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August 13, 2017

 

 

8.13.17                               Pentecost 10                    - Romans 10:17 ESV

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

THE GOSPEL SELLS ITSELF

A mother was worried about her unmarried grown daughter.  One day the daughter said a young man would be calling on her. “That’s nice,” mother said excitedly.   “And what religion is he?” she asked protectively.  “I’m afraid none,” daughter replied.  “Oh dear, it will be difficult for you, a devout Catholic, to get along with an unbeliever,” her mother warned.  “You’ll have to try to sell him on your faith.”  Well, then came the first date.  “How did it go?” mother inquired.  “Wonderfully,” daughter beamed.  “I sold him on the Holy Trinity.”  After the second date, she reported selling him on Holy Baptism.  In a few weeks, when things appeared to be getting serious, she came home from a date dismayed.  “What happened?” her mother questioned.  “I oversold him,” she answered.  “He’s going to become a priest.”
 
If you’ll pardon the humor, this story tells us something about how a person becomes involved in Christianity.  To a certain degree, there is a selling job that goes on.  Somehow, you and I too have been sold on this Christian religion.  We believe it because we bought the sales pitch, so to speak.  Only in this case we’re not buying a product we may or may not need, and no one had to sell us on it with clever slogans and catchy jingles.  The product is Christ and everyone needs Him.  The sales pitch is His Word which tells us the truth.  And so today we’re learning that THE GOSPEL SELLS ITSELF.
 
The context for this well—known verse in Romans is a chapter wherein Paul wonders out loud why so many of his own Israelite people had rejected the message of righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus.  He’s not talking about those who don’t know Christ because no one told them yet.  He explains that the word of Christ must be preached to be heard and it must be heard to be believed and it must be believed and confessed for a person to be justified and saved.  All these steps have taken place in the lives of Christians regardless of their nationality (Jew or Greek, he mentions here) – everyone who calls on the name of the Lord in faith.  But for some reason, although the word was preached and could be heard, it was not always believed and confessed, and therefore so many of his countrymen were not justified and saved.  They insisted on doing it their own way, clinging to a self-righteous merit system.  The problem seemed to lie with the step between hearing and believing.  Thus he arrives at this simple yet profound conclusion (vs 17): “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”  The operative word is the preposition “through.” 
 
Some translations add the word “message” but in the original it just says the “hearing.”  However, that refers to what is heard, and what is heard is the word of Christ which is defined in vs 16 as the “gospel.”  What is the gospel?  John 3:16, right?  You can summarize it with this acronym in the bulletin: “God’s Own Son Promises Eternal Life.”  It’s the good news that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God who was born the child of the virgin Mary.  As God and man in one person Jesus could take our place under divine justice, keeping the commandments perfectly yet accepting their punishment vicariously for us.  He could die on a cross yet rise again from the dead.  As a result we are declared righteous, pronounced innocent before God, forgiven of sins, and assured of a heavenly home. 
 
This is the word of Christ, what He said about Himself and what was written down about Him in this book called the Bible.  When we hear it, we can believe it because the word does the work.  The gospel sells itself.  Why do you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord?  Because you heard about Him, right?  And through the word you heard, you believed in Him. 
 
Now, that hearing takes different forms.  It’s not just listening to a sermon whether in church or on TV or radio or an internet website these days.  You can hear the word the old-fashioned way by reading the Bible or a devotion or a tract, or nowadays a blog on a smart phone app. With all the advances in modern communication there are so many opportunities to hear the word of Christ that few can claim they didn’t have a chance to hear the word.  Progress in translations will make it possible for just about everyone on the planet to hear the word in their own language soon. 
 
Each time you hear it, the gospel is selling itself.  The Lord Jesus invites you to come to Him for rest for your souls; He calls you to follow Him like sheep who know the Shepherd’s voice.  The Holy Spirit uses this good news to call, gather, enlighten – the Catechism says - to renew, regenerate, reform people.  In so doing they are turned from unbelief to faith, from sin to obedience, from slavery to freedom, from death to life.  Yes, “the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” as Paul wrote in the first chapter of Romans.  The word for “power” is the one from which we get the word “dynamite.”  The gospel  explodes the myths, the lies that hold people captive in shame and sorrow. 
 
Lutherans like to talk about the means of grace.  It’s a distinct difference from other denominations.  How does God’s grace, His undeserved love come to us?  Are we born with a little spark that we can develop if we try hard enough?  Or does it strike like a lightning bolt in some emotional experience?  No, we answer as the Bible does, God’s grace comes through word and sacrament.  Like life-giving water flows from a tank through pipes to a faucet, so God’s life-saving grace follows the channels of the spoken and written word of Christ, as well as the visible, tangible expressions of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.   We could be called “touchy/feely” Christians, as a result, when these senses are involved. 
 
We live in the age of IT – information technology has taken over our lives.  Unfortunately, not all of “it” is good and wholesome, I don’t have to tell you.  Some of it is not fit for human consumption.  I heard a woman interviewed saying that she doesn’t censor the music her kids listen to or the programs they watch.  She just tells them if they want to listen to garbage and look at garbage they can eat garbage, too.  She’s got a point.  Not everything is garbage, of course.  There’s a lot of instructive, uplifting information to be gained from the media these days too.  But you know that much of it is destructive, depressing.  It can have a bad influence on us, lowering standards and corrupting behavior, especially if we are saturated and bombarded with it.  Maybe you’ve heard about the Netflix cable TV show called “Thirteen Reasons” which portrays why a teenage girl committed suicide in a very sympathetic, positive light, impacting impressionable young minds.  Sick.     
 
So we have to pay attention to what we consume but also be intentional as we make choices.  It’s just common sense. For example, if you stopped watching baseball games, you probably would lose interest in who wins.  If you didn’t read the market page in the paper or online, you probably wouldn’t care much about stock prices.  If you didn’t look at fashion magazines, you probably wouldn’t be as style conscious.   If you quit playing video games, you might be amazed at what the real world looks like.  So it is that if you cut yourself off from a source of intellectual or emotional stimulus, you are not affected by it as much.
 
The same happens with the word of Christ.  The faith that is started by hearing must be sustained by hearing if it is to survive.  If you are preoccupied with other things, obviously the word of God can’t work on you.  I’m not surprised when people who stay away from church for a long time don’t seem to miss it.  On the other hand, I know that those who put a lot into church seem to get a lot more out of it.   That’s because the gospel has an internal magnetism to it.  Remove yourself far enough away from it for a long time and you get demagnetized.  Or worse, a polar shift repels you further away. 
 
The point is we have to remain close to the word of Christ if it is to have any positive affect on us.  It helps to know that when it comes time to share it too.  The Lord didn’t ask us to be lawyers for Him, just witnesses.  We don’t have to prove the case for believing, just testify for it.  Because the gospel is like a realtor’s dream house – it sells itself.                  
 
At a lecture presented by an atheist professor, a college class was being ridiculed if someone believed in a so-called Christ who died so long ago.  He challenged anyone who took the opposite view to step on stage and express their opinion.  A non-descript student came forward and stood there quietly while he took an orange out of his cargo pants pocket.  Slowly he peeled it and ate it.  Then he asked the lecturer: “Was the orange sweet?”  Impatiently he bellowed, “How should I know?  I never tasted it.”  To which the young man responded: “How can you know anything about Christ then, if you never tasted Him?” 
 
Folks, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  That means you don’t have to oversell the gospel, because the gospel sells itself.  Amen.