After the elation of chapter 8 — which began with the promise that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; and which ended with the promise that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord — after the elation of chapter 8, there came Paul’s great sorrow and his unceasing anguish for his fellow Jews who have not believed and who have not received all the benefits which come from trusting in Christ. What has gone wrong that so many Jews remain unbelievers? Has God’s word failed? Has his word of promise to them failed? That’s the question which Paul raised back in verse 6 of chapter 9 and he spent the first part of chapter 9 explaining that God’s word of promise has not failed, because his promises were made, not to all, but only to some. Not to all Israel, but only to some of Israel. And he’s kept his promise to them.
And in the verses which followed, Paul went on to write about God’s sovereignty in salvation and — at the same time — our responsibility. God is sovereign: he therefore has the right to have mercy on whomever he wants to have mercy, and to harden whomever he wants to harden. But then, at the same time, we’re responsible for how we respond to the gospel. And how have the Jews responded to the gospel? Well, Paul explained how many of them have stumbled over the Lord Jesus. Instead of believing in him in order to become right with God, they have turned away from him and they have tried to become right with God through keeping the law and through their own hard work and effort. Instead of submitting to God’s righteousness — which is by faith — they have sought to establish their own righteousness by keeping the law.
The way of the law says:
Do this and you will live.
But no one is able to do what the law says. The way of faith says:
Believe and you will live.
The way of the law says:
But we can’t. The way of faith says:
Done! Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary to satisfy God’s justice and to reconcile sinners to God.
And so — and this is where we finished last time — everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved. Whoever believes in him and calls on him will be saved.
So, there’s God’s sovereignty in salvation. But then there’s our responsibility as well to respond to the gospel message with faith and to call on the name of the Lord for salvation. But how can we expect anyone to call on the name of the Lord Jesus for salvation if they don’t believe in him? And how can we expect them to believe in him unless they’ve first heard of him? And that’s what today’s passage is about.
And in verses 14 to 17 Paul sets out for us all the things that need to happen, all the things that need to be in place, for a person to receive salvation from Jesus Christ. And then in verses 18 to 21 he answers two questions about what he’s just been saying.
Verses 14 to 17
And really, what Paul writes here in verses 14 to 17, is very straightforward and obvious, isn’t it? It’s one of those obvious things that we’ve perhaps never really thought about, or noticed before, but when it’s pointed out to us, we think, ‘That’s so obvious. Why didn’t I ever think of that before?’
So, these are the things that need to happen for a person to receive salvation from Jesus Christ. First of all — or really last of all, because this is the last step in the process — so, last of all, you need to call out to the Lord Jesus for salvation. But how can you call out to the Lord for salvation if you have not believed in him? You need to believe he can save you before you can call out to him for salvation. So, before you can call, you need to believe.
But then, how can you believe in the Lord Jesus if you have not heard about him? You can’t believe in a person if you don’t know anything about that person. So, before you can believe, you need to hear.
But then, how can you hear about the Lord Jesus if no one has ever told you about him? Somebody needs to tell you about him. Somebody needs to tell you about him if you’re ever going to hear about him. So, that needs to happen as well.
But then, who is going to tell you about him, unless God first sends someone to tell you about the Lord Jesus. So, that too needs to happen.
It’s all so simple and straightforward and obvious. Before we can call, we need to believe. Before we believe, we need to hear. Before we hear, we need someone to tell us. Before someone tells us, God needs to send someone. It’s all so obvious, isn’t it?
And look what Paul says in verse 15, where he quotes from the book of Isaiah and says:
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.
In the days of Isaiah, the people were longing to hear good news. They were longing to hear the good news that their captivity in Babylon was over. And here comes the messenger, who is bearing the good news to them, and he’s a sight for sore eyes, because he’s come with the message they were longing to hear. Well, Paul takes that verse about good news in relation to Babylon and he applies it to the really good news about everlasting salvation from Jesus Christ. And the person who bears the message and carries it to weary sinners is a sight for sore eyes, because he’s bearing the message that weary sinners are longing to hear.
But then, having laid out all the steps, all the things that need to happen for someone to receive salvation from Jesus Christ, Paul adds in verse 16 the tragic news, the tragic news, that not all the Israelites have accepted the good news. God has sent them preachers so that they could hear about the Lord Jesus. But — and this is what caused Paul’s great sorrow and unceasing anguish which he mentioned at the beginning of chapter 9 — though they’ve heard of Christ, they have not accepted the message. They haven’t believed. And therefore they haven’t called out to him for salvation.
And that’s where this chain of events has broken down in the case of the Jews. Look at verse 17: Faith comes from hearing the message; and the message is heard through the word of Christ. In other words, faith comes through the preaching of the word about Christ; it comes through the preaching of the gospel message. But even though the Jews have heard the message, they still haven’t believed. And it’s tragic; it’s tragic, because so few of Paul’s fellow Jews have believed. And it’s still tragic because many of our neighbours have heard the message. They’ve heard the message. But, like Paul’s fellow Jews, they haven’t believed. God has ordained that faith comes by hearing. That’s his usual or his ordinary way for producing faith in a person’s heart. By his Spirit, the internal preacher who works in our hearts, God works through his word to create faith in a person’s heart. But so many who hear the message refuse to believe the message.
