Our theme is, “By one man” which, with our reading from Romans 5, would imply that we shall consider some aspects of our great need for the saving work of our Lord. We shall consider the legacy left by the first man Adam, and the wonder of the saving work of the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. But early this year, the striking on the rocks of a cruise ship, the Costa Cocordia, has also provided a useful illustration for our theme.

Two and a half hours after it left port at 9:42pm on Friday, January 13, this modern, high tech cruise ship with 4,200 persons on board struck a reef off the Tuscany coast. The captain had made an unauthorized departure from the designated route, electing to sail within 300 metres of a small island called Giglio. He deliberately turned all the navigational warning systems off and sailed manually. He had done it before. It was alleged that he wanted to do a ‘fly by’ off the island and to sound his fog horns to the 700 residents of the island. This huge, luxurious floating palace sailing by so close with all lights blazing would have been an awesome sight. But it was too close! With a terrible booming noise and a tilting of the ship, passengers and furniture were sent flying. The ship stopped. It tilted one way and then the other, finally settling on its side in 20 metres of water. Imagine the frightening experience amidst the darkness. In sheer panic passengers struggled into lifeboats calling out for loved ones, some forming human chains down the slippery side of the ship to clamber into life boats. Where was the captain? He said that he had tripped and fallen into the water and clambered into a lifeboat. The bridge was deserted. But there were still hundreds of others, including old people and children, left behind trying as best they could to flee the sinking ship. It was dark and cold. Others tried to help where they could. They never saw the captain. Some swam to shore. Hundreds suffered shock and hypothermia. The Coastguard called out to the captain Francesco Schettino to get back on the ship. He said he couldn’t. The captain is under arrest for manslaughter and for leaving his ship. To date there are 25 confirmed dead. The authorities are worried about oil leaking into the pristine Mediterranean waters.

By one man’s offence

The captain made the order to sail too close to the rocks. Later he said, “the rocks shouldn’t have been there!” He chose not to heed any sonar warning signals. The world now knows his folly. By one man, thousands went through a terrible, living nightmare. It was a colossal, fatal mistake.

Let us see how Paul describes the terrible choice made by another man, Adam. In Romans 5 the apostle says, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” and “through the offence of one many be dead” (v12,15). Again the offence is mentioned in verses 16,17 and 18, “by one man’s offence”. What does this mean? The Greek has the sense of a fall, an error of judgment, a deviation from the right path. That’s making a choice with fatal consequences … like the fatal choice of the captain of the Costa Concordia. Let’s also remember that like icebergs in the path of the Titanic, temptation can seem small on the surface but deadly under the surface, posing terrible peril if we ignore the warnings and blithely sail on into their path.

A freewill choice

What was the position in the Garden of Eden? We know that the issue was crystal clear. Continued blessings lived in a very good setting were promised but were conditional upon obedience. That obedience was centred upon a tree, one tree amongst so many – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said, “thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest therof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17). The serpent told a blatant lie. His assertion that “Ye shall not surely die” defied God’s edict. So the warning signals were all there. We know that whilst Eve was deceived, Adam was not (2 Cor 11:2,3; 1 Tim 2:14). It wasn’t something trivial like eating a piece of fruit. It was a free will choice, a choice of patient service or self-seeking. They ate the fruit and the effects of God’s law were felt – shame and a defiled conscience. Fruit in their hands turned to ashes in their fall. Whilst they came up with pathetic excuses, God’s law was upheld and implemented. Later the judgment was to be made, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Passages like Psalm 14:2,3, Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21–23, Galatians 5:19–21 and Matthew 5:21,22,27,28 all show the ugly world of sin, in thoughts and actions. They could not live forever as condemned sinners (Gen 3:19). Cherubim were placed east of the Garden with flaming swords to guard the way of the tree of life. It now became an object of hope for fallen men and women.

