Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, September 21, 2018
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The Journey of Faith

Romans 10:5-15

 A couple months back, I had a chance to see a movie called, Kingdom of Heaven.  Not really a “family-friendly,” but interesting.  The movie is set during the time of the Crusades of the 12th century, when many European Christians thought it was their duty to go and free the Holy Land from the Muslims.  The hero is a blacksmith from France who joins the Crusade after he murders his brother in a fit of rage.  He is told that a person can “find forgiveness” in Jerusalem, so he goes seeking it, seeking “salvation.”

 That is a very popular idea throughout history and in most or even all religions, the idea of a pilgrimage, a journey to seek out God’s favor.  But is it correct?  Is God’s favor found by means of some kind of pilgrimage or quest or journey?  

 “Moses wrote that the Law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all its commands.”  The most common understanding of salvation in the time of Paul among the Hebrew people is that a person was saved through perfect obedience to the Law.  As Leviticus 18:5 said, “If you obey my laws, you will find life through them.  I am the Lord.”  

 Now we should not miss that the Old Testament very much does speak of God’s grace and having faith in God.  These things are not “New Testament innovations.”  But for the most part, 1st century Hebrews understood salvation primarily in terms of obedience.  

 The problem is sin.  We all have sin, a weakness of the human spirit, a tendency to do evil.  If somehow, we could keep the Law perfectly, then I guess we would have life and salvation through the Law.  The problem is that none of us can do it.  Any effort to live in perfect obedience to the Law will result in one of two things:  Either we will become hopelessly frustrated by our inability to do what God desires every minute of every day in every situation, or we will deceive ourselves into thinking we can do it, and become filled with pride.  

 Fortunately, neither of these is necessary.  The way to being right with God is through faith, not achievement.  We don’t need to go up to heaven to find Jesus and bring him down to help us.  Nor do we need to go down into the abyss to raise him from the dead.  Paul is quoting, loosely, from Deuteronomy chapter 30.  In the original context, Deuteronomy 30 referred to the events of the Exodus from Egypt.  It was not necessary to go up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Law again.  God had already given it.  Nor

was it necessary to go down into the depths of the Red Sea to be delivered from slavery in Egypt again.  God had already done that too. 

 Here Paul applies that same language to Christ.  It’s not necessary for us to make a pilgrimage into heaven, to find Jesus, to bring him down to help us.  God has already sent him to us.  Nor is it necessary for us to do down into Hades, the place of the dead, to find Jesus and raise him up from the dead.  God has already done that, too.  The point is this:  It is not necessary for us to do what God has already done.  

 Salvation comes not from some great quest, not from some pilgrimage to a “sacred place” in the hope of finding grace and forgiveness there.  Salvation comes from trusting what God has already done in Jesus Christ.  And this message is already close at hand.  It is already on your lips, already in your heart.  Again, Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 30, where the lips and the heart are the places where the message can be found.  

 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Let’s look carefully at that statement, because it is about as important a summary of the gospel as we will find in Scripture.  I want you to see that there are two key parts of the message and two ways that the message is expressed.  

 First, what is the content of the Christian faith?  What do we believe?  

 First, we confess Jesus is Lord.  Usually, we make this a very subjective, personal statement.  We ask people, “Is Jesus your Lord and Savior?”  That’s not wrong, but it is an incomplete way of looking at this statement.  

 When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we are first and foremost making an objective statement about who Jesus is, not a subjective statement about what we think of him.  This was the first creedal statement of the Church.  Long before there was an Apostle’s Creed or a Nicene Creed, when Christians wanted to say what they believed, they said, “Jesus is Lord.”

 The Greek word “lord” was KURIOS.  It was often used as a term of respect, like master or sir.  It was used by the Greeks when they spoke of their gods.  And likewise, the Jewish people used it when they spoke of God.  The Hebrew people for centuries made a habit of not saying God’s covenant name, which we understand to be YAHWEH. 

They were afraid of “using it in vain,” so they didn’t use it at all.  When they read the Scriptures and came across God’s name, they would say, in Hebrew, ADONAI, or in Greek, KURIOS, both of which mean “Lord.”  So when we say Jesus is Lord, we don’t just mean, “He’s my Lord.” We mean “He’s the Lord; he is the covenant God of the Bible.”  

 This is what makes us unique in our understanding of Jesus.  A lot of people think nice things about Jesus:  He was a good man, a teacher, a prophet, a good example to follow.  But he was more than just those things:  He is the eternal God.

 Second, we believe God raised him from the dead.  

 The resurrection is Jesus’ victory over the power of sin and death.  If there is no resurrection, Jesus can’t be Lord.  After all, how can he be God if he’s dead?  And without the resurrection, how can we have any reason to hope that he has defeated death for us?  And if he’s dead, how can we follow him?  It’s hard to follow a dead man, let alone have a meaningful relationship with him.  

 So these are the essential facts of the Christian faith, the two truths we cling to.

Second, there are two ways we express our faith:  First, in our hearts, that is internally.  And second, with our lips, externally, to the world.

 The first one is obvious, hopefully.  Of course we believe in Jesus in our hearts.  The challenge is the second one.  Are we open and honest and forthright about our trust in Jesus Christ?  Is our faith a part of who we are, or do we just try to “keep it to ourselves?”  Our world says, “Fine, go ahead, believe whatever you want!  Just keep it to yourself.”  But Jesus said, “If you are ashamed of me and my words in this generation, I will be ashamed of you when I return.” 

 Next, we see that there are also two results of our faith.  By faith we are made right with God.  We call this justification, the removal of the guilt of our sins.  And second, by faith we are saved.  

 What does it mean to be saved?  Well, first, what are we saved from?  We have two great enemies:  Sin, that weakness and tendency to do evil.  And second, death.  We are saved from them.  Our salvation from sin is not just that its guilt is removed, but also that we are set free from the power of sin.  We are transformed by God’s grace to become something better, the image of God. And second, we are saved from death.  We are given eternal life.

 This way of faith makes God’s gift of salvation available to all, both Jew and Gentile, as Paul says.  “Anyone who calls on him will not be disappointed.”  Now we should understand that this is in reference to our salvation.  It doesn’t mean that we’ll never be disappointed about anything!  But in terms of our salvation, we have boldness and confidence before God, not fear or doubt or wondering.

 But how can people call on Jesus unless they believe in him?  And how can they believe in him if they don’t know about him?  And how can they know about him if they don’t hear about him?  And how can they hear about him unless someone is sent to them?

 The gospel can only be available to everyone if they have a chance to hear the message.  There’s no such thing as “good news” without people to tell it.  

 So we are a sent people.  The word “sent” requires a sender.  There must be some authority that sends us to speak.  We are sent by Jesus, who in turn was sent by the Father.  And if you belong to Jesus, you too are sent. 

 We are sent into the world, wherever that might be for us.  You are sent home to your own family as a messenger of good news.  You are sent into your school or workplace as a messenger of good news.  You are sent into your neighborhood as a messenger of good news.  You are sent into the organizations you belong to as a messenger of good news.  Wherever you go, God has sent you there to speak about his love and his desire to see peace between himself and his creation and between human beings.  

 There is a great quest, a great journey we’re on.  But it’s not a journey to find Jesus.  It’s a journey to walk with Jesus.  That is our pilgrimage, our quest, our journey:  Walking with and faithfully serving Jesus!

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