Romans 10 14&15 “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
I suppose there is scarcely a more logical case for evangelism set out in the New Testament than in these words of the apostle Paul. There are six verbs here and I will put them in reverse order. Christ sends his heralds. These heralds preach his gospel. People hear. Favoured hearers believe. Believers call on the name of the Lord. Those who call are saved. Each action is essential to the next. Unless gifted and authorized men are sent by God there wouldn’t be a single gospel preacher. Unless the gospel is preached then sinners wouldn’t hear Christ’s voice. Unless they heard him they wouldn’t believe him. Unless they believe him they wouldn’t call on his name. Unless they call on his name they wouldn’t be saved, and so they’d never know how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.
The words “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” are a quotation from Isaiah 52 and the seventh verse. You see the picture of swift-footed messengers coming over the mountains to the people of God and they have the most thrilling news. Their captivity in Babylonian exile, prisoners of war for 70 years, is ending, the days of exile have passed, and restoration is at hand. “How delightful is the approach of such fleet-footed men! See them running towards us so fast because their news is great!” That is what Isaiah says, and he is telling the people that this will one day happen to them. They were going to rejoice on tip toe seeing men in the distance racing with all their might towards them!
But Isaiah has something more wonderful in mind than the restoration from Babylonian captivity, because he prophesies later in the chapter that “All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isa. 52:10). Deliverance of the Jews from captivity in Babylon is a mere picture of Christians in the nations of the whole world throughout the following centuries being delivered from their bondage to sin. Good news for all the nations, and this is why Paul interprets the prophecy as referring to every preacher of the gospel. Preachers are the ones who bring better news of a greater deliverance from worse captivity to a grander freedom.
This is the perspective that we should have of our congregations in our word-centred worship with its climax the preaching of the great Deliverer, Jesus Christ. We gather each Sunday with a spirit of thanksgiving, and amazement, and exhilaration. How beautiful is the approach of our pastors going up and up the steps from the minister’s room into the pulpit with the elders accompanying him into the meeting! Beautiful feet because they come to declare to us a beautiful message. Let me give you some reasons for their beauty.
THEIR FEET ARE BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE OF THE AUTHORITY WITH WHICH THEY ARE INVESTED.
A messenger is not going to exert himself until his heart almost breaks with the effort if he has made up some strange message all by himself – like the founder of Scientology did. They have no preachers. But if the living God has called a man and given him his own divinely inspired word, then it is going to be different. He is a man under authority. A police officer, for example, is clothed with the majesty of the state. His instructions to us about our parking are spoken in his official capacity and are not to be disregarded, backed as they are by the powers that be. Or, someone may be speaking on a subject on which it’s clear that he is an expert. His authority is familiar, innate and compelling and we find ourselves listening to him with delight.
What authority, then, has the preacher? Earlier in the verse Paul puts it like this: “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” He’s implying that preachers are sent by God himself. One of the marks of false prophets in the Old Testament was that God had not sent them. “I did not send the prophets,” he said, “yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied” (Jer. 23:21). The word ‘apostle’ comes from this verb ‘to send’ and although Christ’s preachers today are not apostles in the original sense, they are still truly men sent by God. Without a divine sending, there can be no true preachers.
The verb ‘to preach’ (“How are they to preach?”) reinforces the idea of authority, for it refers to a herald, and a key point about the herald was that his message was not his own. It was entrusted to him by supreme authority, by the king, the emperor, the general. He was the bearer of an official message from a higher power. In ancient times, the person of the herald was inviolate. No matter how bitter the enmity between two nations might be, no matter how fierce the battle that was raging, one herald approaching the enemy must not be harmed, for he was simply the message-bearer of his master. So the preacher is the herald of Almighty God and we are bringing our master’s words to humans. This is our authority.
Even the main verb in the text — “preach the good news” — supports this idea. Although it is the word from which ‘evangelize’ comes, and refers more to the content of the message as ‘good news,’ we cannot evacuate it entirely of the idea of authority. For the Greek word ‘evangel’ was a known secular word, used of an official announcement about some change in the affairs of the state, such as the birth of a son to the emperor, or a change of governor in a province. A new situation was arising and an official proclamation — an ‘evangel’ — would be made announcing this new situation and its implications. So when the early Christians used this word, they were taking it not only from the Old Testament but also from contemporary society, and with a meaning relevant for the culture in which they found themselves. It was fitting that the four documents at the beginning of the New Testament cam to be known as ‘evangels’, ‘gospels’ — official announcements of a major new state of affairs in the world. That is the word used here.
