Here’s the sermon I’m preaching Sunday, August 10, 2008, from Romans 10:5-15. I hope you find it helpful. Have a great Lord’s Day!
On Your Lips and In Your Heart
5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Looking for God
Last year, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love, was a national bestseller. In case you missed it, it’s the story of how Elizabeth found really good food in Italy, had an awesome spiritual experience in India, and found love in Bali, Indonesia. Elizabeth was on Oprah, which is always good for selling books, and her book sold hundreds of thousands of copies, which in the book publishing world is a major success.
I think part of the reason for the book’s amazing sales was that it touched themes common to all of us. We all enjoy a good meal, want to be spiritually alive, and are suckers for stories of true love. So, Eat, Pray, Love was a runaway bestseller. Listen to what Elizabeth Gilbert says about her search for contentment –
“I have searched frantically for contentment for so many years in so many ways, and all these acquisitions and accomplishments — they run you down in the end. Life, if you keep chasing it so hard, will drive you to death. Time — when pursued like a bandit — will behave like one; always remaining one country or one room ahead of you, changing its name and hair color to elude you, slipping out the back door of the motel just as you’re banging through the lobby with your newest search warrant….At some point you have to stop because it won’t. You have to admin you can’t catch it. That you’re not supposed to catch it. At some point…you gotta let go and sit still and allow contentment to come to you.” Eat, Pray, Love, p. 155
Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of how she found her contentment both spiritually and emotionally by traveling to Italy, India, and then Indonesia. But, Paul tells us how we can find ours, without traveling at all.
Remember we’re in Romans, and Paul is talking about faith. In chapters 9-11, Paul specifically is talking about his people, the Jews. And, he’s explaining the difference in trying to live by the law and living by faith. Paul says the law of God is a good thing, because the law was meant to bring us to God. But somehow the law has become an end in itself — God’s chosen people have thought that the law was salvation, that living by the law was their ticket to favor with God. Paul thinks they missed the boat. And so in this passage, he talks about how we really find God.
We Don’t Find God Someplace Else
Have you ever traveled a long way for something you really wanted. I must confess that when we lived in Nashville, I would stop at the coffee shop, at least twice a day. There was a little place, Zoe’s Coffee Shop, right around the corner from our little office, and I would make a coffee run about mid-morning, and then about mid-afternoon. Then we moved to Fayetteville, TN 80-miles south of Nashville, and no coffee shop. Withdrawal was hard, gas was cheap and I drove 80-miles to the nearest Starbuck’s one day because I was desperate for a grande soy latte. Which might not mean much to you, but was very important to me at the time. But it gets worse. After a few months here, I drove to Lynchburg to the new Starbucks that had just opened on Wards Road. Sometimes distance makes us want things all the more, but Paul reminds us that we don’t have to go to exotic places looking for God.
Paul’s argument begins here in verses 5 through 7:
5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
Paul is actually quoting from Deuteronomy 30, which reads —
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”
Moses is speaking to the people, laying out God’s expectations for them. God expects them to obey Him, to follow Him, to love Him. In return, God will bless them. If they don’t obey, follow, and love God, they will not be blessed. As a matter of fact, in Deuteronomy 28-29, Moses predicts that the nation will not obey, follow, and love God, and will not always dwell in the land of promise, but will go into exile until they return to God.
So, Deuteronomy 30 is a reminder that obeying, following, and loving God is not beyond our reach. We don’t have to go to heaven to get the instructions, we don’t have to cross the ocean in search of God’s plan. Now, when Paul quotes this passage, he changes it a little. Paul says we don’t have to go to heaven to bring the Messiah down, nor do we have to go to hell to bring the Messiah up. So, he makes the illustration, the reference to Deuteronomy 30 fit his argument. Every devout Jew knew Deuteronomy 30 — the promise that God was near. Paul says this promise is found in the Messiah who became the law and satisfied the law. All very complicated and a little boring to us, but very important for devout Jews who wanted to live by God’s law.
