|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 1
Meditation Title: Paul's Sorrow
Rom 9:1-4 I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit-- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 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 fact that we start a new ‘series' is simply so that we can handle Romans in bite-sized pieces. It is, of course, a steady stream or flow of Paul's thinking. We need to say that, especially when we start a new section, because what we have here flows from what has just gone and we need to see the link.
In chapter 8 and the back half of the chapter, Paul was showing the wonder of us Christians being sons of God, children of God, and heirs of God with God working in our lives to bring all good things, so that nothing but nothing could keep us from His love.
But having said that, Paul is aware that there are three groups in the world today – Christians, Jews who are not Christians and Gentiles who are not Christians. The last group there is understandable, because they are simply people who have refused the grace of God. However, when you come to Jews who are not Christians (and we have to put it like that because, in the early Church especially, a lot of Christians were Jews), there is a mystery, because these are people who have an amazing history with God and you wonder how and why they could reject their Messiah and reject the Gospel. It is these things that Paul is now going to consider.
In case any of his readers are Jews – Christian or otherwise – he feels it necessary to explain his genuine feelings about his own people, perhaps because back in chapter 2 he had made some negative noises about the Jews generally, and maybe because they may have heard of his activities with Gentiles and think he has ‘left the fold', so to speak. Thus he starts out with a sense of earnestness, “ I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying.” Look, he says, this is what I really feel about them and I want you to understand this. Indeed, he adds, “my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit,” i.e. as I stand before God I know in my conscience that this is the truth. Please understand that!
So far he hasn't mentioned the Jews but he will shortly, and there will be no question of whom he is speaking. Of them he says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” This is what he feels about his own people and this, he implies, is his genuine feeling for them. He wants to add to the strength of that to be even more convincing to those Jewish readers: “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 .” In other words if being cursed and being cut off from Christ would save his people, he would be willing for that! That is the strength of his feelings for his own people but he is ‘in Christ' and so the truth is all important and he cannot escape that about his own people, but that just leaves him in deep anguish for them.
Now we could get ourselves in deep legalistic guilt about our own friends or family at this point because the preacher might say, “And how do you feel about your unsaved family or friends?” and recognising they don't know the Lord we might then be made to feel bad about our role in failing to bring them to Jesus. But here we need to look at the overall New Testament picture of Paul, for the truth is that apart from what he says in these chapters, he says very little in his writings about his concerns or even his prayers for his people. Indeed most of the time he speaks quite negatively about the unbelief he finds in so many of his own people. Remember, so often when he speaks elsewhere about ‘the Jews' he is referring to those unbelieving Jews who have opposed the Gospel. The brunt of his words is their unbelief not their national makeup.
Paul knows, and we need to remember, that every person, Jew or Gentile, is responsible before God for how they respond to the Lord. Once we have shared the Gospel with them, it is down to them how they will respond. We may feel anguish for them, as Paul did about his own people, and we should always be open to be used further by the Lord to communicate with those who don't know him – whether family, friends or the stranger, whether Jew or Gentile. Having done what we can, we can do no more but just be available to Him. Thus Paul's biggest burden according to his calling is for the Gentiles who have been responding to the Gospel in numbers (see Gal 2:7), but that doesn't stop him feeling for his own people, wishing that the blindness they appear to experience was lifted, but we will see more of that as we work through these three chapters and see the plans and purposes of God for those who are sometimes referred to as ‘His people', the Jews. Within these chapters there will be many lessons on how God works and these are of great value. They are very different from the compact theological exposition about our salvation that we have seen in the previous chapters, but they are very worthwhile and deserve our attention. So, pray as you go through these chapters that you will see and understand all that Paul is communicating here.
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 2
Meditation Title: They had it all
Rom 9:4,5 Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
As Paul reflects on his fellow Jews as an historical people, after his initial expression of anguish for them (the reason for which is not given at this stage but it does become clear that it is because of their hardness against the gospel), he now highlights all the good things they had going for them which marks them out as a unique people.
He now starts out, “Theirs is the adoption as sons.” The Lord had declared, “Israel is my firstborn son.” (Ex 4:22) He had adopted Israel, they were a chosen people, a people called into relationship with the Lord. He continues, “theirs the divine glory.” God's glory had been a feature of their experiences of Him. (See Ex 16:10, 24:16, 40:34, 1 Kings 8:10,11) There is also the sense that on some occasions Israel were glorified before the eyes of the watching world who saw that God was with them to do great things, but the primary emphasis must be on the presence of the Lord's glory with them.
