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What Great Advantage…What Great Sorrow (Romans 9.1-5)

13 Mar

The following sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church of Benbrook on Sunday morning, March 13, 2011

This morning, we finally return to our study of Romans. We started our study in April of last year, right after Easter Sunday. And after eleven months, and taking a break for Christmas and to study the grace of giving, we have made it half way through this watershed book. Paul is writing the church in Rome to engender their support of his plans to take the gospel to Spain (see Romans 15.24). It seems that Paul is laying out the gospel to the church, and saying, “If we can agree on the gospel together, help me take this gospel to Spain.”

In the previous eight chapters of Romans, Paul has covered some incredible ground. His letter is basically about justification, or how it is that a person is made right with God. The short version is very clear:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16-17 ESV)

Everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, is made right with God by faith in what God has done for sinners on their behalf. Paul explained that the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness, and that Jews are no better off than Gentiles for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Even Abraham was made right with God by faith. When we are justified by faith we have peace with God. Those who have been redeemed have been set free from bondage to sin and have been raised to walk in a new life, as slaves to righteousness. Life in the Spirit is life and peace, and even though we are called to share in the sufferings of Christ, we know that God is sovereign over all things.

With the ninth chapter of Romans, the book makes a major shift. In fact, the great temptation in preaching and teaching through Romans is to move from chapter 8 to chapter 12 for the twelfth chapter begins the practical application section of his letter. But the three chapters between are filled with some incredible biblical teachings about the doctrine of election and about God’s relationship to the Jewish people both now and into eternity. No doubt, there are some difficult teachings ahead, but they are just as much the very breath of God as the first eight chapters and the last three chapters.

Unceasing Anguish in My Heart

In the first five verses of chapter 9, Paul makes an interesting transition from chapter 8. Chapter 8 ended with these incredible words; “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” and this statement was made after describing in detail the sufferings of “all these things.” But he shifts gears, at least it seems to the reader. After eight chapters of extolling the gospel of faith and of being made right with God, not by works of the law but by faith in Christ, Paul was left to answer a question that must have nagged on his soul for years: What about the Jews? Why did the Jews miss the Messiah? Why did his own people not accept the gift of righteousness offered by God through Christ’s death on the cross?

I greatly admire Paul’s attitude towards his fellow Jews. Many of the Jews had worked very hard to make Paul’s life miserable. Paul had been stoned and left for dead by an angry Jewish mob during his missionary travels (see Acts 14.19). On five separate occasions, he had been whipped by Jewish authorities with 39 lashes (see 2 Corinthians 11.24). Many of the Jews had spread lies and rumors about his teaching ministry (see Acts 21.21). And yet after all of that, Paul did not harbor a bitter heart towards the Jewish people. Sure, he got frustrated at times and stopped preaching among the Jews and took his message to the Gentiles (see Acts 18.6), but he never turned bitter against the Jews in his heart. He could say with honesty that his heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they would be saved (see Romans 10.1). Paul was able to retain the heart of Jeremiah instead of developing the hardened heart of Jonah. The prophet Jeremiah was given a message of judgment to preach, but he wept over the people who would hear it because he longed for their salvation. On the other hand, Jonah was given a message of judgment and wept because the judgment never came because he wanted to see their destruction. Paul never lost his great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart for the Jewish people.

To Them Belong

Part of what made Paul’s heart break so much for the Jewish people is that God had set them up with every advantage possible to make it easy for them to receive the Messiah. He describes the incredible privileged relationship that Israel had with YHWH in great detail.

a. To the Jews belong the adoption

This is the only place in the New Testament where the idea of adoption is used in reference to the Jewish people. Paul used it several times to speak of Christians who have received the spirit of adoption (see Romans 8.15, Romans 8.23, and Galatians 4.5). In chapter 11, Paul will add a gardening image and speak of the Gentiles being grafted into God’s tree (see Romans 11.11-24). But generally speaking, the idea of adoption is not used of the Jews.