The bottom line — You don’t need to look for God in some far off, remote, impossible to access place. God is here — the word is near you, on your lips and in your heart, Paul says.
We Are Wired For God
Paul says, “the word is near, on your lips and in your heart.” I like that phrase. Our ability to find God is right here. Not in Italy, India, or Indonesia, but right here. As a matter of fact, we are wired for God. Rick Warren calls it our purpose in his book, The Purpose-Driven Life. We are made to be tuned in to God. To get what God is saying to us.
Next year, 2009, broadcast TV will change from analog to digital. What that means is the TV you have now, unless it is high-definition ready, will not be able to receive the signal from the TV station. Now, there are various ways around that — you can get a converter box, or you can subscribe to cable TV. But, without doing something, you won’t be able to watch television. (Which actually is not such a bad thing. We’re into almost 1-year without TV, and we’re surviving quite well, thank you. But, that’s not my point.) My point is, the new TVs will be hardwired — designed intentionally — to pick up the new digital signal from the broadcasters. We’re like that — designed, hardwired — to tune into God.
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man and only God can fill it.” When our granddaughters were here this summer, Vivian brought a 150-piece puzzle to work. It was some Disney princess — Ariel, I think — and lots of seaweed, bright colors, and sea creatures. So, she asked me to help her work the puzzle, and we set in. The thing about puzzles is, their puzzling. Even to grandfathers. So, I was relying heavily on the picture on the box, but still things didn’t seem to fit together. Until we found a key piece that unlocked the mystery to almost half the puzzle. Once we had that piece in the only place it would fit, everything else came together. Paul says, “God has given you the key piece of the puzzle. It’s on your lips and in your heart. Now use it.”
Say the Secret Word, Win $100
Speaking of TV, when I was a kid, Groucho Marx hosted a game show on TV called, “You Bet Your Life.” Now, I didn’t know who Groucho Marx was — I was really young — and I thought the show was kind of boring. Later I would develop an appreciation for the movies of The Marx Brothers, but as a 6-year old, I wasn’t that impressed. But, I do remember one part of the show. There was a secret word each episode. And Groucho would usually remind the contestants, “Say the secret word, win $100.” A hundred dollars was a lot more money then, than now. And, when a contestant inadvertently said “the secret word,” a bird with a cigar (or was that Groucho with the cigar?) would drop down on a wire, with the $100 in its beak. TV was a lot slower then. But you get the idea.
Paul says there is a “kind-of-secret-word” that’s on our lips — “Jesus is Lord.” And that by saying, “Jesus is Lord” we are saying the word that brings us into a new relationship with God. And remember, he’s talking about the Jews specifically, but it also applies to non-Jews he says later.
“Jesus is Lord” means to us that Jesus is God, that Jesus is the ruler of our lives, that Jesus is our savior. But, in Paul’s first century world, to say “Jesus is Lord” carried serious significance. Paul, a Jew, is a Roman citizen. He is writing to Christians in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. Caesar is head of the empire, and the appellation given to the emperor, and required of Roman citizens at least once a year was the tribute, “Caesar is lord.” Meaning that Caesar was the supreme authority, the head of everything there was, the ultimate ruler, the giver and taker of life, the supreme political personality, the source of prosperity, the author of justice, and the deliverer of retribution. Caesar was all. And, Romans knew it well. Time is too short to discuss the intrigue of the Roman system, the attempted coups to displace emperors and the revenge of an emperor over his enemies when those plots failed.
So, to say, “Jesus is Lord” meant that Caesar was not. To say “Jesus is Lord” meant that there was a higher power, a supreme ruler, one above the emperor, an absolute Lord who demanded total allegiance from those who followed him.
And, this confession was made possible by what the confessor believed — “That God had raised Jesus from the dead.” Not that Jesus had died on the cross. There were witnesses to that event, as important as it was. But that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Why?
