The Substance of the Gospel

Scriptures: Romans 1:3-4

The Substance of the Gospel

In the soul of every person, there is a void that can only be filled by God. It has been called “the God-shaped vacuum” by some. Blaise Pascal, a french philosopher, put it this way:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Man tries to fill this God-shaped vacuum with a god of his own making (Rom. 1:25), but this results in more emptiness and unrest. Socrates cried out, “O that someone would arise to show us God.” In Romans 1:3-4, someone arises to show us God, to fill our void and give us rest. It is Jesus, who is the substance of the gospel.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be 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 descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:1-7

This is what many refer to as Paul’s salutation to the Christians in Rome. He had yet to meet these believers, so he needed a bit of introduction. The first six verses of this passage are that introduction. In the first verse, we learn about Paul, the messenger of the gospel. He quickly shifts gears to talk about the promise of the gospel of God in the second verse. Now, in the third and fourth verses, he focuses on the substance of the gospel.

Jesus is the Substance of the Gospel

In the comedy, Groundhog Day, an obnoxious character nicknamed, Needlenose Ned, bursts into laughter when Phil Connors, the star of the movie, exits their conversation on the sidewalk to plop his foot right into a deep pothole full of icy water in the street. Ned says to him, “Watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy!” Sometimes, we have to make sure we get our first step right in a passage or we might land in a muddle—a confused multitude of things.

Paul wants us to get the gospel right. He wants us to know that when we step into the gospel, we step into Jesus Christ. Jesus is the substance of the gospel. So, we must get Jesus right. When we get Jesus wrong, we get the gospel wrong. When we get the gospel wrong, we get salvation wrong. Therefore, it is critical that we get Jesus right. Paul says, the gospel of God is “concerning his Son” (Rom. 1:3).

The first question we need to ask ourselves is, “Whose Son?” The pronoun “his” in this text can be traced back to “his” and “he” in the prior verse until finally landing on the possessive form of “God” the verse before that (Rom. 1:1). God, according to the first verse, is the architect of the gospel. He designed into the blueprints that His Son be at the center of plan. In other words, the gospel is not concerning Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, or even Oprah Winfrey. Rather, the gospel is concerning God’s Son.

The second question to ask ourselves is, “Who is God’s Son?” Paul is always a step ahead of us. He tells us that God’s Son is “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:5). The name “Jesus” means savior. The title “Christ” means anointed or chosen one. And, the word “Lord” refers to His sovereign rule over the soul of man. Jesus is ruler over salvation. He is the door that can’t be shut. He is the gate that can’t be closed. He is the light that can’t be snuffed. He is the sovereign of salvation.

At this point, it’s worth noting that the word “Son” stresses the character of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. It communicates their oneness with each other. They are one in essence. Jesus is as much God as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Paul uses this word to maintain perspective. Jesus is one with God.

The gospel of God, which is promised and developed in the Old Testament, is all about the Son of God. After His resurrection, Jesus walked along the road to Emmaus with two disciples. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” Jesus “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27). Later in the same chapter of Luke, Jesus does something similar to the disciples as a whole: 

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Luke 24:44

All of the Old Testament concerns Jesus. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life,” said Jesus to the Pharisees, “and it is they that bear witness about me” (Jn. 5:39). Phillip, speaking to Nathanael, said, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn. 1:45). Since the Scriptures are saturated with Jesus and Paul was saturated with the Scriptures, he couldn’t help but proclaim “Jesus in the synagogues” as the “Son of God” (Acts 9:20). “For I have decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The gospel, now both the Old and New Testaments, are all about Jesus.

“I find my Lord in the Bible wherever I chance to look. He is the theme of the Bible, the center and heart of the book. He is the rose of Sharon. He is the lily fair. Wherever I open my Bible, the Lord of the book is there.

He, at the book’s beginning, gave to the earth its form. He is the ark of shelter bearing the brunt of the storm, the burning bush of the desert, the budding of Aaron’s rod. Wherever I look in the Bible, I see the Son of God.

The ram upon Mount Moriah, the ladder from earth to sky, the scarlet cord in the window and the serpent lifted high, the smitten rock in the desert, the shepherd with staff and crook, the face of my Lord I discover wherever I look in the book.

He is the seed of the woman, the Savior virgin-born. He is the Son of David with whom men rejected with scorn. His garments of grace and of beauty the stately Aaron deck, yet He is a priest forever, for He is of Melchizedek.

He is Lord of eternal glory, whom John the apostle saw, light of the golden city, lamb without spot or flaw. Bridegroom coming at midnight, for whom the virgins look; wherever I open my Bible I find my Lord in the book.”

Author Unknown

The gospel is all about Jesus. To get the gospel right, you must get Jesus right. In your gospel presentations, you need to make a b-line to Jesus. Run quickly to Jesus. He is the substance of the gospel. Jesus saves sinners. Salvation is available to all, but it comes through Jesus, not your testimony, nor your eloquence, nor your experience, nor your context. People need to hear about Jesus more than they need to hear about sin, heaven, and you. Jesus is the substance of the gospel.

According to Romans 1:3-4, there are two things to know about Jesus that are critical salvation. First, you need to know that Jesus was fully man. Second, you need to know that Jesus was fully God. This is what scholars call the hypostatic union of Christ.

