“The Word Is Near You, in Your Mouth and in Your Heart” (Romans 10:5-17)
There is a wealthy author and art dealer in New Mexico by the name of Forrest Fenn. A lover of adventure, Mr. Fenn decided to fill a chest with gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry, and gemstones, and to hide this treasure somewhere in the American West. He gave out clues, so that other adventure-seekers could search for the treasure chest and hopefully find it. The hidden treasure is said to be worth about two million dollars.
Well, in the seven years since this began, dozens and dozens of treasure hunters have gone searching for this hidden treasure. They have covered hundreds of miles, traversed deserts, scaled mountains, forded rivers, and faced all kinds of obstacles and dangers. In fact, two, possibly three, searchers have died in their quest for Fenn’s treasure.
These treasure hunters have gone to great lengths, literally, trying to find this fortune. How far would you go? Now if I told you there was a treasure far richer than Mr. Fenn’s–millions of times richer, incalculable–and that this treasure was reachable, attainable, able to be found, how far would you go? What if I told you that this treasure was not far away, that you don’t have to go searching hundreds of miles in the wilderness to find it? Even more, that I will give you not just some obscure clues but the very message you need to find it? That’s what I’m talking about today when I say, “The Word Is Near You, in Your Mouth and in Your Heart.”
Our text is the Epistle from Romans 10. There St. Paul says this very thing, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” And he explains what he means by “the word” when he adds, “that is, the word of faith that we proclaim.” Paul is telling the Romans, and he’s telling us, that this word he proclaims is the key that opens up all the riches that God wants to bestow on us. This treasure is for you, and God wants you to know it and find it and have it. The word that reveals and locates this treasure for you, that delivers it to you–this word is near you. It’s right here in our midst. God puts it in your mouth and in your heart.
What is this treasure? What is this word? The treasure is the riches that God freely bestows on us for Christ’s sake: righteousness, salvation, eternal life. The word that brings this treasure to us is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, as it is preached and taught and sacramented among us. God provides it all, both the treasure and the word, freely and within reach, for every person.
Let’s find out more. Paul writes: “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Well, this would be one avenue to find the riches of God’s kingdom, and that is, by way of the righteousness of the law. What I mean by that is, if you would simply do all the commandments of God, you would earn your righteousness, you would earn your right standing before God and thus live forever. Just do the commandments. Keep God’s law. Do that, and you will live.
Problem: You don’t do it. Do you keep God’s commandments? I mean, well enough to earn your way into heaven? Not hardly. We can sum up the righteousness of the law like this: Love God with your whole heart. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, and you will live. But when I look in the mirror, when I examine my heart, I don’t see someone who does that. Not well enough. Because the law demands perfection. Do I fear, love, and trust in God above all things, all the time? Nope. Often I make me my own idol. Do I always give honor to God’s name in the way I live? No, sometimes I’m not a very good representative of a Christian. Do I always let God’s word have its way in my life, in the decisions I make? Uh, let’s not go there, shall we?
OK, so how about loving my neighbor? Do I give due honor to the authorities God has placed in my life? Do I consistently help my neighbor with his needs, or do I act selfishly? Are my sexual desires within the bounds God has established? Do I cheat and cut corners to help myself financially? How do I use my tongue when speaking about others? Do I have a discontented envy for what other people have that I don’t?
These are the types of questions that detect whether or not I have kept God’s commandments successfully. And the answers are not pretty. No, I have not. And I suspect you have not, either. A righteousness based on the law is not going to cut it. We will never find the hidden treasure that way.
So having eliminated that possibility, Paul then turns to the one avenue that will work, the one way that will lead us to the treasure. He writes: “But the righteousness based on faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘“Who will descend into the abyss?”’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).”
You see, you don’t have to go on some cosmic treasure hunt in order to find the righteousness you need. You don’t have to go searching for Christ. No, he comes to you. Remember, Jesus said about himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That’s you. That’s me. We are the lost ones that Jesus finds. Jesus seeks us out and finds us and rescues us and carries us back home, rejoicing that he has saved us.
Saved us, from what? Christ has saved us from death and eternal damnation. He has saved us from ourselves, for it our own sins that condemn us. We would be lost forever otherwise, if Christ had not intervened. But he came in the flesh, the Son of God did, and he took our sins on himself, carrying that heavy load to the cross. There he died in our place, the sinless for the sinner, to rescue us from the clutches of death. And then he rose, in victory, rising bodily from the grave and showing us what is in store for all those who trust in him.
This is faith, to trust in Christ and what he has done for us, rather than to rely on ourselves for our righteousness. This is the faith that fills our heart and that we then naturally confess with our mouth. This is saving faith, “because,” as Paul writes, “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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
This faith, this saving faith, comes to you through the word. You didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to trust in Christ. No, the word came first. The word of God is alive and active. It is powerful and creative. God’s word accomplishes the purpose for which he sends it. And so when God attaches his word to the water of Holy Baptism, it is “a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.” When the word of Christ is proclaimed to you by your pastor, faith is strengthened. God saves people through the foolishness of preaching! We preach Christ crucified, the wisdom and power of God.
This word is for you and for all people. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But this raises a series of questions: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Thus God in his grace sends out messengers to carry the news, ministers of the gospel to publicly preach and be heralds of the good news. He’s even sent one to little old Bonne Terre. We may not be big and fancy here, but I guarantee you, you’re going to hear the good news of Jesus here every Sunday. You’re going to find Jesus here, giving out his gifts. This is where you can find the hidden treasure, right here in plain view.
The amazing thing is that more people aren’t busting down the doors to get in. I suppose if we advertised door prizes, like you would get a free toaster oven for showing up, well, maybe that would draw a crowd. But offer people forgiveness for their sins and victory over the grave, purpose in living and fellowship in God’s family and an eternal life of joy and blessing, and people are not interested. They’d rather have a toaster oven. Oh well. Not all will believe.
But you do. And the word is in your mouth and in your heart. So maybe you can be the instrument God uses to bring the word to others. You have the opportunity to bear witness to Christ in your daily life. The word is in your heart, and your mouth will speak what your heart is filled with. Let it be filled with the love of Jesus. Then your mouth will speak accordingly. Your life and your words will radiate the love of Christ that you yourself have received.
Are there people in your life who need to hear this word? Your adult children who don’t go to church? They need to hear. Your spouse who isn’t here this morning? He or she needs to be receiving God’s word on a regular basis. The friend or coworker you have coffee with or see at lunch? They too need Jesus, and you may just be the person God puts in their life to get them connected to the church. You know, this Saturday we’re having an “Every One His Witness” workshop to equip us in our being witnesses for Christ. I encourage you to attend.
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” Thank God for this word! It is a life-saving, life-giving word! God uses this word, the gospel of Jesus Christ, to rescue us and deliver us from all evil. This word delivers Christ to us, with all his gifts. This is the greatest treasure you can possibly imagine. There is nothing more important than this. And the good news is, you don’t have to go on a long treasure hunt to find it! God puts the treasure right here in our midst. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, and this vessel will do just fine. So don’t think you have to go climbing some far-distant summit to reach it. No, the treasure right here on Summit Street, at little old St. Matthew’s in Bonne Terre.