Gospel In The Modern World

Delivered April 18, 2004 by Dr. David Harley,
General Director of OMF International.

Sermon Text:
Romans 10:1-15

(John Schmidt speaking) Well I would like to introduce to you the special speaker that we have today,Dr. David Harley. He is now the President of OMF International,a missional organization that’s been in existence for over 135 years in outreach to East Asia. Ever since their inception as an organization they have been leaders in outreach, and David has responsibilities that in the past have taken him to Africa, to Ethiopia, he is now in Singapore. And he and his wife Rosemary are visiting with us and today he is bringing the Word to us and so I want to greet you and thank you for being here.

Good morning. I hope you can understand my accent. Guess where I come from? Someone said this morning they thought I was Tony Blair. There you go. Anyway, the name is David Harley and in Japan I am called Harley Davidson. It is really great to be with you and just worshipping here in this church this morning reminds us about church in Singapore. God is doing great things in some parts of Asia and in Singapore the church has grown tremendously. The church has doubled in size in the last twenty-five years and 14 % of the people of Singapore are now Christians and we praise God for that. In China there may now be about 70-80 million Christians. There are really some exciting things happening in China and it is just good to be worshipping with you because the worship you have here is very similar to the worship in our church in Singapore. So come visit us some time, but not all at once.

We work for OMF as your pastor said and there is a display out there just beyond the sanctuary about the work of OMF. If you are interested in knowing a bit more about the opportunities there are for serving short term in almost any country in southeast or East Asia. Thank you for those of you who pray. Thank you that this church has sent out, I think you support about 70 missionaries and particularly thank you for your support for a number of people in OMF at Grace and Mackey that you sent out last year and particularly Neil and Wanee. They served in Thailand. Wanee is Thai and Neil was a medical doctor and he is now back in Denver as the National Director of OMF for the states and he is doing a wonderful job. In the last two years we have sent out ninety people from the states just to work with OMF in East and Southeast Asia. That is tremendous and that is in large measure due to Neil’s leadership and he really appreciates the support that you give to him from this church. He couldn’t do it without that kind of support. So thank you for that.

I would like us to look today at Romans, chapter 10. It’s page 802. If you got a church Bible it will help to follow through this. Romans, chapter 10 on page 802 in your red Bibles in front of you. You know the Bible is the authority, not the preacher. It is always good to check out what the preacher is saying. Just check out what your minister is saying you know. He is not leading you up some heretical path. So let’s look at Romans 10 together, page 802 and I will read the first 15 verses.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, that their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Moses describes him this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend in to heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend in to the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you;it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord.” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile– The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they had not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Let’s pray together. Lord, thank you for the chance to worship you. Thank you for the freedom we have in this country to come to church and to sing your praise. And we ask now Father that you will help us to listen to what you would say to us and we pray that you will help us, by your Holy Spirit to understand your Word and then to act on what your Word teaches us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, we live in a multi-faith society, don’t we? We live in a multi-faith world. A world where there are many religions. 1.2 billion Moslems. At least 700 million Hindus, 600 million Buddhists and so on. And I think one of the greatest challenges that we face in the world today; we certainly face it in East Asia, but you also face it here in the states. One of the great challenges we face as Christians is how do we share our faith with these people? What is their attitude towards neighbors? I mean they are all around us aren’t they? Moslems, Hindu’s, Jewish people, Buddhists. So what responsibility does the Lord Jesus give to us towards these people? What should our attitude be? And if we feel that it is right, somehow, but we are not quite sure how to go about it, but if we feel that it is right somehow to try and share what we know of Jesus with them, how do we do that?

Now that is the kind of issue that Paul is dealing with here in Romans 10. And he is grappling particularly with one religious group, the Jewish people and as Paul went around preaching, he often got quite an encouraging response, but it was often Jewish people who were the last people who actually listened to him. And Paul found that as a real problem. Why don’t they? What has gone wrong? And you know particularly, with the Jewish people, because they are being prepared for 2000 years for the coming of Jesus. Promises and prophecies that Jesus would come and now He has come and the Jewish people don’t accept him. That was a real problem for Paul, he couldn’t quite understand that. And it was a real personal problem for Paul because he is talking about people that he loves. People that are important to him. People that he knows well. His wider family, his neighbors, his friends. And so Paul in these three chapters, Romans 9, 10 and 11 is grappling with this issue, what should my attitude be towards the Jewish people then? And how do I share the gospel with them? And I think as Paul grapples with this question he helps us and suggests guidelines for us as to how we in the 21st century learn to share the gospel with people of all faiths and backgrounds. So look with me at this chapter.

I think there are three key words that summarize Paul’s attitude to people of other religions as he reflects here on the Jewish people. And the first word that I see in Paul’s attitude is the word respect. Paul has respect for these people. Look back to chapter 9 and it gives a whole list in chapter 9, verses 4 and 5 all the great things that these Jewish people have and he says in chapter 9, verse 4 and 5 if you would like to turn back to that. He says in verse 4, these people “Theirs is the adoption as sons; Theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs and even Jesus.” He says, “Look at these people and just see how much God has done for them.” Then he chose them to be his people and He said you can call me Father. They were the first people in the world to call God Father. They have these special covenants with God. God gave them his promises. God gave them his Word. God showed them how to worship him. God gave them a whole succession of fantastic, great, spiritual leaders and then of their race, of Jewish blood, Jesus our Savior was born. Paul says, “Wow, what a tremendous heritage.”

Paul appreciates that and he says to him in Romans 9, and although of course the Jewish people are a special case and I suppose there has been nobody whose been blessed as much as the Jewish people. It seems to me that Paul always has this kind of mentality, this kind of attitude. If you read through Acts, you know whenever Paul went to anybody he always tried to show respect, to find common ground, to see things in their background and their culture that he could appreciate. So when he spoke to polytheist who worshipped many Gods, he didn’t say you shouldn’t be doing that. He speaks about the one great creator God that they also believed in. He talks about him. He found common ground. When he is speaking at Athens University, he talks about their poets, their philosophers, their seeking for a quote “unknown God.” That’s where we need to start isn’t it? With respect and learning to understand, learning to listen and learning to appreciate.

Paul doesn’t just respect their culture, Paul also respects them as people. If you look back now to chapter 10, verse 2, it says in verse 2, these people are really serious about their faith. I bear witness that they are zealous for God, but you know they are sincere. They are not just a bunch of hypocrites. I testify, Paul says that they are zealous for God. Who is he talking about? He is talking about scribes and Pharisee’s and if you read the New Testament you would think that all the scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites and some doubtless were. I am sure that if Jesus came today to some Christian churches he would find a whole bunch of hypocrites. None of course in Central Presbyterian, but in some churches. Some Pharisee’s I am sure were hypocrites, but not all of them were. Many of them like Nicodemus were really devout and sincere and they really loved God’s Word and they wanted to obey God’s Word in the way that they understood it, and they took the Sabbath seriously and they took prayer seriously and the prayer life of the Orthodox Jew would put most of us to shame. They knew all the Psalms by heart. Well do you? I scrape through Psalm 23 then I sort of run out. I mean one or two bits of Psalms I can remember. You know many of these people really love God and Paul recognizes that. He says, I testify they have a zeal for God. And as we think about our neighbors who may be Jewish people or Hindus or Buddhists or whatever, our starting point surely is to surely show respect for them, to understand them, to take time to listen to them. I mean how well do we really understand the basic tenants of Islam or Buddhism or whatever our friend is? I often find that we as Christians are really quite ignorant and too ashamed. How can we share the love of Jesus with them unless we understand them? What a great phrase that Rob came out with. Earning the right to be heard. And that I think is precisely what we need to do with our friends. You know whether they are in school, hospital, work, club or wherever it is that we meet them, earning the right to be heard because we respect them, because we take them seriously, because we understand them, because we take time to learn about them. The first word that characterized Paul’s attitude to people of other faith was respect. Well, may the Lord give us that.

