Part VI of “Romans: The Road Less Traveled.”
As someone who is trained as a historian, one of the things I love to look at is old maps. I talked about this a couple of sermon series ago when I said while GPS is great technology, there’s really no substitute for the context of a map. When you don’t have one, that’s when you realize that you really need it.
One of the coolest types of maps in history were the silk maps that were carried by pilots and airborne troops in World War II. Developed by the British and adopted by the Americans and other Allied forces, these maps were made primarily to aid in escape and evasion when a pilot or trooper found himself behind enemy lines. Unlike a paper map, which was subject to tearing or water damage, and made a lot of noise when unfolding it, the flexible, waterproof, silent nature of the map made it easy to use and easy to hide if one got captured. You could stick in the hollow sole of a boot, or stuff it in a cigarette case. Many pilots had the maps sewn into the lining of their flight jackets.
The maps that the men carried usually covered the entire theater of operations—Western Europe, Italy, or North Africa, depending on where you were fighting. There was enough context and scale to the map to help the soldier or airman to get back to friendly lines. Interestingly, some of these silk or rayon maps were hidden in the Monopoly games that were sent by a fake charity, a la the Red Cross, to Allied prisoners in German POW camps. The prisoners knew that any Monopoly game they received that had a red dot in the “Free Parking” space contained items necessary for escape, including a silk map hidden in the board itself.
But even beyond the information they carried, silk maps were also literally life saving devices for troops. It could be used to filter water, to provide cover from the sun if stranded in the open. It could be worn as a scarf in the cold, or be used as a sling or tourniquet if you were injured. Many troops only used it as a stylish scarf until it was needed, but there came a time for many when having that map made the difference between life and death.
Life and death. Escape from prison. Finding your way to freedom. These are some of the themes we’ve been talking about as we have looked at Romans over the last several weeks. We began this series with the metaphor of looking at Romans as a kind of theological road map that shows us the way God has provided out of sin and death and into the friendly lines of his kingdom, and has done so by creating a new people out of both Jews and Gentiles. So let’s briefly review where we’ve been so far: In the first In Romans 1-3, Paul reminds them that everyone, both Jew and Gentile, “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” he says in 3:23. In chapter 4, Paul reveals God’s solution to the problem through the covenant with Abraham, who placed his faith in God and became the father of the nation of Israel, whom God was going to bless so that they, in turn would be a blessing to the world, drawing all the nations to God. Through Moses, God gave Israel the law as a way of marking them as a called out and set apart people. Israel struggled with the law, however, and Romans 5-8 reveals that the law itself wasn’t the ultimate solution to the world’s problems. In fact, the law only pointed out what sin was, not how to get out from under it. Focusing on the law, Paul says, will only keep you focused on sin itself. The law itself won’t save us; only faith in Christ — the one who came from Abraham’s family and was faithful to God in a way that Israel could not be — can do that.
What Paul has been doing, therefore, is mapping out a route that both Jews and Gentiles can share because of what God has done in Jesus. Rather than two separate maps, where the Jews saw their destination via the map of the law and the Gentiles focused their attention on philosophy and social status, now their common escape route was leading them to Christ. In other words, he is creating a brand new map for them to follow—indeed a map to carry with them while still behind the enemy lines of sin and death.
That brings us to Romans 9-11. If in the first 8 chapters Paul has been talking about a new map, then what about the old one? What about Israel? At the beginning of chapter 9, Paul says that he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart about his people, but he asserts that even now, God hasn’t give up on them. Israel has been “striving for righteousness that is based on the law, but did not succeed in fulfilling the law. Why not?” says Paul, “because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as it if were based on works” (9:32). As we said last week, if you are focused on the law, you will eventually be focused on sin because we want what we can’t have. This was Israel’s problem and, Paul says, it’s our problem, too, unless we put our faith in Christ.
That’s why, in chapter 10, Paul says, “For being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there might be righteousness for everyone who believes” (v. 3-4). Remember that for Paul, “righteousness” is another way of talking about God’s covenant faithfulness, or God’s following through on the plan to rescue the world that he had begun through Abraham. Christ was the climax of that plan, and now God’s covenant faithfulness not only extends to the Jews, but to all who believe and have faith in Christ.
What Paul is really talking about here is the difference between a paper map (the law)—which was printed and carried around like a burden, subject to being torn apart, and the silk map (the map of faith) that can be carried and worn, not only to point us in the right direction but to save our lives as well. One is focused on the detail, while the other gives comprehensive picture of the way to reach the destination.
When I was in Army basic training, we spent a lot of time focusing on map reading and orienteering. Back before the days of GPS, you actually had to use a map and compass to figure out where you were going. When I first started doing this, I was focused so much on the map and the compass that, occasionally, I would orienteer myself into trouble because I wasn’t looking where I was going. On one land navigation course, I actually fell into a ten-foot ditch because I was looking at the compass instead of what was ahead. When you become a slave to the map instead of looking ahead for the route and the destination, you’re destined to fail.
