Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 5/11/08.
"For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:21-22).
Staying healthy and fending off death is a multibillion dollar industry. Every day, we are bombarded by ads for this supplement, that creme, diet, or exercise program which will absolutely, without doubt, restore our lost youth and help us look and feel better while we await the grim reaper. Death has been a certainty since Adam fell from union with God. It took him 930 years to die, but I guess we're smarter than he, because we've figured out how to do it in much less time. Every nation, culture, religion, and people have had one thing in common, "For as in Adam, A-L-L die."
Death is the common foe of all, the enemy to be feared, the beast to battle with, which if we can't overcome, we ask to meet it with dignity. This is why when someone risks his life for someone else, it is the supreme act of courage. Some time last year, a construction worker standing on a subway platform in New York City, with his two young daughters, witnessed a man, who was having a seizure, fall onto the tracks below. Without thought for himself, he leaped down to try to pull the man to safety as an oncoming train bore down on them. Not able to free him, he threw his own body over the man, holding him down as the train, unable to stop in time, passed over both of them. Both men were unhurt. Even the most sophisticated New Yorker was astonished, astounded, and humbled by the man's courage.
The hero of this story received national, maybe world wide recognition, and some admirer gave him with a scholarship for his two daughters to an expensive school, a wonderful gift for he could never have afforded to send them there on his salary. His act of selflessness and bravery brings to mind Paul's declaration in Romans 5:7: "In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God's amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us" (Phillip's).
Our collective fear of death sells news copy, makes novelists and journalists famous, increases TV ratings, keeps drug companies and insurance companies in the black, assures health care providers of jobs which cannot be out sourced to India, and keeps a large segment of the economy humming along nicely. Fear of death leads to neurotic and superstitious behaviors on all levels of society; it fuels religious activities to ward off evil, which was Job's motivation for offering daily sacrifices for his children, lest they had sinned and "cursed God in their hearts" (Job 1:5). It didn't do him any good obviously, as God had other plans, plans to reveal Himself in a way that astonished and grieved Job. That plan included the death of all Job's children, the plundering and destruction of his livestock, and the near annihilation of his body. He was a mightier man of faith than most of us, because "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing" (Job 1:22). Death is the great equalizer, no respecter of race, creed, country or gender.
Death came into the world, Paul said, because of sin, "and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12). Since all have sinned, all must pass through death's narrow gate. Is there no good news in death? Can any man escape the grim reaper? Karl Barth's comments on Romans, Chapter five, are rich and full and deep. He reminds us that, "Death never occurs but it calls attention to our participation in the Life of God and to that relationship of His with us which is not broken by sin. The thought of Life and of God is stirred in us by death, by the reality of death, not by our experience of it."
The life of God, which is a gift to us in Christ, comes in stark contrast with man's constant defeat by his dreaded enemy, death (Barth's Epistle to the Romans. See link at end). Paul rejoiced that God gave us His Life in Christ, who died for all mankind, "WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS!" We have been justified by his blood, saved from God's wrath, reconciled to God, and "SAVED THROUGH HIS LIFE!" (Rom. 5:8-10). Moreover, the gift of God is not like the trespass, Adam's sin, which plunged us ALL into the abyss of sin and death. God's grace given to us in Christ is MORE, MUCH MORE than Adam's sin (Vs. 15). "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for A-L-L men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for A-L-L men" (Vs. 18).
This is certainly a stunning example of how God brings "life to the dead and calls the things that are not as though they are" (Rom. 4:17). One of the most powerful verses about our present standing with God in spite of Adam's sin is found in Paul's letter to the Corinthians: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him WE MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD" (II Cor. 5:21). Warped by countless generations of guilt and shame, the human mind can scarcely take it in. What is the righteousness of God? Simply put, it is Christ in us, the hope of glory, where we IN Christ, are delivered from sin and death, saved by His life. There can be no righteousness apart from Christ, no salvation or justification save in Him. All are guilty. There is no one righteous, no not one, and yet, we have the blessed hope of Life, gifted to us in Christ, ratified by His death, signed, sealed and delivered by His resurrection.
