Have They Not Heard?
Passage: Romans 10:5–17
Roman’s ten. This is a hugely important chapter that, maybe more than any other, gets used out of its context. If you are going to have a missions conference and you are going to pick a text to teach or to have someone teach, I bet a good chunk of this room would choose the part of Romans ten that we just read. How then will they call on God if they have not believed. How will they believe if they have not heard? How will they hear if someone doesn’t preach? Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. So, let’s send those missionaries to the world!
Now, I don’t think people are wrong to use this passage and apply it to world missions, I myself have done this. But it prevents us from following Paul’s argument the way Paul intended. We have to use it with verse 18 at the end. “But I ask, have they not heard?” And Paul’s answer is, “Indeed they have.”. Paul is saying they have already heard. Who are the ‘they’ Paul is talking about? The Israelites. World missions is not a part of Paul’s argument here. Again, using it that way isn’t bad, but our goal in this series is to follow Paul’s argument and he’s making a specific point.
Remember in chapter nine Paul talked a lot about predestination and election. So, it’s reasonable then for a couple questions to come up. If God is choosing and electing people, is it God’s fault Israel is not saved? If God chose Israel in the past, is God turning his back on them now? Will he turn his back on me then? Paul’s main point in this chapter is again to vindicate God and his righteousness and he does that by arguing that the failure of the Jews to believe was their own fault and not God’s. That’s the main point.
I have to imagine that Paul had faced this question many times by the time he wrote this letter. So, I want to follow Paul’s argument and see 1) How it’s not God’s fault that these Jewish people are not in the kingdom and 2) 3 excuses or objections this raises.
- Why it’s not God’s fault
The problem that brings this deep anguish to Paul’s heart is that while the Jewish people have zeal, it’s directed in the wrong place. Zeal can be a good thing or a bad thing based on where that zeal is directed. You can be sincere and be sincerely wrong. Just after Angla and I got married, we bought a couch from Ikea, my least favorite place in the world, and it arrived at our apartment in Italy and it didn’t come with legs. It was like a couch for hobbits. So, I called Ikea and in my horrible Italian I told them the couch had arrived with no legs…and they hung up on me. I called back and I was not happy and I said the same thing and they hung up on me again. Now, you want to talk about zeal, I was full of it. You want to talk about sincerity. I was sincerely mad. This fourth time I called though, they sent me to someone who spoke English and she was laughing at me…which didn’t calm me down any. And she explained that when I had called the previous times, what I was really saying was this, “My couch has arrived, but it didn’t come with the little toilets that go under it.” I was full of zeal and sincerity, but I was sincerely wrong.
We can look at people of other religions around the world and note that they are sincere in their beliefs, but what Paul is saying is that you can be sincere and be sincerely wrong. Sincerity and zeal alone doesn’t get you where you need to go if that zeal is not accompanied with knowledge. The 9/11 bombers were sincere….they were zealous, but their zeal was misplaced and they were sincerely wrong. So, how were the Jews sincerely wrong?
Paul says that they were ignorant of the righteousness of God because they were seeking to establish or create their own righteousness through the law. We’ve talked a lot about this in this series, so I’m not going to belabor the point, but instead of accepting the free righteousness of Christ to make us sinful people presentable before a holy God, they want to try and become righteous on their own through accomplishing the law. And this is an eternally fatal mistake.
Then Paul says something that has been greatly misunderstood. He says that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes. People have used that to say that Christ is the end of the law and the law is now gone. Christ is not the end of the law, he’s the end of the law as a way of trying to attain our righteousness. The moral law for the Christian isn’t the standard for acceptance, but a compass to lead us into deeper joy and satisfaction in God. The moral law is an extension of God’s character, so you better believe that Jesus cared about it and wasn’t going to get rid of it. If God’s character doesn’t change, neither does his law.
So, whose fault is it that the Israelites have not believed? Is it God’s fault? No. It’s their fault. They rejected the gospel message. Anyone who is saved is saved by the grace of God alone and anyone who is not, that is on us because we live lives actively opposed to the reign of God in our lives and we seek to create our own righteousness din some way and this wasn’t just a Jewish problem. Back in my campus ministry days, we did a survey at a dorm and had hundreds of students fill out and one of the questions was ‘how are you saved.’ Do you know what the number one reason they gave was? Doing the Ten Commandments. That’s EXACTLY what Paul is saying we can’t do! That establishing our own righteousness apart from Christ.
