What is a major theme you hear when you listen to the news? When you look at the world? When you look at your own life?
One common theme is this: there are problems. When you watch the news, the theme is problems. The virus, the stock market, etc. etc. Maybe when you look at your own life, you see problems: perhaps they are financial problems, personal problems, health problems.
What is the biggest of all the problems we have? It’s the one problem that no one likes to talk about: death. Death is everyone’s problem. For example, what do you suppose is the death rate in the U.S. compared to Afghanistan? It’s the same: 100%. Death doesn’t care where you live, or how healthy, wealthy or advanced you are.
Why doesn’t anyone want to talk about the problem of death? Two reasons, I think. First, because there is no solution. No one will ever come up with a cure for death. The second reason people don’t want to talk about death is because no one really knows for sure what happens next. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Do you become a ghost and float around the earth? Are you reincarnated and become a cat, or a tree? What happens after you die? There is great confusion, there is no solution, and because of that, no one wants to talk about it.
Rather than live in denial, we can face this problem. If we look in the Bible, we find that there is a solution to the problem of death.
This lesson from Romans acknowledges that death is a problem. In verse 12, it says that “death spread to all people.” In verse 14, it says that “death reigned.” But the Bible also tells us the cause of death. Perhaps if we knew the cause, we could find the solution. In verse 12, it says, “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned.” Sin is ultimately the cause of death; and it all began with one man: Adam.
In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, we see the biggest disaster in the history of the world: the fall into sin. Adam failed to obey God; and when that happened, sin entered the world. I don’t think people really understand the magnitude of what happened that day in the Garden of Eden.
Imagine being at your home, and you’re having a big get-together of family and friends. You receive a package, and on the package it says anthrax do not open. But you decide to open it anyway. You struggle with it and then it bursts open, anthrax everywhere! All your family, all your friends – they inhale the anthrax and die. Ultimately, whose fault is that? Yours!
When Adam sinned, thousands of years ago, it was as though he had opened a package he shouldn’t have opened. When he disobeyed, sin entered his body, entered the world, and affected everything and everybody. Billions and billions of people have been affected by that one moment in the Garden of Eden. Spiritual anthrax, sin, entered the world and it’s lethal. It results in death. Because of what Adam did, our world has become one big spiritual ground zero, in the eyes of God.
From that moment on, people were born with the problem of sin. There is a test you can perform on yourself to see if you’ve been infected. Ask yourself, have I made any mistakes in the last week? Have I been selfish, even for a moment? Have I had any unkind thoughts? If you are honest, and answer yes to those questions, then you have been infected with the deadly disease of sin.
Physical death is the least of our problems. Paul says: “So then…one trespass led to a verdict of condemnation for all people.” When Adam sinned, he not only brought sin and physical death into the world. He also brought condemnation. What happens after a person dies? Condemnation. In the Bible, condemnation means hell, eternal punishment for sin.
This problem is bigger than any of the financial or personal or health problems that you might have: the problem of death and eternal condemnation. It’s no wonder that most people don’t like to talk about this subject? Where is the solution?
We find it right here. God intervenes. God is not some sort of faraway God that doesn’t care. He comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ, our God, looks down at the world. He sees our problem. He loves us too much to let us suffer and die eternally. So Christ our God steps into our world as a human being. He visits our ground zero as one of us. He sees how we all have been infected by Adam’s sin and he offers a solution, a way out. He faces the Devil head-on, as we see in our Gospel lesson for this morning. He does what Adam and Eve couldn’t do, and what we have failed to do. He resists temptation, as our Savior. Then he takes upon himself world’s sins.
Jesus took all of the sins of the world, placed them on himself, and then suffered the consequences. That is described here; that’s what Jesus suffered when he went to the cross. Instead of us being condemned for our sins after we die, Jesus is condemned instead.
There was once a movie called the Last Emperor. The young child is anointed as the last emperor of China and lives a life of luxury with 1000 servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” his brother asks. “When I do wrong, someone else is punished,” the boy replies. Then he demonstrates, by breaking a jar, and one of his servants is beaten.
In Christianity, Jesus reverses that ancient pattern. When the servants make a mistake, the King is punished. That’s how it works. Instead of us being condemned eternally for our sins, Jesus is condemned instead.
That’s the solution to the problem of sin and death! We read: “Just as one trespass led to a verdict of condemnation for all people, so also one righteous verdict led to life-giving justification for all people.” Because of what Jesus did, you are justified in the eyes of God. God looks at you and says, Not guilty!
Adam’s sin was the worst mistake in human history. But what Jesus did – his death on the cross – that is the best thing that has ever happened in human history. The single most important event in the history of the world: Jesus taking on our sin and dying on the cross. How many people are affected by this? Billions. “Just as through the disobedience of one man the many became sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will become righteous.” God offers this solution to all people. Because of one man, Jesus Christ, and what he did, all who believe are made righteous in the eyes of God.
Do you see how this can change your life, right now? It is true, that in the eyes of God, our world is one big ground zero, because of sin and death that is here. It is true that we as Christians will continue to have problems, because of the world in which we live. We will still physically die. But now, because of what Jesus Christ has done, things are different for you.
Now, you can be someone who has hope, someone who has peace. You can be someone who has confidence. When you think of death, whether it’s the death of a loved one, or your own death, you no longer have to be afraid or confused. You no longer have to worry about condemnation for your sins. You can be someone who has peace, because you know that God will welcome you into heaven after you die. Your sins have been taken away.
You no longer have to wonder about the purpose of your life. Jesus has changed all that. Your purpose is to learn more about the God who has saved you. Your purpose is to help others in this world, to help others to find Christ that they too might have the same comfort that you have.
When you face all the problems that come your way, you no longer have to feel pressure to fix everything yourself. You no longer have to feel despair that life is helpless and hopeless, that you’re on your own. You can feel peace and confidence, because you know that God will strengthen you and guide you. He has proven this to you by his death on the cross for your sins.
What makes Christianity different from all the other religions of the world? Years ago that very question was discussed at a conference. Some of the participants argued that Christianity is unique in teaching that God became man. But someone else said that other religions teach similar doctrines. What about the resurrection? No, it was argued, other faiths believe that the dead rise again. The discussion went on and on.
C. S. Lewis came in late, sat down, and asked, “What’s the are you discussing?” When he learned that it was a debate about the uniqueness of Christianity, he immediately commented, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
Grace is what we have in Christ. We call it God’s great exchange: our sin for Jesus perfection; our death for Jesus gift of eternal life. He took the bad and gave us the good. He reversed what happened in that worst moment in human history.
God bless you, then, as you continue to walk with your Savior, Jesus and continue to live your life as one who has the solution to the unsolvable problem of death. Amen.