Karl Barth's book on Romans blesses me, as I feel the Spirit probing the deep things of God in his words. In his exposition of Romans 5: 12-21, he spelled out his belief that Adam's sin was not a specific act, which most of us have believed it is, but rather a divine predestination inherent in the creation itself. "The Fall is not occasioned by the transgression of Adam; but the transgression was presumably its first manifest operation." He is saying that first came the possibility of sin, "the predestination unto rejection," BEFORE Adam actually sinned. "We have said that we must not think of sin as an event or as the sum of a series of events or as a particular status.... Rather, we must think of it as the presupposition which underlies every human event and conditions every human status. Sin is the characteristic mark of human nature as such; it is not a lapse or a series of lapses in a man's life; it is the Fall which occurred with the emergence of human life."
If the term "predestination" makes you squirm, rest assured that Paul spoke of it as "good news," by which God has predestined us to be called, justified and glorified in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rom. 8: 29-30). Barth's definition of "original sin" is different and more compelling than anything I have heard before. His idea that sin is "built into the human model" is radical, but it certainly explains Paul's cryptic comment found in Rom. 11:32: "God has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all" (Phillips). Barth's conclusion that sin was in the world before Adam sinned, may explain the mechanism by which a righteous God could consign all men to disobedience, and having done so, did not leave them there, because He always planned to show mercy to all through Christ. Harry Fox commented that when God gave man a choice to obey or not, that left the door open for sin to come in; it was all part of the divine plan, for even as we were predestined to sin, we were also predestined to be chosen IN CHRIST.
God did not create robots, programmed to obey, but created instead, a man formed in the image and likeness of God, a man who had a choice to obey or disobey. God said to Cain, "And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it" (Gen. 4:7). We who live AFTER the cross have a distinct advantage over those who lived before. It is Christ in us is making the choice through us; He has mastered sin on our behalf.
How different Barth's idea is from the church's account of original sin. In the traditional concept, Adam disobeyed; God saw that it would be very unfortunate if the "first couple" ate of the tree of Life and lived for ever, so He "kicked them to the curb," so to speak. This act broke the fellowship between God and man that had existed, and condemned all mankind to eternal damnation, they say, unless man accepts Christ in some prescribed manner. Preachers have pounded the pulpit, begged, cried, pleaded with sinners to repent of their sins so that God would be able to forgive them, as if He needed their help, often leaving the impression on the listeners that mankind is so slimy, so disgusting and untenable that God has to hold his nose and look away lest He either throw up at the sight, or change His mind and blow them all to hell, no matter what they do. I sometimes wonder how God stands to listen to such blasphemy; can He turn off his hearing aids to save himself the aggravation? A god like this is what Barth calls the "no-God" of religion. And all joking aside, God stands it because He knows the end from the beginning, and He knows what provision He has made for all the faults and foibles of man, which in the end will serve His eternal purpose.
Now that I'm old and perhaps a teaspoon wiser than I was when I was young, it seems to me that fear of hell fire, judgment and damnation is the basis for fear of death among Christians. The world isn't concerned with their eternal destination, and if they are, they deal with it their way. They self medicate the fear with sex, drugs, gambling, shopping, eating, alcohol, and any number of other addictions. That quickly becomes a vicious cycle which never works for very long, lends itself to extreme highs and devastating lows, but for some, it's the only game in town, the only way to cope, the only way to help them make it through the night.
