by Mark Horne
I preached this a few times about six years ago. I think the first version began with Hebrews 1.1-5a as its text. I don’t preach this long anymore so I’ve never used it in this century. The names have been changed to protect privacy.
Please turn with me to Romans chapter one. I want to talk to you about a basic theme in the theology of the New Testament. I want to talk to you about the resurrection. I don’t know about you, but the main thing I remember being taught about the Resurrection in my earlier years, was that it was proof. It is simply evidence of Jesus’ deity. Now, I don’t deny that the resurrection is apologetically useful. But I think it is much more than that. One of the passages commonly use to interpret the resurrection as evidence of Jesus’ deity is Romans 1 through 6, especially verses 3 and 4. I would like to unpack those verses a little, in light of some other statements in the New Testament to show you how the resurrection is not simply evidence, but the key to the Christian life. Hear the Word of the Lord.
Our God and Father, we ask for nothing less than the same Spirit who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead to give new life to our ears and hearts that we might die to the flesh and live to you as your powerful Word operates within us. This we dare to ask only because you have told us to ask it, and only because of the mediation and merits of Jesus Christ alone. Amen.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that next Sunday is Easter. This sermon wasn’t written with the Church calendar in mind. The seed for this sermon was planted roughly a year and a half ago, when a sixteen-year-old boy in our home town got in his car one Sunday morning to go to Church. His name was Daniel. Less than an hour later, someone sitting in that church heard a helicopter fly low overhead and knew that someone was being taken on an emergency flight to the local hospital. Daniel had, for reasons I’ll never know in this life, swerved into an oncoming vehicle. He died that afternoon while his father was holding his hand..
Jennifer and I knew Daniel and were good friends with his family. We still are. And we knew we had to go to the funeral. Because I worked that night until 11pm, we had to leave at midnight, bundling Calvin into the car and drinking lots of coffee. It was not an ideal trip, and while I was fighting off sleep, I had more time than I really wanted to wonder why Daniel had to die. What was the point?
The answer is found in Paul’s Gospel. That may sound like a cliche, but I am not simply reciting a slogan. Paul’s Gospel is tailor-made to explain why dear Christians have to suffer and die. We will find it in this passage if we have eyes to see. In this passage we have Paul’s nutshell summary of His Gospel, which he elaborates, develops, and applies through the rest of Romans. This initial statement of God’s good news sets the tone and the underlying structure of the entire epistle. But it is often obscured by modern translations, so let me read the first four verses again, using a more accurate translation:
Paul, a bond servant of Christ Jesus, called an apostle, set apart for the good news of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures–the good news concerning His Son, who was begotten by the seed of David according to the flesh, who was appointed the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of Holiness by the resurrection from the dead.
Now there are two ways in which this translation is more helpful to get at what Paul is saying about the resurrection. First of all, there is a deliberate contrast between Jesus being “born by the seed of David” and being “appointed the son of God in power by the resurrection from the dead.” This is often obscured because keeping the same prepositions is awkward in English. It is easier to say the Jesus was born “of the seed of David.” instead of “by the seed of David.” But the two statements are meant to be parallel to one another. Just like “according to the flesh” is parallel to “according to the Spirit of Holiness.”
Secondly, and more importantly, some of your versions may say in verse 4: “declared the Son of God,” but the word means, not simply to report something but to determine it, whether to set a limit, or to make a decision, or to designate an office. It is used in those ways in Luke 22.22; Acts 2.23, where it refers to God’s predestination; Acts 10.42; 11.29; 17.26 and 31, and Hebrews 4.7 where it is said that God has appointed, or fixed, a certain day. So I want you to be aware of Paul’s meaning here, because it is so important to his Gospel.
Indeed, it is his Gospel. The Gospel is about God’s Son who humbled himself to be born by the seed of David but was then appointed the Son of God in power by the resurrection. There is a definite two stage process in the life of Jesus. He incarnated himself according to the flesh, and as a true human being, He was raised, according to the Holy Spirit. And this new resurrection life is somehow especially associated with the title, “Son of God.” In this passage, it is almost as if the resurrection of Jesus is being compared to his nativity as a second birth.
Now that may seem real strange, but it is obviously Paul’s message. This becomes real clear if we flip back to Acts 13.32. Here we find Paul preaching in the synagogue in Antioch:
And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, “You are My Son; today I have begotten You.”
Did you get that? Paul claims that the Old Testament promise to our children is that God will raise Jesus from the dead. He finds this promise in Psalm Two, where David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophesies God having a son. Jesus being raised from the dead is described for us as God begetting a Son.
