The bodily resurrection of our Lord is THE cornerstone of Christianity. In an age where half-converted pagans, nominal (and theologically permissive) “Christians” (especially of the higher-church variety), and the secular unsaved but spiritually-interested all think Christianity is predominantly a moralistic self-help regimen rather than the sole, supernatural, divinely-ordained-and-executed mission for total world redemption, we cannot afford to downplay or gloss over the explicitly supernatural and uncomfortable elements of the gospel and the whole counsel of God. And chief among those is the resurrection of our Lord.
In high school, I often evangelized my teachers and fellow students. One of my English teachers was rather insistent with me that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity could still have meaning—apparently, as something little more than a moralistic creed of serving others and believing in God. Of course, Paul’s rather explicit denunciation of that precise (and widespread) form of spiritual stupidity had not broached itself to him (1 Corinthians 15:19). You see, that is because Paul and my teacher had fundamentally different understandings of what Christianity is. In Paul’s worldview, Christianity, which assumes and is centered upon the person and work of Christ, is the only way to be reconciled to the true and living God and know His blessing on a paradise earth forever. In my teacher’s opinion, the foundational truth of Christianity, which marked our Lord out as God and Messiah and the only Savior, was dispensable precisely because Christianity was little more than about being nice to people and not killing anyone. (One wonders what this man would think if he truly grasped that the lordship of Christ extended to his every thought, opinion, and method of reasoning, as well as all aspects of personal and public morality!)
This past Lord’s Day, we have celebrated the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is the key to everything—a relationship with our Lord and freedom from sin now, then glorious resurrection and restoration to all good things in that final day (and much more besides). Beyond believing in its historicity and proper nature (i.e., the resurrection and glorification of our Lord’s physical body), it is well to contemplate the implications of our Lord’s resurrection—specifically, the ways He is known to believers as risen Lord. The glorious introduction to the equally glorious epistle to the Romans highlights three of these facets for us.
A. As the Hope of Scripture (v. 2)
We must first remember that the gospel is not primarily our response (repentant faith), but Christ—who He is and what He did. The gospel is a person and what that person is, did, is doing, and will do. Of course, it is also the message from heaven about that person and what He did. This gospel, then, Paul says was “promised beforehand…in the holy Scriptures.” All the way from Genesis 3:15 (where God promises the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head) to Malachi (where our Lord is displayed as Yahweh incarnate who comes to His temple and judges the world), the person and work of Christ to redeem the world and establish His kingdom overflows every book.
This does not mean, as some preachers like to make it mean, that we must allegorize Scripture away from its literal-grammatical-historical-literary-theological meaning to “see Jesus on every page.” For example, some people use the story of David and Goliath as an allegory to show Jesus will defeat the “Goliath” of sin; others will use various details in the tabernacle and temple to explicitly prefigure the person and work of Christ (this is not meant to criticize legitimate typology). Luke 24 is often abused by these well-meaning people to miss-see Jesus where He isn’t in the OT. Rather than understanding that passage to teach Jesus is everywhere in the OT if we look hard enough, even in random passages that seemingly have nothing to do with Him, our Lord was telling the disciples (a) about every passage that spoke of Him (not every passage total) in (b) “all the Scriptures”—meaning the threefold division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings. (For more, see here.)
Rather than this well-meaning but ultimately irresponsible way of reading the OT, Paul wants us to see that in every book, in every section of the OT, in direct prophecy as well as legitimate typology, the person and work of Christ was promised, prophesied, and predicted. Because the grand theme and plan of the Bible is the glory of God through the establishment and advancement of His kingdom, the person and work of Christ to rescue the world and humanity from sin and restore them to their destiny as inhabitants of that kingdom are the main thrusts of each book. Ultimately, everything in the OT leads to Christ: Abraham was chosen to produce Israel, which would lead to the Messiah; King David was given the everlasting dynasty from which Messiah would come; Israel was promised land forever so that Messiah would one day rule from Jerusalem over a redeemed earth first for 1,000 years of joy, then forever and ever. While retaining legitimate distinctions within the one program and literal, historical meanings, everything ultimately leads to Christ in real, space-time history.
The foundations of our faith were laid thousands of years ago in Genesis through Malachi, and before that from eternity in the heart of God. The resurrection we have just celebrated is the pinnacle of that hope from long ago.