The way Paul opens this chapter should eliminate any sentiments of anti-semitism. Paul loves these people. He’s not trying to keep them out. He just said that he would be cut off from Christ himself if they could come in. In the very first verse, Paul says that it is his heart’s desire and prayer to God that they may be saved. So, there is no way to use anything in Romans to promote an anti-Jewish sentiment in any culture.
Not only should it prevent any thoughts of anti-semitism, it should also give a good look at how we should feel for the lost. It is sadly a real danger that when people begin to learn a lot of doctrine, they begin to feel puffed up and lose their longing for the lost. A longing that Paul displays so clearly.
So, Paul’s point is clear. It is not God’s fault. It’s the Israelites fault. His character and righteousness are vindicated. But, Paul anticipates objections he’s likely heard dozens or even hundreds of times.
Excuse 1: Maybe the Israelites didn’t have access to the gospel
Paul is saying that their salvation is not at the end of a long road of obedience and it’s not far off somewhere, but at their fingertips. The had all the access to the gospel that they could possibly need. And Paul makes this point with one of the most confusing parts of the book in verses 5-8. 5 For fMoses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that gthe person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But hthe righteousness based on faith says, i“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the jabyss?’” (that is, kto bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? l“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); - Rom 10:5-8
Paul is using Deuteronomy 30. Listen to this passage and you can hear it clearly 11 “For this commandment that I command you today tis not too hard for you, neither isit far off. 12 uIt is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. - Deut 30:11-14
It’s easy to get confused here, but what Paul is saying is so clear when we understand it. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses is saying don’t come to me asking for someone to go across the ocean to get you the word, it’s right here. It has been made near to you. You don’t have to go up to heaven or down to the abyss, God has brought it near you. Simply listen and obey. It’s in your mouth and heart. Paul is saying the exact same thing. It’s so near to you! Christ has done it and brought it so near. All you have to do is confess with your mouth and believe in your heart.
Not only did the Isrealites have access to the gospel in Paul’s day, they had access to the message of salvation through faith alone for thousands of years. This is why the Gospel of Mark begins by saying The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, athe Son of God.1 2 bAs it is written in Isaiah the prophet, - Mark 1:1 Go all the way back to Isaiah 57:2. He’s literally talking about the good news. Not accomplishing the law. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, owho brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” - Is 57:2 They have had more access to the gospel than anyone else. And not only is Isaiah talking about their access to the gospel, you can see that they were supposed to use their access to the Law to bring others in! If you go to Equipping Hour today, you’ll hear more about that. So, not only did they neglect what they were supposed to do with the law in bringing it to the world, they failed to even embrace it at home.
There is no distinction now between Jew and Gentile. Anyone who confesses Jesus as Lord and believes in their heart will be saved. They will be made righteous in the eyes of God. And this is so important to Paul’s argument because remember he is trying to heal the rift between the Jewish Christians who think they are spiritually superior to the gentile Christians because they have the law. They need less grace because they have a moral head start. Paul again is leveling the playing field so they will have more unity and be able to be more fruitful as a home base for Paul to send him to Spain.
It continues to be important as you’ve seen in our Acts series that we’ll be jumping back into soon. The gospel evens the playing field and unites us as equal sinners who equally need the grace of Jesus. Peter realizes this in Acts 10 and the early church realizes this in Acts 15. But, the church has continued to struggle to fully understand and embrace this. Peter failed when he refused to eat with the gentile Christians in Galatia. And we continue to fail today.
Back in my early days here at OGC, I was talking about how overwhelmingly homogenous our church was. Not only were we basically all white, we tended to school the same way, vote the same way, and even practice or boycott certain holidays the same way. And someone said to me, “Jim, there are other churches for those kinds of people.” Meaning that people who look different than us and have different cultural practices, should go to different churches. That is no different than Peter eating at a different table. It’s no different than the Israelites keeping the law to themselves. And it’s no different than the church in Rome dividing based on ethnicity. Paul’s message in Romans 10 is as vital for us to understand as it was his original audience.
The gospel is so close to the unbelieving Israelites. They can’t claim that they don’t have access to it. And this takes us to excuse 2.
Excuse 2: Maybe they didn’t hear. And this is what takes us to the most famous part of the passage. I’m summarizing here, but Paul uses the Old Testament to ask these questions. How will these Israelites believe if they haven’t heard? How will they hear if someone doesn’t preach? How will someone preach if they aren’t sent? We know that faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. What if they just didn’t hear it?
