February 18, 2018

Everyone Who Calls

Passage: Romans 10:5-13
Service Type:

Everyone Who Calls
Romans 10:5-13

As we’ve been working our way through Romans 9 to 11, what we’ve seen is Paul putting himself, his Jewish kinsfolks, the Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome, and—particularly—Jesus the Messiah, in the context of the big story of God’s covenant faithfulness.  That means looking at it all in light of Israel’s story and God’s promises.  In Chapter 9 he took us from the calling of Abraham and the Exodus from Egypt up to Israel’s conquest and exile in Babylon.  He’s working through this story to answer questions about the place of unbelieving Jews in this story—particularly to answer the question of why God has allowed them to reject Jesus as Messiah.  He’s also working to answer questions about the place of Gentiles in the Messiah’s new Israel.  He’s working to show that this has been God’s plan all along and that God, in Jesus’ day and in Paul’s day, was working in the same way he worked in Abraham’s day and Moses’ day.  And the big, overarching question is about the righteousness of God.  Has God fulfilled his promises?  Has God done what he said he would do?  Some have argued that he has failed and this is Paul’s response.

Last Sunday we looked at the end of Chapter 9 and the first four verses of Chapter 10.  Paul narrowed down his focus to the theme of Israel, the nations, and the Messiah.  We ended with 10:4, where Paul writes that Jesus is the end of the law and we saw that by “end of the law”, Paul meant that the law had brought history and, specifically, Israel’s story, right to Jesus the Messiah.  The law came to an end, because in Jesus it reached its goal.  This morning we’ll be looking at Romans 10:5-13 as he looks at this idea of Jesus as the fulfilment of the covenant and of God’s covenant promises.

Before I read what Paul has to say, we need to orient ourselves.  When Paul said or wrote things like this to his fellow Jews, he was drawing on a thought world and on mental furniture that was natural to them, but unnatural to us.  They knew their story and they knew their scriptures extremely well.  We don’t.  In part that’s because we don’t study the Scriptures the way we should, in part it’s because we rely on printed Bibles whereas they had to rely on memory, and in part—and this isn’t our fault—we’re not Jews and we’re thousands of years distant from the time and place they lived.  But this underscores the importance of paying attention to all that fine print down the centre column or in the margin of your Bible—those cross-references that show Paul isn’t just speaking himself here.  Most of our passage today is Paul quoting from the Old Testament.  He quotes from Isaiah and Joel and Leviticus, but what he’s drawing on most is Deuteronomy 30.  There’s a reason for this.

“Deuteronomy” literally means “second law”.  It’s the last book of the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament.  It contains Moses’ addresses to the Israelites as they were about to cross the Jordan and enter the promised land.  Moses reminds the people of God’s covenant, of God’s law, and of what is required of them as his people.  It’s an exhortation, but it’s also a warning.  In Deuteronomy 28-30, near the end, Moses points ahead to what’s going to happen to Israel and he tells the people: If Israel will keep God’s commandments, God promises blessing. But, if Israel fails to keep God’s commandments, God promises curses.  But Moses takes it one step further.  He predicts very solemnly that the people will disobey the Lord’s commandments, that they will fall under God’s curse, and that they will eventually be conquered and exiled from the land God promised.

But Moses doesn’t leave it there.  In Chapter 30 the Lord speaks through him again and makes another covenant promise with his people.  He knew that Israel would be tempted to lose hope in her time of exile and so God promises: “Return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you. (Deuteronomy 30:2-3).  More important, the Lord promises that this repentance will come of his own initiative.  He says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (30:6).  Remember what the law was ultimately about?  It wasn’t primarily about rules and regulations, but about loving God—the rules and regulations were the means to that end.  So the Lord promises: the people will fail, but he will—himself—one day initiate a transformation in them that will put love for him in their hearts.  One day they will keep the law.  He says in 30:11-14, ““For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  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?’  But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (30:11-14).

Moses was right.  Israel did fail to uphold her end of the covenant.  She failed miserably to love the Lord and she was conquered and exiled.  Deuteronomy 28 and 29 were fulfilled.  But what about Deuteronomy 30?  What about the restoration and the covenant renewal?  When was this going to happen?  And how was it going to happen?  These were the questions that the Jews were asking in Paul’s day and that they had been asking for at least a couple of hundred years.  They had returned from their exile in Babylon.  They had even rebuilt the temple.  But things weren’t the same as they had been before.  The cloud of glory in which God had manifested himself in the temple had never returned.  And except for a short period under the Maccabees, Israel lived under the oppressive rule of the Greeks and then the Romans.  Many Jews in the First Century were convinced that they were still living under the curse of Deuteronomy 29 and they were desperate for this circumcision of the heart to finally happen, so that Israel would truly love God and move into this new age that Moses had promised.