Because in the resurrection, God vindicated Jesus. The Romans threw at Jesus the worst they had — death by crucifixion — and seemed to be victorious. They killed Jesus, took his body down off the cross, laid it in a tomb, and sealed it with the seal of the full authority of the Roman Empire.
But God wasn’t finished. God raised Jesus from the dead. God brought Jesus back through the dark door of death which had previously been a one-way door. Now death is vanquished. Life is victorious. And Life, God’s life-giving power, life in the resurrection is the indication that the Kingdom of God has come. That Jesus is really God’s son, that God has broken into history to make all things new.
In Deuteronomy 30, Moses says –
Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
So, that word “Jesus is Lord” that is on your lips, comes from your heart. The Jews thought that physical circumcision was the mark that distinguished them as God’s people. But, even Moses says to them, “God will circumcise your hearts” — God will change your heart and that will be the sign that you are God’s people.
The Divine Surprise
Then, Paul asks a very famous question?
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
About right now you are expecting me to break into a rousing chorus of “So Send I You” or “Who is on the Lord’s Side?” or any of a number of hymns that challenge us to go and tell, or send missionaries to go and tell the gospel story. And that’s what I had always thought Paul was saying here. “Let’s send some missionaries to the Jews!” Or anyone else who has not heard the gospel. And, the lectionary framers were also convinced that this is what Paul had in mind, because the revised common lectionary reading stops right here. End of story. Send the Light! Spread the word! Send some preachers!
But, remember Paul is talking about the Jews first. Here’s what he says in verse 18, as he answers his own question –
But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”[i] 19Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,
“I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”[j] 20And Isaiah boldly says,
“I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”
Kind of changes things, doesn’t it? “Did they not hear?” Paul asks. To which he answers, “Yes, of course.” And then he says two things — the Jews and heard, and even those who did not seek God, God revealed himself to them, too.
Isn’t that amazing? The Jews have heard. And, to make things even better, God has also revealed himself to others who were not even seeking him. In other words, the Gentiles.
So, what does all this mean? Here it is, in the Reader’s Digest condensed version –
- God is really close by.
- God has given mankind the capacity to recognize and follow him. Jesus is Lord, because God raised him from the dead.
- God has put the word out. To the Jews first, but also to those who aren’t even seeking him. God is far more eager for us to know Him than we can imagine.
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to tell, to go, to send missionaries, and all of that. But, it means that God is the first missionary. God sent Jesus — God in the flesh — because God was so eager for us to know Him. God sent Jesus to the people God made, the people in whose heart a puzzle piece was missing. God sent Jesus to fill that empty spot in our hearts, to follow with our lives, to love with our being.
So, we don’t have to go to Italy, or India, or Indonesia to find God. He is here, showing himself to us, in a thousand ways, calling all persons to himself. And for what? Paul says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
We think that means going to heaven when we die, and it does. But that’s only part of it. “Salvation” — soter in Greek — meant to be saved from danger, but it also means to be made whole, to be made well, to be restored to health, to be what we are supposed to be. To be saved is to be healed, to be made whole, to be made our true selves — persons made in the image of God, who one day will be with Him in glory.
Brian Jones tells a remarkable story in his book, Getting Rid of the Gorilla. In his short story, “The Capital of the World,” Ernest Hemingway describes this event. Hemingway wrote —
“Madrid is full of boys named Paco, which is the diminutive of the name Francisco, and…a father…came to Madrid and inserted an advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal which said: “Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday. All is forgiven. Papa.” So many young men went out to greet their fathers, eight hundred in all, that an entire police squadron had to be deployed to restore civil order.” — Getting Rid of the Gorilla, p.201
That is the God we owe our lives to. The one who constantly seeks us out. Who reveals himself to us. Who longs to forgive his people and make them whole again.
The journey is not a journey to find God. The journey we are on is a journey with God. And He’s waiting for us not in Italy, or India, or in Indonesia, but right here in Chatham. Waiting for us to speak that word that is on our lips and in our hearts — “Jesus is Lord.”