February 18, 2018
NO EXCUSES AND THE GREAT NEED TO PREACH THE GOSPEL
(30 of 44 in a series through Romans)
It can be hard for us to see things from someone else’s perspective, especially if we’re far removed from it. For example, I hurt my back earlier in the week, and at my height, nearly every task in the world, causes me to have to reach down and strain my back. So, for the life of me, I can’t imagine why someone would complain about being 5’9”. I feel like the world was made for you. But, I’m probably missing something, not seeing things from the perspective of everyone who is 5’9”. It’s been a while.
That difficulty of seeing things from someone else’s perspective may well come into play as we continue to work our way through this section of Romans (chs. 9-11). After all, we may think, what’s the big deal about a number of Gentiles believing the gospel that Paul preached and a relatively small number of Jews believing that same gospel? One group believed, another largely didn’t—so what? Again, what’s the big deal? Why would this be such an obstacle or objection that Paul feels like he must address, giving a huge chunk of this important letter to working out this point from all kinds of angles.
Well, it may be helpful for us just to step back for a second and try to orient ourselves a bit to why Israel’s great unbelief could be seen as such a serious objection to the gospel. In Exodus 12, for example, the Lord not only instituted the Passover—delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage and sparing their firstborn sons—but he also made clear that as Israel annually celebrated this meal, no foreigner could eat of it, no one who was uncircumcised could sit at the table with them for this meal. And now Paul is preaching a gospel that says neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters. Or again, think about the Lord’s words to the Israelites right before bringing them into the Promised Land. He names a number of Gentile nations, and he tells Israel to wipe them out. Then, he forbids them to intermarry with these pagan Gentiles, lest their turn Israel toward idolatry. And finally he says to Israel, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the people who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6). And then, Paul starts saying that the promised Messiah has arrived. It’s Jesus of Nazareth, who died a hideous death on the cross and rose from the dead, that we merely need to place our faith in him, and that all (from whatever people or nation) who call on his name will be saved.
And what happens as that gospel message is proclaimed? Well, a number of Gentiles—who may well have not given a previous second’s thought to God or his law or being righteous before him—have come to faith and salvation, while most Israelites have rejected Paul’s gospel, denied that Jesus is the Messiah, and are not saved, facing God’s eternal wrath. Do you see, then, why by a large, Jews would reject to Paul’s gospel and his claims?
It would be like someone coming along and saying, “Here’s a key biblical truth we all need to understand,” and most every respected believer you know rejects it while a number of pagans accept it. Would the rejection of this teaching by most respected Christians and acceptance of it by a bunch of pagans make you more likely to reject that teaching outright? Of course it would. Well, that’s how the Israelites are thinking about Paul’s gospel.
If Paul is right, surely more people among God’s “treasured possession” would accept it, and those accepting it wouldn’t be this mass of people from ignorant foolish nations. Do you see? Therefore, as Paul sought to evangelize Jews, one of their objections would no doubt be, “Paul, if this message you preach is true and is of God, then why don’t more of us believe it?” and so their unbelief would continue. This is why Paul spends such a great amount of time explaining how his gospel message squares with the OT, with great unbelief among the Jews, and with a great influx of Gentiles into the kingdom. This reality of Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance must be explained.
So, once more Paul dives into the topic of explaining why Israel, by and large, has remained in unbelief, if the gospel Paul preaches really is of God. And I want us, this morning, to see this additional element to the answer he has been unfolding over the last number of verses. He first starts with this very basic note:
There are a number of elements that must be present for someone to be saved
After noting in verse 13 that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, Paul picks up with that note in our section by asking a series of questions. He writes, “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? As it is written ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (vv. 14-15).
Paul asks these questions in order to reveal to us this chain of connected elements that must be present for someone to be saved. Having just noted that all who call upon the Lord will be saved, he notes that in order to call upon the Lord one must of course believe in him, but in order to believe, you must hear, and in order to hear you must have someone preach to you, and in order to go preach one must be sent. Then, he notes that the Lord spoke of this and indeed sent people to go preach the good news, even back in Isaiah’s day.
Therefore, what we can say is that the means that the Lord uses to bring people to saving faith is our preaching of the gospel so that they hear and believe, as Paul notes in v. 17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Now, let me say a quick word about this before moving on. Hearing and believing the gospel from someone preaching (i.e. speaking) the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is the only means the Bible gives for someone being saved. In other words, the Bible gives us no indication that anyone can be saved without someone going to that person and preaching the gospel to them so that they hear and believe.
But, someone could ask, what about dreams or Jesus just appearing to someone? My answer is that I’m not going to tell anyone that Jesus appearing to them isn’t enough. Far be it from me to say that absolutely cannot happen. If Jesus comes to you and preaches to you, good for you. I’m simply going to say that the Bible gives us no indication that the Lord works that way. You could point to Paul’s experience, but he himself sees that as so exceptional, that he’s the one writing that people cannot be saved without having someone go to them and preach the gospel. He’s the one telling us right here in these verses that the only way someone can be saved is by believing, the only way they can believe is if they hear the gospel, the only way they can hear the gospel is if someone goes and preaches to them because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (v. 17). Therefore, we can say that the elements that must be present for someone to be saved is someone speaking the gospel—the good news that Jesus lived, died, and was raised—and the hearer believing the gospel and looking to the Lord for salvation.
