6 But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down from above)
7 or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach):
9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Advent is the perfect time of year to confess the Lord Jesus Christ. What other time of year can we so cheerfully mention His blessed name and thank the Lord so openly for His grace and mercy? What other time of year can we say we are celebrating of the coming of the Christ? (After all, it is called “CHRIST mass” and not “Jesus mass” or “Nazarene mass.”) And the Christ is the “Anointed One,” the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God. You get the idea. By speaking of Jesus as the Christ, we are bringing to bear all the epithets and names He has in the Bible. And if people don’t know those names, we get to sing about them! What joy! What glory! What an opportunity we have, to share the gospel while people are worrying about what gifts to get or who to invite to their homes. Who to invite? Invite Christ! What gift to bring? Your humble and repentant heart!
In today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Roman believers, the apostle has been talking about how faith is superior to the law in bringing people to the righteousness of God.
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.
33 As it is written:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense,
And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Those who hear the gospel and do not find themselves transformed by the grace of God, are people who stumble at faith. We are a society built upon the idea that good things come to those who work for them. I find it sadly ironic that this attitude is often referred to as the “Protestant work ethic,” because it was the Protestants who broke from the Roman Catholic church over the issue of works versus grace – i.e. Protestants are supposed to believe that we don’t need to work for God’s mercy and grace, but our work is a result of our having found God’s freely-offered grace.
In today’s passage from Romans chapter 10, Paul goes on to remind us that we do not command God, that it is not for us to bring the Christ into the world through our deeds and our religious observances. We can neither bring Him to us from heaven, nor can we raise Him up from death. We cannot tell God, “Okay, now it’s time for a Savior!” Without the faith that needs to inform them, all our works amount to nothing. Sure, we may believe we need a Savior, but do we believe that Jesus IS that Savior?
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.
12 “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
13 “Nor 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, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”
The righteousness of faith is “in your heart” when you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, raised from the dead unto glory. The righteousness of faith is “in your mouth” when you confess like this:
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And that is the point at which people stumble: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” We hate bowing down, we hate subservience, we hate dependence – and yet those are the very things God requires of us: humility before Him, obedience to Him, and dependence upon Him. It grates our nerves, sticks in our craw, chokes us. We get so hung up on that part of admitting and BELIEVING “that Jesus Christ is Lord” that we we rebel against it.
You can see that rebellion, that stumbling, that reluctance, even during the Christmas season. Our “Christmas songs” are no longer about the Christ Child but about winter and snow and family gatherings and “love.” Look at the top “Christmas” albums by popular singers, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a classic FAITH-FILLED song like “Silent Night”, “O Holy Night” or “Angels we have heard on high.” In this season when we are to rejoice in the coming of the great gift of God’s only Son, we are instead “celebrating” time spent with family, giving gifts, eating foods we wouldn’t touch for most of the year, and generally trying to get in a good mood while spending a huge portion of that money we’ve earned through our “Protestant work ethic.”
It doesn’t have to be like that. We can reclaim Christmas for Christ in a very simple way: through faith. For well over a thousand years, people didn’t celebrate the birth of Christ. They instead celebrated His death and resurrection! And look at what Paul is telling us we ought to be focused upon, that “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Yes, we should thank God for the precious gift of His only Son, but we need to keep in mind and believe in our hearts that the same Child lying in a manger in Bethlehem will grow up to be our Savior dying on a cross, and that He now reigns in glory at the right hand of the Father. Confess that to someone today. Confess that Jesus is Lord, that He did die and was raised from the dead, and that He reigns even now in your heart. Believe. Confess. Have that faith.
For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Gracious Lord God, Father of us all, I want to redeem Christmas for You. I want to make this day and every day about Christ Jesus my Lord. I am not ashamed to say I love Jesus, that He does reign in my life, that I do believe. I believe, Lord God, not in fairy tales or Santa Claus, but in the blessed Emmanuel who came as a babe and grew to a Savior. I believe that Jesus is Your Son and that He has paid the price for my sins. I believe, too, that in His Resurrection I have been given new life. Teach me, Father, to live that life in You. Amen.