Romans 4:24&25 “Believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
There are certain texts in the Bible that stand out. They are enormously important truths. We know that every word of the Lord Jesus was inspired and true, but there were times when, before speaking he looked at them seriously and said these words, “Verily, verily, I say unto you . . .” to give them additional importance. These words that have been read in your hearing are such words, of special significance in the Bible, because they bring to us the heart of the gospel. Charles Hodge calls it a comprehensive statement of the gospel. If you want to know what Christianity is then you must appreciate what Paul has written here. You might be at a time of tension. You are considering rejecting the Christian faith. If so then first you must make sure you know what the Christian religion is, and so you have a solemn duty to be sure you understand Romans chapter 4 and verse 25, and then having understood these words to believe that they are true, and then believing they are true you put your trust personally in the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, the Christ who was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
There are some great statements made in the verse before us about the climax of the ministry of the Son of God. They are the conclusion of this mighty chapter which proclaims as clearly as any part of the Bible its message on how we are justified, that is, declared righteous, and that it is by putting our faith wholly into the Lord Jesus Christ’ life, death and resurrection.
THE LORD CHRIST WAS DELIVERED OVER TO DEATH.
If you should tell the story of Jesus Christ to some Hindus then you would get this reaction. “Oh, yes, we understand that. We have had holy men in India and they have spoken boldly to the people and warned them of their sin, and exposed the wickedness of the leaders, and what happened to them was the same as what happened to your Jesus. The leaders turned on them and killed them. We have our holy martyrs too.”
But what do we have here in the Bible? Do we have a martyred Jesus? What does our text say? “He was delivered over to death,” (v.25). It does not say that he was killed by his enemies. It says he was handed over. When a criminal is found guilty of a grievous crime then he is handed over to those who will see that the sentence that’s been passed on him is carried out. So it was with the Lord Jesus. He was handed over by Judas to the representatives of the chief priests (it is the same word as we have here). Jesus was then handed over by the Sanhedrin to Pilate (it is the same word as we have here). Jesus was further handed over by Pilate to the soldiers to crucify him (again the same word). The Lord Jesus spoke to the winds and waves and they obeyed him; he said the words, “I am” to the soldiers and it blew them away! They fell to the ground at his words. He could command creation to do his will and overwhelm a gang of armed men by speaking two words, and yet he was delivered like a helpless prisoner from Judas to the priests to Pilate to the soldiers. It was “Pass the Parcel” with Jesus as the parcel and he never protested. He never again said with blazing eyes, “I am!” so that men fell to the floor all around him.
But when we turn the pages of this letter a further four chapters to chapter eight we meet the same verb again there in verse 32, where we are told that it was God, our heavenly Father, who delivered up his Son Jesus to the power of men and death. He is the one giving up Christ, planning all the circumstances, the time, the betrayers, the bribed witnesses, the whip, the cross. God organized it all. How very different from the case of the martyred Hindu prophet. Men did that. Men alone did it, but it was God who spared not his own Son but freely delivered him up. So that is the primary reference here. Behind Judas’ delivering him to the chief priests, is Almighty God delivering him to the priests. Behind the priests handing him over to Pilate there is Sovereign God delivering him to them. Behind Pilate delivering him to the soldiers it is God handing him over to the execution squad. I may send a present to my daughter. It exists because of a decision I have taken to give her a birthday present, but it is delivered to her by a postman. She doesn’t say to the postman, “O thank you so much for this bottle of perfume” and then she kisses his cheek. He is merely the delivery boy. So it was when the squaddies with their nails and sledgehammer pushed Jesus to the ground and spread him out on a cross, nailing him down – it was God who had delivered his Son to them.
I suppose there were many people in Jerusalem on the first Good Friday who were shocked at what happened to Jesus of Galilee. He had healed many of them from life-threatening diseases. He had given them hope and filled their minds with parables and great divine promises, and now their rulers had taken him and whipped him half to death and then hung him by nails on a cross, and they even mocked his agony. And some of the people of Jerusalem probably said to others, “What a shower! What wicked men we’ve got running the Temple! Fancy them doing such an ugly thing to the Lord Jesus. What a cruel world we live in.”
But on the day of Pentecost, fifty days later, Peter gave them an entirely different perspective on the dying and death of Jesus. It was not Judas who handed him over to the priests, who handed him over in turn to Pilate, who handed him over to the soldiers. This is what Peter said of Jesus, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death” (Acts 2:23). It was not simply because of cruel men – though they have to answer for their wickedness; they are held responsible by God – but it was God’s set purpose that determined he would die this death. It is just as it was with Joseph revealing himself to his brothers in Egypt and saying to them, “You meant evil against me but God meant it for good. It was God who planned that I be sold into slavery in Egypt and tempted by the wife of Potiphar and that I should spend years in a stinking Egyptian jail. God meant all that for ultimate good. It was not you who delivered me into the hands of the slave-traders but God.”
I am saying that our great text here at the end of Romans 4 states that it was God who purposed his Son to be handed over to the death of the cross. He delivered Jesus to Golgotha, to the darkness, the agony and the anathema. God did it. It is there in the famous 53rd chapter of Isaiah when we read in verse 10, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” It could not be plainer. Peter knew that verse in Isaiah. Peter said to them on the day of Pentecost that Jesus “was handed over to them by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” God foreknew that this would happen and did nothing to stop it. It was the plan of God. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. Jesus is called the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. His death was not a martyrdom. It was not bad luck that he died this death. It was not only evil men who did it. God determined it would happen, and whatever God plans in eternity men choose in time. There is in the nature of God a holy condemnation of all that is defiling and cruel and evil. God is angry with the wicked every day. For forgiveness there must be atonement. His wrath is revealed against such evil, and only the crucifixion of his Son propitiates that holy anger. God provided that appeasement. God becomes that propitiation! He takes the Lamb from his own bosom and he hands him over to the wolves, Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod and the soldiers who nailed him to the cross. Do you see that? God delivered him over to death.
CHRIST WAS DELIVERED TO DEATH FOR OUR SINS.
Our Lord suffered the penalty that is due to sin. That is not a theory. The pain he endured is a fact. Jesus of Nazareth died and death is penal; it is a penalty paid by sinners. “The wages of sin is death” (Roms. 6:23). When God set up the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden then he told our first parents not to eat that fruit, for the day that they ate from it they would surely die. It happened as we are often told in the New Testament. Death entered the world through sin; through the trespass of Adam many died; death reigned by the trespass of one man; sin reigned in death. There is no ambiguity to such statements. Death is the curse pronounced on sin. So did Jesus die? Was it in fact Barabbas who actually died there while Jesus escaped as some Muslims teach? No, it was Jesus who died. History teaches that, not theology. Think of that! Three little facts underline the starkness and extraordinariness of the event . . .
i] Jesus had done no sin. He was human. He was tempted, but he never sinned. He challenged his enemies to bring up a single sin that he had committed. “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (Jn. 8:46). The world has seen a man as sinless as God, as holy as an angel. No sins of omission. No sins of imagination. No sins of word. No sins of deed, like a lamb without spot and without blemish; holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. The sinless one paid the wages of sin. My point is that he suffered penal death though he had never sinned.
ii] Jehovah Jesus was God the Son. Who is he on yonder tree dies in grief and agony? ‘Tis the Lord, O wondrous story! ‘Tis the Lord the King of glory! This is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He is hanging there between two criminals with his life blood flowing out of him, the everlasting Word, the one who was in the beginning with God and was God – the God-man is now the one reaping the harvest of sin.
iii] God is smiting him with the pains of death. God the Father is no horrified spectator watching the way men mock his Son. He is actively involved. He is not sparing him any of the pain that the other two felons were also suffering. God is rather intensifying the pain by abandoning him even while God is working in the heart of one thief and giving him prayer and faith in Jesus, and comfort and hope that after he dies he will be with the Lord in paradise. He was giving none of that to his Son.
So why is he there? Why is God the Son hanging on a cross? Does God know what he is doing? Isn’t he aware that this is his beloved Son and he is well pleased with everything in the life of Jesus of Nazareth? If he knows this then why does he permit him to suffer as he does? Why does he have to do this to his Son? Why was God delivering him over to death? It seems to unjust to treat an innocent like this. The answer is that God had become a priest, Golgotha was his temple and he was engaged in a very solemn business. He was offering a sacrifice. The cross was his altar and his own Son was the Lamb stretched out on the altar. God had been preparing us for this event by his instituting in Old Testament times the tabernacle and the temple and the whole array of levitical sacrifices. But they were figures. They were prophecies of what was going to happen, and now finally the reality is here. John the Baptist, the son of a priest, pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to the sacrifice of Calvary. He sheds his precious blood, precious because it was the blood of the God-man; precious because it was the blood of one who was free from any guilt of sin.
Then why did Jesus have to die? Why did God decree it? Why did he pay the penalty of the wages of sin? Our text tells us very clearly. It says, “for our sins.” What is this word ‘for’? It is the ‘for’ of substitution. In a football game a man comes off the bench and is substituted for another. That is the biblical idea. Athanasius wrote in the fourth century, “Jesus surrendered his body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father.” But listen to Luther preaching the death of Christ at the Reformation, at the rediscovery of biblical Christianity. He says; “Thus the whole emphasis is on the phrase ‘for us.’ For Christ is innocent so far as His own Person is concerned; and therefore He shouldn’t have been hanged from the tree. But because, according to the Law, every thief should have been hanged, therefore, according to the Law of Moses, Christ Himself should have been hanged; for he bore the person of a sinner and a thief – and not of one, but of all sinners and thieves. For we are sinners and thieves, and therefore we are worthy of death and eternal damnation. But Christ took all our sins upon himself, and for them He died on the cross. Therefore it was appropriate for Him to become a thief and, as Isaiah says (53:12), to be ‘numbered among the thieves’ . . . He is not acting in His own Person now. Now he is not the Son of God, born of the Virgin but he is a sinner, who has and bears the sin of Paul, the former blasphemer, persecutor, and assaulter; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer . . . In short, He has and bears all the sins of all men in His body – not in the sense that He has committed them, but in the sense that He took these sins, committed by us, upon His own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with His own blood (Luther’s Works, vol. 26, p, 277).” That is gospel preaching of the cross. That is what Paul said when he was determined to know nothing in Corinth except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
The Son of God hangs on the cross enduring the righteous judgment of men who’ve sinned. He is taking our place as man and as our substitute he is undergoing the judgment under which we stand. He is not dying as the rest of us sinners die. He is the one who dies in order that we be spared this death. He drinks the cup so that we should not drink it. He receives the curse of sin that we should not be cursed. He is forsaken that we should not be forsaken. He is condemned that we should not be condemned. He is doing for us what had to be done but which we could not do ourselves, and which, once done, we need never do for ourselves.
Se Jesus is the great advocate and first he is pleading the case of the guilty. Then see him climbing the steps into the dock and standing in the guilty person’s place, and then see him receiving the sentence and being delivered up to the executioner, not just standing alongside his client but standing there in the place of the condemned man, receiving the wages of his client’s sin. This same Advocate, now raised up to the right hand of God, can say to his Father, “Father, see those men and women? I made propitiation for their sins. They now confess their sins and so please be faithful and just to forgive them their sins and to cleanse them from all unrighteousness.” The Lord Christ died for our sins, says our text. This is just what Isaiah had prophesied in chapter 53 that the Lord would lay on him the iniquity of us all. He gave himself a ransom for many, and that makes possible the great exchange. He dies; the many live. He is handed over; the slaves of sin go free. They no longer will receive those wages; there will be no curse for them. The price he paid far surpasses anything a lawyer, or an attorney, or a barrister could perform for those he represents.
He cried out on the cross, “It is finished,” in other words he had completed every stage of his passion. Every lap was finished, the months in the womb of Mary, his birth in Bethlehem, his thirty years of obscurity in Nazareth, finished! His public ministry awakening Galilee, finished! His trial and crucifixion, finished! His fulfilling all righteousness, finished! His whole mission planned by Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was finished. He can say to God, “I have completed the work you gave me to do” (Jn.17:4). He has drunk the cup, and paid the price, and so he could say what the Old Testament priests like Aaron and Levi could never say, “It’s all over! It’s done! It’s finished. Nothing more to do!”
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson submitted his Ph.D. thesis on the greatest English theologian, John Owen having read the 16 volumes of his Works and the 8 volumes of his commentary on Hebrews and the final 800 page volume written in Latin called Biblical Theology. Then he faced his viva from a number of examiners, none of whom was a friend of evangelical Puritan theology. So he was grilled by them and was given grace to answer their objections and they told him that he had been granted his Ph.D. What a relief! Then the next week he was talking to a friend and the friend said to him, “What about the next viva?” “The next viva? What do you mean?” “Oh, don’t you know that there is a second oral exam on a Ph.D. thesis. When will you be sitting that?” Sinclair was shocked and full of despair. Another test, all over again . . . and then he woke up! It was only a dream. There was not a further exam, not at all! There is not a further test that God is going to put us through, because in Christ the work of redemption and paying the wages of sin has all been finished by Christ. There are not a few pennies still left to pay. Nothing has been omitted. He has taken them all and destroyed the guilt and shame for them all. The work of salvation wrought by the Son of God on Golgotha is all finished. He was delivered to death for our sins.