So, after having laid out that general reality, let’s ask what then specifically went wrong with Israel? Was it that they haven’t heard? No, Paul answers:
Israel has heard the gospel of Christ, but their problem is that they didn’t believe
After noting the elements necessary for being saved, Paul notes that Israel—by and large—hasn’t believed. Paul says, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?’” (v. 16). But, wait a second, we could ask, “If one must first hear before that person believes, then maybe their problem is that they didn’t hear?” Paul answers in verse 18, ‘But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” So, Paul’s claim is that the great number of Israelites who have not believed the gospel cannot claim they’ve not heard it, for they have.
But let’s stop for a second and look at Paul’s claim a little more closely. That verse he’s quoting in verse 18 is Psalm 19:4. And if you read Psalm 19:4, you can see that the psalmist is noting that God has revealed himself in nature so that all of nature proclaims God’s majesty. There’s nowhere you can get away from it. Indeed, all the earth hears the “voice,” if you will, of the sky, earth, and sea, proclaiming God’s glory. Paul had even brought up this point in Romans 1.
The problem, however, is that Paul has already made clear that the testimony of nature isn’t enough for anyone to be saved. To be saved, we need to hear the verbal proclamation of the gospel of Christ. And if Paul is making the point that the Israelites—by and large—have heard the verbal message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, then why is he supporting that claim by referencing Psalm 19:4, which is simply talking about the general revelation of God that comes in nature?
Well, I think he’s simply using an analogy, in essence, saying that the gospel has spread (and is spreading) just like general revelation has, namely, all over the earth. The gospel has gone and is going everywhere. And if it’s true that all of these Gentile nations and peoples all over the world had heard the gospel—even in Paul’s day—then it’s most certainly true that the Jews had heard it as well. After all, the very first people the apostles and early church targeted in their preaching of the gospel was the Jews.
Thus, Paul’s point is that the unbelieving Jews cannot blame their lack of salvation on the fact that no one preached to them or that they did not hear the gospel. The only element necessary for salvation that was lacking was their response of faith. They simply didn’t believe the gospel message that was preached to them. As Paul notes in verse 16, “They have not all obeyed the gospel.” But why? Why didn’t a majority of Israel believe? Why does anyone respond to the gospel with unbelief? Here’s the answer:
Unbelief is rooted in unwillingness to bow the knee to what God has revealed
Now, Paul is going to show this specifically with regard to Israel in the text, but it is simply true of all unbelief. Unbelief is rooted in a rebellious unwillingness to bow the knee to what God has revealed to us in his Word. Unbelief isn’t rooted in ignorance, for all men—even through nature—know that God exists, and even then they fail to honor him as God and give thanks to him (Rom 1). Unbelief is rooted in a rebellious unwillingness to bow the knee to what God has revealed.
Paul shows this clearly in reference to Israel. But before we look at what Paul argues, let’s orient ourselves a bit. One objection that the unbelieving Jew would have against Paul’s gospel is that a bunch of Gentiles believe it and most Jews reject it. And if in the OT the Jews were the ones God revealed himself to and made promises to and the Gentiles were largely a pagan group under God’s judgment, then isn’t Paul’s gospel clearly false if most Jews reject it and a bunch of Gentiles accept it? Isn’t that out of step with what we see in the OT Scriptures?
Paul’s answer is actually to show from the OT itself that this response is what God foretold would happen. And Israel, as they read or head read the OT, should have understood this would happen. Paul writes, “But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry. Then [Paul notes] Isaiah is so bold as to say, I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me” (vv. 19-21).
In other words, if you missed that a bunch of pagan Gentiles would come to know the Lord in a saving way, then you just ignored your OT. Moses and Isaiah both prophesy that Gentiles would believe. In fact, one purpose of God saving Gentiles is to make Israel jealous (which Paul will talk more about in the next chapter). Meanwhile, concerning Israel, Paul notes that Isaiah also says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (v. 21).
In other words, when you see a majority of Israelites rejecting Paul’s gospel and a large number of Gentiles believing this gospel, you could well say, “This is completely out of step with the OT.” But if you’re going to say such a thing, then you either haven’t read your OT or you’re simply refusing to believe what it says.
And I think that Paul wants us to see that Israel’s unbelief is rooted in a refusal to believe God’s words. The reason I think so is because he knows that the Israelites were familiar with the OT Scriptures. It’s not as if they would respond to Paul’s quoting of Deuteronomy and Isaiah and say, “Paul, I never got around to reading that. I’ve been largely ignorant of what the OT says.” Their problem wasn’t ignorance of this teaching in the OT. Their problem was that they refused to believe it.
