Walking The Roman Road – Lenten Season 2019
“But what does it say? The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:8-10 NIV).
We are now at a crossroads of sorts on the Roman Road to Salvation. We have addressed the issue of godlessness and wickedness and came to realize that God has a different standard than we do. And we have to admit that his standard is much better than ours. His standard is love for all without discrimination. His standard is based on how we would be and act if we had NOT rebelled against him and his authority over our lives. We might be used to this uneasy truce, this in-between place that we call living, that ends in death. We may be good with that scenario but God isn’t.
Not only is his standard higher but he also has greater aspirations for us as well. He wants us to live forever with him in a life free from sin and the tyranny of death. Personally, I agree. If you believe that every human being is valuable beyond measure and not merely “dust in the wind,” you begin to understand life from God’s point of view. And don’t come with claims that humans are also incredibly cruel and uncaring, because I will agree with that as well. That is the dilemma of our existence. We can see both sides of this one truth. Humans are valuable but squander that value in a lifestyle of survival, rebellion and sin.
Welcome to God’s point of view. You can imagine how concerned he is. The question is how to save us from ourselves.
We talked about the fact that God took it upon himself to save us by becoming our substitute on the cross so that we could be saved by trading places with Jesus. This is the good news of salvation. But you can’t understand or accept the good news without also understanding and accepting the bad news. We simply cannot save ourselves. We aren’t good enough. We don’t have the power nor the inclination to make it work.
The Humpty Dumpty Principle puts an end to all of our moral striving. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All of the King’s horses, and all of the King’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Once we hurt someone, we can’t un-hurt them. We can’t fix it. We can’t make it like it never happened in the first place.
We all live with a myriad number of hurts and pains from the people around us through the years of our living together. We have gotten hurt and given hurt in equal measure. We may get used to it. We may be willing to put up with it. We may even survive it (more or less) but most of the problems in life are a result, one way or the other, of people’s lack of love, care and respect for one another.
That’s the truth and there is nothing you can do about it.
But God can. And He did.
That’s the story of the cross. He became the sinner and we became the saints. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But it is necessary. It reminds me of the story of Peter getting his feet washed by Jesus the night before Jesus was crucified on the cross.
“Yochanan, sit over here.” James kept his voice low. He pointed at the place where he wanted his brother to sit.
Expectations were high among the Twelve. It had been a spectacular week and they were filled with the heady emotions of great events. Although they had hoped that Jesus would make his move sooner, Passover had come upon them and it could not be ignored.
In fact, it was anticipated eagerly. After all, the Passover was a celebration of freedom. Freedom from slavery, freedom from Egypt, and now Rome. Freedom to be the people and the nation that they had dreamt of for so long. In their hearts the disciples were still singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“What do you think you’re doing?” The question came from Peter.
Yochanan looked up at Peter and then quickly away. He looked like a hen trapped in the hen house between two roosters. He moved as if to rise but his brother James grabbed his shoulder and pushed him down on the couch.
“It’s no affair of yours’ Peter. Jesus told us to sit here.”
“What are you talking about? Since when have you two been given a place on each side of the Master? What about me? Where do I sit?” Peter’s intense whisper intruded on the quiet conversations of the disciples as they waited for their host to make his final preparations before leaving. A few looked over at Peter.
“Sit where you want, its no concern of mine,” James said. “We are sitting here.”
Yochanan tried to stand up and move away but his brother pushed him down again and Yochanan’s face flushed. The eyes of all the disciples were on them now and sides were being taken.
“Peter’s right,” Andrew said in defense of his brother, “he should sit beside Jesus.” It was out in the open now and Peter was already starting to feel foolish. What if Jesus heard them arguing like this again?
At that moment Jesus walked in, looked around at them but did not say a word. He went to the sideboard as the host left the room and removed his outer garment. What was he up to? He picked up a towel laying there and wrapped it around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, knelt down and, before anyone could protest, he began to wash Philip’s feet.
It was customary to ritually wash themselves from the eldest to the youngest in preparation for the Passover meal. One of them, in the absence of the women, should have offered to do so.
“Master, don’t do this. Let me.” Philip voiced his protest, together with the others but Jesus paid no heed.
Andrew was standing closest to Jesus and made to take the pitcher of water from his hands but Jesus ignored him, placed the pitcher on the other side of Phillip’s feet, away from Andrew and began to rigorously dry Philip’s feet with the cloth around his waist. Andrew looked around the room, searching for advice but nobody knew what to say or do.
Finally, they sat down on their couches in silence, each one taking the nearest one.
Jesus started on the side of the room closest to the water basin, not at all concerned about who would be first or last, eldest or youngest. And the room was absolutely quiet.
As the long minutes ticked by, Jesus continued his service until, finally, he came to Simon Peter.
“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
In the quietness, they could all hear the question though it was not more than a whisper. It was a question they all wanted to ask.