But there is more . . . this authority of the preacher is increased by the person he represents — described in verse 12 as “Lord of all.” He is the one who sends every true preacher, and he is the one to whom all authority is given in heaven and on earth, the Almighty Son of God. This is emphasized again in verse 14, a point which our translations often miss. Most of them put in a preposition: “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” Literally, however, the text reads, ‘How are they tobelieve him whom they never heard?’ It is not just that they have not heard of him. They have not heard him. Professor Cranfield comments, “True Christian preaching is that through which Christ himself speaks.” Wasn’t this his promise to those whom he was sending into the world? “The one who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). The hymnist says, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, Come unto me and rest.” Of course he didn’t hear audibly Jesus’ own voice but there are times in our lives when God deals with us, and speaks to us, and we know that we are in his presence, and though the preacher is preaching to everyone we feel as though the Lord is speaking through him just to us. When we don’t have such blessed feelings Christ is still speaking. We are dull of hearing.
So this is the first reason for welcoming the approach of the gospel preacher — the divine authority with which he is invested. He may be unimpressive in himself — most of us are. He should be a man who is meek and lowly. Nevertheless, he is clothed with an awesome authority as the representative of the King of kings, bringing a message from his master. Those of us who are preachers should remember this always. In our preaching we should be courageous and direct, not apologizing for our existence, not fearing the face of man, for it is God’s message that we bear. We should carry ourselves appropriately — not pompously, but with what the Romans called ‘gravitas’, as spokesmen of the Lord God. We are not clowns, not wimps, we are heralds from the King of kings. Those who listen to preaching should in turn respect the authority of God’s appointed spokesmen.
THEIR FEET ARE BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE OF THE BLESSINGS THEY OFFER THEIR HEARERS.
The approach of someone who’s got authority isn’t always good news. A mother may say to her misbehaving child, “You wait till Daddy gets home!” The sound of his footsteps won’t fill the child’s heart with gladness; he won’t regard his father’s approach as ‘beautiful.’ It is certainly an authoritative approach, but it’s also intimidating and unwelcome. So we might feel at the approach of a messenger from the holy God. What sort of communication may he be bringing to guilty sinners?
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Good news! It is doubly emphasized in the original because the verb itself means “to preach good news.” In a sense, nothing more would have been needed. But Paul then adds an adjective which the King James Version captures well — “glad tidings of good things” — literally, “who preach good news of good things”. In other words, Paul is telling us that this is outstandingly good news, great news, unimaginable, super news unparalleled.
It is, furthermore, ‘news’ from outside ourselves, news of something that we’ve not done, to which we’ve made no contribution. When the television announcer says, ‘Here is the news’, we don’t immediately tense ourselves, wondering what we are going to be asked to do. We relax, we listen, we understand, and if the news is good — if the economic situation is improving, or if the weather is going to be fine, or if the rugby international has been won by our nation — we are glad for it. In the same way the gospel is news outside ourselves, news of what someone else has done which can affect us in a supremely positive way.
What is this good news? Quite simply, it is salvation. Paul loves to use that word over and over again. In verses 9, 10, and 13 he has emphasized it repeatedly: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . . With the mouth one confesses and is saved . . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is the good news — ‘saved’ — saved from sin, from wrath, from death, from the devil, from hell. The good news is that we may be saved in our bodies and in our souls, saved for joy, for holiness, for fulfilment, for God. We may be saved for an endless, abundant life in heaven. God has done something by which we may be saved. Think of a project you have written on your computer which has taken hours of careful work. What an achievement, but one thing remains even when you have put in the last full stop. You need to move your marker to the ‘Saved’ box and click on that. Then all that carefully gathered and thought out work is saved! The Lord Jesus Christ was sent into the world by the Father to seek and to save that which is lost. If he has come for us, and found us, and died for us, and lives in heaven interceding for us then how can we be lost? He has saved us. Great news! We are safe because of what the Son of God has done for us.
Paul uses a beautiful phrase in verse 12 when he describes him as “the Lord of all, bestowing his riches.” How great are those riches! What good news this is! Instead of condemning us to hell for ever, God in Christ bestows his riches on us. In fact, it would be wrong to confine this to abstractions, for the good news is a person — the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the good news. It is Christ himself whom the preacher offers. This is the best news there ever has been or ever will be, the greatest possible blessing.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.” All Christian preaching is connected with this salvation. It is all good news, not just what we sometimes refer to as ‘the gospel.’ The whole Bible tells us how to work out this salvation, how to experience it more fully, how to become more like the Lord Jesus, how to bring him glory — good news from beginning to end!