Theirs also were “the covenants”. With who else had God made binding agreements? The Lord had entered into a covenant with Abram (Gen 15:17,18), and with Israel at Sinai (Ex 19:5,6, 24:3,4) and later again Deut 29:1-15 and Josh 8:30-35 and so on. Also they were known as the only people “receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.” Guidance, direction, commands and promises has all been part of their experience with the Lord. Who else in the world had received all this? No one!
He reflects on. It started right back with Abram: “Theirs are the patriarchs” seen in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob before the nation was fully formed. But from them, “is traced the human ancestry of Christ.” Jesus may have been the divine-man but the man side could be traced right back to these people. When God chose to come in human form, that human form was part of a family that went back centuries in the history of this people. This Christ, who had come out of their midst “is God over all.” Isn't that incredible! And for that He is to be “forever praised!”
So there is it. They are a remarkable people, made remarkable by their relationship with God Almighty. He had chosen their early fathers, He had called them into being as a nation after miraculously delivering them out of Egypt , He had given them law by which to live, He had led them to take the Promised Land, and He had been with them throughout the centuries of their existence calling them again and again back to Him. They are an amazing people!
But Paul looks at this people who had been called to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6) a light to reveal God to the rest of the world, the people of God supposedly, a people relating to God and revealing God, and he realises that they had fallen short of all that. So often they had turned away from God, so often they appeared no different from the rest of the world, and he ponders on this.
“It is not as though God's word had failed.” (v.6a) God had spoken, God had called, God had chided, God had made the way ahead plain and clear, God had corrected, God had promised, God had shown the potential of a wonderful future. Yes, in all these ways God had spoken and God's word had come forth. But had His words failed? Had all His words missed the target, fallen on the floor so to speak and been to no avail? No, His words had not failed, they had all been true and nothing that He had said had been untrue or contributed to their failures. No, from God's side there was no failure. So what was the truth?
Then he makes this astounding statement which upset so many: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel .” We may look at millions of people that we call ‘ Israel ' but the Israel that God speaks about are a people of faith, a people truly relating to God. If they are not people of faith, if they do not truly relate to Him they are NOT Israel , God's people. That is God's verdict. Throughout Israel 's history there had been a faithful remnant, the true people of God; the rest simply went by the name, performed the rituals but had no real relationship with God. The Lord works on reality, what is real and true, not on the names we call ourselves. ‘Christians' for example, are not just church goers or good people, they are faith people, people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and been born again of the Spirit of God. These are not merely words, they are the reality. Paul continues making the point: “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children.” (v.7) They may be literal descendants but as far as God is concerned real descendants are those who faith people like Abraham was. It's not about outward appearance; it's about inner reality. What is your inner reality?
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 3
Meditation Title: Real Children of God
Rom 9:7,8 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." 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.
Initially we cover again the ground we found ourselves on in the previous meditation. Paul's starting point in this paragraph was those cutting words, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” (v.6) There are two sorts of people, he is inferring, those who belong to the nation of Israel and go by the name Jews and are theoretically the people of God, and those of that group who are genuinely the people of God because people of God are those who have faith and who have relationship with the living God. In the same way, he went on, “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children.” (v.7a) Merely because they are part of Abraham's physical descendants that does not mean in God's eyes they are “Abraham's children”. Abraham was called to be a man of faith who lived out his life in response to the call of God. True men and women of faith are those who live out their lives in response to the call of God.
But then, as he has done earlier in this book, Paul takes elements of Abraham's life to make points about this. He continues, “On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” (v.7b quoting Gen 21;12) Hagar had just had Ishmael but God was reassuring Abraham that Sarah would yet bear him a son, a human impossibility. Paul continues with his logic: “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.” (v.8) In God's eyes Isaac, the miraculous child of promise was Abraham's offspring, not the child by natural means, Ishmael. And to prove his point Paul quotes God's words to Abraham: “For this was how the promise was stated: "At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” (v.9 quoting Gen 18:10,14)
But Paul doesn't rest with just this one illustration; he moves on to speak about Rebekah and Isaac and how Jacob and Esau were born. He starts by making an apparently obvious comment about the twins: “Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac.” (v.10) This is important because although there was the same father, only one child was chosen by God. Now for ease of understanding we need to take the next two verses apart: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad….she was told, "The older will serve the younger.” (v.11a,12b quoting Gen 25:23) Now we are about to move into deep waters. Before Esau and Jacob were born, God tells Rebekah that Esau (who is born first) will serve Jacob. In the middle of those two verses Paul explains why this will be: “in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls.” (v.11b,12a)
We need to think about this. We saw earlier, in the previous series in 8:29, God's process: God foreknew … predestined … called… justified… glorified. Now it is important that we remember what we said then. There is a link between the verses we've just considered. Paul's point is that salvation, or being a child of God, is not about what you do but about the calling of God on your life and, by implication as we saw earlier, how you responded to that call. Jesus, at the end of a parable, declared, “For many are invited (or called), but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:14) The word ‘chosen' here means, “complied with God's requirements for salvation.” Now that is important to remember in respect of Esau. Going back to verses 11b,12a and Paul's reference to “God's purpose in election”, election here means “those who God foresaw from before the foundation of the world as those who would comply with His requirements for salvation”, i.e. who would come in humility and repentance to God, seeking His forgiveness and His life.
