Lesson 39: Romans 10:12-17
An Unexpected Deliverance
by Bob Burridge ©2011
For example, people have always watched the stars move across the night sky slowly toward the west making a complete trip across the sky every night. The next night each star rises about 4 minutes earlier than it did the night before. By the time a year has gone by, the stars movements would have completely cycled around to the same positions in the sky they had the year before.
Even in the most ancient of times people noticed the way the moon seems to move around the earth once a month. They saw five other lights in the sky that seemed to wander around us on unique paths. They called them planets, which means “wanderers”.
To explain it all, including such things as eclipses, became confusing. The problem was that they had it all worked out in the wrong way. They assumed that the earth was stationary,and that all the objects in the sky revolved around the earth. The stars were imagined as imbedded on a large celestial sphere which wrapped around everything else. The moon, sun, and planets were each thought to be attached to clear crystalline spheres within that outer celestial shell. They assumed that each layer rotated around the earth, each a little larger than the one it surrounded.
The movements of the planets were not fitting that model so to make the system work they came to believe that the planets were rotating on clear disks around points on the rotating spheres. That still didn’t solve the problem so more circles had to be added. Still some observations just could not be made to fit. The scheme became very complex and hard to handle. By 1538, just a short time after the Reformation, the system required 79 interconnected spheres.
The wrong starting point produced a complex system that was very impressive and somewhat convincing. There was only one problem — it was not the way things really were.
When the answer came it was most unexpected and unwelcome. Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus found evidence that the sun was at the center of the system. It was the earth and the 5 planets that moved around the sun. Very soon after that Kepler added the idea that the planets orbited in ellipses, not perfect circles.
Many like Tycho Brahe rejected the idea on philosophical grounds. They insisted that it could not be true. Brahe thought that the Bible itself demanded that everything revolved around the earth. Of course the Bible teaches no such thing. The truth was not liked at all. The Copernican idea was condemned as heretical foolishness.
However, once the basic structure was settled, the measurements started to fit much better. Without all the spheres and circles orbiting points on other circles with off-set centers, things were much simpler. In time even the skeptics had to admit that the unwanted truth was unavoidable.
Of course we are still measuring the light from stars and distant galaxies trying to answer many remaining questions. But we are making better progress now that we have the right foundation.
The most important issue of all has also been commonly misunderstood. There is that question that concerns those who come under conviction of sin, “How can I be forgiven and become accepted by God forever?”
Our fallen nature will not see or admit the problem as it really is. Therefore wrong answers are assumed. Spiritually dead souls imagine all sorts of abilities they don’t have, and imagine rules that don’t exist. Even God’s word is distorted to protect an assumed scheme of things.
People often assume that, “God loves everybody and could never punish anyone eternally.” Some say, “We are all really good deep inside, we are all God’s children.” Some propose that, “if we live a good charitable life God would have to bless us.” So they adopt mystical religions, impressive rituals, self-denying lists of taboos, and think of all the good things they have done that should impress God.
Since they build their ideas upon a wrong foundation, things cannot fit together well. If we are all good deep inside, how can we explain why so many violent crimes are committed? Why do people tend to lie so easily and ignore responsibilities? How can they justify punishing certain actions and behaviors while still trying to respect all views as right? Supposedly rehabilitated criminals are set free only to commit more crimes. Morals tend to evaporate away as cultures progress from their beginnings leaving a seething pool of raging humanity. Abortions of humans are championed as a right to be protected while they make laws protecting unborn sea turtles. To cope with frustrations they cannot explain people turn to drugs, suicide, multiple marriages, unrestrained and unsafe sexual habits, alcohol-abuse, over-eating, gossip, addiction to TV and computer games, and many more conscience blinding activities to avoid facing reality.
God’s answer comes unexpectedly to the fallen human heart. The truth had been confused from the beginning. The prophets were hated and persecuted when they declared what the Creator revealed to them. When Jesus was born fulfilling the prophesies, the Jews stumbled at it because it did not fit their scheme of things, and the Gentiles hated it because it did not fit with their philosophy either.
But there it was — the great promise was fulfilled in a suffering Messiah. Fallen humans, both Jews and Gentiles, expected a formula for earning blessings and rewards, but God sent Jesus to die in his people’s place to give undeserved life to all he called to believe in him.
