“The Message and the Messenger”
August 1, 2004
The message of faith requires us to be faithful messengers.
I. The Message of Faith (Romans 10:5-13)
II. The Need of a Messenger (Romans 10:14-15)
MessageHerman Melvilles novels, and later James Michners, did a lot to tarnish the reputation of Christian missionaries. And the truth is that some missionaries did lose focus on Christ, or proclaimed a distorted, harmful version of Christianity. But they were the minority, and in the Pacific Islands as elsewhere, most missionaries of the 19th century worked faithfully and well. And often God blessed this faithfulness.
This week I ran across the story of Titus Coan. I dont know if youve heard of him, but he was a missionary to Hawaii, specifically to the Hilo section of the big island, in the shadow of, in his words Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, nearly 14,000 feet above the sea, the former being a pile of extinct craters, often crowned with snow, and the latter a mountain of fire, where earthquakes that rock the islands and convulse the ocean are born, and where volcanoes burst with awful roar, and rush in fiery rivers down the mountains, across the plains, through the blazing jungle and into the sea.
Coan wrote an autobiography called Life in Hawaii, which is long out of print, but is available in electronic form because it was placed on a web site devoted to tracking the volcanic eruptions of Mauna Loa. Coan, a keen observer, had recorded valuable details of fifty years worth of eruptions. But his main concern in Hawaii was not mountains but souls. He says The population of this shore belt was probably at that time about 15,000 to 16,000, almost exclusively natives. Very few foreigners had then come here to live. Several missionaries had resided in Hilo for short periods, but only one couple had settled here permanently. Schools had also been established through the districts and a goodly number could read and write.
The Presbyterian Church in Connecticut sent Coan to Hawaii, where he began in 1834 to travel among people, making so many journeys that he came to know almost all the islanders by name, recording names and the character of each person in his extensive journals. At times his travels were quite challenging. Coan records that I was once three hours in crossing one river. The day was cold and rainy, and I was soaked before I entered the stream. This was so wide at the only possible crossing point, that we were unable to throw a line across. The raging roar, and tossing of the waters were fearful, and the sight of it made me shudder. Fifty feet below us was a fall of some twenty feet, and about 100 yards further down the river entered a narrow gorge with a clear plunge of about eighty feet. The natives tried all their skill and strength, but could not throw the line across. At length a daring man went up_stream close to a waterfall, took the rope in his teeth, mounted a rock and leaped into the flood; down, down he struggled till he reached the opposite shore only a few feet above the fatal falls. But by his audacity, which I would have forbidden, had I known it in time, a passage was provided for me.
In 1937 and 38 Coans persistent sharing of the Good News about Jesus was used of God to bring many to Christ: On reaching the western boundaries of Puna, my labors became more abundant. I had visited this people before, and had noticed a hopeful interest in a number of them. Now they rallied in masse, and were eager to hear the Word. Many listened with tears, and after the preaching they remained and crowded around me so earnestly, that I had no time to eat, and in places where I spent my nights they filled the house to its entire capacity, leaving scores outside who could not enter. All wanted to hear more of the Word of Life. At one place there was a line of four villages not more than half a mile apart. Each village begged for a sermon and for personal conversation. Starting at daylight I preached in each of them in turn. When the meeting closed at one village most of the people ran on to the next, and thus my congregation increased rapidly from hour to hour. Many were pierced to the heart and asked what they should do to be saved. Sunday came and I was now in the most populous part of Puna. Multitudes came to hear the Gospel. There was great joy and much weeping in the assembly. Two days were spent in this place, and ten sermons preached, while almost all the intervals between the public services were spent in personal conversation with the crowds. Many of the people who then wept and prayed proved true converts to Christ; most have died in the faith, and a few still live as steadfast witnesses to the power of the Gospel.
In the two year period 1837_38, so many converts were added to Coan's church that it had to be rebuilt three times, and became the biggest single congregation in the world. By 1870 it had 13,000 members - and this despite the fact that no one was admitted to membership until he or she proved over a period of months that their repentance was sincere. By this remarkable ministry Titus Coan shows us what todays text, Romans 10:5-15 teaches, that the message of faith requires faithful messengers. In fact the message of faith requires us, you and me, to be faithful messengers.
Romans 10 is the middle chapter in Pauls explanation of the fate of the Jewish people. He taught in chapter 9 that God is sovereign and chooses who will be saved. But in 10 he teaches that man is responsible and must call on the Lord in faith in order to be saved. Furthermore he teaches that salvation is not based on works: we cannot establish our righteousness or right standing with God by effort or through the Old Testament law. In fact the law had to be set aside as a way of salvation so that Jews and Gentiles alike could find righteousness by faith.
I. The Message of Faith (Romans 10:5-13)
So Paul is contrasting faith and the works of the law. Romans 5:5-8 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." 6But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7"or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:
In order to establish faith as the way of salvation, Paul quotes the teaching of Moses, found in Leviticus 18:5, saying of the law that the man who does these things will live by them. If you could obey the Law, you would be righteous and acceptable to God. But what Paul understands _ Moses did too _ is that no one does do these things. No one ever achieved righteousness by keeping the law. Instead, the law simply points out our sin So Paul turns to Deuteronomy 30, where Moses says that the law is accessible, but Paul sees that it is Christ who is accessible: Verse 6: But the righteousness that is by faith says: Do not say in your heart "Who will ascend to heaven (that is to bring Christ down) Or who will descend to the deep? (that is to bring Christ up from the dead)" No one had to go on a quest to find Gods law. It was his gift. But now God has given Jesus as a gift. We don't have to work, or to elevate ourselves to find him. We don't need to fall into the trap they did, taking the gracious gift of God, and making it something earned by works. The work has already been done by Christ, who descended from heaven in the incarnation, who was raised from the dead in the resurrection. His work is taken hold of by faith. This truth is what Paul calls in verse 8 the word of faith, or the message of faith.
He explains it clearly in verses 9 and 10, some of the most renowned verses in this letter: If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
To believe is to trust, to have faith in, to depend on. We are called to believe God at a heart level. To confess is to agree with, to declare, to profess We are called to admit what we believe. The two go together, in life as well as in this passage. To confess without believing is hypocrisy, but so is to believe without confessing: if you wont put it into words, do you really believe that "Jesus is Lord" and "God raised him from the dead?" It's interesting that Paul summarizes the Gospel by means of the resurrection. If you or I had been writing the letter, we might have said "believe that Jesus died for your sins." And that would have been fine: Paul does emphasize the crucifixion elsewhere. But the New Testament writers prefer to point at the resurrection, which verifies that Christ's death for sin was God's intent. It is the proof of his victory, the glorious culmination of his rescue plan.
So we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the death he died for our sins. Thats the message of faith. And we confess with our mouths that "Jesus is Lord" Jesus is my ruler, my authority, my master, the one I am submitted to, the one I am a servant of. Jesus is my Lord almost means Jesus is my boss, but thats not quite reverent enough. Remember, the Jewish people had such reverence for the name of God that they did not want to speak it aloud. So in reading the Old Testament whenever they would come to the word Yahweh, they would say the word Adonai, which means Lord or Master. But if you then take a word which you have applied consistently to God, and apply it to another, Jesus, you are also affirming his deity.
This is the message of faith: that by believing so as to say with Thomas My Lord and My God, you are saved and justified. To be saved is to be rescued from sin. To be justified is to be made right with God. This is the message we must embrace, and its the message we need to share so others can believe and confess. Verses 11-13 reinforce this truth. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
The concepts of believing and confessing are re-presented in these verses as trusting and calling on the Lord. The first of these occurs in a quote from Isaiah 28:16, where the Lord says See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. Later this fall were doing a sermons series called Neon Words of the Old Testament, and well look at this word trust, because it is the key bridge word to the New Testament concept of faith. Over and over we are called to trust in the Lord, to depend on him. God doesnt ask for your works, he asks for your trust. In the same way confessing Jesus as Lord is paralleled in these verses by calling on the Lord. That common Scriptural phrase shows that though there is to be a public witness, its really your voice crying out to the Lord as your Lord that shows saving faith. Its like the old story of a tree falling in the forest: if nobody hears it, does it make a sound? Sure it does. And if you are all alone, as many have been, when you call on the Lord for salvation, is it real salvation? Sure it is, though you shouldnt keep it a secret.
Notice also in these verses, that this message of faith is directed at the whole world and every person. It says anyone who trusts, all who call, everyone who calls. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, between the nation of Israel and the nation of Afghanistan, between a citizen of the Roman Empire and a citizen of the United States. Its universal. God wont refuse anyone who calls on him. So what is our responsibility here? First, it is to look to our own eternity. If salvation is God's free gift to those who trust, and confess and call on Him, then it is clear that you need to trust Jesus, believing that he died for your sins, and was raised from the dead for your salvation, and confessing him as Lord. Its sometimes called crossing the line and you have the chance to cross the line today. Dont miss it.
II. The Need of a Messenger (Romans 10:14-15)
But our responsibility doesnt end when we believe. Weve got this great message, the message of faith, not works, of rescue and righteousness, of redemption for those who trust Jesus. But in Gods plan this message needs messengers - He uses his people as messengers both here and around the world. Verses 14-15 crystallize this: How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
Paul has just said that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Now he takes it a bit further. In order to call, you must first believe: its a message of faith. But the believing is result of hearing: you can't believe in someone you have never heard of. Actually, the Greek implies not that they havent heard of him, but that they havent heard him. When you or I share the Gospel, Jesus speaks, through the Holy Spirit, convicting people of sin and convincing them of the truth.
So how can they hear unless they come to church and hear the preacher? No. There are problems with the translation of the word "preacher" in this verse. Its not very accurate: a better translation is "herald" or "proclaimer" or even messenger. The original usage was of someone like a town crier sharing an important message. Paul understands that part of what it means for anyone to be a follower of Christ is to be a proclaimer of that message to those who need to hear it. He goes on in verse 15: How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!" So if the message of Christ's forgiveness and grace is to get out, there are two important roles for the body of Christ: proclaiming the Good News and sending others to proclaim it.
What does it mean to be a proclaimer? The most important thing is not what method you uses, but the content of your message. In verse 17 Paul will say, "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." There is a specific proclamation that must be made, the message of faith in Jesus. Whenever Paul teaches, this is his central theme. Even so, we so see various ways of proclaiming the message in the New Testament. Sometimes the followers of Christ were in the street preaching. Some had one_on_one conversations in which they proclaimed the name of Christ. But when Paul was in Athens, he went to the public arena where the philosophers debated, and entered into the debate. He availed himself of the opportunity in that culture to speak to people who were interested in talking about truth.
There are many different approaches, but one constant goal: to share the good news, to be cross cultural messengers who cross the street to befriend our neighbors or cross the ocean to share in India or the Philippines or Russia or Mexico. The Good News compels us to be joyful messengers. And let me add the obvious truth that at some point this means actually speaking the good news. Weve all heard about lifestyle evangelism, and certainly our lives should be lived with integrity, to model the gospel. But at some point you've got to say it. The truth needs to be communicated; people will not pick it up by osmosis. And if that daunts you, I urge you to stay tuned, because Mike Bauer is preparing to lead an adult Sunday School class this fall to help people learn how to share their faith.
The other important role Paul identifies here is sending. "How can they proclaim unless they are sent?" How do we get ourselves out there as proclaimers of the truth of Christ's love? I see several models for sending in the New Testament church.
The first is that God directly pushed people out into the arena of ministry. A good example is found in Acts 11:19_26, where Luke points out that after Steven's martyrdom a great persecution arose. Because of that persecution, the believers were scattered, and wherever they went they proclaimed Jesus. God is still sovereign in this way.
I read this week about one young couple who, after really struggling with their faith and their marriage, turned to Jesus and began to grow as believers. Joe, the husband, had a carpet business, and he was building a huge, beautiful log house on some family land. As God began to work on him, he began to feel that some of his life goals weren't that important. He began to feel a call to ministry, but he said There are two things that are holding me back: I've got this business I don't know what to do with, and I'm building this house. In the space of a month, two incredible things happened. First, in that small town, someone walked up and offered to buy his business. And second, some kids set fire to some big bales of cotton, and the fire spread and burned his house down. It was a hard blow, but he said, "You know what? I had this incredible sense of liberation." Joe went back to graduate school, and has since been used by God to share with many the message of faith. I'm not suggesting God is going to burn your house down, but God can send us out in all kinds of ways. He wants us to be his ambassadors, his messengers.
Sometimes the church literally chooses and sends people. In Acts 13 the church leadership at Antioch came together, praying and fasting and seeking the Lord's will. In the midst of that the Holy Spirit spoke to them and said, "Set apart for me Paul and Barnabas." The Lord directed the church to send out these two to be its emissaries, its proclaimers, in new parts of the world. In this same way, God has used our church to raise up people, both for short term and long term missions, both locally and in distant places. And when we send those people we need to be generous with our prayer and support. A third way people were sent out in the New Testament was that the Holy Spirit led individuals. After Paul and Barnabas came back to Antioch from their first missionary journey, Acts 15:36 says it seemed good to them to go out and do this again. Within the context of the nurturing of their church, they were led by the Holy Spirit.
Pauls logic in these two verses is inescapable. People need to believe the message of faith, the message of Jesus. To believe it they need to hear it. To hear it there has to be a messenger willing to go to them and share it. In certain situations that someone is going to be you. In others it is going to be me. lt is true that some have a special calling to be missionaries. But all the rest of us are expected to share our faith. The message needs a messenger. And the messengers need to be sent. Thats the ministry of a church, whether through its missions budget or through support of individuals or through the support of those who go cross-culturally across the street or down to the local school.
I want to end this morning by inviting Patty Boyd to come up, so that I can interview her briefly about a new initiative she has brought to Trinity. Its a local cross-cultural initiative, and one in which you can play a role.
Questions: What is the opportunity? What is your vision? How would it work? What would be needed? How can people at Trinity get involved? How can we pray?