Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Christ We Follow

Texts:   Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:13-28

    IN THE FIFTEENTH VERSE OF THE sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus asks His disciples a simple but life-changing question.  He says to them, "Who do you say I am?"

    Who is this Jesus of Nazareth we follow?  Get that question right, and it means comfort and peace here on earth and joy, power, and everlasting honor in heaven.  Get it wrong, and we doom ourselves to the outer darkness for all eternity. 

    From the first, our reading from Matthew makes it clear who Jesus is not.  Our Lord asks His disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"  And they reply, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."  Today, many people say much the same thing, that Jesus was a great Teacher or a wonderful Prophet. Does Jesus accept such answers?  Clearly, He doesn't.   He was a Teacher, the greatest of teachers, and a Prophet, the most wonderful of prophets.  But that's not all He was, and He certainly wasn't one of the honored prophets of old, brought back from the dead.  As great as those men were, no disciple of Jesus should use them to identify the Christ we follow.

    So, disciples in all times and places, what about you?  Who do you say Jesus is?

    Simon Peter gets it in one.  He exclaims, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!"  We know it's the right answer, because Jesus replies, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven."

    But wait a minute.  Didn't the disciples all say Jesus was the Son of God, back in chapter 14 when Jesus walked on water?  True.  But on a fear-filled, stormy night, men can blurt out things they'd never dream of saying in the calm sunshine of day.  Matthew tells us that Jesus and His disciples were in the region of Caesarea Philippi, in Gentile territory north of Galilee.  He was teaching them privately, away from the crowds, and in that setting a man could be composed and think clearly.  And it's now that Peter gives his earth-shattering answer, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

    Jesus of Nazareth, the One we follow, is the Christ.  The Greeks said "Christos," the Jews said "Messiah," but they both meant "the Anointed One."  Jesus is the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King that God had spoken of through the prophets all through Old Testament history.  Through Him and Him alone all God's covenant promises are fulfilled.  We don't need to look for anyone later or better.  No one who came after Him-- not Mohammed, not any church or cult leader-- can ever improve on Jesus.  He is God's Anointed, His Christ, and in Him we find salvation, life, and peace with God.

    And Peter confesses that this Christ is the Son of the living God.  Think how radical it was for a Jew like Peter even to think something like that.  The Jews were expecting a human Messiah, a biological Son of David.  He'd be their deliverer, a man especially endowed with the Holy Spirit, but still, only a man.  The Jews had it drilled into their heads ever since they'd been freed from Babylonian exile 400 years before that there was only one God.  But here comes Jesus of Nazareth, preaching and teaching and doing miracles in the power and authority of God, and more than that, He talks as if God in heaven was His Father; He claims blessings and honors that only a divine Son and Heir had the right to inherit.  And Peter is moved to the heaven-inspired conclusion that it's right to identify Jesus somehow with the one true and living God, Maker of heaven and earth.

    Jesus says that only His Father in heaven could have brought Peter to this conclusion, and it's only God's Holy Spirit that we, too, understand just who and what Jesus is.  It's not that God somehow has begun to contradict Himself, as if He'd said to the Jews in the Old Testament, "I'm alone in my godhood," and then when Jesus came suddenly was saying, "No, wait a minute, I'm really Two, or Three."  No.  We see the eternal Son of God even in our reading from Exodus.  He is the angel of the Lord who spoke to Moses from the burning bush.  He is the God who receives the worship of Moses, the great I Am who commands and empowers him to deliver God's people Israel from slavery in Egypt.  The Holy Spirit of the Father enabled Peter to make this connection.  God was always One in Three, and this eternal Son, the angel of the Lord, the Lord, is now forever incarnate in the Man Jesus Christ.  This is the Christ we follow, and if your Christ isn't all that, you're following the wrong one.  Only the Man who is God in human flesh can free you from your sins; only He can give you eternal life.
    The Christ we follow is the builder and the head of His church. In verse 18, Jesus says, " . . . on this rock I will build my church."  The Greek word translated "church" is the same as the Hebrew word meaning "congregation" or "assembly."  It harks back to the congregation of the children of Israel that God brought out of Egypt under Moses.  But notice, Jesus doesn't say "I will build up God's church."  He says He will build His.  People of God, you are the people of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He's the head of this congregation and of every other congregation in every time and place who faithfully confess His name as their only Savior and Lord.  If any pastor should tell you to follow him instead of the Jesus you see revealed in His holy word, if any so-called Christian teacher should say that the church is irrelevant and we should stop attending, he is a false shepherd and not to be followed by God's sheep.  Jesus alone is our Shepherd and Guide, and He is the one that will see that His church not only survives, but triumphs.  For, as He says in the second part of verse 18, the gates of Hades-- of hell-- will not overcome it.  The "gates of Hell" is a metaphor for Death, and in this word of Jesus we have His faithful promise that His chosen congregation will never be defeated and never die.

