The Resurrection of Christ and the Heart of God
Nick Esch, 4/12/2020 Cornerstone Baptist Church
In the Heidelberg Catechism, the question is asked: “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?” And the answer given is: “First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that He might make us share in the righteousness He won for us by His death. Second, by His power we too are already now resurrected to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.” And all of this is true and utterly amazing, and I believe we can see these glorious things in our passage today… But today, I want us to not only think about these things, but about what’s revealed to us about the heart of Christ towards us in and through His life, death, and especially His resurrection. Because again, it’s true that Jesus’ resurrection brings great benefits for us, but the greatest benefit is the reconciliation, the communion and compassion, the mercy, grace, and love that we get in Christ Himself. So, with that in mind, look with me at Romans 1:1-7.
Paul wrote this letter from Corinth around AD 50-60. And at its most fundamental level, Paul’s letter to the Romans seems to be a missionary support letter. He’s writing to try to convince them of or reinforce them in their conviction about the truth of the gospel and the mission of the gospel. And his purpose in doing so is so that the church in Rome might become a missionary outpost to help Paul get the gospel to Spain.
Our passage beings with Paul briefly mentioning who he is and the authority he has. In verse 1 he says, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” Paul first and foremost identifies himself as a servant of Christ, or to put it more bluntly, as a slave to Christ. A slave was basically without rights, and under the authority of their master. And Paul understood, just as we should, that before God the only rights we have are to death and hell… and anything else is pure grace. And as Christians we are those who recognize and gladly live under the total sovereignty and authority of our Lord and Savior, King Jesus.
So, before Paul points to the authority he has as an apostle, he first shows humility, by saying that his being a slave of Christ is at the core of his identity; and before any of his authority should be recognized, it should be known that he is totally under the authority of Jesus. And from there he then points to the authority he has as an apostle appointed by the risen Lord. Jesus, in His resurrected glory met Paul on the road to Damascus, and their called him, converted him, and set him apart as an apostle for the advance of the gospel. There Jesus said that Paul, “is a chosen instrument of [His] to carry [His] name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
But, after Paul briefly mentions who he is and what authority he’s writing with and under, he then quickly changes the subject to the gospel. Paul is set apart for the gospel; and notice it isn’t Paul’s gospel, but the gospel of God. This gospel, this good news is from God, about God, and for the glory of God. I often hear people say things like, “The gospel is that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life…” But one of our biggest mistakes is placing ourselves at the heart of the gospel… The gospel is first and foremost about God, and it’s for His glory in Christ. So, let’s look at what the text tells us about this God-centered gospel, and perhaps when we see it rightly, seeing it as from God, about God, and for God’s glory, then we’ll be able to understand better why this gospel truly is good news.
In verses 2-4, Paul tells us that this gospel was, “promised beforehand [by God] through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…” The Old Testament is full of prophecies and promises of a Savior. From Genesis 3 on we see promises of one who would defeat sin, Satan, and death. But here, Paul seems to have some specific passages in mind, such as God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13, that says, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” In other words, God promised David that one of his descendants would be the Messiah and would reign over God’s kingdom forever.
Jesus was the fulfillment of this gospel-promise. Jesus is and has always been God the Son… He is the second person of the Trinity who was always in perfect communion with God. Just as God promised the gospel beforehand, that is before Jesus came to earth, so Jesus was with God, and was God, the perfect Son of God beforehand… before He took on flesh. As John 1:1-3 explains, “In the beginning was the Word (that’s Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” As Colossians 1:16-17 goes on to explain, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” So, beforehand, before everything, Jesus was the perfect Son of God in perfect communion with God.
There is one true and eternal God that has always existed in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God is one in essence and three in person. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinct persons, and each person is fully God. And while that might be a bit confusing, one thing we can see for sure in this glorious truth is that within the Trinity there has always been perfect love and joy. God has never needed anything or anyone. God has always been content to glorify Himself and enjoy Himself forever, because the triune God of the universe is infinitely lovely and glorious, and therefore perfectly satisfying and enjoyable in and of Himself. As Jesus says in John 17:24, the Father has always loved Him, since before the foundation of the world. There has always been perfect love and delight within the Trinity: each person loving and delighting in the other. And you see, that amazing love and glory, that joy and delight is what led God to create.