But Paul is correct in saying that the Jewish nation was adopted by God as His people in a sense. Consider the words of Moses,

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments… (Deuteronomy 7.6-9 ESV)

Though Moses did not use the image of adoption, it is very clear that God chose Israel to be His people. They were “not His people” and then He chose them to become His people. God adopted them into His family. Israel had a favored nation status with God from very early on in the story of history. And it had nothing to do with them, but it had everything to do with God’s choice. To them belonged the adoption.

b. To the Jews belong the glory

Paul does not describe what “glory” he is talking about, but most certainly he is speaking of the Shekinah glory of God. The Shekinah glory is the divine presence of God that appears in majestic form several times throughout the Old Testament story. For instance, it is the glory of God that led the people of out of Egypt in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was the Shekinah glory of God that covered the mountain with a cloud as Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. It was the Shekinah glory of God that filled the Temple on the day of dedication with such presence that the priests were not even able to enter the building. It was the Shekinah glory that dwelled behind the veil in the Most Holy Place.

The Jews alone had been witness to this awesome glory of God. They had witnessed the glory of God with their own eyes.

c. To the Jews belong the covenants

When we hear “covenants,” we instinctively think of “old” and “new.” However, it is more likely that Paul is thinking of the different covenants that God had made with the Jewish people throughout their history. God made a covenant with Abraham to make him into a great nation (see Genesis 12). God made a covenant with Moses to bring the people out of Egypt and into the promised land (see Exodus 3). God made a covenant with David that his descendants would rule on the throne of Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 7.12-16). And God remained faithful to these covenants, both in the historical past and also in the historical future.

Paul also speaks of how the promises of God belong to the Jews (see Romans 9.4). It seems that the promises of God and covenants of God are very similar.

d. To the Jews belong the giving of the Law

Unlike any other people group in the world, God had entrusted the Jews with the very oracles of God by giving them the Law (see Romans 3.2). God spoke directly to the Jews and gave them His commandments. It was no mystery what God expected of His people. If anyone on the face of the earth should have known how to be in a right relationship with the Creator, it should have been the Jews.

e. To the Jews belong the worship

The word that the ESV translates as “worship” is literally “service,” but a specific kind of service. The word is used sparingly in the New Testament, and when it is used it speaks of the service of worship. Consider Hebrews 9.1: “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship (“service”) and an earthly place of holiness.” The writer of Hebrews is clearly talking about the Tabernacle worship, and even used the word “service” again in Hebrews 9.6 to speak of the ritual service of the priests. This is why the NIV translates Romans 9.4 as “temple worship.”

Paul is saying that the Jews alone were privileged to have been given the tabernacle and the temple and the sacrificial system and the priesthood to worship the Most High God.

f. To the Jews belong the patriarchs

The patriarchs are the fathers of the Jewish people, most notably Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. It was through God’s relationship with these historical figures that God established His covenants with the Jews. Consider again the words of Moses, “It is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 7.8). The reason that Jews had been blessed is because they were descendants of the patriarchs who were recipients of the promises of God.

g. To the Jews belong the lineage of the Christ

The final advantage of the Jews is that the Christ would come from the physical lineage of the Jewish people. The Christ would be from the line of David, and the Jews alone could boast of knowing that the Messiah would come from among their own people.

What great advantage the Jewish people over all the peoples on the earth. To them belonged the adoption, the Shekinah glory, the covenants and promises of God, the Law, the temple worship and sacrifices and priesthood, the patriarchs, and the lineage of the Messiah. And yet despite all of the great advantages of the Jews, they missed the Messiah. And this is why Paul had great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart.

Great Advantages Does Not Equal Salvation

Just because the Jewish people had been give such great advantages does not mean that the Jewish people were saved. Great advantages does not mean salvation. And if anyone knew this, it was the apostle Paul. In Philippians, he listed all of the great advantages given him in his life and all the advantages that he had earned. Paul was

5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. (Philippians 3.5-6 ESV)

And yet, despite all of these great advantages, Paul knew that they did not equate to being saved. Salvation was not about the advantages we have been given, but about faith in Christ, which is why he wrote,

7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3.7-9 ESV)

All of the advantages of the Jewish people mean nothing. The only thing that means anything is becoming a new creation by faith (see Galatians 6.15).