One text that confirms this comes in an interesting section in the last chapter of Luke’s gospel. Jesus has been raised from the dead when, all of the sudden, he appears to these two guys who were on the road walking to a village named Emmaus, but they’re kept from recognizing that it’s the resurrected Jesus walking alongside of them. And they’re downcast because they had though that Jesus was the one, they knew he had been crucified, had gotten word of the resurrection, but still didn’t believe. And interestingly, Jesus answers their sadness by saying, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26).
In other words, Jesus’ response wasn’t to say, “Oh, I see how you could’ve missed these things in the OT. It really is unclear that the Messiah would suffer, die, and be raised.” His response is to say that they’re slow of heart to believe. In other words, they knew the OT Scripture, they just weren’t willing to believe what the Scripture says. It was their unwillingness to believe that blinded them to the clear teaching of the text.
This is the root problem for all of those who do not believe the gospel. The problem isn’t that they haven’t heard it exactly right, need more philosophical explanation for how Jesus can have a divine nature and a human nature (for example), or need you or me to use better argumentation. The problem is that they simply refuse to believe what God has revealed.
That’s exactly what the unbelieving Israelites are doing. In fact, the very objection they’re throwing out against the gospel and Christ being the Messiah—that most Jews don’t believe it and a bunch of Gentiles do—Paul is showing us was prophesied, predicted, and promised right in the pages of the OT. And it wasn’t even just in one place. Moses wrote about it and so did Isaiah. So, what’s the problem? The problem is an unwillingness to bow the knee to what God has revealed. That’s why the Jews weren’t being saved—again, by and large—in Paul’s day or today. And it’s the same for every unbeliever. Thus, Israel’s great unbelief does nothing to discredit the truthfulness of the gospel Paul preached; it actually illustrates the truthfulness of the gospel.
But I don’t want to stop there. I want to bring up one more point:
The gospel message is powerful to overcome our moral rebellion
In other words, the note that all unsaved people (including Israelites) have their unbelief rooted in a rebellious unwillingness to bow the knee to what God has revealed to us in the Bible isn’t the last word. If it were, we as a church should just keep to ourselves and maybe even try to pull away from those who don’t know Christ. But it’s not the last word.
Remember where Paul began this letter to the Romans? He noted in 1:15 that he was eager to preach the gospel to everyone in Rome. Why? Why was he so eager to preach the message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to all those in Rome? He answers: “For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16).
I’ve said already that what keeps someone from being saved isn’t that you or I need better argumentation. Their unbelief is rooted in moral rebellion against God. What’s our hope then? Our hope is the gospel, for the gospel is not just a message. It’s a message that brings with it the very power of God. The gospel message is empowered by the Holy Spirit, as we speak it to people, to break through their rebellious, hardened, dead hearts and create life. Have you seen one of those scenes on television where it looks like someone has died and those around them are performing CPR or using a defibrillator when all of the sudden the person opens his eyes and takes in a huge gasp of air? That’s what the gospel does. Someone who is dead in his sins, loves darkness, hates the light, and is full of unbelief, all of the sudden, in an instant, has life. The person now believes, sees Christ as the answer, and begins to love the light. And that only happens through the power of the gospel being preached. That life-giving power only comes to people as they hear the gospel proclaimed.
So, yes, Paul is removing the objection an unbelieving Jew might have to his gospel in Romans 10:14-21. But the key thing Paul did was that he kept preaching the gospel—to Jews and Gentiles. That’s why he begins this letter to the Romans as he does. And my desire and prayer for us as a church is that we’d be so gripped by the power and glory of the gospel that we’d become intentional about making sure we’re proclaiming this message of good news to unbelievers this year. In fact, let me charge us but in a very conservative way. If this year, each of us only spoke the gospel to one unbeliever every three months, then we would speak the gospel to four unbelievers this year. But since there are a little over 300 of us, that’s 1,200 people who will hear the gospel. And let’s say that only five percent of those responded in faith. Then, that would be sixty people who have moved from death to life. That would be sixty people that we could baptize and let them start gathering with brothers and sisters in Christ every Sunday—as believers have done since Jesus rose from the dead—and be loved, cared for, taught, encouraged, challenged, strengthened, and taught to obey all that Christ commands.
Then, imagine that we become even more gripped for people outside our geographical setting to hear this and know life in a healthy local church more, and we could send out some each year because we are gripped with that vision people knowing life and experiencing that life in a healthy church. And we equip, send out, sacrificially give, and support these people, and that happens again and again and again, growing exponentially. Beloved, that is our mission, and that is something that I want to pour my life into and encourage you to throw your life into as well. And all of that is a possibility because the gospel that has come to us is not only true, is not only a fulfillment of all the OT promised, is not only pointing us to everything that God has done to save us, but is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Gentile. Let us then give thanks for this gospel and commit ourselves anew to spreading that message as we come to the table. Amen.