Resurrection Sunday: “Paid In Full!” – Romans 1-5

little old houseFor thirty years they struggled in that little house on the corner. They raised five children in a house barely large enough for two. Its halls heard the daily squabbles of rambunctious children, the tussle of trying to get ready for school in one bathroom. It seemed for years there was constant fighting for counter space at the single little bathroom sink, just as there was incessant poking of one another and squealing as the lunch assembly line was launched in the tiny kitchen nearby every school day. Now the towel snapping “battle lines” had long ceased, and each child graduated, married and headed out into life. The old house held only the two of them now – just as the place had done where it all had started many years earlier.

It seems, that in the process of life, both that house, and the occupants of it had grown old. There were scars in the floor from the wooden rocking chair that pressed into the hard wood floor during the long nights of rocking sick children, and later worrying when they didn’t come home on time for curfew. There were little ascending pencil marks on the wall inside the closet that reflected the growth of each child. Those days were ended now…and the two of them sat in the place, laden with memories as they cut open the envelope that was delivered to their box. The words in the lower right corner gave them a rush of feeling – a long due recognition of struggles. The words on the mortgage letter read: “Paid in full”.

If you have ever worked long and hard at anything, you know the relief they felt. If you have ever rallied through setbacks and painfully “soldiered on” during burdensome times – you know what that “coming to the end of the road” satisfaction is all about when the final bill has been paid… The story of Easter is that story. It is the final stamp on a bill log paid that read: “Paid in Full”!!

Key Principle: Jesus paid for sin at the Crucifixion, but the letter with the stamp “Paid in Full” was publicly verified on the morning of the Resurrection.

This lesson is about Jesus, and it is about hope. This lesson is about the Gospel, and the fact that we are all broken, sinful people who can’t fix ourselves. This lesson makes clear that the New Testament reveals that trying hard won’t do it… Our only hope is to follow the Savior who already completed it. This is the story of the Gospel, as the Apostles revealed it in the ancient story… and we find it clear and crisp in the letter we call the “Epistle to the Romans”, beginning at the first chapter of that letter.

When Paul wrote the letter to Rome, he wrote it with the intent to share two very important concepts – the description of the Gospel (because people of every period need to know what the Biblical prescription is for the gap between them and God) and the definition of the Gospel (so they won’t just know ABOUT the message, but be able to examine the claims of Jesus up close).

First, Let’s see if we can grasp a clear description of the Gospel:

Paul opened the letter to Rome with a grand announcement, in the form that was used by an ancient orator to announce the birth of a prince to the household of Caesar. He claimed to be a mere slave of that prince (1:1), and he claimed to be one that was selected particularly for that task (1:1b). He claimed the story of Jesus fit what was promised long before (1:2-3), and that Jesus’ announcement wasn’t made because of His birth – but because He walked out of the tomb after His Crucifixion (1:4).

Paul made clear that the Gospel is an announcement that is given based on the power of God shown in the Resurrection – and that is why we are mentioning it on this Resurrection Sunday!

The Gospel is a message that some people feel uncomfortable with:

Drop your eyes down a few verses and look at Paul’s boldness about the message the Jesus came, Jesus died, and Jesus rose…He wrote:

Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…”

The Gospel is a message that challenges people to believe something they have never seen. We have all been touched by death – but few if any of us have been touched by someone who WAS dead and is now alive. Like Joseph, trying to describe how Mary got pregnant without a man – the Gospel rests on a fundamental belief that there is a God, and that the normal laws of nature do not bind Him – because He made those laws. Some people cannot accept what they cannot observe – especially in the time we live in, where science has been mixed up with the philosophy of origins – and people in lab coats have become priests of naturalism disguised as impartial scientists. The Gospel can make a student feel embarrassed at school – arguing for purity in a world where freedom has come to mean the swift removal of moral restraints to gain what I want when I want it.

The Gospel is a message that rescues every person who believes the message:

The Gospel message can bring embarrassment if one plays with the message – but not if it really reaches your heart. Paul continued:

Romans 1:16b: “…because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

The Gospel drives the power of God into my heart. It makes plain that God hasn’t abandoned us on the planet and left the fallen mess we see playing out in the news. God brings rescue to anyone who will believe what He has said – those with long and deep religious ties, and those who haven’t had any of that in their lives.

