Why Was Jesus Put to Death and Raised Again?
Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
Three Questions for Next Week
I had originally intended to preach one message on these four small verses, 22-25. But as I pondered them, especially in relation to communion Sunday, and especially in view of coming to a kind of climax at the end of this chapter, I thought that we should spend two Sundays on this great text. Here are the questions I want to raise, one today and three next Sunday.
1) Why is faith credited to Abraham and to us as righteousness? What is the meaning of "therefore" at the beginning of verse 22: "Therefore, it [faith] was also credited to him [Abraham] as righteousness."
2) What sort of faith is credited to Abraham and to us as righteousness? Was it the first act of faith when God first spoke to Abraham and told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees, or the faith of Genesis 15:6 when God promised to make Abraham's descendants like the stars, or the faith of Genesis 17 when God promised him a son in the next year in spite of his age and Sarah's barrenness, or the faith of Genesis 22 when Abraham offered his son Isaac? Are we justified in the very first twinkling of faith or by a lifetime of faith?
3) How is faith credited to Abraham and to us? Does crediting faith as righteousness mean that faith itself is the kind of righteousness we perform and God counts that as good enough to merit justification - as if justification costs five million dollars and I can come up with one million dollars, so God mercifully says he will count my one million as five million and cancel the rest? Or is justification really the imputation to me of God's own righteousness in Christ, and if so, what does it mean to say that faith is credited as righteousness?
All that next week.
Who or What Must We Believe in Order to Be Justified?
What I want us to focus on this week is this: Who or what must we believe in order to be justified? So we pick up on this in the middle of verse 24. Verses 23-24 say that the reason it was written in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness was for our sake, not just for his. "Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also." Don't miss this. Here is the apostle of Jesus Christ telling us that God had us in view when he inspired Moses to write the words "It was credited to him as righteousness." God wants you to take this very personally. He wants you to read this and hear this and know that you are being addressed very personally.
God is saying to you now: "Faith will set you right with me. Trust me. I will count your faith as righteousness." Do you hear him? "Trust me. Rest in me. Lean on me. Count on me. It will be all right. I have a righteousness for you. You don't have any for me. I have mine for you. Trust me. It will be credited as your righteousness."
Then in the middle of verse 24 he begins to tell us who it is that we must trust: ". . . Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification." This is the One in whom we have faith to be justified. Paul identifies the God we trust by what he has done. So when he says, "Faith is credited [by God] as righteousness," and says this was written for us who have faith, and then tells us what God has done, we are to learn the basis and the content of our faith.
Let's sum it up in three statements about God. 1) The God we trust performs inconceivable power. 2) The God we trust performs merciful redemption. 3) The God we trust performs triumphant justice. All of this chapter has been about the means of justification, not the basis of justification by faith. But now in the last sentence of the chapter, Paul returns to the basis (where he was back in Romans 3:24-26) of justification by faith. The basis of justification is what God did in the work of Christ in history. The means of justification is how we get connected with that great work through faith. Both are tremendously important, but the basis is most important of all.
John Murray, who is with the Lord now, but used to teach at Westminster Seminary, wrote a great little book called Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. I read it about 25 years ago. I wish every one of you would read it. It would put strong fiber in the tree of your faith. Those two words, "accomplished and applied," refer to the basis and the means that I am talking about here. Redemption accomplished - that is the basis of what God did in Christ; it is accomplished, apart from us and outside of us. Redemption applied - that is what God does to connect us to the great, accomplished work of redemption, something he does to us and in us.
Paul ends this chapter with a strong statement about redemption accomplished - the basis, the foundation of all the rest of the chapter, which has been about the application of redemption through faith. The one we trust is one who accomplished redemption for us before we were ever in existence. He is the one we believe, the one we trust, the one we put our faith in.
So here is what we will look at very simply and briefly: He is one who performs inconceivable power, merciful redemption and triumphant justice. Let's take those one at a time and see them in the text and savor them in our minds and hearts.
1. We Trust One Who Performs Inconceivable Power
Verse 24b says that we "believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead." The point of putting the resurrection of Jesus in first place is that it links up with the power that it took to give birth to Isaac in verse 17. Look again at those words in verse 17: ". . . Him whom he [Abraham] believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist." Abraham believed in one who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. For Abraham the immediate focus was on the promise of God to give birth to Isaac when Abraham was 100 years old and his wife was barren. This was impossible. But that is what made Abraham's faith exemplary. Verse 19: "Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb."
So now, Paul says, we today trust this same God, and the faith that God reckons for righteousness is faith in a God who raises the dead, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ. That is who we trust, the one who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead.
I call this "inconceivable" power, not because you may not be able to conceive of it, but because we are coming to the end of a century that has been marked by naturalism - a view, or a faith, that there is no reality that is not part of nature - the faith that there is no supernatural reality. It is inconceivable, they say. Naturalistic evolution is the most pervasive form of this faith - the effort to explain the origin of all things without belief in a supernatural Creator from outside of nature.
