MESSAGE FOR MARCH 5, 2000 FROM ROMANS 10:18-21
This week, we pick up where we left off last week in the tenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In our text this morning, Paul continues his defense of the truthfulness of the word of God. In verses 14-17, which we looked at last week, Paul tells us that the reason only a small number of Jews had believed in Christ was not because the word of God had failed. The issue was not the truthfulness of God’s word, but the unwillingness of the Jews to believe the gospel. You’ll remember, Paul equates their unbelief with disobedience. In our text this week, Paul continues this theme by detailing the failure of the Jewish people to respond to the message of the gospel they had heard.
Our text is Romans 10:18-21 where Paul says, “But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." 19Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, "I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding."20And Isaiah boldly says, "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." 21But concerning Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." You’ll notice that in last week’s and this week’s text Paul quotes the Old Testament six times and roots every major point he makes in the Old Testament. He does that to bolster his point that the Old Testament, the truth of which these Jewish Christians had called into question, is the same Old Testament which prophetically explains why so few Jews had come to faith while so many Gentiles had believed.
Paul’s two main points in this passage are to one, claim that the Jews had indeed heard the good news and two, the Jews should have known that the Gentiles would be part of God’s people. He supports these claims and roots that support in four Old Testament texts. For his first point about the Jews having heard the gospel, Paul quotes a text from Psalm 19. “He says, “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the earth.” Paul is using this text loosely to communicate that the fact the Gentiles had heard the message, a people other than Jews, indicated a new day had dawned, a day when the message would be spread to the ends of the earth. If these “ends-of-the-earth” type people, the Gentiles had heard the message then certainly the Jews, who were at the geographical epicenter of the gospel events, would have heard. That’s Paul’s point in verse 18.
His second point which is his claim that the Jews should have known about the Gentiles being included in God’s plan begins in verse 19. He says, “Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has not understanding. Paul continues in verse 20, 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.” Paul here points to two more Old Testament texts; one, quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 32, and one from Isaiah 65. These texts predict that the Gentiles would be part of God’s people.
The first, from the Song of Moses predicts that a time would come when God would use the Gentiles or “those who are not a nation” to (literally) “provoke [the Jews] to jealousy and anger.” Paul applies these words, spoken by God through Moses, to show that the Jews should have known that God would bring the Gentiles into this New Covenant and give them all the blessings that go along with that. Those blessings include things like; a pardon for sin without repeated temple sacrifices, the enhanced capacity to know God personally and intimately, having his law written on their hearts and being inspired to fear him. That’s the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31. We know now that this meant that New Covenant believers, predominantly Gentiles, would be given the Holy Spirit, God Himself to dwell within them. The believers would be equipped to fulfill the law by expressing the love of God from hearts filled with faith in God. These people under the New Covenant would be people, according to the Old Testament, with the spiritual capacity to live supernaturally through God’s power by standing in faith on the now-fulfilled promises of God.
Any sincere Jew was looking forward to that day—the fulfillment of these New Covenant promises of God. The sincere, believing Jew was a person who related to God in the Old Covenant through faith, looking forward with great hope and anticipation to the promised Messiah and the blessings of the New Covenant He would bring. Listen to one promise of the New Covenant from Ezekiel 36 the sincere Jew was looking forward to. Verse 23 says, “they[these New Covenant people] will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people and I will be their God.” How different this would be from the history of the Jewish people who were constantly backsliding and practicing idolatry. This new beginning, this new era to come was the hope of the sincere Jew.
Another promise in which they were hoping is found in Jeremiah 32:39. God promises about these New Covenant people, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. [later in verse 40]. “… I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.” How do you suppose that kind of relationship with God sounded to the Jew who had been part of a people who repeatedly turned away from God? Those kind of promises provided the basis for the faith by which the Old Testament saints were justified or made right with God. They believed them, placed their hope in them and God counted them righteous by faith.
Paul’s implication in verse 19 is, “Now those words have been fulfilled. Those promises have been made reality and the Gentiles are enjoying those blessings and the Jews should have known about it from the Old Testament. The second Old Testament text Paul quotes predicting that the Gentiles would be part of God’s covenant people is Isaiah 65:1. Paul gives it in verse 20. “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.” Paul’s message here is, “The Jews should have known that God gave these glorious New Covenant blessings to a people who weren’t even placing their hope in them—who were not even looking for this kind of blessing—who hadn’t (on a human level) even been prepared to yearn for these blessings. In His goodness and grace, God just dumped these blessings of the New Covenant on the Gentiles without so much as an invitation.” We saw the reason Paul gives in verse 20 as to WHY God poured out His grace on the Gentiles was to provoke the Jews to jealousy and anger.
