MESSAGE FOR DECEMBER 5, 1999 FROM ROMANS 9:1-5
This week our text is Romans 9:1-5. Paul, in the last section of chapter eight has just concluded his glorious review of some of the blessings of the gospel. He has assured us that there will be no legal charge leveled against anyone on the day of judgment who is truly in Christ. God has provided through Christ a wall of legal protection from the believer which no adversary, no accuser could ever breach. As Paul brings chapter eight to a close, he glories in the invincible love that God has for us in Christ. No affliction can ever separate us from that love. There is nothing in any realm of existence which can ever pry us loose from God’s unbreakable embrace. He concludes chapter eight on a powerful note of victory and celebration. He has scaled the mountain tops here and is heady from the glorious vantage point of grace as he surveys the wonders of being in Christ through the gospel.
As he moves to chapter nine however, the tone abruptly shifts. As someone has pointed out, He plunges from a spirit of celebration to lamentation. His tone plummets from the mountain peaks of glory to the valley of sorrow and distress. Let’s find out what has brought about this radical shift in tone for Paul. Beginning with verse one, Paul writes, “I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit-- 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”
You’ll notice that Paul starts this section very curiously. In the first verse, three times he assures his readers that what he is about to say in the truth. “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit…” Paul is about to affirm his love and devotion to the Hebrew race of which he of course also belongs. So, why does Paul have to affirm and reaffirm and re-reaffirm the truthfulness of his feelings about Israel? The reason is because Paul, who was a Pharisee had made this dramatic turn to Christ and as a result, this Jew spent almost all of His ministry to the Gentiles. This had raised some serious questions among the Jewish Christians about his loyalty to his fellow Jews. So, into that context of uncertainty about his love and loyalties for the Jews he is careful to emphasize that his love for the Israelites is a very genuine thing.
We see just how deep Paul’s sentiments toward the Jews run in verses two and three where Paul makes some remarkable statements. First he says he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart.” One reason this text is so powerful is because of what has just preceded it. Paul has just finished this glorious, inspired literary flourish on the wonder of being “more than a conqueror through Christ.” And now he speaks of the fact that he constantly carries around this terrible burden of sorrow and continual anguish. These are both strong words to indicate Paul’s deep heart break and it is incessant. Paul carried these with him all the time.
Its clear that for Paul there is no contradiction between being “more than a conqueror” (and he claims he is a part of that “conquering” group in 8:37) and bearing a heavy burden of sorrow. We must be careful to understand this because there is in every Christian’s life any number of things which may weigh them down emotionally on a daily basis, but this does not mean they are not more than conquerors. Bad or difficult marriages which sometime seem to hang around your neck like an old tire. The loved one you have spent hundreds of hours in prayer for who simply refuses to come to Christ or even straighten out their life. The physical disability that greatly limits your ability to interact with others or live your life as so many others around you. The difficult boss or coworker who sucks the life out of you. These are sometimes almost crushing burdens, yet in the midst of it, we can know the victory of God’s invincible love.
What was the specific burden Paul had for the Israelites? Verse three tells us, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. The burden Paul bears for Israel, as we see later in chapter nine and chapter eleven, is the fact that they rejected the Messiah through whom salvation and righteousness comes. They were not saved. And the way Paul expresses the depths of his regret about this is astonishing. He says in essence that if it were possible, he himself would be accursed, that is, suffer eternal damnation if only it would allow Israel to be saved. What can he mean by that?
Clearly Paul is not offering himself in exchange for Israel’s salvation. He knows that Christ alone can satisfy God’s wrath against sin. He has also just said that once God has saved you, you are secure and not even the voluntary sacrifice of your own soul is possible. That door has been closed. Finally, he would never be so bold as to suggest that he knew what was best more than God as it related to himself or Israel. But he uses this hypothetical situation to show just how deeply he felt this loss. He feels it deeply enough that, on an emotional, hypothetical level, he would volunteer to be condemned to everlasting punishment if only Israel, his “brothers, according to the flesh” would be saved. There is nothing more important to a person than the state and destination of their soul. Yet, Paul says, if it were possible, he would surrender his to hell so that Israel could be saved.