    Who is this Jesus we follow?  He is the long-awaited Anointed One, He is the Son of God--God in human flesh-- and He is the Founder and Preserver of His church.  That sounds like a Christ worth following!  These days, people who are interested in Republican Party politics are waiting to see which contender emerges from the primaries.  If Jesus of Nazareth were running and we knew all these glorious things about Him, He'd be a candidate we could all get behind, full of excitement, optimism, and hope.  But there's more we need to learn about who the Son of Man really is. As Jesus tells His disciples in verse 21, He is also the Christ who was born to die.  He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and  He must be killed.

    But that won't be the end, for He is the Christ who was foreordained to be raised to life again.  But Peter and the other disciples don't hear that part.  They only take in what Jesus has said about suffering and death.  Peter speaks for them all: "Never, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!"

    But it must.  The Christ we follow was destined for the cross since the foundation of the world.  He was always the Lamb of God prepared as a blood sacrifice for our sins.   Just as Moses was appointed to lead God's Israel out of physical bondage in Egypt through the wilderness into the promised land, it was and is Jesus' purpose to liberate His new Israel the church from slavery to sin and death, through the cross, to the glory of everlasting life. 

    Satan aimed to sidetrack Him from that purpose, and any man who tried to prevent Jesus from fulfilling His destiny was doing Satan's dirty work.  Even blessed Peter.  A Christ without the cross is a Christ who cannot save.  The cross makes no sense to mortal man, but God in His wisdom has appointed it as the only way that you and I can stand before Him cleansed of our sins and clothed in His righteousness.  Jesus calls us to keep the things of God in mind, which is to keep the Cross and what Jesus did for us on it always before us.  For it is only by the Cross that He is our Savior and Hope in this world and the next.

    Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the Head of the church, is our crucified and risen Savior and Lord.  He is something else.  He is our Master and Example.  Now, when most people speak of Jesus as their Example, they mean they try to follow Jesus in  being kind to others and doing nice things.  And Jesus does want us to be kind to one another and do nice things.  But when He tells us to follow His example and take up our crosses and follow Him, He means far more than that.  The cross in Jesus' day meant certain death, death that was demeaning, disreputable, and hideously painful.  Jesus went to the cross in faithful obedience to His Father God.  He calls us his followers to bear any inconvenience, any shame, any pain, even death itself to be loyal to who He is and what He has done for us.  The Christ we follow has the right to demand that, for He bore the cross for us first, and His cross paid not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world.  God calls us to see Christ, His sufferings, His coming glory, in every situation of life, whether good or bad, and follow His footsteps up the hill of Calvary. 

    In effect, Jesus calls us to renounce our right to life on this earth.  For He tells us plainly in verse 25, "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it."  Our lives here on earth are a big messy ball of our desires, our ambitions, our possessions, our sense of self, all the rest of it.  That life is doomed to die anyway, when we breathe our last breath.  But there's a better life promised to those who belong to Jesus Christ.  As He says in the second part of verse 25, "whoever loses his life for me will find it."  Jesus braved the cross because He knew that resurrection life lay before Him.  In the same way, He promises that His faithful disciples will gain the deathless life in God that He alone can give, and in that life we will find our true selves.