God created the universe, not out of need or loneliness, but out of His sufficiency and glory. God’s love and glory, and especially God’s delight in His Son so overflowed that God created so that the glory of God in Christ would be magnified and enjoyed by others. God created everything for His glory, but He created mankind especially to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. But, in our pride, in our arrogance, we have chosen to rebel against God and seek to live for our own glory and to enjoy our self instead of God. As God’s Word says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But because God is God, and is therefore all knowing, He was not surprised by our rebellion. God knew before He ever created us that we would rebel against Him; but, that in part is why He chose to create. For not only would God magnify the glory of His Son in and through creation, but even more so He would magnify the glory of His Son in and through redemption.
And all of this is why God promised beforehand to send His Son. For His glory and the good of His people, God promised to send a Messiah through the line of David, His own Son to save His people. And so, though Jesus was and always has been the perfect Son of God, Jesus came to earth and took on flesh, flesh in the line of David, and then He lived the perfect sinless life we have failed to live. In the beginning God created Adam; God even called Adam His son, but Adam failed to live as God’s son and rebelled against Him. Later God called a whole nation to Himself, Israel, and even called Israel His son… But they too rebelled against Him and failed to live as His son. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David… they were all sinners like the whole of mankind, and thus they and we all have fallen short of God’s infinite glory, we have failed to live as sons of God. But, the true Son of God came and lived the perfect life we have all failed to live. He lived the life God’s Son should live: perfect in every way, completely dedicated to glorifying and enjoying God in everything.
Now, because God is infinitely good, infinitely glorious and perfect in every way, every sin against Him is an infinite offense. That’s why God told Adam and Eve in the beginning that if they sinned against Him they would die. As Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” And not just physical death, but spiritual death where we are condemned to hell to suffer under God’s wrath for all eternity. That may seem like a heavy punishment, but true justice demands it. An infinite offense demands an infinite punishment; and because God is perfectly good He therefore must be perfectly just. He cannot simply overlook sin. Sinners must be punished. And this is in part why Jesus came.
As 1 Timothy 1:15 says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” He came and lived the perfect life that we should be living; and as the perfect man and thus a suitable representative He then died the death we deserve to die for our sin. He not only died a physical death in our place, but He died a spiritual death in our place. Jesus went to the cross, our cross, and was not only mocked, beaten and battered, and nailed to a cross, but upon that cross the wrath of God due His people was unleashed upon Him. And because Jesus is not only the perfect man, but the infinite God in the flesh, He was able to satisfy God’s infinite wrath due His people. God poured out the cup of His wrath and fury upon His own Son, and Jesus drank it down to the dregs… and then died… After He satisfied God’s wrath His body gave out, and He gave up His spirit totally to God.
But Jesus did not stay dead. He, “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead…” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus got up from the grave showing Himself to not only be the eternal Son of God, but to also be the Son of God in power, meaning the Son of David, and thus not only the Messiah, but the true man and true son of God that Adam was supposed to be, that Israel was supposed to be, that we all have failed to be. In other words, the Son of God who has been in perfect communion with God for all eternity, now through His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection showed Himself to be the Messiah, the One who was promised beforehand, the One who was truly God and truly man, and thus the true Son of God in power… Jesus showed Himself to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to David because only a King who conquers death can reign over God’s kingdom forever as God promised.
But in showing Himself to be the Son of God in power, He wasn’t merely showing that death couldn’t hold Him, but that it wouldn’t hold His people either… Look at the rest of our passage. In verses 5-7 Paul says that through Jesus, the true Son of God, “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now, I’m not going to pick this apart completely, but rather I want to point out that because of Jesus’ life, death, and powerful resurrection, God’s people now receive grace and peace from God. We all deserve death and hell, we deserve God’s wrath, but because of the person and work of Jesus we now receive grace and peace.