This offer by Paul is similar to Moses when, after the golden calf incident, Moses says to God in Exodus 32, “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Moses and Paul share this self-sacrificing, good Shepherd’s love for their people. This is a profound level of commitment and Paul wants to make sure that the readers of his letter know the extent of his love of the Israelites. He was a preacher to the Gentiles because the Jews had refused to hear him and because God had called him to minister to the Gentiles, not because he was in any way indifferent or worse, disloyal to the people of his own Jewish race.
In verse four, Paul highlights the incredible irony found in the fact that Jesus Christ, the bearer of salvation for “the Jew first” was, for the most part, rejected by His fellow Jews. He points to this irony by listing off eight or nine aspects (depending on how you count them) of the special grace God had given to the Jews to be His people and receive His salvation. Look at verse four. The first aspect of this grace given to the Jews is easy to miss but it comes in first phrase of verse four when Paul calls the Jews “the people of Israel.” The term “Israel” or, more literally “Israelite” is not just a word to indicate what country these people were from. It is used in the New Testament to “designate the special relation to God that the Jews enjoyed as the chosen of the Lord.” Ephesians 2:12 says to Gentiles, “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from the citizenship in Israel.” Galatians 6:16, speaking of the church says, Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.”
So when Paul refers to the Jews as Israelites, he is emphasizing that these are the chosen people of God to inherit salvation. Yet, the cosmic irony is, when these people with this special designation were confronted with the One who would bring them salvation, they, with few exceptions rejected him. The second aspect of grace given to the Jews Paul states as, “Theirs is the adoption as sons;” Paul is gripped by the fact that Israel as a nation is the child of God. Hosea 11:1 says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Yet, when this adopted son of God, Israel, played host to the only begotten Son of God, Christ, they, in a manner of speaking, murdered their brother. A third aspect of grace given to Israel is “theirs the divine glory…” Of all the nations of the earth, only Israel was given the unspeakable honor of having the very manifest presence of God’s glory—the Shekinah glory of God present in the tabernacle and in the temple. The Glory made His earthly home, listed as his address, Israel. Yet, when Jesus Christ, who is the fullest expression of the glory of God tabernacled among the Jews, they crucified him. Do you hear the irony there? A fourth aspect of God’s saving grace to Israel Paul lists as “the covenants.” Of all the nations of the earth, God established his covenants with the Jews. These covenants with Abraham and David and through Moses marked Israel off as God’s elect people—the one He established a formal, covenant relationship with. Yet when the One who brought the New Covenant, the better Covenant, came and lived among them, they spurned Him. These people of the covenants rejected the One who would bring the greatest covenant relationship.
A fifth aspect of the grace God had given to the Jews is “the receiving of the law.” The Jews had the most perfect expression of God’s character found anywhere in their possession of the law of God. Yet when He who was the fulfillment of the law came, they twisted His laws to make Him accursed to God. Do you hear the painful irony of this turn of events as Paul lists them? After that, Paul lists “the temple worship and the promises.” Israel alone was instructed in the proper manner to worship the Lord through the giving of sacrifices in God’s holy temple. Israel alone was promised a glorious future with God. Other nations would find this, but only through that which God had blessed Israel, the Christ of God. Yet, when Christ comes as the fulfillment of all the promises of blessing, when Christ appears as the perfect sacrifice—the sacrifice to which every other temple sacrifice pointed, when He comes as the Great High Priest of the heavenly temple, the Jews spurned Him.
A seventh aspect of God’s grace is seen when he says it is the “Fathers” who belong to Israel. It was the patriarchs who were the roots of this new people of God. It was the Patriarchs who first heard about the promise that it would be through Israel that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham is the Father of the Jewish race. Yet 2000 years later when the “seed of Abraham,” Christ came to earth to be that Person through whom all the people would be blessed, the other genetic descendants of Abraham put Him on a cross. That’s what Paul means when he says about the Jews, “through them is traced the human ancestry of Christ.” It was Jewish blood that coursed through the veins of Christ and it was Jewish blood which was shed for our sins and it was Jews who, on a human level spilled, His blood.