And this is not something unique to the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Peter preached the same basic message in that first Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem. Flip back with me to Acts 2.22-24. Hear Peter’s inspired interpretation of what happened to Jesus:
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know–this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the birth pangs of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
Now, if your translation says “agony of death” so does mine, but the word means birth pangs and it’s the same word used in Matthew 24.8, Mark 13.8; and 1 Thessalonians 5.3 where it is translated as birth pangs. Somehow it seemed too weird to portray the grave as a mother from which a son is born, but that’s exactly what Peter is presenting to us. This should not surprise us. Twice, Jesus is called the firstborn from the dead–by Paul in Colossians 1.18 and by the Apostle John in Revelation 15 right before he describes his vision of the glorified, transfigured humanity of Jesus Christ.
Welcome to the to the wild wild world of the Bible where the tomb becomes a womb for a new glorious creation.
But Peter didn’t originate this message in Acts 2–that resurrection from the grave was the birth of God’s son. He heard that interpretation of resurrection from the lips of our Lord. If you’ll flip back even further a few pages to Luke 20.34 and following, you’ll hear how Jesus explained the resurrection to the Sadducees. The Sadducees, if you remember, were the political/religious party of the priests who ruled Jerusalem for Rome. They did not believe in the resurrection, and in this passage, they try to make the doctrine of the resurrection look stupid by asking about a woman who had been married to seven brothers who each died in turn. At the resurrection, they asked, to which brother would this seven-time widow be married? Listen to Jesus’ reply:
The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
That is Jesus’ interpretation of what it means to be raised from the dead. One is a child of God by being a child of the resurrection. And if this applies to those who will be raised to life in union with Jesus, how much more must it apply to Jesus himself. That’s exactly the point of calling Jesus the firstborn from the dead. He is firstborn because he has gone through the same process that must occur for all of us who are promised an inheritance of glory by becoming children of the resurrection.
What we need to realize that the term “son of God” does not always mean the deity of Christ. We all know this is true in cases where believers are called the sons of God. It is also sometimes the case when Jesus is called the son of God. For example, when Luke records in chapter three of his Gospel how, at the baptism of Jesus, a voice from Heaven said, “You are my Beloved Son,” he immediately launches into the genealogy of Jesus. And that genealogy goes all the way back to Adam who is called, “the son of God.” Luke is interpreting for us what God was saying from Heaven. Jesus is the second Adam. The title “son of God” is a reference to His humanity. He is going to succeed as the perfect human being, where Adam failed. And just as Adam brought death and destruction to His posterity, so the second Adam is going to bring many sons to glory.
What I’m arguing here, is that the term “son of God” is also used in the New Testament for something beyond what Adam ever experienced. It is used to refer to those raised up from death and glorified by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the pre-eminent human being who went through that process for us. That is what Paul is setting forth in Romans 1. Jesus condescended to the humiliation of being born in a manger as a human baby and then went through an even more humiliating process of being born again from the grave.
Time would fail if I showed how this two stage view of the work and life of Jesus runs all through the message of Romans. What can I say about the immortal glory promised in Romans 2. Or the resurrection of Sarah’s womb in Romans 4. Or, having been justified by Jesus’ death, the hope of salvation by His life in Romans 5.1-11. Or the two ages in the rest of Romans 5–the first age of Adam, the flesh, the Law, and death; the second age of the Son, the Spirit, grace, and resurrection life. Or about the death to sin and life to God which we have in union with Christ by His death and resurrection, given to us in baptism, in Romans 6.
As I said, time will fail, so lets look at Romans 8, jumping into the discussion at verse 11:
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.
Notice how this harks back to Paul’s brief summary of His Gospel at the beginning of Romans. Jesus was raised, “according to the Spirit of Holiness.” Now, that Spirit has been given to us and promises us resurrection. The same power which gives you faith in Jesus will burst you from your grave and clothe you in glory.
In the next paragraph, verses 12-17, Paul elaborates this. He begins by talking about the suffering which we undergo in our struggle against our sin. He tells us not to live according to the flesh but to be led by the Spirit. Again, we see the same two stage scheme which Paul gave us in Romans 1. And just as Jesus was appointed the son of God according to the Spirit of Holiness, Paul tells us that we are children of God by virtue of the Spirit of God. Look at verse 17: “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him.”