Today it is no different. The secularists imagine that no Savior is needed. Religionists imagine that the Savior did not finish the job, so they hope in altar calls, emotional decisions, mystical rituals, and good deeds.
The deliverance God provided was unexpected
both in Scope and Method
Romans 10:12-13, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’ “
God’s work of salvation was unexpectedly large in its scope. The Jewish teachers in Paul’s time expected a Messiah to bless them specially because they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had become proud and bigoted in their customs and heritage. They were sure that salvation required everybody to first convert to Judaism. They imagined a revolutionary Messiah who would overthrow Rome, humiliate the Gentiles, and give the Jews advantages over them. To make that idea fit the words of Scripture, the Rabbis had completely re-interpreted Moses and the Prophets. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:29 “Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.”
In Christ the difference between Jew and Gentile was being done away. The truth of the gospel brings salvation to all believers without distinction. There are no more national privileges in the Gospel. There is only one Lord, no other God, no other Sovereign by which anyone is saved.
Many Jews were highly offended at the challenge being made by the Christians against the distorted view they had of their special standing. When God began to bring in Gentiles without first requiring them to become Jews, it was too much for the Rabbis and their blinded followers. It stirred hatred and persecutions to save a system that was unraveling in the light of truth.
God’s work of salvation was also unexpected in its method. The abounding riches promised by God were to be for all those who called upon Him. This had always been God’s plan. The symbolic rites of Judaism were to teach what was to come. They were never a means of salvation.
The quote here came from the Old Testament in Joel 2:32, “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. …” Joel was announcing the judgment of the Lord upon unbelief, and the salvation of his true people.
The same verse was quoted by Peter at Pentecost as a clear reference to the Messiah’s Coming. Peter also gave the context that shows that Joel was writing about the era of the New Testament. Joel 2:28-29, “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; …”
Calling upon the name of the Lord as it is mentioned in these verses is equivalent with identifying ourselves with his work of redeeming his people. It is an exercise of a true saving faith. It is not just calling out with specific words. It is an expression of heart-trust, asking for deliverance and expecting it to come as God promised it would. That is what it means to be a believer, one who calls out to the Lord trusting in his promise.
Paul used the same quote in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:”
There Paul substituted the name of Jesus for the word Jehovah in Joel. This calling out is a humbling confession that drives a person to the one true Deliverer.
Salvation is neither inherited nor earned as the Jews imagined. It came by what we call “vicarious atonement”. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross. There he removed the offense by paying the debt of sin for his people. It is vicarious because he does it in the sinner’s place as their representative.
Faith is the means God uses in applying our salvation. He implants confidence in the heart which then trusts in the true way of salvation as it is learned.
The Gospel was unexpected in both its scope and method. The free offer of the gospel to all nations had always been God’s promise. The Jewish leaders and teachers were wicked to have rejected what had been so plainly revealed. Therefore, Israel as a covenant nation was without excuse.
This unexpected deliverance
employed very ordinary means.
Romans 10:14-15, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ “
These obvious logical steps which God ordained involved his people in the process. If you call trustingly upon the Lord, you must first believe the truth of his gospel message. If you trust in him, you must first have heard about him. In order to hear the gospel, someone must have presented it to you. If you have been presented with it, some “proclaimer” must have been sent by God to deliver that message. That is how God planned that his work of redemption would be carried out.
The Greek word for “preacher” is the participle kaerus-sontos (κηρυσσοντος). It means one who “announces, tells, proclaims, publishes, makes something known”. This is not just the formal preaching that ordained ministers do. It includes that, but more broadly it is a promise to all those who tell the gospel truth to others. It includes those who translate and publish Bibles or write books, those who teach it in the worship services and Sunday Schools, those who take it to foreign countries and help establish new churches. It is also the work of us all as we talk with our children, friends, and co-workers. Every faithful believer becomes a link in this important chain.
The sending spoken of here is not only the commissioning and supporting of missionaries. This may be included, but unlike its common use in missions conferences, there is nothing in this verse that justifies limiting it to that one special application. God sends us all to bring his truth to others who have not yet understood it. By that proclaimed word, God gives people understanding, implants faith in them, and moves them to call out to Jesus showing the reality of the faith he put into their hearts. We who are sent on this mission by our Redeemer must obey, even though there will sometimes be strong opposition.
