Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
As Paul writes he has two stories in mind. Though he doesn’t actually tell either of them. And those stories have two central characters. Though again Paul doesn’t actually name them. The first of those characters is a tragic hero: Adam And the second is a redeeming hero: Jesus. And the stories in question are: The Garden of Eden, and the Gospel, perhaps most especially The Temptation in the Wilderness. Both of those stories have consequences for all people.
The first story is that of the first man Adam who has been given life by God, and placed in a literal paradise to live in relationship with God. But that initial blessed state was lost when Adam disobeyed. Adam had received only one instruction, not to eat of the fruit of the tree at the centre of the garden. He was not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But Adam disobeyed. That disobedience has fatal consequences for all the humans that have ever followed. Paul later in his letter in Romans goes onto to consider how the commandments in collision with human freedom tempt us in to do the very opposite of what the commandments instruct. But at this point it is enough to recognise that Adam, the symbolic founder of the human race, Adam created the problem that we all have to live with. Because with Adam’s disobedience the two villains of the piece entered our story; sin and its sinister companion death. These two are presented by Paul as personified powers who exercise their dominant influence over all humanity. Sin is that power which human beings experience drawing them into to disobedience, which leads to a separation from God. It is the cause of a breakdown in the relationship with God. And death is the consequence of sin. Not a punishment for sin, but merely its unavoidable consequence. Since sin leads to a separation from the source of life, God, death is the inevitable result. Sin finally breaks the connection between humans and God the consequence of which is death. Paul doesn’t at this point explain how all of us have become implicated in this. Theologians have wrestled, not always successfully, with how sin is passed from one human being to all the rest. But it is enough to recognise that we are all entangled in it. And we are certainly aware that every last one of us is subject to its consequence, death.
But Paul presents his symbolic/metaphorical history of the human race as a drama in two acts. It is played out in two vast periods of history dominated by those two figures; The first by Adam, and the second by Christ. Paul and Christianity are far from unique in recognising the first act in that drama. It doesn’t take being a Christian to recognise that the world and human’s place in it is not as it should be, and that the proper end of human life shouldn’t be death Paul at the very least is very much in the mainstream of Jewish though in his use of the Adam/Garden of Eden story in this way. And very similar conclusions are reach by most religions and many philosophies. What is distinctive about Paul and about Christianity is the solution they offer. For Paul and Christianity , Christ is presented as a counterpart to Adam. In Christ the human story takes a decisive turn for better. In the Gospel Adams failure which implicates us all is met by Jesus’ success. At the outset Adam was free from sin and death’s power but because of his disobedience became captive to them. Jesus human like us was born into that mess. But because of his obedience there is offered the possibility of becoming free of sin and death’s power. It is not an accident that Jesus’ ministry begins in a kind of inverted Garden of Eden; The wilderness. It is the place most stripped of the abundant life provided by God. And there too Jesus is tempted to eat. But in contrast to Adam he remains obedient. Jesus retains his connection with God. Their relationship is unbroken. One act of disobedience was sufficient to bring all the disaster that followed. But for Jesus of course the challenge of temptation to disobey is repeated, twice more in the wilderness, and the as an ever present reality through the rest of his ministry. The temptation to turn back from God and disobey carries on into the Garden of Gethsemane, again it is not an accident that the events that took place there happened in a garden! And it goes on all the way to the cross. Again, Paul later in his letter to Romans explores how Jesus’ obedience can undo the consequences of Adam’s failure for us. It is enough to say at this point that Jesus’ obedience opens up the possibility of a restored relationship with God. Jesus opens the way for us all to have that relationship with God that gives life. If Adam was the founder of the human race that is fallen, then Jesus is a second Adam who is the founder of a restored human race reconciled to God who gives them life.
Adam and Jesus by Christopher Wood-Archer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
2 thoughts on “A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (12/03/23): Adam and Jesus”
Hi I really “enjoyed” this sermon, Gone are the days when the preacher berated Eve – if he ever did! Though you haven’t beratd Adam either ! I remember making a sermon (oir address) in which I contrasted Adam in the Garden of Eden to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, As I read this sermon the hymn 334 kept runing through my mind. Praise to the Holiest in the height.
Thank you for this reminder. Celia x
Thank you Celia for your kind words, I am glad the sermon led you somewhere.