The Big Picture – In Shorthand.
Geoff Gummer: April 13, 2010.
In a little seaside town, there was a man who spent his life volunteering for the coastguard. One day, this man rowed a boat out in a huge storm to rescue some people who had been shipwrecked on some rocks. He saved all their lives, at great risk to himself, and did never ask for anything, and when people called him a hero, he just shrugged and said “It’s just what you do; you can’t leave people to die”. This wasn’t the only thing he did, and so, when he died the town commissioned a sculptor to create a statue of this man to commemorate his life, and service to the people of the town.
The summer after the statue was erected and opened by the Mayor, trouble happened. It was Christmas time and a bunch of young people had come to the town and were hanging out on the beach and the local park drinking and causing trouble. They started walking around, harassing people, swearing at people, kicking rubbish bins and generally being a nuisance. The local policeman was solo, and was scared to try and intervene in case they got violent. Eventually they started tagging buildings and smashing things as the day wore on. They found the statue and began kicking and pushing at it trying to break bits off. Eventually they managed to break it off at its base, and it hit the ground and many bits broke off. They took off tires squealing, yahooing, and smashing bottles, leaving the townspeople to figure out what to do next.
They called the sculptor and asked him to redo the sculpture, to make a new one. The sculptor pondered this for a bit, and then said; “No, I have a better idea, I will rebuild the original one, but I will make it stronger, so it can’t be kicked over and broken. Not only will it be stronger, it will last forever and look better.” This is not just the story of a statue, which was set to represent the life and service of this man, but it’s the story of humanity, who were set on earth to represent the life and service of the creator.
You see, in Hebrew image is the word “Tselem”. This word means to represent, as though with authority. In the bible it is used to mean an altar, which represents the authority of a God. It is used to reference a statue, as of a king, which carries the authority of a king. Especially in ancient days when kings were thought to have the authority and powers of Gods. It also is used in reference to cave paintings of gods, and piles of rocks placed to mark a god’s authority. If you were a conquering king or queen in ancient times, let’s say you conquered Australia for example. You might not want to live there because of the snakes and spiders and crocodiles and sharks and things. So, you would find a trusted person, someone who was close to you and you would send them over to govern Australia for you. You would expect them to run the place just as you would, and to keep in contact with you about what is going on and so forth. This is how God created us to be, but like the statue, we have fallen and we no longer represent God. We’re told this quite clearly many times in Scripture, but I like how it is put in Genesis 5:1-3:
5:1 This is the record of the family line of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. 5:2 He created them male and female; when they were created, he blessed them and named them “humankind.”5:3 When Adam had lived 130 years he fathered a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and he named him Seth
So, the record of the family of Adam is as follows, first Adam and Eve are made to represent God, but after the fall, the child of Abraham represents Abraham. First God made humans in the likeness of God, but after the fall they are the likeness of Adam. So, this is all leading somewhere, hopefully. Today the main section of scripture I want to talk about is this, Rom 5:12-17. It’s terribly complicated and confusing for alot of people, including me, so you will have to excuse me because I have to be careful what and how I say things regarding this, lets read:
5:12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned – 5:13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed. 5:15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 5:16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but 23 the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification. 5:17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ!
Tom Wright calls the passage “The big picture in shorthand”. That is, Paul has just described a cosmic courtroom in which no human has excuse for not knowing God, a covenant with Abraham through which not only is an example of the kind of faith we should all have, but somehow all the sin of humanity will be undone through it. The decay, idolatry, selfishness and ultimately death of humanity and the whole world will be set right through Christ, who is the future hope Paul sets out in the 11 verses previous to where we are at. So, we have 5 and a bit chapters of deep and meaningful text, and Paul sums it up right here, briefly. Very very briefly indeed, so briefly that its like he uses one word for every 10 he really needs. Someone really should pull him up on this, because its very frustrating.
Right, well, despite that this is quite an amazing passage, we’ve already discussed a bit the first section, verse 12, about how we come to be no longer “God imagers”. The next section is 13-14, then the final one is 15-17. In the first section, what we need to remember is that when we are talking about SIN, that is SIN in Capital letters, is that its not about the bad things we do, or the bad thoughts we have. Those are secondary to, and a result of this sin. This all capital letter SIN is the loss of the right to represent God, the loss of eternal life, the removal from and blocking of ever being in God’s presence, its the death and destruction of humanity. It is from this that Jesus saves us, and it is from this that we “do bad things”. But we need to remember when we talk about being saved that this is what salvation is from, not from “doing bad things”. Doing bad things is a result and something that takes a life time of confession and hard work to stop AFTER we have been saved.
