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Romans (Series 1)

Loving the Lost

Romans  9

It is a sad point: many Christians will tell you that they love the Lord -- but they do not love the lost. How do we know that they don’t love the lost? They will not sacrifice for them. In this passage today, Paul expresses his love for the lost closest to his heart -- his brothers, the house of Israel. The words are poignant.

Sorrow for the Lost

(Rom 9:1-5 NIV) I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit-- {2} I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. {3} 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, {4} the 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. {5} Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Have you ever been in the situation of having a dear loved one -- parent, child, husband, wife or such -- who did not know the Lord? It is a measure of your love for that person -- how much misery it causes to see them without Christ. Paul’s attitude here is much the same:

·         He speaks of “great sorrow” -- indeed, should I not ask how much it hurts?

·         He speaks of “unceasing anguish” -- and should I not ask how long it hurts?

·         And finally he says it hurts to the point where he wishes he could be accursed for their sakes.

This last point is the key: in this, Paul is imitating his Lord Jesus Christ. As he wrote to the Galatians:

(Gal 3:13 NIV) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."

It is worth asking: do we have such a mind in us? Are we so willing as this? Remember our Lord’s admonition:

(John 12:25 NIV) The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Do we indeed have the mind of Christ in us? If you answer yes, then a second question comes to mind. Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, clearly -- yet his concern in this section is for the Jews. That covers all of us. Is there some segment of humanity for whom we could not sacrifice? If we say, “oh yes, it doesn’t matter who the person is,” then I would ask -- “does that include those closest and dearest to us?” Sometimes it’s easier to preach the Gospel on a street corner than on the sofa.

Paul begins this section, talking about the Jews, by stating their advantages. The principle is familiar to us: to those whom much is given, much is expected. Consider the advantages that God gave to the Jews:

·         they are “Israelites” -- the descendants of Jacob. If you will, they have the right family connections.

·         it is not just biology -- they are also adopted. (Have you ever picked out a puppy at the dog pound? What love is given such!)

·         the glory of God -- they actually saw Him “face to face” at times such as

·         the pillar of fire in the wilderness

·         the filling of the Tabernacle

·         the filling of the Temple

·         the covenants (possibly singular in some manuscripts) -- with whom else did God deal?

·         the law itself -- above all others they knew right from wrong, and were often devoted to it.

·         true worship -- they alone knew enough about God to offer pleasing worship.

·         the promises -- and there are dozens -- were made to them alone.

·         the patriarchs -- and the tradition of wisdom and worship they started

·         and, finally, in God’s own time, through them Jesus came.

So what went wrong? With all this, why did the Jews not rise up in joy and accept the Lord and Savior?

Election and Rejection

(Rom 9:6-18 NIV) It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. {7} Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." {8} In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. {9} For this was how the promise was stated: "At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son." {10} Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. {11} Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: {12} not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." {13} Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." {14} What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! {15} For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." {16} It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. {17} For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." {18} Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Paul begins by establishing the principle of election. In its crudest form, it means that God picks out and blesses those He wants. Paul picks out a few examples, and from these few we can learn a little bit more about God’s method of election:

·         First, he mentions Abraham. The Jews referred to themselves (with pride) as being “the children of Abraham.” Paul points out, however, that the descendants of Ishmael are also, biologically, children of Abraham. Family ties alone are not enough.

·         Next, he mentions the fact that Sarah receives this child of the promise at the age of 90 or so. Certainly this is an example of how far God will go in picking out His chosen ones. I would not pick out a 90 year old woman to get her first pregnancy. God’s promises are not “deals;” they are His sovereign will.

·         Finally, he points out that Jacob was chosen over Esau before they were born. It is as if to say that nothing we can do can “make” God pick us. If He does not offer us salvation, there is no way to get it.

Paul now imagines an objection: “Hey, that’s not fair! God is unjust!” We must remember that charity and mercy are by their very nature unjust. Justice requires that I be punished for my sins. I do not want justice; I want mercy. Paul shows this in two examples, making two points from the Old Testament:

(Exo 33:18-23 NIV) Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." {19} And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. {20} But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." {21} Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. {22} When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. {23} Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."

You see the point? God is so awesome you and I (nor even the greatest of His prophets) can stand to see Him face to face. Justice would say no one sees Him or approaches Him -- but such is His will that He will have mercy on those He chooses.