We have read that by one man “sin entered into the world and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5: 12). Sin came into the world and stayed and held dominion, as King, over Adam’s race. As Paul shows in Romans 5, Adam is the federal head of a sin-prone mortal race. Christ is the federal head, through whom we are counted righteous. In both cases, God is a just God and a Saviour (Isa 45:21,22).

Sin applies its own anaesthetic

Adam had been made upright. Now it is different and we know it to be different. Paul says “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). He had previously summarized that both Jew and Gentile are “all under sin” and “There is none righteous, no, not one” (v9,10). Sin is not a thing, like poison or toxins in the flesh. It is an instinct, an impulse excited by the three-fold lusts. All too often we allow ourselves to sail too close to the ‘rocks’, bringing ourselves and our families into peril. It can be many things – the insatiable craving for power, pre-eminence, money, pleasures, possessions – many things that choke the Word and gain the upper hand. It is better to be a poor, humble man with a well-worn Bible, a loaf of bread and contentment than a would-be rich man who is eaten out with envy and never knows true peace of mind.

James shows us the inevitable pattern: “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (1:14,15). Is that not true in our own experience? The Word of God at times recedes from our view and we allow ungodly thoughts to tramp their ugly feet through our minds. Unrestrained sin dulls our minds. In effect, sin applies its own anaesthetic! Human nature will always try to rationalize and sanitize sin placing some on higher or lower rungs. All are a departure, a falling away from God, a setting aside of God’s laws and commandments. Whatever it is, it offends God our Maker! We cannot hide from Him Who sees all, even though we may masquerade our innocence before others. Let’s shed ourselves of any pretence, of any self justification or any cover-up.

The captain of the Costa Concordia had obviously thought, “I’ll be alright. I’ve been here before. I’ll be OK.” But like a moth fluttering around a lamp, we can get closer and closer and get burnt. Sometimes terribly burnt. Or to use our analogy, we may make a shipwreck of our lives!

If we confess our sins

Progress on the path to reconciliation begins with a big step – a heartfelt confession of our faults. John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). There is however a condition upon that cleansing. John says, “If we confess our sins.” Adam and Eve tried a fig-leaf covering and struggled to shed the blame – even upon God, their Maker! (Gen 3:12). We must confess our sins in words akin to Psalm 51. But it’s so hard to do! We can go through a charade of looking self righteous in front of our peers but it’s a pathetic, flimsy covering like the fig leaves, transparently inadequate before the penetrating, searching eyes of our God.

Can we take to heart the plea of Psalm 51? Sin made an unforced entry into David’s life in the matter of Bathsheba. Terrible consequences ensued. He deliberately sailed onto ‘rocks’ and brought death and destruction in his wake. But, “Thou art the man” exposed his masquerade and a broken man cried, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (v1). Or the confession of: “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin … Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me … Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (v2,5,10). That is total and unqualified confession, a laying bare of his troubled heart before his God. That is the mark of true contrition. What a role-model for us! This man of God felt keenly the shame, the dishonour brought upon God’s name. God’s heritage was sullied and gave occasion for the enemy to blaspheme. But he rose up, resolved to teach sinners of the marvel of God’s forgiveness.

By one man God was honoured and obeyed

In contrast to the first man (and all subsequent generations!), the second Adam obeyed God’s will even unto death, the awful death on the cross. Like the brazen serpent in the wilderness, his flesh was lifted up on a stake and we, dying creatures of the dust, if we lift up our eyes in faith, can behold deliverance from sin and death (Num 21: 4–9; John 3:14–17). At his baptism he said that he came to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matt 3:13–17). Consider this son of Adam; this “one man” in the same nature, in the same arena where sin normally holds men captive; by that man, God was honoured and obeyed. Where everybody else failed, by this man Sin was condemned in the flesh (Rom 8:3). He put it away – totally! Not yielding to sin. Ever! “Sin had been in the death cell until it had been finally executed on the cross” (The Problem of Sin’s Origin, p17, Bro Elwyn Humphries). God’s law decreed mortality. By the same law, God could not allow His righteous Son to see corruption (Acts 2:31).

God sent forth His Son as a sin bearer, one of us, who knows exactly what we go through, yet never entertained the thought of sin. He never sailed close to the ‘rocks’. Every day he faced the same temptations as us but they never gained a foothold. Why? For our profit, let us consider this “one man” who has brought salvation to a fallen race.

Isaiah 50 sheds a good deal of light upon the early training of the young boy from Nazareth. Every morning he turned to his Father’s Word for instruction (v4–9). God’s Word was as frontlets before his eyes. He delighted in this wisdom from above. He hungered and thirsted after it. It was his meat and drink to do his Father’s will. God was near to His Son every waking moment of his young life. They held a very close, intimate relationship and the Son responded in loving obedience, even unto a cruel and vicious death. He knew the nature of the path ahead. Staring down all the barbaric treatment, he set his face like a flint and never departed to the left or the right hand. Peter says, “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18).

Fleeing and pursuing

Consider the impact of the Son of God upon his generation. They were drawn to him knowing that he could bring light and salvation into their dark souls. He spoke kindly to their hearts and lifted them up out of the pit of despair and turned their feet unto righteousness. By belief and baptism into Christ they were set free from the tyranny of sin. To use our figure, they sailed away from the looming ‘rocks’ and siren voices of temptation and despair into the smooth, safe, deep waters of truth and righteousness. As Paul, the aged, said to his young son-in-the-faith, Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim 2:22). That’s safe company, albeit not perfect, but the most desirable people on the face of the planet.

We need to be on guard and ever vigilant. Since sin is ever lurking as a predator to take down the unwary, we need to apply the wisdom of the Proverbs and in particular the warning to “Let thine eyes look right on … Ponder the path of thy feet” (4:23–27). In short, don’t sail close to the ‘rocks’! What we fill our minds with, is what we truly become. If the constant stream is cluttered up with unprofitable rubbish we need to bring in the sweepers! We are constantly engaged in a warfare – principally bringing our own thoughts into subjection to the mind of Christ (2 Cor 10:4,5). Brother John Carter once observed that the human mind is insensibly affected by the constant stream of thoughts that pass through it. For the Son of God, that stream was pure!

Grace has super-abounded

Let us pause and think of the present benefits that flow to us now. Think of our present, privileged state. Romans 5 introduces us to many benefits: verse 1, “peace with God” when we had none; verse 2, “access into grace” when we were aliens; verse 2, “rejoicing in hope” when were hopeless, and verse 5, the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts” when we were sinners. We are reconciled to God because of what He and His Son have done – for us! By one man, grace has been held out to us. Grace has super-abounded unto many – an overwhelming and abundant grace (note v15,17). It covers many offences. In Christ, we are made righteous. Sin, the despotic tyrant, has been dethroned. Grace now reigns, and reigns in my heart and in your heart! (v21).

Picking up the sentiments of Romans 6, we are new creatures. We will not serve sin. We are not bond-slaves to its dominion. We are free and Christ has made us free. We are free from the tyranny of sin and our lives are lived in all sincerity unto holiness, leading in the end to everlasting life. “By one man”, Christ Jesus our redeemer has gained the victory and is now holding it out unto us. Let us deeply appreciate all that Christ has done for us, and will yet do for us. He will save much people alive, a vast multitude, and you and I can be counted in that joyous throng. Let us stay on board with the captain of our salvation until our journey’s end. In the storms of life, we are safe with his hands on the helm.

We have a wonderful hope of eternal life shared with the worthies of old, all counted worthy and all redeemed unto God in the blood of the Lamb. All have battled against sin. None are perfect but all are cleansed and accepted in the Son of God. What an illustrious company! Sparkling like jewels, each a testimony to the fashioning and honing skills of the Master Craftsman.

May we be blessed to soon see the Lord with a smile of welcome reaching out to place a coronal wreath gently upon our bowed heads. By that bestowal of abundant grace, may it be true for us that “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved”. Salvation belongs to the overcomers.