In the third verse, Paul tells us of that glorious person Who is the subject of the Gospel: God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. It is the very briefest introduction, but contains a depth and sublimity of doctrine which it would take countless sermons and essays to elaborate upon. The very concept of Jesus Christ being the Son of God is one so deep, so amazing, as the brightest human mind can scarcely conceive of what it involves. Nevertheless, the sonship of Christ is an essential part of the Christian faith. He is the glorious Son Who dwelt in the bosom of the Father before the world was; a person Who, though He is a Son, yet His goings forth are of old, even from everlasting. As long as the Father has been the Father, the Son has been the Son. No date can be put upon these things, for they are ancient and timeless. The Gospel concerns the Son of God, Who is really and truly God alongside His heavenly Father.
This same Christ is the Lord of all who believe. In truth, He is lord even over His enemies, for His lordship does not result from human permission, but is an office assigned to Him by His heavenly Father. He rules either as a gracious sovereign over willing subjects, or as a mighty King Who breaks His enemies with a rod of iron, and dashes them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. But when Paul speaks of “our Lord,” He is referring to the gracious rule of Christ over His people, an authority to which every true believer gladly submits, and only wishes he yielded a more perfect obedience.
Having addressed the glorious person of Christ as God, Paul would join with this the doctrine of Christ’s humanity. He is the Son of God and our Lord and King, but He is also fully man. With good reason Jesus Christ is known by many as “the God-man,” for He fully possesses both natures, in one unique person. Paul establishes that here at the outset of his great epistle to the Romans, informing his readers that this Gospel that he will be describing concerns that very person, Who He is and what He has done. This Christ Who we serve and worship was, as a man, “made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” This is Paul’s assertion that the man Christ Jesus is the true Messiah, Who was indeed foretold by the prophets. Nothing is clearer in the Old Testament than that the Messiah must descend from the lineage of David. Christ’s bitterest enemies never challenged His claim to royal blood, which only goes to show that they could not legitimately dispute His claim to be the Messiah. We rejoice to own Him as the true Son of David, the great Fulfiller of the promises of God, the great King, the increase of Whose government and peace will see no end.
Paul can scarcely mention “the gospel” without adding some superlative or descriptive, so high was his affection for the glorious good news that he carried through the length and breadth of the Roman empire. Here, he introduces a concept that will be quite familiar throughout the entire letter, namely, that the Gospel is no new philosophical idea invented by a carpenter from Nazareth, but that it had long before been promised in the sacred scriptures.
Here he mentions “the prophets,” which may refer in particular to men who actually exercised the prophetic office such as Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, or perhaps it may include the entire Old Testament record. I prefer to broaden the intent to mean the latter. At any rate, we of the Christian church must forever stand upon the prophets of the Old Testament, and declare to the world that none of the arguments against the Bible have any force, because they cannot overthrow the prophecies of Christ which were made so long before He was ever born, and then fulfilled to the letter in His life. We know that He is the seed of the woman who crushed the head of the serpent, and the true seed of Abraham in Whom all the nations of the earth are blessed. We know that He is the prophet like unto Moses, and the son of David Who is greater even than Solomon. We know that He is the Son of God as it was written in the second psalm, that He died and yet saw no corruption, as it was written in the sixteenth psalm, and that He is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, as spoken in the one hundred and tenth psalm. We know that He is both a child born and a son given, and that He is Jehovah’s suffering servant, foretold by the evangelical prophet Isaiah. We know that He is the righteous Branch, Whose name is called THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Micah tells us He would be born in Bethlehem, Haggai tells us the second temple would be radiant with His glory, and Zechariah tells us not only that He would enter into Jerusalem on a colt the foal of an ass, but also that He would reign as a priest upon His throne. Yes, every Christian should wholeheartedly concur with the apostle Paul, that Christ Himself, Whose person and work are the sum and substance of the Gospel, was promised long before by the prophets of God in the holy scriptures.
Using the Means God Ordained
This message in my continuing series primarily deals with the sin of neglecting to use the means that God ordained, and particularly in preaching the gospel. We experienced a power flicker during the service and so part of the message is missing. I hope however that the portion that was recorded will bless those who listen to it.
We need not enter here at any length into any of the arguments regarding apostleship, and who exactly compose the group of twelve. We know that Judas Iscariot by transgression fell from his office, and in Acts 1 the lot was cast which fell upon Matthias, who was numbered with the eleven. Some have said that the disciples acted without the direction of their Lord in this matter, and should have waited till Christ Himself personally added a twelfth to replace fallen Judas. This is a position I have difficulty accepting, as there is nothing in the text to indicate that this lot did not receive the Lord’s full approbation. Some prefer to think that Matthias was a temporary appointment until Christ would appoint His twelfth delegate personally. Yet others seem to think that Paul was something of an auxiliary appointment, having been designed to go specifically to the Gentiles. Personally, I have no established opinion as to who the name of the twelfth apostle on the foundation of the heavenly city is, whether Matthias or Paul (Revelation 21:14). I will only go so far as to say that there can be no question that Paul was a true apostle, personally called and commissioned by the Lord Christ Himself for the purpose of propagating the Gospel throughout the Gentile world. We find in Paul’s writings, particularly Galatians and 2nd Corinthians, that his apostleship was questioned by many of the Judaizers in the early church. His defense of his genuine apostleship is so strong that none but the basest heretics (of which our age contains a surplus) should deny it.
