Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.
Reading: Isaiah 52:7-53:3
Text: Romans 10:14-21
Isaiah 53:3-7 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of [a]sorrows and acquainted with [b]grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely our [c]griefs He Himself bore,
And our [d]sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
[e]Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was [f]pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our [g]well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To [h]fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
Romans 10:14-21 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who [a]bring good news of good things!”
16 However, they did not all heed the [b]good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word [c]of Christ.
18 But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have;
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
And their words to the ends of the [d]world.”
19 But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation,
By a nation without understanding will I anger you.”
20 And Isaiah is very bold and says,
“I was found by those who did not seek Me,
I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”
21 But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
Isaiah 52:7-53:3 Romans 10:14-21
Here in the second half of Romans 10 Paul continues his discourse about the Jews. Was there, is there, any excuse for anyone not to believe the gospel? According to this passage in Romans there was and is not.
As we work our way through the passage we’ll discover why and then think about some implications for the church today.
Paul begins with some rhetorical questions including “How can they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard and how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Fair questions! You can’t put your faith in someone you don’t know and have never been told about.
But was that true for those whom Paul is discussing in these three chapters in Romans? Had his countrymen the Jews never heard the gospel? Did their Scriptures not prepare them for the coming of the saviour?
This may be true for some people, tribes in remote parts of the Amazon Jungle or the African continent before Europeans came with the gospel.
But that wasn’t the case for the Jews and Paul quotes several passages from the Old Testament scriptures to make his point.
1. God has sent preachers
He begins with Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings”
Isaiah was prophesying about the freedom of captive Israel from exile and he pictures a messenger running towards the city of the hills surrounding Jerusalem across the plains from the east. The watchman who sees him coming can tell from the runner’s eager attitude that he has good news! This new was, “The exile is over!” The captive Jews are to be liberated and can return home! How beautiful are those feet are that bring such news! And how good to be reminded that God is sovereign over the nations and that His promises do not fail!
What Paul meant by using this quote from Isaiah this in his letter to the Romans and his discourse about the Jews is that if the news of Israel’s deliverance was good news then, how much more shouldn’t the Jews have welcomed the messengers who heralded Jesus as saviour when he came.
In verse 14 Paul wrote, “How shall they hear without a preacher? Well, the Jews had a preacher! There was John the Baptist who called on them to “make ready the way of the Lord” And then their own Messiah who proclaimed “the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.” From then on Jesus preached throughout the land for three years. His preaching was authenticated by the many miracles he performed.
They heard preaching all right, but as verse 16 says, “they did not heed the glad tidings.” Here Paul adds a quote from Isaiah 53, “for who has believed our report?” In this section of his prophecy Isaiah fore-shadows the Lord Jesus Christ as a suffering servant because so few believed Isaiah’s message. He was considered insignificant and unimportant by the nation’s leaders in his day. Paul quotes Isaiah because most of Israel had the same attitude towards Jesus. They were indifferent, unbelieving and in the end openly hostile. As Isaiah prophesied they pierced him and crushed him. They had Him Put to death on a cross.
We can ask the same rhetorical questions here in New Zealand today. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” Has the good news not been extensively preached here in New Zealand? Is there no God who is sovereign over all the nations and who gave us this land to enjoy and care for? Have the people not heard that God sent his son to liberate us from the shackles of sin? We all know how soul destroying sin can be but the good news is there is no condemnation in Christ and this liberty is preached and is within reach of everyone! Freedom is as Paul said in your mouth and your heart. It is the confession Jesus is Lord and belief in His resurrection.
Who has believed the glad tidings today?
Sadly we are seeing in this day what Paul saw among his own countrymen then. “They did not heed the glad tidings.” There may be more than one reason for that such as atheist church ministers who do not believe in a personal God and who teach that Christianity is only about morality or social justice and everyone’s so called rights.
But it’s also true that where the gospel is faithfully preached in every town and city around the country there are many who do not heed the glad tidings. So does anyone really have any excuse here in New Zealand today? Would you if you refused to believe the good news?
2. The Gospel has been revealed and heard
Paul adds further weight to his argument with a quote from Psalm 19:4. “Their voice has gone out to the ends of the earth and their words to the end of the world.” This psalm is about general revelation. It begins with the words, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” In other words the precise working of the solar system and the way it was designed to support life on the earth says volumes about the Creator. It tells of God’s glory and majesty and leaves all people without any excuse at all for not believing in the existence of God. Though we can’t see God, his existence is plainly evident by what has been made.
Well Paul uses the Psalm 19 to make the same point about special revelation and the gospel. The gospel had been revealed heard throughout the known world in Paul’s day. In his letter to the Colossian church chapter 1:6 he wrote that ”the gospel had come to them just as in all the world it had been constantly bearing fruit and increasing.” As one example of that the church had already existed in Rome for several years by the time Paul had arrived there in 60 AD. In Acts 28:14 we find that there were Christian brethren who heard of his arrival and came from the Forum of Appius and the Three Inns in Rome to Puteoli to meet Paul as he travelled along the Appian Way. Those who first brought the gospel to Rome were most likely converted Jews and Gentile God-fearers who were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost and heard Peter’s sermon there.