When we see the bigger picture like this – as Scripture shows it is – then it is not quite so mysterious as it might first seem when Paul goes on to quote from the minor prophets: “Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (v.13 quoting Mal 1:2,3). We must remember that this later quote was written many centuries later and wasn't part of God's word to Rebekah. It was simply God's assessment of how Esau's life had worked out. Remember we said that election or predestination was all about God's foreknowledge before the foundation of the world. God KNEW how Jacob would turn out and He KNEW how Esau would turn out. Although Jacob was his ‘mother's little boy and a scheming twister, yet in the end he would turn out to be a great man of faith who prophesied over his family. Esau, on the other hand, started out as his father's ‘blue-eyed-boy' but actually despised his birthright and cared little about being part of the family that God was blessing. Esau grew to become the nation of Edom and Edom was consistently against God's people, Israel . No wonder God hated all that Esau stood for.
So to summarise: God's real people are those who are people of faith, while there a lot who appear ‘naturally' to be part of His people but who, in truth are not. Moreover when you follow the family line from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, you see that Isaac was a child of promise, a divinely supernatural miracle, and then Jacob was ‘chosen' over Esau because God knew how both boys would turn out, and the one who initially looks bad but who becomes a man of faith matches God's criteria for His adopted family – believers!
But yet we are going to move into even deeper water, but we'll keep that for the next meditation. In the meantime, read back through this one and if necessary go back to No.41 – The Divine Process, in the previous series, to ensure you understand the way the Bible shows that God works.
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 4
Meditation Title: God of Mercy
Rom 9:14,15 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
Paul is not a modern philosopher. We, or at least I, would speak, even as we have already, about the God who knows and the God who chooses people on the basis of what He knows they will do, how they will respond to His good news, but Paul is working out his theology as he goes along and he simply presents to us what he knows of the Scriptures and will go no further.
But he has just spoken of God who chose the younger twin and rejected the older, accepted Jacob but rejected Esau. It seems, on the surface at least, as if God is simply choosing by whim or fancy and Paul is not going to go behind the scenes like we have done but is just going to face that head on. He faces the apparent problem: “What then shall we say? Is God unjust?” (v.14) That is what it might seem. But Paul won't have that: “Not at all!” And so he explains: “For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Now that is very blunt but when you are facing a holy God who is perfect in every way, whatever He chooses to say or do will always be right, even if we don't understand it, so God says He chooses how He will respond to each person. He doesn't explain why He chooses as He will. If He decides to show mercy and compassion for one and not another, that is up to Him – trust Him, He does what is right. We've sought to explain it in terms of His knowing all thing of this person and how they will act in the future, but the Bible and Paul simply ask us to accept God's wisdom for what it is – perfect!
So Paul declares the basic truth here: “It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.” This whole thing of salvation is not down to us. It doesn't depend on what we think or want or hope – because all of our thinking may be utterly self-centred, even if it looks like we are trying to be good, and that falls short of what God is aiming for.
Now mercy is not a word that is used often in today's world. A dictionary definition is “compassion shown by one to another who is in his power and has no claim to kindness.” This is the thing about mercy, it is not given because you deserve it or have anything of merit that makes you worthy of it. If God shows mercy it is simply because He chooses to. This is where we have to trust that God, being perfect in every way, does what is right. This is the Scriptural position and it needs some reading and thinking to go beyond that simple understanding (which is what we have sought to do previously).
Paul then uses the example of God dealing with Pharaoh in Exodus: “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.” (v.17 quoting Ex 9:16) That needs thinking about. God raised up Pharaoh? Well He certainly brought him onto the pages of biblical history so He certainly raised him up in that sense. But perhaps the Lord had blessed and encouraged Pharaoh's reign in a variety of ways to make him the great and powerful leader that he was. The only trouble is that greatness and power so often breed pride and Pharaoh had a lot of that, and pride made him foolish so he thought he could outwit God. He had become The most powerful man around and his fame would have spread around that part of the world at least, so that when he was brought down, that too would go around that part of the world.
