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Romans (Series 1)

The House of Israel

Romans  10:1-15

Paul continues his analysis of Israel in this section. In today’s lesson, he will touch on the prophetic aspects of God’s love. There is some controversy about the prophetic aspects (as usual); but (also as usual) there is much we can learn from the Scripture.

The Misguided Missile

(Rom 10:1-4 NIV) Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. {2} For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. {3} Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. {4} Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

The beginning of the this passage is touching: “Brothers.” Despite all he has said about the rejection of Israel in chapter 9, he still has a heart yearning for his people. That yearning translates into prayer, and in facing his God in prayer he has seen (indeed, by self examination) the problem of the Jews of his day. It is a warning to us; but that comes next week.

He begins (v2) by testifying that they are zealous for God. Zeal is often mistaken for truth. This brings about problems:

·         First, there is the “Linus” problem. You remember Linus, from Peanuts: “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.” We may take that statement in one of two senses:

·         It may mean that our mortal minds will make mistakes in interpreting the Scripture; but that as long as our hearts were pure, God will forgive. This is the root of Christian liberty.

·         It may mean that we don’t have to try to interpret the Scripture; just that we have to hold our beliefs sincerely. This is license.

·         Zeal without inspiration is a terrible thing; as Goethe put it, “nothing is so frightening as a bustling ignorance.” This is the misguided missile. Jehovah’s Witnesses are persistent; Mormons are devout; neither acknowledge Jesus as God.

·         Finally, one must recognize that zeal can be maintained for the sake of zeal -- it feels good! The word “fan” (as in sports fan) descends from “fanatic.” If zeal has no object greater than the zealot, it becomes fanaticism. Like all spiritual activities, zeal has its human side -- and that side can kill. An ideology is stronger than a theology. Ideology says, “You are wrong, I am right and therefore I have the right to ....” Theology says, “God is right; you are wrong, and God ...” Christ is not our Arbitrator; he is our Mediator.

Such a zeal instills in a person a sense of righteousness, a righteousness of my own (v3). See the principle in verse 3: if I seek out my righteousness, I must necessarily reject the idea of submitting to God’s righteousness. Either He is righteous or I am. Christians are particularly prone to this error. We usually avoid the more obvious trap of “I’m so proud of how truly humble I am (and you’re not). We may substitute the more subtle error of assuming that our acts of repentance and subsequent good deeds have placed God in our debt. But hear the point: once we assume that God owes us something for our efforts, we have abandoned grace, and are depending on our works. He will reward us (here and more so in heaven) for our good works. We must not, however, mistake his generosity for our merit.

The sticking point of this is in verse 4: Christ himself. If I want to be righteousness, there must be a standard to meet. I can either create one of my own (and rely on my own power to enforce it) or accept true righteousness, Jesus Christ. This is one reason why so many will not believe. They are not willing to give up the idea that they are already righteous.

Verse 4 is the turning point of this passage. Paul describes Christ as the “end” of the law (other translations have “goal”). It is the fact that Jesus Christ is the entire point of the Old Testament and New Testament. It is as if God had spend two millennia pounding into the heads of the Jews just what He is like, so that they would recognize him when he came -- and then they missed it. They missed it because they captured the feet of the Law, but not the head.

String of Pearls

Paul now begins a section in what has been called his “string of pearls” style. In it, he will string together a series of quotations from the Old Testament. At first the style may seem to make no sense. Remember, however, how intimately familiar Paul was with the Old Testament. We need to regain that familiarity to understand his meaning:

(Rom 10:5-13 NIV) Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." {6} But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' " (that is, to bring Christ down) {7} "or 'Who will descend into the deep?' " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). {8} 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: {9} 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. {10} For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. {11} As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." {12} For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, {13} for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Paul begins with a straight forward quotation (Leviticus 18:5). Moses knew and taught that the Law is not so much to be studied as to be practiced. But who can keep the Law perfectly? Indeed, the Law is full of ordinances of the type which specify what sacrifices are to be made for what types of sin. Only Jesus kept the Law perfectly. So it may seem that Paul is casting Moses in the role of the archtypical legalist. This is not so; and to see why we must take a little digression with regard to prophecy.

Some passages of the Old Testament are clearly prophetic in the sense that we usually think of prophecy. They begin with phrases like, “in that day...” and clearly refer (sometimes in symbolic language) to what will come. We see these as prophetic, and label them as such. Some of those will be seen in this passage.

