you are being tempted? How about when you sin? Could the truth of this passage - if it soaked into you more - help you to not demonize yourself and others for struggling with sin?

2. Does it help you to think of the origin of sin (disobedience) as a breakdown in trust in God’s goodness and sufficiency towards his children. If so, why? If not, why not?

3. Do you send little or big signals to others that you don’t really want honesty; but that what you really want is a happy face and a settled life? Can you give an example, even if you fictionalize it a bit?

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