So Paul comments, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (v.18) Hardening Pharaoh's heart was foundational to the story of Moses and Pharaoh. The truth is that Pharaoh already had a hard heart (hard against Moses and his people and hard against God, because that is what pride does) and so when God confronted Pharaoh again and again it just worked to harden his heart even more. Could God have dealt gently with Pharaoh? Gentleness never has any effect on a proud, stubborn and rebellious heart; it is just seen as a sign of weakness. No God chose to deal with Pharaoh in the way He did, so that it would be heard of around the world and people would hear about God.
Now there is an even bigger truth in the background which is not spoken of here because it was not Paul's way or arguing, but the truth is that every man, woman and child on the earth is a sinner and (in Paul's words), the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) or, to put it another way, every single person deserves death. Justice, left to itself, would have every single person destroyed, but God has mercy. God looks for a better way and it is the way of the Cross, the way of repentance and the way of redemption and salvation, but it is pure mercy. You might say that love (and God is love) always looks for a better way out to bless others, but then the question might be, but why should God love the unlovely, love those who hate Him, those who live their lives out turning their backs on Him? Why does He continually seek to draw them to Himself? Divine love and divine mercy are mysteries when it comes to it. All we can do is give up our intellectual struggling and just be very thankful. Amen? Amen!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 5
Meditation Title: Why Blame Us?
Rom 9:19-21 One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 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?' " 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?
Paul has left us with this bald statement: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden,” (v.18) which, at first sight at least, appears to leave no room for free will and puts God in a position of randomly choosing who He will save. Now Paul doesn't go into it in this way for he simply wants to establish God's sovereignty, but suppose God chooses to have mercy on those whose hearts are open to receive Him, and suppose He chooses to harden those whose hearts He alone can see are so utterly fixed that nothing will get through to them? That, I would suggest, is the reality of what the Bible does actually reveal for the Bible does not reveal a form of determinism where people HAVE to act in the way God randomly decrees by whim; no the reality of free will is what we find when we read the Scriptures straight forwardly. God gives people choices and people make choices, it is that simple.
But Paul isn't going down that path; he goes down the path of God's sovereignty but he starts out with the natural response to the starting statement we noted first of all, “One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” (v.19) That is what verse 18 appears to conclude: God is sovereign and so if He decrees I am a bad person, why does He blame me, for surely I can't help it? Now Paul isn't going into deep theology, he simply is concerned for a right heart in response to whatever we find here, so he responds to his own hypothetical question, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (v.20a)
This is a bit like the conclusion that is reached in Job when Job is eventually confronted with God's greatness. The answers to all that happened to Job were there in chapters 1 and 2 but Job didn't know that and God doesn't enlighten him; He just reveals something of His greatness to Job and Job is left saying, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6) The end is like Job is being shown God's greatness and although it is not spelled out, he is being taught to trust this Almighty and all-wise and all-loving being without receiving any long explanations. Have you noticed how God so often does this? The explanations so often come much later after we have come to a place of belief and trust.
Paul seeks to put us into a similar perspective as Job had: “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, `Why did you make me like this?'” 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?” (v.20,21) We have the picture through Jeremiah of God as a Potter (Jer 18), the almighty Creator who can bring whatever changes He wants, and us – we're just like His clay. The thought of clay questioning the Potter is a silly one!
But then Paul continues with his illustration and must have Pharaoh in the back of his mind when he says, “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?” (v.22) In other words supposing God had tolerated Pharaoh's rule over many years, and then tolerated his initial refusals of Moses, knowing that Pharaoh's heart was set and would never change and therefore was due to face judgment, and supposing God held off purely so that His power could be more clearly revealed to His world? i.e. He allowed the judgments (the plagues) to build and build and build to reveal more and more His power. Pharaoh was going to be judged but God held off, giving him opportunity after opportunity to repent, so the power issue actually got greater and greater.
Why might God have done this? He answers himself: “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” (v.23) Actually, says Paul, He did it for the benefit for those whose hearts were not so hard, not set in their ways, so that they might see and realise His greatness and His power and then when they are saved, they will realise even more how wonderful His grace and mercy are, for we could have all been consigned to death as Pharaoh was, but instead He made a way for those of us, not so eternally set in our ways, to turn and be saved. Yes, he continues, this applies, “even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (v.24) Yes, this is for us who have turned to Him and received His salvation, so that we can see and wonder at the incredible nature of His love, His grace and His mercy.