This is how I imagine it. Most of you have been around kids once they get to a certain age and you say something and they don’t respond. Maybe they are watching TV or playing the PS5. You’re telling them to go do something and they totally hear it, but they act like they don’t. They might claim they didn’t hear you, but they 100% did! I remember so well when Turner was about seven and we were at the pool and it was time to go and he acted like he didn’t hear me saying it was time to go. Every time I would call his name he would go underwater and act like he didn’t hear me. But I knew he did!
I think this is analogous to the excuse Paul is anticipating. And this is why Paul says in verse 18, ‘But have they not heard? Indeed they have! And he quotes Psalm 19: Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. His point is that they have indeed heard. So, while you can use this passage for Missions Month, this is not the way Paul is using it. He’s talking about Israel and her disobedience. He’s continuing to vindicate God and his dealings with Israel. They did hear! Then, Paul anticipates one last objection.
Excuse 3: Maybe they just didn’t understand. Verse 19: 19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, c“I will dmake you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a efoolish nation I will make you angry.” - Rom 10:19 He’s not only saying that they have understood, but that Moses prophesied that this would happen!
In verse 21, Paul says But of Israel he says (he being Isaiah) All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people. - Rom 10:21 They heard, they understood, and they hated it. There is no excuse for the rejection of the gospel on the part of Israel. People have been sent, they have preached, the people heard, they understood for generations, and they said no.
Some of you might be thinking, “Wait, God is going to make Israel jealous? To what end? Does God still have a plan for them?” I’m glad you asked. Come back next week for chapter 11. Gotta keep some powder dry here. The main point in this part of the chapter is that there are chilling eternal consequences for hearing and understanding the gospel, but not confessing it with our mouths or believing it in our hearts. This message is to the Roman church and about the unbelieving Israelites, but it is very much for us. This should be a chilling word for them and for us.
If you are here today and you have heard the gospel, but not believed it, you will stand before God the same way these Israelites did. But, the difference between them and you is that you still have time. You can put your faith in Jesus today. I’m here to talk if you want, as are any of our pastors or leaders. You can talk to your parents. You can fill out a connect card. But I want you to hear me say that this is the most important decision you can ever make and the door to making that decision will not stay open forever. All of us will die and that is when the door closes.
We saw in Romans one and two that there is no excuse for anyone living in this world because we know enough from living in this creation to know we are sinful and need saving of some sort. But, this part of Romans is narrowing the focus on those who have heard and understood and rejected the gospel. Peter has even more chilling words for them. 20 For if, aafter they have escaped the defilements of the world bthrough the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,they are again entangled in them and overcome, cthe last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For dit would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from ethe holy commandment delivered to them. - 2 Peter 2:20,21
I don’t know exactly how this plays out in the afterlife, but it is clear that while there is eternal condemnation for any who do not believe, it is worse for those who have heard and rejected and I don’t want that to be true of any of you.
The character of God will always be vindicated. There are some confusing parts in Scripture, but we need to allow the clear parts to illuminate them. The Bible is clear that God is fair and just. At the end of time, when Jesus comes, John says that those outside of Christ will wish the mountains to hide from them to hide them from the wrath to come. But do you know what no one is saying in that moment? God is not fair. God is not just. No one will claim that because all will see that he is.
The unfair and unjust ones are us. If God only wanted what is fair, we would all receive his wrath. But, because our God is loving and merciful, he took on flesh and endured the greatest injustice ever to be committed. The perfect God-man was sinned against, falsely accused, and sent to die a criminal’s death on a Roman cross. And not only that. As horrible as his torture and death was, on that cross it became infinitely worse. As the sky went dark, Jesus received the full wrath that we deserve at the end of time.
If anyone could cry out, “Not fair.” It would be Jesus. And make no mistake, those nails were not what was keeping him on the cross. He could have gotten off that cross at any time…. but for the joy set before him, his love for the Father and his love for us, he stayed.
And because he stayed and received what we all justly deserve, his righteousness can be given to us. This is the righteousness of God that Paul is talking about. This freely accepted righteousness that can only come through Jesus and no working of the law. A righteousness that the unbelieving Israelites rejected. And I imagine with tears in his eyes, Paul laments their fate that they brought on themselves. A fate I hope no one in here ever knows because all of us here today have heard and all of us here today who are mentally capable have understood.