    Jesus of Nazareth can keep this promise.  He is our Master and Example, our Savior who died and rose again, the Head and Preserver of the Church, the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And He is our everlasting King and Judge.  In verse 27 Jesus says, "The Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person for what he has done."  By now we should understand that outside of the grace He gives us in His death and resurrection, we can do nothing.  But with Him and in Him and through Him, we will triumph to the glory of God the Father.  Before His incarnation, speaking from the burning bush, God the Son of God told Moses, "I will be with you."  And in the power of the eternal Christ we also can do all that God requires of us and receive the reward He has promised.

    The promise to Moses came with a sign: God said that when His people were freed, they would worship Him on His holy mountain.  And they did.  People of God, Jesus Christ has freed us from sin and death.  We worship Him in our assemblies on earth, but a time will come when the Son of Man comes in His Father's glory, and we will worship Him on His holy mountain, the Mount Zion that is above.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Founder and Preserver of the Church, the Savior who died and rose again, and the Judge of all the world.  He is our Lord and our God, He is worthy of our worship, obedience, and praise, so with hope and joy let us take up our crosses and follow Him.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jesus, Our Muckraking Savior

Texts:  Jeremiah 17:5-10; 12-14; Matthew 15:1-20   
        IN AMERICA ABOUT A HUNDRED years ago, there were people called muckrakers.  Not your ordinary farmhand who spread the manure on the field, but magazine and newspaper reporters, men and women both, who specialized in bringing to light the hidden evils of American society.  The title "muckraker" was a pejorative: it implied that these writers were so busy focussing on what was wrong with American politics, business, and manufacturing that they never looked up and saw what was good.

    But the muckrakers didn't care.  They believed that our country could only be truly great if someone had to guts to dig below the beautiful, glittering surface and reveal the disease and evil that was hidden below.  It wasn't nice, or pleasant, or socially-acceptable to talk about such things, but it had to be done for America to be healed.

    In our passage from St. Matthew, chapter 15, our Savior Jesus operates as a muckraker.  He goes beyond the religious leaders' obsession with the clean surface and reveals the uncleanness of the human heart.  And just like the crowds and His disciples, we have to understand the dire sickness of our own hearts, if we are to turn to Jesus and be cured.

    Our scene takes place in Galilee.  Some Pharisees and teachers of the law arrive from Jerusalem to investigate Jesus.  Now, the Pharisees started out well.  They were a reform movement after the Babylonian Exile, in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.  It's thanks to them that the Jews of Jesus' day weren't still bowing down to pagan idols.  The scribes and Pharisees were very zealous for keeping the law of God: so zealous that their rabbis and elders kept adding interpretation upon interpretation, rule upon rule to the law, just in case anyone should violate the commands in the slightest way.  And the Pharisees of Jerusalem were the most zealous of all.

    Trouble was, they were like some 21st century Constitutional lawyers, who get so wound up in the latest case law that they forget what the Constitution actually says.  And now the Pharisees have heard disturbing things about Jesus.  They've been informed He isn't making His disciples keep the tradition of the elders.  As a Rabbi, He's responsible for their moral purity.  He needs to be challenged on this!

    So, Jesus, why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  Why, they don't wash their hands before they eat!

    Don't imagine that the Pharisees were concerned about keeping germs out of the food.  No, it was spiritual and ritual cleanliness they cared about.  Washing hands before eating had to be done in the right ritual way, with repeated pourings of water over first one hand, then the other.  Because if you didn't do all that, it made the food you ate ritually unclean and that food would make you spiritually and morally dirty inside, too.  But doing the ritual washing kept you clean and acceptable to God.  At least, that is what their tradition led them to believe.

    So what they were really saying is, "Jesus, you pretend to be a rabbi and teach the way of God, but your disciples are unclean in His sight and you encourage them to be that way.  You are a dangerous fraud."

    You or I might be tempted to get defensive and make excuses about the no-hand-washing charge.  But Jesus sees past it and turns their real accusation back on them.  Do they pretend to be rabbis themselves, true teachers of the law of God?  Then why do they break the true law of God, given through Moses, for the sake of the rules and interpretations added on by their not-God-inspired, johnny-come-lately predecessors? 