Having mentioned suffering, Paul elaborates it in the next paragraph in verses 18 to 25: Paul says in verse 18 that our present sufferings are not even worth considering in comparison to the glory to come. And this time, the sufferings he specifically mentions are the sufferings brought about by the curse. Look at verses 22 and following:
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
But wait a minute: Aren’t we already sons? Isn’t that what Paul has already told us up in verses 14 and 16? Let’s keep reading:
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
For Paul, the Spirit is the guarantee of our resurrection. And thus, we who have received the Spirit–who confess Jesus as Lord–have the promise that we will be sons of the resurrection. As he puts it, the redemption of our bodies will be our adoption as sons. But, this involves hope, based on faith in God’s character that He will keep the promise He has made to us.
If you go to a store and buy an item with a check, you have paid for that item, even though no cash has yet been transferred from your possession to the store’s possession. The future promise counts and really is a present reality. God has marked us with His signature by His Spirit and His checks don’t bounce. We are His children because He promises to beget us from the dead, to cause us to be born from the tomb. And we must believe His Word.
Now Paul goes on to elaborate all this all over again in the rest of chapter 8. And that culminates with his famous list starting in verse 35:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now if you read this as, no matter what happens to us, no matter what we suffer, no matter what trials we experience, still somehow, in some way, we will manage to endure, we will get to Heaven despite all these things, you are not doing justice to Paul’s Gospel.
Jesus didn’t get enthroned beside the Majesty on High despite being born in an animal trough, or despite being rejected by men and misunderstood by his disciples, or despite being betrayed with a kiss, or despite being beaten and tortured, or despite being crucified and killed. No, he attained to glory through these things. He attained to glory by means of tribulation, by means of distress, by means of persecution, by means of famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. He has authoritatively and objectively reinterpreted suffering and death forever. Death is supposed to be the curse for sin and a foretaste of Hell, but He has turned it into the glory road.
Look up at verse 28. Paul doesn’t say that even though many things work together for evil for those who love God nevertheless, by God’s grace they manage to endure these things and inherit glory despite them. No, all things work together for good! All things! Whether death or life or angels or principalities or things present or things to come or height or depth or anything else–all these things work together for good because of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul here first speaks of martyrdom, but then includes every other trial as well, including the general curse for sin under which we with all creation are groaning. He is including cancer, and car accidents, and the various painful sicknesses that we get and worse that our children get. He is including even the small things like headaches and colds and the daily physical and mental grind.
I remember once when Calvin was just born. Holding him and rocking him and singing to him, trying to get him comfortable enough to not cry. Nothing would work. And I remember thinking and even praying, “Lord, what is it to you if Calvin should stop hurting and get some sleep.” I wonder if Mary and Joseph ever had thoughts like that when they were up all night with their first crying baby.
In humbling himself, Jesus Christ has made all these things the way to heaven. We are walking in his steps when we suffer, because he loved us enough to walk ahead of us on a road he did not deserve and on which he was not obligated to set his foot. He used the route of the curse to trailblaze a path to glory. Though he was already God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, he became a man under the curse that he might become the son of God, the glorified second Adam, and bring us to glory with Him as sons and daughters of God.
That’s the message of Romans. It begins by telling us that Jesus was appointed as the son of God by the resurrection and then tells us that the way we will be made sons of God is by becoming sons of the resurrection Paul writes in Romans 8.28 that those God “foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” In context, there is no way to miss it. Paul is talking about Jesus being the firstborn to glorification. In other words, the firstborn by the resurrection.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news about the resurrection, which transforms the curse of death into the way of life. There are many other places I could turn to show you this basic theme. I haven’t even touched 1 Corinthians 15 where the Apostle Paul talks about how the resurrection is central to the Gospel message and then compares and contrasts the First Adam who was of the Flesh and the Second Adam, Jesus, who was raised by the Spirit. Nor have I mentioned 1 Peter and how we are born again through the resurrection of Jesus. The list goes on and on. Resurrection is the consistent message of the New Testament, and it is the consistent way of life, and the plan of salvation presented to believers.
The power of Jesus’ resurrection is not to be totally relegated to the Day of Judgment. Each one of us, when you or I suffer, is getting a slight foretaste of death. That could be extremely disheartening except, if we think about it, we should realize that that means we should also expect to experience foretastes of our resurrection glory which Jesus has acquired for us and the Father has promised us. That’s what the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4.7:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.