To sum up: seeing what happened to Pharaoh, we realise that we are dealing with an all-mighty, all-powerful, holy God who brings judgment on ongoing, unrepented sin. That could have been us, for we certainly deserved it. The only reason it wasn't, was because we squealed in our state of anguish, “Please save me, please forgive me!” Yet even then God could have ignored us and destroyed us for we were still guilty sinners, but instead He sent His Son to open up a way for our sins to be dealt with according to justice, and for us to be forgiven, but that was all from Him. Instead of judgment there was mercy. That is the wonder that this reveals to us. Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 6
Meditation Title: People of God
Rom 9:24-26 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 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,” 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.'”
Of course, as we have already seen, the above verses flow on from Paul saying, “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,” (v.23) and he then goes on to detail those ‘objects of his mercy' as they themselves (his readers) “whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (v.24) If God deals strongly with some people, for example Pharaoh, it is simply to let us who are receiving His mercy realise how wonderful it is.
He goes on to build this up by quoting the Lord's words to Hosea: “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.” (v.25 quoting Hosea 2:23). In other words, the Lord was saying that there will come people who previously had not been part of God's people but who are now, i.e. Gentiles. Although the original context of Hosea had been about the restoration of the people of Israel, Paul applies the same principle to the Jews and Gentiles and in exactly the same way takes another quote from Hosea: “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.' ” (v.26 quoting Hose 1:10)
But when it comes to the reality of Israel that he had been speaking about earlier (about true Jews), he refers to a prophecy from Isaiah: “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel : "Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.” (v.27 quoting Isa 10:22) i.e. although there were lots and lots of Israelites only a few of them were faithful and qualified as the people of God and were saved, as He will do in the future: “For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” (v.28 quoting Isa 10:23) Indeed he continues the Isaiah quote and extends it to show the measure to which God had gone to separate out the true Israel from unbelieving Israel : “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 .” ( v.29 quoting Isa 1:9).
Let's recap what we've seen so far: speaking of the wonder of God's acts revealing His mercy to believing Jew and Gentile, Paul has used prophetic Scriptures to point out that God's goal was to include Gentiles as well as faithful Jews. To emphasize the ‘faithful' Jews part, he reminds us that time and time again God had brought destructive judgment on the nation to remove the unbelieving so-called Jews and leave the real ones, the real ‘people of God', the faithful remnant. This same separating out of true and false believers will yet come and it is only God's mercy that stops Him wiping out the entire human race. It was His mercy that made provision for us through Jesus on the Cross.
But then Paul turns to the outcome of all this as it appears at first sight: “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel , who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.” (v.30,31) Strangely the situation of Jew and Gentile has not worked out as you perhaps might have thought it would. You would have expected the Jews, who have had a long-standing relationship with the Lord, to have been saved, and Gentiles who had not, would not be saved, but in fact it has been the other way round. Why?
The answer has to be in God's form of salvation – it comes by faith. To receive God's salvation – which comes by believing in the finished work of Christ on the Cross – you have to accept it by faith. That means you simply trust God for His salvation. The alternative is that you don't just trust but you work at being a good person by keeping the rules, the Law. That's what the Jews sought to do but in so doing they failed to maintain a real relationship with the Lord. There is the trouble with following a set of rules, you can follow them (or many of them) without any reference to God but godlessness, doing without God and rejecting or ignoring Him, is the first sin. A part of salvation is receiving the Holy Spirit as our source of power and as our guide and teacher to take us through life, but if we simply focus on the rules and ignore Him, we cannot do that.
And that was Israel 's problem and that was why many Gentiles constitute the bulk of the Church today. The Gentiles hadn't pursued the Law but when they heard of the goodness of the Gospel, they believed and were credited as being righteous. The Jews, on the other hand, have been brought up to follow the Law and put their trust in that, and found simply believing that Jesus was God's Saviour for mankind, difficult. They preferred to hold on to a form of keeping the Law (although they never managed to keep all of it), and thus they rejected God's salvation and in so doing, rejected God. How tragic. Religion can replace God! Beware!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 7
Meditation Title: A Stumbling Block
Rom 9:30-32 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel , who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.