The Essenes—the radical religious community that preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls—saw themselves fulfilling the promise of Deuteronomy 30.  The scroll known as 4QMMT begins with part of Deuteronomy 30 and goes on to explain how Moses’ blessings and curses have unfolded, first under David and then in the Exile.  But then the writer talks about return from exile “at the end of days”, which he saw as happening in his own day.  The scroll elaborates on various works of law that the community was to show and says that it’s by these works that it will be reckoned to them as righteousness in the end.  The end of the age was coming to pass and God’s true people would be marked out by certain works—mostly rigorous temple regulations—and enter into the blessings of the age to come.

The writer of Baruch, one of the books in the Apocrypha, saw Deuteronomy 30 unfolding in his day too.  His take on it, as he drew on Proverbs and other Jewish wisdom literature, was that Israel needed to recover God’s true wisdom.  Remembering what Moses had said, the writer of Baruch speaks of those who think they can go up to heaven and bring Wisdom down or who think they can travel across the sea and buy Wisdom for gold.  But, he writes, you can’t find wisdom that way.  Only God can give wisdom to his people and when he does, Israel will be saved and her long exile will be over.

These aren’t the only texts like this from the time between the Old and New Testaments, but they show a common pattern.  Jewish people were looking back to Deuteronomy in order to understand why Israel was in such a mess.  They all saw Israel’s current state as the outworking of the curses of Deuteronomy 29.  They also point to a way in which God was finally, now, and on his own initiative making the way for Israel to be transformed so that she could finally fulfil the law and be saved.  They also all note that this renewal of the covenant and fulfilment of the law—they all point to different ways that it will happen, but they all speak of some way in which it will happen—means that the people who embrace this new way are the people marked out in the present as those whom God will save and declare to be his people in the future age to come.

Now, with that in mind we can make sense of what Paul’s talking about in Romans 10:5-13.  He’s said that Jesus the Messiah is the end or goal of the law and here’s how.  He begins—or, rather, he continues what he’s been saying—this way, beginning with some earlier words of Moses from Leviticus 18:5:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.

Life is to be found in God’s covenant family and only in God’s covenant family.  To be declared “righteous” is to be declared part of that family and the law was given to mark out the members of that family.  So Moses is saying that to do the commandments is to bear the mark of the covenant family and if you bear that mark, you will live.  This is just an expansion on the exhortation given to Israel: do the law and you will live.

But how do you do it.  The Essenes drew up rigorous temple regulations.  The writer of Baruch called the people to seek out wisdom.  The Pharisees drew up a system that was supposed to make it easier to keep the rules and regulations of the law.  But Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30:11-14.  Moses said, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  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?’ But the word is very near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”  Here’s how Paul puts it in verses 6-8:

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).  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)…

Paul isn’t contrasting law and faith as if they were opposites.  He affirms with Moses: do the law and you will live.  But he’s also saying that the law is—and always has been—fulfilled or lived out by faith.  There’s no need to add to the word God has given.  Just do it.  As in Moses’ day, there’s no reason to go up to heaven to bring it down or across the sea to bring it back.    Paul puts his own twist on that to point to Jesus.  We don’t need to go up to heaven; Jesus has already come down.  And we don’t need to go down in to the depths, because Jesus has already been raised from the dead.  Moses said these things as he looked forward to the day when the law would be fulfilled and Paul’s saying here that this fulfilment has happened in Jesus.  Moses spoke of God’s word in terms of the torah one day being near the people—in their hearts and in their mouths so that they would be able finally to do it.  Paul now sees this fulfilled in the basic and central gospel proclaim.  Look at verses 9-11:

…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.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Jesus is God’s gift of grace in fulfilment of his promises.  Again, the Essenes saw their rigorous temple regulations as what would finally allow the people to fulfil the law and bring an end to exile.  For the writer of Baruch it was wisdom.  For the Pharisees is was a more general faithfulness to the rules and regulations of the torah and the things that marked out the Jews as different from the Gentiles.  But Paul writes here that Deuteronomy 30—and with it Israel’s story—is really fulfilled in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord.

Why does Paul stress the mouth and the heart?  Verbal confession that Jesus is Lord was the first baptismal formula.  It’s what we see in Acts and some of Paul’s epistles.  New converts confessed that Jesus is Lord.  But, more important for Paul, is that this confession that Jesus is Lord is what distinguished the Church from the values and identity of the Roman Empire.  “Caesar is Lord” was the pledge of allegiance to Rome.  In his resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the world’s true Lord and so Christians declared their faith-filled allegiance to Jesus and his kingdom.  It was a profoundly political statement that the kingdom of God is breaking into the world.  In making this confession they were renouncing Caesar and every other false lord and loyalty of the old age.  And Paul stresses belief in the heart, because that’s where a true outward profession of faith is rooted.  The resurrection is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but it is life itself to those whose hearts have been made new by the Spirit.  Paul made this point earlier in Chapters 2 and 5.  He makes the same point in 1 and 2 Corinthians and in Galatians.  No one can say that Jesus is Lord apart from the renewal brought about by the Spirit.  Here he stresses the resurrection by which he was declared and revealed as Lord.

