Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Faith Comes From Hearing

Romans 10:9-17 All of us have struggles in our life of faith.  Often times there is a fairly significant gap between what we say we believe and what we actually live out in our lives.  When we go through hard times we wonder to ourselves:  Is God really with me?  Is he really working for my good in this trial?  We struggle with the same old sins and never seem to make much progress in living a holy life.
These trials and struggles and doubts and difficulties seem to pile up on one another and cause us to doubt whether we are really even a Christian at all.  They cause us to question our life with God and wonder if we really will be saved at the last.  I want you to hear what God says to you today in his holy Word:
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.
            When we are confronted by our sins, when we struggle under trials and temptations, when we never make the spiritual progress that we want to make:  I want you to remember these words:  you will be saved!  You will be saved! 
Your salvation does not rest on your sin-less-ness.  Your salvation does not rest on your spiritual progress in holy living.  Your salvation does rest upon your good works.
Your salvation rests safe and secure upon the rock-solid foundation of the person and work of Jesus Christ:  that he is the one true and living God in human flesh who has died for you on the cross to take away your sin and has been raised to defeat death for you.
That is what Paul was inspired by the Spirit to write when he said:  Jesus is Lord.  Not just that Jesus in our master—of course that is true!  But this earliest Christian creed:  Jesus is Lord means that Jesus is Jehovah, Jesus is Yahweh, Jesus is the Savior God who has always come to the aid of his people and now has taken upon himself your flesh and bore your sins and died in your place and was raised as your Great Champion over sins and death.
That is who Jesus is and that is what Jesus has done and believing that, God himself, in his divine courtroom has declared you not guilty:  not guilty over your sins; not guilty over your doubts; not guilty over your failures.  Not guilty—now and forever! 
Believing that- and confessing that:  you are right in God’s sight and you will be saved.  It may seem at first glance that believing and confessing are two different things but that are not—they are simply two different aspects of the same thing:  the heartfelt faith that Jesus is our Lord and Savior that comes to us as we hear and believe his Word. 
Believing is what happens in our heart as we trust in Jesus for our salvation and confessing is the public testimony of that same faith: that Jesus is my Savior from sin and death and the one and only hope for all mankind-- and so it has always been:
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 
            The Scripture that Paul is quoting is from the prophet Isaiah and here’s the point:  in the Old Testament and the New Testament; for God’s ancient people the Jews and for the Gentiles who were coming to faith in Paul’s day; for every person in every time and place; there was, and is, and always will be, one and only one way of salvation and that is faith in the promises of God regarding his Messiah.
 For Adam and Eve he was the Seed of the Woman whose shed blood would crush Satan.  For Moses he was the greater Prophet who would speak God’s Word.  For Abraham he was the sacrificial lamb sacrificed in place of his own son.  For David he was the Good Shepherd and everlasting King who would care for his people.  For Isaiah he was the virgin-born child who was the everlasting father and the crucified man who was stricken and afflicted and whose would bring peace.  For Zechariah he was the humble King who would come to his people on the back of a donkey and for Malachi he was a refining fire and morning star and God himself in his temple.
For us he is the baby of Bethlehem and the man of the cross and the victorious champion standing beside his grave alive and he is the ascended, reigning king. 
For Jew and Gentile, for Israel and the Church, for people in every time and place he is Jesus Christ, God in flesh and EVERYONE who believes in him will never be put to shame and EVERYONE who calls upon him in faith will be saved and EVERYONE who lives in him and with him will be blessed by God with riches beyond measure.
Believing in Jesus:  we never have to worry that there is another way of salvation; that there is another way to have a life with God; that there is another way to have a rich, abundant, blessed life in time and eternity. 
Trusting in Jesus we will go through life unafraid and unashamed-- and when he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead--we will not cower in fear but we will lift up our heads knowing that our redemption is at hand. 
This is true for all people, without exception, who call upon the Lord in faith.  But at the same time, it is true ONLY for those who call upon him in faith. 
The way of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ ALONE is so broad that his arms of love stretched out upon the cross embrace all people without exception-- but it is also so narrow that only those who hear the Good News and believe in him will be saved.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
            I have told this story to my Bible class before so I apologize to them in advance.  I was already at the seminary when my little sister called me on a Sunday afternoon after a mission festival at her church and she said, “Allan, do you now that everyone who does not believe in Jesus will go to hell?! “  And I said, “Well, yes, Kristi, I know that.” 
I think that she really did too-- but the missionary’s sermon struck her that day in a very profound and personal way as to just exactly what is at stake when it comes to people hearing about Jesus—that if they are to be saved, they must hear of him and believe in him. 
And so I hope to do the same for you here today because, when this connection is made in the people of God, the way they view the church is changed forever.
In our world today there are seven billion people.  Two billion of them identify in some way with Christianity.  Let’s say all of them are Christians (which they are not) but that leaves five billion people who, if they were to die today would be lost forever and go to hell for eternity. 
Men, women and children.  Decent, kind, upright people.  Families and friends no different than your own.  All of them separated from God eternally because they did not hear of and believe in Jesus.
And so then Paul asks those questions that connect every unbelieving person in this world directly to you as a believer:  how can people believe in Jesus if they have never heard of him?  They can’t!  How can people hear of him if no one ever speaks to them about Jesus?  They can’t!  How can someone ever speak about Jesus is there is no church that calls them and commissions them and consecrates them to do so?  They can’t!
With these questions we have gone on a necessary journey that connects the person who has been blessed by God with saving faith in Jesus Christ (that’s you!) to every person in the world who does not have saving faith in Jesus Christ and needs to hear of him before they die and face God’s judgment and everlasting punishment. 
Brother and sisters in Christ, there are people in this world and in our community who will be lost forever unless WE take our part in God’s work by supporting the mission of the church throughout the world and unless we speak about Jesus to those around us. 
And if we are timid and hesitant about speaking up-- and if we say that the church ought to be about some other kind of work and have some other priority--hear the judgment of the living God on those who go about his work of talking about Jesus:  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
You can a lot of things about my feet—beautiful is not one of them.  Especially in the ancient world people’s feet took a beating.  But this most humble part of our body God counts as beautiful as we are about his work in bearing witness to Jesus even when that message is not always well received.  The Bible says:
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
            Here in this verse we come face to face with the great impediment that keeps so many of us from bearing faithful witness to Jesus Christ:  that there are those who will reject our message.  This is not unique to us and it is nothing new—Isaiah experienced it in his day--Paul did too.
But in these same verses is an incredible promise that ought to stir us up and move us on in the Lord’s mission:  faith DOES comes by hearing the word of Christ!  Listen to that again: faith comes by listening to the word of Christ!  Do you understand what a wonderful, powerful promise that is!?  That as the Good News of Jesus is shared, there in that place, in that moment, in that person’s life, the Holy Spirit is at work brining about faith when and where it pleases him.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ!  We can say “amen” to that in our life and we can take our stand on that promise as we witness to others!  Amen.

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