The second word I think characterized Paul’s attitude was the word conviction. You know there are some things that Paul was convinced about and in a way the whole of Romans summarizes what Paul believed as a Christian. Here is our faith spelled out in this tremendous book of the New Testament. Paul spells it out in these great chapters. He says, we are all in trouble. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And yet, God has sent his Son to die for us and because Jesus has died in our place, then for those who believe in him there is no condemnation. A tremendous verse Romans 5. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I hope that really makes you excited. I mean it is such a wonderful truth. Paul says we are forgiven. We are accepted. We can call one Father. God has put his Spirit in our hearts whereby we cry Abba, Daddy and Paul says now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Paul says, here’s the gospel and the gospel is relevant for everybody and now he applies that to the Jewish people because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

And that’s true of Jewish people as well. So Paul in these verses, chapter 10, verses 1-13 expresses three convictions about the gospel. First, he speaks about the necessity of the gospel. Everybody needs to hear about Jesus. And he says, yes I do respect the Jewish people. I think they have a wonderful religious heritage and I think they are very sincere, many of them, but religious heritage and sincerity will never earn you your salvation. And much as Paul admired the Jewish people, it grieved him that they have this basic misunderstanding, that they were actually looking in the wrong direction,that they actually thought that by the things that they did they could earn a ticket to heaven. They could live such a good life that they could say to God, “Well I know you are a holy, perfect God but I have led such a good life, I merit the right to live with you forever in heaven.” They tried to earn their own righteousness. Paul says, what is God’s gift and you know that is why Paul writes with such passion in this book, because it makes him so sad that in spite of this sincerity they don’t actually understand, and Paul tried to do what they were doing. Paul could say in all humility that he had tried really as hard as any one of his contemporaries to lead a decent life, to lead a good life, to lead a god-centered life, to try and earn righteousness. You can’t do that, Paul said. It is no through road. It’s a cul-de-sac. It’s a no win. That’s impossible. And that’s what really concerned Paul and that is why Jesus died, of course, because there was no other way.

How many of you have seen Mel Gibson’s movie? I would be interested to know how many of you have. At least half of you. My wife and I went on Good Friday and watched it in the UK. I don’t know what your response was. I found it a very harrowing experience to see what Jesus went through for our sake, to see how he suffered for us. Why did Jesus go through that? Why did the Son of God come down from heaven? Because there was no other way. Isn’t that right? If there had been any other way, there was no need for Jesus to go through all of that. There was no need for him to be nailed to a cross. But he came because we needed a savior and there isn’t any other way. So Paul’s logic is the necessity of the gospel for everyone.

Secondly, Paul speaks here about the simplicity of the gospel in verses 6 to 10. He says it is so wonderfully simple because of what Jesus has done, what do we have to do? We are going to do something fantastic he says like climb up in to heaven as if Jesus had never come down and we got to make our own way up to God somehow and we haven’t got to do something like digging a hole in the ground as if Jesus was still dead and buried and the great round stone around his tomb had never been rolled away. There would be no resurrection and we got to raise Jesus up somehow. A ridiculous idea. Paul says, “You haven’t got to do that, you haven’t got to do anything impossible. All you have to do is to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth how wonderfully simple the gospel is.”

I was on the telephone to a man in Singapore in August and he was so excited as a penny dropped, as he slowly realized how wonderful it was. He said, “Can I do anything else? I got to do something.” I said, “No all you have to do is to believe.” He said, “I do believe, I do believe.” He was so excited. The simplicity of the gospel. Then thirdly, Paul speaks here about the universality of the gospel, verses 11 to 13. It is so simple and it is universal. It is for everybody. There is no difference, Paul says, between Jew and Gentile. It does not matter what your color is, your race is, your country is, your background is, your age is. There is no difference. Here is a gospel for all people and I think that is precisely what is our problem today and that is precisely what is unpalatable in the 21st century. And here’s this truth, that if you believe what you sing today, then you have a Savior for the world. And I think we have to face up to the logic of our faith. Who is the baby that was born in Bethlehem? It wasn’t some little baby, not really the Son of God. Who was the person who died on the cross? Was it some failed Jewish prophet? Or was it the Savior of the world and what happened on that first Easter day? Was a mirage or just a ghost or was it a risen Jesus? And you’ve got to face up to the logic of what we believe. That Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world. If you have a Savior, he is the Savior the world. If he is not the Savior of the world, you have no Savior. So Paul is convinced of the universal relevance of the gospel and I hope you are convinced of that too.

