Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What does St. Paul the Apostle have in common with young children? The love of questions. Throughout his letters Paul asked questions, and it seems as if he expected the reader to give an answer to all of them. That’s why questions are frequent in this Epistle to the Romans, and on carefully examining them we see that they not only show us Paul’s enthusiasm, but they are there to teach us something. There are four questions before us in our epistle reading, and the apostle seeks to press home the absolute necessity of preaching the Gospel. Last week we saw Paul sorrowing for the unbelief of the Jews, and he begins this chapter by saying that his heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. Then, as he goes on, he begins to think about the salvation, not only of the Jews, but also of the whole world. He says, “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” (vv. 12-13). And then, as his mind moves to the unbelieving world lying in darkness, he asks these four questions which we are going to look at this morning (vv. 14-15).
How will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
Paul begins first by asking, how can anyone call on God without having faith in him?In our ordinary, everyday dealings a certain amount of faith is required. Unless we believe that another person will listen to us, unless we believe that they are willing and able to give us what we want, we are not likely to ask anything of them. You cannot call on God if you don’t trust him, if you don’t believe in him. Unless we believe that God will listen to us, unless we believe that God is willing and able to give us what we ask, we are not very likely to ask God for anything. Are you going to call on God if you don’t think he wants to do anything for you? Are you going to pray to God if you think he’s not able to answer you?
Paul’s point is that in spiritual matters, faith in God—the belief that he is, that he hears us, and that he is willing and able to help us—is necessary to successful prayer. It is necessary to salvation. If us sinners are going to call on God for mercy, we must first have confidence in him. The vast majority of people around us are without this confidence and trust in God. What they need to know is that there is a God who will hear them when they call upon him. They need to know that God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, that their evil must be destroyed and put away. They need to know that God is favourable towards them. God accepts them, forgives them, and hears their prayers. What they need to know is what you need to know.
How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
Paul’s next question is how can someone have faith in Christ without having heard of Christ? Don’t think that the heart instinctively turns to God, and that in some mysterious way unbelievers who have never even heard about God will magically come to him. We can fall into this mistake because many of us have been so accustomed to hearing about Jesus from our childhood that we can can’t even imagine it’s possible not to know about him. Countries which once used to be predominantly Christian, sadly have an increasing number of children who have grown up without ever hearing about God.
Faith always has an object. You don’t just have faith. You have faith in something. You trust someone. How can anyone believe in Jesus if they never heard of Jesus? We are not supposed to believe in a nebulously God-like figure. There are details that need to be heard. There is news about what God has done which needs to be shared. Unbelievers need to hear about why God can be trusted. They need to hear that God the Father sent his Son for their redemption. They need to hear about the way God loved the world, and how He loves a humanity that is still rebelling against Him. They need to hear that God gave His only-begotten Son in the flesh to die for them. They need to hear that Jesus was condemned on the cross in their place, so that whoever hears and believes in Him will have eternal life. Unbelievers need to hear about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that they may turn from sin. They need to hear about a Saviour who gives to all who call on him salvation, forgiveness, everlasting life. Hearing about the lengths God has gone to to save them will inspire confidence in such a loving God.
How are they to hear without someone preaching?
But, Paul asks, how is anyone going to hear unless there is a voice, a preacher? God doesn’t ordinarily speak directly. It’s rare, so don’t expect it to happen to you. We all want to be a special case, but then it wouldn’t be a “special case” would it? No one will learn anything about a very important person except through a messenger, or ambassador. An ambassador represents a king. He dare not change one word of his message. He must announce it exactly as given to him. He is the voice of his king. Those who are Christ’s true messengers today announce his word exactly as he has given it to them.
That means the preaching of the gospel is still the way for the Creator God to speak to the world. It was the preaching of the gospel that was the means of converting thousands upon the Day of Pentecost. It was the preaching of the gospel which overthrew the idols of ancient Rome. It was the preaching of the gospel which brought about the Protestant Reformation. “The Word,” said Martin Luther over and over again, “it was the Word that did it all.” Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. All of you who believe here, believe as the result of the Word of faith, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. He’s not only the God who has spoken, but He’s the God who continues to speak. God has arranged for me to preach and you to hear, and faith comes by hearing. So don’t imagine for a second that God doesn’t intend to save and forgive you. Your hearing this is hard evidence, and faith comes by hearing. If you’re unsure whether God intends to give you the gift of faith, consider this: He’s arranged for you to hear it today, here and now.
How are they to preach unless they are sent?
Finally, Paul asks how can anyone preach without being sent? Jesus came to seek and to save you. But, He was sent by the Father to preach that good news. He likewise sent His disciples to preach good news. He established the office of the ministry, pastors, to preach good news. It is good to have copies of the Bible in every language. But it is absolutely necessary also to have the living preachers. I stand here today before you as one sent by God. My feet may not be terribly beautiful, but they are the feet of one who has been sent by God, called and ordained to Christ’s service, to say on His behalf, “Your sins are forgiven, and you stand before God clothed in the righteousness, innocence, and holiness of Christ your Saviour.”
Preaching is heralding good news for another; you have to be sent. God sent Moses and prophets. We have the written record of their preaching. God sent the apostles and evangelists. We have their written record. God sends pastors, reminding us that God’s voice continues to be heard. The Church is sent into the world to put the Word of Jesus into the ears of the unbelieving world. You are sent too. You may not be called to be pastors or missionaries, but God sends you to your neighbour, to those around you. God has placed people in your daily lives. If you realise the darkness and misery of our land, if you are really thankful for the unspeakable blessings which the gospel has brought to you, then you are blessed with an opportunity to do something about it.
Because, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” But you can’t call on someone you don’t believe in. And you can’t believe in someone you’ve never heard about. And you can’t hear about him without a preacher. And Preachers must be sent. So, today, this very morning, hear the Word of Christ forgiving your sins, raising you from your death, giving you eternal life. Hear it and take it to heart. Trust it. It’s the surest Word there is in your life. It’s the Word that God has been preaching from the beginning, the Word that took your sins to the cross and died for them, the Word that conquered death and rose to life. What a marvellous and wonderful Word God has laid on our ears! “Faith comes by hearing.” You have God’s Word on it – it’s right there – in your ears to hear, your mouth to confess, your heart to believe. Hear it, confess it, believe it.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.