So, once we have that clear, we need to think about what constitutes death. I hear people talking about spiritual death and separating that from physical death. But this is confusing, and mostly stems from the Greek philosophical ideal made popular by Plato, when he told the story of Socrates death. They believed that they would not really die, because their souls would live on, and that was really who they were. Their bodies were just incidental vessels for carrying their souls around in. Genesis is quite different to that though. We are told that when Adam disobeyed God, he would “dying die”, that is what it says in Hebrew. The suggestion is not that he would drop dead on the spot, but rather that he would no longer have eternal life and would begin to age and die. When we look at the passage we find that what is said is that by disobedience, Adam will firstly be removed from God’s presence, which is I guess spiritual death, as a result He will lose eternal life and begin to die physically. So, in reality you can’t have one without the other, if you are spiritually dead, you are physically dying, if you are not spiritually dead, that is, you are seen as righteous by God, then you will live for all eternity. We don’t have time to go into this in great depth today, but maybe if I get a chance to come back I can talk more on it. I recommend reading Gen 2 and 3 very carefully and thinking about what God is saying there.
It’s also worth considering whether death is “evil”. We know it is the wages of sin, but it is not really a bad thing. Consider this, if you are not saved, then death is the end of everything, but for the righteous, those who have faith in God, who trust that God will do all he promised through Abraham, and Christ, then really death is just the beginning of life, that is, eternal life. So death is for us, just a temporary thing, a twinkling of an eye, says Paul. Death exists because of Sin, and sin is a separation from God, a loss of purpose, a breakdown of relationships between God and humanity. Its more than just breaking rules, in our passage Paul has said that SIN exists regardless of whether there is any law, because it’s not about breaking the rules, it’s about things being broke and now not how they were intended to be. Like our statue that is now shattered and lying broken on the ground. The reason it is there is because of someone’s actions, but that doesn’t help put it back together. In order for it to be put back together the creator has to do something. The creator does not want to just put it back together how it was, it might get damaged again, so he wants to make it something special, something better, something that will last for all eternity. If we want to understand this better we need to be aware of what was lost, and then read Paul’s next words very, very carefully:
But it isn’t ‘as the trespass, so also the gift’. For if many died by the one persons trespass, how much more has God’s grace and the gift in grace and though the one person Jesus the Messiah, abounded to the many. And nor is it ‘as though the sin of the one, so also the gift’. For the judgment which followed the trespass resulted in a negative verdict, but the free gift which allowed many trespasses resulted in a positive verdict. For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through that one, how much more will those who receive those who receive the abundance of grace, and the gift of covenant membership, of ‘being in the right’, reign in life though the one man, Jesus the Messiah
There is just 3 verses here, and in those 3 verses the word gift appears 3 times, grace appears 5 times, its a gracious gift that Paul is emphasizing. We have all probably heard what the word grace means, unmerited favour, that we have done nothing to deserve this gift. But more importantly here its how much better the gift is. You see, God is not just going to “put back together the statue”, that’s not what he is saying. The gift, rebuilding, is not the same as the trespass, the breaking. If the crime was stealing $10, God is not giving you back $10, He is giving 10 TRILLION dollars. The life that you get from God is not the opposite of death, its FAR more than that, its an eternal sinless, untainted, perfect, harmonious life with God.
You see, the unsaved, the wicked will die, and that’s the end, a lake of fire. But the faithful will die too, momentarily, and then be recreated to live an eternal life, free from anything that might hold us back, a life of endless possibility, true freedom. You see, to have no purpose is to be in bondage to purposelessness, it’s a spiral of destruction, but to have purpose, the purpose for which one was created is to be truly free.
In the second half of this last passage Paul writes:
For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through that one, how much more will those who receive those who receive the abundance of grace, and the gift of covenant membership, of ‘being in the right’, reign in life though the one man, Jesus the Messiah
Paul always explains what he has said beginning his sentence with something like “for”, or “because”, so why is this gift so much more? If the result of sin is the reign of death and decay, we would assume that the result of life is the “reign of life”. But it is not, it is the “reign of those who are in the right” – at the moment God’s Kingdom is ruled by Jesus, but what Paul is saying, is that through Christ the faithful, the ones who represent God on earth will reign over creation. Remember right at the beginning we talked about image, and representing God. Here we are restored back to our roles, not just people who no longer decay and die, but RULERS OF CREATION. How much greater is this gift than the trespass? Is it the same as 10 trillion is more than 10? I don’t think so, I think the scale is so much bigger than what we can fathom as humans, perhaps we won’t even understand fully until it happens, but we need to know, to keep it in our minds.
How much more is God’s gift of salvation than the SIN that got us here? God is not going to rebuild the statue, He is going to make it better, stronger, faster, more resilient, perfected. The trespass brought death, decay, limitation, frustration, bondage, but the gift does not only reverse those things, but goes WAY beyond. The gracious gift puts those who deserve death and destruction for their nature back where they were intended to be, as God’s representatives, rulers of creation, glorifying God. How much more is that?
The Big Picture – In Shorthand.