But it is not only the Jews who often confuse great advantages with salvation. Many people in our own culture confuse being saved with the advantages of their life. For instance, many assume that because their parents are Christians that they are Christians too, as if salvation is something that is passed down genetically. You might come from a long line of Christians, your great granddaddy might have been a preacher or missionary, but that means absolutely nothing in regards to your salvation. Your lineage does not equate to salvation.

Others think that the advantage of their Christian education equates to salvation. Some people think they are saved because they grew up in church. What they are really saying is that they were given the advantage of being brought to church by their parents, and in doing so, they gained some knowledge about the Bible and the gospel. But that is not the same thing as being saved and reborn and having faith in Christ.

Some think that the advantage of being a member of a church equates to salvation, or being a citizen of a “Christian nation,” whatever that means. Some are convinced that because they were raised with a strong moral fiber that that equates to being saved. Just because you were given the advantage of a good upbringing does not mean that you have saving faith in Christ.

None of these advantages means anything. The only thing that matters in your standing before God is whether or not you have been reborn and redeemed by grace through faith. What is sad, and what was sad to Paul about the Jews is that those who had been given great advantages failed to translate those advantages into saving faith.

Great Advantage Sometime Becomes a Barrier to Faith

Which is another point about great advantages: sometimes they actually become a barrier to faith instead of a stepping stone into faith. How many times do we see a spoiled rich kid who was given every advantage as a child, educated in the finest private schools, traveled all over Europe, inherited a great fortune, given a position in his father’s company, and yet all of those privileges produced an entitlement attitude. People who have been given a great advantage often assume that all advantages belong to them by their birthright. We see this in celebrities, athletes, and politicians all the time.

But do we now see this in our nation, too? We live in a nation that has been blessed with peace and prosperity by the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Our standard of living, our health care, our homes, our food supply, our clothing, our entertainment are leaps and bounds above most of the rest of the world. And yet at the height of our blessings, our national attitude towards faith in Christ is at an all time low. It is un-American to say that Jesus is the only way to be made right with God. It is un-American to speak about morality in terms of the Bible. All of the great advantages that God has given to us personally and as a nation are becoming barriers to faith in Christ. We assume the advantages are ours by birthright, and one of those advantages is eternal life in heaven. And yet without faith in Christ those advantages only lead to great sorrow and unceasing anguish.

In what are you trusting to make you right with God? When you stand before God on the day of judgment will you lean upon the advantages given to you? Will you appeal to your Christian heritage or your Christian education or your Christian morality, all of which have been given to you by someone else? Or will you stand upon your faith in Christ, in your rebirth into a new creation?

Faith in Christ is much different than standing upon advantages. Faith in Christ means that you are totally convinced that you are sinner, that you have rebelled against the King of Kings, and that you stand under the wrath of God and His judgment. Faith in Christ means that you believe that there will never be a way that you can become right with God on your own. You can’t do enough good things to overcome your insubordination to the King. Faith in Christ means that you believe that despite your rebellion, God loves you and actually send His Son Jesus Christ to take your sins upon Him, to die on the Cross for your sin and in your place. Faith in Christ means that you believe that God raised Jesus up from the dead on the third day, and now this resurrection Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father and will one day return to judge the living and the dead. Faith in Christ means that you have asked Jesus to forgive you of your sins, to cleanse you of all unrighteousness, and you have given your heart, mind, and soul over to Him. Faith in Christ means that you have become a new creation in Christ, that the Spirit of God is now living in your soul, and that you are being molded into the image of Christ daily. Faith in Christ means that your affections have changed dramatically as you now love the things of God, the ways of God, and the people of God.

Do you have great advantages or great faith? It makes an eternal difference.

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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Sermons - Romans

 

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