Sermon Message: Alive with Jesus
Sermon Message: Extravagant Devotion
Sermon Message: Even the Death of the Cross
Sermon Message: Hope from a Tomb
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"The Son of God Identified"
(Delivered Easter Sunday, March 31, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
I was visiting with a small group of pastors the other day; and we were talking together about the temptations a preacher feels when it comes to preparing the Easter message. You should know that, sometimes, a pastor feels a little frustrated over how he can say something that hasn't already been said about Easter. Sometimes, he can feel under pressure to do something "new" and "exciting" and "different".
As we talked about this, however, we agreed that the very best thing for a pastor to do on Easter Sunday is to present the wonderful news of Jesus' resurrection in as plain and simple of terms as possible - without trying to be novel or spectacular about it. The announcement of the Resurrection of Jesus is, after all, spectacular enough on its own. We concluded that, if we committed ourselves to preach the message of Jesus' resurrection plainly - as it's given to us in the Bible - we can rest assured that the Holy Spirit will marvelously impress that message upon the hearts of those who hear far better than any "novelty" we imposed on that message could.
I hope to preach the message of Easter to you in that spirit today. I believe that such a simple approach is the one that most meets with God's approval. And I know that approach would have received a hearty "Amen!" from one of the greatest preachers of all - the apostle Paul. This morning, I'd like to draw your attention to the plain-speaking affirmation Paul made at the very beginning of his letter to the Romans. He writes;
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, 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 (Rom. 1:1-4).
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Think with me for a moment. What do you suppose we could tell the world that would give them the greatest proof that Jesus Christ is, indeed, the Son of God and the Savior of the world? What could we objectively point to in order to convince people that they should look to Jesus as God's appointed Savior from their sins?
Certainly, I believe we could point to the prophecies of the Old Testament. Much of the Old Testament contains wonderful promises concerning the Messiah; and many of the details in these prophecies clearly show us that this promised Messiah is none other than God's own Son in human flesh. He Himself said, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39). We could show people that Jesus fulfilled the promises of Scripture in every respect. In fact, we should. But that's not the greatest proof we could give to the world.
We might also point to Jesus' remarkable entry into this world as proof. Many point to His birth as a miracle; but the real miracle wasn't His birth. It was His conception - conceived in the womb of a woman without the agency of a man. As the angel told Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). No one else has ever made an entry into the human family like Jesus did; and we should proclaim that marvelous fact. Yet, as remarkable as His conception was, that's not the greatest proof we could give the world.
We might point to Jesus' amazing life as proof that He was the Son of God. No one else lived a life like His. Those who lived closest to Him, and who were able to scrutinize His life carefully and personally, were able to say, "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" (John 1:14). Jesus was able to say that He always did those things which pleased the Father (8:29). How could such a life help but draw the attention of the world? We ought to proclaim the the story of Jesus' glorious, sinless life. The people of the world need to hear about His life. But that's not the greatest proof we can give to them that He is the Savior.
We might point to Jesus' death as proof. Some have argued that, whatever we Christians might say, Jesus did not die the most brutal and violent death anyone ever died. And perhaps that's true. But surely, no one has ever died a more significant death than He. The thief that hung on the cross next to His saw enough in Jesus' dying to say to Him, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom" (Luke 23:42). The sober-minded centurion who stood guard opposite His cross beheld the thick darkness that covered the land at noon-time, watched as Jesus breathed His last, and felt the quaking of the earth when He died ... he saw enough to exclaim when it was all over, "Truly this Man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39). We certainly should proclaim Jesus' death to the world as the atoning sacrifice for sin. But even this is not the greatest proof to the watching world of who He is.
There are many ways we can show the world that Jesus is the Son of God and the appointed Savior from sins. But what is the greatest proof of all? It's the message of Easter. When the apostle Paul preached the gospel to the unbelieving intellectuals of Athens, and appealed to them to turn to Jesus as their Savior, he pointed to the resurrection as the proof that He is who Paul claimed Him to be. Paul told them,
God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though he needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained (Acts 17:24-31a).
And what to evidence from God does Paul point in order to identify this Man to them? To prophecy about Jesus? No. To His birth? No. To His life? No. To His death? No. As important as those things may be, Paul says this:
He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead (v. 31b).
