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Sermon for August 13, 2023 – Proper 14

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5038 | Remembering Salvation
Greg Williams

Have you ever had your memory save you?

For example, you find yourself locked out of your house and after hours of trying to find a way in you finally remember that you left a spare key hidden in the flower bed. Or, you have a flash of panic in the security line at the airport when you discover that your wallet is not in your back pocket. But then you recall that you chose to pack it in your carry-on for safekeeping. Or perhaps you wake up fearing you have overslept because you forgot to set your alarm only to have your wife or husband remind you that it’s a holiday.

You may never have found yourself in one of these exact scenarios, however, I imagine you have had similar experiences where your memory bailed you out of a tense situation. Of course, we realize it wasn’t really our memory that saved us, rather it was that hidden key, misplaced wallet, or forgotten holiday that amounted to our rescue. But what an important role our memory played. What we needed most in those moments we already had, but when forgotten, we were left in fear, anxiety, and panic.

I think it is safe to say that this is very similar to our lives of faith. We have been saved by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That’s a fact that cannot be taken away. He is everything we need, and we never need to fear that he leaves or forsakes us. However, when we forget his saving presence, we experience fear and anxiety. In those moments, what we need most is to remember who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Either we are reminded of what the Lord has said to us in his word, or a fellow believer reminds us of the good news we have in Christ. It’s these constant reminders that chase away our fears and worries and help us return to the peace and joy held out to us in Jesus.

Unfortunately, we are very forgetful creatures. But thankfully, we have been given God’s word in scripture and a community of brothers and sisters in Christ to worship with as a way of remembering over and over the extraordinary good news of who our Father is and what he has done for us in his Son Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Listen to the interplay of worship and remembering that leads to rejoicing in this Psalm:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!”
Psalm 105:1-6 (ESV)

This exhortation to worship and remember is echoed throughout scripture. Jesus gave us the communion sacraments so that we would remember. May we continue to remind one another of the good news we have in Christ Jesus as we worship together and make witness of his wondrous works.

I’m Greg William, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b • Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 • Romans 10:5-15 • Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s theme is remembering the Lord’s saving works. The call to worship Psalm includes a reference of Joseph’s rise to prominence, along with encouraging God’s people to recall the Lord’s wonderful works through thanksgiving, praise, and rejoicing. The Old Testament reading from Genesis recounts the beginning of Joseph’s saga that landed him in Egypt after being sold by his brothers into slavery. The epistolary text in Romans refers to the nearness of God’s word and the beauty of believing and sharing this word of good news with others. In the Gospel reading from Matthew, we are presented the dramatic story of Jesus and Peter walking on water where Jesus saves Peter from sinking when Peter’s faith falters.

God’s Work for All

Romans 10:5-15 (ESV)

If you have ever had to write an academic paper, you will know that when you are making a point it will be stronger if you can cite other sources to support what you are saying. There is an advantage to bringing in other voices who are saying the same thing to strengthen what you are saying. We have a passage today where Paul has an important point he wants his hearers to understand. And he certainly takes advantage of citing other sources for support. We will see in this section that Paul is going to quote many Old Testament scriptures to support his claim.

Admittedly, this section belongs to Paul’s longer argument from Romans 9:30-10:21 where he is seeking to establish Israel’s blame for its present predicament of being on the outside of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. They have no excuse, Paul argues. And that argument falls within Paul’s longer discussion that runs from Romans 9 to Romans 11 regarding Israel’s fate. So, we are breaking into the middle of a longer issue Paul is addressing. We will have to reserve Paul’s conclusion about Israel’s fate for another day. But for today, we are going to see how Paul pulls in some Old Testament sources to support the claim that he makes just one verse prior to our reading.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4 ESV)

That’s a staggering claim that has implications for you and me today. So, let’s take a stroll through Paul’s scriptural proofs that he uses to substantiate the claim that Jesus is the end of the law as a means of attaining righteousness to everyone who believes.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)” or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). (Romans 10:5-7 ESV)

Paul begins his argument by quoting Moses from Leviticus 18:5. Essentially, Paul is pointing out how keeping the law was seen as the path to righteousness. Paul is citing this as the reason for what he just said previously. In verse 3 Paul has pointed out that the Israelites were seeking to achieve their own righteousness apart from God’s righteousness. And then again, in verse 4, Paul is claiming that the whole goal of the law in the first place was to bring people to Christ to receive the divine righteousness in faith. In short, Paul is showing that Israel wanted to achieve their own righteousness, when in fact righteousness can only be received as a gift. Israel’s true sin is resisting God’s grace.

