Sermon preached on Romans 10:14-21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/27/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Preaching. So often underrated. So often disregarded. Yet so essential. Our passage today tells us a truth that was so relevant back then, but continues to be so relevant today. Our Christian faith is founded on a message. A message we call the gospel. That good news that Christ Jesus came to save sinners through his sacrifice on the cross. But this message will do no one any good if it’s not conveyed to someone so they can believe in it. And God has told us how to convey this message — through preaching. But in order to have the message preached, you need someone to be sent to preach it. This all is what this passage deals with today. It talks about the way someone comes to faith and becomes a worshipper of God. It’s through preaching, and that by someone sent to preach. That is what we’ll consider today. To see the beauty of this divinely ordained means for our salvation.
We’ll begin then first today by considering preaching as the way to bring about faith. Remember the context from last week. Verses 8-13 had just talked about the importance for someone to have faith in the gospel. Faith that it was Christ’s death and resurrection which secures our salvation. Faith that is then confessed by calling upon the name of the Lord. Those are closely related concepts. The concept in Scripture of calling on the Lord has the idea of both prayer and worship. It’s the people of this gospel faith who will call upon the name of the Lord, and be heard. That’s the context for this first point we are making today. The first point that we see in verse 14. Paul asks, “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?”
Paul works backwards here. He sees a bit of a causal chain with regards to preaching and faith, but he works us backward through the logic. If someone is going to call on the Lord as we described, they must have faith. But you can’t have faith, if you’ve not been told first about what you should believe. In other words, the message has to be communicated. But to communicate the message, you need a communicator. Again, preaching via a preacher is the answer given here.
Let’s make sure we understand what we are talking about here. The primary Greek word used here for preaching and preacher is kerusso. In addition to the translation of preaching, it can be translated as proclamation, herald, or announce as well. It typically carries with it a quality of formality. It also tends to carry with it a quality of demand. In other words, that the truths being conveyed are being urged by the speaker for you to accept and comply with. This is all a part of the word kerusso in the Greek.
And so with regard to our passage, it’s talking about a preacher proclaiming in this way the gospel. The “good news of peace” and the “glad tidings of good things” in verse 15. A preacher announces this message. This message as we’ve talked about the last couple weeks is that man can’t be made right before God with their own works — that’s the bad news, but that man can be made right before God through faith, faith in Christ — that’s the good news. This preaching announces salvation to all who believe on Christ.
It’s important to understand all of this in light of a thesis statement Paul made at the start of the book of Romans. Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” You see, this is what’s so central to Paul. Salvation via the gospel. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The gospel — a message, a message of good news. It is God’s power unto salvation. But that gospel must be believed. But you can’t believe it if it’s not told to you. And so God ordained preaching to herald this gospel to the world. Paul summarizes it in verse 17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The significance of this is huge. This idea holds out a challenge to Christ’s church about how it does ministry. It causes us to assess the means of how we go about trying to get people saved. God says that people are saved by the means of the preaching of the gospel. Such preaching calls for a response. It calls for the obedience of faith, verse 16. And so Christ’s church needs to make sure that this is how to looks to have people be saved. Through such preaching of the gospel.
Let’s think about some alternatives that might threaten the church. One alternative threat would be a temptation to embellish the gospel. To try to add something to it to try to “spice” it up. To try to make it more attractive or maybe less offensive. Sometimes the church has said things like, “Whatever it takes to get them in the door, so then we can sneak the gospel in somehow.” Some churches in that thinking have resorted to giving away prizes, like new cars, or even toys to kids, to people who visit on Easter Sunday. Others turn the worship service into essentially an entertainment show with dramas, tv clips, comedy acts, and try to subtly work the gospel into those somehow. Now, I don’t think we should try to make church boring. But God promises a power in the preaching of the gospel. Not those other things. God says he saves people through the faith produced via the means of preaching. Not those other things. Let’s not outthink God!
Another alternative threat would be a temptation to alter the gospel. This would be to still preach a message, but a slightly different message instead of the actual gospel. Maybe it’s a message about community. Or social change. Or political change. Or cultural change. Maybe it’s a message about helping others. Or a message of moral change. Maybe it’s a message of self-help or self-inspiration and positive thinking. These are all messages that some people really can get behind. Often they are even called the gospel in one way or another by such so-called churches. Now, maybe if you have such messages as the core of your church ministry then you can grow your church numerically or even fiscally among certain demographics. But that doesn’t have anything to do with saving people. Not in biblical terms at least. Related to this, people sometimes will alter the
gospel by removing the parts that are most confrontational, or by adding promises that are more than what the Bible promises. Like if you remove the teachings of sin or hell. Or if you add a prosperity theology teaching. But if you alter the gospel message, then you are not preaching. You are not proclaiming God’s message.