This was Israel’s job to declare the truth of God’s salvation to everyone, but she disobeyed, became arrogant and isolated. When the day came to expand to the Gentiles, the corrupted Rabbis became persecutors of those doing what they should have been doing all along.
When we explain the gospel truth to others, we speak with God’s authority because we are telling his words. Jesus said in Luke 10:16 “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”
This is a wonderful duty to which God calls his people. Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ ”
Isaiah was speaking of those bringing news of release from captivity to Israel. That event represented the future coming of the promised Messiah to set his people free from sin. Those who were the enemies of God will be humbled by the undeniable power of the King of kings. The promise of deliverance, embraced or not, will be laid out before the whole world. A close reading of Isaiah showed that this included the extending of the truth about deliverance to the Gentiles too. Isaiah 52:10 says, “The LORD has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God.” This is how Paul uses the verse here.
Joy ought to be attached to bringing of the gospel message. The Jews who were angered by it, and found no joy in taking the truth to the Gentiles, showed that they were aliens from the true spiritual nation of God. Their feet were not on the mountains. They were propped up before them in selfish comfort.
As we take the gospel to those who are not already believers, we should never fear how they might treat us or what they will think of us. There will be those who oppose us whatever we do. It is far better to be the enemy of those who hate God, than to join his enemies and contribute to the confusion and silencing of the gospel.
Though God’s deliverance was not what they expected,
it was not a new idea.
Romans 10:16-17, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
God had foretold not only the bringing in of the Gentiles, but also the apostasy of Israel. When the Messiah came in the way he did, it was to most of the Jews an unbelievable series of events. They had so confused the message with their expectations that it seemed unacceptable.
Isaiah 53 foretold the coming of a Suffering Messiah. That is the chapter from which Paul was quoting here, “Who has believed our report?…” (Isaiah 53:1). Literally it means, “who would have believed the thing reported?” Isaiah was speaking of the unexpectedness of the Suffering Messiah which is described by the prophet in the verses that followed.
To the Jews it was a stumbling block. They assumed that salvation would have to be earned by keeping the law, by doing good works. They wanted a Messiah who would destroy Rome, and set up the Jews on an earthly throne. They wanted the Gentiles to be looked down upon as an inferior race of people. The truth was not what they expected or wanted to hear.
Like those who rejected the ideas of Copernicus, the truth about the Messiah was not appealing. It went against what they assumed was true. It meant that we humans are not as innocent or as powerful as it seems. The false ideas of of the fallen mind do not quite fit the reality we see around us, but in that spiritually blinded estate, the lies seem more appealing.
The gospel exposes what humans really need, but deny. It dashes the idea that someone could be redeemed by earning it through their efforts and choices. It shows that God is rightfully the judge of all who remain in their sins. It puts us all on the same level: Jew and Gentile alike, rich and poor, intelligent and slow of mind. This is a difficult message until the heart is changed by the inward work of the Holy Spirit.
So God sends us out as his people to tell the good news, even to those who do not see it as good. We are duty bound to bring it to as many as we can. It is not our duty to make them believe. It is our duty to tell them the facts as clearly as we can. It is our duty to pray for the Spirit to gather in all God calls to himself by grace.
God gives us a simple message, one that confounds expectations, but transforms the soul.
What is your mission field? It is where God puts you every day. It is made up of the people around you who are confused about the truth, those who cry out for answers but have a wrong system into which to fit everything.
How will you tell the message to those people? You can bring it up in your daily conversations with others as a caring friend. You can invite someone to coffee, lunch, or dinner where you can help them understand what it is like to trust in God’s promises.
When you have the opportunity, tell them the truth, not just what they want to hear. Speak humbly as one who knows he is as equally fallen in Adam as they are. Explain how salvation is promised by God himself, to all who call upon the true Christ in true faith.
It is by such simple obedience that Christ builds his kingdom. The right growth of a church is not found in attracting people to fancy architecture or entertaining programs. It is not found in social activities designed to appeal to every unique category in society. As helpful as these things may be, the real work of Kingdom growth is the gathering of each one who believes into a loving family in the Lord. There we each do our best to help one another. We should speak out when we can to spread the message about this wonderful truth.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)