Having been called to be an apostle, it should be little wonder that Paul should consider himself as “separated unto the gospel of God.” This, in fact, should in general be the attitude of all Christians, who have been called by grace to serve their Lord with reverence and godly fear. More specifically, it should be the spirit of every man who has been called to serve in the public ministry of the church. We are separated from the body of believers to the great and sobering responsibility of handling the oracles of God, and teaching the Lord’s sheep His gospel and His will for their lives. Paul well remembered how that the Lord Jesus had called him out of darkness, smitten him with blindness and then opened his eyes, and commissioned him to go everywhere preaching the news that Jesus is Christ. He had, no doubt, been appointed by the churches to various tasks, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, but Paul considered his calling first and foremost to come from God Himself. And every Christian pastor, though appointed and ordained to that office by a particular church, should consider that the church itself acts with the very authority of Christ, and our separation to our office comes from the very highest authority in heaven and in earth.
Paul begins this epistle introducing himself by name, and as a “servant of Jesus Christ…” This word servant means more than what we commonly think when hearing the term, for in the Greek it means a bondslave. This may seem an offensive concept to our modern ears, in part because we have swallowed years of propaganda and lies about slavery from the mass media, and in part because our democratic age thinks that the idea of being a slave is just about the most horrible thing that can be imagined. The idea that I am not the perfect equal of anybody else has destroyed the humility and subjection to authority that is so much a part of true religion. But this great apostle would not scruple to command slaves to live in obedience to their master, and neither would he, though a privileged freeborn Roman citizen, scruple to assume the status of a slave to his Lord Jesus Christ. Christ had bought him, lock, stock, and barrel from the power of sin, the penalty of the law, and the dominion of Satan. He considered himself as a debtor, not to live according to the flesh, but in absolute devotion to the Saviour that had purchased him with His own blood. He would obey the Lord Jesus even as a loyal slave faithfully obeys the will of his master in every detail, no matter how small. This is the spirit which animated the great apostle of the Gentiles, and it ought to characterize every Christian who enjoys the same benefits of redemption by the Son of God.
Though he could in one breath call himself a slave, indicative of his humility and absolute subjection to Christ, in the very next breath Paul could celebrate the high privilege of having been called to the great office of apostle by the same Lord. It is impossible to imagine but that Paul daily, perhaps hourly, thought about the appearance of Christ to him on the road to Damascus. He had been among the most vicious and inveterate of the enemies of Christ, yet in spite of all his hatred and persecution of the church, the Lord had claimed him for His own, appeared to him in person, and given him a commission to carry the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. Paul was astounded by this privilege, and rejoiced in the responsibility laid upon him. He could do nothing else but proclaim this Gospel, and would consider it the greatest calamity imaginable to desist from it.
This epistle, which describes in clearer detail than any other book of the Bible God’s great work of salvation, has been signally blessed ever since it was first penned by the apostle Paul. Some of the mightiest men in the kingdom of God have been saved through the power of this epistle. It was the great Augustine, bishop of Hippo, whose conversion occurred after hearing repeated the line from Romans 13:14, “And put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” The Protestant Reformation exploded when Martin Luther emerged from his desperate spiritual struggle into the liberty of Christ by finally understanding that great word of 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” It is no exaggeration to say that the freedom Protestant and Baptist Christians enjoy today from papal tyranny is very largely due to this inspired letter of Paul the apostle to the Romans.
Romans deals more systematically with the doctrine of salvation than any other book of the Bible. Some have said, correctly I think, that it is the closest thing we have in the scriptures to a systematic theology. Paul’s argument, particularly from 1:16 through 4:25, very plainly demonstrates the fundamental problem of man’s ruin in sin, and God’s remedy of salvation through free justification by the blood and righteousness of Christ, received by faith alone. The next chapters explain in even fuller detail some of the consequences and nuances of our justification, including the great reality that the new life we have in Christ is no license to sin, but rather the strongest inducement to personal holiness. In chapter 8, Paul wraps up his grand thesis on salvation by showing the marks and blessedness of those who have the Spirit of God, and then describing in the plainest language possible the perfect security that the true believer enjoys through “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
All throughout Romans, Paul has been dealing with the issue of Jews and Gentiles, and proving that there are not two different gospels for the different groups. Both the children of Abraham and the Gentile world are under sin, and need the salvation that is provided in Christ alone. In chapters 9 through 11 he deals with some of the questions pertaining to Israel’s standing with God, and also handles such vexing questions as election, reprobation, the necessity of preaching, and other vitally important matters. Having summed it all up with an ascription of praise to the wisdom of God, he then spends chapters 12 through 15 in showing how believers should behave in their different spheres of life and relationships, in light of the glorious salvation they have in Christ. Then in the final chapter Paul concludes by greeting many of the saints in Rome, and delivering some final exhortations and a doxology.
To this only wise God, our one and only Saviour, Jude ascribes glory and majesty, dominion and power, from now to the days of eternity.
I might notice here an incidental evidence of the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We read hear of God our Saviour; and is not Jesus Christ designated “Saviour” innumerable times throughout the New Testament? To Him, along with His Father, shall all glory be ascribed by the hosts of angels and redeemed sinners throughout eternity. His majesty will be exalted in the highest strains that the glorified can utter, His dominion over all creation celebrated; as indeed it should be now, for what hope could we have in the fight against spiritual wickedness in high places if our God did not exercise dominion even over them? His power will destroy all the enemies of the people of God, including the seducers who would turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness. When presented faultless in His presence, it may well be that we, like Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, will look behind us with amazement at the countless snares, traps, and pitfalls through which we passed even without our knowledge. Recognizing that it was only the power and the grace of our great God which delivered us safe to our heavenly abode, we shall gladly join in the chorus of praise to Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever.