The Gospels tell us the “what” of Easter. Movies like The Passion tell us the “how.” But in Romans 5, Paul tells us the why.
If you have your Bibles, please turn to Romans 5. You might be a little surprised to be back in Romans, but a kind of weird thing happened. I went back to Romans this week because I wanted to get a jump on next week’s sermon, since I’m going to be out of town for a lot of this week, and so I was reading from where we left off in the series, which is Romans 5. And I realized, Romans 5 is the Easter story. I know it’s not the narrative of the women coming to the tomb, and finding the stone rolled away, and the angel saying “He is not here, He has risen, go tell the disciples.” That’s the “what” of Easter, and if you’ve grown up in church, or even if you only come to church once or twice a year, you’ve heard the “what” of Easter.
It’s also not the “how” of Easter. This past Friday a bunch of us got together and watched The Passion of the Christ, and for over two hours we saw a brutal depiction of how Jesus was beaten and whipped; how he was put on trial; and how he was crucified and died.
And Romans 5 doesn’t tell that part of the story either. What Romans 5 tells us is the why of Easter.
Why did Jesus go through all that He did for us? Why was He put to death? Why do we have to believe that Jesus really, literally, truly rose from the dead? Couldn’t that just be a metaphor, and as long as you understand that Jesus was a great teacher and we try to live our lives according to His principles, that would be enough?
The answer to all of those “why” questions, I believe, is found in Romans 5:1-11. So if you are physically able, I invite you to stand in honor of God’s word, and read this with me:
5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Let’s pray.
- Because of the cross, we have peace with God (Romans 4:24-5:5)
The first “why” of Easter is this: Easter had to happen so that we could have peace with God. Romans 5:1: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.
We talked a lot about justification when we left off our study a couple of weeks ago. And if you need a refresh on the definition, it’s on the back of the listening guide. Justification is declaring that someone is just before God. It is the Judge, declaring once and for all, that we are no guilty.
All of Romans 4 was about Abraham being justified by faith and not through keeping the law. Paul says in 4:16 that the promise of righteousness rests on grace and is guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring.
But then he begins this incredibly radical redefinition of what it means to be Abraham’s offspring. In 4:23-25, he says that it isn’t just the Jews, but it’s anyone who believes in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
This is what is counted to us as righteousness– what does “counted” mean? iIt means to confer a status that wasn’t there before. Righteousness is credited to our account if we believe that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” And because righteousness is now credited to our account, we have peace.
Imagine that you are deep in debt. You literally have no idea where the money is going to come from for your next house payment, or doctor’s bill, or even next week’s groceries. You are checking your bank account to see if there is enough of a balance there to even keep the lights on. And then, suddenly, a credit of ten million dollars pops up in your account. Would you feel peace? Would you feel joy? Of course you would. Not only are all your previous debts paid, but you are not going to be in debt ever again. That is the peace we have because of the cross.
But this peace Paul is talking about goes way beyond just financial security, or a state of contentment or serenity.
Notice that Paul says we have peace with God. In other letters, like Philippians, Paul talks about the peace of God—that feeling of calm and well being we are promised no matter what the circumstances.
This is peace with God. Peace with God means that the state of hostility that exists between holy God and sinful human beings is now over. It is an objective reality that doesn’t depend on how you feel. You can be stressed out or anxious, suffering hardship, broke, sick, homeless, unemployed, but that doesn’t change the fact that if you have trusted in the power of the gospel for salvation, you are at peace with God.
That’s why Paul is able to say, in verse 3, that we can actually rejoice in our sufferings. Even though there may be chaos all around us, it does not change our standing before God. We still have peace with God.
Because of Easter. The first why—Jesus had to die on the cross so we could have peace with God.
But let’s ask another “why.” Why should God care whether or not we are at peace with Him? God is complete in Himself—Father, Son, Holy Spirit. He doesn’t need a relationship with us.
And he’s the God over a billion galaxies, right? So if we disobey or rebel against Him, no problem. He could wipe us out and just start over on a different planet.
So why go to all the trouble of sending His son to die on the cross for us? Paul gives the answer in this passage.
In verse 5, Paul introduces a new word to our vocabulary. If you’ve been keeping track, we’ve built up a pretty impressive dictionary already, haven’t we? Paul’s talked about justification, righteousness, propitiation, and wrath. But in Romans 5:5, you see a word that hasn’t shown up yet in Romans.
Let me read it to you, and see if you pick up on it. Remember, you are looking for a word that hasn’t shown up at all yet in the book of Romans, and it’s a word that explains why God sent His son to die for us.
5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Did you see it? That’s right. The word is love. And maybe you’re like, oh, hey! A new word! Let’s see if there’s a big, serious, theological definition on the back of the listening guide, like there’s been for all these other words we’ve come to in Romans.
Nope. No definition. Paul doesn’t define love in the book of Romans. The truth is, the rest of the Bible doesn’t do a lot to define love. 1 John 4:8 says that God is love. That’s not a definition.
1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that God has loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Again—not a definition. You can’t define a word with a word.
So instead of defining love, God demonstrates love. Look again at verses 6-8:
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
There it is again—the first and second time the “love” shows up in Romans is in verse 5, where God pours his love into our hearts, and then verse 8, where God demonstrates his love by sending his son to die for us while we were still sinners.
In these verses, Paul tries to get us to imagine the circumstances in which you might be willing to die for someone. How would you answer that?
Most of you would be willing to die for your family, right? I get that. I think we all would give our lives to save someone in our family.
All of you who have served in the military or are currently serving have taken an oath that says you would die for your country.
If you are a firefighter or a police officer, you put your life on the line every day to serve the people of our community.
And we hope that if there was an innocent stranger that was drowning, or stuck in a stalled car on the train tracks, we would do everything we could to save a stranger. Would we die for them? In our best moments, most of us kind of hope that we would in that situation.
But what about if the person in question wasn’t innocent? What if the person stuck on the train traks was a convicted murderer? Or a drug addict? What if it was the politician you despise the most? Would you die for them?
And that’s what Paul is saying in versess 6-8. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone giving his or her life for a righteous person. Paul says that for a “good” person (whatever that means), someone might dare to die.
But God demonstrates his love in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Verse 6: while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Why was that the right time? Other translations say “helpless,” or “powerless,” or “without strength?” Why is that the right time for Christ to die?
Because at any other time, we could convince ourselves that we had something to do with it. Think about human nature. If we make any contribution at all to something, we tend to take credit for it. Maybe you’ve seen the meme about contractors—that if you are a plumber, or electrician, or any other part of the construction trade, you’re going to point out every single house you ever worked on. You can’t help yourself.
And God won’t let us do that with our salvation! Imagine if you could! You’d be walking around heaven, and you’re showing off your mansion to someone, and you’d be like—“You see that foundation? Yeah—those were my good works.”
You like the custom hardwood floors? Did those myself. I put in a lot of hours volunteering for my church to get those put in.
What do you think of the Italian marble in the master bath? I did all that. That’s what four years of seminary education will get ya. I learned Greek and Hebrew. I read all these theology books.
And on and on it would go. Paul says it was while we were still powerless that Christ died for us.
Allistair Begg is one of my preaching heroes. He’s Scottish, which means he could read his Wal-Mart shopping list and I’d be motivated to go fight the English. But this sermon clip from Allistair Begg has been making the rounds on social media this week, and its worth watching:
[Allistair Begg clip]
He’s right. That’s the only answer. Let me tell you what happened to me this week. I’m working on this sermon. I’m doing what I always do—I’m looking up all my Greek and Hebrew words, and I’ve got two commentaries and three theological dictionaries spread out on my desk. It’s Wednesday, and I’m scheduled to meet Doug Burkhalter and Will Smith after Bible study to shoot their testimonies for these baptism videos.
And they both show up for Bible study and prayer meeting. And I’m sitting next to Doug for the prayer time. And Dave Johnson comes over and sits with us. And Doug looks at us both and he’s like, “Man, what is this? What are we doing?” And I’m like, “We’re praying.”
And you heard his testimony in the baptism video. And then you heard Will. And Will is at the other end of the spectrum. Will spent his life up to this point searching for answers from an intellectual/philosophical perspective. And both of these men have come to an understanding that Christ died for them.
While we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.
The man on the cross in the middle said I could come. And the man on the cross in the middle says you can come. This is how God demonstrated His love for you.
Without the cross, we are enemies against God (5:9-11)
Here’s where we land the plane. The why of Easter is because we needed to have peace with God, and the blood of Christ provides that.
The why of Easter is that God loves us, and the death of Christ demonstrates that.
The why of Easter is that we must be reconciled to God, and the death and resurrection of Christ accomplishes that.
Look at verses 9-11:
9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
[reconciliation is one way—not two ways. Talk about this if there is time]