Paul clicks off these aspects of God’s grace given to Israel—all of which were set forth to prepare this blessed people to receive the Christ. And the unspeakable irony is that these people who have been so carefully, methodically prepared to receive the Messiah, when he actually came to them—they didn’t recognize him and those who did, didn’t care. They put Him to death on a cross. This is the reason Paul has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart.” He sees these marvelous blessings which were intended “first for the Jew” and his heart aches because the Jews did not receive these blessings. He has just finished speaking of the glorious benefits of Christ’s work, the invincible love of God in Christ and the total, legal justification of those who follow Christ. And yet it deeply grieves him to see that these glorious blessings are not being enjoyed by most of the people for whom the Messiah first came, his fellow Jews.
And yet, that is only one reason why Paul is in anguish—the most obvious one from these five opening verses of chapter nine. The other reason for his anguish is his love for the truthfulness of God’s word. God’s word is utterly trustworthy, totally faithful to the truth—it IS the truth and Paul not only knew it, he relished it—He again and again banked his life on it. But the fact that so many Jews, who had been given these numerous blessings, had uniquely been the recipients of this overwhelming grace, but had not received Christ and the gospel brought the truth of the word of God into question for some. There were Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, but also felt anguish over the fact that most of their kinsmen, perhaps in some cases, people in their own families who did not accept Christ as the Messiah.
For a moment, try to put yourself in the place of those Jews who HAD accepted Christ and who were reading Paul’s letter up to this point. Try to feel what they would have felt. They were part of a race which God began in Abraham 2000 years before Christ. God had given them all these special graces (as it turns out) to prepare his people for the coming of the Messiah. And when he finally comes, the Jews reject Him. But MORE THAN THAT, who is that comes to Christ in droves? The Gentiles! Those who were without ANY preparation at all at least outwardly to accept Christ--the “dogs,” those who never knew God and whose ancestors had never known God. These were people who would and did worship anything as long as it promised them pleasure, provision and protection. THESE people are receiving the blessings of Abraham through God’s chosen seed, Christ. THESE people are receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit—a promise given to JEWS through the JEWISH prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. THESE people, these dogs were given the new hearts with the law of God, the JEWISH law written on them. THESE Gentile people will now have a place in heaven in the bosom of Abraham while so many Jews, God’s chosen people will suffer eternal torment in hell.
Paul describes this dynamic, quoting Isaiah in 10:20. He says, “And Isaiah boldly says,
"I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." Can you feel how a Messianic Jew might have felt toward the reality that it was the Gentiles, not the Jews who were receiving the blessings of Abraham? And so their response to this dilemma was to conclude that the word of God—those Old Testament promises of blessing to the Jews were just plain wrong. That is, the promises of God to Israel that they would be blessed through the Messiah were no good—God’s word had not told the truth. The Messiah had come and the Jews did not received the blessings they were promised.
That was the way many of the Jewish Christians to whom Paul was writing felt in light of the way things had played out. The rest of this section of Romans is devoted to explaining how, on the one hand, the prophetic, Old Testament promises of God about Israel WERE be true, while on the other hand, it is the Gentiles who are enjoying the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ. And so the other reason Paul’s heart is breaking is because the truthfulness of God’s word has been impugned and for something as precious as God’s holy promises to come under attack for Paul is a deep wound and it breaks his heart. That, along with the fact that many of his beloved kinsman were separated from Christ drove Paul to have “great sorrow and unceasing anguish.”
