The apostle Paul’s STATEMENTS concerning the gospel in Romans 1. 1-4, are distinct in their implications for the message that he preached. They are weighty in their importance and far-reaching in their scope. It is the gospel of God. It was ‘promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures’. So it is not the result of a hastily conceived emergency plan; its roots were in the Old Testament scriptures, and its origin he fore time began. It is concerning God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Therefore the subject of the message is a Person, One who is unique, One who is no less than God Himself. Whatever train we find expounded in this glorious gospel, this centrality of the Person of Christ is fundamental to its character and meaning.
The preaching of the gospel in the early days of Christianity was essentially Christ centred, ‘For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord’, 2 Cor. 4. 5. These were no mere idle words; they expressed an unswerving determination to make Christ known at all costs. It is good to remind ourselves that for many of these early evangelists, the memory of association with the living Christ was vividly clear. As John so clearly states, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life’, 1 John 1.1. These men who had been filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, having received the promise of the Father, actually knew the Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh. It therefore had to be, that the message they preached was concentrated on Him. It is not without significance, that though their opponents recognised that they were ignorant and unschooled men, they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus, Acts 4. 13.
The subject of the gospel is therefore clearly slated in Romans chapter 1, verses 1-3, ‘the gospel of God … concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord’. It is to be noted that Paul uses the full titles of the Lord here. This suggests that it must have importance for what he had in mind for the unfolding of the gospel in this epistle. We are convinced that the apostle on no occasion uses the names and titles of the Lord Jesus without purpose and here in Romans is no exception to his methods. In relation to the doctrines of the gospel, He is the Son of God, the Eternal One sent into the world for man’s salvation. He is Jesus, found in manhood, humbling Himself, yet Jehovah the Saviour. He is the Christ, the Annointed One, the promised Messiah and suffering Servant, the fulfiller of all Divine purposes. He is essentially Lord, Lord of all, risen and glorified and alive for evermore. Can we in any way conceive a more glorious subject? Let us remember at all times, that the message is what it is in its scope, possibilities and blessedness, only because of Who He is! It is interesting to note how the fulness of the person of Christ is woven into the records of preaching in the Acts. Note the following instances:
Son of God Ch. 3.26. ‘God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent him to bless you’. Ch. 9. 20. ‘Straightway he (Saul) preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God’. Jesus Ch. 8. 35. Philip ‘opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus’. Christ Ch. 8. 5. ‘Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them’. Ch. 17. 3. (Paul) ‘this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ’. Lord Ch. 2. 36. (Peter)’… God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ’. Ch. 10. 36. (Peter) ‘… preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all)’.
There are more that could be added to these, but they give overwhelming evidence of the fact that the early church made sure that the person of Christ was absolutely pre-eminent in their preaching.
We do not have to look further than the Roman epistle to see how distinctly Paul wove these titles of the Lord into the structure of the doctrines of the gospel that he preached. Let us briefly follow this thought through.
- His Son.
To affirm that the gospel concerns the Son of God, is to link the message which we preach, in time, with the wonderful counsels of eternity. Notice how Paul states his association with such a gospel. ‘God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son’, Rom. 1.9. Thus every truth connected with the gospel was stamped with the hallmark of Deity. How much we need to grasp the importance of this in the light of much that is being preached as the gospel today. Every precious*truth regarding Christ as the Son of God is either being questioned or denied. Paul states that it was in the likeness of sinful flesh that God sent His own son,
8. 3. He did not spare His own son,
but delivered Him up for us all, 8. 32. We are reconciled to God by the death of his son,
5. 10. And vital to every concept of the gospel is the truth that He was declared to be Son of God with power in His resurrection from among the dead, 1. 4. It is good for us to continually proclaim in our gospel that He is God’s only, God’s well beloved Son. Eternal salvation rests on Him.
No gospel is worthy of its name, that fails to make much of the preciousness and the power in the name of Jesus. This touches man in his deepest need. In Romans 3, Paul outlines the meaning of God’s righteousness in justifying guilty, condemned sinners by faith. This glorious truth is declared openly, that ‘He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus’, v. 26. Notice how belief in the Name given to Him in His humanity is involved here. The gospel proclaims the real humanity of Christ, His virgin birth, His sinless perfection and vicarious sacrifice on the cross. When Paul spoke in the synagogue at Antioch he affirmed ‘that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins’, Acts 13. 38. There is salvation in none other Name, 4. 12. It is sad that in so much preaching today, the precious Name of Jesus is handled in such a loose and irreverent way. We must never divorce in our preaching, this Name from that which expresses His Deity and Lordship. Yet this Name is given among men that they might find eternal salvation in Him. Let us preach Him, realising that one day every knee shall bow at this glorious Name, Phil. 2. 10.
It is interesting to notice how Paul expressed the burden of his mission, ‘For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel’, 1 Cor. 1. 17. What was the subject of the gospel that he so felt committed to preach? ‘We preach Christ crucified’, v. 23. It was in the preaching of Christ that the gospel was linked with the Messiahship of Jesus. To Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee, it was a thing impossible to think, that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified on the centre cross, could be the promised and expected Messiah. This gave fuel to the fire of his hate and persecution of those of the Way. After meeting with the risen Saviour on the Damascus road, his aim on conversion was to prove that this Jesus was the very Christ, Acts 9. 22. As we preach the message let us realise that in Christ, the past of the Messianic promises and the future fulfilment of all Divine counsels meet, and these are expressed in the gospel of Christ. We must with Paul make sure that we declare all the counsel of God, 20. 27. Paul’s declaration of the gospel was that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures’, 1 Cor. 15. 3. In his message to the Gentiles he preached ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’, Eph. 3. 8. And as he contemplated his visit to Rome he was sure that he would come in ‘the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ’, Rom. 15. 29. How vital that today we preach Christ and Him crucified!
As we consider again the preaching of the early believers, the Lordship of Christ was vital and indispensable to the message. We need to beware of preaching a gospel that is perhaps too ‘cheap’, and asks too little of those we invite to Christ in the terms of the message. ‘Trust in Jesus; salvation will immediately be yours; all sins will be forgiven; heaven will be assured’. How simple it sounds! But is this a fair representation of that which is involved? Consider Romans 10. 9, ‘That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved’. Many would settle for an easy passage to heaven without a serious commitment to discipleship and surrender to Christ as Lord of their lives. ‘Both Lord and Christ’, said Peter to the Jews. ‘Lord of all’, preached the same apostle to the Gentile, Cornelius. We must surely be careful to make it clear that the call to Christianity, given in the gospel, means repentance, and absolute surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ, who in sovereign grace is our wonderful Saviour.
What shall we say? In the face of 20th century conditions, desperate, dark, with seeming impossible problems in the realm of sin and degradation, the only hope for man is the Christ of the gospel. If we really are convinced of this let us focus all over evangelism on our purpose to make Him known. Let it be ‘not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake’. Perhaps we can end with the words of Myers concerning the apostle Paul:
Yea thro’ life, death, thro’ sorrow and thro’ sinning
He shall suffice me, for he hath sufficed:
Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.