5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because 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. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14But 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? 15And 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!”
Imagine with me for a few minutes a young boy, maybe eight years old, playing on the farm. This young boy enjoyed the animals, watching them eat their feed, frolicking in the pasture, and playing with one another. But the animal that intrigued the young boy the most was the billy goat.
Though the billy goat was getting older, he was still pretty small. He was a pigmy goat, and would never reach the size of some of the other breeds of goats. As this goat got older, he got meaner. And as the billy goat got meaner, the more the little boy liked to provoke the billy goat.
The young boy would throw things at the billy goat, trying to get him to butt the gates, or to chase after the young boy only to run out of chain before the goat could reach the young boy. And yes, that young boy was me.
So one day, as I am making my normal trip through the barn with apple cores or something of that nature to feed/throw at the old billy, I found a surprise: The billy goat was loose. And he was ready to pay me back for all of the tormenting. With head lowered, horns out in front, the billy goat began to chase me out of the barn and into the front yard. Never have I been known for my speed, but I believe I ran faster at that moment than ever before in my life. I tore out of that barn with the billy goat hot on my heals. Knowing that my speed was limited and that my pain tolerance was low, I cried out for help. My father was only about a hundred feet away, so I yelled out, “Daaaaaad!”
Not knowing what the problem was, my dad began running toward the barn. And when that old billy goat got a sight of my father running to my rescue, he quickly changed his route and returned to the barn. That day, my father was my savior. All I needed to do was to call out to him.
Well our scripture for this morning tells us we need to call out to someone else in order to be saved. It tells us that all that call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, not call upon my Dad. But I struggle with this a bit, because the scriptures can be a little confusing at times. So while I don’t claim that I have it all figured out, I hope that we can look at this scripture and decide together what it truly means to call Jesus Lord.
Our scripture begins with Paul talking about Moses and how righteousness under the Law came by observing the Law. But now, under the new covenant, righteousness, that is being made right with God, comes about through faith. And Paul says that the righteous that live by faith will not question where their righteousness has come from. The righteous will know that you do not need to ascend into heaven to bring Christ down to our level. Nor do we need to descend into some kind of abyss or grave to retrieve the dead corpse of Christ. We do not need to do these things because Christ our savior is right here with us!
I don’t know that Paul was thinking this way, but verse 8 tells us, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” I think that it is interesting that the Gospel of John refers to Jesus as “the Word”. And now Paul is telling us that the word is near us. Our salvation, our redeemer is not some distant deity that only dwells in the by and by. Nor is our redeemer simply some old stiff rotting away in the ground. Our redeemer is here with us now. He is here in spirit; he is here in our memories; he is present in the gathered believers, His body, the church.
So because we have this redeemer here with us, albeit in a less than normal way, what do we need to do for redemption? Verse 9 tells us, “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” (saved from what?). By believing this to be true, we are made right with God. By speaking it with our mouth, we are saved. It doesn’t matter if you are Jew or Gentile, young or old, male or female, v. 13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
We hear this all of the time in the church, probably because we need to be reminded frequently that we are not made right with God by our works. We are made right through grace which comes about through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul just told us that if we confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. But even Jesus had some problems with this, and we will get to that in just a minute.
So let’s go back to that old billy goat and the “salvation” that I experienced from his sharp horns. My father bailed me out of that situation, he came running when I called out to him. But what if I did it again the next day? What if I kept throwing things at the goat, provoking him, trying to make him mad, and then occasionally got chased after? Do you think that my father would continue to come running every time the goat chased me? Or would he maybe let me get knocked to the ground a little to help me learn? I don’t know for sure. My father loves me and wouldn’t want to see me hurt. But if I refused to stop doing the things that were making the billy goat mad at me, then maybe I needed to learn a tough lesson. Maybe I needed to learn that my father was not a “get out of trouble” card that I could use whenever I wanted to, especially when I knew better than to get into that trouble in the first place.
I don’t think that Jesus wants his people to continue to cause trouble and live defiantly only to one day, or on many occasions call out Lord, Lord. Jesus asks the question quite bluntly to those he is teaching in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” To proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord implies that he is Lord of your life, that you will follow him. Lord isn’t just some proper name, like Ralph, Joe, or Kevin. To call Jesus Lord means that he is a person of great power and great authority. So when Jesus asks why the followers call him Lord and then don’t do what he says, he is saying, “If I am your Lord, then do what I say!”
Matthew 7:21 quotes Jesus as having said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” So it sounds like Paul is saying that if we call on Jesus, if we name him as Lord, we will be saved. But Jesus is saying that it takes more than calling him Lord. It also requires that one does the will of God. So who is correct?
I say both are correct. Notice that Paul never says that all you have to do is call “to” Jesus “Lord, Lord.” Paul is saying we must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord. Think of it like this. If I were to be sitting all alone in my home and I called out to Jesus, Lord, Lord, nobody else would hear me. That is a very private religion. It is between me and God and doesn’t involve anyone else. Nobody else even needs to know that I am a Christian (if you call that being a Christian). A private religion like this is very safe and comfortable. But a public confession like Paul is suggesting leaves little doubt about who he believes is Lord!
As I stand before you today, I confess that Jesus Christ is my Lord. And by that I mean that I have no other Lord. I place no one and nothing before Jesus. This is my pledge of allegiance: Jesus Christ is Lord. No other principality or power or secular temptation will come before Jesus my Lord, with the grace of God, of course.