How does Paul arrive at this claim? He is looking at the Old Testament scriptures through the eyes of faith. He further makes his point by combining a quote from Deuteronomy 9:4 which says “Do not say in your heart” with a quote from Deuteronomy 30:12-13 which says:

It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” (Deuteronomy 30:12-13 ESV)

Paul is interpreting this passage in light of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. So, we shouldn’t be too surprised that how Paul uses this quote and how it was once understood will amount to a radical transformation. Paul seems to be interpreting Moses as the prophet who is pointing to Christ as the fulfillment of the law. By pulling in Deuteronomy 9:4 with the partial quote of “Do not say in your heart” Paul is able to make the same point about the Israelites’ desire to establish their own righteousness apart from God. Let’s look at that passage in the full to see how Paul finds the connection:

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, “It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,” whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. (Deuteronomy 9:4 ESV)

Did you catch what Paul did there? He has powerfully quoted the words God gave to Moses to say to the Israelites as proof of what Paul is claiming. Namely, it is not their works that give them any standing with God. It is God’s work of grace all the way down. That’s a pretty strong source to say the least. And with that lead-in he construes Deuteronomy 30:12-13 in terms of Christ. He gives us his interpretation in parenthesis. “‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)” or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” Paul is stretching the impossibility of attaining our own righteousness with these questions. There is only one who has ascended into heaven and descended into the abyss. We had no part in God’s grace to send his Son down to us from heaven or in raising us up in him. Our salvation, and hence our righteousness, is a work of God that is given to us by grace.

There’s a great line in the movie Forest Gump where Lieutenant Dan asks Forest, “Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?” To which Forest replies, “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.” In that scene it is Lieutenant Dan who holds the view that our righteousness, or being with God, is something we must do. Whereas Forrest Gump gives a response that mirrors a life of faith. He never presumed that he should be looking, high or low, for Jesus. That is, in a sense, what Paul is saying here. God has found us and saved us. We were never intended to go looking for Jesus to find our own salvation.

Now Paul will go further by pulling in a quote from Deuteronomy 30:14:

But what does it say? “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. (Romans 10:8-10 ESV)

Paul is seeing the “word” that is near you as the word of the gospel which he is proclaiming. Or more to the point, Jesus is the Word proclaimed to us. Jesus is the one who has been sent by the Father to us. It is God’s own righteousness and faithfulness that result in Jesus being sent to us and raised from the dead on our behalf. And this “word” is nearer to us than we think. Jesus is not an ideal to live up to or a principle to put into practice. He is a person to receive as the gift of God. It is not our works that God responds to; it is his own works of righteousness and faithfulness that free us to respond to him. And the response we are now free to make is a response of belief. Paul sees this belief expressed by the mouth from the heart. When Paul says, “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,” he is not giving us a new formula to follow for salvation. He is not giving us certain words to say or a sentiment to hold in our hearts that will now qualify us for salvation. That would run counter to Paul’s very argument. By confessing with our mouth and believing in our heart, we are agreeing with what God has done in Jesus Christ, and we are putting our full trust in that work of grace. We are confessing, which means to agree with, the reality that righteousness has now been secured in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. And we are not just saying the words, we are believing them, meaning we are trusting in his work of salvation and not our own.

It may be worth clarifying at this point what Paul is not saying. He is not saying that it doesn’t matter anymore whether we obey God’s word to us or not. He is not saying that it doesn’t matter what choices we make or what actions we take in our lives. On the contrary, there is now all the more reason to obey the Lord. The confession we are making is essentially that Jesus is Lord. And he is a righteous Lord. Notice that Paul used the word “justified” – meaning made righteous, and the word “saved” – referring to salvation, as roughly equivalent terms. Also confessing and believing are put as parallel ideas. So, we trust our salvation is to be made righteous in the Lord. Why would we then go on to live unrighteously? We were saved to enter the righteousness that can only be found in Jesus. We were created to be holy. Our confession is to agree with this, and in our longing for God’s completed work in us, we strive to work out the salvation that Jesus has given us.

