Monday, August 11, 2014

Sermon on Romans 10:5-17, 9th Sunday after Pentecost, "People with a Purpose", Part 8

Sermon on Romans 10:5-17, part 8 of a 13 part series in Romans, "God's Greater Story." This sermon is not adapted from the series.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Last week in Romans 9 we heard St. Paul’s impassioned love for his people the Jews, many who had hardened their hearts against believing in Jesus as Savior. Chapter 9 went on into the mystery of God’s eternal election—or choosing the people of His promise. While we did not delve into those mysteries of election, or how God chooses—we did hear loud and clear from Paul that God’s choice is not based on works, either good or bad, it is not based on our human will or exertion, but only based on Him who calls, in His mercy. We cannot earn our way into God’s favor, but rather it is entirely up to God and His undeserved love, who He calls to believe in Him and be saved.

It’s God’s sovereign right to do this, Paul argues, against any claims that it would be unfair. God’s gift is pure and undeserved, and it also included and brought salvation to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). But this made it a stumbling block or offense to the Jews. Paul explains that this is because they tried to earn righteousness by the law and works. So in today’s reading, Paul contrasts the way of the law, and the way of faith—and that only faith can lead us to true righteousness. Even though the law offered righteousness—none gained it because none obeyed. Anyone determined to try that route, and earn God’s favor by even the smallest shred of their own worthiness or participation, still stumbles against this offense. On the other hand, when we swallow our pride and admit our total unworthiness before God, and receive His free gift in Christ—we’ll never be put to shame. And further, by abandoning our attempts to secure righteousness on our own—God give it to us freely and perfectly in Christ Jesus.

            So where chapter 9 left us wondering about the mysteries of God’s sovereign choice of His people—chapter 10 answers the practical question of how God’s election or choice “lands on the ground” so to speak. Chapter 10 displays the “toolkit” of the Holy Spirit, or the way that God’s calling or election reaches people here on earth. And instead of being mysterious, lofty, and uncertain, it’s surprisingly ordinary, and it’s completely accessible. And we don’t have to climb up to heaven to get it, but God brings it down to us in Christ Jesus. God’s eternal calling for His people comes through the humble, rejectable means of preaching and hearing. God sends preachers to tell the good news of His Son—people hear the word of Christ, and by hearing and the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they believe and call on the name of the Lord.

            So the righteousness of faith that we can attain, is not something we climbed up to heaven to bring Christ down, it’s not something we raised Christ up from the dead to get—Jesus Christ is already here for us, God incarnate, in human flesh and blood, who walked the earth and suffered death on the cross for us. And Christ is here for us risen and alive, because death could not restrain the power of His immortal life. And that Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven to rule over all things, does not place Him once again out of reach and inaccessible to us, that we would have to figure out a way to reach Him, but Paul tells us how near and close He is to us. “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

            How near is Christ? He is in the Word that is in our mouth and our heart. The same Word which preaches Jesus Christ crucified, and the same Word we believe in our hearts. This is what I meant earlier, that God’s election or predestination doesn’t unfold in some mysterious or incomprehensible way—but it comes into hearts by hearing the Word of Christ. The Word is the primary “tool” of the Holy Spirit, to create faith in our hearts. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. And once created and given, faith comes alive and answers by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. If you think of the Holy Spirit as breathing faith into us, our confession is like breathing out. One of the ways to tell whether a body is living or not is when they are breathing—in and out. The word “Spirit” also means breath, or wind—just like God breathed into Adam and “he became a living soul”. So also, one measure of our spiritual life is that we believe in our hearts and are justified, and confess with our mouths, and saved.

            And when we believe and confess, we also call on the name of the Lord, and are saved. We are promised—promised—that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will not be put to shame. Putting all your trust in Jesus—banking everything by faith in His death on the cross for your sin and rising up to life again—this is no gamble, no risky uncertainty, in which you might lose out. You won’t be put to shame. Trust in Jesus Christ our Lord is always well-placed, and He delivers as promised. His promised deliverance is not, however, a promise of earthly wealth or security. It is, however, a promise of God “bestowing His riches on all who call on Him.”

            What if we think, for just a moment, about the persecuted Christians in the Middle East, who in some cases are suffering dreadful and frightening atrocities, simply because they have believed in Jesus Christ? They certainly have not received earthly wealth or security. Hundreds of thousands, have been driven from their homes in Iraq (at least double the population of Maui from what I’ve read), and have been robbed of their few remaining possessions along the way. And this is for those who are able to escape with their lives. So how does God bestow His riches on these Christians who call on Him? I quote Jesus: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12).

