Lent 1 • Romans 10:8b–13 • February 17, 2013
By Joel P. Okamoto
Notes on the pericope
This pericope is a portion of Paul’s lengthy discussion of the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles in his letter to the Romans. At this point in the discussion, Paul is explaining how the Jews, who pursued righteousness, could fail to attain it when Gentiles, who did not seek righteousness, were justified. The reason is that the Jews did not pursue righteousness through faith, but rather a righteousness based on the law and therefore by works. The reason they did not pursue the righteousness of faith is that they “stumbled over the stumbling-stone,” namely, Jesus Christ (9:30–33). Paul further explains that the righteousness pursued by the Jews was all their own, not God’s, even it had been based on the law. Why? Because “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes (10:4).
In the pericope, Paul explains the implication of Christ being the end of the law. Not only does this show decisively that justification is not by works of the law (already shown in earlier chapters), but it also means that all who believe in Jesus will attain righteousness and obtain all the blessings of the righteousness. As Paul put it: “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” (10:9). There is no distinction any longer between Jews and Greeks, not only because the law has come to an end but also because Jesus the Lord is Lord of all, and he gives his riches to all who call upon him.
Two features in this passage are worth some attention. The first is that Paul relates what one says with what one believes. Confession and faith go together here. We see this not only in vv. 9–10, but also in the two passages quoted from Isaiah and Joel. With Isaiah Paul says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame,” and with Joel he says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The connection between confession and faith, moreover, goes along with the way Paul identifies Jesus: as Lord. Belief in Jesus works itself out in acknowledging him as Lord and calling out to him as Lord.
The second feature is God raising Jesus from the dead. Why would Paul specify belief in this? Why not his death on the cross? Of course, belief in his resurrection implies that he died, but Paul’s mention of his resurrection fits well with this discussion in at least two ways. First, it goes along with the ascription of lordship to Jesus. While Jesus had not only spoken of his lordship but also shown it by his signs and wonders, his words and deeds led to his rejection by the Jews and his crucifixion. But God raised him from the dead, thus vindicating Jesus as Lord. Second, it goes along with the conviction that Christ is the end of the law. A key reason for rejecting Jesus is that he did not always keep the law. For example, he touched the unclean and worked on the Sabbath, and these aroused the anger of the Jews, who killed him. But, once again, in raising him from the dead, God vindicated Jesus and showed that he is the end of the law.
Notes for preaching
My suggestion for preaching is to focus on the basic message of the passage—salvation for all who believe—and to take advantage of the immediate context. This context brings out how the Jews failure to attain righteousness was the result of rejecting Jesus. Since this pericope is for the first Sunday in Lent, it makes good sense both for textual exposition and liturgically to deal at length with the rejection Jesus endured. If one were to pursue this suggestion, then an obvious goal would be to strengthen the hearers’ confidence that the Lord will save them and all who believe in him.
This kind of sermon would first explain what Paul was doing. He was explaining the odd outcome that Jews, who had pursued righteousness, were unjustified while Gentiles, who never had pursued righteousness, were justified.
Next, explore the reason that so many Jews were not justified. In a nutshell, the reason was Jesus. For many Jews, Jesus was a stumbling block, and this is why he was crucified. Here is the opportunity to explore how Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews and was rejected by them. Since Paul is contrasting the righteousness of faith to the righteousness of the law, it would be fitting to highlight the ways in which Jesus showed that he was “the end of the law,” and how this brought about his rejection and crucifixion.
After this comes the resurrection: God raised Jesus from the dead. This vindicated Jesus as the Son of God, as the Christ, as Lord. It showed conclusively that righteousness before God came through him—by faith in him. It also makes sense of Paul when he says: “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.” And this, in turn, assures those who believe in Christ today that righteousness and salvation are theirs.
At this point, the preacher could deal with the challenges that his hearers encounter. One challenge would be the temptation to pursue a righteousness of one’s own. The Jews did this in their way, but contemporary hearers have their own ways. Another challenge would be the fear that one’s own unrighteousness might negate the righteousness of God. The preacher might allay this fear by reminding hearers that Gentiles who weren’t even seeking righteousness attained it, and so do all who believe in Jesus the Lord, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”