Proper 14 · Romans 10:5–17 · August 13, 2017
Editor’s note: the following homiletical help is taken from David Schmitt’s sermon series “God’s Greater Story: A Sermon Series on Romans 6–14,” which is available for download here.
By David Schmitt
When Jesus was crucified, we indeed nailed him to the cross. His own people tried him, found him guilty of blasphemy, and rejected their God. And we would do the same had he come among us today. There is no doubt that God himself was rejected by his people and hung upon the cross to die. But that is not the only reason Jesus hung upon the cross. He could have delivered himself . . . if he wanted to. Remember on the night when Jesus was betrayed how Peter drew his sword to try to protect him. Jesus then turned to Peter and said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:33). When Jesus hung upon the cross, the religious leaders mocked him.
They called out for him to come down from the cross and save himself if he were truly God. But Jesus stayed on the cross, not because he was only human and couldn’t get down but because he was truly God and wouldn’t get down. Jesus stayed on the cross because he didn’t come into this world to save himself. No, he came to save you. It was the pure love of God that led Jesus to that cross and it was the pure love of God that held Jesus up there—offering his sinless life for the sins of the whole world. Jesus hanging on the cross without nails is not a realistic picture of what happened at the crucifixion, but it is a true picture of what happened on that day. God, in Jesus Christ, willingly gave his life for you and for the world that you live in.
This is something that the Apostle Paul understands. Salvation comes to us purely by grace. It is only by the love of God poured out for us in Jesus Christ that we are saved. We are part of God’s greater people, saved by grace.
As Paul proclaims this truth among the Roman Christians, he does so by revisiting a familiar text for God’s people. Just as Dali took a traditional picture of the crucifixion and offered new insight, so Paul took a traditional text and asked God’s people to hear it and read it again. Paul turns to the book of Deuteronomy, that record of covenant renewal among God’s people.
God’s people are there, on the edge of the promised land. After forty years in the wilderness, they are about to enter the land of God’s promise. Before they enter, God renews his covenant with them. In the beginning of that covenant renewal, God warns the people of Israel about how they should view this moment. Moses says, “Do not say in your heart after God has thrust [the nations] out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land. . . . Know therefore that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people” (Dt 9:4, 6). Here, Moses asks them to look at their past. They were a stubborn people and did not earn the promised land by their own righteousness. At the end of that covenant renewal, God prophesies to the people of Israel. He speaks of a time when they will depart from God and be exiled from their land and then God, in mercy, will come. They will repent and God will bring about a restoration. Here, Moses asks them to see their future. Their future lies only in the mercy of God.
It is that vision of that future that Paul quotes here. Only as Paul quotes this vision, he adds his own words for emphasis. He wants us to see the love of God, freely given for all people . . . now . . . in Christ. Listen to Paul. “The righteousness based on faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart “Who will ascend into heaven” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).” For Paul, that day of restoration had come to God’s people. It had come in Jesus Christ and it had come purely by grace. With these words, Paul reaches out to his Jewish brothers and sisters and invites them to join with the Roman Gentile Christians in confessing salvation in Jesus Christ, by grace, through faith. At the heart of God’s covenant lies not what we do for salvation but rather what God does for us. We are saved not because we are mighty or numerous or particularly holy people. No, we are stubborn and rebellious and sinners before God. But we are saved by God’s mercy made known for us in Jesus Christ. At the heart of God’s restoration of all things lies the work of God in Jesus. He came down from heaven, he entered into hell, and he rose again that we might be forgiven and be part of God’s people who live by grace through faith.