After living the perfect life in our place Jesus died a sacrificial wrath-absorbing death in our place… This is what Good Friday points out… But that was not enough… Don’t misunderstand me, Jesus is enough, but in order to see that Jesus is enough, in order to prove He is enough Jesus had to rise again. He had to defeat the grave. Jesus had to overcome death not only for Himself, showing Himself to be the promised Messiah and thus the true Son of God, but He had to overcome death for all of us. You see, Jesus’ resurrection not only testifies that He is the Son of God, but that the offering of His life was an acceptable sacrifice. No one took Jesus’ life from Him, but He laid it down of His own accord. He gave it freely for His people; and if Jesus would not have been raised it would’ve been a sign that God did not accept the sacrifice He offered… But He was raised; and God did accept His sacrifice. And so the resurrection proclaims to us that God’s divine justice has indeed been satisfied. Sin has been atoned for. The punishment has been done away with because Jesus paid it all… And now Jesus’ resurrection is a sign that even death has been vanquished. The resurrection tells us that Jesus conquered; that sin, death, and the devil have lost.
But this is only good news for those who trust in Christ. Paul speaks of the obedience of faith that must come about. And that too is in part what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection purchased. As Revelation 5:9 says, Jesus was slain, and by His blood He ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation… We were once in bondage to sin, Satan, and death, and we were heading towards hell… But, through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection He purchased a people for Himself; He wrote a check with His own life and death, and the resurrection proclaimed that the check cleared; and with the check of His life and death, and through His powerful resurrection He bought His people out of slavery. As 1 Peter 2:9-10 says, Christians “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once [we] were not a people, but now [we] are God’s people; once [we] had not received mercy, but now [we] have received mercy.”
You see, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ didn’t merely purchase the possibility of salvation, it guaranteed it… God’s people are not their own, for they have been bought with a price. We don’t belong to ourselves, and we certainly don’t belong to sin, Satan, or death. And so, the person and work of Christ guaranteed salvation. As Joseph was told by the angel in Matthew 1:22, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Not might… No maybe… But He will for sure save His people. Not a single drop of the blood of Jesus was shed in vain. God is perfect and thus never fails. As Job told God, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). And if God has purposed to have a people for Himself, who are brought out of darkness into His marvelous light to proclaim His excellencies, He will have it… And so He has… And so God’s gospel not only brings about the possibility of salvation, but the actual obedience of faith.
When God’s people hear God’s gospel rightly preached, by God’s grace in God’s timing, they repent and believe. And when we place our faith, when we turn from our sin and trust in the finished work of Christ as our only hope, we are then united to Christ in His life, death, and resurrection. And thus we are dead to sin and raised to newness of life in Christ. On the cross Jesus took on our sin and guilt and died in our place, and by faith in Him He gives us His righteousness. As I read earlier from the Heidelberg Catechism, we “share in the righteousness He won for us by His death.” But that’s not all. Notice Romans 1:5 says this is the obedience of faith for the sake of Christ’s name… That is, this is no only a justifying faith, but also a sanctifying faith. This is a faith that trusts in Jesus and lives for Jesus. It’s an obedient faith that lives for the sake of, that is, for the glory of Christ.
And this is likewise what the Heidelberg Catechism says. Through the power of the resurrection of Christ, “we too [who are Christians] are already now resurrected to a new life.” That is, we are no longer enslaved to sin, Satan, and death… We are indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, to live for the glory of Christ… We are enabled to put sin to death and pursue holiness… To have a genuine obedient faith. And so we see the first two benefits of Christ’s resurrection connected to our passage; and though the third benefit the Heidelberg Catechism mentions isn’t directly addressed here, I think we can still see it here as well.
The third benefit of Christ’s resurrection is that it is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection. As Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Or as Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Every true Christian will one day be raise with Christ and given new resurrected glorified bodies that are free from sin, Satan, death, and all their effects, and are truly able to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. On that day we will see Jesus face to face and we will be made like Him (1 John 3:2). The Christian hope is a living hope, a resurrection hope… It’s not merely about spending eternity in heaven spiritually, but being in the new heaven/new earth resurrected with new glorified bodies with Jesus in glory and perfect joy… And that’s what I think we can see in our text.
In Romans 1:7 it says that all who are called to be saints, that is all of God’s people past, present, and future, all who turn from their sin and trust in Christ are loved by God. And we are loved by God way before we ever trusted in Christ. God grants us grace and peace in and through Christ because he loves us. As Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Or as Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Jesus’ dying on the cross, or our being made alive with Christ is not what made God love us… Those things happened because God loves us. Indeed, as Ephesians 1:4-5 tells us, God loved us and chose us and predestined us to be adopted into His family before the foundation of the world… that’s before we were ever born or did anything… God set His affection on us and decided to grant us mercy and grace before we ever trusted in Christ. In fact, the only reason any of us can trust in Christ or have trusted in Christ is because He loved us and grants us faith by His grace. But though His love for us is not based on us or even based on the cross, His love for us is most evidently seen at the cross. As Charles Spurgeon once put it, “We never would have known Christ’s love in all its heights and depths if He had not died; nor could we guess the Father’s deep affection if He had not given His Son to die.”
God so loves us that He sent Jesus to live, die, and rise again so that (as verse 6 says) we would belong to Him, and (as verse 7 says) we’d be under His grace and be at peace with Him, that we’d be reconciled to Him and be enabled to glorify Him and enjoy Him… That we’d be raised with Christ and would indeed be with Christ forever… For that is why God created us and why God redeems us… Because He loves us and wants us with Him to enjoy Him forever.
But, as I said earlier, God’s love and glory, and especially God’s delight in His Son so overflowed that God created so that the glory of God in Christ would be magnified and enjoyed by others. So, though God does indeed love His people, that love is an overflow of the love and delight He has in and of Himself… the love and delight that has always been within the Trinity. So, as I said earlier, it is wrong to say that the gospel is that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life, because we are not at the heart of the gospel, God is… But, because God is at the heart of the gospel He does indeed love us. And that is truly good news… In God’s mercy and grace He has set His affection upon us, His people, His church, and because of His love for us He has redeemed us and granted us faith, obedient faith that lives for Him, and He has done all of this so that we would be with Him forever.
As Jesus prayed in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus, the sovereign King of the universe who has total authority, says that He wants His people, those whom the Father has given Him, those for whom He lived, died, and was raised, to be with Him to behold His glory, to bask in and enjoy the love and glory that the triune God has had forever. And this is all possible because of the resurrection. Because God loves us we will spend eternity in resurrected bodies enjoying the resurrected Christ.
This God-centered gospel, this gospel that is from God, about God, and for God’s glory, is incredibly good news for us because it tells us that for all who repent and believe this gospel there is hope, there is joy, there is love and life eternal. Our passage began with Paul referring to himself as a servant of Christ, which gave us glimpse of Paul’s humble heart. But this passage, this gospel even more so gives us a glimpse into the heart of Christ: and it is a heart of love for His people… A heart that so delights in His glory that it overflows into creation and redemption, so that others, so that we who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ can be brought into it.
Here we see that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have such a heart of love that salvation is not merely made possible, but is guaranteed for those whom God loves. And those whom God loves are called to belong to Him, to be with Him and to enjoy Him forever. And because Christ has been resurrected so will all of His people be, so that they can live for Him and with Him forever. The perfect life, sacrificial death, and powerful resurrection of Christ saves us from sin, Satan, and death; Jesus saves us from disobedience and darkness and brings us into an obedient faith that glorifies Him. And most amazingly Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our resurrection where we will live with Him to be loved by Him and enjoy Him forever. And this is the greatest benefit of the resurrection: the reconciliation, the communion and compassion, the mercy, grace, and love that we get in Christ Himself… That because Jesus saved us we get to be with Him forever…
In this gospel we get a beautiful glimpse of the heart of Christ… a gentle and loving heart that saves sinners and brings us into His rest to be with Him. And this is exactly what Jesus says elsewhere when He invites His people to come to Him. And we would do well to heed His words. He invites all with ears to hear, saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). What an amazing tenderhearted Savior! What a loving heart this Savior has… Indeed, as the old hymn says, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!!!”