11th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 14) LSB #’s 584, 830, 582
Text – Romans 10:16a
But they have not all obeyed the gospel.
OBEYING THE GOSPEL
“We should fear & love God so that we do not despise preaching & His Word, but hold it sacred & gladly hear & learn it.” I truly hope that you recognize those words. Sadly I’m not optimistic that many of you would be able to accurately site exactly from where they come. Literacy is not a hallmark of our culture nor of the church here in America.
On Mt. Sinai, the Lord God gave the 3rd commandment to Moses. Roughly 3,000 years later, Martin Luther wrote an explanation for “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” To keep the Sabbath day holy, Luther called us to hold the Word of God sacred & to gladly hear & learn that Word. Roughly in the middle, between Moses & Luther, St. Paul writes:
“But they have not all obeyed the gospel.” (Romans 10:16a ESV) Those words are still true today, & have been throughout history. Many people do not hold sacred or gladly hear & learn the Word of God. Those who do obey the gospel are the ones who listen & respond with gratitude to the heavenly Father as their Creator & to Jesus Christ as their Savior.
When God’s children hear The Good News their saintly nature, created by that Good News, automatically holds it sacred & gladly hears & learns it. This morning I ask, “Do you recognize that activity, that kind of response, in your own life?” What Paul recognizes in the reading from Romans 10 is this, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel.” (10:16a ESV)
Our sinful nature always disobeys, so warfare goes on within us, between the saintly & the sinful nature. Paul recognizes & addresses that. The preceding verses set the stage: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 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?” (Romans 10:13-15a ESV) Almighty God sends forth His Word to relay the Good News of His Son’s payment for our sins. The Gospel is entirely God reaching out to all of us with the Good News about Jesus. The Father has done everything to rescue His creation.
Then, Paul introduces the matter of human response: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel.” (10:16a ESV) With verse 17, Paul sums up this entire Epistle reading from Romans 10: “So faith comes from hearing, & hearing through the word of Christ.” In other words, the only way to end up in hell is to intentionally refuse to let the Good News do its work.
All of us know from experience, from actual heartbreak, that the world we live in is broken. You may not often admit it, but you know that you are a broken human being. It’s not pretty to look at ourselves in the glaring light of God’s holy & perfect Law. Thousands of churches across the U. S. refuse to confess sin during worship services because it’s depressing.
Could the apostle be writing about churches like those, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel.”? (Romans 10:16a ESV) The very 1st sermon Jesus preached in His public ministry was this, “The time is fulfilled, & the kingdom of God is at hand; repent & believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 ESV) Some people simply refuse in spite of all that God has done.
That refusal is at the root of everything God Himself defines as evil. It’s the only independent choice that human beings can make, & that choice always involves worshipping ourselves rather than worshipping our Creator. It’s a choice that despises preaching & the Word of God. Even as children of God we recognize that sort of response in our own lives.
Unbelievers have only a sinful nature, but God’s children have both. We are saints & sinners. Those two natures are constantly at war within us. The good that we want to do we don’t, & the evil that don’t want to do that we keep on doing. Confession & repentance are certainly depressing if we do not believe the Good News as Jesus encouraged us to. In the Gospel reading, the moment Peter stopped believing the Good News, what happened? “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, & beginning to sink…” (Matthew 14:30 ESV) Yes, the moment he stopped believing Peter sank into the waves. But it doesn’t end there:
“…beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out His hand & took hold of him…” (Matthew 14:30-31 ESV) The struggle between Peter’s saintly & sinful natures was put on vivid display. He stopped believing & sank into the waves, but he also cried out in repentance & Jesus saved him.
Peter did not allow the depressing aspect of repentance to turn him away from calling for salvation. There is only One Savior & He is calling the entire world to Himself even now. To turn to Jesus is to confront the truth of both realities, “…repent & believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 ESV) Do you recognize that activity, that kind of response, in your own life?
In 1961, a visitor walked into the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow carrying a brick. He found a painting of the crucifixion & began to destroy it. His anger . . . his violence . . . his desecration of Christian art was not done out of hatred for Christianity but out of love for Christ. He objected to the way the artist had portrayed the crucifixion of Jesus.
Salvador Dali was the artist. The painting was Christ of St. John of the Cross. In it, one sees Jesus, hanging on the cross, over the world. The problem, for the visitor, however, was one of perspective. Dali had changed the traditional perspective people have on the crucifixion.
Rather than standing below the cross, looking up into the face of Jesus, Dali asks the viewer to be situated above the cross, looking down upon Jesus, who Himself is looking down upon the world. For that visitor, this stance was sacrilegious. You are placed above Jesus. For others, however, this stance is divine. Some people see what this visitor did not – they see an artist inviting you to have God’s view of the world. Our heavenly Father looks down upon the fallen world & sees it through the eyes of His Son Jesus, dying on the cross, for all mankind. The vision is hard, even for Christians to see. As we look at the world, we often see things we want to run away from rather than run in to.
We see the social fabric of God’s creation tearing apart at the seams. Same sex marriage, divorce, & couples living together outside of marriage have altered God’s plan of one man & one woman for life. The complacent killing of children in the womb & the ardent fight to preserve the nesting places of an endangered species tells of a world that has lost its moral compass.
Rather than valuing all of life, our culture encourages us to value only some of life, particularly if it is not human. Seeing poverty walking our streets looking for a place to sleep while others are buying their 2nd vacation home makes us want to leave this world behind, to enter into a Christian cocoon & wait for the Day of Resurrection, the recreation of everything.
How easy for us to enter church & turn our eyes upward to the cross while leaving the world behind. We can forget where we are or what He would have us be doing. We can simply gaze at the cross, remembering what Jesus did for us & then forget that we live in the world & that God has chosen you & me to be involved in His mission. Here. In time.
How hard it is, how terribly hard, to look at Dali’s crucifixion. There, we cannot escape the world by looking at Jesus. No, we find that Jesus asks us to see the world through Him. Jesus hangs there, below us, offering His life for the world. He invites us to see the world, through the cross. He invites us to live God’s mission of love!
That’s the perspective the apostle Paul had of the world. It’s the vision St. Paul was inviting Christians in Rome & Christians today to see. God has called us to be part of His people for His purpose, reaching out to broken human beings with Christ’s saving love. This morning, reflecting on this text from Romans, & our response, we remember that we are people saved by grace in order to be involved in God’s mission.
Another unique aspect of Dali’s depiction of the crucifixion is that Jesus hangs on the cross with no nails piercing His hands. There are no nails piercing His feet. His body hangs from the cross but there is nothing that holds Him to it. For some, this detail is disturbing, as if it denies the pain & suffering of the Son of God.
For others, however, there is a deep spiritual insight. When Jesus was crucified, we indeed nailed Him to the cross. There is no doubt that God Himself was rejected by His people & was hung upon the cross to die. Yet, Jesus could have delivered Himself if He wanted to.
As Jesus hung upon the cross, the religious leaders mocked Him. They called for Him to come down from the cross & save Himself if He were truly God. But Jesus stayed on the cross, not because He was only human & couldn’t get down but because He was truly God & would not get down. Jesus stayed on the cross because He didn’t come into this world to save Himself.
Jesus came to save you. It was the pure love of God that led Jesus to that cross & it was the pure love of God that held Jesus there – offering His sinless life for the sins of the whole world. Jesus hanging on the cross without nails is not a realistic picture of what happened at the crucifixion, but it is a true picture of what happened on that Good Friday.
Jesus calls us to repent & believe the Good News & that is Good News because salvation comes to us purely by grace. It is only by the love of God, poured out for you & me in Jesus Christ, that we are saved.
When we hear a word like obey, we normally think of the Law. What is Paul telling us here in Romans 10? Obeying the Gospel is simply to believe in its power & to submit to its power such that we proclaim its message, God’s message. Obeying the Gospel is to believe in its power & to submit to its power such that we hold it sacred & gladly hear & learn it. Obeying the Gospel is a whole hearted selling out to the love of Jesus, but its power is often like the still small voice that Elijah heard on the mountaintop.
This ‘obeying’ can happen in times of despair when there is clearly no other option than trusting in God. Fear plays a large part in that & is not a solid foundation for change. Once the fear is gone, there’s a natural temptation to revert back to old habits. That’s not the preferred option, though God can make it work.
The better reason to sell out to Jesus is recognizing that His love has rescued us from the hell that we deserve. This is a selling out to the love of Christ due to gratitude instead of fear. Obeying the Gospel is making time to hear the Word of God just because you love to do so. God already knows that we will often fail in that & loves us anyway.
After the visitor attacked Dali’s painting it was removed from the art museum & through careful work, the painting was restored & brought back to the museum. Today, thousands of visitors to Glasgow see this painting. They stand there & marvel at the beauty of Dali’s work. Paul, however, knows of another restoration that causes God’s people to stand in wonder.
Paul sees that in Christ God has fulfilled His promises to Abraham. Through that one nation, God has brought salvation to all the nations of the earth. Through one person, His Son Jesus, God offers a love that encompasses all people. He kept the Law perfectly on our behalf that He might offer us Good News instead. To obey the Gospel is simply to repent & believe.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Tell how God the Father’s will made the world, upholds it still, how His own dear Son He gave us from sin & death to save. Tell of our Redeemer’s grace, Who, to save our human race & to pay rebellion’s price, gave Himself as sacrifice. Tell of God the Spirit given now to guide us on to heaven, strong & holy, just & true, working both to will & do. Amen. LSB 830:2-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet