Aspects of Calvary - Part 1
Stephen Fellowes, Skibbereen, Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The death of Christ in Romans
In this series of articles, we will consider four aspects of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ as found in some of the New Testament Epistles.
This is surely the most blessed and profound of all subjects and, as we touch upon it, may our minds be instructed as to the meaning of His death, but, more than that, may our hearts be drawn out in love to our Saviour because of His greatness.
The subjects we will consider are as follows:
- Romans – the death of Christ;
- Galatians – the cross of Christ;
- Hebrews – the blood of Christ;
- 1 Peter – the sufferings of Christ.
Romans – the death of Christ
The puritan author John Owen, when writing his book on the same subject entitled it The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, and while we don’t endorse all the contents of the same volume, we feel that in the title the author has struck the right note, one of supremacy and wonder.
When we come to the Epistle to the Romans, we soon discover that the Holy Spirit directs our minds to Calvary from the standpoint of the death of the Saviour.
At the opening, and at the close of the Epistle, Paul states that his desire was that the saints at Rome would be established, 1. 1; 16. 25. Brethren of a former generation would speak of the importance of ‘becoming a good Roman’. In other words, to become well-grounded in the doctrine of the Epistle is absolutely paramount for the believer. This spiritual establishment will, of necessity, include a firm grasp of the significance of the death of Christ.
The satisfaction of His death, chapter 3
From verses 21 to 26, Paul gives us one of the greatest sentences in the whole of the word of God. In it he speaks of a manifestation, v. 21, a declaration, vv. 25, 26, and a presentation, v. 25. The righteousness that God has provided for man on the basis of faith has been made perfectly clear, and God declares His own personal righteousness in doing so. However, in order for righteousness to be provided for the sinner and the righteousness of God to be declared there must be an answer for sin. Thank God there is! That answer is found fully and finally in the One who is described as ‘a mercy seat’, v. 25 JND. God has ‘set Him forth’ to none other than the guilty world of whom He has just been speaking, v. 19.
The figure of the mercy seat takes us back to the annual day of atonement, when the blood of the goat upon whom the Lord’s lot fell, was taken and sprinkled ‘upon and before the mercy seat’, Lev. 16. 15. This indicated the value of the work of Christ God-ward; the picture fails because of the need for annual repetition, but in it the principle is established, that only blood will satisfy divine holiness in relation to sin. We rejoice in the full satisfaction that God has derived from the work of Christ once for all. In the past, God passed over the sins of the Old Testament saints in forbearance with a view to Calvary, but, in the present, God puts away our sins in satisfied righteousness because of Christ’s finished work!
The supremacy of His death, chapter 5
This chapter has a number of ‘first references’ in the Epistle. We have the first reference to the Holy Spirit, and to the love of God. It might seem a strange thing that up to now the love of God has not been referred to in the letter, but when we remember that we are viewing things from the divine courtroom and that the setting is legal we will discern the perfection of the word of God in emphasizing the righteousness of God throughout.
In the chapter, Paul enumerates the blessings or results of justification and extols the love of God that has flown out towards us. We were utterly powerless and incapable of helping ourselves, positively ungodly, hating God and His ways, and having wilfully missed the mark in our sinfulness, vv. 6, 8. We were guilty and in need of justification, and enemies, hostile in our attitude towards God, vv. 9, 10.
It was for such people Christ died! The possibilities of human love are limited, but the display of divine love is marvellous, vv. 7, 8. This love reaches its climax in ‘the death of His Son’, v. 10. The words of John Dickie caught something of the spirit of all of this when he wrote:
‘Grace so vast bewilders heaven,
God to me His Son has given,
Jesus Saviour, Thou art mine!’
The similitude of His death, chapter 6
From chapter 5 verse 12 to chapter 8, the subject in Romans changes from ‘sins’ to ‘sin’, and, generally speaking, deals with the great matter of sanctification in the believer’s life. The second half of chapter 5 will show me that I have links with Christ as the risen head; chapters 6 and 7 speak of freedom from sin and law respectively, and chapter 8 completes the picture by showing me how I can live my life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our death to sin is illustrated in water baptism, 6. 3-11. Again, it is essential to see that this chapter deals with the person who committed the sins, the criminal, if you like, rather than the crimes.
In my baptism I declare three things:
- I am dead – this is what effectively happened at conversion – I died to sin positionally, as the master of my life;
- I declare to all that I have, in fact, died to sin, baptism is a matter of profession;
- In my coming out of the waters of baptism, that I am associated with Christ in resurrection and that I am ‘alive unto God’, v. 11. This new life will be the ultimate proof that I have died unto sin in reality.
His death sets us free, chapter 7
If chapter 6 deals with freedom from sin as illustrated in baptism, then chapter 7 deals with freedom from law pictured in marriage, vv. 1-3.
Paul shows that just as death is the only thing that breaks the marriage bond, so the death of Christ alone sets free from the bonds of the law. Death opens the way for a new relationship to be formed, ‘Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ that ye should be married to another’, v. 4. The idea is that the Lord’s body was given in death, to free us and unite us in oneness with Himself for God’s pleasure. Perhaps the reason that it is worded like this is to emphasize the reality of His humanity and thus the reality of His death, see also Col. 1. 22.
His death brings security, chapter 8
This is one of those great Bible chapters which constantly yields joy and help to God’s people in their pathway in this world. How often we have been reminded that it begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation, vv. 1, 39.
When we come to verse 33, the Christian is viewed as one beyond accusation, because God has justified him. No voice can be raised; no finger can be pointed; the case is eternally closed because God is eternally satisfied with the work of His Son.
Verse 34 shows us that the Christian is also beyond condemnation, that is, beyond a sentence of judgement being passed upon him for proven guilt. How can this possibly be? It can be blessedly true because Christ has died and is risen again and ‘there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’, v. 1.
This brings the child of God into the good of eternal security, and sets his feet upon the firm foundation of the finished work of Christ.
‘When Satan tempts me to despair,
Telling of evil yet within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin’.
We can only touch upon these great truths in an article like this but, as we do, may the Lord help us to grasp a little bit more of the glory and profundity of meaning contained in the presentation of the death of Christ in the Roman Epistle.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Stephen Fellowes, originally from Belfast, is in fellowship in the assembly in Skibbereen, West Cork, Ireland. Married to Rachel, they reside in Skibbereen with their three young children. Stephen is active in the little assembly and in gospel outreach work throughout this needy part of Ireland.