    Jesus ruthlessly exposes how they operate.  For instance, the real law of God, recorded in Exodus and Deuteronomy, commands us to honor our parents with our obedience, our words, and our financial support.  But the scribal tradition had come up with a concept called korban.  It means "sacrifice," and it originally meant the animals and so on that God commanded the people to offer to Him in worship.  But in the practice of the Pharisees, a man could declare anything to be "korban," that is, a sacrifice vowed to God, and since God takes precedence even over one's mother or father, why, you could declare anything to be korban and not have to use it to help your needy parents.  And so, Jesus says, the Pharisees "nullif[ied] the word of God for the sake of [their] tradition."

    Oh, yes, on the surface it looked as clean and holy and legal as can be.  But Jesus our Savior took the muckrake of His word and dug down and showed how selfish and wicked and unloving this practice of korban really was.  The religious leaders put on a great show of loving God's law, but it was all hypocrisy.  They claimed to be the only ones who were truly worshipping Him, but as Jesus quotes Isaiah, it was all for nothing.  They weren't teaching the people the word of God, just a lot of rules made up by themselves and other men.

    Jeremiah, in the seventeenth chapter of his prophecy, also condemns those who depend on what men say and do for their life and strength.  He says that those who trust in man are like bushes in a wasteland: stunted, dried up, bearing no fruit.  Do you think this habit of abandoning the real law of God and following manmade rules began and ended with the Pharisees?  Not at all!  It's the oldest human habit and sin-- it's as old as Adam and Eve-- and it'll continue until Christ returns. Every day of our lives we're swimming in manmade rules telling us what we're supposed to do and what we're not supposed to do, all promising that if we keep them we'll please God or at least be happy, healthy, well-adjusted human beings. These rules and promises come from our secular culture and from misguided leaders in the church.  You know how it goes: A preacher says you'll go to hell if you take one sip of beer, so you think, "OK, if I avoid all alcohol, I'll be all right with God."  Or some worldly pundit says you're an intolerant bigot if you tell an unbeliever about Jesus Christ and His death for their sins, and your response is, "OK, I'll keep quiet.  Don't want anybody to think I'm not kind and loving."  But following these manmade rules don't make us "clean," they just hide the real uncleanness we have deep down inside.

    Jesus will not allow that unhealthy uncleanness to be hidden.  It has to be brought to the light and be washed away and cured.  So that day in Galilee He called the crowd to Him and told them frankly, "Listen and understand.  What goes into a man's mouth does not make him ‘unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'"

    The disciples are astonished.  Didn't Jesus realize He'd offended the Pharisees, the way He'd answered them?  They were the ones everybody thought were getting it right.  Their very name means "Separated Ones" or "Saints."  How could Jesus dare to get on the wrong side of the separated saints of God?

    But Jesus knows their corruption and He does not hesitate to reveal it.  These so-called saints haven't been planted by God, and they will be uprooted.  The disciples should ignore them; don't even think of following their lead.  The Pharisees claimed to be guides for the spiritually blind, but they were blind themselves.  Go after them, and you'd end up in a spiritual pit.

    In our day we, too, have people and parties who claim to be able to tell us what to do and how to live.  Whether they speak from the right or from the left, don't follow them until you've compared what they're saying with the word of God.  Jeremiah says that the one who trusts in the Lord is like a tree planted by a stream of water, never going dry and always green and fruitful.  Remember to follow God first, even when your own party or group is demanding you accept or reject something just because they say so.  Stay out of that pit.

    When Jesus had warned the crowd and the disciples against the corruption of the Pharisees, Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us."  The disciples took it for granted that you could be spiritually corrupted by something you ate.  It didn't dawn on them that there was a literal meaning to what Jesus had said. And it frustrates Him that the disciples don't get it.  Are they still so dull?  Hasn't He been teaching them ever since the Sermon on the Mount that the seat of sin and corruption is the human heart?  The Pharisees were wrong in thinking that spiritual uncleanness came from eating unclean food with unclean hands.  Our culture is wrong in thinking that people are basically good and human evil comes about due to bad parenting or economic deprivation or some other outside influence.  No, says Jesus, food is food, it's swallowed, it does its job in the body, and the waste ends up in the latrine.  But what comes out of the mouth, that comes from the heart, and that is what makes a human being unclean. 

    Brothers and sisters, every last one of us was born with a dirty heart.  As Jeremiah says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure."  We all have evil thoughts, we wish others were dead, we cast the eye of lust on those who are not joined to us in marriage, we steal or wish we could steal, we lie about ourselves and against others, we speak ill of God and our fellow man.  We act out these urges in continual thoughts and acts every day of our lives, and if we haven't done anything to get arrested for, it's because we haven't yet had the nerve or the motive.  Even our so-called good deeds are selfish and corrupt and unacceptable in the sight of our holy God.

    So what can we do?  Jeremiah says our hearts are beyond cure.  Are we condemned to the muck forever?

    We are not.  What is impossible with man is possible with God.  For in Jeremiah 17:14 the prophet cries, "Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved."  We can't clean up our own hearts, by keeping rituals or following rules.  But Jesus who reveals the muck of our hearts is also the Savior who makes them clean.  The blood He shed for us on Calvary is sufficient and effective to wash away every sin: not just the ones we commit, but the sinfulness of our hearts as well.  If you belong to Christ, He has put a new and clean heart within you.  It's at war with the old heart and its evil attitudes, but slowly, bit by bit, His Holy Spirit is shrinking that old heart and taking away its power over you.

    It's not pleasant to face up to the filthiness that's in our own hearts.  But it's the mercy of our Lord Jesus that reveals it to us and calls us to repentance.  It's His grace that keeps us clinging to His Holy Spirit and His word, so that we come to Him again and again to be made pure.  And it's His love that will bring us at last to stand with Him on Zion's holy hill with clean hands and pure hearts, united by faith with Him the holy Son of God, the only Man whose hands are truly clean, and whose heart is wholly pure.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Call of Faith

Texts:  Roman 10:4-17; Matthew 14:22-33

OUR GOSPEL READING FROM ST. MATTHEW this morning recounts one of the most famous miracles our Lord Jesus ever performed. People who have no idea what Jesus actually preached or taught know about Jesus walking on the water.  Whether they believe it or not, they know that this is reported about Him.  Jesus Christ walked across the surface of the Sea of Galilee.
Do you ever wonder why Jesus did this miracle?  Maybe we just think, "He did it because He's Jesus and He could."  Well, yes, Christ did have the power literally to put nature under His feet.  But our Lord never did miracles simply to make a sensation or, heaven forbid, to pass the time.  He always performed His signs and wonders for a specific purpose: to make people wonder who He is, and to give them-- to give us-- true signs that He is who He says He is.  The miracles of Jesus call people to saving faith in Him as the only-begotten Son of God, so they will put their faith in Him.

    Verse 22 begins, "Immediately, Jesus . . . " Immediately after what?  Jesus has just fed ten to fifteen thousand people (5,000 men, plus women and children) with five little loaves and two puny fishes.  He has just demonstrated divine love for needy humanity.  What would you think if you were a member of the crowd?  St. John tells us about that.  They wanted to make Jesus an earthly king.  Hurray, a continuing source of free food!  Theirs was not saving faith.

    What about the disciples?  The feeding miracle would begin to tell them who and what Jesus was, but the lesson was not yet complete.  After all, they might've thought that He was just a great prophet, and God merely multiplied the loaves and fishes through Him.  After all, the disciples were good Jews, and good Jews just don't go around declaring that a Man they eat and drink and camp out with is Almighty God come in the flesh.  Jesus knows that the call of saving faith needs to be more compelling still.

    So, "Immediately, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side" of the lake.  He knew what He was going to do and what the circumstances had to be for Him to do it.  He allowed them to get a good distance away from shore.  It was still daylight when He sent them away, and by evening, the Greek text says the disciples were already many "stadia" from land.  A stadion is about 300 yards, so "many stadia" would be a mile, two miles, or more, well into the heart of the sea.  Meanwhile, Jesus went up onto a mountainside to pray.  We are not told what He shared with His heavenly Father, but we may certainly believe that He prayed for His disciples and their response to what they were about to see.

