Scripture: Romans, chapters 1-4
Romans 1:1-7 (NASB):
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles in behalf of His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a LONG sentence! Depending on how you count them, there are approximately 13 different thoughts contained in this one sentence. A few of them stand out as I read this passage today:
The gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets
In the season of Advent, we think about Jesus’ coming. One of the ideas that we reflect on is that God had promised long before that He would send His Chosen One. That is the point of Paul’s statement that the gospel of God was promised beforehand. God had long planned to provide redemption for mankind through the coming of Jesus. Now, Paul says, the promise has been fulfilled; the good news is here!
Born a descendant of David according to the flesh
We know this from the Christmas story. Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, because Joseph was a descendant of David. Even though Jesus was not literally the son of Joseph, Joseph acknowledged Jesus as his Son. More importantly, God acknowledged Joseph as Jesus’ father according to the flesh. This obviously does not mean that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father; rather, that the world’s viewpoint was that Jesus was the son of Joseph.
When I actively practiced law, there was a presumption under Indiana law that if a baby was born to a married woman, that baby was presumed to be the child of the woman’s husband. In other words, the baby was accepted as the child of both husband and wife. That presumption could be rebutted by evidence to the contrary, but there had to be evidence to attack it. In the same way, Jesus was “presumed” by the world to be the son of Joseph, but the evidence was clear that He was in fact the Son of God.
Declared the Son of God with power
That brings us to the third thought: declared the Son of God with power. This is the evidence I mentioned. Paul focuses on the resurrection. Jesus was declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection is certainly powerful evidence that Jesus is the Son of God, as He said. But the resurrection is not the only evidence. At Jesus’ baptism, God said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). (Both Mark and Luke indicate that God said, “You are My beloved Son…” In either case, God declared that Jesus was the Son of God.) God also declared Jesus to be the Son of God at the Transfiguration. (“This is My Son, whom I love; listen to Him!”)
To say that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God does not mean that he “became” the Son at the time of the declaration. There was never a time when Jesus was not the Son of God. Rather, the “declaration” should be understood as a demonstration; God did things to show who Jesus was.
To bring about the obedience of faith
The reason that Jesus came was to transform us, to enable us to become true children of God. We cannot do that on our own. We cannot do enough, give enough, or love enough to transform ourselves. The good news is that we don’t have to, because Jesus has blazed the trail for us. The good news is not that if we’re “good enough” God will accept us. Rather, the good news is that God transforms us. Our obedience does not “earn” our salvation; rather, it is the evidence that we have been transformed by God.
In the last part of our passage, Paul states: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s also good news! Because Jesus came, we can be transformed. When the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we are able to demonstrate God’s transforming work. Because we’re transformed, we receive grace and peace from God. As the angels announced on the night of Jesus’ birth: Good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11). Good news indeed!
Father, thank You for the good news that we have in Jesus. Thank you for promising that good news long before it happened. We have grace and peace with You, through Jesus Your Son. As we reflect on Your goodness and mercy this Advent season, may we never forget this good news! We pray in the name of Jesus, who brought us life. Amen.