For Paul, then, the resurrection of Jesus was the decisive element in his gospel proclamation. It was, if you will, the "clincher" in the message he preached. It was the thing that made all the difference - the piece of evidence that demanded a verdict. He said, "If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty" (1 Cor. 15:14). For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was the great proof to the world that Jesus truly is the Son of God and the Savior of all who turn to Him.
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Someone might say, "Well; of course that's Paul's particular characteristic. That was just a unique feature of his preaching." But the fact is that it was also the decisive feature of Peter's preaching as well. Peter once preached the message of the gospel to a group of Romans gathered in the household of a man named Cornelius. Apparently, they already knew much about the story of Jesus. Peter said to them;
The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ - He is Lord of all - that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. (Acts 10:36-39).
You'll notice that Peter reminds them that they already knew many of these things. They were not yet believers; but they knew a lot of the news about Jesus that Peter was telling them. But the "clincher" came when Peter said these words:
Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins (vv. 40-43).
As Peter confronted them with the reality of Jesus' resurrection, that's when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, and they became believers.
Peter preached a similar message to his fellow Jews on the Day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit was first poured out on the apostles. Jewish travelers from all around the word heard the apostle's speaking in their different languages as the Spirit gave them utterance; and they gathered around the apostles to see what was going on. Then, Peter reminded them of things that they already knew when he said,
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know - Him being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have crucified, and put to death (Acts 2:22-23) ...
Again, as Peter himself said, these were things they already knew. Many miracles, signs and wonders testified to Jesus. But Peter then goes on to speak of this same Jesus,
... whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it (v. 24).
They knew many things about Jesus, but the fact of His resurrection demanded a decision from them. Peter goes on later to point again to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, saying,
This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. ... Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (v. 36).
The Bible tells us that, when these Jews heard that, they were "cut to the heart" (v. 37); and that day, about three-thousand Jewish people were baptized and became followers of Jesus (v. 41).
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And again, someone might say, "Well, the reason that the apostles made a big deal about the resurrection was because it had made an impression on them." But no; it was also a decisive feature of Jesus' own proclamation of Himself. During His earthly ministry, after He had cast the money-changers and merchants out of the temple, the Jews confronted Him and said, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" (John 2:19). They were demanding a sign from Him - right then and there - as proof of His authority to do the things He was doing. And here was the only sign He told them they would receive:
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said (John 2:19-22).
Even Jesus' enemies knew how decisive the resurrection was as proof of who He claimed to be. After He was crucified, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead.' So the last deception will be worse than the first." (Matthew 27:63-64). That's why they spared no effort in making sure the tomb was sealed up as tightly as it could be. That's why it was guarded as securely as they could make it. (And all for nothing, we might add!) It was because even they knew that the resurrection would be decisive proof to the world that He was, indeed, the Son of God and Savior of all who trust in Him.
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All of this, then, helps us appreciate why Paul, in writing his masterful letter to the Romans - the letter in which he spells out, in careful and systematic detail, the message of the gospel that he preached - would begin this letter with the affirmation Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."
I hope that, today, your celebration of Easter means more to you than just time with the family, or of eating lots of good food, or of enjoying some candy. I hope that it includes all that; but I hope that it means much more than that. I hope that, today, your celebration of Easter means a celebration of the certainty of salvation. I hope that it means the celebration of the ultimate victory over every problem in your life, every sorrow, every sin, every struggle, and even over death itself. I hope that, for you, it means the celebration of the sure and certain fact that God has sent His Son into the world to judge this earth of its sin, and wonderfully save all those who put their trust in Him. I hope that, for you, it means the celebration of the fact that God has - clearly and unmistakably - identified His Son to us, so that we can trust Him and be saved.
Notice, first, that Paul shows us that the Son of God is ...
1. ... IDENTIFIED IN A BOLD DECLARATION.
In this verse, Paul says that Jesus was "declared" to be the Son of God. In the verse just before this one, Paul says that Jesus was "born of the seed of David according to the flesh"; and that speaks of His humanity. But Paul was very careful to then say that Jesus was "declared" to be the Son of God by the resurrection; and that speaks of His deity. Anyone can show his or her humanity by being born. We've all done that. And the Bible promised that the Messiah would be born, in His humanity, of the linage of King David. But that alone doesn't distinguish Jesus as the Son of God. Paul tells us that Jesus was uniquely "declared" to be the Son of God by the resurrection; and because this is true, no one could ever miss Him or mistake another for Him.