Here are these Gentiles enjoying the kind of relationship with God, the kind of life in the covenant the Jews had so long hoped for. God’s intention in doing this is simple. When the Jews see the Gentiles enjoying what they had been promised, it will cause them to be jealous of what the Gentiles had. They would then, turn from their sin and enter into the New Covenant with Christ. We’re not going to treat this in any detail because Paul gives an explanation of the fulfillment of this plan in chapter 11, but that is the gist of God’s plan.
In verse 21, Paul quotes Isaiah 65:2 to reiterate the consistent response of the Jews to God. God says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” God pictures himself physically beckoning the Jews, like a mother holding open her arms to a wayward child. He sums up the disposition of the Jews toward God as “disobedient and obstinate.” They see God holding open His arms, yet repeatedly turn away from Him, repeatedly choose to go their own way. Remember, Paul’s point in all of this is to show that the Jews, as prophesied in the Old Testament, had heard the gospel. Not only that, they also knew or should have known that the Gentiles would be included in the New Covenant blessings while they, (at least in this part of salvation history,) would be largely excluded.
This text raises several questions. Let’s address two of them this morning as we, by the Spirit, make application to these truths. The first question is: Why is it not wrong for God to provoke the Jews to jealousy? He make no bones about what He is doing here. He is going to shower the Gentiles with the New Covenant blessings in Christ in order to make the Jews jealous of what the Gentiles have so that the Jews would repent and trust in Christ. He is using the Gentiles to provoke the Jews to jealousy. Why is that not wrong? At the heart of the issue is the question, “is all jealousy sinful?” And the clear answer from the Bible is, no. Not all jealousy is sinful.
Think about what jealousy is for a minute. If one sibling says to another, “My ice cream cone has three scoops on it and yours only has two.” The one who has more ice cream is provoking the other to jealousy or envy of his larger portion. He is causing the less endowed one to covet his extra scoop of ice cream. Jealousy involves coveting and coveting is simply wanting something someone else has. For instance, if you’re married and you are jealous of the attention your spouse is showering on his/her opposite sex co-worker, what you are really saying is, “You should be relating to me the same way you are relating to that person. I want what they are finding in you.” You are coveting the relationship your spouse has with their co-worker.
Now, what God is doing with the Jews is provoking them to covet the covenant relationship with Him the Gentiles are enjoying. Is it wrong for God to want the Jews to covet Him? More directly, is it wrong to covet God, period? NO! God is the one Being in the universe we not only allowed to covet, we are actually COMMANDED to covet Him. We are to desire God—to want more and more of Him. We are never to be satisfied with the amount of God we have—we are called to be insatiably seeking after God with all our hearts and that’s coveting! Its GOOD to be seeking hard after God, because God has made us in such a way that the only way we will truly know joy is if we are seeking hard after Him and finding Him again and again.
Also, it’s not wrong to look at a mature Christian who is more God-saturated than we are and covet that kind of saturation. We are never to feel condemned or base our value to God in comparison to someone else’s walk with God. That kind of comparing is sin, but it’s an evidence of grace to look at a Moses or Paul or Billy Graham or an Elizabeth Elliot and say, “I want to know God the way they do.” God’s intention for the Jews was that they would look at the church and say, “I want to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the way they do. I want this New Covenant relationship they have and I have hoped for.”
The second application question flows from the first. Are we, as New Covenant believers living the kind of New Covenant life with God that would cause anyone else to want what we have? This principle of making people jealous of our relationship with God doesn’t just apply to the Jews, but to anyone who considers themselves religious. We will see how this will be fulfilled with the Jews in chapter eleven. But there are tens of thousands of lost but “religious” people all around us. “Spirituality” is “in” today. People are, perhaps more than ever, sensing their need for someone or something to call on outside themselves. These people include those who are in Christian churches—liberal and conservative who aren’t really saved, aren’t in this New Covenant relationship. There are people in pseudo-Christian cults, people who are in other world religions. There are scores of people who may not have a formal religion but who have a spiritual sensitivity of some sort and consider themselves to be “spiritual.” And of course there are the Jews, who feel a unique connection to the God of the Scriptures but apart from Christ have not entered into the New Covenant relationship with Him. With that immense multitude looking at us, the church of Christ, do we, as New Covenant believers have the kind of relationship with God that would cause them to look at our lives, look at our church and say, “Boy, I wish I had whatever it is THEY have?” Do we understand that this text clearly implies that we are called to have this kind of jealousy-provoking life as believers who relate to God under the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ?