To recap where Paul has got to in this chapter, he started by expressing his anguish for his own people (v.2) and pointed out all the benefits Israel had had (v.3-5). Nevertheless God's word coming to them down through the centuries didn't seem to have produced a godly people. The truth is, he maintained that those who called themselves Israel were not necessarily Israel (v.6), the people of God because God's real people are people of faith like Abraham (v.7). More than this when you consider Esau and Jacob you see God chose Jacob over Esau (v.10-13). This simply reveals God's election and being sovereign God He chooses who He will save (v.15-18) though we noted in passing that God ‘chooses' those who He sees will respond to Him and rejects those with hard immovable hearts. Thus God called the Gentiles so many of them responded to Him while many of those going by the name of Israel wouldn't respond.
Thus we arrived at the first of our verses above noting that many Gentiles were declared righteous because they had faith and believed in Jesus, while many so-called Jews failed to receive God's salvation because they preferred to work for their salvation and thus were unable to respond in simple faith.
Now although Paul has been speaking about Jews here, it is something that is pertinent to many Gentiles, our neighbours perhaps. Many people hear the Gospel message but seem unable to simply accept it for what it is and fail to come in humble repentance and be born again. They are quite happy to be religious and perform religious rituals, go to church on a Sunday morning, go through the service, responding as required, and they are quite happy to appear a nice and good person, perhaps even doing good work in the community, but speak to them about their need of a Saviour and they become upset and agitated. Talk about their need to be born again and to have the Holy Spirit in their lives, and they will declare you are being super-spiritual. They are happy to do good works and they are happy to perform religious ritual but they are unable to come in simple faith believing in Jesus as their Saviour.
The simplicity of this Gospel message for these people, Jew or Gentile, is like a stumbling block as Paul says, “They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." 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.” (v.32,33) The thought of Jesus being the unique Son of God who came to earth as the Lamb of God and gave his life for ours seems an anathema to these people, something to be abhorred and rejected. “All this talk of blood,” they say, “is unhealthy and pagan.” Well, no it's not, it's God way of explaining the only way justice can be appeased in respect of our sin.
To the church in Corinth Paul wrote, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) For the person who trusts in their own goodness, talk of the Cross is abhorrent, but to the person who has been convicted by the Holy Spirit of being a sinner, the Cross is grabbed at like a drowning man grabbing at a straw, and when he or she does so, they find it brings the power to deliver and transform them. A little later on in that same letter Paul wrote, “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe,” (1 Cor 1:21) and then, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:22,23) The Jews wanted to see their Messiah perform wonderful miracles (and were blind when he did so) and the Greeks wanted intellectual wisdom, and so when Paul and others came preaching about Jesus dying for our sins, they couldn't handle this and rejected it.
You can find the same thing today. There are people who are happy to argue and discuss and debate all the ‘big questions' of philosophy but when you simply present the simple message of Jesus dying for our sins, that seems ridiculous to them and they stumble over it and suddenly the conversation is wound up. They cannot see their need, blinded by sin, and for the moment at least the Holy Spirit is unable to show them their plight, they are too confident in their own goodness and fail to see their need. For the Jews they had their history and they had circumcision and they had the Law. Surely that was enough to qualify them to be called the people of God? But as Paul has been showing us, it isn't enough for none of those things is big enough to deal with the sins of the world; only the eternal Son of God is.
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 8
Meditation Title: Zeal without Knowledge
Rom 10:1-4 Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 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. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Paul returns to his starting point about his people. In typical Paul style he is going to reiterate what he has said before but in a slightly different form. Previously he had spoken of his anguish for his own people and had gone through that train of thought that was about real Jews being people of faith, but now most of his people had failed to be that because they preferred to operate on a ‘works' basis, but that doesn't stop him praying for them: “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” (v.1) As a Christian, when you want something, you pray for it if it is something beyond your capability. This may seem so obvious but this is how we cope with our frustrations – we pray.
Was Paul's praying hopeless? He considered not. Time and time again, when he had gone out on his missionary journeys he had gone first to the local synagogue and made contact with the local Jews. Why? Because they were part way prepared to receive the Gospel, and indeed in the early days most of the converts were Jews. It seems they had a good starting place, as far as Paul was concerned: “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God.” (v.2a) That was the truth; they did appear, so often, zealous for God. They sought to maintain a presence as the people of God, despite being overrun by the Romans, they held to their religious traditions and the Law – as they saw it – and yet there is a big ‘but'. “But their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (v.2b) But surely, they would have said, we do have knowledge – we have the knowledge of our history with God which we have carefully held on to and faithfully recorded, and we have the knowledge of the Law which, again, we faithfully hold on to, surely we do have knowledge! But the knowledge that Paul is talking about is the knowledge about Jesus Christ and the knowledge about God's way of salvation revealed in and through him.
