Sermon for Historic Providence Church, Anderson SC
August 9, 2020
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.
This is my story. This is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long.
Blessed Assurance is one of my favorites hymns. In the old days, we sang hymns crafted from a solid biblical foundation, full of theological truths. It makes me sad to think an entire generation will miss out on this “old-fashioned” idea. In contrast, I think it’s great to hear the old hymns arranged by contemporary musicians or played on instruments that are more common today. Each instrument has its own voice and each speaks into the music differently. Using a guitar with a finger-picking style seems to fit this song well. I love playing this song!
I was fortunate to be raised in a family that honored God. We went to church weekly, but we knew this wasn’t a goal; rather, it was an opportunity to worship Jesus for what he’s done for us. We learned to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves from a young age. Last year, I preached a sermon based on this mandate from the book, The Art of Neighboring. We read about the Good Samaritan and wrestled with what it might look like if we got to know our neighbors – at the very least, learn their names. How did that go?
I had no idea that we would be told to stay at home, but I couldn’t help but smile and wonder if that helped us get to know our neighbors. We have months to go from the looks of it, so if you didn’t get too far, I think you still have a chance.
Today, I hope to provide you with some thoughts on Romans 10:5-15. The Revised Common Lectionary reminds us it’s the tenth Sunday after Pentecost, and it seems the authors wanted us to remember some key distinctions that made Pentecost special. In particular, we need to be people that are sent to preach the Gospel so others will hear the great Good News and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. I have a few more words to say about this, but let’s pause a minute and get some context.
The book of Romans was written around AD 57, about 13 years before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed for the last time. No reconstruction teams. No Ezra, Nehemiah, or Zerubbabel. The temple was gone for good. No one of Jewish heritage could have ever foreseen this catastrophe. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans well before physical demolition. His concern is less for earthly matters, instead, he focuses on the sad spiritual condition of his brothers and sisters. It’s interesting to note that Paul probably wrote this letter for a handful of house churches in the area of Rome. No big gathering space for our early Christian brothers and sisters. Interesting. We’ll touch on this a bit more as well.
Paul presents several themes in these letters, but the overarching concept is that salvation is for all – both Jew and Gentile. He takes great care to describe complex theological concepts to help these young churches grow in wisdom and knowledge. The section we’re focusing on today falls between Romans 9:30 and 10:21. Read this complete section to gain a better understanding of the context of today’s Scripture reading. In the surrounding chapters, Paul speaks with great sadness about the fact that only a remnant of Israel has accepted Jesus.
We’re not going to talk about the entire section, but I think it’s essential to become acquainted with Paul as we read his writings to help understand his struggles. Acts 8:1 reminds us that Saul was pleased with the death by stoning of Stephen. Saul’s conversion gives us all hope. His name is changed from Saul to Paul as a reminder of this key event. Who better to help us move from complacent, nominal Christianity to effective preacher and evangelist for Jesus Christ!
From this vantage point, we quickly recognize how Paul is trying to appeal to his people. He uses several references to what we call the Old Testament. Dozens of footnotes are prevalent in the study Bible I use. Here I’m planting a seed for us to become better students of the Old Testament to appreciate and understand the new.
When this pandemic hit in full force, I committed to rereading the Old Testament, especially the prophets and their attempt to speak into the division that erupted and split Israel. I had plenty of time to read as my wife was in Canada taking care of her mom in early March. She wasn’t allowed to return until May! I came away with a renewed perspective of the exile into Babylon. Instead of some old story, I began to empathize with Esther and Mordecai, Nehemiah, Daniel, and their contemporaries. I could begin to see how and why Isaiah and the prophets were lonely and hated by the Israelites. To say this was a difficult time is a gross understatement, but the present pandemic helps me appreciate the significance. As we begin to understand the entire Bible, we can better see how we fit into The Story of God’s redeeming Grace and Mercy as He pursues us.
Put on your “Paul” glasses and see how difficult this writing must have been for him. Romans 9:1-2 sets the stage.
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. Romans 9:1-2
Paul continues by explaining that his people were the chosen race, set aside to be an example for all, but they failed. He reaches back to Abraham to paint the picture as he builds his case for God’s mercy and righteousness – that which we should seek. He draws inspiration from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Joel, Hosea, and I’m sure more, to show the distinct connection and consistent desire God has for reconciling his people. The writing of the Old Testament was well known to our forefathers. They knew the stories, but it was (and is) a challenge to make the leap from obedience to a set of rules to complete faith that comes from deep within.
It’s pretty complicated, so Paul pauses and offers this thought:
What does all of this mean? It means that the Gentiles were not trying to be acceptable to God, but they found that he would accept them if they had faith. It also means that the people of Israel were not acceptable to God. And why not? It was because they were trying to be acceptable by obeying the Law instead of having faith in God. The people of Israel fell over the stone that makes people stumble.Romans 9:30-32
His words are not meant to be provocative, except as those that would prompt a positive reaction. We now come to today’s Scripture.
5Moses said that a person could become acceptable [righteousness] to God by obeying the Law. He did this when he wrote, “If you want to live, you must do all that the Law commands.”
