Yea, Rather ...
A Discourse on Romans 8.34
from the last century
It is not always the biggest words of a text, nor even the centrally positioned ones in a paragraph that will carry most weight in the argument. Sometimes words of two letters, by their comparative values, such as "as" and "so", will open wide the door of argument, or close it shut, leaving no doubt in the reader's mind what the writer's meaning was. For instance, "As in Adam all die so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15. 22). Whatever may be the full scope of this Scripture its argument turns upon two small words.
The two words of our text also set up a comparison, and throw the emphasis upon the following statement. Paul could have referred to the facts regarding the life and death of Jesus without using these two words. He could have written: "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, and it is Christ that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God ..." He would thus have been stating the two great facts of Jesus' life as unassailable, but, stated thus they would be "in parallel" with each other, and of equal value for the purpose of an argument. But that was not his intention here. Apparently he did not desire them to be of equal value in their application to the main point of his discussion. He was not, at this point, basing his claim to freedom from condemnation on a dead Christ ‑ however acceptable that death of Christ may be ‑ but upon a living and exalted Christ, who had passed beyond the reach of death, and was present at God's right hand to represent Paul and all his brethren there.
Already he had shown the vital necessity of the death of Christ as one of the great essential factors in the work of Atonement and Reconciliation (chap. 3.25; 5.6, 12‑19; 8.32), and here (as always, elsewhere) Paul did not underrate or undervalue the worth of that Redemption Sacrifice. Always in presence of either friend or foe he gloried in the Cross of Christ, and declared it the one foundation upon which all future hope must be based. It had done for men what no other work had ever done. Jesus by his death had done what no man, or men could ever do. Alexander the Great had overrun the world while still little more than a youth ‑ a feat almost without parallel in the annals of time up to Paul's day ‑ yet what had the conquest accomplished for men? Even among Paul's own people there was none to compare with his gracious Lord. Moses had been God's instrument in giving to the fathers the Law. David and Solomon had given of their great wealth to build God a house, and had employed tongue and pen to sing the goodness of the Lord, but while they had given much to benefit those who loved the Holy Name, what had they given that could be compared with that great price which Jesus gave for man's release? Not all the feats of arms; not all the bright gold dug from the earth, nor all the temples erected upon the earth could compare in its effects upon men with the effects of that dark tragedy on Calvary. That, to Paul's persuaded mind, was the one event that transcended every other event throughout the world, throughout all time.
Yet it was only the first chapter of a great story. It was a chapter gloriously true, but it was not the whole story. It was a truth ‑ a pure unadulterated truth - yet not the whole truth ‑ there was something more! Here, in the argument he was now presenting, it was as the wicket - door leading into a larger auditorium. It was a case of passing through that to this, and it was 'this' that really mattered most!
He was writing of God's Elect! He was writing to God's Elect ‑ of those and to those whom God's Love had won over from the ranks of evil and wickedness. They had forsaken the ways of sin, and Satan, and turned with all their hearts to God, in order to serve him, and live in accord with his great purposes toward men. But they found to their great sorrow that the fallen human nature (which they still shared with other men ‑ other fallen men) was no fitting instrument through which to serve the living God. Try as they would, and even with the best intent, they could not always do the things they would have loved to do, or say the things they would have preferred to say. They found that even their best attempts came short of the perfect standard, and how often they had cause to groan and pour out their sense of unworthiness in sighs and sobs! Would God condemn them for these deficiencies and ineffective attempts? Would Jesus chide and rebuke them because they so often missed the mark? Would anyone condemn them and point the scornful finger at their vain attempts to measure up to righteousness? Yes, there were some who could scoff and scorn and ridicule and condemn! One "accuser of the brethren" always stood ready to heap condemnation on their heads. Along with him was a whole host of wickedness in exalted position, ready to hinder and oppose, to dishearten and condemn, when frailty and wickedness marred their best endeavours. But (and this is what matters most to Paul and his believing friends) these accusers and opponents had no right of entrance to the Divine Court where all these actions ‑ these efforts to please God—were assessed and judged. That Court of assessment was in heaven, at the very Throne of God. Satan and his hosts had no right of entrance there. They had no standing as "the prosecutor-at-the-bar". They had no power of attorney in that Supreme Court. Therefore, though they might shriek their condemnation above the raging voice of the gale, it had no relevance to the "case" in hand. "Who is he that condemneth?" asks Paul. None! ‑ there is no prosecutor in the case.
Would Jesus condemn? Nay, He had died for them! But more than that, He was now living for them, and serving their need more than before. Would God from his Throne condemn? Nay, He had already issued his writ of acquittal! He had already declared the decree of his Court, freely justifying the believer from his sins and weaknesses. The verdict of the Court was favourable to the Advocate and his earthly companions, so that in heaven there was none to condemn. Other accusers mattered not, let them shout their impeachments loud and long! So long, therefore, as their name and credit stood unimpaired in the one place, and at the one "Bar" that really mattered, all was well with them. And that it stood well in that one place was sure beyond all further question because their Advocate was so fully acceptable to the Judge, who alone was qualified to judge and justify, that He was keeping the Advocate at his own right hand - to remain there throughout the Age, till the whole company for whom He had appeared had achieved the object for which they had been justified.
It is no dead Christ that occupies the centre of God's Plan. It is a living Christ - a Christ over whom death has no dominion or power - a Christ, eternal, immortal and all powerful, who ever liveth to help each generation of his struggling followers along and up the heights to heavenly glory. "I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore" are the words of assurance sent down from heaven to earth, to stand as guarantee that no struggling follower can ever pass from the sight of his watchful loving Eye.
Some followers of the Lord make their boast in a Christ who died, and carry a crucifix as token of that death. That is something, but it is not enough. It is not enough that a sacrifice should have been made, or that a Cross and a tomb should be the symbol of Divine Redemption. That alone could not have secured the blotting out of sin. The "Bar-of-all-Authority" was not in session on Calvary's hill, or Gethsemane's tomb, but had its throne in the highest heaven. Divine Justice had instituted its own Court, and thither must the "case" of all believers be carried for adjudication.
We may truly rejoice with any or all who rejoice in the great Sacrifice of the Man of Sorrows, but beware of ending the great story in the opening chapter. With Paul we may announce to heaven and earth that all our glory is in the Cross, but we must complete the great account by proclaiming to all our "Yea rather". "Christ died, yea rather . . . was raised from the dead" is the vital energising fact at the heart of God's purpose.
Much is made to-day over the radio of "the historic Christ", and men are asked to make their decisions concerning righteousness on the basis of the teachings of a good man who lived nineteen centuries ago and taught a new way of life. No wonder if the world looks coldly on while only one here and there responds to the Great Voice from the past. It needs more than the historic Christ to energise a cold world into life. The rating of Jesus as "the historic Christ" places him but little in advance of the founders of any other religion or "way of life". Not a "dead Christ", nor yet a "historic" Christ, but a "Living Christ", who has learned compassion for the suffering generations of men, is the one theme, the only theme, that can strike home, arrest and rivet the attention and expectation of the perplexed and doubting hosts of men, bewildered and lost in the mazes of modern thought.
But who shall tell them of that Living Christ? And the answer surely comes, they who can say: "Yea rather, Christ has risen from the dead." Our two little words contain volumes of sacrificial and dispensational fact, and stand as an expression of conviction that, great and vital as the death of Christ most surely was, his resurrection is more vital still, to those who now follow in his steps. Lives there one child of God to-day, who, knowing and experiencing the care of the great Shepherd of the flock, whose heart will not rise up in gratitude and appreciation before God for the great facts covered by our little text—"yea rather" ?