Again, this work of the Spirit is the fulfilment of the law and prophets.  It’s the fulfilment of Deuteronomy 30, where Moses wrote about Israel’s renewal coming about by God’s initiative and his initiative alone.  It’s also the fulfilment of Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s promises that the Lord would one day put his own Spirit in the hearts of his people, so that would finally be able to love him and, in loving him, fulfil the law.  That’s what it was always about and that’s what Jesus has made possible.

And so, Paul writes, those who confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus is the crucified and risen Lord, they are justified and saved.  The word the ESV translates “justified” is the Greek word for “righteousness”, yet again.  Paul is saying that those who bear these marks of covenant faithfulness—belief and confession—are marked out in the present as God’s covenant people (that’s the “justified” part) and that they will be saved from sin and death in the future when they are resurrected from the dead.

But, as great as all of this is, what’s the connection with Paul’s bigger argument here?  This is all still part of his addressing the question that began the chapter when he said that he longs for the salvation of his fellow Jews.  They all know this covenant plan laid out in Deuteronomy, but most of them have rejected the idea that Jesus is the fulfilment of it.  Here Paul lays out the answer to his prayer for them.  Look at verses 12-13:

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.”

The first thing he points out is that God’s salvation is the same for everyone.  Jew or Greek, it doesn’t make a difference.  He’s drawing on what he wrote back in Chapter 3.  All have sinned and all have fallen short of God’s glory.  Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and Jesus died for Israel’s sins, but anyone who will believe in him—Jew or Gentile—is marked out as part of the covenant family of Israel’s God and is swept up into Israel’s story.  The second point Paul makes is that in Jesus, God has brought the means to fulfil the law near to everyone as he poured out the Spirit, who in turn pours love for God into our hearts.  And, third, everyone who publicly confesses and truly believes that Jesus is Lord—which means not just giving lip service, but declaring an allegiance that is rooted in a transformed heart—everyone who will do that now bears the mark that declares them in the present to be those whom God will save and make his people in the age to come.

How does this give Paul hope for his Jewish kinsfolk?  Notice how Paul has framed salvation in terms of the promises of the Old Testament.  Everything he’s said here is drawing on Old Testament passages.  “Calling on the name of the Lord” in verse 13 is taken from the promises of Joel 2:32.  “Not being put to shame”—another way of talking about being vindicated by God—is taken from Isaiah 28:16.  And these step us back to Deuteronomy 30 and to Leviticus 18.  Paul reminds us that he’s talking about God’s people fulfilling God’s law.  Moses spoke about God’s word as a means of life and salvation and he said that it was “in your mouth and in your heart”—or, at least, one day it would be.  And Paul saw in that the two-fold work of the Spirit in all those who have been gripped and transformed by the good news about Jesus.  Through the working of the indwelling Spirit, Jesus transforms hearts, turning rebellion and idolatry into love for God—which Paul has stressed, was always the heart of the law.  Moses had written about a circumcision of the heart that would one day make this fulfilment of the law possible and that has now been accomplished by Jesus and the Spirit.

This gave Paul hope.  This good news about Jesus draws in Jews and Gentiles alike on equal terms and that means that in Jesus’ God’s promise to Abraham of a worldwide family is being fulfilled.  If God’s promise to Abraham is being fulfilled in Jesus, then surely this means that his promises through Moses in Deuteronomy will be fulfilled as well.  In Jesus Israel’s exile has ended.  In Jesus the new age is breaking in.  In Jesus the Gentiles are being welcomed into the covenant family marked out by this confession that he is Lord and by a love for God given by the Spirit.  But Jesus isn’t just Lord in the sense of being the true King of whom Caesar is just a cheap imitation.  Paul quotes from Joel for a reason, and that’s because in Joel 2, when the prophets writes about all who call on the Lord, he’s speaking of Israel’s God.  Paul’s point is that Jesus, this crucified and risen Lord, is the personal embodiment of the God of Israel, who has finally come to do what he had promised.  Israel had been sent into exile because of her failure, but in Jesus the name of Israel’s God has gone out to the nations.  When his name has been glorified amongst the Gentiles, Israel’s God will finally rescue Paul’s kinsfolk from their exile.  Paul had hope because, in Jesus, he saw the faithfulness of God.

Let us pray: Gracious Father, we see your faithfulness in Jesus, in his death and resurrection, and in his gift of the Spirit.  In him you turn our rebellious hearts back to you.  As Paul saw hope for his people in the fulfilment of your promises in Jesus, give us hope for our people and for our world.  Things are dark and we are prone to despair or complacency.  Hold your Son and his cross before our eyes, we pray, that we might never forget your faithfulness to bring life to your people and to your world.  Through Jesus our Lord we pray. Amen.

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