Faith Comes By Hearing (Mission Festival Sermon)

Texts: Romans 10:11-17; Luke 24:44-53

Today we gather in celebration and thanksgiving to our Lord Jesus Christ for His gracious gifts to us, chiefly the forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal salvation that we have through faith in His name. These things He gives to us freely through the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacraments. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit works to give us the gift of faith. It is for the use and spread of these, called the Means of Grace, that the Lutheran Church, including our own church body – the Missouri Synod – and our own congregations exist.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans that faith comes from hearing, from hearing through the Word of Christ. Apart from the Word and work of Christ, there can be neither faith nor salvation. Because it is Christ’s desire that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, He equips and commissions His Church to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all of the world. This work He began through the ministry of the Prophets and Apostles. St. Peter wrote that the prophets prophesied about the grace to come, the forgiveness that we would receive through the suffering of Christ, not to benefit themselves but those who would come after them – us. In the Gospel text Jesus commissioned the Apostles to proclaim His Word, opening their minds to the Scriptures and their mouths to preach repentance and forgiveness in His name to all nations.

As those who have benefited from the ministry of the Prophets and Apostles, and through the many generations of faithful pastors and teachers who have shared the Word of God with us, we too now reach out as congregations for the benefit of those around us. We gather here to listen to God’s Word and be forgiven our sins, to receive the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through these things He equips His Church for a life of mission, a life of calling to repentance and faith in Jesus those in the community around us and around the world.

I.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”[1] St. Paul wrote in-step with the will God, who desires that all people be saved. In this section of the letter Paul is taking special care with his congregation in Rome by connecting them – Gentile Christians – to the children of Israel. Everyone knew, after all, that the children of Israel were God’s people.

Yes, Paul says, the Old Testament children of Israel are a special people. To them belong the adoption, the covenants, the Law, the Patriarchs…but, Paul writes, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’[2] Yes, they are a special people – but not because of their connection in the flesh, but their connection to the promise given to Abraham that through Isaac shall his offspring be named. This promise is not about prolonging the line of Abraham for its own sake, but about extending the line through which the Messiah would be born.

Therefore, Paul says, the children of Israel are a nation not because of their connection in the flesh, but because of their common faith in the Promise of Jesus. This is why the Church receives the name of the Children of Israel in the New Testament. Not all descendants of Abraham are children of Israel, and not all are children of Israel because they are descended from Abraham. Who then are the children of Israel? Those who confess Jesus with their mouth and believe in their hearts. The Scripture says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”[3] There is no distinction among people in this regard, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is no one who is without sin. Every person, from the unborn child just conceived to those with a crown of grey hair, carries in themselves the guilt of sin. Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. He died for the forgiveness of all people, which is to be received through faith.

II.

As Paul writes, faith comes by hearing. He writes to the Galatians that it is not those who do the works of the Law who are made righteous, but those who live by faith. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Now here’s the rub, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”[4] Paul wrote how people receive eternal salvation. It’s not because of who they are; It’s not because of works, no matter how loving; it is through faith in the grace of God – that rather than count our sins against us He offered up His only-begotten Son in our place, so that by faith we may be reckoned righteous in His eyes.

This faith comes from hearing, but how can people believe unless they hear? How can they hear without someone proclaiming? And how are people to proclaim unless they are sent? Jesus knows this. Therefore He sent out His Apostles in our Gospel text. It says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.[5] Though before they did not understand, Jesus now opened their minds. He gave them the key to all Scripture – that He, the Christ, should suffer for the forgiveness of sins and rise from the dead. This message, Jesus says, is to be proclaimed to all nations. Through the message of Christ’s death and resurrection the Holy Spirit calls and brings people to faith.

Jesus sent out the Apostles to be pastors, to preach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments. Through preaching the Holy Spirit calls people to faith. Through the washing of Holy Baptism we are forgiven our sins and clothed with Christ’s righteousness; we are made the children of Israel. In the Lord’s Supper you receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the continual forgiveness of your sins and the strength to love and serve those around you. Jesus sent out the Apostles so that people would hear about Jesus and call upon Him in faith even as He continues today to send pastors to do the same for us.

III.

Jesus sends pastors to preach His Word in the congregation and administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but that does not exclude you from the work of Christ in the Church. That is what Paul is writing to the Romans. There are plain too many people in the world for pastors to be the only ones sharing God’s Word; therefore, we have banded together as congregations and as a church body. We have joined together to be a place where the Word of God can be taught among us purely and without fear, and where we can receive the sacraments with frequency. By these things Christ claims us as His own and leads us in triumphal procession. Through preaching and the Sacraments Jesus opens our minds and places His Word of forgiveness upon our lips.

He continues His work of mission among us in our daily vocations. God has placed us all in many positions in life. We are all children. Some of us are husbands or wives. Many of us have jobs or other activities that occupy us. We are equipped by Christ to share His Word in all of these different places. It could be as overt as speaking God’s Word directly, or sharing a cup of cool water. It could be by delivering meals, or, especially, inviting people to hear God’s Word and receive the forgiveness of sins here in church. Mission work is an ongoing work of Christ, who desires that all people be forgiven their sins through faith. This is a vocation to which we are all called, and we can no more forsake it than we can forsake being a Christian. To do so would be neither right nor safe.

