“All mankind fell at Adam’s fall, / One common sin infects us all; / From sire to son the bane descends, / And over all the curse impends,” Lazarus Spengler wrote in the 16th century. Our hymnal states that he had Romans 3:12, though Romans 5:12 seems more appropriate, I would suggest that He also had Genesis 3:17-19, especially for that first verse. There, God says to Adam:
Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”: Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.
“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Such is the curse that impends over all: the ground will be hard to work, and the fruit of that work will be at the very least partly worthless—thorns and thistles, the plant-life sign of the curse—and at the end, every man will become the very same dirt that he once worked. The warning was given, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16b-17) Adam and Eve ate, and so the promise was kept. Adam and Eve eventually died, having been cursed to die and return to dust. Every son of Adam and daughter of Eve died, some even by the hand of their own brothers or sisters, and they, too, returned to the dust or are now returning to it.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this curse is spoken to you, too. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Like every other son of Adam and daughter of Eve before you, you will die and return to the dust. And so we have our focus for this evening and the season of the Church Year we now enter: you are a sinner, fully deserving the wrath of God.
This is cause for mourning. “Let us don sackcloth and ashes,” was once sung by the church of years past, and we could very well continue in the practice right along with Joshua, Tamar, and Job, tearing our robes, throwing dust over our heads, and rolling in ashes. (cf. Joshua 7:6, 2 Samuel 13:19, Job 42:6)
After all, we see the curse all around. We till the soil, plant good seed, and receive among the good fruit both thorns and thistles. We cultivate trees for lumber or other resources, and try as we may to preserve them, they will eventually whither, decay, and disintegrate. We take ore out of the ground, form it into all sorts of metals with which to construct many things, and they fail—every one of them—at one time or another.
We see the result of the curse in ourselves. Yes, we know of our own mortality—we know our days are numbered: “The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10a) Death is imminent for us all, our lives are “soon cut off,” and there is no way around that, and our bodies constantly testify to the fact, in every illness and cancer, even in every little ache and pain and blemish. These all serve as reminders, every one of them, that our days are numbered.
We even participate in the curse pronounced to Adam—yes, to us all. As much as every son of Adam and daughter of Eve dies and returns to the dust from which Adam was made, even as some have done so by the hand of fellow sons and daughters, such is a participation in the curse. Original sin has it’s fruit—the sins we commit. Whether its actual murder—the real taking of another’s life—or calling another person an “air head,” (cf. Matthew 5:22) you are participating in the curse as you transgress the Law of God—“Thou shalt not kill.” Even every other transgression of every part of God’s Law, no matter how we level it out, is participating in the curse.
“Over all the curse impends,” Spengler wrote. Over every one of you, as your possessions deteriorate, your health wanes, and you sin against your neighbor and God, have a part in the curse of God. “[T]hrough one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned...” (Romans 5:12) And the curse of death is this: separation from God. Because of sin, we are enemies of God. “All have sinned,” St. Paul wrote, “and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Cursed to die and be eternally separated from God, falling short of His glory—that’s what awaits every son of Adam and daughter of Eve; furthermore, there is nothing we can do about it, not one, small, thing.
As mourning exiles (as we sang this past Sunday), we very well could rend our garments and don sackcloth and ashes, but even this, good work as it may be, is nothing that will restore you to God. So it may be that we wish to cry out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
Listen, as God speaks through the prophet Joel: “So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.” (Joel 2:13) Thankfully, when God issues an imperative such as this, He grants the faith to do it. “Rend your heart,” God commands: repent and confess your sin, because “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness,” and He grants the faith to repent of your sins. He relents from doing harm; He is the one who reverses the curse; He is the one who provides the Tree of Life to combat the curse that impends over all for Adam’s eating of the forbidden tree.
“Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24b-25a) As I said, God provides the Tree of Life to combat the curse. For as much as Adam and Eve and every son of Adam and daughter of Eve since have been cut off from the tree of life that was in the midst of the garden, God did not eternally condemn man to mere mortality, but made a promise, as He spoke to the serpent: “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Some millennia later, that promise was kept as God incarnate hung on the new Tree of Life: a rough-hewn cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
There died the sinless God with every sin ever committed; or as has and can be said, on that cross on Golgotha died the worst sinner that ever existed. So, what does that say of you? The sins you commit are not yours, they are claimed and owned by Christ who died with them and destroyed them. So, while you are most certainly a sinner deserving the full wrath of God, God in Christ suffered the full wrath of God on His cross for you. And that, dear listener, means there is no more wrath of God for you if you have received faith in Him. For those who refuse Christ’s sacrifice for them, their sins remain with them, but that is the topic for another sermon.
But for you, dear baptized, this is the grace of God for you. No longer do you need to rend your garments, for you have been given confession. And, speaking that God-given repentance, He gives you Holy Absolution—forgiving your sins, removing them from you as far as east is from the west—for you have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and given a new robe: the robe of Christ’s righteousness.
Furthermore, Christ has died your death. He has suffered the curse spoken to Adam and all of His sons, one of which Jesus is, and died the death deserved by every son of Adam and daughter of Eve. And while this Holy One did not see decay (cf. Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:27), He did return to the dust from which His very body and blood are, by descent, made, having been buried on the day He died. But, being very God without decay and corruption, the grave could not contain Him, and He rose again on the third day, and is now seated at the right hand of God. From thence He will come again to judge the quick and the dead.
This resurrection is also yours, dear listeners. For as much as you will still taste death before the return of the King of kings, and your body see decay and return to the dust, this death is a captive enemy, as Christ crucified as conquered death for you. Death is now the means by which God takes you to Himself, and it is only temporary. For when the King of kings returns, the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57)
Death is swallowed up in victory. The curse is removed in the victory that, thanks be to God, is given to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As by one man all mankind fell / And, born in sin, was doomed to hell, / So by one Man, who took our place, / We all received the gift of grace.
We thank Thee, Christ; new life is ours, / New light, new hope, new strength, new powers: / This grace our every way attend / Until we reach our journey’s end!
By this victory, you have this new life, a new life which is invigorated as it received the Word of God, including these words: You are forgiven for all of your sins!