Sections of today’s church are making a tragic mistake, often with the best of motives. They want to attract people. So they should. So should we all. But they reason like this: ‘People are obviously not interested in what we have to offer, so what we must do is find out what they are interested in, and offer them that. Then they will inevitably be drawn to us.’ So they offer prosperity, or emotional thrills, or a path to self-discipline, or improved relationships, or physical health — whatever they believe the ‘felt needs’ of their community to be. ‘Christ,’ they say, ‘will give you those things if you will come to him.’ But, even in the medium term, it doesn’t work, and the church has lowered and cheapened itself and then wonders why it is disregarded. In seeking to make itself relevant it has destroyed its relevance.
For the truth is that people don’t know what they need, and it is our privilege to tell them. Their great need is to hear the good news — of salvation from ignorance, guilt and vulnerability. This has been done by Christ our prophet, priest and king. This is the good news of a new nature, a relationship with God, an eternity of blessed life in heaven. We tell them this and keep telling them, and God in his mercy creates in some of them an interest, an appetite which they never had before, and they believe and are saved. As for those who remain uninterested in the gospel, the plain truth is that the church of Christ can do nothing for them. If they are not interested in our Lord, we have nothing else to offer.
We should behave as bearers of this best of news. God forgive us for dull, lifeless preaching, for gloomy singing, for blank apathetic faces, so that when a visitor comes in he sees nothing in us of the gladness, of the glory. We need to keep alive the joyful consciousness that we have the best news ever to break in this tear-stained world. That is the second reason why the approach of gospel preachers is welcomed — because of the blessings that they offer.
3. THEIR FEET ARE BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE OF THE NEED THAT THESE PREACHERS ADDRESS.
Could it be that such preachers are strictly necessary? Perhaps people are well informed about the gospel. Today there may be other, more effective avenues by which they may be reached. Perhaps we have arrived at a stage in our development when preaching is outmoded. That is what many are saying, not only in the world but also, tragically, inside the church. Paul sweeps away such ideas with the penetrating, haunting questions of verse 14. In a sense, of course, they are rhetorical questions, to which the only possible answer is: ‘It is impossible.’ “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?” That is impossible “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” That’s impossible “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Impossible. “And how can they preach unless they are sent?” It’s impossible.
But those are more than rhetorical questions. In reality they are passionate appeals to our consciences, designed to pierce our apathy and awaken us out of carelessness. “How are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Paul is here drawing the curtains from a wide picture window through which we can see the peoples of the world — lost and ruined, blind and deaf, utterly wretched. What is their position regarding the gospel and the Saviour? Paul says that they have never heard, and so they have not believed, and so they cannot call on him. Dare any of us question his assessment?
We thank God that the church is spreading throughout the world. But how many hundreds of millions are sunk in ignorance of the true God and his salvation? What about our own nation? How much Bible teaching there has been over the centuries! How greatly we have been blessed by God! How immense our privileges! But what is the situation today? Most of our fellow countrymen have minimal biblical knowledge. Should you watch ‘University Challenge’ on television then you will see how most of the students are brilliant, highly educated, with a fund of esoteric knowledge on the most abstruse subjects until they are asked about the Bible, when they are silent and stumble over the most basic facts. They’ve never heard. And Paul says, “How are they to hear?” This is a momentous, uncomfortable question, one of the most urgent facing the church. How are they to hear?
There are various ways in which they may hear. The message of salvation was spread in the New Testament by many who weren’t authorized preachers. Ordinary Christians told the good news to their friends, and this is still the most natural method of evangelism. Christian books and CDs and the world wide web has a valuable ministry. But surely the pre-eminent way, as both the Bible and church history testify, is through the preaching of the Word of God. After every conversation and book and CD and tract that has touched and moved them then everyone will find their way to a congregation and its worship with its climax the preaching of the gospel. But how are they to hear without someone as the God-appointed Spirit-anointed herald? Preachers are God’s chosen way of spreading the knowledge of Christ and of building up his people in holiness and usefulness as they declare, explain, illustrate, and apply the Word of God.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Paul is dragging us out of our introvertedness. It is so easy to become wrapped up in our own small concerns and the affairs of our little circle of churches, our little magazines, our Christian unions and Bible studies, our conferences, and projects, and the lovely people whom we enjoy meeting again and again. We become self-absorbed. But Paul is saying to us, “Look at the villages all around us, and the white houses on top of the blue hills. Look at the housing estates, at the affluent suburbs. Look at the rugby crowds and the public houses, look at the media and at political life and the scientists and the writers and even much of the professing church itself. They’ve never heard! How are they to believe? How are those people to call on the name of the Lord Jesus? And we are then to look out at the rest of the world and feel its pain and its need and see preachers who have been sent from God as a vital link in the chain of salvation.