Jesus is the Seed of the Promise

First, Jesus was fully man. Paul says that Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3). This is vital to making the gospel an announcement of good news. Jesus was a real man, born of a real woman. He had flesh and blood. He experienced exhaustion and hunger. He ate and drank. He was a real human being. 

This is important because a man had to pay the penalty for man’s sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If all men have sinned, then all men deserve death. Man must die to pay for man’s sin. Animals cannot pay for man’s sin. Money cannot pay for man’s sin. Angels cannot pay for man’s sin. Man must pay for man’s sin. But, that’s not all.

Man sinned against an eternal God making it an eternal offense. Therefore, an eternal death is required to pay for eternal sin. To pay for man’s eternal sin, man must die eternally. This translates into an afterlife of eternal absorption of God’s holy punishment—an eternal separation from God.

This is why it is important for God to become man. Jesus, who is the eternal God, can pay for man’s eternal sin. But, He had to do this as a man to represent man. Man’s debt must be paid by man. So, Jesus became man.

A small note should be made about Paul’s choice of the words “descended from David” instead of “descended of man” (Rom. 1:3). This is consistent with the idea of the gospel being promised in the Old Testament (Rom. 1:2). There are a multitude of prophecies that speak of the Messiah coming through the line of David (cf: 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Is. 11:1; Jer. 23:5-6). Jesus was the fulfillment of those many promises. He was the offspring of a woman who crushed the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15).

Furthermore, David was a king with a temporary reign. The promise was about a king through David with an eternal reign. Getting the lineage right was also key. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a descendant of David (Lk. 3:31). Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was a descendant of David (Lk. 1:27). The people of Jesus’ day recognized Him as a descendant of David (Lk. 18:38-39). More evidence is documented both inside and outside the Bible. Jesus was a real man, a real descendant of David, and the promised Messiah who would rule forever over the hearts of all He saves. He is the champion of God’s kingdom and the substance of the gospel.

Jesus is the Lord of the Righteous

Secondly, Jesus was fully God. Paul says that he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Since the reality of Jesus’ humanity was both obvious and well-known, Paul only argues for His divine nature here in the passage.

The word “declared” is the Greek word from which we derive “horizon” in the English. It refers to marking out or drawing a distinction and clear separation. As the horizon separates the earth from the sky, so God separated the Son of God from humanity. The word conveys a sense of emphasis. It is like underscoring or highlighting a word in a sentence in order to identify its uniqueness. In its original language, it communicated a boundary of space and time. It was like God drew a circle around Jesus so that all would know that Jesus was a unique man. He was the God-man.

God drew this circle around Jesus using “many proofs,” according to Acts 1:3, by exercising His power through Him. The word “power” in Romans 1:4 refers to the ability and capacity to accomplish. God, having all the capacities to do what He desires, declared Jesus the Son of God successfully. He declared Jesus as God with all power. And, while He did this audibly and through many miracles during Jesus’ earthly ministry, the most powerful declaration of Jesus’ deity was the resurrection of Jesus three days after He was crucified. This is why Paul says it was declared most powerfully “by his resurrection” (Rom. 1:4).

The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest display of power. It is one thing to raise another from the dead, but another thing to raise yourself from the dead. Both are miraculous displays of power. But, the second suggests a greater power. Furthermore, the resurrection is the exclamation point to the work of Christ on the cross. It is the champion returning from the battle field with palm branches announcing the victory of sin and death. The resurrection of Jesus was God’s bullhorn to humanity announcing Jesus as God.

Like the reality of Jesus’ humanity, this reality is critical to getting the gospel right. Jesus had to become man to pay man’s penalty. He had to also be God to live obediently on man’s behalf. God didn’t require man to be sinless, but holy. If Jesus only paid for our penalty, we would still lack the holiness required to enter heaven. In other words, we need the righteousness of Christ. This is what Paul means by “according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom. 1:4). Jesus lived a perfectly obedient life to God the Father.

Imagine it this way: Heaven requires an entry free, a life of obedience. However, we blew it when we sinned. Then, we continued to sin. Every time, we sank deeper and deeper into debt. We weren’t just out of cash, we were upside-down. Jesus comes to pay off our debt with His riches. Once He does, we have no debt. But, we also have no cash. We are not upside-down, but we are neither right-side-up. It is the obedience of Jesus that is then applied to us that allows us entry into heaven. Jesus takes our sin and gives us His righteousness. This is what we must get right about Jesus. He is fully man and fully God, able to pay for our penalty and purchase our tickets into heaven.

Closing

Since Jesus is the substance of the gospel, then getting Jesus right is necessary to getting the gospel right. Jesus was fully man and fully God. He paid the penalty for sin, and purchased the entry for heaven.

“I know a soul that is steeped in sin that no man’s art can cure, but I know a name, a name, a name that can make that soul all pure.

I know a life that is lost to God, bound down by the things of earth, but I know a name, a name, a name that can bring that soul new birth.

I know of lands that are sunk in shame, of hearts that faint and tire, but I know a name, a name, a name that can set those lands on fire. 

I know of lands that are sunk in shame, of hearts that faint and tire, but I know a name, a name, a name that can set those lands on fire.

I know a name, a name, a name that can set the soul on fire.”

Unknown Author

Do you know that name? If not, you must. Jesus is His name. He is the gospel. He alone is the one who paid the debt you cannot pay. He alone lived the perfect life you cannot live. He can be your savior, your victor, your evangel. Surrender yourself to Him. Ask Him to be your savior and Lord, and follow Him.

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