Let’s review only some of the blessings of the New Covenant we have mentioned this morning and compare them to our life and the witness of our church. The New Covenant promises a pardon from sin. New Covenant believers are those who are free from the bondage of nagging, condemning guilt. When they sin, after they have put it away, they never need to feel the pangs of guilt again. Is that our experience, or do we allow guilt to pummel us again and again long after we have confessed it, perversely thinking that the guilt is in some way good for us? That’s bondage and its not the way provided for in the New Covenant of Christ.
Believers under the New Covenant are promised to be able to know God personally and intimately. We in evangelicalism do much talking about a “personal relationship” with Christ, but here’s a good test to determine whether or not our experience fulfills the New Covenant promise. If someone out of the blue were to come up to you and ask you, “What is your God like?” Would you be able to give an answer based on personal experience with Him, or would you simply parrot back to them basic theological truths you learned about him in Sunday School? Would your answer to the question, “What is your God like?” come from a face with a knowing smile that comes from countless hours in private, intimate conversation with Him, or would it come from a dull countenance that betrayed that you intimately knew this God at all?
The promise of the New Covenant is that those under it would fear God in such a way that they would never turn away from Him. Is your life filled with such a reverence for God that when you are tempted to sin, you respond with, “I don’t want to sin against HIM.” That heart has been promised to those under the New Covenant in Christ. New Covenant believers are promised to be a people who will “no longer defile themselves with idols.” These are people who, because they know God well, aren’t about to try to substitute anything or anyone else to meet the needs they know only God can meet. Is that us? Do we spend more time with Him—in prayer and in His word than we do with the media—television, radio, the internet? In our financial giving does He get the FIRST ten percent? Is His share of HIS money set aside before you buy the groceries? In addition, is our checkbook open to Him whenever He wants it and for whatever He wants it? New Covenant people don’t make idols of money or material possessions. They hang onto everything loosely because they understand it belongs to Him and He can have it whenever He wants. And that goes for our family members and treasured church traditions. This kind of single minded, whole-hearted devotion has been provided for believers in the New Covenant. Are we living it out? And what’s more, are we living it out with such joy and peace and discipline that the other people around us who have a counterfeit spirituality look at us and say, “What I have is not nearly as good as what they have with God.” Does our Christian life reveal the true goodness and glory of God to those who are worshiping a counterfeit god?
Are we as a local grouping of believers manifesting the kind of supernatural quality of corporate life that would provoke to jealousy the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness and other counterfeit religious groups? Do we, as a local church assembly show the kind of love for one another that would make anyone outside yearn to be part of a family that loved each other so deeply? Frankly, when I see a Jehovah’s Witness building—a Kingdom Hall go up with all volunteer labor and look at the prospect of even a small piece of that happening here, I am jealous of them! What a travesty that the church of Christ, believers under the New Covenant should envy the missionary zeal of the Mormons or be jealous of the self-sacrifice of the Muslims! And yet, one a human level, we have reason to be.
What a dark day it is when those who have been given the Third Person of the Trinity to live within them should take a back seat to any other religion in any department! If being a Christian under the New Covenant of Christ means anything on a human level it means that we are going to our work, out study, out give, out think, out create and out love anyone else on the planet because we have the Spirit of the Lord of the universe living within us and because we do it NOT for personal enrichment but for the glory of God. How often is that expectation even breathed in the church of Christ? Do you see how far we are from the promise of the New Covenant? Do you see our glaring need for repentance, reform and revival? Is our life under this covenant dynamic enough to make anyone jealous of our relationship with God? Many Christians have friends who don’t even KNOW they have a relationship with God. What a sham!
And the crowning sorrow of it all is what the Father gave to establish this New Covenant. These glorious blessings of the New Covenant were not purchased with the blood of bulls and goats, but with the precious blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Christ died to pardon our sin. Christ died to open the veil that separates a holy God from sinful man so that we can boldly approach the throne of grace and come to know God as our most treasured friend. Christ died to free us from the bondage of idolatry. The law of God that’s written in our hearts and minds is written there with the blood of Christ. We are to use as our standard of Christian living, the New Covenant provisions made through the death of Christ. May God give us the grace to hate and repent of our powerless Christian lives which could never make anyone jealous for our relationship with God.
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