1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 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, 5 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, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 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. (ESV)
Paul begins his letter with the lengthiest introduction of all of his letters. Notice that he does not address who the recipients are until verse 7! Clearly Paul has something important that he wants to say and he begins to with it before he gets through all the formalities of a first century letter. Paul begins by calling himself a servant of Jesus Christ. While he is a called apostle by our Lord Jesus, he is first and foremost a servant of the Lord. As an apostle Paul has been entrusted with an awesome responsibility — to summon Gentiles to allegiance to Jesus (Acts 9.15).
“Set apart for the gospel of God.” The gospel of God is the subject of this long introduction. Paul seems to be more than eager to begin to speak about the gospel and the first seventeen verses are about the gospel as the revelation of God’s righteousness. So we will need to do some work and study to understand what Paul means by these terms. In this lesson we will spend our time understanding the gospel of God.
Verse 2 tells us that the gospel of God was promised by God beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. This is an important piece of information. We may not realize that the gospel was promised in the Old Testament. Notice that it is more than just prophecy. It is the promise. Let us turn back to the prophets to see what was promised concerning the gospel.
9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:9-11; ESV)
Isaiah 40 begins the comforting section of Isaiah’s prophecy (40:1) after he had told Israel that they were going into Babylonian exile. The gospel was a messenger coming to Jerusalem bring ing the good news of Babylon’s defeat, the end of Israel’s exile, and the return of God to his people and to Zion. Notice this is the good news again in Isaiah.
7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. 9 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10; ESV)
Paul quotes this text in Romans 10:15, so we know we are on the right track concerning the gospel of God. What is the good news? Verse 7 says that God reigns in Zion. Verse 8 says that they will see the return of the Lord to Zion. Verse 9 says that the Lord has comforted his people and has redeemed Jerusalem. Verse 10 says that the Lord has used his powerful arm and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. The good news refers to future glory of Israel in Isaiah 60:6. Similarly, we read about the good news in Isaiah 61:1. This is what the good news meant to the Jewish mind. The restoration of a relationship with God, God dwelling with his people, and the nation restored from exile.
The gospel also has an interesting history in the Gentile mind. This same Greek word was used among the Gentiles to refer to the announcement of the accession or birthday of a ruler or emperor. The gospel was essentially news or celebration concerning Caesar.
Notice how the word is used in connection with Augustus on a calendar inscription from Priene (c. 9 BC; line 40): “but the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of tidings of joy on account of him.” The birthday of Augustus was considered the beginning of the gospel in the Roman world. Notice how the word was used in connection to Gaius Julius Caesar concerning the day he became a man according to Roman custom: “that on the day when the city received the good news and when the decree was adopted, on that day, too, wreaths (must) be worn and sumptuous sacrifices offered to the gods.” In this context we see the city received the gospel when a decree was given concerning the day Gaius became a man.
Verse 3 tells us that the gospel is about the Son. Jesus is the good news of a king’s accession. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise and thus, the gospel, good news, must be declared. It is the announcement of Jesus as the Messiah and Lord. God has done it! The king has come! N.T. Wright sums this up well, “The natural meaning of the phrase, ‘God’s gospel concerning his Son,’ therefore, is ‘God’s announcement, in fulfillment of prophecy, of the royal enthronement of the Messiah, Israel’s anointed king, the lord of the world.”
It is important that we understand that Son of God is a title for divinity. What is the son of a duck? A duck. “Son of God” is simply a title of divinity. Unfortunately, this title has been misunderstood to mean that Jesus is a lesser God or that this is a generational statement that Jesus was actually born from God.
Verses 3-4 continue to explain the relationship of Jesus as Son with the gospel. Paul points out in verse 3 that the Son was descended from David according to the flesh. This delineates Jesus as Messiah. As a descendant from David, Jesus has the right to lay claim to the Davidic throne as king. Jesus was also declared to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection. The resurrection declares Jesus to not only be Israel’s messiah, but also the Lord of the world. You see how the gospel then fits for the gospel is the declaration of the accession of a king. This is the fulfillment of the prophecies given through the Spirit of holiness. All of these things were done according to God’s revealed plan.
It is important to stop at this moment and soak in what we have learned. We need to note that the gospel is not described by Paul as a system of salvation primarily. That is not in view at this point. When we think of the “gospel” we often default into merely thinking about salvation. But for Paul, the gospel is the announcement about the appointment of Jesus as Israel’s messiah and Lord of the world.
Verse 5 continues the thought. It is through Jesus that the apostles have received the grace of apostleship. Notice carefully the purpose of his apostleship: to call the Gentiles (the nations) into a covenant relationship with the one true God so that the name of Jesus might be glorified throughout the world. The shorthand that Paul uses here for this concept is “the obedience of faith.” The gospel that focuses on the Son was designed to bring all nations and people to the obedience of faith.
Obedience flows from faith. In light of the context addressing the gospel, I believe the point is this: the appropriate response to an imperial summons is obedience. For example, if the president were to summons you to come to the White House, what would be your response? You would go to the White House because of the official and position he hold. Our faith in Jesus as the messiah of Israel, Son of God, and Lord of the world means that we must obey whatever he says. The gospel is the announcement of Jesus as king. Believe it and obey him. Paul is saying that he is announcing the good news of Jesus as Lord to bring people to obedience. To think that Paul is now going to write in this letter that obedience is not part of God’s plan but that all we need to do is believe as a response to the gospel is to fly directly in the face of Paul’s words. Paul says that obedience is the response that should come from our faith in Jesus. That is the whole reason Paul is preaching — to bring obedience of faith so that the name of Jesus will be glorified in the whole world. To twist this letter to say that it does not matter what you do is to twist the clear words of Paul. Obedience and faith go hand and hand and Paul joins these concepts together for a reason. We cannot obey and be without faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Mindless obedience will not work. But faith without obedience will not work either. James taught that faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
So let’s end with the big idea. First, the bad news before we can appreciate the good news. We are lost in our sins. We are dead to God. We have violated his commands. God separated himself from his people because of our sinfulness. We violated the covenant. Reaching back historically, Israel had broken the covenant, severed their relationship with God, and was exiled. Isaiah promised good news to come. The good news was that God would dwell with his people again, the covenant would be restored, and the blessings would return. The good news was specifically about Jesus because he is the one who would make these things happen. Jesus can be king in the kingdom of God because he is a descendant of David. He is the fulfillment of prophecies declaring himself to be the Messiah. Through the resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God and Lord of the world, ruling over the nations. Jesus is Lord and that is good news because it is through Jesus that we have a relationship with the Father again. It is through Jesus that we have the blessings of God poured out on us. It is through Jesus that we are in a covenant with our Father. It is through Jesus that we are part of the family of God promised to Abraham. It is through Jesus that we have “God with us.” It is through Jesus that we have truly come out of exile, the exile of sin and death, and are given true life, true living…eternal life. In the words of Isaiah, it is through Jesus that, The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52.10; ESV). This is the gospel of God. This is the good news found in Jesus.