One of Paul’s favorite phrases is “obedience of faith.” That’s the difference between working for righteousness and working out righteousness. We do not obey the Lord in order to qualify for salvation; we obey the Lord because we trust that he has saved us. We obey him out of our trust in him, our faith. If we believe the Lord is good and righteous, and has saved us to be who we are created to be, why would we not want to do what he commands us? His commands are given to call us further into his righteousness. The Lord is not trying to weigh us down with arbitrary rules or regulations. He is calling us into the righteous life he shares with the Father by the Spirit.

Now that Paul has made his case regarding righteousness that comes as a gift over and against a righteousness earned by our own works, he goes further to show a wonderful implication from this reality:

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.” (Romans 10:11-13 ESV)

Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16, which refers to God’s cornerstone laid in Zion as a sure foundation and how those who put their trust in this cornerstone will not come up short. Again, he is reading this scripture considering Jesus Christ, who is our true cornerstone and foundation. Paul does not quote the entire verse as he zones in on the aspect of faith. Then he uses the word “everyone” and “all” twice to show the implication of salvation coming by grace and not works. If the works of the law were the only way to attain salvation, then the rest of the world will be left out, as the law was only given to Israel. Paul is making it clear there is no distinction between Jew and everyone else. What God has done in Jesus Christ is to make available for “everyone” and “all” the salvation given in Jesus. Israel should have known that this was God’s intention all along. After all, he called Abraham to be a blessing to all the nations. But somewhere along the line the Israelites turned that calling into a calling of elitism. They saw themselves as the only ones qualified for God’s favor on account of keeping the law, which of course they failed at. But in Jesus, God has fulfilled his promise to Abraham and his purposes in Israel to bring salvation to the entire world. And that salvation comes to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.” Paul is now quoting from Joel 2:32 to make this point. His references are adding up. It is evident how Paul wants to show the importance of and the implications of salvation by grace and not works. The entire world is at stake.

From Joel 2:32 we see the echo of scripture from beginning to end. God answers those who call out to him. This is the character of God. He does not turn a deaf ear to our cries. He sees us in our sins and runs to save us. He is not waiting for us to save ourselves before he will listen to our calls. And he is calling us to himself today. He has turned his ear to your call to him. What comfort in knowing that the Lord of the universe does not only listen to a few who think they have found a way earn his favor. No, in Jesus, his favor rests on you and in that favor, he moves to save you completely as you trust him to do so.

Then Paul concludes with a series of questions:

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!” (Romans 10:14-15 ESV)

With these rhetorical questions Paul launches into a different section with Romans 9-11, in which Paul will make the point that the gospel message has been proclaimed and heard, but not received by Paul’s fellow Jews. That discussion is reserved for another sermon. But for our purposes today, we can see in these questions that the church has a calling to participate in getting the message out to the entire world. As believers who have entered into the joy of the Lord’s salvation, we are compelled to bring the good news to others so they too can put their trust in the Lord and be saved. As we do this, we can anticipate, like Paul, that our words may also fall on deaf ears. However, it is not our words that gain a response; rather it is Jesus, the Word, who gets the response. So, we can rest in his good timing and purposes, knowing that his Father’s heart is turned to those we reach out to. Like Paul, we too may have to live in the mystery of why some respond to the gospel and others don’t. But also, like Paul, we can share the gospel in hope, knowing that it is God’s work and not ours that has the final say.

For the final verse, Paul chooses to quote from the Old Testament once again. This time from Isaiah 52:7. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” With this reference we may be given a picture of what God is working out in those we proclaim the gospel to. The quote gives the picture of the “beautiful feet” of those who are preaching the good news. In order to notice a person’s feet, one must bow their head. This description from Isaiah speaks of the humility that is needed. If one is to receive salvation as the gift it is, it can only be received with bowed head and open hands. In other words, like Paul’s fellow Jews, any pride that insists on working for our own salvation and justifying ourselves, leads to a position of achieving and not receiving. God works in the hearts of each one of us to bring us to a place of humility, a place where we are ready to receive from him and not from ourselves. It is only from this position of humility that we can receive the gospel of salvation held out to us in Jesus Christ. We can share with others that Jesus is Lord, in the hope and assurance that Jesus is working to bring about a response of faith, in his good timing and in his way. In this way, we too remain humble, and with bowed heads and open hands we receive from the Lord his work of sharing himself with others.