But also pervasive in this century has been a naturalistic way of studying history. In Biblical studies this faith is devastating. One of the most famous statements of this faith was made by Rudolf Bultmann who said, "An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable" (Quoted in Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, And Authority, Vol. IV [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999, orig. 1979], p. 333). That is where I am getting the word "inconceivable."
The faith that God credits to us as righteousness is faith in one who performs inconceivable power. He does just what Bultmann said is "inconceivable" - he raises the dead. He does what people say cannot be done. He brought Isaac out of a dead womb of a 90-year-old woman. And he brought Jesus Christ out of a tomb after three days and made him Lord of the universe. Thus God can fulfill every promise. So we trust him.
2. We Trust One Who Performs Merciful Redemption
Notice the first half of verse 25: "He who was delivered over because of our transgressions." The main thing to see here is that the death of the one God raised is a death by design. God did not simply want to demonstrate his inconceivable power and so find some murdered person to raise from the dead. God himself designed this death and designed it for a purpose.
You can see this in the two key phrases of verse 25a: "(1) He who was delivered over (2) because of our transgressions." Jesus "was delivered over" - by whom? By soldiers? By Pilate? By Herod? By the Jewish mob? Not, finally, by any of them because it says he was delivered over "for our transgressions." Soldiers and Pilate and Herod and Jews did not hand Jesus over "for our transgressions."
Acts 2:23 gives a clear and forthright answer: "This Man [was] delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God." God delivered him over to death. Romans 8:3 says, "God [sent] His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin." Romans 8:32 says, "He . . . did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all." So the death of Jesus Christ was by the design of God. God planned his death. He did not just die. He was delivered over to death by God.
And the design had a purpose (verse 25a): "Because of our transgressions." God's design was to deal with our transgressions. He wanted to do something about our transgressions. What? He wanted to provide a substitute death so that we would not have to die for our own transgressions. And the only death that could do that was the death of his Son. So Romans 8:3 says, "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." So our transgressions are not swept under the rug. They are not overlooked. They are condemned. They bring about an execution. But not ours. Christ's.
In this way we are redeemed by the death of Christ. That is, we are saved from our sins. We are rescued from the penalty of hell. We are ransomed from the judgment of God. And all of this redemption we did not deserve. We deserve to die and go to hell and endure the judgment of God. But this is a merciful redemption. This is the God we trust in order to be justified -the God who performs a merciful redemption. He designed to save us from our transgressions through the death of his Son.
3. Finally, We Trust One Who Performs a Triumphant Justice
We trust One who performs inconceivable power, merciful redemption, and now triumphant justice. What do I mean by that, and where do I get it? I get it from the last part of verse 25. Who is the God we trust? He is the One who raised Jesus "because of our justification." I take that to mean that when Jesus died for our transgressions, a full and sufficient payment was made for our forgiveness and justification. Therefore, it would have been unjust to leave Christ in the grave, since he had so fully paid for our sin. So God raised him from the dead to vindicate the perfection of Christ's atonement and obedience. The resurrection of Jesus was the declaration that what he accomplished in his death was flawlessly successful, namely, the purchase of our justification.
Maybe we could say it like this: When Christ died and shed his blood for our transgressions he atoned for the sins that killed him. Since those sins are now covered and paid for, there is no reason for Christ to remain dead. His death was solely to pay for our sins. When they were perfectly paid for, there remained no warrant for his death any more. It would be unjust to keep him in the grave. He could not stay in the grave, "it was impossible for Him to be held in its power" (Acts 2:24).
So the God we trust is One who performs a triumphant justice. The resurrection of Jesus is triumphant because it conquers death. It is triumphant justice because justice demanded that Jesus be raised from the dead. He had paid for sins perfectly, namely, the sins that brought him to death. If the sins that brought him to death - our sins - were perfectly and completely paid for on the cross, then the only reason for Christ's death was past. Our justification was completely secured (not yet effected by faith, but secured and paid for). So it would be unjust for Christ to stay dead. It would be a penalty without cause. Therefore, it was just and right that God raise Christ from the dead. It was triumphant justice. (See Hebrews 13:20.)
Who Must We Believe to Be Justified
So I close with the question I raised at the beginning: Who or what must we believe in order to be justified - to be right with God? The answer is we must believe God - 1) that he performed inconceivable power in raising his Son Jesus from the dead, 2) that he performed merciful redemption in designing the death of his Son to save us from our transgressions, and 3) that he performed triumphant justice by raising Jesus from the dead to show that the basis of our justification was perfectly accomplished in the death of his Son.
So trust him today. Open your heart and receive the glory of this salvation: inconceivable power, merciful redemption, triumphant justice. Believe this and God will credit your faith as righteousness. You will be safe with him. You will have a righteousness not of your own and an unshakable, everlasting rock to stand on.