Seventeenth Sunday of Pentecost,

Series on Romans:

All Who Call


Scripture reading: Romans 10:1-13.

Sermon text: Romans 10:14-21.

You can consider this sermon, “Part 2 of 3 from Romans chapters 9-11.”

When the United States split in 1861, thousands of Americans faced a terrible choice: Which nation would they support? Many American military officers found themselves torn between their oaths to the Constitution of the United States and their loyalty to their native states. Many of those officers, such as Robert E. Lee, resigned their commissions in the U.S. Army to serve in the armies of their native states.

In the time of St. Paul, many Jews found themselves in a similar situation. The Jews had spent generations trying to live by the Law of Moses while awaiting the arrival of their Anointed One, the Messiah, who would restore the nation’s fortunes and lead Israel to dominance over the Gentile nations. The Jews didn’t understand what the Messiah’s coming would really mean, and when He came, their misunderstanding led them to crucify Him instead. The Jews didn’t understand that Jesus hadn’t come to defeat the Gentiles; He had come to fulfill the covenant and begin the restoration of the world under His righteous rule.

After the day of Pentecost in A.D. 33, the Church began preaching that Jesus had defeated sin and death in His resurrection. Many Jews believed in Jesus and became members of the Church. However, many Jews — including St. Paul himself — rejected the Christian message and chose to continue their attempts to live by the Mosaic Law. St. Paul always remembered his own intransigence; even after his conversion to Christianity, he recalled his encounter with Jesus as an act of grace, God’s unmerited favor. While St. Paul converted to Christianity, many Jews retained their loyalty to the law.

St. Paul reminded the Roman Christians in chapter 10 of his desire for the Jews’ salvation: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” Even as he carried the gospel to the Gentiles, St. Paul always began his ministry in the Jewish synagogues on the cities he visited. St. Paul turned to the Gentiles only after preaching the gospel to the Jews first.

What kept the Jews from recognizing Jesus as their Messiah? St. Paul said, “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” The Jews zealously guarded their national identity as part of the Law, believing that only through keeping the Law would they retain their special status before God. St. Paul said instead, “Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” This alone condemned the Jews, because they knew no one could keep the Law completely. Their zealous — almost obsessive — attempts to follow the Law brought no special favors from God.

We may know people who really try to live right, who try to convince God their lifestyles put Him into their debt. Unfortunately, zeal alone does not accomplish salvation, or freedom from sin; the “knowledge” of Jesus’ death and resurrection must lead one to accept His righteousness, His fulfillment of the Law.

St. Paul made a startling accusation against the Jews: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” The Jews may have possessed the Law for centuries, but they failed to see God’s righteousness in the Law. God had faithfully kept His part of the covenant He instituted on Mt. Sinai in c. 1446 B.C., protecting the nation and giving them nearly countless chances to repent of their own transgressions against that Law.

If living by the works of the Law couldn’t save anyone from the penalties of sin, what could? St. Paul told the Romans: “The righteousness based on faith.” Only by faith in God would anyone receive salvation. This salvation would not say, “Who will ascend into heaven?” in an attempt to bring someone back from the death. Nor would it say, “Who will descend into the abyss?” Many pagan religions (including those of the Greeks and Romans) claimed that gods and demigods often traveled to the underworld in an attempt to save someone from death.

No, St. Paul said; no one would have to make a supernatural journey for the righteousness God required. Instead, “‘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.” If you want deliverance from death — if you want salvation from sin — God requires no more than your confession of Jesus as Lord.

This requires an explanation for modern Americans. We think of confession as something we say, not as something that always requires commitment. When St. Paul mentioned “confession,” the Romans understood his intent. To confess someone as “lord” in the ancient world meant to accept that person as ruler over the confessor. Every Roman subject was required legally to attend an annual ceremony at the temples dedicated to the Roman emperors. The ceremony at the temple required the attendee to put a pinch of incense on an altar and say, “Caesar is lord.”