            Those words and blessings of Christ are very near for the persecuted. They are gaining an eternal reward, an inheritance in heaven—not because they have done anything to deserve it, but because they have shared in the sufferings of Christ Jesus, who won for us the Great Reversal of forgiveness over guilt, of life over death. Truly no earthly, material reward could repay what some have lost in this life, or soothe the wounds that have been recklessly and hatefully inflicted. But God in Christ Jesus has promised that He is the refuge of all who call on Him.

            Hatred and opposition to the Gospel seem like such formidable obstacles to the kingdom of God and the good news that we are to bring. Even far weaker forms of opposition or ridicule, tempt us to hide like a turtle in a shell. But it is the very Word of Christ that goes out into all the world to break through stony hearts of unbelief and to create faith. In fact, one of our own pastors in the LCMS, by the name of Hicham Chehab, was once a Muslim extremist, determined to carry out revenge against Christians for the death of his brother, but through hearing the Words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, he eventually converted to the Christian faith and now has a ministry to Muslims based in Illinois. Hatred and opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ are no match for the Lord of all who hung on the cross, bearing all our hatred and sin in His body. They are no match for the eternal love that spoke forgiveness to His tormentors and continues to speak words of forgiveness to us—unworthy though we are.

            The Word of Christ might seem small and weak in the eyes of the world—preaching a word of life, of forgiveness, of love—it might seem impossible that this could conquer men’s hearts that so quickly turn to evil and bloodshed, or so easily extinguish a human life. But God has promised that His Word endures forever, and that His Word will not fail. So God continues to send preachers to go and speak the good news—to tell what Jesus has done—so that hearing, they might believe, and believing they might also call on the name of Jesus and be saved. Through humble and ordinary means—through the human voice and human messengers and our eardrums and hearts—God sends out the extraordinary message of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. A love that went to all lengths to come down to us, to redeem us, and to rescue us from our sin—no matter the depths of our blindness or the height of our sin. And there is no difference between Jew and Greek—the same Lord is Lord of all. So there are no two ways about it—there is no different path of salvation than the One Way, Jesus Christ.

            God has chosen to clothe the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit in the ordinary form of speaking, and in the ordinary lives of Christians. This power of the Holy Spirit changes lives and creates faith, making believers and confessors out of us. Whether we are a full-time pastor and preacher or whether we are a Christian layperson, child or adult, God gives us the name and the Lordship of Jesus to confess in our lives. He has given us that Word to speak, and this Word of Christ has the power to bring others to faith in Christ as well. We don’t have to be an eloquent preacher like Paul, but can simply tell the love of Jesus—to a child, to a brother, a sister, another family member, or a friend. And for some who are under persecution, it may finally be the word that disarms their enemies, and overcomes and turns their hearts to Christ.

            So we are a people of God’s calling, by His undeserved grace and mercy—but we are also therefore a people of His purpose—called to speak His Word to others. God has included us in His plan of salvation, both by bringing His Word to our hearts and mouths, but also giving it to us to speak, to participate in bringing that salvation to others. Once again we find that we live not only to ourselves, but to Jesus Christ our Lord—in whose name we have redemption—the forgiveness of our sins. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points

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  1. In Romans 10:5-17, Paul quotes several Old Testament passages to illustrate the difference between the way the law of God and faith function. In verse 5 he quotes Leviticus 18:5. What is the promise given by the law? Is it a conditional or unconditional promise? Are we able to attain what is promised? Why or why not? James 2:10
  2. In verse 6 and following, he begins to quote Deuteronomy 30:12ff, but introduces some new applications of the passage (specifically to Christ, and including a phrase from Psalm 107:26). Both passages speak of the total “accessibility” of, in the first case, God’s law, and in the second case, the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. What is important about the fact that God has made His will and His plan of salvation so accessible to us? That it does not depend on some soaring, elusive knowledge or on great and impossible deeds?
  3. If we believe in Christ as Lord, and risen from the dead, what will this lead us to do? Romans 10:9-10. What is the relationship between faith and confession? To confess is to speak or publicly declare that we believe. When do we confess our faith? When might it be challenging or difficult? What comfort and encouragement do we have in doing this? Matthew 10:16-24.
  4. “Jesus is Lord” is probably the first and simplest confession of faith. 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11. What does it mean to call Jesus, “Lord”? Who is called by this title over 6,000 times in the Old Testament? So what does that mean about Jesus?
  5. What is the promise for all who call on the name of the Lord? Isaiah 28:16; Joel 2:32. The fact that God does not have “alternate plans of salvation” depending on who you are or where you come from, flows out of the same truth that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. How does Jesus’ universal Lordship extend its reach over all people whom the Lord God has called? Romans 10:14-17; Isaiah 52:7; 53:1.

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