6But people whose faith makes them acceptable to God [righteousness] will never ask, “Who will go up to heaven to bring Christ down?” 7Neither will they ask, “Who will go down into the world of the dead to raise him to life?”
8All who are acceptable because of their faith simply say, “The message is as near as your mouth or your heart.” And this is the same message we preach about faith. 9So you will be saved, if you honestly say, “Jesus is Lord,” and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from death. 10God will accept you and save you, if you truly believe this and tell it to others.
11The Scriptures say that no one who has faith will be disappointed, 12no matter if that person is a Jew or a Gentile. There is only one Lord, and he is generous to everyone who asks for his help. 13All who call out to the Lord will be saved.
14How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? 15And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.” Romans 10:5-15
In verses 5-8, Paul reaches back to Moses’ writings, where we see not only an emphasis on following a set of rules, but we are to “turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 30:10). It’s a matter of the heart more than a list of rules to follow.
Paul then provides a clear and concise statement that I hope you’ve heard (and responded favorably):
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from:
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Romans 10:13, Joel 2:32
Quoting the prophet Joel, Paul speaks to his brothers and sisters, to those he knows and those he will never meet. Joel talks about a day that will come when God will pour out his Spirit on all men and women.
How will he do this? How will people know to call on the name of the Lord? Paul gives us a formula:
- Someone must be sent
- They must preach
- People will hear
- Believers are saved
Here is the crux of my message today. If you’re with me this far and believe in Paul’s message for the salvation of all, we must become those who are sent to preach the Gospel to those who will hear and believe. It is our mission.
I know this sounds like the call for those in full-time vocational ministry, but I think we must look at this from a different perspective. While I don’t doubt that some are called to serve as shepherds (professional pastors), I am saying that we are all share in the mission of preaching the Gospel. We are all preachers. Some will use words and draw huge crowds; others use actions to start a movement. Some will stand in a pulpit while others sort clothes for the poor. Some lead huge organizations and have CEO gifts and abilities to generate profits that turn into donations for churches and non-profit organizations. Others will lovingly sit with a drug addict. Some will have few words that speak volumes while someone will conduct a funeral for a beloved pet of a man who lives in deep poverty.
I can introduce you to many who have names and stories that need to hear the great Good News of the Gospel message, who need to know salvation is for them, even though the world has turned its back on them.
But this message is not just for those living in poverty or experiencing homelessness. Indeed, it’s equally important to the one who drives expensive cars and has no physical or financial concerns.
My assertion is this: All are preachers. All are called upon to share the great Good News.
Go share the Gospel with your neighbors. You know their names, right? Do they live with the assurance that Christ died for them?
At the beginning of this year, you might have heard something similar, followed by this common phrase: bring them to church so they can hear the preacher. He has a way with words that can move hearts (not to mention the music, coffee, and donuts). What if this isn’t the message we were supposed to tell others? What if Paul were talking about us in Romans 10:2-3?
For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 10:2-3
What if we were trapped in some contemporary form of self-righteousness, rather than God’s righteousness? What if it took a pandemic to stop Sunday gatherings and allow us to rethink how we are to share the Gospel? Do you think Covid-19 is from God, or is God merely allowing it to happen? What if churches were missing the mark? Is it possible that God is sending the message:
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
Isaiah 1:13, 16-17
Imagine how the Israelites responded to Isaiah when he shouted those words in the temple courts. The pandemic forces us to reconsider how we spread the Gospel.
What would happen if the entire Body of Christ were active in their homes and communities rather than only hyper-focused on a once or twice a week gathering where they were primarily spectators?
During this challenging time of disease and infection, let us learn how to preach in new ways. Let us commit to sharing the Gospel with our neighbors, and everyone we meet, perhaps for the first time.
If we do this well, if we genuinely pass this test, when we can gather as a collective Body of Christ, I’m convinced we will be overcome with joy, deep joy that flows from within. We will share how God answered prayers that would not have been offered because we didn’t know our neighbors, let alone love them. I can only imagine the stories we will tell when we can sit side-by-side, no longer bound by social distancing rules, unafraid to hug and cry together again. May this day come sooner than later!
Don’t miss the challenge in front of you today. Don’t sit idly by focusing on what you can’t do — focus on the incredible opportunity here within your reach.
How then can they call on the One they have not believed in?
And how can they believe without hearing about Him?
And how can they hear without a preacher?
And how can we preach unless we are sent? Romans 10:14-15
Today, my friends, hear this clearly: you are sent.
The same Spirit that lived in Paul lives in you.
Go and preach with words and deeds. Don’t ask me where to serve, ask God. And be willing to listen to the answer. Be ready to hear something you haven’t heard before. Be available to God. After all, He’s been there for you every time. Today is the day to listen and obey.
Grace and Peace.
Your brother in Christ,
4For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“At first my people went down to Egypt to live;
lately, Assyria has oppressed them.
5“And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord. “For my people have been taken away for nothing,
and those who rule them mock,”
declares the Lord.
“And all day long
my name is constantly blasphemed.
6Therefore my people will know my name;
therefore in that day they will know
that it is I who foretold it.
Yes, it is I.”
7How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
8Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
9Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.