Pentecost 5a

Preached: July 13, 2014

Oh, How Grace Overflows!
Romans 5:12-15

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Father pours our his Holy Spirit into our hearts is Romans 5

For just as through one man sin entered the world and through sin death came, so also death spread to all people, since all have sinned. You see, sin was in the world even before the law was given (although without the law sin was not formally accounted for). Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses even over those who had not sinned in the same way as Adam had disobeyed [a specific command]. Adam is a picture of the One about to come.

However the fall is not exactly the same as the free gift. For if the multitudes died by the fall of the one man, by much more God's grace [undeserved kindness], namely, the gift given only in the grace [undeserved kindness] that comes from the one man, Jesus Christ—that grace overflowed to the multitudes.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Amazing Grace” usually takes the top spot in surveys for favorite hymns. It's used throughout our culture both inside and outside the church. For many it inspires hope in the face of tragedy and loss. Even non-Christian shows like The Simpsons and Star Trek have used it in respectful ways. Does the popularity of “Amazing Grace” prove that our society is more Christian than we may think?

Unfortunately, so often “Amazing Grace” is sung without any understanding of what the words actually refer to. For us who have been brought up hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ, we cannot hear the word “grace” without thinking of what Jesus did to save sinners like us. What amazing grace! John Newton certainly had Jesus in his heart and mind as he wrote this hymn. But when you listen to what our society says about this hymn, they don't see our Savior, Jesus Christ, in it. Does their misunderstanding at times leaks into our hearts and minds and dim our appreciation of what God's grace has done for us? How much more wouldn't our faith grow and our lives be changed, the more we contemplated God's amazing grace in Christ Jesus?

This short section of Scripture from Romans 5 helps clear our hearts and minds, so that we stand all the more in wonder and amazement marveling at the overflowing greatness of God's grace in Christ. Through these words may the Holy Spirit lead us all the more to exclaim: Oh, how grace overflows! That's our theme. This grace overflowed to all over whom death reigned. And this grace overflowed only from the one man, Jesus Christ. Oh, how grace overflows!

A. This grace overflowed to all over whom death reigned

“Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—That saved a wretch like me!” (“Amazing Grace—How Sweet the Sound,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 379:1). John Newton certainly knew his own wretchedness. He was born in July 1725 in London. His mother taught him Bible passages and hymns until her death when he was only seven. But he turned his back on his childhood faith. At 17 he was inducted into the Royal Navy, but deserted. Later he served on a slave ship. And even after turning back to the Lord at the age of 23, he continued his life as a slaver for several more years. Eventually he studied for the ministry and served the church. But he never forgot what a wretched sinner he was. His self-chosen epitaph on his grave marker reads: “John Newton … once an Infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich Mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal: Handbook, p. 798). “Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.” (“Amazing Grace—How Sweet the Sound,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 379:1). He certainly believed Paul's words in the text here: “all sinned” (Romans 5:12 NIV11).

But our society does not. It tries to explain away Newton's words. It says that “wretchedness” doesn't refer to our inner worthlessness but to the outward condition some people live in. And it's our graciousness that can lift them out of their wretched poverty and miserable existence. Do you see how that totally destroys the truth of the hymn?

And even with our better understanding, we can still undermine these words: “a wretch like me!” Isn't it tempting to think, “Yes, Newton, you certainly were wretched in your godless life as a slaver. So if God's grace can even save a wretch like you, he certainly won't have any troubling saving someone like me.” That kind of thinking rejects God's grace. How about when we hear of a horrendous crime (murder, rape, child molestation) or learn of Hitler and the Holocaust, do we think, “How could anyone do something that bad?” and become outraged at how wicked some people out there are. Or do we realize and confess that the wickedness and evil inside them also lurks inside you and me?

The first part of the text from Romans 5 brings home that each and every one of us are all sinners. The Apostle Paul takes us back to Adam. Through that one man sin came into the world and death through sin. Notice there aren't different groups: the bad sinners and the not-so-bad sinners. But that same sinfulness that Adam had, each and every one of us has inherited. The twentieth century hymn writer, Martin Franzmann, expressed this truth with these words: “In Adam we have all been one, One huge rebellious man” (“In Adam We Have All Been One,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 396:1). What wretched sinners we are!

And here's the undeniable proof of our sinfulness: We all die. No one only partially dies, as if their sinfulness wasn't so bad enough. We all die. “Death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 NIV11), the Holy Spirit teaches us.

Now we don't all sin in the same way. For example, God spoke a specific command to Adam and spelled out the punishment for breaking it. The Lord God commanded Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17 NIV84). Now God did not again speak specific commands and detail out the punishments for breaking them until he spoke the law from Mt. Sinai at the time of Moses thousands of years later. But as the text points out, even though from the time of Adam until the time of Moses no one sinned in the same way as Adam had, yet they were all equally sinful. And the proof again? They died. Death reigned.

Still today, death takes each and every person: rich and poor, good and bad, the weak and the powerful, the young and the old. Yes, even babies are sinful, for even babies can die. Every casket, every grave, every cemetery preaches how serious sin is. It makes us all worthless wretches. It makes us all equally unworthy and undeserving. It brings us all death. How much each and every one of us needs grace! We need God to show us his undeserved kindness, his unmerited love.

How amazing God's grace is! What good news! His grace overflows to all over whom death reigned, and that's all people, each and ever one of us. Those who diminish their own unworthiness and deny how wretched they are, they refuse God's grace. Death continues to reign over them despite the overflowing grace God has shown to them. And where death reigns, there will come only hell and its torments.

But dear sinner, since God's grace overflowed to all over whom death reigned, it overflowed to you. No matter how wretched you are, no matter how great your sin is, God’s grace overflows to you. What Good News! Believe it. What a marvel! What wonder! Oh, how grace overflows! And this grace, the only grace that saves, overflowed only from the one man, Jesus Christ.

B. This grace overflowed only from the one man, Jesus Christ

Even though this hymn, “Amazing Grace,” doesn't expressly talk about Jesus and his saving work, John Newton certainly was thinking of Jesus as he wrote it. Some of his other hymns, like “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” talk about Jesus more clearly. Notice in the text from Romans how the Apostle Paul ties grace to Jesus Christ and him alone, “How much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:15 NIV11).

Again and again the Bible ties God's grace to Jesus Christ alone. For example, John 1 says, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NIV84). Ephesians 2 says, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV84). And how often didn't the Apostle greet his readers with the words, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”?

Society looks for grace from inside of ourselves. But once we see our wretched sinfulness, then we know grace cannot come from inside of ourselves. But instead of despair and hopelessness, the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to see the one and only source of God's grace. Oh, how grace overflows! How it overflows to you from the one man, Jesus Christ.

God's grace overflows freely. It's his undeserved kindness that did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you. God's grace overflows freely at no charge to you. It's God's unconditional gift. For Jesus paid the price in full. He gave himself into death on the cross as your substitute to rescue you from death. God's grace overflows freely, proclaiming complete forgiveness to sinners, to wretched sinners like you and me. Do not the water and word of Baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper freely overflow with grace bringing forgiveness to you who believe? Oh, how grace overflows!

Keep on believing this good news, dear friend, so that you cherish how amazing God's grace in Christ is. Contemplate this grace as you take to heart his word. Reflect this grace as you see others not only as wretched sinners, but also as fellow wretched sinners for whom Christ died, just as he died for you. Oh, how grace overflows!

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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