Yet a third alternative threat is to let side issues to the gospel side track you from the actual preaching of the gospel. Sometimes the good endeavor of apologetics can do this to us. For example, we could get so side tracked discussing creation science, or flood geology, or archeology, or philosophy, all from an apologetics standpoint, that we miss in it the real clear proclamation of the gospel, or the gospel somehow takes a secondary back seat to these other apologetically discussions. Yes, there is a place for such extended disciplines. But apologetics is at its heart a defense of the gospel faith. Not a defense over whether some dug up artifact does prove the existence of King Rehoboam. Again, that would be a good discussion. But don’t lose track of the importance to proclaim the gospel.
And so our first point today has been to describe the importance of the preaching and the message being preached. It is used by God to bring faith. But Paul goes on to develop this further by pointing to the need for a preacher, specifically a preacher who’s been sent. And so our second point today will be to consider God’s sending of preachers. We see this in verse 15. “And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” The word for sent here in the Greek is apostello. It’s the same root that the word apostle comes from. It’s the idea of someone being sent with a message from someone else. It’s someone commissioned with a message to deliver.
Let’s think about the messengers God has commissioned to preach the gospel. In the Old Testament days, we can think of prophets. They were God’s commissioned messengers to proclaim his Word. They preached the gospel in advance through prophecies and promises, and the types and shadows of the old covenant. In contrast, you had false prophets too. Jeremiah 23:20 is one of several passages that condemns such false prophets. God says that they had not stood in his counsel, and so their preaching is not commissioned of God. That’s a reminder that not everybody who proclaims himself a preacher is actually sent by God. It’s this passage in Romans that says that the sending component is very important. Paul’s point is that a preacher must be sent by God to be able to preach the message of God. True prophets in the Old Testament where those sent by God with his words. The false prophets were not.
In the New Testament days, we can think of the apostles. They were sent out by Jesus himself with the plain gospel teaching. The name apostle literally means one who is sent, as we said. Similarly, Paul as an apostle refers to himself as one who is an ambassador of God, imploring people to be reconciled to God through the gospel, 2 Corinthians 5. But in the New Testament, it’s not just apostles who have this commission to preach. We think of pastors of course. The elders of the church lay hands on pastors to specially ordain them for the preaching ministry. This is done as a way to officially and formally recognize God’s commission of them. We mentioned the formal and official capacity of preaching, and this is certainly a function of pastors today. This is why no one should take to being a pastor by their own volition. You don’t call yourself to be a pastor. God does the calling and the sending. The church recognizes such calling when it ordains men to the pastoral ministry.
And yet it would be a mistake to think that only pastors have been sent to proclaim the gospel message. Yes, I think there is a special and official capacity that they provide. I don’t want to disregard that in any way. But the New Testament would say there is a general way in which all true believers have been commissioned to proclaim Christ in everyday ordinary ways. The book of Acts at the day of Pentecost, for example, sees the pouring out of the Spirit now on the church is one that makes us all a kind of prophet. Not in the exact same way as those of old. But certainly in that we possess truth and are called to speak it to others. We are called as Christians to make the most of every opportunity in Colossians 4, clearly with an evangelistic sense there. And we see the example of Aquila and Priscilla sharing the gospel in their home with Apollos, Acts 18. Or think of the Samaritan woman in John 4 who shared the news of the Christ with her whole town. Or take Ephesians 6 which tells us to put on the armor of God. One of those pieces or armor is to shod our feet with the readiness of the gospel of peace — a reference to the same Isaiah passage Paul is quoting from here when he’s talking about the sending of preachers. These and others would say that all true believers in Christ have a sense in which they are sent to proclaim Christ. Yes, not in the official and formal capacity as a gospel preacher. But nonetheless a general calling.
And so Paul shares the importance of this idea of being sent by quoting from Isaiah as I just mentioned. Verse 15 quotes from Isaiah 52:7. Romans 10:15 “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! That’s a passage in Isaiah that is basically talking about Israel’s Babylonian captivity and looking forward to the time when one day salvation would be announced. That seems to be the good news mentioned there in Isaiah. And of course, that is what the gospel is really all about. All the restoration passages of Israel in the Old Testament look to Christ. Christ would bring about Israel’s restoration. And of course that is why when Christ came, he came preaching! He came preaching the gospel. It’s what he had the prophets of old preach. It’s what he sent the apostles to do. It’s what he ordains pastors to do to today. And it’s what all Christians have a charge to do. And so we should not be surprised when we see that he who secures the peace and salvation came preaching about it as well. Isaiah said how beautiful are the feet that bring good news. This is true for all the apostles, and prophets, and pastors, and each person who shares Christ with another. It’s especially true for Christ. How beautiful are his feet which also announced peace. Which even secured this peace in his glorious victory of the cross!
And yet not all have believed. Paul quotes of Isaiah 53, the suffering servant passage, “Lord, who has believed our message?” This is an important point to grasp. We’ve talked about the biblical means by which people are saved. They are preached the gospel and they believe and are saved. However, it would be a mistake to think this is some kind of guaranteed formula. It’s not that if someone can master some science of preaching that would result in everyone who gets that preaching then gets saving faith. It just doesn’t work that way. This then is our third point for today. Preaching doesn’t always bring faith. Our first point was that it’s preaching that brings faith. But we need to hear this point too. It doesn’t always bring faith. Verse 16, “Not all obeyed the gospel.”
