“Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat.”
John Milton wrote these mournful words 400 years ago. They form the opening lines of one of the greatest epic poems of all time. It is a tale of mystery and of misery; of deception and of betrayal. It recounts the ultimate treason that led to the ultimate tragedy…Paradise Lost.
Milton wrote the poem but Adam lived the story. And his story is our story. We are the descendants of that first created couple who delivered all of their children over into the cold hands of death and despair.
Paradise! What an inheritance could have been ours.
Waking in the morning to a sunny world of peace and serenity.
Working with our hands in toil-less labor; productive, prosperous.
Watching the vast creation become subdued before us as we brought it under the dominion of our Great King.
Walking each evening in communion with the Maker of Worlds.
Witnessing the joyful faces of children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren who would never know the thought of disease, or despair, or of death.
Yes, what great an inheritance could have been ours. Paradise.
But it was lost…
With a single bite of forbidden pleasure, Adam swallowed the bitter poison of eternal death. That same poison courses through the veins of every child born after him. It effects our minds, our desires, and every action that we perform. Our first father, our representative, the great head of the human family failed. He tasted death for every man. For this reason, each of us were born into the dark domain of Death.
Adam was in line for the throne. He was created to reign in life with his God. But his sin cost him that high position. When he was expelled from the garden in Eden, Death usurped the throne.
“Death reigned from Adam…” the Apostle Paul tells us. His scepter is shame and his Viceroy is Sin. Sin brings every one of us to kneel at his feet and leaves us helpless before him. Death is a cruel monarch, binding us in chains of condemnation. The world that was created to be a paradise now has become a prison. It is a dungeon of doom and despair. Death is on the throne and sin reigns through death.
Look yonder and see the killing fields of war. Some father’s son and some daughter’s father lie slain on the battlefield, surrounded by thousands more just like them. Sin and death put them there!
There in the alley lies a man with a bottle in his hand, a needle in his arm, and no rest in his soul. Sin and death put him there.
Look there at the hospital wards. An old woman is gasping for breath, a man is writhing in pain, a child is weeping because his body is riddled with disease. Sin and death brought them here!
Now walk that sad mile behind the six men carrying the wooden box. Passing headstone after headstone, you stop to place dirt upon the face of those whom you have loved. Through tear-filled eyes, you stoop to place a single rose on top and say goodbye. Every time you make that journey remember that sin and death have brought you there.
Death is indeed a cruel and callous monarch. Unyielding. Unrelenting. All-encompassing. The grip of death encircles the globe, holding in his grasp every man, woman and child. There is no refuge, no relief, no release. There is only the certainty that one day we will be paid for our labors. The “wages of sin is death.”
It is into this dark domain of Death that our text shines the bright ray of gospel light. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared…”
In mercy, our great God decided to intervene in the woeful world of men. He stooped down from Palace of Light to shatter the darkness and tear cruel Death from his throne.
In the fullness of time, He sent grace into the world. Grace is not an abstraction. The grace of God is not an impersonal force. The grace of God is not a substance. There is no “thing” that Christ takes from himself and gives to us, calling it “grace.” He gives himself to us. That is grace. An “it” wasn’t crucified on Calvary so that Christ could give us some other “thing”. Christ was crucified to give himself to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the grace of God. The Lord Jesus is the very personification of grace. To say “the grace of God hath appeared” is to say “the God of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ, has appeared.”
The words of our text hearken back to those powerful words from the first chapter of John’s Gospel,
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Grace has appeared!
Down from his glory and into the darkness he came. Wrapped in the feeble garb of Adam’s clay, he appeared to put an end to the tyrannical reign of Sin and Death. He was the last and final Adam; Milton’s “greater man” who would restore us to to that “blissful seat.”
Where the first Adam failed to obey God and keep his holy commandment; Grace appeared to fulfill its every jot and tittle.
Where the first Adam approached a tree and plunged all of his children into death; Grace appeared and on a tree brought life to all his people.
The first Adam lost paradise with a single bite; Grace appeared and reopened paradise with a single drink!
The first Adam tasted death for every man and in him all die. The last Adam tasted death for every man and in him all are made alive!
“O loving wisdom of our God,
When all is sin and shame,
A Second Adam to the fight,
And to our rescue came.”
But Death would not give up the throne easily. He would not go down without a fight. He marshaled all of the forces of darkness against the Lord’s Anointed at Calvary. Grace shouted from the Tree, “Death, do your worst1” Death pressed him for six, long, painful hours. For three days and nights, Death squeezed him. Then, defeated and exhausted, Death collapsed and Grace walked out victorious from the tomb. He had “abolished Death and brought life and immortality to light…”
Grace appeared and ended the reign of Death. Grace appeared and brought with him salvation, deliverance to those who had been under the chains of condemnation; to all of those captive to sin and guilt.
Grace has appeared and has brought salvation to all men! Not just to this prince in his palace but to the peasant in the street. As Paul said to Titus, grace brings salvation to old men, to old women, to young men, to young women and even to slaves!
Where the cold hand of Death once wrapped its icy fingers around the world, the Grace of God now draws sinners close in love’s warm embrace.
Death is forever deposed and Grace forever reigns! Sin reached high, but Grace reached higher still. Death reached low but Grace went lower still. Sin was broad but Grace reached broader still. Sin did abound! But Grace did MUCH MORE ABOUND!
Dear sinner, into your darkness Jesus comes. The Grace of God comes to save you. The Grace of God in Christ comes to deliver you from the bondage of shame and guilt. Grace says, “Live!” Turn your eyes upon the Savior. Look unto Him.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might be made rich.”