There is another type of “prophetic” passage. For lack of a better term, I call them “forerunner” passages. These are passages which clearly have application set in the time they were given, but also have application to the future. This comes about because of the unity of truth in its source, God. God does things in a particular style. For example, when a major transition is made in the life of his people, he announces it with due formality. The quotations in verses six through eight are such a forerunner. Moses used them originally as Israel was about to cross into the Promised Land. Paul looked at those verses and saw that Moses (speaking in the Spirit) also was talking about Christ, for the Truth will come through.

You can see the argument that Moses was making: “Stop complaining. You don’t need some mystic guru to go up to heaven or down to hell to know the Law; it’s right here in front of you -- in your heart and on your lips.” Paul turns this to the greater truth: “You want to know why God put it right there on your heart and lips? Because none of you can go up to heaven nor down to hell. But when you see the One who did go up to heaven and down to hell, then you should know that He is the Author of the Law.”

And what is that Truth? It seems (verse 9) that it is simply a matter of stating one’s belief! But do recall the time and circumstance. Simply to proclaim “Jesus is Lord” in this day and age was a politically dangerous act. It could (and often did) get a Christian a terrible death. “Believe” was inseparable from “act” in these times. Confession was dangerous then (and is becoming so again).

Verse 10 seems to continue the problem: if you just believe in your heart you are justified. If you also confess with your mouth, you are saved. We see this as reciting a formula at baptism. Paul saw it as an exhilarating adventure, living radically in dangerous times. It was a tremendous risk. And the result of taking this risk was given by Isaiah:

(Isa 28:16 NIV) So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.

The prophet is in a passage which is clearly referring to the Messiah. It is the conclusion of Paul’s argument: the Old Testament points to Jesus as its answer. This is the reason we need to study the Old Testament; it testifies to and about the Lord.

Paul ends the section with something that to a Jew must have been a stunning argument. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile -- for God is the same God no matter who you are. What makes the difference is not who you are, rather who He is. The difference is in whether or not you “call on” him. The verb is telling; it is not whether or not you claim him as God, or feel you have done him some service worthy of payment. The question is do you call on him; do you ask his favor, do you plead for his support -- in short, are you relying on him? Then, as if to remind them that this is clearly taught in the Old Testament, he quotes a Messianic passage from the prophet Joel:

(Joel 2:23-32 NIV) Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. {24} The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. {25} 'I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten-- the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm -- my great army that I sent among you. {26} You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. {27} Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed. {28} 'And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. {29} Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. {30} I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. {31} The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. {32} And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.

(Joel 3:1-2 NIV) 'In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, {2} I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.

The reference is clearly Messianic, and clearly relates to the end times, the Day of the Lord. Paul is making the argument that the Old Testament prophesied what has happened in the coming of Jesus -- and that more is to come.

How shall they hear?

There is much dispute in this passage as to whether or not it applies strictly to the Jews alone, or the Gentiles, or both (my view). Let the Scripture speak:

(Rom 10:14-15 NIV) How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? {15} And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

First, Paul lays out the method of evangelism: preaching.[1]

·         How can you call on someone, depend on Him to save you if you don’t believe? Recall that the distinction between can not and will not is often omitted in Scripture. In the New Testament, to believe was to act.

·         Paul also states they must hear. We get a lot of chatter about winning souls to Christ by our good character and example, for which there is some warrant[2], but we need to remember that someone must state the truth for it to be heard.

·         And if it’s going to be heard, somebody’s got to do the preaching.

·         We then come to the missionary and the preacher: someone must be sent to do the job. The reference again is to Isaiah[3], again in a Messianic sense. Surely we are living in the last days!

You may think that this passage does not apply. In a wistful tone, I must tell you that it is very much an indictment of the church of our time.

·         Paul’s complaint of the Jews was misguided zeal; ours is of a lack of zeal.

·         Paul’s time was one in which confession meant action; ours is a time when confession seems to stand alone.

·         In Paul’s time the call was for one to speak, to spread the good news. We are two millennia later -- and still the call is for one to speak, to spread the good news, here and everywhere.

[1] See 1 Corinthians 1:18

[2] See, for example, the case of the submissive wife in 1 Corinthians 7:16

[3] Isaiah 52:7

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