Verses 18 to 21
Paul is still thinking about his fellow Jews. And he asks a question in verse 18:
Did they not hear?
In order to call on the Lord for salvation, they need to believe. And in order to believe, they need to hear. So, perhaps the reason they haven’t believed is because they haven’t heard? Have they heard? ‘Of course they have’ says Paul. And then he uses the words of Psalm 19 to make the point that God’s messengers have gone out into all the world and their voices have been heard in every place. God has sent his messengers into all the world to make known the good news. So, of course they’ve heard. The problem is, they have not believed.
And then, in verse 19, Paul asks a second question:
Did they not understand?
Granted they’ve heard the message, but did they not understand what God was telling them? And Paul responds by quoting once from the book of Deuteronomy and twice from the book of Isaiah to show that they should have understood, because God clearly revealed his plans and purposes for the world in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. What did God reveal in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures? That the Gentiles — those who did not seek him — would find him and would find salvation through faith in the Saviour. But, on the other hand, God revealed that the Jews would remain disobedient and obstinate even though God held out his hands to them and invited them to come.
Think of the child who is angry and who refuses to come downstairs and join the party. And his parents know what he’s missing; and they’re standing at the bottom of the stairs, calling him, inviting him, beckoning him to forget whatever was making him angry, and to come on down and to join the party. But he refuses. And the Lord was holding out his arms to Paul’s fellow Jews, and he was beckoning them to come to Christ for salvation. But they would not come.
And it’s the same today, isn’t it? We go around the neighbourhood, knocking on doors, leaving in tracts, inviting everyone to come to our services to hear the gospel message. Some have come, but so many do not. And it’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? Year after year after year, we invite them. But they do not come. And so, like Paul, we know that great sorrow in our hearts and that unceasing anguish, because our neighbours refuse to come to Christ for salvation.
So, what can we do? First of all, we need to remember Paul’s words in verse 1 of chapter 10. He said:
My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
In the face of their unbelief, Paul prayed to God for them. And so, we ought to keep praying for the people we know and for people around the world that they may be saved. That’s clear.
And what should we pray for? That they will come under the sound of God’s word. Paul is very clear in verse 17: Faith comes by hearing. And so, our prayer is that people we know, and people around the world, will get to hear the word about Jesus Christ. We need to pray that they’ll come under the sound of God’s word; and we need to pray that God will use his word to produce faith in their hearts. Think of Lydia in the book of Acts, who was listening to Paul. And the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to the message and she believed and was baptised.
And then, if faith comes by hearing, we need to make the most of every opportunity that comes our way to speak to others about faith in Christ. What did Peter say in his first letter when he was writing to lay people in the church? He said:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
Since faith comes by hearing, we ought to be ready, when the opportunity arises, to be able to point people to the Saviour.
But then finally today, notice the particular emphasis Paul puts on preaching. He writes:
How can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?
Now, when Paul says preaching, he means preaching: the public proclamation of God’s word. The preacher, you see, is a herald, sent by God to declare his message. And all through the book of Acts, we read about those occasions when Paul and others like him got up before a group of people and declared to them the message of God.
Not everyone is a preacher. God hasn’t called everyone to preach; and not everyone is therefore equipped to preach. But God does call some of his people to be preachers; and he sends them out to preach his word. And, as Paul says in verse 18, their voice has gone out into all the earth, because everyday, all over the world, preachers will stand in pulpits and on platforms and behind lecterns, in churches and in halls and in rooms and under trees and in all kinds of other places; and now, of course, over the internet; and they will open their Bibles and declare the unsearchable riches of Christ to whoever has gathered to hear them.
And by means of the preaching of his word, the Lord Jesus Christ is building his church. He was doing it in the days of the Old Testament, through men like Moses and Elijah and Jonah. He’s was doing it in the days of the apostles and prophets, through men like Peter and Paul and Philip the Evangelist. And he’s been doing it ever since, because it’s impossible to read the history of the church and not notice the way the Lord has used the preaching of his word to bring men and women and boys and girls to faith in Christ.
From time to time in the history of Christ’s church, people have doubted the usefulness of preaching and their confidence in the power of preaching has waned. But we must never think we’re wiser than the Lord or that we know better than he does. And he’s the one who inspired the apostle Paul to write for all of us to read and to believe:
How can they hear without someone preaching to them?
So, as well as making the most of every opportunity that comes our way to speak to others about faith in Christ, we must pray to the Lord to bring men and women and boys and girls under the sound of the preaching of the gospel. And we must pray that he will make the preaching of the gospel effective so that here and around the world, men and women and boys and girls will hear of the Lord, and believe in him and call out to him for salvation.