    And still the boatful of disciples is out on that water, with the strong wind blowing strongly and the waves slamming the sides.   They couldn't make any headway. They were tired,  frustrated, and fearful.  At last, during the fourth watch of the night (that is, between 3:00 and 6:00 AM), they spy a human figure approaching them on the water.  Their eyes tell them it's Jesus, but their minds cannot believe.  Tell me, do you blame them?  An apparition is gliding towards you, illuminated only by the pale light of the moon and stars, you're exhausted already: wouldn't you conclude that you were seeing a ghost?  The disciples cried out in fear, and so would you and I.

    But in mercy and love Jesus immediately calls out, "Take courage!  It is I!  Don't be afraid."  He calls them to have faith in Him, that it is really He, to have faith that He comes in comfort and help, and not to bring dread and fear.  Even in this extraordinary situation, with Jesus demonstrating His power over nature by walking calmly and smoothly on the surface of the tossing waves, He is still Jesus, the One who saves us.  Even while we are fearing for our lives in the tumult of the sea, He is still the Lover of our souls.  Be not afraid.  Call to Him in faith!

    And Peter, blessed Peter, responds to Jesus' call to faith with a faith-filled call of his own.  He says, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water."

    And Jesus says, "Come."  And Peter comes.  And miracle of miracles, Peter walks on the water, too.

    But something happens.  Peter sinks.  Jesus rescues him and says, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

    Faith in Jesus and in Who He is is central to this episode.  It is central to the passage we read from Paul's letter to the Romans.  Everything in life and death depends on the call of faith and our responding in faith to that call.  But what is faith?  Especially, what is Christian faith or trust in Jesus Christ?

    Faith is greatly misunderstood these days.  To hear some people talk, you'd think it was some kind of substance you could measure out by the pound or by the yard.  Or it's something we have to gin up in ourselves by working and straining at it, like developing our muscle strength or lung capacity. Or that faith is a feeling.  And if we're feeling negative or sad about something, that shows that we have no faith about it.

    And certainly there are places in Scripture that seem to support some of these ideas.  We've just heard how in our Matthew passage itself Jesus laments that Peter is of "little faith."  Other places, like in Romans 14, St. Paul speaks of those whose faith is "weak."  Somebody who takes Scripture on hearsay, or gives it the once-over-lightly, it's not surprising they'll get the idea that faith is some sort of commodity or capacity that we have to come up with.  That's true for immature Christians and nonbelievers alike.

    But we are sons and daughters of the kingdom of God (Amen?), and we are called to read our Bible closely, in the light of the Holy Spirit.  And when we do, we see that saving faith is never an end in itself.  Faith is always in something, or rather, in Someone, and it always leads to action.  Saving faith is the attitude of heart and mind that says, "I trust Jesus to keep on being who and what He claims to be, and I'm going to act like I believe in Him, whether I feel like it or not."  That is the faith that calls us out of death, darkness, and sin by the power of Christ crucified and risen again.  That is the faith that continually calls on the crucified Christ to keep on leading us to righteousness, light, and life, now and into eternity.

    So you see what happened to Peter that night on the Sea of Galilee.  He started trusting in his feelings of fear instead of relying on Christ.  He started staring at the terrible effects of the wind instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus, Who'd already proven that He's the Lord of all nature.  Jesus says Peter is of "little faith" because he started out well-- he began by trusting in Christ-- but his response of faith only went so far.  "Why did you doubt, Peter?" Jesus asks.  "I didn't change.  I am still the same.  You began by trusting in Me; go on doing it!"

    This is Jesus' call of faith to us to us as well. He died and rose again from the dead, a far greater miracle than walking on water: Yes, certainly, we can trust Him to raise us.  Matthew reports that Jesus and Peter both climbed into the boat, the wind suddenly died down, and faith found its response in the disciples.  They worshipped Jesus, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God."