But as I make this confession, I do not fear for my life. I do not fear what you might do to me after church. I am not fearful of you not coming to my ice cream social, not sitting with me at lunch, not talking to me on the streets, not buying from my store. I am not fearful for my life. And this is something that I do appreciate about being born in the United States. I have the freedom to worship whomever or whatever I want with little fear of the repercussions. But we know that this was not the case in Jesus’ day.
Remember that Palestine in the first century was ruled by the Romans. And at the head of the Roman government was Caesar. And we all know of Caesar’s role as the head of the government would include decisions on warfare, care for the people, distribution of goods, and other political decisions. But Caesar was more than just a political figure; he was a religious figure as well, demanding worship and sacrifices in his name.
NT Wright refers to the Roman Empire as a Caesar cult, worshipping Caesar as a divine character. And the terms used to refer to Caesar included the terms Lord and Son of God. So to claim that Jesus is Lord meant that you were claiming that Caesar is not Lord. One cannot serve two masters.
So Paul seems to be getting a bit political here. He is challenging the ultimate authority of Caesar and the Roman Empire. Instead the ultimate authority is God and the kingdom of God. And the same God who is the God over the Jew is the same God over the Greek, the Roman, any Gentile for that matter. Because there is only one God, and Caesar isn’t him! There is one God, one kingdom, everything else is subject to God, whether they know it or not.
So when Paul says that everyone that confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord will be saved, he isn’t preaching some cheap grace. He isn’t saying that if you sit in your bedroom all alone and have some private conversation with God that you will be saved even if the rest of your life is lived like every other pagan out there. Paul is encouraging people to be bold for the kingdom of God. Proclaim your faith, even if it is going to get you put in prison, like happened to Paul. Proclaim your faith in Christ, even if it is going to get you killed, like happened to Paul as well. Jesus Christ is Lord, and Caesar is not. Caesar is the leader of a great nation, yes indeed. And therefore he is worthy of respect and in need of prayer, just as our leaders are today. But that great nation that Caesar rules over is still subject to God.
We are citizens of the kingdom of God first and foremost. And as citizens of the kingdom of God we are called to first live by God’s will. Not because we think that this is how we are saved, or out of some form of thankfulness for God’s redemption through Jesus Christ. No, we are to live according to the will of God because we are citizens of His kingdom; because God is God and we are not. Because God knows what it best for us. Because that is what it means to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
So what does this mean for us today? I remember the story of Peter and the apostles in Acts 5:29 where the apostles had been ordered to stop teaching about this Jesus guy. But they didn’t stop. So the council had them brought in and questioned on why they didn’t keep their mouths shut. And Peter rises up to say, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”
This is by no means intended to say that we go out seeking to break the laws of our governing bodies. But it does mean that when the governing bodies try to make us do things that are in opposition to our faith, we obey God rather than human authority. When the government tells us we need to kill for our country, we can say that Jesus is our authority on that issue. Jesus is our Lord, not Caesar.
If you are in school and your teacher tries to make you do something that you don’t think coincides with your belief in Jesus Christ, like saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, I give you permission to not do it. And I will even come in and serve your detention for you or with you. Your teacher isn’t Lord, Jesus is. If you boss asks you to alter the company checkbook in a way so as to cheat on their taxes, I encourage you to stand up for what you know is correct. Your boss isn’t your Lord, Jesus is.
As many of you know, the 2008 Sumer Olympic Games are now underway. And this year marks 40 years since the silent protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Smith and Carlos ran in the 200 meter dash, finishing 1st and 3rd respectively. While in the tunnel awaiting the ceremony, they decided on the protest. Tommie Smith says that he decided to participate in the silent protest in the name of human rights with his head bowed in prayer, fist raised for black power, and shoeless feet in protest of poverty. The protest was for many of the basic human rights that so many of us take for granted. And what so many people miss out on is that the white Australian sprinter that finished second, Peter Norman, also wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the medal ceremony, and later paid the penalty for doing so.
Smith and Carlos were kick out of the Olympics and out of the club house and forced to give back their medals. When they returned home, all three men found it difficult to find work and support their families. They were all shunned by their home countries and communities for participating in this silent protest for civil rights.
Now I want to make it clear that I don’t support all protests and I think there many different ways to bring about change. I don’t support everything that these men stood for. But I believe that these men showed us what it means to stand up for what you believe in, even if it is going to cost you physical wellness, financial security, and popularity. I don’t know what all of the symbolism meant on that summer day 40 years ago and I am not saying that I endorse whatever these things might have stood for or organizations that they represented. But I know that they believed in something so much they were willing to sacrifice everything for it.
Standing up for what we believe in can be costly. This includes standing up for Jesus Christ. Naming him as Lord means that nothing else is your Lord. It is my hope that we will all be willing to sacrifice the things that we hold dear to us if called upon to do so in the name of Jesus. It is also my hope that we might be thankful that most of the time we don’t have to. Saying that Jesus Christ is Lord means that you will live as if Jesus Christ is Lord. Confessing with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord in Paul’s day was not something to be taken lightly. It was a commitment to following him daily in life, no matter the cost. Because to say that Jesus Christ is Lord means that nobody and nothing else is. Let us call Jesus our Lord today and everyday.