Again we need to get in the mind of the Jew of his day, for it is pertinent for living today. Surely, says the Jew, we know about Jesus Christ. He was a preacher, certainly, but no more than that. Our leaders deemed him a rebel and had him put to death to prevent him upsetting the status quo and making the Romans crack down on us. No, we had our religion and were faithful to it and he threatened that; that's all he was, a threat of destabilizing the peace we had, even with the Romans being our overlords. They let us continue our religious practices but he threatened all that.
That was the thinking then (and now) of Judaism and they were blind to the wonder of all he did, blind to all he said, blind to who he clearly was, blind to the resurrection, blind to the incredible changes that took place in all his followers that could only be attributed to his coming back from the dead. No, they were blind to all this and they were blind to the teaching that righteousness comes by simple faith, just like it had done to Abraham, as Paul showed earlier in the book.
Paul's conclusion? “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.” (v.3) They couldn't understand the concept of righteousness coming through faith in the Christ who had come and so they based their righteousness (which they were sure they had) on following the Law and their interpretation of it. Paul explains further: “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (v.4) The Greek word here of ‘end' can also be ‘fulfilled' and that, we suggest, is a clearer way of putting it. Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them .” (Mt 5:17) The Law laid down ways of living in harmony with God and with your neighbour. Jesus came to show and to enable another more realistic way of living in harmony with God and with your neighbour.
When you sinned in the Old Testament period, you offered a sacrifice. Jesus became the one-off sacrifice for all sins and all you had to do was believe that. In the Old Testament period the Law laid down a limited number of ways to live in harmony with your neighbour. When Christ's salvation came, his indwelling Spirit shows us unlimited ways of living at peace and harmony with our neighbour and of bringing God's love and blessing to them. Righteousness is not measured by how many individual ways you can conform to the Law, but by believing in Christ and letting his Spirit lead you in any and every situation of life.
Righteousness thus becomes a practical outworking of life on a moment by moment basis as we are led by the Spirit. That happens when we are aware of His presence – and when we are not, but are just open to God to do with us as He wills. Sometimes we will be clearly aware of His guiding hand on us, speaking to us and showing us the way, and at other times, simply because we are open to Him, we will find He has led us in the path we have taken. The path led by the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, is righteousness. We were declared righteous by God when came to Him believing, in humility and repentance, but thereafter we have been living righteous lives as He has led us. This the Jews found impossible to believe, that the Holy God could indwell us and lead and inspire us, and all that because of the work of Jesus on the Cross. How tragic, as Paul says, that they had so much in their history but failed to see, understand and appropriate the wonderful salvation that God presented to them through His Son.
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 9
Meditation Title: No Spiritual Juggling
Rom 10:5-7 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." 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) "or `Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
Context is always important and Paul has just said about his own people, “they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own,” (v.2,3) and his point has been that Israel had focused on keeping the Law and as far as they were concerned that was the way to please God. Thus they rejected the “believe in Jesus” path to salvation. This matter of righteousness through keeping the Law was important and so Paul spells it out.
He cites Moses, as the law bringer who ought to know what he was talking about: “Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them.” (v.5 where Moses quotes Lev 18:5) Who is the one who, according to Moses, will be considered righteous? “The man who does these things,” i.e. who obeys all the Law, but immediately we say that we have the testimony of the Old Testament prophets who show us that so often Israel were not keeping the Law and were chided by God for it. Perhaps one might ask did anyone ever fully keep every bit of the Law?
So, figuratively speaking, Paul turns away from that thought, the thought of righteousness through obedience to the Law, and turns back to God's declared righteousness through Christ but at the same time he uses quotes from the Old Testament again: “But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, `Who will ascend into heaven?” (v.6 quoting Deut 30:12). Now to understand this we need to look at the context of that quote. Moses had just said to his people, “The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and (if you) turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 30:9,10)
So the achievement of righteousness was conditional on complete obedience and whole heartedness. But, Moses continues, “what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” (Deut 30:11,12) Look, said Moses, it's not as if we have to get someone to go up to heaven to get this Law, because God has come down and given it to us, so it is plain and obvious and in front of us to be obeyed. But Paul has just said, “righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, `Who will ascend into heaven?” because he says, “(that is, to bring Christ down).” i.e. if you, as a seeker say this is all too difficult, we need someone to come down from heaven, a messiah, you are rejecting and bringing Christ down to a human prophet-teacher level, rejecting the fact that he HAS come down from heaven!
