Sermon preached on Romans 1:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/31/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“By The Resurrection of the Dead”
Christmas and Easter are two big holidays celebrated by many Christians. Christmas focuses on the birth of Jesus Christ, and Easter on the resurrection of Christ. Both holidays are a celebration of Jesus Christ — who he is and what he has done for us. His birth and resurrection are central to Christ and his ministry among us. Actually, all true Christians should celebrate these truths all year long, not just on two holidays out of the year. Well, this passage would actually work well for either a Christmas or Easter reflection. It’s a passage that highlights both Jesus’ birth and his resurrection. Today we’ll talk about both, but especially about the significance of the resurrection.
Verses 3 and 4 are really the heart of this passage as it touches upon Christ’s birth and his resurrection. There is an extended contrast going on in those two verses. Let me read those 2 verses again. It says in verse 3 concerning the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, it say this, “Who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” And so here we see the amazing mystery which is the Christ. Jesus is both divine and human. It affirms on the one hand that he is the seed of David. On the other hand he is the Son of God. So Jesus is both son of David and son of God. It’s verse 3 that tells us how he can be a son of David. It’s according to the flesh. In other words, he has a human nature. That human nature came into existence when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and conceived the Christ child within here. When he was born some 2000 year ago, that was his humanity coming into the world. His human descent came in the line of King David, and so he was a descendant of David. This was the prophecy, of course, given long before to King David, that one from his lineage would be the Messiah, the Christ. And yet this was all according to his human nature.
However, as we see in verse 4 he also had a divine nature. That’s the reference to the Son of God. Humans beget humans. God begets God. God is divine. His only begotten Son is divine. This a truth which is part of the larger concept of the Trinity. That there is only one God, but that one God exists eternally in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Three different persons that are of the same substance, equal in power and glory. Each person is God, but that doesn’t make three gods, it is still the one God. That’s math that only works when you come to the mystery of understanding this amazing God. But add then to that mystery of God the incarnation. That this second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God took on human flesh when he was born as Jesus some 2000 years ago. As John 1:14 tells us, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
And so the Lord Jesus Christ is both God and man. Both son of David and Son of God. This is something pertinent to both Christmas and Easter. On Christmas we certainly reflect on the incarnation: of God coming to man, even through the birth of Jesus. But this incarnation has great significance when we get to Easter as well. It is sometimes asked how one ordinary man could bear the sins of so many? How could one man, even a sinless righteous man, be able to pay for the sins of so many. We could understand why he could pay for maybe say one other person’s sins. But how could he pay for the sins of all God’s people? What makes his sacrifice that significant? And if he was a human paying for even just one other person’s sins, how could he pay for them and then rise from the dead? If he was paying for someone else’s sins, and the punishment was an eternity in hell, how could he have finished the payment already? So that he could rise from the dead in victory?
Well, the solution is again in the incarnation. Jesus had to be human in order to represent us. He had to be human in order to suffer and die. But he had to be divine in order to be a sacrifice of significant worth and value, to satisfy the debt of so much sin. And he had to be divine in order to be able to bear the weight of such accumulated wrath of God for the sins of so many people. And he had to be divine in order to them overcome and take back up his life in the resurrection. Surely more could be said of how the incarnation plays into this, but this is the beginning of its significance with regards to Easter. Jesus had to be both God and man to be the kind of sacrifice that we needed, and to be able then to be raised up in the victory which we needed.
And so as we think about verses 3 and 4, we see it express the incarnation. And we can appreciate the significance of that, especially today as we celebrate Easter. Now, another thing that jumps out at us in verses 3 and 4 is what we call in theological terms Christ’s humiliation and his exaltation. Now to be fair to the text, it’s his exaltation that is expressly stated here. That’s what we’ll focus on. But Christ’s humiliation is nonetheless implied here, and we can’t help but mention it. Christ’s humiliation and exaltation go hand in hand as we consider Christ and his saving work for us.
