I want to specifically talk to those of you who have been following along as we’ve looked at Romans. You’ve been drawn to this message about good news, peace, joy, hope, getting right with God and your response has been “I need in on that.” Something in the message of this book has reached into your life and grabbed your heart and you’re now asking “so how do I do it? How do I get right with God?”
Watch out for wrong turns (9:30-10:4)
Last time we saw that Paul has a particular concern for his own people, the Jews. Why weren’t the responding to the good news even as the Gentiles who didn’t have all of the religious advantage that the Jews did were getting it? We might ask “why is it that religious people, those who have been coming along to church and taking part for ages seem to find it harder to get what the good news is all about?” (v30-31)
It’s kind of like at school or Uni when the hard working, diligent student who makes it to all the classes and does all their home-work ends up flunking the exam whilst their mate who coasted through somehow comes out with top marks. So what’s going on?
Well, I think the imagery here is of someone who’s determined to get somewhere, they think they know where they are going but they’ve managed to take a detour. On our first few trips up to Bearwood we got thrown every-time as we got towards the end of the M42. We knew we had to come off somewhere and the motorway junctions seemed to be counting down to 1 so we panicked and turned off only to find ourselves lost at Hopwood Park Services.
It was a bit like that for the Jews. They thought they knew the way to God through the Law but the Law turned out to be a detour. Worse than that, in effect, they were like someone who had got lost, wandered off the path in the dark and found themselves in danger not being able to see what was in front of them. Suddenly their foot crashes into a rock, a lump of stone in the way and they trip up over it going headlong (v30-32)
Now Isaiah 8:13-14 tells us that this rock or “stumbling stone” is God himself -and the Peter and Paul identify it with Jesus. Peter says that Jesus is like the most important foundation stone for a building but ignorant builders have just thrown it aside and there it becomes a hazard. Isaiah tells us that Christ gives himself for our safety, shelter and protection but God’s people the Jews trip over him instead.
What’s going on? Well, it’s to do with this little thing called pride and self-reliance. We don’t like admitting that we need help do we. Back to the driving analogy, it’s guys could drive around for hours in the days before sat-navs refusing to ask for directions. And we get like that in life too. Our lives may well be in turmoil. I don’t know what it is for you, maybe its an addiction your struggling with, maybe it’s those arguments you just keep getting into as a couple or maybe its just the constant nag of anxiety about life ahead. The problem is that we don’t want to admit that we can’t sort those things out. We think if we try harder, do some self-help courses, make resolutions, go to church more or just simply grit our teeth and hang in there that a better way will come. Just like the Jews thought that if they worked harder at keeping the Law of Moses then all would be okay.
Then Jesus turns up and says, “You just can’t do it… you need me to give you life, to forgive you, to put things right to bring deep lasting healing.” And that idea that I’m helpless, that I need a helper, a saviour is offensive to me and you. So we resist, we try harder and there’s the irony, the Jews in their attempts to keep the law were breaking it because it was meant to be pointing them to Jesus, the very one they resisted and opposed (10:1-4)
So what are we to do?
Discover the true and simple secret to being right with God (10:5-13)
All the time that we try to save ourselves by living up to religious, legalistic standards we just heap judgement on ourselves. We can’t keep the law but we show that we recognise it’s condemnation as legitimate. That’s why righteousness and justification has to come by faith. (v5)
All of this is of course a refresher it’s not something new, it’s what Paul has been saying all the way through Romans. It didn’t stop being about the Gospel at the end of chapter 8. Now, the best news is this, the promise of life, forgiveness and hope is something near, it’s within reach. Just as whenever Sarah and I ended up at Hopwood Park we were actually a lot closer to the promised land of the Black Country than we realised! It’s not something we have to go hunting high and low for as though Jesus had never come or as though he was still buried in the tomb (v6-7).
You see, there are just two things that you need to do if you want to be right with God. (v9-10)
In two weeks time we are going to my niece’s wedding. Now she loves her fiancé. It’s a heart felt response, and he loves her. We’re sure of that. But when they get married, they are going to express publicly, so that it’s witnessed, so that there’s no doubts in their minds, no questions from others and no going back where their love, devotion and loyalty lie. They have to believe in their hearts that they are loved by the other and profess publicly with their mouths their love and devotion. It’s the same when it comes to being right with God.
- Believe: It calls for a heart response. Belief is simply about learning to trust in God and to take him at his word. Last time I expressed this in terms of learning to cling to Christ. I said that in order to cling tightly to hold less tightly or in fact let go of the things we’ve been depending on.
- Confess: Paul says that you are to speak out the truth that Jesus is Lord. You know, in my experience over the years I’ve found that this is crucial. It helps to externalise what is going on in our minds and hearts. That’s why I encourage people simply to pray expressing that heart trust in Christ. It’s why it helps to tell others and it’s also why the Bible tells you to get baptised as an outward expression of that heart trust in Jesus.