Christians, like Job, have any number of religious activities which they practice with the hope that it will save them and their loved ones from disaster. A short list of such may include, naming and claiming Bible verses, church attendance, witnessing to others, taking casseroles to the sick, feeding the poor, caring for the needy, and giving to every organization which begs for money, the chief one being the church itself. These things are NOT sinful, and IF they are authorized by the Spirit, they are righteous, but to do them the way Job did, out of fear, makes them merely self effort, a work of the flesh. I tell them at Medicalodge that those being helped really appreciate it, and so on this earth, all is well. However, as Paul said, those things we do on our own, which he calls "wood, hay, and stubble," have no eternal weight of glory. All our works must pass through the refiner's fire, which burns off the dross, purifies the sons of Levy (a great metaphor for the religious), and leaves us gleaming like fine gold.
Barth leaves no ground for man to stand on, declaring that all man's works are worthless before the righteousness of God: Self righteousness, he asserts, "...now breaks out, not in the indifferent masses, but in those who are interested in religion; not in the course-minded and disreputable, but in the clergy and their friends; not in the cinema, but in the Church; not in the godless professors of medicine, but in the doctors of the Theological Faculty; not in the capitalists and the materialists, but in those active in Social Reform; not in the wide circulation of frivolous literature, but in the publication of books such as the one I am now writing." You've got to love a man who includes himself in his rant against self righteousness. He summarized, "The people of Israel are brought to ruin by their law and by their peculiar election and vocation; and they must suffer and decay in a manner unknown to the Philistines and the Moabites" (pagans, all). His reference is Paul's statement, "Apart from the law, sin is dead" (Rom. 7:8).
This is exactly why the world suffers less guilt than church goers. When you have had law laid on you from childhood, guilt is inevitable. But, God has the remedy, for "Nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). Declaring that is my assignment from the Lord, and apparently, it was Barth's assignment as well. When the disciples asked Jesus, "Who can be saved?" He replied, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:25-26).
Perhaps the point of death and decay is to show us the more excellent way, the way of the Lord. There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death. God's way intersects the plain of man's existence, bringing life out of death as He reveals His infinite mercy and grace for all men. In fact, Paul declared that "The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where it increased, grace increased all the more" (Rom. 5:20). When sin gets blacker and more horrible, grace comes in like a flood and washes it all away. This plan of God, so inconceivable and unimaginable to the mind of man is as much superior to man's righteous as the sun is to the moon. Lenny has said that getting truth directly from God is "Sonlight," whereas getting it second hand from others is "moonlight." Religion has no answer other than self-effort:
"All our respect and admiration for the part it (religion) plays in this world of ours must not prevent our recognizing that every claim to absolute and transcendent truth, every claim to direct relationship with God, made on its behalf, is utterly worthless." (Barth).
We give glory to our Lord and Savior who has swallowed up all death in victory. The death of Death is the LIFE of God in Christ, the complete healing of and deliverance from all human ills! Hallelujah! "Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 15:55-56).
Father, we fall on our faces before you in worship and adoration for Your power to deliver us from death, and to restore us to fellowship with You. Love our fears away, and heal us of all our infirmities, physical, mental and emotional. Make of us a city set on a hill, a Light to the darkened world; a vessel to bring peace to the heathen who will glorify You. In Christ, amen. Jan Antonsson
To Be continued........
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)
Healing, or Stealing God's Glory?
Risky Business, Healing, Part II
The Royal Priesthood, Healing, Part III
Rest in the GIFT, Healing, Part IV
Restoring the Glory Land, Healing, Part V
Organizing the Church, Healing, Part VI
Victory Through Helplessness, Healing, Part VII
What Does Faith Have to do with It? Healing, Part VIII
The Death of Death, Healing, Part X
Freed From Sin, Healing Part XI
Money, the Kingdom, and Bifocal Vision, Healing, Part XII
Flesh, Spirit, & the New Man, Healing, Part XIII
The Church, the Gospel, and God's Will, Healing, Part XIV
The End of the Law, Healing, Part XV
The Divine Possibility, Healing, Part XVI
What Shall We do? Healing, Part XVII
The Tyranny of the Vegetable Eaters, Healing, Part XVIII
The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 05/07/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/19/08.