Jesus began to pour water on Peter´s feet, and said “At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Peter’s reaction seemed violent in that quiet atmosphere. He moved his feet away and allowed the water to spill on the cold stone floor. “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus sat back on his haunches, put the pitcher down and rested his arm on his knee. He looked up at Peter briefly and then back down at his feet. With his free hand, he took hold of one of Peter´s feet and brought it closer and then the other and said, “If I do not wash you, you can have nothing to do with me.”
Harsh words. What did they say or do to deserve such words? Softly spoken perhaps, but harsh words nonetheless, firm and final.
It was not until much later that they understood what Jesus meant, that this was the shame of the cross, that the one who is worthy must die for the unworthy, that the one they would call Master must serve his own servants. It is shameful for the servant to bear; knowing that he has caused it to be so, but without this service there is no salvation. And so shame must give way to love. Not that they understood it all at the time, but the spirit can still do what the mind does not understand, and Peter´s shame gave way to love for no other reason than that it was there. Love accepts the shame for the sake of something better. It was a lesson that Peter would soon learn in much more detail and with much more pain.
“Then, Lord,” Peter said with quiet fervor, “not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus smiled, but said, “No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.”
Do you see the point? Shame can bring you to the foot of the cross but still leave you wanting if you do not accept that shame and release it to receive the work that Christ MUST do for you. That shame is precious to God. It is the right response to what Christ did for you on the cross. But there is no shame in love. Peter only understood that he wanted to be with Jesus. The rest didn’t matter. His pride didn’t matter. And this is the same guy that only hours later would deny his Lord three times.
The heart is decietful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) the Bible says and it is good to keep in mind. When people ask me how they can be saved, it is easy to just point to these verses in Romans 10 and show them the Path that they must take. You say with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved (vs. 9). Almost too easy. Say a few words. Believe a particular thing like the resurrection and, bingo. You are saved. Wrong.
After all the work that Paul did to establish that the whole point of the good news is that it is about relationship, specifically a relationship with God, you would think that people would get the point. It is not an external act but an internal relationship that matters.
You aren’t married because you stood up in front of some people with a Justice of the Peace present and said a few vows. Well, yes. You may be legally married but are you really married? No. It is about the relationship not the wedding vows. That’s why so many people end up in divorce. The wedding was nice. Vows were made but, somehow, it was no longer true (or ever was) in their hearts. The same is true with God. If it isn’t a heartfelt thing, saying the words won’t mean a thing.
Many evangelists have made it so simple to become saved that you can even do it online but filling out a questionaire but that doesn’t make it so. Pastors often have to counsel people who are unsure of their salvation (perhaps because they have just committed a sin that they know God won’t like). Often the answer the Pastor gives is to trust the day of their salvation. Trust that the Bible is true. If you verbally and publicly professed your faith and you believe in your heart then you are saved. Wrong.
II Corinthians 5:3 tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, not to just assume it. There will be evidence of our belief in the way we live, in the kinds of priorities that we have, how we spend our time and money, how we treat other people. That is not works righteousness. That is completing our faith with expressions of love (Galatians 2:20).
The Path is before us but we must examine our hearts to see if it is real. And the test for me is the presence of shame. Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time. Think about it.
Do you believe that God exists? Great. Do you believe that Jesus is Lord (meaning that he is also God?). Great. Do you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead which proves who Jesus is? Great. At least you got the facts straight but Paul goes deeper yet. Yes, you need to believe in your heart (inward) and confess with your mouth (outward) but in order for it to be real, to be valid, to be sincere, there needs to be shame.
Think about your godlessness and the wickedness of your life to this point. Make some notes. Write it out if you have to. Make a list of all of the things that you have screwed up. How many people, with names and dates, that you have hurt. How many bodies you have left in your wake. How many hurts you have dished out. How many people you have ignored. Go deep and think hard. The more you dig up the dirt, the more shame you will feel and shame is your best friend right now. We all want to skip over the dirty work, the shame of our lives, the mess we have made (some more than others) but unless you do the work, the good news is unremarkable and lacking in power.
But once you get there, at the foot of the cross, and accept that you have no claim on God, no excuse to get you out of the punishment and wrath of God, no justification for getting you off the hook, then you are ready for salvation and not before. Then you are ready to accept that Jesus HAD to do this work for you. He HAD to take your place. There was no other way. Otherwise you would have been lost.
It is the humility of shame that brings you to the foot of the cross but it is the wonder of unconditional love that will save you when you accept him and his work for you. Your loyalty to him will never waver because it is rooted in the love that takes away our shame.
That is the only Path on this Roman Road to Salvation that will bring you into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Walk in it.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, it is true that I have done a lot of shameful things in my life. I am not afraid to admit that I desperately need you. I want to have a saving relationship with you as my Lord and Saviour. I know how Peter felt. They were arguing about who was important and you come in and act like a servant washing their feet. It was embarrassing and then you tell us that we can’t have any part of you unless we accept that humble service that only you can do for us. We know that you are talking about the cross. It fills us with shame but we give that shame to you and accept your love. Thank you. In your name I pray. Amen.