His Mercy Is More w/ Jeremy Begbie W2

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August 13 — Proper 14 of Ordinary Time
Romans 10:5-15, “Confession”

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Program Transcript

His Mercy Is More w/ Jeremy Begbie W2

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope. It is Romans 10:5-15. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 14 and Ordinary Time, August 13.

Jeremy, would you read it for us, please?

Jeremy: Of course.

Moses writes about the righteousness that comes from the Law: The person who does these things will live by them. But the righteousness that comes from faith talks like this: Don’t say in your heart, “Who will go up into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will go down into the region below?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the message of faith that we preach). Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation. 11 The scripture says, All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame12 There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. 13 All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved. 14 So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news.

Anthony: Thank you. To me, for Romans 10:9, we often have a reductionist view as just a simple linear step for salvation. Just say the words and salvation is yours. And certainly, on some level that’s true, but I think confession has its place, it’s of great importance. But what I’m going to ask you is give us a more robust way of thinking about how there is a relationship with confession and salvation.

Jeremy: We look at that verse, yes, you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and in your heart, you have faith that God raised from the dead—that could easily suggest, say the right words and assent to the right truths, sign up to the right truth, and you’ll be saved. Clearly, there’s more to it than that. Now the danger is, we overreact against that; we say words don’t matter and believing certain things to be true doesn’t matter.

No, they both matter. But there’s a more fundamental level, I think, that Paul is getting at here, or at least he’s assuming matters. And that is that faith is—whatever else it is—it’s a profound trust. The beginning of verse 10, uses that word trust, that is. And trust is a commitment of the whole person—body, soul, mind, emotion, the whole lot.

An utter giving oneself totally to God, the God who raised the crucified Jesus from the dead. So, it’s much more than about believing that certain things are true. And it’s certainly much more than saying the right things; now therefore, those things don’t matter. No, of course they do. The right words and assenting to the right things are part of what it means.

They’re the kind of outward expression of this deep trust. The trust is, of course, yet again, Christ-centered. And that’s what’s crucial and going on right through it. It’s not just finally believing, again, the right things. It’s believing in Jesus Christ.

Calvin had this brilliant thing about, you understand faith as through the Spirit. Through the Spirit, you are united, that is, bound to Jesus Christ. So, everything is Christ-centered here. So, with this profound trust in Christ, yes, we will say certain things. And yes, we will believe that certain things are true. But those are, were the outward sign or the fruit of this deep trust. I think that’s what’s going, he doesn’t actually mention the Spirit right here, but he’s certainly presupposing that. For Paul, it’s the Spirit who makes this faith possible, who makes it possible for us to trust in Christ.

A bit of an aside there—I’m often intrigued when people make the Christian faith—how can I put it?—sound a little easy, too easy to believe. You know, we’re asked to believe is that this Jesus of Nazareth, son of a carpenter in obscure part of the Roman Empire is the secret to the entirety of the universe, the cosmos in all its billions of light years and all the vastness of the cosmos. That’s what we are being asked to believe, which is not immediately obvious. And we’re also asked to believe it of a Messiah that was crucified. It was a kind of ultimate oxymoron from Messiah, the warrior king to be crucified.

How is that possible? 1 Corinthians 1, of course, deals with that, and chapter 2 makes very clear that is a miracle of the Spirit. Why earth would you put your trust, your total trust in this Man if it weren’t for a miracle that happens in you by the Spirit?

Now, Paul goes on there—I’m sorry, I’m jumping slightly here—he goes on here to say, how does this happen? Of course, when [inaudible] happens through a preacher, through declaration. And what happens when someone declares, oh, Jesus Christ, the Spirit operates. And the Spirit takes my feeble words as a preacher and makes them live inside you and inside your heart such that you trust Christ.

That’s crudely summarized, but I think that’s what’s going on here.

Anthony: I appreciate what you said about verse 10, trusting. And I’ve long thought of salvation as just trusting our belonging to God. And if we saw it as a trust relationship, how that would change American Christianity wouldn’t, which often is easy, cheesy cotton candy, Christianity, as I’ve heard it called it’s three inches deep and three miles wide.

