Every night before going to bed my dog, Hilo, and I go outside and walk around the house. I call it “checking for monsters.” Sometimes we find them: bunnies, squirrels, and kitties who ought not be in our yard. Usually we don’t. But we always check and when we find one Hilo chases it away.
Our monsters aren’t very scary. But there are scary monsters in the world and so far in the Book of Romans Paul has been chasing one that ought not be hanging around any church, namely the monster of uncertainty.
Some people look at their lives and see that they are still infected by sin. They began to wonder if they are truly Christians and if God’s promises could really apply to them. They have heard the message of the law, “do this and you will live,” but they find themselves incapable of doing what the law asks. Although they desire to please God and want to receive what he has promised they are filled with fear and anxiety when they consider the judgement that is coming upon the world because of sin.
To them, Paul wrote that their obedience was imperfect and that they had indeed failed in their attempts to live in obedience to God’s law. He told them that the solution wasn’t to try harder, the solution was faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Christ had been charged with their sins and by his death had paid the penalty demanded by God’s law. They were to simply believe that God would count their faith as righteousness. Such faith casts out fear and uncertainty.
The monster of uncertainty causes fear in others by frightening them with the future. Suffering is part of our lot in this world and many people, when they are going through a bad patch, are reminded of their sins and their failings. We’ve had a lot of that this year. Christians wonder whether they have offended God so that he has rejected them. Paul shared his own struggles with them and pointed them back to Christ to calm their fears. God has declared you righteous because of your faith in Christ, who then can condemn you? he wrote.
In the end of chapter eight, Paul tells his readers that that they may rest in God’s hand because their salvation doesn’t depend upon them or their works. God had chosen them before the foundation of the world and had called them to faith and that nothing in all of creation would be able to separate them from the love he had for them in Christ Jesus. Or as Jesus put it, no one would be able to snatch them out of the Father’s hands..
That bit of encouragement became very important for the Christians in Rome just a few years later. The emperor, Nero, began persecuting Christians. They faced lions, beheading, crucifixion, and being burned alive. Some undoubtedly wondered where they would ever get the strength to hold fast to their faith in the face of such persecution. Paul had written they needn’t worry, that God would hold fast to them, because they trusted him. He will also hold fast to you.
It is unfortunate that these words of comfort from Paul have sometimes been misused in a such a way that people begin to wonder whether God has really chosen them. When that happens the monster of uncertainty again starts hanging around the church.
There’s an old story about a preacher who thought that you could tell whether a person had been elected for salvation by their behavior. He began his first sermon to the congregation with the words my fellow redeemed and his last with the words my fellow damned.
Which brings us at last to chapter 10 of Romans. Once again Paul takes on the monster of uncertainty, by reminding his readers that the promises of God are universal and completely reliable. God desires that everyone would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) and all who hear the Gospel and believe it will be saved.
That Gospel has been preached to you. Already this morning I have told you that the sins of all the world have been charged to Jesus Christ. He has been held accountable and has been executed for your sins. The apostle John says very plainly that he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins, but not just ours, his sacrifice was for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Paul simply says, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
And I am not the only one who has brought you this message. You haven’t had to search it out. There was no need to travel to some far-off mountain to find a guru to enlighten you about the what God has done to give you eternal life. God has surrounded you with his word. You can hear it on the radio, see it on TV, read it in books, talk about it with your friends, and of course you’ll hear it here in the church. God wanted to make sure you had a chance to hear it and believe.
Now that you have heard, you don’t have to set out looking for God or Christ. He’s not hiding in the desert. He found you and in the water of your baptism God’s Spirit joined you to Christ.
We didn’t have to build a tower that extends to the clouds to find God, because God came down to us. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. Reconciling you to himself.
And he still comes. Whenever we gather in Christ’s name, God is here in all of his fulness for Christ in whom that fulness dwells, is among us in fulfillment of his promise that wherever two or three are gathered in his name there he is in the midst of them. He is here with you.
Whenever we celebrate the sacrament, the body and blood of Christ, the body and blood of our God, is given us. He comes down to us in the bread and wine that you might receive him as you obey his command to take and eat and to take and drink.
Because Christ lives none of this is mere symbolism nor is our interest purely historical. There is no tomb from which an archeologist might extract the body of Jesus, for he lives. “Why do seek the living among the dead?” the angel at the tomb asked the women who had come to finish the burial rites. Our faith is not an historical appreciation of some dead guy that lived a long time ago, it is a relationship of trust and mutual love with a person who lives now, who reigns over all creation, but who loves you and intercedes for you at the right hand of God.
This then is the message: In Christ, God has conquered sin and death for us and he declares all who believe this righteous.
For such promises to be believed they must be honestly offered to all who hear, and God does so. Therefore, do not fear, for
“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
For the faith in your heart justifies because God counts it as righteousness and the confession of your lips saves because it is the fruit of faith. As Paul says,
“the same Lord is Lord of all bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:12-13
This is the message that bears the power of God for salvation for all who believe. This is the message that has been heard throughout the world. This is the message the I have been sent to preach to you and this is the message that you have believed. This is election: God has sent his word into the world and has chosen to save you and anyone else who believes his word and receive what he offers. He has chosen them in Christ Jesus and bestows upon them eternal life.