    This is what the miracle of Jesus walking on the sea was for.  It was to make all His disciples understand who Jesus is so we will call out in faith to Him.  And that includes us.  He sounds the call of faith in our ears and expect us to respond with faith that goes on trusting Him, no matter what. 

    But how?  St. Paul helps us in his letter to the Romans, chapter 10.  The whole point of Romans is that we human beings must be rescued from the effects of our sin, or we're doomed.  Without righteousness that equals the righteousness of God, we deserve His judgement.  Typically, we  humans try to overcome this problem by keeping the rules.  Nations and cultures in different times and places have differed about the details of the rules and how strictly you have to keep them, but people pretty well agree that it means being kind and unselfish and not murdering other people and not taking stuff that isn't yours.  But God got hold of the Jews and laid out the rules in writing.  It's called the Law of Moses, and as Moses says (Paul quotes him in verse 5), if you do the commandments, by them you will live.  To live is to prosper on this earth and find salvation in God's kingdom in heaven.

    But who of us can claim we have "done" the law?  Doing the law means keeping all of it!  And there we were, breaking the commandments of God as infants in our cribs!  We were selfish, grabby, angry without cause, wanting our wants and needs to be satisfied and be blown to anyone else.  We destroyed our chances of earning life and salvation before we even could be taught what the law says.  How could we gain the righteousness God requires?

    We can obtain the righteousness that comes by faith.  This righteousness is not up to us, and faith is not up to us.  We don't have to climb up into heaven to bring the holy Jesus down.  We don't have to dig down into the grave to bring Him up from the dead.  No, Jesus in His own power and authority has come down from heaven, He's taken flesh, and become a Man like we are, except without sin.  Jesus, in His own power and authority, has risen up from the grave and ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty on high.  He has accomplished all this for us.  He has demonstrated once and for all that He is the Son of God, He is Lord, and He Himself puts the word of this truth into our mouths and into our hearts. 

    By His word He calls us to faith in Him, so that we can gladly proclaim, "Jesus is Lord!"  We were not witnesses of Jesus' miracles and resurrection like the disciples were, but even without that, He Himself makes it possible for us to believe the truth that God has indeed raised Him from the dead.  He calls us to faith in Himself, the Resurrected One.  Not in some false Christ, not some ghost or mirage or figment of our imaginations, but in Him, the God-Man who even now sits in heaven in His glorified physical flesh.

    It is now the same for everyone, Jew or Gentile: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  We call on Him (Paul makes it clear) because the Lord has first moved us to believe in Him.  Like Peter getting out of that boat, we trust Jesus for our salvation because the Holy Spirit has already given birth to saving faith in our hearts.  We believe and we go on calling on Him in faith, no matter what storms may arise in our lives and no matter how absent God may seem.  Why?  Because Jesus is Who He is and has called us to faith in Him.

    But, Paul asks, how can anyone call on Jesus if they don't yet believe in Him?  And how can they come to believe in Him if they've never heard of Him?

    Brothers and sisters, this is the great evangelical imperative of the Christian church.  God knows those who are His own.  He has chosen them for salvation before the creation of the world.  But He uses the preaching of the gospel of Christ and Him crucified to call His elect to saving faith.  As verse 17 puts it, "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."

    Sometimes we think, "Oh, if I could just see one of Jesus' miracles in my own life, then I could really believe."  But do you not see what a great miracle you are living right now?  Jesus found you, a lost, rebellious, hell-bound sinner, without hope and without God in this world.  And someplace, at some time, the word of Christ's death and resurrection was preached to you, and the Holy Spirit opened up your heart to believe the good news.  Faith was born in you and you responded by saying, "Jesus, Lord, I believe."  The Son of God who brought you from darkness to life is capable of bringing you through every storm and struggle of your life.  You know He is trustworthy: Simply walk and live in that trust, no matter what the winds and waves may do.  Your faith is not in yourself or your feelings, it is not even in your faith: Your faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Trust in Him and you will never, ever, be put to shame.  Amen.