I who was called to be a preacher fifty years ago must never forget those who have never heard. That is part of what I am here for. They are my responsibility and I dare not forget them and my duty to stretch forth my hands to them. The harvest is plentiful and the labourers are few and we are all called to “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). Preachers are welcome because of the need that they address.
THEIR FEET ARE BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE OF THE LUCIDITY OF THE MESSAGE THEY BRING.
Is the message of the preacher extremely complicated? Is he asking for a daunting regimen of self-reformation? Does grasping the message he brings require an unusually keen mind or an extraordinary expenditure of time and energy? We might welcome the coming of such a scholar and then be intimidated by his language and the demands that he makes. Thanks be to God, this is not the case at all. The message is summed up in verse 13: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Note the simplicity of what the preacher is asking for. Paul puts it in this way in verse 9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Or more simply still in verse 11, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” That is the message. That is the theme of this whole epistle. Believe in Jesus Christ; call on the name of the Lord. Realize your lostness and your helplessness. See Christ as the only one who can save you and will save you. Cry to him for mercy; throw yourself on him completely.
These words in Rom. 10:13 are a quotation from Joel 2:32, a prophecy of the gospel age, words which formed the text of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. What is the original context? “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh . . . and everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The reference is to the mighty, life-giving, empowering Holy Spirit. He is the God who can break down the hardness of people’s hearts, who can sweep over all the cultural barriers, who can bring understanding to the mind and soul. When he is present in power, sinners are persuaded and enabled to ‘call on the name of the Lord.’
Here is, in fact, a perfect description of the whole Christian life. Christians are people who call on the name of the Lord. Such was the testimony of the psalmist: “The snares of death encompassed me… I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful . . . When I was brought low, he saved me” (Ps. 116:3-6). The same phrase occurs often in the New Testament, in the opening verses of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, for example. Paul is writing to the church of God in Corinth, yet he wants to send the letter to all other Christians as well. Note how he describes them: “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Robert Haldane defines it like this: ‘He who calls on the name of the Lord, profoundly humbles himself before God, recognizes his power, adores his majesty, believes his promises, confides in his goodness, hopes in his mercy, honours him as his God and loves him as his Saviour.’
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The gospel is not simplistic but it is simple. Our message to men and women is quite straightforward: ‘You have nothing to pay, nothing to do, nothing to bring. Jesus Christ has done it all. All you have to do is bring him your need and call on him for help.’ If you were in danger you would call. If you were drowning and there was someone who could help, you would call. You would not wonder about what vocabulary to use, you would not struggle in the waves saying to yourself, ‘Now let me see how I can phrase this properly.’ You wouldn’t worry about looking foolish. You would call out. And there are many here today and you’ve never called for yourself on Jesus Christ to be your Saviour and Lord. This is the message he brings in all its glorious simplicity — call on the name of the Lord — the simplicity of what they ask for.
THE FEET ARE BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE OF THE AUDIENCE WHOM THEY INVITE.
An objector might say, ‘Yes, but where’s the snag? What is in the small print? It is a wonderful offer, but how is it qualified? How is it limited? Do you have to be an intelligent, moral person to call on the name of the Lord? Do you have to belong to a certain class, to some particular race or to some specific personality type?’
The quotation from Joel in verse 13 tells us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Here is a universal offer — “everyone.” Paul emphasizes it in the clearest way by using the little word “all, everyone” four times in verses 11 to 13. He wants to drive it home: “Everyone who believes in him . . . Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord . . .” — everyone, all, all, everyone. Paul is making it transparently clear that the offer is made to all.
