But how can people call for help if they don't know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven't heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That's why Scripture exclaims,
A sight to take your breath away!
Grand processions of people
telling all the good things of God!
But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: "Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?" The point is, Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ's Word is preached, there's nothing to listen to.
But haven't there been plenty of opportunities for Israel to listen and understand what's going on? Plenty, I'd say.
Preachers' voices have gone 'round the world,
Their message to earth's seven seas.
So the big question is, Why didn't Israel understand that she had no corner on this message? Moses had it right when he predicted,
When you see God reach out to those
you consider your inferiors—outsiders!—
you'll become insanely jealous.
When you see God reach out to people
you think are religiously stupid,
you'll throw temper tantrums.
Isaiah dared to speak out these words of God:
People found and welcomed me
who never so much as looked for me.
And I found and welcomed people
who had never even asked about me.
Then he capped it with a damning indictment:
Day after day after day,
I beckoned Israel with open arms,
And got nothing for my trouble
but cold shoulders and icy stares.
I have been thinking about Romans 10 now for a couple days. It hasn’t left me. The beginning bit of this is famous in the missionary world. For those of us who were or are missionaries we find ourselves here. The idea that we are part of the grand procession of God’s people bringing good news, it gives the missionary an identity and a hope that they are part of something bigger and more meaningful than they realize.
As a pastor I find myself here too. For the same reasons I did as a missionary. There is a hopefulness here and a sense of calling that comes from these opening lines. I too love thinking of myself as part of the grand procession of God’s people proclaiming God’s good news to the world.
Yet, as I sit here today and ponder the passage as a whole I have to wonder about the parallels again from Paul’s day to ours. In a very real sense I feel confident that these words would have likely been written to the Evangelical Christian of our day. Again, caveat, I know that this is Paul stating his understanding of how ethnic Israel and ethnic Gentiles fit together in this new body of Christ. Yet, as I process this devotionally, the parallels to American Evangelical Christianity are too stark and too obvious to miss for me.
The quotations from Isaiah cut me to the quick.
Who for me are those that I’m upset about hearing and receiving the gospel? Who, in their response to the gospel, leaves me standing outside the party as the older brother? You see this passage is very much an exposition on the parable of Luke 15. We almost always put ourselves in the shoes of the younger brother and yet miss the very uncomfortable reality that we are more times than not, the older.
I am confident that we all have what I call our “Jonah People.” These are the people that we don’t want to hear the gospel because we know that God is faithful and true and that he will relent and grant even them grace. We want them to be judged. We want them to experience hell. Just like Jonah and the Ninevites. He hated them and wanted God’s judgment on them. When he preached the good news of God to them they repented and God gave grace. So, what did Jonah do? He pouted and was mad at God.
Who are my Ninevites? Who are yours?
When we get up in our feelings about those we don’t want to see get grace, we miss the grace that is offered us. Just like the older son in Luke 15. Everything that the father had was the oldest son’s, but he was so caught up in his own efforts to please a father that loved him without condition that he missed the grace. When his little brother came home and received grace he was so angry and jealous he found himself in the darkness weeping and gnashing his teeth. It was a veritable hell on earth.
So, I’m going to take some stock again. I am going to wrestle with my own soul on this. I want to live life in the party, I want to experience heaven on earth. To live that way demands that I rejoice even when those people hear and respond to the good news and find grace not judgment.