The Gospel is a message that reveals that God is truly righteous:

The Gospel is a message that isn’t centered on man’s abilities, but God’s righteousness. Paul wrote:

Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

This is the message about a God who is entitled to our allegiance, but Who has suffered from our mutiny. God made us to walk with Him, and we “voted Him off the island” of our heart. His absolute judicial right to be God is bound in His making of all things. He is the Creator, and we are the created.

How can I know Him? Paul made clear it is by “faith”. Don’t get lost in that word. Faith isn’t merely “leaping past evidence and just believing”; rather the very opposite. Faith is the response to the evidence that demands a verdict. Faith in the Bible is “God glasses” – seeing it the way He says it is in His Word, rather than the way my eyes would see it without His revealed truth. Faith is the reasonable response to what I see that is in harmony with what God said about it.

I believe there is a God by faith. That doesn’t mean that because I cannot know if there is, “I just believe.” It means that I have eyes, and I can see that there is a highly ordered universe that operates on precise and exacting mathematical properties. Everywhere I look in the world, such intricate design requires the hand of a designer. I am taking what I know of the world and applying it to the whole cosmos: design requires a Designer. Then I look into the Bible, and I see that it clearly claims a Creator, and that He made His qualities known by what He made. When I believe what He said about Himself, I am agreeing through the “glasses” of what God said… and that is faith.

Bible faith requires knowledge of Bible content:

George Barna wrote “The State of the Church” a few years ago based on a carefully conducted survey of self-pronounced Christians. Here is what he discovered about their knowledge of the Bible.

• 48% could not name the four Gospels.
• 52% couldn’t identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples.
• 60% of them couldn’t name even five of the “Ten Commandments”.
• 61% of them agreed with the statement: “The Sermon on the Mount was an important sermon preached by Billy Graham.”
• 71% thought the saying “God helps those who help themselves” can be found in a verse in the Bible.

Barna’s conclusion was this: “Americans revere the Bible, but by and large they don’t know what it says. And because they don’t know it, they have become a nation of Biblical illiterates.”

The Bible terminology for that group is a generation “weak in faith”. They don’t know what God promised, and they don’t see life through it. They may go to church. They may even think the Bible is important – but they cannot and will not make decisions based on its contents – because they don’t know them.

The Gospel is a message that makes clear the problem of God’s judgment:

The message about Jesus isn’t just uncomfortable because it rests on a Personal God and a Risen Savior, but also because the Bible makes clear that the relationship between God and man is currently, on the whole, not a good one. Paul wrote it this way:

Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

The verses make plain a simple progression:

Though God made us, many among us have decided to simply push God off the throne of the world in our own minds, and turn our lives over to ourselves. We do it because we want to do what we want to do – and we don’t want a God to tell us what we want is off limits, wrong or forbidden. We re-define freedom, not as the guilt-free life of pleasing our Creator, but as the “right to do what I want and ignore that I was created at all!”

Verses nineteen and twenty (1:19-20) argue that God didn’t keep Himself secret. In fact, it states that God hung the stars and gave us understanding of the exacting qualities of what it would take to make such a world and put life in it – so that we would conclude that He is there, and we would know more about Him by the observations we made of the world we live in. The problem came when we decided that with God came moral restraints – so we closed our eyes to the Heavens and decided to turn our attention only to little and controllable “gods” that we could invent, mold and worship.

In America, we worship a well-fashioned and ever popular “Mush God”. Nicholas Van Hoffman wrote about him:

The Mush God has been known to appear to millionaires on golf courses. He appears to politicians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and to clergymen speaking the invocation on national TV at either Democratic or Republican conventions. The Mush God has no theology to speak of, being a Cream of Wheat divinity. The Mush God has no particular credo, no tenets of faith, nothing that would make it difficult for believer and nonbeliever alike to lower one’s head when the temporary chairman tells us that Reverend, Rabbi, Father, or Mufti, or So-and-So will lead us in an innocuous, harmless prayer, for this god of public occasions is not a jealous god. You can even invoke him to start a hooker’s convention and he/she or it won’t be offended. God of the Rotary, God of the Optimists, Protector of the Buddy System, The Mush God is Lord of the secular ritual, of the necessary but hypocritical forms and formalities that hush the divisive and derisive. The Mush God is a serviceable god whose laws are chiseled not on tablets but written on sand, open to amendment, qualification and erasure. This is a god that will compromise with you, make allowances and declare all our wars holy, all our peace agreements hallowed.” SOURCE: Nicholas Van Hoffman as quoted by Adrian Rogers in Ten Secrets for a Successful Family, pp. 29-30.

Man, generation after generation, seems to create a god that isn’t the one revealed in the Bible – but one he makes up to make himself feel ok about whatever new desires he wants to Christen as holy. What we are seeing today in the nation may be more brazen in its definition – but not new in its application. Paul continued:

Romans 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

The Gospel is not a message of tolerance, but a message of deliverance. It is not designed to make our sin seem less heinous, but our Savior more glorious. Its message demands all of us to face our record before God as He calculates it. The record God uses to measure us is not a comparison with other people. On the contrary, we are placed against the yardstick of absolute righteousness – a standard we cannot attain in our fallen state without God’s gift of salvation. The Gospel is the grand message of that gift. It is summarily rejected by one who feels self-righteous, for they believe themselves to be in a position to negotiate their good with the Holy One. It is routinely ignored by one who feels God wasn’t overly serious about demanding that we receive the gift of His Son’s payment for sin at His Crucifixion. Yet, the message is one of rescue to the person who simply receives it – because they affirm that God is both Creator and Judge, and we are not His equal. I am set free from my debt when I accept God’s antidote and stop fabricating my own.

Herbert Lockyer said a generation ago: “ At the old rugged cross we see man at his worst, but God at his best.”

Don’t let the hard words we just read throw you. The Gospel isn’t all about how bad people are – it is about how NEEDY people are. When we look inside, all of us are broken. We are all deeply selfish. We may not be open about our sin – but we KNOW we have it. As a society, man’s brokenness is manifest in the angry world wide web, the filthy mouths of hate-filled citizens that demand me to both tolerate what they do, and want to force me to stop saying it is wrong. The problem with that is it is an abstraction. I am just as selfish and broken as any of them without God.

After all, what John R.W. Stott said is still true: “The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales.

For time’s sake, I want to skim a few verses through the next chapters to help us grasp a fuller description of the Gospel message. Drop your eyes down into chapter two for a moment. Do you see the first three verses? They make the argument:

The Gospel is a message that shows “living by conscience” won’t fix my sin problem.

We’ve all heard it. “I do the best I can. I hope God will see that I was a good man.” Look at what Paul wrote:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

The Bible writer makes the awkward point that we aren’t very reliable judges of what is good and right. We have a standard for others that is often much different than the standard we have for ourselves. God judges based on ABSOLUTE TRUTH. He knows when I lie, when I cheat, when I steal, when I allow hate and prejudice to burn within. He sees me as a liar, a cheater, a thief and a (using Jesus’ standard for murder in my heart) killer. I AM those things. I may try to be GOOD, but I cannot be RIGHTEOUS. I don’t have the ability to “get my heart together” in a way that will please God. I just can’t.

If I took the time to describe each line, it would be clear that the Gospel isn’t about God looking PAST my sin – but looking directly at it.

The Gospel is a message that shows God doesn’t ignore my sin:

Even when God doesn’t strike me down, it doesn’t mean He is happy with my life. Paul wrote:

Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

In simple terms, the bill for sin will one day be due for all of us. God kindly puts off punishment to call us to see His love, but there is a day when that will run out.

Don’t be deceived into thinking that this whole scenario doesn’t apply to you, because of who you are.

The Gospel is a message that doesn’t play favorites based on pedigree:

Romans 2:11 For God does not show favoritism. 12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.

Don’t try to claim you didn’t know you weren’t following God, and that you have been living for yourself. You DO know. You know right now, right where you are sitting if you are surrendered to God or living for yourself. No one else may know, but YOU do.

