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Two Men

March 6, 2014
Romans 5:12-21, Matthew 4: 1-11
For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteousness. Rom 5:19
In our Epistle reading from Romans Paul offers us a view of history understood as the story of two Men – two representative men we might say. One represents a world in which death exercises dominion. The other represents a new world in which grace brings justice and life.
The one represents a condition that spreads and has spread throughout creation – a condition captured in the myth of Adam and Eve. The failure to obey God, to trust God as a God who gives in love results not just in alienation from God but in a defensive competitive relation to others. We read the story in Genesis 2. Did God really say that? Is God really trying to keep that good fruit from you? God is obviously secretly against you. The gracious God who gives life, becomes in that pregnant moment in Genesis 2, a rival, a God on the same level as us, a God we contend with, a pagan deity we need to appease and offer sacrifices to in order to survive. Paul says, when God is not trusted as giver of life, then death has dominion. Then Eve blames Adam and Adam blames Eve, then they protect themselves with fig leaves. Then Cain kills Abel and so begin all the stories about violence that we have in Genesis. Adam represents all of this.
Jesus represents something else. He represents the fact that Israel’s God – the God who is creator of all, who is not only beyond all, but is also intimately involved with all (overlapping circle vision of reality), Israel’s God who intersects with the world not only in the temple but in the hearts of the poor, this God who offers promise of hope and healing for all creation has now entered into this creation in a life which is, we might say, ‘the turning point’ of world history. Tom Wright says, ‘Israel’s God is at last becoming King but in a way that nobody expected’. Creation is being revitalised. Paul in Romans is saying some thing very similar to Jesus own talk of the kingdom coming now, and the principalities and powers of the world being challenged. This turning point of history means, says Paul, that a new way of being is being introduced into the world. Not an invasion from completely beyond but a revolution from a God who is already intimately connected with the world.
The first man Adam represents life on earth as we have known it. The second man Jesus, represents a new form of life on this earth, a new kind of power
So Paul concludes his comparison of these two representative men by saying:
‘just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’
History, says Paul, is a tale of two men.
Let’s turn briefly to the gospel reading that we are so familiar with, it comes up every year at the beginning of advent – the temptation of Jesus. Again we have two men – two representative men. Jesus on the one hand and this time not Adam but Satan. But the difference is not as great as you might imagine. The fact that it is Satan rather than Adam reminds us that this problem that has developed for humanity (what Paul calls the dominion of death) is not just a problem for us as physical human beings but has spiritual dimensions beyond what we can see. As I said last week there are dimensions, invisible dimensions of our human existence which are also affected by the dominion of death. So the ancient worlds used the language of “power and principality” not just to talk of physical rulers and their armies but also the invisible dimensions, the spiritual dimensions of their dominion. And they also thought that these ‘powers’ were not just randomly related but were in some sense unified and the symbol for this unity is the figure of Satan. He comes in various names, Satan, Beelzebub, the Devil, Lucifer and more. Satan represents all the forces of domination and their common centre in the dominion of death. What Paul calls ‘Adam’, Matthew in telling us the story of the temptation, represents (in a different way) in ‘Satan’ – the spiritual and invisible dimensions of the fallen human condition.
So Satan says to Jesus… join me… become famous, take control of the minds and hearts of the world, jump off high places, welcome to power politics, bow down before the pragmatism of political realism. You can be part of my world. That way you’ll make a difference. Surely you want to make a difference in the world? You might achieve world peace. You might destroy Putin or Obama or some other obstacle to world peace. All you have to do is abandon the kingdom that your Father has entrusted you with. All you have to do is imagine, as they did in the Garden of Eden, that God cannot be trusted and you need to take control over others to ensure that history turns out ok. That’s all you need to do. All you need to do is lose patience for a moment.
What Paul talks about as the turning point of history… results not in the end of history for us, but in conflict. We live in the midst of temptation. The new way of being that has entered history exists, in the meantime, in conflict with the fallen powers that be, in conflict with Adam, in conflict with Satan, in conflict with a multitude of forces and idols, represented together in the figure of Satan. Because God has intervened in history, history is a site of conflict
Constantly we are invited to bow down and worship. Worship mammon (otherwise known as the market)! Worship Venus (otherwise known as health and beauty)! Worship Mars (otherwise known as the war on terror)! [h/t Kim Fabricius]
Two Conclusions
1. We have a gospel of the turning of the world, new form of life etc… If we don’t trust ourselves to this, if we don’t believe and make our life an experiment in believing it then we have no gospel and no mission. All this talk of the church having a mission and us investing our resources and lives in that together etc is a complete waste of time. In the newsletter I observed that at our congregational meeting with Bruce Fraser when Bruce asked us what our bottom line was… what we would go to the wall for… rather than talking of what God has done for us… rather than talking about this good news of God’s intervention in history in Jesus… we talked (at least till Bruce prompted us otherwise) about things we are doing or should do or be. We talked as if we were the gospel.
Friends… the good news is that we are not the gospel. I wonder if we know that! I wonder how deeply we appreciate what Paul means when he says that “the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man Jesus Christ, abounded (multiplied) for many”. A new way of being has been given to us… has captured us and is capturing the world.
2. We know this gospel in a place of conflict and temptation… we are in a struggle with the spiritual powers of this world…
Do we really think so? I get the impression that for many folks, church and faith like a warm bath, they help us feel good about ourselves. Relax, God will make me happy till I die and go to heaven. This week I heard the phrase ‘the protestant smile’ and I immediately knew what they meant – a contented-going to-heaven smile, a we-want-to-show-you-that-we-are-happier-than-other-people smile. Not sure what this has to do with the Jesus known as a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”, let alone a Jesus who lived his life in conflict with Adam and Satan, or rather, setting Adam free from Satan.
What the story of the temptations tells us, and what Paul’s stuff on the two men and the turning point of history tells us is that we are in the midst of a conflict. The powers have been exposed… but they are not gone. Jesus last word to Satan is perhaps the last word for our situation. ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him’. To live in a place of conflict and temptation, means for us, to live a life of prayer. The battle for the world is also the battle for your soul.
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