B. As the Help for Sinners (v. 3)
The gospel, in the sense of the message and its content, promised in the OT, concerns God’s Son. “Son” is a beautiful, rich term used of our Lord throughout Scripture that denotes at least these things (recall that some passages or books may emphasize only one or some of these): (1) Christ’s eternal, absolute, sovereign deity (for He shares the nature of the Father as His Son), (2) His humiliation and incarnation (for through the miracle of the virgin birth, God literally fathered a Son through the incarnation and thus became the Father to the humbled, incarnate God-Man in a very real way), (3) His sovereign, anointed kingly authority (kings in the Davidic line of which our Lord is the zenith were often called “son of God,” and we will also see that “Son” is an exalted position for our Lord as incarnate man, not merely eternal God). Here, incarnation and Davidic authority seem to be the emphasis. The gospel concerns this One who was incarnate (fathered) by God the Father, who from eternity shares His perfect divine nature, and who was the Son because He was born of the kingly line of David.
Do you realize all of these things had to be true of Jesus for Him to be our Savior? He could not save us if He were not God. He could not save us if He were not truly man. And He could not save us if He were not the promised king from David’s covenantally-blessed line. He had to be God to be sinless and endure an eternity of wrath against sinners (and represent the interests of God). He had to be man to live our life in our place, die our death, and be vindicated and raised immortal for us. He had to be the anointed king to have the authority to rule and save and bless and redeem, representing God to men. And He is all of those things, and more, for us.
C. As the Holiness of the Saints (v. 4)
This glorious One, promised in the OT, alive and dead and resurrected on this very earth, is also the holiness of His people. We read that He was already the Son of God—so how could He then be “declared” the Son of God at His resurrection? This is a rich and glorious phrase that undergirds much of your NT. “Declared” is a Greek word that more properly means “appointed,” “fixed,” or “determined.” It includes the idea of declaration—of stating who Jesus was—but it also carries the idea of installing into a position or role. Liberals who delight in attacking the consistency and clarity of the inerrant Scriptures like to say the NT is inconsistent with when it says Jesus “became” the Son of God. Paul is not teaching some adoptionist heresy here, but rather saying two things: The bodily resurrection of our Lord demonstrated that He is and always will be the Son of the living God, and also that the incarnate God-Man, with a new human nature He had not previously possessed, was placed as that incarnate man into a glorified, authoritative, sovereign position as a man, not merely as eternal God. Indeed, “Son of God in power” is really a title—the resurrection invested the incarnate, now glorified and immortal, man with a new position of authority; deity was fully expressed through a glorified, perfect humanity to rule and save. This was prophesied in the OT (Psa. 2:7), and declared as fulfilled in the resurrection-ascension (Acts 13:32-33).
The resurrection and glorification of our Lord was accomplished by the Spirit of holiness—the Holy Spirit! His sovereign, creative, glorifying power was the agency that accomplished this glorious event. That same Spirit, through His regenerating work that is purchased by the blood of Christ, raises us from spiritual death, unites us to Christ through faith alone as our imputed righteousness, and then empowers our sanctification through that same union as Christ exercises a personal and lordly influence over us that we submit to by the power of that same precious Holy Spirit. All of this is based in the person and work of Christ. He is first our perfect imputed righteousness, then He enables our practical, lived-out righteousness—both of which comprise the holiness without which we will not enter heaven (Heb. 12:14). Because Jesus is alive and ruling today, He can fully save anyone! And by that same Spirit He keeps us saved, writing His Law on our hearts so we will never turn from Him (Jer. 32:40), keeping us safe in His love all the way to heaven on the last day.
Who is this One? Paul finishes: Jesus Christ our Lord? “Jesus” is our Lord’s personal, human name, the name of the God-Man. “Christ” is His authoritative, anointed position. “Lord” is His title of sovereignty and reign. And note the beautiful “our”—Paul calls Jesus “our” Lord dozens (hundreds?) of times in his letters. Jesus is owned by all believers as their Lord—denoting both their saving confession of His authority and their personal devotion to and love for Him.
The resurrection of Christ is central to all these truths about Him. Moreover, if we do not know our resurrected Lord as we ought, we will find our Christian lives lack the power and fruitfulness they need to be all He saved us to be. As we know Him in greater truth and intimacy, and respond in loving obedience and worship, our risen, reigning Lord will be more fully glorified—both in our lives personally and in the great redemption He uses us to accomplish in the lives of others. Know Him, love Him, trust Him. Amen.