This ceremony posed a quandary for Christians similar to that I mentioned at the split of America. No Christian could confess Caesar as lord of their lives when they had confessed Jesus as Lord of their lives. Countless Christians accepted execution by the Roman government rather than put a pinch of incense on the altar and say, “Caesar is lord.” This state of affairs lasted until Constantine legalized Christianity in A.D. 313.

Confession of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection would bring salvation. How does this work? St. Paul told the Romans, “With the heart one believes and is justified;” when we believe in our hearts, we receive the reassurance God will declare us innocent in the judgment. “With the mouth one confesses and is saved;” we must confess to others what we believe. Otherwise, we cannot receive admission into the Church, for only with confession of our salvation can we receive Christian Baptism, the sacrament that signifies God’s gracious forgiveness of our sins and our inclusion into the Body of Christ, the Church.

Some may say, “I want to believe in Jesus, but I don’t want to tell anyone. I don’t want someone to persecute me or make fun of me.” St. Paul said, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” God will insure those who confess Jesus as Lord will receive great rewards that more than compensate for whatever persecution we face in this world.

This promise comes to everyone who believes, “Jew and Greek.” Every believer in Jesus will receive “his riches:” Eternal life, joy, and peace with God.

Now comes a Scriptural passage that ties directly into last week’s sermon: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In quoting this verse from the prophet Joel (2:32), St. Paul reinforced his teachings on the mercy of God, that everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord will receive forgiveness and salvation.

How will people confess Jesus as Lord? First, they must hear the gospel, that Jesus has brought forgiveness of sins with His sacrificial death and victory over death with His resurrection. Unfortunately, there’s no other way for anyone to believe the gospel without hearing it. “How are they to 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? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

This passage applies to more than those of us called an ordained into Christian ministry, although St. Paul certainly believed that preaching played a crucial, irreplaceable role in the Church. (See 1 Corinthians 1 for more proof.) Every unbeliever in your life lives without the hope of salvation unless they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not everyone who hears will believe; “they have not all obeyed the gospel.” Most Jews didn’t obey, but the Old Testament prophets experienced the same rejection. “Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’” The Jews had rejected the covenant and God’s messengers who urged them to return to it, and they rejected those who carried the gospel to them as well. Still, for those who will believe, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The word of Jesus brings eternal life to everyone who believes.

This brought immense comfort to the Gentile believers in Rome, because they recognized themselves in the quote from Isaiah: “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” The Gentiles had never looked for the God of Israel, but in His mercy, God turned Jesus’ crucifixion by the Jews into an opportunity for Gentiles to receive the salvation rejected by the Jews. Israel may have rejected God’s mercy (“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people”), but the Roman congregations were evidence of the Gentiles’ reception to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What lessons do we see in this chapter for us today?

For one thing, we see again St. Paul’s clear teachings about grace versus works in salvation. No one can do enough good works for salvation, no matter how zealous the performance of the actions. Instead, salvation — victory over sin and death — comes only through confession of Jesus as Lord and belief in His resurrection.

When we confess Jesus as Lord, we receive His victory over sin and death in our lives. We receive membership in the Church, the Body of Christ who teaches us how to live according to the Scripture and encourages us in our daily Christian living. However, we must remember that confessing Jesus as Lord means that He alone receives our allegiance in life. When Jesus calls us, all other allegiances must recede in the face of that calling.

We also see that we have a responsibility to tell other people of the gospel of Jesus, of His death and resurrection and the victory He achieved for humanity. Yes, we must live righteous lives, but the point will come that the person who needs Jesus’ victory will need to hear the gospel. Don’t worry about what you’ll say; instead, rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you in your witness.

We should also remember that not everyone who hears the gospel will accept it upon first hearing. Some people may never accept it. That doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to demonstrate the gospel in our lives and tell everyone who asks about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Romans 10 opens with St. Paul’s great desire: That all Jews would be “saved” through Jesus’ death and resurrection. As we study this passage today, we should remember the time before our own conversion, when we knew God was calling us by His grace, and praise Him for our salvation. We should also think of those we know who need to hear of Jesus’ victory. Everyone who hears the words of Romans 10 has an opportunity to confess Jesus as Lord and begin living the joyous life God created you to live.