We were often asked about Jewish people as we worked amongst Jewish people, why take the gospel to Jewish people? Well, for many reasons. But particularly because of the transforming difference that Jesus makes and I have met hundreds of Jewish people who have come to know Jesus as their Savior, many of them here in America. There are tens of thousands of Jewish believers, Messianic Jews here in the states and they say to me, “Jesus has transformed my life and I now know that I am forgiven. I now know I have eternal life. I now know God as a personal friend and Father.” As one said to me very movingly, he said, “I now know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” The second word that expresses Paul’s attitude to those of other faiths is the word conviction, about who Jesus is. And the third word is the word passion. Read Romans 9 and 10. You get a sense of the tremendous passion that Paul had, his longing, the little words he uses, my hearts desire and prayer to God is that they may be saved. I have unceasing anguish and sorrow in my heart because of them. Paul is not someone who speculates and he is well maybe they will be okay. He didn’t have them sit down in some ivory tower and have some remote philosophical discussion about comparative religion. Paul is passionately concerned to share with all people, including Jewish people, the knowledge that Jesus is the Savior of the world. This whole chapter is full of Paul’s passion. How shall they hear? Look at those two verses. How will they hear? And because Paul had that passion, Paul was prepared to suffer and in much of his ministry he did suffer and if we have a passion to share Jesus with other people, that is going to cost us. Jesus said we must take up our cross and follow him.

Just over a year ago one of our missionaries was shot dead in the Philippines. He was a Filipino. He was twenty-seven years-old and his name was Ray Walalibio (sp?). He was married to Teresa, she was twenty-four and they had a little baby daughter, Rejoice, who was two. And as Ray rode his motorbike in the town where they had worked, they had been there for four or five years as missionaries, a masked gunman, a Moslem fundamentalist came and shot him through the back and then through the head and then stretched out his body in the middle of the road in the shape of a cross. As they were ridiculing his faith and his Savior who died on a the cross. I went to the funeral a week later in a little gospel chapel, four hours drive up into the mountains, it was pouring with rain, deafening noise because it was a corriated iron roof, a packed church and there was Ray lying in his coffin, which is half open, glass top as is the custom in the Philippines. His father gets up and speaks through his tears. His wife Teresa gets up and speaks and shares of their four or five years of marriage together and the fun they had together and great times and how much she admired her husband. And then someone who was holding the little Rejoice who was two years old, quite close to her father’s coffin and someone says to her, where is your daddy? And she doesn’t point to the coffin. She points her little finger up to heaven and said, “He is with Jesus.” That is the conviction that Ray and Teresa had and that’s why they were serving God in Southern Philippines in Mindanao because they believe the gospel, they believe we have a message of eternal life, which nobody else has. And they were prepared for whatever it was going to take to share that message, to share that love, even if it meant what actually happened, that he died.

And then the question that then comes to us is- what are we prepared to do for Jesus and how much are we willing to suffer for his sake? And as you think about that movie with Mel Gibson and what Jesus did for you, then He asks us well, what are you willing to do for me? And what are you willing may I ask you to do, to take the good news of Jesus into your community and into the world and what challenge does Jesus bring you? I dare say that Jesus wants some of you to say yeah I will pray regularly for one of the missionaries that we send out once a week. I will commit myself or I will think much more carefully about what I give to support missionaries or you will think about some of your friends, maybe Jewish friends or Moslems or Hindus or whatever here in Baltimore and you will say I will really pray for them and I will really build up friendships with them and I will really seek to earn the right to be heard. But I pray also that some of you in this church, in this EPIC service will actually hear God’s call and will be willing to say to him, “Jesus my life is yours. I lay my life.” That’s what we sing about isn’t it? I give my life to you. If you want to call me to go to Asia or Africa or Latin America to serve you, even if means giving up my career or sacrificing comfort, I am going to do that because you have loved me. How will they hear unless people go and tell them?

Let’s pray. Lord, thank you for your Word. We confess that we find this whole area difficult and often we feel very inadequate, but Lord we know that you have loved us and we pray that you will help us to love you and we pray that because Jesus is so important to us, you will help us to know how we can share him with others. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.