HE WAS RAISED TO LIFE FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is significant because it took place not in the realm of theology or Christian doctrine but in space and time history, like this history today when a group of people gathered together, breathing, thinking, listening, judging what they heard, a day nearer their own deaths than yesterday. The New Testament writers describe all sorts of circumstances and occasions where maybe a single person right up to 500 people are all confronted with the risen Christ over a period of almost six weeks and their lives were transformed by these encounters. Mark tells us that “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons” (Mark 16:9). John gives more details of the incident and indicates that it took place soon after Peter and John had visited the tomb.
Next, as a group of women were somewhere between the tomb and the city, “Jesus met them” (Matthew 28:9).
Later that day, as two disciples were on their way to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem, “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them” (Luke 24:15). After spending some time with him, these two rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples, but before they could get their story out they were told, “‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon’” (Luke 24:34). “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Luke 24:36).
A week later, while they were in the same house, hiding behind locked doors, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:26).
John mentions that some time afterwards “Jesus, appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias, that is, the Sea of Galilee” (John 21:1).
Paul tells us that at some time during the following weeks, “He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time” (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Paul also says that “He appeared to James” (1 Corinthians 15:7).
Matthew recalls the eleven disciples going to a mountain in Galilee where “Jesus came to them” (Matthew 28:l).
Finally, Luke records that after seven weeks, “He led them out to the vicinity of Bethany,” where, after giving some last instructions, “he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).
There are several later incidents – one involving Peter, another with John on the Isle of Patmos, and the famous encounter with Paul – in which Jesus revealed himself on the road to Damascus after his ascension to heaven. One perhaps was a vision of some kind, but this was not, because when Paul lists people to whom Jesus appeared bodily, he adds, “and last of all he appeared to me also . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:8), and obviously means that his experience was just as real and objective as theirs. A personal encounter with Jesus after his resurrection was a vital qualification for being an apostle. Paul asks, “Aren’t I an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus?” (I Cors. 9:1).
So they were many encounters with the physical Jesus risen from the dead, and in some of them he invited people to touch and handle him to assure them that this was not a ghostly appearance but a resurrection. In others he ate and drank with them. They had breakfast at the beach together. Apparitions don’t sit at a table and eat with you. Resurrected people do that, and all the time he was talking to them about the kingdom of God. He was commissioning them to go into the world and bring the gospel of a resurrected Saviour, of victory over death, to the ends of the earth.
I read a fine sermon of George Philip preached in Glasgow 45 years ago and was greatly helped by it and I close by sharing some of it with you.
The presence of Jesus alive from the dead in the midst of his disciples was the confirmation that he had indeed died for their sins, that their guilt was all taken away, and the good news they saw before them in the person of the resurrected Jesus was itself a promise of future victory over every power that assails a human life. Jesus Christ’s death is the answer to our sins and to the power of sin. It is his resurrection and his risen power that is the answer to our constant defeat and our bondage to habits of sin that have accumulated in our unbelieving days. Today we Christians know him and the power of his resurrection in our lives. Jesus Christ, alive from the dead, has demonstrated that he is more powerful than all our sin and the temptations of the world. We can sing to him, “Be of sin the double cure; cleanse me from its guilt and power.” The sins of pride, the sins of passion, the habits of youth and the habits of old age, the defects of character, the fears of our hearts, the bondage, the brokenness, the limitation of life, everything that can dog us and make us so miserable with regard to the poverty of our lives, all these things are overcome, and the proof, the guarantee, is Christ alive from the dead. We can know him and the power of his resurrection.
That is the message of the resurrection. The offer that gospel makes to unbelievers that their sinning can be overcome. Death’s power and grip of every life can be overcome. Hell can be overcome. Satan can be overcome. Men in their malice against the gospel can be overcome. Circumstances can be overcome. We can be delivered from being puppets to those powers by the greater power of the conqueror of death! Everything is conquered. If you name it, or if you think it, or feel it, or can imagine it then it is under the feet of Christ, for he is risen from the dead. That is the privilege of every believer, as it says in our text, “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (v.24). We are now more than conquerors through him. Nothing can separate us from his love. Do you believe these facts that I have presented to you?
Christianity has all to do with facts. It is, primarily, a fact of history that cannot be denied. We believe it principally because it is true, he died for our sins; he rose again for our justification, and it is true. One of the most thoroughly attested happenings this world has ever known is the bodily resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The removal of the body could not have been the work of the disciples: they didn’t plan it or expect it, and the Jews, in any case, had prevented such subterfuge by the guard over the grave. The removal of the body could not have been the work of the Pharisees, because that was the last thing in the world that they wanted to happen. If they had been in possession of the body all they needed to do in the early days of the Christian Church was to produce the corpse, and the Christian message would have collapsed. But they did not, because they could not.