The argument about Pharaoh is a bit more difficult. If you just read the section in Romans you might get the impression that God deliberately made Pharaoh a sinner for His own purposes -- in other words, that God caused him to sin. That this is not so is seen from the original section of Scripture:

(Exo 9:13-16 NIV) Then the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, {14} or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. {15} For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. {16} But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

So you see it: God used what Pharaoh wanted to do anyway (to be hard in heart) for His own purposes. God can take the evil in man and turn it to good.

I end this section with three questions:

·         Just how “good” are we?

·         Just how grateful are we for the mercy we have been shown?

·         Just how much do we depend on Him day to day?

God’s Wrath -- and Mercy

(Rom 9:19-29 NIV) One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" {20} But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" {21} Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? {22} What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? {23} What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-- {24} even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? {25} As he says in Hosea: "I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one," {26} and, "It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'" {27} Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. {28} For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality." {29} It is just as Isaiah said previously: "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah."

We are so good at blaming someone else. The argument here is a typical one. Since God is sovereign, and His will prevails, then why does God still blame us when we sin? After all, shouldn’t He have prevented that? And since He could have, it’s really His fault we sin, isn’t it?

The first answer to this is rather obvious. Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m afraid the answer is that we view God as “one of the boys” -- we are victims of the combined images of Jesus as “good buddy” and God as senile grandfather, wishing us well. The Lord of awesome aspect has no place in our thinking -- but he should.

I remember it well: my boss called me and wanted to talk about Lena. It seems that Lena had just learned that she was pregnant -- and was terrified at my reaction. She feared that I would react in anger, telling her that others would have to carry her work. Chuck told her (correctly) to just call and tell me (and I thought it was great, of course). Now the point is this: if the boss is so terrifying, just how do we view the Almighty?

The second argument is to understand God’s purpose. His purpose in dealing with Egypt was (first) to show his great wrath and power, and (second) to show the riches of his glory. He was teaching us a lesson: learn the difference between those God must punish and those whom He calls and loves. And what method did He pick for this lesson? Patience!

·         Patience with Egypt in that they were not immediately destroyed.

·         Patience with Israel (the examples are many) as He showed them His glory.

·         Which then brings up the question: what patience do we have with those whom we love -- and do not know Christ?

And then, what were these great riches which He so patiently showed to us?

The first is God’s grace. To show this, Paul quotes from Hosea. The entire book is instructive, for it is an allegory of God’s love. Many people think that allegory means “fictional”, but this is not so. Hosea was commanded by God to be the living allegory of His love for Israel. Married to a faithless wife, with children named “not my loved one” and “not my people” (for that is what those children’s names mean in the Hebrew), God tells Hosea to buy back his wife and rename his children. So it is that Paul declares God has done with us.

For the Jews, this is a most hopeful passage. It is not God’s desire that any perish. With what great price has He bought us out of slavery to sin?

So Paul establishes God’s great love for Israel. But at the end, he reminds his readers of one other fact from the Old Testament: the Remnant. When God crushed Israel, He did not do so utterly: He left a remnant for Himself. It may not have been a large number -- but it was always open to any who would follow the Lord. In this we may see:

·         the explanation of the statement that many are called but few are chosen. The choice is the mercy of God; the call is the Gospel. Who will accept mercy?

·         Taking the mercy of God has always been an act of will -- no matter which covenant you are under.

·         The existence of the remnant is evidence of the mercy of God. Just as God did not wipe out Pharaoh and Egypt, so He has not dealt with us according to what we deserve, but rather by His mercy.

We are now at the sticking point: what went wrong? Why is there only a remnant?

The Stumbling Stone

(Rom 9:30-33 NIV) What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; {31} but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. {32} Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." {33} As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

How is it that the Jews, with all their advantages, did not take to the Gospel, and the Gentiles did? The answer comes in the person of Jesus Christ. Israel chased God with her own righteousness (as many of us do today); the Gentiles took God’s mercy by faith.

It comes down to this: am I going to rely on my own virtue and actions, and say to God: “I’m a good guy; let me into the kingdom” or am I going to say, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner?” In my righteousness, will I stumble over the Stumbling Stone, Jesus Christ?

I put it to you this way: the loved one who will not see Christ: is it because they “aren’t good enough” (and no one is) or is it because they cannot bring themselves in pride to say, “Lord, be merciful?” On this answer, all depends.

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