Jeremy: It might change British Christianity as well, but that might be a bridge too far. I don’t know. No, you’re dead right.

I actually have a colleague, New Testament colleague here at Cambridge, who has been wanting to write a book for many years, simply called Belonging to God. So, the whole of the gospel around the category of belonging. Christ belongs to the Father. And then through the Spirit, we belong to him and thus belong to his Father. It’s a very powerful concept, and it pulls so many of these strands together.

Anthony: You’ve already touched on this, but many people in our listening audience, Jeremy, are gospel preachers and teachers. And Paul seems convicted that heralding the gospel is a glorious thing, but sometimes it can feel underappreciated.

Could you just take a moment to encourage those who labor to herald good news?

Jeremy: Just go for it. James Torrance, I mentioned earlier on, my mentor for many years, he taught me about a very early sermon he preached, which was, he said it was a disaster because he messed up and it was badly organized.

And I think he dropped his notes, and it all went wrong. And it was about 10 to 15 years later, I think someone came up to him at a service and said, “Do you know when you were about 23 (or whatever it was), you preached to someone on such and such? I went home and I suddenly realized Jesus was real at the beginning of my Christian life.”

So, what I’d say to preachers is work at it like mad. Never be ashamed of it. And we have to believe that the Spirit is going to honor that, and the Spirit is going to work through you, and for many, bring Christ alive.

I’m a musician, and sometimes when I visit a church, they say, oh, you won’t want to be preaching. You’ll just be wanting to play the piano. Or do we need a piano or a choir? I said no, I’ll be preaching. You’re going to get a 20-minute sermon.

Because words are incredibly important, and whatever else the Christian message is, it is something to be declared. Something has to be spoken at some stage. It’s the way that God has set things up. So, we should never be ashamed of it and think of the millions of lives that have been changed through good preaching.

But I said work at it. I do mean that; work joyfully at it, of course. But it doesn’t just happen. It’s something you have to work at and craft.

Don’t be ashamed of the time that you spend on a sermon. It’s very easy to say, when you’re a pastor, and someone comes to the door and they say, could you come see me? There’s a thing I just had to talk through—yes, of course I’ll do that. But you wouldn’t say actually I’m in the middle of preparing the sermon, so you’re going to have to wait a day.

It’s that priority we give to preaching. I think we should never be ashamed of it. So, preachers out there, go for it. Go for it. And I just love hearing a good sermon.

Anthony: That’s an encouraging word. And right on about the story you shared with J.B. Torrance, because in my own experience preaching, the gospel proclaiming good news, it’s those sermons that I think are stinkers and bombs, that people will say, oh, that’s exactly what I needed to hear by the Spirit.

And it’s such a powerful reminder. Yes, I am a participant in what God’s doing, but it’s God. It’s his word, and it won’t come back empty. Hallelujah.

Jeremy: Precisely. One has to believe that. No, you never know. You never know. I used to get very discouraged when people didn’t say anything after sermons.

And the very first sermon, one of the very first sermons I’ve preached, I really worked incredibly hard at, on justification by faith of all things. When I stood at the back of the church after the service waiting for the waves of adulation. The sweat was pouring off. Man, my goodness, this was a good sermon that they’re going to be very moved and someone’s going to say they were converted.

The first man came up to me, he said, yeah, Jeremy, thanks for your sermon. You know your predecessor. He really knew how to preach.

Anthony: Wow. Truth bomb.

Jeremy: The gift of discouragement is not one of those gifts that died at the end of the apostolic year. It’s still very much around. There we go.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Can you think of a story where your memory “saved you?”
  • Discuss the importance of reminding one another of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

From the Sermon

  • What significance did you see in Paul relying so heavily on quoted Old Testament references?
  • Discuss ways we attempt to earn our salvation rather than receive it by faith.
  • The sermon made a distinction between working for our salvation and working out our salvation. How would you explain the difference?
  • What stood out to you in how Paul interpreted the Old Testament in light of Jesus Christ?
  • Paul’s implication of salvation by faith and not works was that everyone can now enter the salvation of the Lord. What does this say about who God is?
  • Discuss Paul’s quote from Isaiah, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Did you see any additional insights from this verse?

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