Even if you have kept your decisions secret, you should read a few verses down… Romans 2:16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Don’t squirm, everyone in the room is either in this position, or we were at one time. That is the simple truth. You aren’t the only one who has ever felt God’s conviction. In fact, Paul made clear that is the REASON for the Gospel.

The Gospel is a message that reveals exactly who we are and what we need:

Romans 3 shared the clear and plain truth…

Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.

We don’t walk right, because our heart is our own. That is true because of something even deeper shared a few verses below…

Romans 3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

In our heart, we don’t really fear God. We think we can negotiate with Him when the time comes. We believe that IF He is there, He will see that we aren’t all that bad.

Here is the problem. Suppose for a moment you were the Creator of a universe, and your creation became stubborn and mutinied against you. They decided to live according to their own standards. Then suppose, out of love, you parted with your only son – and allowed Him to be beaten and broken to pay for their rebellion. Would you be open to that creation simply dismissing your gift and seeking to bring other accomplishments and works to you, all the while snubbing Your openly stated plan? Wouldn’t allowing YOU to make the terms keep YOU in control of the relationship, thereby setting aside the true place of the Creator?

Keep reading, because the Gospel is GOOD NEWS. There is a solution to the sin problem. The gulf between God and man now has a bridge that spans the cleavage…

Romans 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Drop your eyes further down in the next chapter to Romans 4:24:

Romans 4:24 [They were written] “…also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

There it is! Jesus died to pay for your sins. Jesus was raised because God accepted the payment. Let’s be clear about what the content of the Gospel message truly is:

The Definition of the Gospel

First, when we believe what God has said concerning our lost state, and His acceptance of Jesus’ payment on our behalf – God fully accepts that.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Second, even if others don’t accept us and our message, we know God has accepted us.

Romans 5:3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame…

One writer said it this way: “Jesus was never interested in having fans. When he defines what kind of relationship he wants, “Enthusiastic Admirer” isn’t an option. My concern is that many of our churches in America have gone from being sanctuaries to becoming stadiums. And every week all the fans come to the stadium where they cheer for Jesus but have no interest in truly following Him. The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.” Kyle Idleman “Not a Fan” p. 25

Third, we not only have eternal salvation, but God in our life NOW!

Romans 5:3b “…because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Fourth, and this is essential to remember, we never got salvation because we were good, but because God provided it and we responded to His gift!

Romans 5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

On August 30, 2005 Coast Guard Lieutenant Iain McConnell was ordered to fly his H46 helicopter to New Orleans and to keep that machine flying around the clock for what would turn out to be a heroic rescue effort. None of his crew were prepared for what they were about to see. They were ahead of every news crew in the nation. The entire city of New Orleans was under water. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs and two cats. On the fourth mission, despite twelve different flights to New Orleans, he and his crew were able to save no one. None! They all refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the Coast Guard to bring them food and water. Yet they were warned that this extremely dangerous. The waters were not going to go away soon. Sadly, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued. In our Gospel lesson today we come face to face with the Son of God and with the greatest rescue effort of all time. (From Sermon Central archives, taken from a sermon by Michael P. Walther, Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord, 5/25/2011)

In Jesus’ death, the work of payment was FINISHED. In the Resurrection, the notice became public: It is done. I have accepted it! There is no better message than the one that shows all the debt has been satisfied!

Dear Ones, you must know this: If Christ has not risen, leave your church. Don’t go back. They have been telling lies to the world for generations – it is all a farce. If Christ is not Risen, we have no way to know if the death of Christ was enough, for God did not place His stamp of approval on the deal. If Christ is not Risen, put down your New Testament. It is not a good book, but a tale of cleverly devised myths. Death awaits us all, and the message of Jesus cannot help us – for our source is so deeply flawed as to lie about its central story…

But He was Risen as He said. Angels proclaimed it to the women at the tomb. He was Risen – twelve times He appeared to people – at one five hundred in the same place! He was Risen, and His power was revealed and God’s satisfaction with His death was made clear.

  • A mere stone could not hold back the One Who made millions of planets.
  • A mere inactive heart could not resist the order to beat again from He who formed man from the dust of the ground.

Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen indeed!