Yesterday, I had the privilege to preaching Romans 1:1-7, in an overview of Paul’s stated purpose and audience regarding his letter we know as Romans. We have just begun a new series through Romans titled, “The Gospel According to Paul.” What Paul communicates in the first few verses is key to understanding his authority to write such a letter and our need to read it.
The letter we know as Romans in the New Testament is perhaps the greatest letter in the New Testament. That is John Piper’s opinion, and many people agree. Some take it one step beyond—claiming it’s the central letter (book) of the entire Bible. Many people have been impacted by Romans through the years. Augustine was greatly impacted as he took up the letter and read it. God converted him and set him on a new trajectory as he received the righteousness of God by faith alone in Christ alone. A little more than one thousand years later, Martin Luther would enter an Augustinian monastery in Germany where he would not only be influenced by the writings of Augustine—but he would be converted as he studied and read Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.
Why is Romans such a critical letter that’s centrally located in terms of the biblical canon? One man years ago suggested that if you want to disprove Christianity, you must do two things—discredit the preaching ministry of the apostle Paul and disprove the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Here in Romans, we have both of those realities leaping off of the page in the introduction. We must remember that Paul’s ministry would be pointless and his letter to the church in Rome would be of no consequence if it wasn’t for the resurrection of Jesus. Everything in Romans, everything in Paul’s ministry, and every part of Christianity hinges on one foundational doctrine—the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Romans 1:1-7 — Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,  which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,  concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,  through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,  including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,  To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Apostleship of Paul Hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection
Paul was called to be an apostle by Jesus Christ. The word apostle, “ἀπόστολος” means a delegate or official messenger. In ancient days, they would reference cargo ships as apostolic boats. They were boats sent with or dispatched with cargo from one port location to be delivered to a different port. The word apostle was taken from that language and used for a person who was sent with a message to be delivered to someone in a different location. Someone sent out on an official mission with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet, as Paul occupied the official office of an apostle—one sent out by the resurrected Jesus personally, everything regarding the official office of an apostle hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what does it matter if he sent Paul out with a message to all nations? He would be no different than any other religious teacher from human history.
The Hope of the Gospel of God Hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection
Paul stated that he was sent out with the saving message of the gospel of God. Gospel “εὐαγγέλιον ” means Good news. euaggelion was a common Greek word. It was a common word utilized in the worship of the emperor. In Roman culture, the emperor was viewed as a god. Often, an official herald would be dispatched to make an official announcement about a great event or something specifically related to the emperor—and it was to be received as εὐαγγέλιον—good news.
The first mention of good news is actually in Genesis 3:15, but the first time we see the word used in the Greek New Testament, it’s in Matthew 4:23. Jesus announced good news to the people. The greatest news in the history of humanity is the reality that God saves sinners. What better news could there be? Yet, without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead—the gospel is merely a hope so kind of religion alongside all other religions. It’s the resurrection of Jesus that raises the saving message of Jesus above all other religions.
The Proof of Jesus’ Deity Hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection
Jesus preached with power and authority—unlike the scribes of his day. His preaching was not soft muddling—but powerful and profound. In fact, his preaching was often in contrast to the rabbis of his day, and in his famous sermon known as The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is often saying, “You have heard it said…but I say unto you.” The religious community of Jesus’ day hated him and rejected his teachings. In fact, they eventually crucified him on a Roman cross for his doctrine. Make no mistake about it—doctrine matters.
What doctrine did Jesus hold to that caused such great controversy? It was his claims of deity that ruffled the feathers of the Sanhedrin. How dare anyone claim to be one with the Father? Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus did (John 10:30; John 8:58). The Jews on several occasions took up stones to kill Jesus, but it was not his appointed time, so they were unable to take his life. Jesus died on a Roman cross after being falsely accused. He died at the specific time appointed—Passover. As the Jews were slaughtering their Passover lambs across Jerusalem, the Lamb of God was being slain on a Roman cross on Golgotha. All of Jesus’ teaching and his claims to be God are validated in one clear and critical event in human history—his resurrection from the dead. As C.S. Lewis once stated the following in his book, Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Grace and Peace Hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection
Ancient letters in Paul’s day contained three key elements in the introduction: the name of the author, the name of the recipient(s), and a greeting. The first seven verses of Romans contain all three. Paul concludes his introduction with a greeting as he writes, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7). As Paul makes clear, he along with all Christians have received grace and peace through Jesus Christ. It is not earned—instead it’s given by the mercy of God.
Only those who are loved by God receive the grace of God and can live in peace with God. Paul addressed the church at Rome as being loved by God and therefore receiving the grace and peace of God. Grace and peace are certainly connected—but they are only a reality if Jesus rose from the dead. If there is no resurrection, there is no grace and there is no peace to be found. Christianity becomes nothing more than a vain religion without the resurrection.
Everything we find in the sixteen chapters of Romans and everything we know to be part of Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection there is no hope, no grace, no peace, and no real message for Paul to take to Rome. Without the resurrection we should not waste our time reading Romans.