To say that Jesus was "declared" the Son of God by the resurrection is not to say that Jesus was made the Son of God by the resurrection. Jesus was eternally the Son of God - long before He was "born of the seed of David"; long before the world ever was. The Son of God became human when He was conceived in the womb of Mary, and from then on, He was both fully God and fully man. He will always be both fully God and fully human from now on, and will never be otherwise. The word that Paul uses in speaking of His deity is "horizó" - a word from which we get the English word "horizon", and that means "to mark out the boundaries" of something. As Paul is using it, it means to "make a determination" about something or someone; to "designate" or "declare" them. God marked out this Jesus from the rest of humanity - being born of the seed of David - as His unique Son and the Savior of all the rest of humanity by His resurrection from the dead.
Jesus' resurrection, then, identifies Him to the world as the Son of God. If a man or woman feels the burden of their sin, and feels their alienation from the God who made them, and longs for a Savior to rescue them from their lost condition, then they have reason for hope. God has clearly identified the Savior to them in a way that they could not miss. He is clearly set apart for them - "declaring" Him and distinguished from all others - by what happened to Him on Easter.
Second, notice how Paul shows us that the Son of God is ...
2. ... IDENTIFIED WITH GREAT POWER.
He speaks of Jesus as "declared to be the Son of God with power." Great power was displayed in identifying the Son of God to us in this way. He was identified to us in a way that only God Himself could identify Him, so we'll make no mistake about who He is.
Jesus told the Pharisees, "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father" (John 10:18-19). Any man has the power to lay his own life down; but no one has the power to take it again but a Man who is the Son of God. The world cannot argue with a Man who claims to be the Son of God - and then proves that claim by being crucified, and then raising from the dead three days later just as He promised. The world has no choice but to either accept Him for who God says He is, or deliberately ignore the facts.
Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, described the greatness of the power displayed at Jesus' resurrection. He said that he prayed that they would understand
... what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:19-23).
And by the way: don't miss the practical importance of Paul's description of resurrection power in this passage. The Bible teaches us that, if you have trusted in Jesus, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him in heavenly majesty is also at work in you. Because of Easter, and because of the display of God's power in identifying Jesus to us through His resurrection, you and I will never again be able to say that there is a sinful habit in our lives that God can't conquer, or that there is some duty God calls us to that we can't perform, or that there's some needed change in our lives that we can't make. God has taken all our excuses away; because He "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us" (Eph. 3:20). It's the same power that raised Jesus up from the dead and displayed Him to the whole world as the Savior from sin. That's why Paul said that he longed "to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:10-11).
Finally, Paul shows us that the Son of God is ...
3. ... IDENTIFIED ACCORDING TO THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Paul says that Jesus is "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." His resurrection identifies Him for us through a bold declaration, with great power, and all according to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Some scholars have suggested that this phrase, "the Spirit of holiness", is not speaking of the Holy Spirit, but instead of Jesus' own moral character. I, however, believe Paul is speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit - the Third Person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was involved in every aspect of Jesus' earthly ministry. He was, as we've already seen, involved in Jesus' conception (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit visibly came down upon Jesus at His baptism in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16). The Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tested by the devil (Matthew 4:1). The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to perform the miracles He performed (Matthew 12:28). The Bible even tells us that Jesus "through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God" as our sacrifice on the cross (Heb. 9:14). Likewise, the Bible tells us that Jesus was raised by the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote, "... if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." Jesus' resurrection was, then, according to the mighty working of the Holy Spirit.
And what's more, the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, and who is also active in the lives of those who put their trust in Jesus, is also active in the world right now - pointing the spotlight on to Jesus as the Savior of the world. Jesus told us, before He went to the cross, that the Holy Spirit
...will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you (John 16:8-15).
We can confidently and boldly proclaim the message of Jesus' resurrection to the world - knowing that it is a message that the Holy Spirit powerfully confirms and applies to the hearts of those who hear.
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So then; there are many ways that God has identified His Son to the world. There are many ways that He has pointed Jesus out as the Son of God and Savior of those who will trust in Him. But without question, the greatest of all proofs is the resurrection. It stands above all others as the undeniable proof that God loves sinners, and has sent His Son into the world to save those who trust in Him. It's a proof that boldly marks the Son of God out to us. It is a proof that constitutes a demonstration of the unmistakable power of God. It is a proof that is in accordance with the enabling ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let's announce the message of Easter to the world with confident boldness. And let's celebrate today; because Jesus Christ is "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."
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