Romans 4:25 “Jesus Christ was delivered for our offenses, and was raised for our justification.”
How does a disease move from an epidemic to a pandemic? The Dictionary says “an epidemic is when a disease spreads over a wide area and many individuals are taken ill at the same time. If the spread escalates, an epidemic can become a pandemic, which affects an even wider geographical area and a significant portion of the population becomes affected.” In the Bible, the Old and New Testaments use the term “pestilence” for an epidemic. The World Health Organization moved COVID-19 from an epidemic or pestilence to a pandemic on March 11, as the virus has spread around the globe.
Over 480,000 have been infected worldwide, with over 21,000 dead. Business Insider reports “The World Health Organization warned that the United States could be the new epicenter as cases jump. The US is the third-worst-hit country, with over 69,000 cases and 1,050 deaths. New York has been hardest hit, with over 33,000 confirmed cases and 280 deaths.” One of every 14 global cases are occurring in New York.
In the midst of the pandemic, we are 2 weeks away from Easter, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The irony of these colliding events shouldn’t escape us. People are anxious over the climbing COVID-19 death toll, but millions will soon be cheering Jesus Christ’s victory over death.
It helps to look back at history, to put things into perspective. This week’s verse is from the New Testament book of Romans, authored by Paul around 58AD. Nero was Emperor of the Roman Empire (54 – 68AD).
Christians suffered horrible deaths by refusing to deny Jesus Christ as the true King. In his famous 1876 painting ‘Nero’s Torches’, Polish painter Pochodnie Nerona uses the historical writings of Cornelius Tacitus to visualize Nero’s order to burn Christians alive for starting the Great Fire of Rome. Tacitus names Jesus Christ as the founder of Christian church and the reason for its rapid spread in Rome. Here are his words.
“Nero has the infamy of being believed to have ordered the fire of Rome. To suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.” Christians were rounded up by the hundreds and systematically executed. As we live through a virus that is killing people daily, what can we learn from these earliest Christians, who faced death every day? What happened, to give them such hope?
In our verse, Paul gives us the answer. First,
Jesus Christ was delivered for our offenses.
The Greek word “for” means “on account of”. It was because of our sins against a holy God that God Himself took our place of punishment, to pay for them. This is the historical event of the Cross. This is the grace of God.
Jesus Christ was raised for our justification.
Again, the Greek word “for” means “on account of”. It was because Jesus Christ rose from the dead that those sins that demanded our punishment have been removed from our account (the word “justified” literally means our account, or standing, with God is right and just, without sin). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is PROOF that our sins are gone.
How could Paul claim this is true, while Nero is putting to death anyone Christian he can get his hands on? Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead! Hundreds of people saw Christ alive after He died and was buried (see 1Corinthians 15:3-8)! Jesus’s resurrection from the dead was no mystical experience – it was a real event in history. Paul reminds Christians during the Nero persecutions with what they knew was true. And hundreds of followers of the risen Christ gladly went to their deaths rather than bow to Nero.
This is what we as today’s Christians are celebrating in 2 weeks! We have a unique opportunity right now, in our time in history, to contrast the COVID-19 deaths with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Paul helps our case by quoting Old Testament writers as evidence for the Resurrection’s victory over death as far back as 1,000BC:
Death is swallowed up in victory… O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? (1Corinthians 15:54-55).
Physical death, including COVID-19, is all around us. But it cannot stand up to true life, which is in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and His Resurrection.
The Evidence of Faith’s Substance – Article #391