HEARING is Believing!
v.17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.
Dear friends in Christ, St. Paul in our epistle reading is very clear. "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." Not a lot of wiggle room there. The Scriptures declare in no uncertain terms that the way of salvation—the way to life eternal with God—is through faith in Jesus Christ as God and Lord—who died on the cross for the sins of the world, but who was raised from the dead for our justification and peace with God. And this way of salvation is not limited to any one group of people—one select ethnicity or culture or language—no, indeed—as the apostle goes on to say in v.13, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Everyone. Every person—man, woman, or child—who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour—who calls upon Him in prayer and praise and thanksgiving—no matter anything else about that person—whatever sins they have committed—what they look like—what they eat—how they dress—what language they speak—no matter—they will be saved. For there is no distinction between anyone—all are sinners in the sight of God—all are deserving of His wrath—all have fallen short of the perfect glory of God—and ALL are saved purely by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus is the same Lord of all people.
And yet, beloved, there is a problem, isn't there? I'm sure that many of you have already spotted it. Indeed, many of you bring up this thorny problem in Bible class or other conversations. It goes something like this: If, as the Scriptures declare, there is but one way to salvation—through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord—and the only way to come to faith is, as St. Paul says in our text, through the hearing of the Word of Christ—then why is it that some people hear and believe this Gospel message of Jesus and some don't?
Now please note that you are not the first to ask this question. Indeed, St. Paul asks this question in a similar way in our text, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?" People will not call on Jesus if they do not believe. And they will not believe in Him if they've never heard of Him. And how can they hear of Him if no one ever preaches to them about who Jesus is and what He has done on the cross to save all people from their sins?
Let me be absolutely clear, beloved, the Scriptures never answer the questions "Why do some believe and not others? and What happens to those who have never heard the saving Gospel of Christ?" The closest the Bible comes to doing so is here in St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, which basically comes down to saying, "Continue to preach the Word. For it is only through the Word of Gospel of Christ that people may hear and believe and so be saved."
Dear friends, we all have friends and relatives who don't believe. We all have people in our lives whom we care about very deeply—whom we love and cherish—who have fallen away from the faith—or, who have never believed in the first place. What are we to do?
Well, we could be very tempted to act as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America did this past month in their general assembly—which was simply to deny Christ alone as the Saviour of the world. They opened up their church to the false belief that faith in Christ is no longer necessary to be saved from sin, death, and hell. While their intentions were no doubt genuine, what they have done is separating the church of Christ from the message of Christ. A position which, if believed, leads people not to heaven, but to hell—for it leads to unbelief—a belief that calling on the name of anyone/anything can save a person: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, etc. They have argued against John 14, which states that "no one comes to the Father except through [Jesus]." And though it pains me to say it, this means they can no longer rightly be called a Christian church (though Christians certainly may remain in her for a time).
Why do I bring this up, beloved? Because it is so very tempting when we are faced with declining numbers, budget crunches, broken relationships among family and friends—to give up the heart of the Christian faith, which is so scandalous to the unbelieving world—in order to be more liked and welcomed by the unbelieving world. Indeed, a few weeks ago an opinion piece written by a fifteen year old girl was published in USA Today, in which she talked rather candidly about what she thought the church needed to do in order to attract more young people such as herself. Ironically, this girl only ever attended church maybe once or twice a year, which begs the question as to why anyone would consider her an authority on what the church ought to be. This came through strongly in her article where she stated, "In other words, the Christian church experience needs to start transcending the traditional and adapting to the times." She suggested bringing in private meditation, acceptance of other religions, a doing away with any sort of talk about sin. So, if the church adopted this thinking, what would make the church any different from the culture and the world around it? Nothing!
The church would cease to be the church, as we have sadly seen with the ELCA and other denominations that have fallen victim to this anti-Christ way of thinking.
Beloved, these examples simply prove that we are all by nature sinful, filled with enmity toward God, and are deaf to His Gospel call. We are like the deaf and mute man in our Gospel text. We are all by nature unable to confess the faith rightly. For "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ." Remember that Jesus put His fingers into the man's ears, and He spat and touched His tongue. Our Lord Jesus has come to us through the sanctifying waters of Holy Baptism, wherein the Gospel message of Christ crucified and risen for sinners is applied to us. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel Word and Sacraments is One who comes to us and opens our ears to hear the Word of Jesus and to believe. And then to respond with loosened tongues by praising Christ Jesus as Lord to all people—confessing the faith of the Scriptures in season and out of season—whether people will warmly receive it or not.
Dear friends, it is not up to you or to me to convert anyone to the faith. That is up to God the Holy Spirit, who acts when and where He wills. Our great joy and privilege as Christians is to boldly proclaim the Word of the Gospel of Christ to any and all people: our children, grandchildren, friends, neighbours, coworkers, etc. We place no trust in the effectiveness of our words to do anything, but rather look only to Christ and His Word. For His Word is performative—it does what it says it will do. He who created the heavens and the earth with a word—sighed a single word, "Ephphatha" (Be opened) to the deaf/mute man—and immediately he could hear and speak plainly.
The Lord Jesus has done this first and foremost to each of you, beloved. When you heard the Good news of Jesus for the first time, whether it was at the Baptismal font as a tiny baby, or the words of the Bible as an older child or adult, the result was the same—an opening of your ears to hear the Word of Christ and an opening of your heart to believe—leading to an opening of your mouth—to confess Jesus as Lord.
For the same Lord Jesus who opened the ears and mouth of the deaf/mute man with a sigh of a single word also sighed upon the cross. He sighed and breathed His last as He gave His life up into death on the cross in payment for your sins and mine and the whole world. For Jesus is the living Word from heaven—who came to deliver us from sin and death by His own dying on the cross. He is the Word as we sang in our hymn of the day (LSB 545, v.2 &3):
Word eternal, throned on high, Word that brought to life creation,
Word that came from heav'n to die, Crucified for our salvation,
Saving Word, the world restoring, Speak to us, your love outpouring.
Word that caused blind eyes to see, Speak and heal our mortal blindness;
Deaf we are: our healer be; Loose our tongues to tell Your kindness.
Be our Word in pity spoken, Heal the world, by sin now broken.
Working through the Word of Gospel of forgiveness of sins proclaimed in Jesus' name—the world, broken by sin, is now healed. Each week in Holy Absolution, the Lord's Supper, Holy Baptism – Jesus breaks into this world with His life-giving, forgiving, redeeming, restoring, powerful Word. And sinners like you and me are healed. People deaf to the Word of God are given to hear the Truth and believe and so receive life from death and light from darkness. All through the power of the Word made flesh who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.