Clearly the Lord doesn’t make promises he doesn’t keep. Jesus said to his disciples “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” The gospel is a universal gospel. Its sound goes out to the ends of the earth and it cannot be objected that Israel or anyone else for that matter cannot hear it.
3. Israel Knew and understood what God would do
Well perhaps they heard it but didn’t understand the gospel? Paul addresses this possible objection in verse 19 and the quote from Moses in Deuteronomy 32:21. “I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation. By a nation without understanding I will anger you.” This quote is found in the Song of Moses given just before his death and the Israelites entrance into the Promised Land.
The theme of the song can be found in Deuteronomy 32:4 “A God of faithfulness and without injustice righteous and upright is He.” God was good to Israel, but Israel was not thankful. They returned evil for good and provoked God to anger with their flagrant idolatry. They aroused the Lord’s holy jealousy by worshipping idols. Therefore, according to Moses lament, God would make Israel jealous by favouring the Gentiles. Paul also quotes Isaiah “I was found by those who sought me not.” Now the point Paul wants to make here is that Israel will have known this! They had been informed and warned of the outcome that the Kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to another. Moses himself had said so! So they couldn’t protest on the basis that they never understood what God’s intention was going to be and so once again, they had no excuse.
The next quoted passage confirms that Israel knew Here Paul quotes Isaiah 65:2 “All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and rebellious people.” The entire Old Testament testifies to the Lord’s patience with Israel. In the end that catastrophic fall Israel suffered as a nation in 70AD when Rome sacked Jerusalem was their own fault. They had no excuse. The Lord sent them preachers who proclaimed the good news. God revealed his gospel to them verbally and in writing. They weren’t left guessing or in the dark. They also heard warnings; that if they rejected God then He would call to himself their traditional enemies. Israel had heard these things repeatedly and over many centuries. The picture in verse 20 is of a father patiently waiting for his prodigal son to come to his senses and return to the blessing of the family estate. God was patient with disobedient Israel. Often they heard from the prophets the message, “turn back from your evil ways! Why should you die O House of Israel?”
So really Israel had no excuse and I believe that the same is certainly true today at least in nations like ours where the gospel has been preached since the arrival of Europeans who brought their Bibles with them and established mission churches. Are there no preachers here? Can people not hear? Are there no writers of Christian articles in the papers and magazines? Are there no Christian bookstores; no churches which open their doors to the public? From our little church alone (and we are one of at least 35 churches in Whanganui) we bring the word through newspaper articles, letters, the Gideons, Rest Home devotions, Bible in School and prison ministries, as well public worship services and the witness of every believer here.
And is God not patient with people today? Yes, He is patient not wishing anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance. He is like a merciful father, waiting with open arms, willing to receive any who come to him in faith and repentance.
So as with the Jews when Christ first came, they had no excuse , so also by the time Christ returns and the work of evangelism is done there will be no excuse for anyone else either.
So let’s think for a moment now about some further implications for the church today.
a)The first once is the importance of preaching. This is seen in verses 14&15. Christ sends preachers, people hear, hearers believe, believers call and those who call on the name of the Lord are saved.
On the other hand if there are no gospel preachers who will hear? Who will believe? Who will call on the Lord and be saved? So, until the Lord returns preaching remains the churches task and we as a church need to support it in whatever way we can as we confess with Heidelberg Catechism’s teaching on the 4th commandment where it asks “What is God’s will for us in the 4th commandment? The answer given is that “the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained.”
So for each generation we need preachers so that the message can be heard and so that those who do hear and believe will call on the name of the Lord Jesus and be saved. As a church we share that responsibility to train up and ordain preachers and missionaries because faith comes from hearing the world of Christ.
b) A second implication is that this text helps us to appreciate again the authority and the unity of the Bible. Notice how often Paul quotes from or alludes to passage in the Old Testament. One reason for that is that he is addressing Hebrews and seeking to convince them from their own Scriptures. If they couldn’t believe Moses and the Prophets then who would they believe?
But the OT was also Paul’s Bible and he recognised as we must that the Word of God is our highest authority. The way of salvation is clear. The Old Testament points to Christ. The Gospels present him and the rest of the NT explains Him. Therefore the Bible is not only authoritative and clear respecting the way of salvation it is a unity. It is the history of salvation, a covenant of grace for believers centred on the person and work of the Lord Jesus for the salvation of sinners.
c) A third implication this passage reminds us of is that God is sovereign over the affairs of the nations and in matters of salvation. Verse 19 says, “He would make Israel jealous by granting salvation to other nations. Few people seem to have any natural interest in the things of God because of sin. Sin keeps us self-interested. Salvation history also reveals that we can only know God if he reveals himself to us. Furthermore it has been made very clear in Romans 8 & 9 that God predestines those who are saved. He is the potter. We are the clay. However we can only understand and appreciate the sovereignty of God in salvation by faith. That leads me to the last implication.
d) This passage calls for the same response in every age and to all people and to us today. It calls us to faith. God is the God who stands with his palms open exhorting people to come to him., calling us to serve him, inviting people into his kingdom through faith in Christ and he stands there not for a moment or five minutes but all day long! Come unto to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Whoever hears the word of God and believes is saved.
Whoever hears and doesn’t believe has no excuse.