I doubt if there are many events with more proof than the Resurrection. Consider those who witnessed Christ alive from the dead. Think of doubting Thomas. What a dogged character he was. “Except I see, except I touch, I will not believe.” And the risen Lord of glory came down to his level and said, “Well, Thomas, touch me; put your finger in the cavities that the nails left, and be not faithless but believing.” Another fascinating phenomenon is the transformation of the disciples. They were men who ran away; they’d been cowards but they became men of such courage. How do you think they could be dragged into the Roman arenas and watch the lions being let out of the cages to come and tear them apart? Would they face that death for a fairy tale that they’d invented? For mere high imagination? Never! Remember Stephen, the first martyr, being murdered, and how he looked up and said, “I see Jesus alive from the dead.” Think of Saul of Tarsus (who became Paul, the great apostle), a man who was so antagonistic to the faith, being intellectually persuaded, emotionally gripped, and his will surrendered to the Gospel. How was that possible? He met Jesus alive from the dead!
If only God gave us the eyes to see, we too would see Jesus Christ right here alive from the dead. He would come to you and to me, and he would show his hands and his feet, and he would say, “This was for you, and having died for you, I have come now alive from the dead in all the glory of my victory over sin and Satan, over death and hell, to give all that to you, to be your possession for time and for eternity.”
It is a fact of history. It is a fact of faith. Here is the seal, the guarantee that all the work of the atonement had been accepted. Think of this in terms of the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament, when the High Priest, with the blood of the sacrifice, entered into the holiest place of the tabernacle. At the foot of his robes there were little bells, so that as he moved round in the semi-darkness of the Holy Shrine to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the Mercy Seat, the people might hear the
tinkling of the bells on his garments, and they would know that he was still alive. He was their representative in the presence of God, and still alive. The people waited, and when the High Priest came back out of that holy place of the tabernacle with empty hands, the blood of the sacrifice being left, as it were, in the presence of God, the people knew that atonement had been made. Their God had accepted them. There was peace. That is what the resurrection declares. So Christ comes forth to be seen and interrogated and to eat and drink with, alive from the dead to give to us the guarantee that the work of atonement for sin has been done.
But it is not only the work of atonement he declares. He comes from the dead to give us the guarantee of his victory over every power that would ever blight our human lives. Let me say as clearly as I can, especially to the younger people that there is not a sin, a temptation, a power, a passion that can ever enter into your life but it has to bow to the authority of Jesus Christ, risen, victorious from the grave. When Jesus rose from the dead, he came to his disciples to persuade them that all that he had done was now being given to them to be made a reality in their own experience. Can’t we imagine the Lord Christ speaking to his disciples and saying to them, “My children, my victory over sin, my victory over death, my victory over the grave, my victory over hell, my victory over the powers of darkness, my victory over time, my victory over history, my victory over men, my victory over devils, is also yours. I give it to you.” You can almost imagine his disciples saying, “Well, Lord that means we do not need to be defeated by anything or anybody.” And Jesus would have said, “Exactly! Whatever men do to you, whatever may happen, whatever you may meet, remember my victory is yours. Death cannot separate you from the love of God. In all things you’ll be more than conquerors because I conquered, and so in me will you too. Lo, I’m with you always.”
When at Pentecost the Spirit of God came upon them, and filled them all, then nothing could hold them back, and they went out and suffered, bled and died and filled the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They couldn’t be stopped, because they knew that the great Saviour Jesus Christ, risen victorious from the grave, was with them, and that from that moment on to the end he would lead them along in the procession of his triumph. Put it very simply; if this risen Christ alive for ever more, victorious over all in earth and in hell, is your Saviour, you cannot be beaten, you cannot lose, you cannot be turned back. Do you understand why we have chosen to sing to close our service :
“All hail, the power of Jesus’ Name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
To crown Him Lord of all.”
Because he is! I can almost see Jesus now and he is saying, “Preacher, tell them again. He is Lord of all and he is here!” And when we go out of this chapel he will accompany us and go out with us. Tonight he is with us, through the night, tomorrow, next day, next year, down through the years. He is with us and all his triumph is ours. That is the message of the resurrection. That is the message that a dying world must hear. Please God, something of its fire and its understanding will have touched our hearts (George M. Philip, Fundamentals of the Faith, Didasko Press, 1972, pp. 49&50)
28th September, 2014 GEOFF THOMAS