Otherwise, Paul wouldn’t be having the heartache that he does for Israel. This truth is true in general, but don’t miss that Paul particularly has in mind Israel now. Remember I’ve said before that chapters 9-11 are dealing with how Israel has largely rejected the gospel up to this point. Paul has been talking about how salvation came to the Gentiles when they heard the gospel and believed. So now he turns the focus on Israel. Now he asks again why they are not saved.
He at this point throws out a question. Verse 18, “Have they not heard?” In other words, he’s asking the question if this is why they haven’t been saved. Is this Israel’s problem? Is that why the Gentiles are becoming saved in droves but Israel is largely not being saved? Because Gentiles are being sent preachers to preach the gospel to them and Israel is not? No, Paul says. No, that’s not it. They have heard! In verse 18, Paul uses yet another Old Testament quote from Psalm 19:4. Interestingly, Psalm 19 there is referring to how general revelation has gone out to all. But Paul uses that as an analogy to say how the gospel has also gone out. The perspective of the New Testament sees that already the gospel had gone out through the known world in many ways. Even though the Jewish people had been geographically scattered all over, a passage like Acts 24:5 talks about Paul’s preaching to Jews all over the world. No, the problem for the Jews was not that God had not sent them gospel preachers. They had heard the gospel.
Paul then asks in verse 19, “But… did Israel not know?” To understand what Paul’s getting at here, you have to look at how he answered the question. Paul answers this question with two Old Testament quotes that talk about how God would save Gentiles. The first one from Moses is from the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. The second one is from a very clear, plain, reference in Isaiah 65:1. And so now it seems that Paul is not just addressing whether or not Israel had heard the gospel. He already said that they had. He’s essentially asking if they didn’t know to expect what God was doing at that time — saving so many Gentiles. You could imagine a Jew at that time maybe trying to defend his unbelief in the Gospel through some kind of nationalistic remark. The Jews at that time largely despised the Gentiles. You could imagine them saying like, “How could I possibly believe in some gospel that is saving all these Gentiles.” “How could that be right?!” And so Paul addresses that kind of thinking. Could a Jew really think that? Could they really get away with that kind of ignorance of God’s plan to save even Gentiles? Could that be an acceptable stumbling block for them? Not at all. In fact, they did know this. They did know that God would save many Gentiles. In fact, the Old Testament shows that God would save these Gentiles for the very purpose of shaming the Jews into a good form of jealousy. A jealousy that would lead them into repentance. They would see the Gentiles saved by the gospel and they too would turn in faith to the Messiah and be saved. That of course, is actually next chapter. This chapter leaves Israel’s situation far more bleak. The chapter ends in verse 21 affirming God’s open arms, willing to forgive the Jews with the gospel, but the Jews in stubborn rebellion.
And so the point for today then is that when we are talking about the God given means of soliciting faith, namely preaching, we ought not to think there is something wrong just because some — many — don’t believe when we preach the gospel. Paul preached to many Israelites and that preaching fell on deaf ears. Paul was faithful to his job to preach the gospel. On the other hand, many Gentiles did believe at Paul’s preaching. The application here is that we must be open to however God will use our proclamation of the gospel with someone. As a church, for example, we might not have the number of converts at any particular point that we’d like. But the problem isn’t the mode of preaching.
You see, it makes you wonder if why many churches seem to turn more and more from the mode of preaching the gospel to something else, because they think it might produce more results. They’ll say things like we’ll, the reason you don’t have more converts is because the music isn’t right. Or you don’t have enough programs. Or you need more events for the youth. Well, maybe those are areas to improve on. But those things don’t convert people, according to God. The preaching of the gospel does. The preaching of the gospel is God’s way to bring people to faith. But the preaching of the gospel doesn’t always result in someone coming to faith. It’s not a scientific formula we have to master. It’s a task we have to be faithful to, but we trust God for the results he will bring through it all.
As we close today, I would leave you with the words from Isaiah quoted by Paul in verse 15, “How beautiful.” “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” How beautiful. This is what we’re talking about today. The beauty of preaching. Foolishness to some. But to us, what is more beautiful than this good news that has been announced to us. Let us see the beauty of preaching. Let us affirm again today that God knows what he’s doing when he calls the church to preach the gospel. Let’s make sure we are doing that as a church. Not embellishing the gospel or altering the gospel or assigning the gospel to some back chair in the church. Let’s make it center stage and be conscience of this priority in our ministry.
To that end, pray for your pastor as he labors to more boldly and clearly proclaim this gospel. Pray and support the future pastors in the church as well. That means to pray for the seminaries too, for example. And pray for all of us, that we might each make the most of every opportunity with unbelievers; especially unsaved loved ones; to share Christ and the gospel boldly and clearly. May God see fit to open hearts and minds as we do. That we may rejoice with the angels in heaven as we see the lost saved. Let that be our prayer even now. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.