And so first, let’s mention his humiliation. Jesus Christ came to this earth in a mission that involved the humbling of himself. Philippians 2 says it nicely. Listen to Philippians 2:5-8, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” That quote from Philippians tells us at least two specific things about Jesus’ humiliation. First, he humbled himself by becoming man. Now to you and me that might not seem that big of a deal. But remember from where Jesus came. He existed from eternity as the Son of God. His existence was that of glory, reigning on high. Now, to be clear, Scripture would not have to understand that when Jesus was born as a human that he somehow lost his divinity. No, we’ve already said that Jesus was both God and man. And yet, even though his divine nature still existed, there was a necessary component of humiliation taken on when he also became man. I think of how Jesus prayed in John 17, asking as he was about to finish his work on earth, that the Father now glorify with the glory which he had before the world was. In other words, as Jesus lived as a human on this earth, there was a way in which he gave up that glory which was rightly due to him as God. The world did not all bow before him wherever he went, as they should have. Rather he existed in a physical body that had human limitations, weaknesses, suffering, troubles, and temptations. He hungered and thirsted at times. He experienced the frailties of human existence. He got tired, etc. In his divine nature, these would have all been things completely foreign to him. But in his birth as a baby boy, he willing entered into this state of relative humility.
The second thing mentioned in that Philippians passage of his humiliation was his death on the cross. Surely all the related sufferings that led up to that can be included too. The betrayal from Judas his disciple. The denials of Peter. The desertion by his other disciples. The false witnesses against him and the unjust verdicts of multiple courts. The floggings. The crown of thorns. The mockings. And more. But they all culminated in the cross. There his suffering came to a climax when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” There, he experienced in our place God’s wrath for sin. There he who knew no sin became sin for us. This was the greatest of his humiliation. But he did it so we could be saved.
And so these are two key aspects of his humiliation: born a human and dying on the cross. Now, I explained this from that Philippians 2 passage. But you don’t have to go there. It’s implied right here in our passage. Verses 3 and 4 bring this out by implication. We’ve already noted that verse 3 brings out the reality of his birth. This is a birth according to the flesh. There is a clear contrast between that assertion versus a much grander perspective of Christ’s declaration as the Son of God in verse 4. And so the humiliation of his birth is certainly implied here, even if subtly. But his death on the cross is also implied here. It’s implied in verse 4 when his resurrection is mentioned and the glory that came along with that. Obviously for him to be raised from the dead implies what we all know, that he first died on the cross. And so both his birth as a human and his death on the cross is implied here. We’ll consider in a moment his exaltation, which is clearly brought out here. But the underlying background is his prior estate of humiliation. As Paul mentions here, he’s talking about the gospel. You can’t have the gospel by only having Christ’s exaltation. You have to also his humiliation.
Well then, if this estate of humiliation is only implied here, it’s exciting to see how Christ’s exaltation is clearly expressed. Again, verse 4, Christ was, “Declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Remember the contrast. The previous verse brought his birth and his humanity. You know, it’s all very exciting when there is a new birth. But there is something infinitely more exciting when a person is declared to be the Son of God with power. That’s what happened with Jesus. And the event that brought forth this declaration, it says, was his resurrection from the dead. That is of course what we are particularly celebrating today on Easter.
Let’s talk through then what verse 4 is getting at. This idea of the declaration is that of being marked out. There was a special way in which Christ was marked out to be the Son of God with power when he was resurrected. Now surely part of this was in the sense of vindication. Before Jesus was put to death, so many people rejected his teaching and his claims to be the Son of God. Remember, at his trial before the high priest, the high priest declared Jesus to be committing blasphemy when Jesus acknowledged that he was the Son of God. Jesus had predicted multiple times before his death, that he would die, and rise again on the third day. I like especially how he put it in John 10:18. Jesus said there that no one really takes his life from him; rather that Jesus had the power to lay down his life, and the power to take it up again. Humans, by the way, don’t have that power. And so who was right: Jesus or his opponents? Was Jesus the Son of God with power as he declared to be? Or were his opponents right, that he was a heretic and committing blasphemy with such claims? Well, if his opponents were right, then the cross which God calls a cursed way to die, would have been the end of Jesus. It would have been God’s way through the religious leaders and the civil government to affirm the charge of blasphemy against Jesus. But of course, that’s not what happened. Jesus rose from the dead. Death could not hold him, Acts 2:24. And so his resurrection signaled his vindication against these opponents and their accusations. Jesus really was the Son of God with power. His claims were vindicated by his resurrection.
And so his vindication was one way in which he was marked out at the resurrection as the Son of God with power. Though there seems to be more here than just this. You see, for the Christ, the resurrection changes everything. At that point, there is a dramatic shift in his ministry and direction. It’s related to what we talked about before — his humiliation and exaltation. Before, the focus was on his humiliation. At the resurrection it’s the exaltation of Christ being put into full swing. Before, Jesus was very guarded on how he revealed to the world about his Messiahship and his divine sonship. He told many of people, before the cross, to keep that truth to themselves, when they figured it out. Matthew 16:20, for example, shows that with his disciples. When they confessed privately to him that he was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, he at that time told them to not tell others about this. Later, after the resurrection, Matthew 28 records Jesus then telling those same disciples to go tell everybody!
