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The Historical Nature Of The Gospel

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Romans 1:1-17. These verses form the introduction to the letter. They are packed with a wealth of material. When you understand these verses you will have a better grasp of the entire letter. Time and space prevent us from doing an in depth study of these verses. So today my aim is to highlight the two features of the gospel of God Paul sets before us in verses 2-4.

First, notice how Paul stresses that the gospel of God has historical continuity with the Old Testament. He puts it like this in verse 2, “The gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” He says the same thing is Romans 3:21, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” A similar statement is found in Romans 16:25-26, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God…”

Colin Kruse makes the following observation in his commentary on Romans in The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, “The more basic sense of ‘announce beforehand’ conveys more effectively Paul’s sense of scripture as primarily addressed to the present (eschatological) age. The prophets (writing) in the ‘holy scriptures’ did not simply ‘promise’ good news at a future date but actually made an anticipatory proclamation of the gospel, which is now being realized and ‘heard’ when they are read.”

One example of this anticipatory proclamation of the gospel of God is seen in the book of Ezekiel. The overarching feature of the book is God’s holiness, glory, and power as he judges Israel and the nations for their sin. Yet, throughout the book you see God’s grace as he reestablished his covenant with his wayward people. This covenant is based on what God has determined that he will do and it is based on his glory. He acts in grace despite the unworthiness of his people. The same theme runs throughout the other prophets.

The second feature of the gospel of God Paul lays before us is its historical realization in the Son. Notice verses 3 and 4, “”Regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” Do you see how he sets forth the humiliation and the exaltation of Christ—the two stages of his ministry? The heart of the gospel is the Son of God. Reconciliation to God comes only through the Son (5:10). God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all”(8:32).

Notice how these verses compare with 1 Timothy 3:16, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” Another verse to consider is 2 Timothy 2:8, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.”

What is the point Paul is making here? John Stott gave this answer, “We can say that the good news is the gospel of God, about Christ, according to Scripture.”

In Passion for God: Prayers and Meditations on the Book of Romans Ray Ortlund, Jr. shows how these verses can shape our prayers as we go about our daily activities. Here is the prayer he offers in light of Romans 1:2.

“O dear Lord, I love your gospel. It opens a window into the prison of this world, letting in a shaft of heavenly light. I look up. The light falls upon my face. It fills me with hope and joy.
Your gospel is old. You have given me something real and solid in the midst of my paper-thin, anti-historical pop culture. You have given me roots that go down deeper than last week’s #1 hit. Your gospel was here long before I was, and it will endure long after I am gone. Your ancient and holy gospel is something for me to submit to, not to play with. Against the bias of this present evil age which emboldens my subjectivity, quicken within me, O Lord, a vivid sense of the antiquity and objectivity of Truth, to which my conscience must surrender, or go deservingly to hell. In the holy name of Christ. Amen.”

I encourage you to use his prayer as a model as you pray through this verse.

As you think about praying through verses 3 and 4 consider letting the words of The Apostles’ Creed shape your thoughts.

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of the heavens and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried . . . on the third day he was raised from the dead; he ascended into the heavens, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from where he will come to judge the living and dead.’

May the gospel of God fill your prayers and shape your life.

Elder Jim Gordon