Back in verse 12 Paul takes the moral, respectable Jew who knows the Bible well, whose ancestors have belonged to the covenant people for a thousand years, and sets beside him a corrupt pagan, a degraded Gentile. How do these two relate to each other? “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek” (v.12). No distinction! Do you see the logic of it? If what is required is to call on the name of the Lord, then everything else is irrelevant; everything else is excluded. It has no bearing whatever on the case. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” means that it does not matter whether we are rich or poor, European, Asian, African, educated or uneducated, young or old. It doesn’t matter whether people are relatively respectable or utterly vile. It doesn’t matter whether they have a great deal of Scripture knowledge or very little. It doesn’t matter, there’s no distinction concerning guilt, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and there’s no difference in the cure. Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life.
Do we believe this? We oppose the teaching of those who claim that ‘homogeneous churches,’ composed of very similar individuals, are the way to church growth, because we see it as a denial of the dazzlingly supernatural variety and diversity of the New Testament church. But aren’t some of churches embarrassingly homogeneous? Don’t we tend to attract recognizable types? Where are Whitefield’s aristocrats in our congregation? Where are Wesley’s miners in our congregation? We pay lip service to the diversity of the church, to the idea that it is for all, and yet people could come into our assemblies and say, ‘Well, it doesn’t look very diverse to me. Your church is full of fairly intelligent, studious, rather introverted people from a respectable background’ — and it would be largely true. Sometimes, God forgive us, we almost take a pride in the fact that we don’t appeal to everyone. We congratulate ourselves that the gospel faith is a little bit special, with the array of excellent books in the vestibule, and the suggestion that this church best suits those prepared to study and think. Other churches will suffice for the run-of-the-mill types, but we are just a little bit above them. What a denial of the gospel! Please learn to read the Bible. You will understand it the more you listen to the preaching here, and as you start to read the Bible you will understand and love other books about the Christian faith, but let us remember that all over the world there are illiterate Christians. There is no literacy test you have to pass.
Do we preachers preach in such a way that everyone can understand? Would people need a degree to grasp our sermons? Adam Loughridge was a Reformed Presbyterian preacher in Ulster, a scholar and a gentleman. He had several advanced divinity degrees, but was a marvellously simple preacher. One of his favourite stories concerned a man in the town where he ministered. This man was not a member of the congregation, but he came frequently to hear Dr Loughridge preaching. He was completely uneducated, worked twelve hours a day in unpleasant manual work, and was a lay preacher in mission halls and other places throughout the countryside. One day Adam asked him, ‘How do you find time to prepare for preaching?’ The man replied, in all innocence, ‘Well, Mr Loughridge, I just take one of your sermons and polish it up a bit.’ Dr. Loughridge glowing with delighted and called this the greatest compliment he’d ever received as to the simplicity of his preaching. Dr Lloyd-Jones says that “If the common people cannot hear gladly the message of the preacher, he is not a preacher sent by God, he is not a preacher of the gospel.”
When we stand up to open the Word, we have the thrilling assurance that we have a message appropriate for everyone who may hear us. We have something to say to every type, every condition, every circumstance. What other message in the world is universal? What other message applies to everyone? None. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
What then shall we say to these things? Surely, those of us who are ministers should give ourselves to preaching, should specialize in it, devoting our minds, hearts, and lives to being the best we can be as proclaimers of the Word of God. We should disregard the contempt of the world and the hardships of our calling. It is tragic to hear preachers, when they meet together, feeling sorry for themselves, complaining at the difficulties they face. Paul said, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). We have the greatest privilege given to mortal men on this earth. Should we pity ourselves? Should we talk about sacrifice or giving up things? Never.
Tomorrow I fly to Africa for almost two weeks of preaching. When we are on our knees let us beseech God that he would raise up in Kenya more preachers, more truly anointed preachers. Let’s give thanks for preachers of the gospel both there and here; let us esteem them highly. We should love, support and encourage them. We should pray for them, that they may be filled with the Spirit. We should appreciate their ministry and seek to profit from it. John Calvin comments on this text: ‘We learn from this how much the preaching of the Gospel is to be desired by all good men . . . God bestows the highest praise on the incomparable value of this treasure to awaken the minds of all men to desire it eagerly.’ What a great glory it is to be a preacher of the gospel! May the Lord provide for us more and more preachers.
10th March 2013 GEOFF THOMAS
My friend Edward Donnelly gave the D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Memorial lecture in 2002 at the London Theological Seminary. His text was Romans 10 and verse 15. I have found it wonderfully helpful and clear in a busy week and used oodles of it in this sermon. It is to be found in the book The Gospel Ministry edited by Philip Eveson and published by the E.P. in 2005.