This change reflects the transition in his ministry. Before the resurrection, he taught the need for repentance, and had his eyes set on the cross. Yes, his miracles and teachings did show forth who he was, but that revelation of his identity was secondary. He was living out the prophecies that he was a suffering servant. That humiliation and suffering culminated in the cross. It was done so he could atone for sin. But when he announced on the cross, “It is finished,” he was signaling that things would begin to change dramatically now. After his resting in the grave, he resurrected on the third day. And then his estate of exaltation went into full swing.
Just remember the way it’s said in verse 4 that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God. It’s with power. Yes, we can think of the power that actually raised him. But think of the power that he now wields after the resurrection. It’s like what he said in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Now with regard to his divinity, he always possessed all authority. But there seems to be some new declaration that he’s making there about his authority as the risen Christ. Well, surely it’s related to what he’s accomplished now in his death and resurrection. He stands there raised from the dead as the victor over sin and death. He stands there as the only mediator between God and man with the ability to forgive sins because he paid for those sins with his own blood. Listen to what Revelation 5:9 says of Jesus. In a vision where there is a heavenly scroll with seven seals it is asked who is worth to take and open the seal. Revelation 5:9 says that Jesus alone is! Why? Because it says that Christ was slain and with his blood he purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. In other words, this can happen because of his death and resurrection. Or think of Revelation 1:18, Jesus said, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” Again, this is something he can assert because of his death and resurrection.
Remember how we read from Philippians 2 earlier? How it described the humiliation of Jesus? Well, if we keep reading there, it too then transitions to Christ’s exaltation. After mentioning his death on the cross, hear what it goes on to say in verses 9-11, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And so Philippians 2 makes the same connection that we’ve been discussing. Humiliation followed by exaltation. And the exaltation tied to the humiliation. There’s a way in which Jesus Christ is exalted all the more because of his death. Because of what he accomplished on the cross. And so that exaltation is thus marked out beginning with the resurrection.
And so Jesus now has entered into this new stage of redemptive history. He has purchased his church with his own blood. He is exalted above all. Not only has he been raised from the dead but has ascended up into heaven, and reigns now on high. He has sent his church out into the world to herald this gospel. To promote his glory. To call people to faith and repentance. To announce God’s way of salvation in Christ. To proclaim the gospel that we can be forgiven because of Christ’s atoning death. To preach of the resurrection and the life which we secure in Christ who himself has risen from the dead. This is the ministry of Christ now. It is the ministry he works through his church as he rules from his exalted position.
My friends, this then brings us to the call of this passage. We read here that Christians have been called to faith in Christ and the gospel, verse 6. In other words, we have been called to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. This is the obedience of faith mentioned in verse 5. Our faith is to acknowledge that Christ’s work on the cross was done to forgive us of our sins. To receive and trust in that forgiveness. And to acknowledge your sins and look with his help to live a life with Jesus as your Lord. This is the call that Easter is all about. Because of that first Easter when Jesus rose from the dead, this call is all the more required of you.
In other words, the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection means you need to believe in Jesus. Because he rose from the dead, it’s clear to us now that he really is the Son of God. He is who he claims to be. And because he rose from the dead, it’s clear to us that he has the power to save us from our sins. He won that power on the cross. The story of Christ and the resurrection is not a myth or a fable. Christ really did rise from the dead. And the world has never been the same since. Don’t ignore the historical reality. See that Christ has been clearly set forth to all as the Son of God with power. Trust in the Son of God. Rest in his power. Follow him. Don’t leave today without affirming that Jesus is both the Lord and Savior of your life.
And if this is your confession, be encouraged. Rejoice again today that Jesus Christ is risen. For his exaltation will mean for you, your exaltation. Though right now we in this life have opportunities to share in his suffering, it is but for a little while. When he comes again, he will usher us into that eternal glory. At that point, it will be our resurrection. Then we will be declared to the world to be those adopted sons of God. Then we will come with power. The power of consummated resurrection life. Be encouraged, dear fellow believers. That day of resurrection is coming. And it will be glorious. Keep that in your heart and mind this Easter and all your days. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.