Focusing on the details of the rules can never get us where we want to go, and it’s not the primary way we can make ourselves acceptable to God. It’s not that the rules are unimportant, just like the details of a map are important, it’s just that the rules and the grid lines point to something, or rather Someone, beyond themselves. Obedience to God is part of faith, as Paul reminded us in chapter 1, but attempting obedience without faith is eventually going to put you in the ditch.
Faith, on the other hand, is a trust in the one who made the map in the first place—a trust in the one who will give you the big picture and lead you home.
This is the sort of faith that Paul talks about in these famous verses of Romans 10:9-10. That faith gets expressed in two ways:
- “Confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.” This is what a person does at baptism, which Paul has already talked about in chapter 6. But this confession isn’t just dogmatic agreement to a set of principles and details about Jesus, a la the “Four Spiritual Laws.” Instead, we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The implications of that confession would have been startling to those Roman Christians. For them to say that Jesus is Lord means that Caesar is not, and to say so meant that they were committing treason against the empire (which was, in fact, the charge that sent many of them to their deaths). Confessing Jesus as Lord meant then, and it means now, that we are giving our allegiance to a new world order, with Christ as the ruler of all. We commit treason against the powers of this world and acknowledge that we have no power of our own. To speak of Jesus as Lord is to say that we are his subjects and that we will order our lives according to his lordship. It’s not a commitment to an idea, it’s a commitment to a way of life.
- “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” Death is the curse that results from human sin. The law told us what sin was and reminded us of its consequences. Jesus, however, has reversed that curse. In Jesus, God has defeated death and those who believe in him with their whole hearts will share in his resurrection. And because death has been ultimately defeated for us, that means that we can live as people who are free from fear. “Salvation” isn’t just some future hope, it’s a present reality! When we believe in our hearts that Jesus has been raised from the dead, then we will be more apt to live under his Lordship. It’s the only way to life!
Faith, in other words, isn’t a set of rules, nor is it a simple head trip, it’s a way of life. Paul doesn’t want us to be focused on the details and the rules; he calls us to be focused on Christ. You do that, and navigating in the world comes naturally and the rules become internalized. “No one who believes in [Jesus] will be put to shame” says Paul (v. 11). Indeed, he says in verse 12, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The Jesus map is one that anyone can use, but it’s the only one that leads to life.
Imagine those POWs opening up that Monopoly game to find a red dot in the “Free Parking” space, discovering the map, and knowing that they now had a way of escape. They would certainly want to tell their fellow prisoners, right? Well, telling people you’ve found the way back home is Paul’s other concern. “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?” says Paul, “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim them?” (v. 14). Point is, if you have the map showing you how to escape from prison, it’s up to you to share it with the other POWs! “Faith comes through what is heard,” says Paul, “and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (v. 17).
Israel heard that word, had received the new map, Paul says in verses 18-21, but that have not followed it. “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people,” says God (v. 21).
But even then, God hasn’t abandoned them to wander aimlessly, mapless and hopeless. In chapter 11, Paul talks about the remnant of faithful Israelites. Even though Israel has stumbled into various ditches, God will lift them up in the end just as he has done from the beginning. Paul is no supercessionist, claiming (as many Christians do) that the Jews once had God’s favor but they lost it and now only Christians have it. That’s not Paul’s view at all. In 11:11-24, Paul uses the metaphor of an olive tree to say that just as you Gentiles are grafted into the root of the tree (Israel), God can also graft the broken branches of Israel back into that same tree. Paul believes that “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26) and that the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29). It was a typical Jewish expectation that that Israel would first be redeemed, and then believing Gentiles would stream into sanctified Israel. Paul reveals, however, that Israel’s unbelief has reversed the timetable. Now is the time of Gentile inclusion after which God will bring faith to Israel. “Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,” Paul writes to his Roman Gentile churches, “so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too shall now receive mercy.”
In other words, Paul’s hope is that everyone, Jew and Gentile, will place their faith in Christ as Lord and share the map that saves them and leads them out of enemy territory and home for good.
When the British developed the silk map for pilots, they believed it not only had the effect of giving them a better way to carry a map, it also promoted what they called “escape mindedness.” When you know that you’re caring the tools that will help you escape and survive, you’re more likely to attempt it.
When you think about it, that’s the reason that Jesus told us to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” When people hear the good news about Jesus, when they’ve been given the map that charts the way out of imprisonment to the sin and death that binds them, they’re much more likely to live an “escape-minded” way of life.
Who do you know who’s stuck in the prison of sin? Who do you know who needs to hear the good news that they can be set free, all because of Christ? With whom can you share the Jesus map?
May we be a church that is always looking to show others the way to life!