This is something for people from any and every background and circumstances. There’s no barrier due to age, class, ethnicity, education or status. The Gospel is good news for all. (v11-13).
Listen to what God is saying – even when/especially when he disagrees with you (10:14 -21)
So -if we are made right with God through hearing a message that isn’t far off, believing and putting into words our trust then this has implications. The real question now then is “what stops me”?
Well one possible reason -and Paul raises this as a possible reason for why the Jews weren’t turning to Christ would be “but nobody told me”. Paul says that to respond, people need to hear and they can’t hear without someone preaching. In view here is proclamation/announcement so it’s not just about people standing behind pulpits in church. It’s about any of us simply taking an opportunity to tell others about what Jesus has done for us. (v14)
Paul quotes Isaiah again. Imagine that you’ve been shut up in a city or castle, the army have gone to fight a battle against a fierce enemy. Each day you wait and you wait for news. Then you see on the horizon someone running, is it a herald for the enemy coming to demand your surrender. No, there’s something about the way that they are running, even before you see their face. It’s one of your people. They are tired weary and urgent but you can tell that it’s good news coming. The enemy is defeated, you are safe. That’s why grazed, sweaty, smelly, dusty feat can be beautiful! (v15)
And Paul’s point here is that this has happened. The Jews have been told. As we saw in Romans 1-2 they have no excuse. Their rebellion is wilful It’s not that they’ve never heard. Their problem is their lack of faith in Christ. (v16)
Paul quotes Psalm 19:4 and just as we saw in Romans 1, the evidence for God’s character, his goodness, his righteousness and what he expects of us is made clear in creation. But Psalm 19 goes further and there’s the point –the wind and waves, the volcanos and earthquakes may give voice to God’s power but they are wordless voices. However, God has revealed himself in his word.(v18)
So, there’s no reason for people to claim that they just didn’t get it, that they didn’t understand, that the message was unclear. The evidence of this says Paul is the way that the Jews have been made jealous by what is happening with the Gentiles. That jealousy of course caused them to persecute Paul and try to stop the good news going out but it was meant to provoke them to repentance.(v20)
No, they could not claim that they did not know and did not understand. God has not been ignoring them or making it difficult for them. Rather, says Isaiah, God has been like someone pleading, their hands outstretched, urging and begging Israel to turn.
How has God been doing that with them? Well, he’s been doing it through the Old Testament Covenants, through the Law, through the prophets and most of all by showing up in Jesus. (v21)
And so, it is true for us as well. We cannot say that no-one told us or that it was too difficult to understand. The good news of the Gospel is so wonderful and simple.. It’s what we have seen so clearly evidenced in the lives of friends who have given us an example of how it is possible to live through the chaos, storms and strife of life without giving up hope, without stopping being patient, loving and kind. It stares us in the face as we mess up for the umpteenth time trying to fix things ourselves and realising that we can’t. It’s what you’ve been hearing here week after week
So, I want to come back to what I said at the start. My concern today is primarily for those of us who have been listening in to Romans and we’re aware that God has been speaking to us. It could be that you’ve been coming along here for years, all your life – or to other churches before. Indeed, you may well have already believed, professed faith and got baptised but you know we all get forgetful don’t we. We all start to forget that it is all about Christ, we can lose the simplicity of the Gospel in a whirlwind of church activity. Perhaps you found yourself at the start of lockdown just relieved because you’d got caught up in all of that. You were desperate to please God and to please others but it had become overwhelming, joyless drudgery. Now you find yourself being sucked into that again.
Let God’s Word disagree with you today in the most wonderful, liberating way. It’s not about you, your busyness, your effort. It’s about what Christ has done for you. Let me encourage you again to renew your confidence and trust in the Gospel.
For some of you, this is all still new, you’ve been joining on YouTube or perhaps coming along these past few weeks. Things are starting to click but you’ve still got questions. If you want to follow up then why not have a look at the First Look course here.
However, it may well be that for some of you it’s time. You’ve heard, it’s clicked and so, you know you need to act today, to put your trust in Jesus.
Why not take a moment to pause and reflect. Then you may wish to say the words of this prayer ans a verbal expression of trust.
Lord God, thank you that you love me and have spoken to me through your word. I know that I am a sinner, I have broken your law, I deserve the penalty of death. Thank you that you are my rock and my deliverer. Thank you for sending your son to die for me and bear my sin.
Lord Jesus I trust in you, I repent and turn from my sin. Please forgive me, cleanse me and fill me with your Holy Spirit.
Help me to cling to you and to follow you all my days.
I trust you to raise me up to be with you at the last day.