First Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2019
* Originally preached at HillSong, October 31, 2010.
Followers of Jesus Christ get quite passionate - sometimes about faith. And sometimes that passion is directed toward hotly debated issues of the day. This is not new. One of the 12 disciples was Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15). He was on fire for Israelite nationalism and he wanted Jesus to be as motivated as he was, but Jesus had a different agenda. Simon was primed for a violent overthrow of Rome. The way of Jesus the way of peace. He subvert the social order through revolutionary love. He prevented Simon and the other disciples from defending him the night he was arrested. He ended up dying on a Roman cross.
There’s the hot-button issue. They come and go. And then, there’s way of Jesus. Simon the Zealot was a disciple who was passionate about the holiness of God’s people. He wanted to see God’s people rule the land God had promised to Abraham and he could point to Old Testament passages as Biblical support for his zeal. Today, true disciples of Jesus Christ pour their lives into movements they believe to be rooted in scripture. Consider the following:
Theological passion - some Christ-followers are ardent advocates of reformed theology.
Political involvement - some Christ-followers are so involved in politics it gets hard to distinguish their Christianity from their patriotism.
Social justice - the whole faith expression for some Christians is their adherence to the scriptures which declare God’s love for the needy and downtrodden.
Specific issues - one example (of many) is abortion; I have met Christians who entire faith expression is the pro-life, anti-abortion movement.
I am not critiquing any of these issues or the people passionate about them. I bring them up just to point out that people who love Jesus get wrapped up in specific issues and movements. We are called to love as God loved us. Often there are Christ-followers on both sides in these debates. As important as the issues I have named and other issues are, these things are not the heart of who we are in Christ.
That phrase in Christ names us. This is who we are. Everything - politics, identity, vocation - our very lives are determined by this phrase: in Christ.
One of the Apostle Paul’s chief concerns in Romans is the heart. How are sin and death defeated? How is the heart transformed so that the person who was defined by sin is now defined by God’s righteousness? There’s a one-word answer: Jesus. (1) All people sin and are lost. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 1-3. Sin destroys us. (2) The only hope for rescue from our sins and the damage they do is Jesus. We can only we stand before God when we stand in Christ. Talking about Christ, we must talk about the crucial moment in the God-human story: Jesus Christ crucified, and resurrected.
Moving through the stories of Jesus we read during Lent we get to this point, the heart of our faith. Romans 10:9-10. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”
Everything about me proceeds from my belief that Jesus is Lord and that he is the resurrected one. Everything about who I am stands on that belief. No other argument, ministry, current issue, or theological debate can claim a disciple of Jesus. How I vote does not show who I am. Where you fall in a particular theological camp or ideological system does not tell me who you are. Nothing we can argue about is the cornerstone or life blood. Faith in Jesus is the ground on which we stand. The Holy Spirit is the energy in us. We are all about Jesus. And when we speak of Jesus, the crucifixion and resurrection inform our thoughts.
To say we believe in Jesus is to say we are a confessing people. Confession is our verbal witness. We boldly speak our faith. Our declaration is absolute and uncompromising. Jesus is Lord.
When he met the resurrected Jesus, the Apostle Thomas shouted “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). He was no longer “doubting Thomas.” He became “confessing Thomas.” In Philippians Paul writes that after Jesus died on the cross, God exalted Him so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (2:10-11a). John of Patmos, writer of the book of Revelation, concludes that collection of spectacular visions by saying, “Amen! Come Lord Jesus” (22:20)!
We are people who say it! Jesus is Lord - Lord of our lives. He’s our God, our Master, and our King. Ours is a spoken faith.
Our words, as we saw in Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain which we looked at last week, come from the faith we hold in our hearts. Paul writes, “If you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead ...”. We know it intellectually. Faith is rational. But, what we know through measured reasoning also grips us in the deepest parts. We hold this faith emotionally. We speak it audibly because its too much to be contained. We can’t keep it in and we shouldn’t. Jesus is Savior and Lord.
The message in Romans 10:9-10 is the heart of our faith. Jesus and nothing else is the cornerstone of the church and the foundation of the individual believer’s life. Every sinner needs Jesus and everyone sins. Once we understand ourselves to be in Christ, we realize we are not just saved. We’re called - called to share our faith. We tell the good news of salvation in Jesus that others might hear and turn to him and themselves receive his grace and be saved.
We can share our faith in countless ways and in just about any place; in the driveway after a one-on-one basketball game; at a bar with friends; at the coffee pot with a coworker; in an instant messaging conversation; while jogging; in the foxhole; at the kitchen table; before bedtime prayers; in a song; in a handwritten letter; with a neighbor over the backyard fence; through prison bars. Jesus is Lord in all these places and we can speak our faith in Him in all circumstances.
Paul says more about evangelism in Romans 10:14-17:
How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.
For Paul, the witness of Christians is the hope the world needs. In Romans 3:9, he writes, “We have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin.” In the next 9 verses, he make reference to 9 Old Testament passages that show that sin has plagued humanity in all ages. He sums it up in verse 23 where he says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Arguments about border walls or who can or can’t get married fade to the background. Paul’s concern is that all sin and thus all are permanently cut off from God. It is a universal theme.
But then in Romans 10, Paul declares a second universal theme. Just as everyone sins, in Christ, everyone can find salvation. Romans 10:12-13. “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Just as sin’s curse and death’s cruelty are inflicted on all, so is God’s grace through Jesus available to all.
During Lent, we see our own need for God and in seeing, we step toward Him through repentance and confession. You can begin this journey today. If you have never put your trust in Jesus, you can do that today. Come, confess your sin and ask Jesus into your heart.
If you are already a believer, speak your faith. This morning, pray and ask God to give you the words and the opportunity to share Jesus with someone you know who needs Him. Ask God to help you see how faith in the risen Lord is a present reality that defines our everyday lives. Between now and Easter ask God to help you help someone you know find their way to Him.
Throughout Lent, step toward Jesus. Step into the heart of our faith.