That introduction opens the door to the study of the rest of Romans nine, but what does it mean to us today who live in an age where these hot theological questions have long since cooled off? What is there here for us to apply to our daily lives? If we can’t pull any application from looking at Paul’s theological dilemma, we can find much to apply by looking at his heart-by asking the question, “what kind of thing makes the great apostle sad and in anguish of soul.” It has long been said you can tell a lot about a Christian by what makes them laugh and what makes them cry. We have all felt the shame of laughing at a crude remark or joke. When we do that, it graphically shows us that the part of us that sees the subject matter as revolting is weaker than the part of us that admires the cleverness and overlooks the crudeness. What we laugh at can tell us much about the state of our soul, but a perhaps even more precise spiritual diagnostic tool is to answer the question, “what makes us sad, really sad?”
In this text this morning we see what it is makes someone with the heart of Jesus sad and it behooves us to hold our heart up to his and compare in these two areas. First, do we grieve deeply for the lost around us? As we have studied Romans and have, in chapters five through eight detailed the glorious blessings attached to the gospel, have we ONLY reveled in our own blessings? Or, have considered those who are without the riches found in Christ? When we exult in the fact that we can count on all things (including the really awful things of life) to work together for our good because they all can be used to make us more like Christ—have we considered that for the unbeliever, they have no such hope? When they lose their job, when their child dies, when their spouse falls ill with a terminal illness—there is NOTHING of eternal good that will come to them from that—not ONE thing as long as they stay outside the circle of that promise? They have pain as deep as we often experience, but there is no real hope for them. We will feel genuine grief if our steak in a restaurant isn’t done the way we ordered it. We will bottom out because someone didn’t smile at us when we smiled at them and other perfectly stupid issues. But have we, in the midst of our celebration felt our hearts break over the plight of those who do not know Christ?
When we delight in the promise that, at the judgment of Christ, we will not have to stand weak kneed and terrorized before the Holy Judge of the universe—do we also at those times feel the dread, the anguish of soul that comes from contemplating what that moment will be like for those outside of Christ? As they stand before a holy God with sin after sin after sin accusing them and no atonement made for any of them. They will look at the record of their sin and each one will irrevocably point them to a fiery hell apart from Christ. No pardon, no second chances, no reprieve—condemnation—the FINAL and ULTIMATE condemnation which will ring in their ears for all eternity. Do our hearts break over that? As we rejoice in the glorious truth that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, do we consider what it is like for those who have never truly experienced the sustaining, life-giving love of God? The sincere, long saved Christian cannot conceptualize what it must be like to live a life, hour by hour, day by day, year by year with no sense of God’s love and acceptance. The lost have only the shallow, hollow, counterfeit peace of mind offered by Satan, given for the purpose of lulling them into the lethal sleep of self deception. Bottom line, can we say that we, in the midst of the joy of our salvation have we with Paul, “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [our] hearts?” And the answer to that question is found in the time and energy and tears that are regularly spent praying for the lost, witnessing to the lost and weeping for the lost. Do we have the Holy Spirit filled heart of Paul— do we have the heart of Christ?
Finally, Paul was in anguish because the word of God was being called into question and that meant that God’s character was being called into question. Do we burn with the zeal for God’s glory and vindication that Paul glowed with? God doesn’t need us any more than he needed Paul to defend Him. That’s not the issue. The issue is, are we zealous to the point of intense anguish over this matter of God’s character, his glory being vindicated? This is what drove Paul to write Romans nine. This is what drove Paul to utterly spend himself for Christ. What is it driving us to do? Can many of us, who do not even regularly or with any depth study God’s word look in the mirror and say, “I am zealous for the truthfulness of your word?” Does that describe the state of our hearts? Can we, who trust God’s word so little that we spend countless hours racked with anxious thoughts and worries, can we who live so much of our lives in that condition say with any integrity—“I glory in the faithfulness of your promises and I would risk life and limb to see those promises defended?” When God’s word is assailed by those who would try to impugn it, do we feel his indignation? If someone misrepresents what we said, we can just blow a gasket, but how about when someone misrepresents what God said? If we love God more than ourselves, it would follow that we would be more grieved by a misuse of His words more than our own. Is that the case?
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