The Moses quote in Deuteronomy goes on, “Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” (Deut 30:13,14) i.e. you don't have to cross the seas to find it, it's here in front of you. Paul's second quote thus reads, ““But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart….` Who will descend into the deep?” (v.6,7) as if to say, we need someone to die for us, because that IS exactly what Christ HAS done, or as he then puts it, “(that is, to bring Christ up from the dead),” (v.7b) or to pretend he never died.
Then Paul just quotes that part of Deuteronomy we've just cited, “But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (v.8 quoting Deut 30:14) Moses simply meant, the Law had been brought, you have it and have spoken it out and it's now in your heart. Paul takes it on in the present context: “that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 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.” (v.8,9) i.e. the word we are talking about is that which has been encapsulated in this phrase that the early church used as shorthand, “ 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.” (v.9) THAT was all it needed, that was faith, not having to follow a long set of rules. Like Moses' people the modern Jews had no excuse. Moses' people had the Law in front of them; the modern Jews had the Gospel simply displayed before them. It was that simple!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 9-11|
Meditation No. 10
Meditation Title: Speak it out
Rom 10:10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Every word in Scripture is significant and so when a verse starts with ‘For' that is a link word that shows what now comes is a direct follow-on from what has just been said. Just before the verse above, Paul had written, “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.” (v.9) So in verse 10 he just emphasizes what he wrote in verse 9 and when Paul repeats himself in emphasis it means we need to look and think carefully at what he is saying.
Christian salvation, if we may put it like that, comes through a twofold operation of the individual. The first part, according to our present verse although put in the reverse order in verse 9, is an internal thing; it is belief. When we believe something we accept particular information as true. In verse 9 Paul says that the information is that Jesus rose from the dead. That is particularly significant because, as we've noted in earlier meditations, Christ's resurrection is what marks him out from any other human being in history, and is the thing that validates his claim to be the unique Son of God who has come from heaven to die for our sins. Whatever else a ‘Christian' might believe, this is fundamentally essential. In fact, we might suggest that unless an individual does believe this they cannot be a Christian for they do not believe that Jesus is God's Son, validated by his resurrection, who has died for their sins. It is that important.
But note that it says “believe in your heart.” When writers speak about the heart they tend to mean that inner part of us that is the centre of our personality, emotions and even will. This means that salvation comes when the individual is utterly committed to this belief from their inner being. This is not some vague half-hearted belief; they now stake their lives on it (for indeed they give their lives to God). So the first part of this twofold operation of the individual that brings salvation is this deep inner conviction that what they have heard about Christ dying for them is true.
But there is a further thing here, told to us in these two verses, and it is that when we believe in this manner, we are justified. It is at the point of inner conviction and belief, that God declares that the finished work of Christ applies to our life and we are declared redeemed, free of guilt, our punishment having been paid for by Christ. Now at that moment in our history we are declared forgiven. Our eternal destiny is changed. In heaven a new child of God is recorded.
But there is yet another aspect to this. Up until this point we have done nothing except surrender to God and ask for forgiveness. Yes, we have come to a point of belief about Christ, but as yet we have done nothing about that. Now if that is all that happened and nothing else followed we might question the reality of the conviction, surrender and plea for forgiveness and, more especially, the heart belief. If the heart belief is real then something else will follow – we will speak it out! “if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord” (v.9) and “with your mouth…. you confess and are saved.” If the belief is genuine you will speak out your commitment to it.
When we ‘confess' we acknowledge and confirm and thus, we will speak out our submission to God and our acknowledgement that Jesus is not only our Saviour but also our Lord, the One who rules over our life, who leads and guides us from now on. When it says “and are saved,” it means saved experientially, i.e. we enter into the experience on a daily basis of Christ leading us into the blessing of all that he has on his heart for us. To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) All he was saying is that we are what we are because of God's work of salvation through Christ and we have been made to live out good lives under his guidance and direction and empowering, and all of this He had on His heart for us beforehand.
He knew we would eventually turn to Him when he looked into the future even before the foundation of the world, as we have seen in previous meditations in Romans 8. He knew what we would be like and what would be the very best for us and He seeks to lead us into this. Yes, part of it is the lifelong work of changing us into Jesus' likeness, but it is also about us being fulfilled in becoming the people of God's design, and it is also about us being used by Him to bless His world, other people in it.
When we speak out and declare our commitment and submission to Christ we are taking the first steps of being used as a witness to the watching world, in heaven and on earth, and as we do that, so we enter more fully into the salvation that is on God's heart for us, the life that includes receiving His blessing and being a blessing. Until we take these initial steps of belief and speaking it out, we will never be able to enter into all that He has for us.