The Scripture says that faith comes by hearing. It is not the one who lives by the works of the Law who is justified, but the one who believes that Jesus died for the forgiveness of their sins. For us to believe this, Jesus sent the Prophets, the Apostles, and pastors to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments. Through His Word and Sacraments, He opens our minds to share His Gospel with those around us, that they, too, may believe. May He ever continue this work among us – in our lives, in our congregations, and in our Synod.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Rom. 10:10–13.

[2] Rom. 9:6–7.

[3] Rom. 10:13.

[4] Rom. 10:14-15a.

[5] Lk. 24:45–47.

Unexpected Missionaries

Text: Matthew 21:23-32

Don’t you hate it when people say one thing and do another? We all know people, who for any other reason are probably great people, but for whatever reason sometimes say they’ll do something but then never wind up doing it. I myself am a shining example of this, but I can probably speak for most men – and wives, you can tell me if this is right or not. There’s a joke that goes like this: If a man says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it; there’s no need to remind him every six months. So we hate this trait in other people, and it can really set you off. But what happens when it turns out that we are the ones saying we’re going to do something, but then don’t actually do it? In the text the Jewish leaders question Jesus by what authority He is working. He responds in part by telling them the Parable of the Two Sons. Today we pray that like in the first son, the living and active word of God would work in us to lead us to repentance and a faith that reaches out.

I.

            Jesus begins the parable, “’What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’” (vv. 28-31a) In the text today we’ve moved into Holy Week. Almost all of our Gospel readings for the rest of the church year will fall into this time period. The events in today’s text would be on Monday. The day before was the day of the Triumphal Entry. Crowds of people gathered to spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him. Then Jesus headed to the temple where He drove out all who were buying and selling the temple. He said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (v. 13)

The next day as Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him with a question as He was teaching. These are the folks who were in charge of keeping the temple and worship in order. Jesus overturned their apple cart the day before, so they are probably hot under the collar. We begin to see here and in the next few chapters a more concentrated push between the Jewish leaders and Jesus. He didn’t quite fit into their paradigm of the Messiah, and yet they couldn’t deny that He was doing some miraculous things. They ask Him by what authority that He is doing all of these things. But when He asked them in return where John’s baptism was from, those who were so in the know were suddenly out of the loop.

Jesus illustrates their refusal to accept the preaching of John, the preaching of repentance and faith in Jesus as the Messiah, with this parable of two sons. There’s a man who has two sons. He goes to the first and tells him to go and work the vineyard. He at first refuses, but later is brought to repentance and goes to work. The second son was told the same. He assured his father he would go and work, but he did not go. Jesus identifies the second son with the Jewish authorities. These are the ones who were more concerned with image, outward praise without inward renewal. Jesus spoke rightly of them, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Isa. 29:13) How many times do God’s people in the Old Testament promise to follow God’s Word and then don’t?

Jesus shows in the parable, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps. 51:17) The leaders admit this by saying it was the first son that did the will of the father, not the second; though they did not realize until later that Jesus was speaking about them. (v. 45) It was not the one who paid lip service, who said he was going to work that was the true son, but it turned out that it was the one who had fully intended not to work but then repented that was the true son. He heard the word of his father, repented of his unwillingness to work, and took up the task his father gave him.

Today we are observing our annual mission festival. In just a little while we are having a communal meal and donating the money to benefit those around us in need. But still, there’s yet a lesson to be learned. We hate those who say one thing and do another; it’s so irritating. But what happens when we are the ones? We gather here to worship every Sunday, to abundantly receive God’s free gift of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. In the words of Holy Absolution you receive the forgiveness of sins from Jesus Himself. Here we are strengthened in the promise of eternal life. And yet so often we let our offerings on Sunday be the extent of our work. Don’t get me wrong, giving offering regularly is fantastic. Scripture even says that God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7) But a lot of the time we are tempted to take the back seat, to let others lead the way. We convince ourselves that others are better at everything than we are, and we don’t realize that each of us has gifts from God. They may be different gifts, but they should all be used to the glory of God.

II.

           Jesus continues, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (vv. 31b-32) Jesus said that the tax collectors and prostitutes, the worst of the worst sinners, go ahead of the Jewish authorities in the kingdom of God. This is because they heard the Word of God, they were convicted by His Law, and repented of their sins. Instead of focusing on outward appearance and maintaining the status quo, they realized that they are sinners. They knew that there is no way they could’ve lived up to God’s demands. And they knew that they were among those for whom Christ took upon human flesh, lived the perfect life and fulfilled God’s Law, suffered and died for.

In the same way we are sinners. We come to church and say we are going to do one thing, but then often don’t do it. We usually mean it honestly and with the best intentions, but our sinfulness gets hold of us and we don’t follow through. We break God’s Law and deserve to be punished like rest. St. Paul writes, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodlywhile we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:6, 8) While we are sinners, and would much rather sit back and not do anything, Jesus Christ died for us. He took our sin, our complacency, and nailed it to the cross, and He left it there. When Jesus rose He left the grave empty, and so has our slate been made completely clean. When we hear the Word of God and repent of our sins, we truly are made clean, washed white in the blood of the Lamb.

Romans 7 says that we are now, “released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit.” (7:6) This morning we gathered here as sinners. But soon we will leave as saints. You received in Holy Absolution the forgiveness of Jesus Christ Himself. And in just a few moments you will come to the altar to receive the very body and blood of Jesus to strengthen and preserve you in the true faith and the forgiveness of sins. By this precious meal, you are strengthened and led by the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. Be strong and courageous, for God is with you. We pray that He would continue to convict us of our reluctance to live according to His Word, that He would strengthen us with His forgiveness, and lead us to serve those around us with His love.