The Apostle Paul got to see his suffering result in life and salvation for the churches he formed. He tied this to the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the same way, we see the results of Jesus’ resurrection all around us. Even though we still wait in hope for the resurrection, trusting God to keep his promise and vindicate us from the curse of death, we also see the fruit of Christ’s resurrection all around us if we open our eyes. I’m referring to this church, and all the other Christian churches. I’m referring to the fellowship that we have with one another and the love we get to experience in our congregation and in our families. These things did not come about naturally.
Believe it or not, I’m also referring to the kind of society we live in. It’s getting worse in many ways, and it needs to get much better, but try living in a country without any Christian heritage and see if you don’t notice a huge difference in your quality of life. Think about life for people in the world of first century paganism with chattel slavery and the exposure of infants and the gladiatorial games just to mention of few of the more well-known evils which were taken for granted back then. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. It is still changing everything. The resurrection of Jesus was the resurrection of the world.
It is interesting that the first real mention of resurrection in the Bible is used to describe reconciliation in society. In Ezekiel 37, God show Ezekiel a vision of dry bones. God puts the bones together, puts flesh on them, and puts His Spirit in them. What did that vision mean? The prophet Ezekiel goes on to tell us: It meant that the tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah were now going to be released from exile among the nations and put back together as one new people. Resurrection means reconciliation. Where people come together as one, there we see the power of God’s Spirit granting new life.
God wasn’t simply giving Ezekiel a powerful metaphor. When God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the forbidden fruit, He told them they would die in the day that they ate it. And what happened on the day they ate of it? What was the “death” that they experienced? The were cast away from God’s presence and not allowed access to God’s garden or the food there. They died physically hundreds of years later; their initial death was to be alienated and exiled from God’s fellowship.
So the initial resurrection that we get from our salvation in Jesus is corporate reconciliation. We are brought back to God’s presence in the Church. While Adam and Eve were no longer allowed to eat from the Tree of Life, we get to eat with Jesus at His communion meal.
It is no accident then that Paul in Ephesians says that the death and resurrection of Jesus is what made both Jew and Gentile into one new man. The resurrection has implications on this side of the grave and it has corporate implications. We need to deny ourselves and bear one another’s burdens, that we might experience the power of the resurrection in our congregations and in our families. In daily dying to self and putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we collectively show ourselves to be the risen body of Christ inhabited by His Spirit.
I mentioned earlier the head-on collision that killed Daniel. What I didn’t mention is that there were three men in the other car. Like Daniel, they were going to church–another PCA church, in fact. When the ambulance arrived, they expected four deaths. By God’s grace, the three survived but with serious injuries. They suffered great loss and still are suffering. One, especially, had to go through many surgeries and continual therapy, and there was not enough insurance to cover the bills plus the many months of lost wages and the day-by-day expenses.
Thus came about the horrible situation in which two parents, Fred and Sylvia, who had just lost their youngest son, had to face a great financial loss as well. They had to deal with a fellow Christian on a legal matter and at the same time deal with the incredible pain of suddenly losing Daniel.
There was some evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in all of this. They were able to use mediation instead of going to the secular courts. Christian friends and other family members were able to act as go-betweens simply to minimize the stress for Fred and Sylvia. This severely-injured Christian did self-sacrificially lower the amount he was asking for below his needs. And God blessed him when he did so, because as a complete surprise his insurance suddenly came up with some additional money for him that covered his necessities. But Fred and Sylvia still ended up owing fifty thousand dollars they didn’t have. They were left with a future of financial hardship and debt.
And then Fred found two checks in his mail one morning for twenty-five thousand dollars apiece. Members of his church and the church where the other three people had been headed for worship that morning had both decided to completely cover the family’s financial liability.
Now, Fred and Sylvia are still waiting to be brought back together with their son. They still suffer the heartache of missing him. I’m not suggesting that experiencing the self-sacrificial love of people really compensates for their loss. But it is an expression of the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church that people would voluntarily come together and suffer personal loss in order to help out those who have need. Daniel will eventually be raised up, and if you could now see him as he then will be, you would have to wear sun screen and stand 93 million miles away. But even though that hasn’t happened yet, Daniel’s death has already led to resurrection in bringing together a church as never before, and in many other ways that Fred and Sylvia have told me about, which have been of great comfort to them.
All things work together for good. That is God’s promise. We can’t make all things work together for good, but we can look for the good that all things are working for. We can look for the foretastes of the resurrection which are brought about from suffering the trials and tribulations of this life. That is what the Gospel is about. Death leads to life. If we are unwilling to suffer, unwilling to bear one another’s burdens, unwilling to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus, then we are not believing in the resurrection.
I’d like to close with the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4.16-18:
We do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but that the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.