It’s easy to get locked into one way of thinking.
• When you do things the same way for so long…
• When you’ve been taught all your life that this is the way things are and no other…
• When logic tells you that if you change your mind you will be indicting, not just the way you have always thought, but the way your mother and father and their mothers and fathers and their mothers and fathers have thought and lived for generations - you will be saying they were wrong and are condemned.
It’s not easy to change.
That’s why Paul writes with such empathy and compassion about the Jews who had missed the Savior and forfeited their salvation. Rom. 9:2-5 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. 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.
It’s not because they weren’t sincere. Look at Paul’s own life – his persecution of the church, his imprisoning and putting to death of Christians – he did it believing he was serving God.
It’s not because they didn’t work hard enough - Rom 10:2 “I can testify about them that they are zealous for God…”
Yet, Paul writes that, though they are zealous for God, “…their zeal is not based on knowledge”. As the apostle John writes, He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. (Jn 1:11).
All the zeal, all the hard work, all the sincerity in the world amounts to nothing if you are wrong.
• They rejected the Savior, they had stubbornly chosen their own path. That path was paved with self-righteousness and it led in the opposite direction from God. Listen to vs. 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.
• For centuries, they had trudged down this path of self-righteousness – blinders of pride and an attitude of “we’re God’s people” keeping them from seeing how far away from God they were traveling.
• In fact, the path God had set for them was one, not of self-righteousness but of his righteousness – and it’s end (or goal, fulfillment, ultimate destination) was Christ (“Christ is the end of the law” Rom. 10:4)
• That was the purpose of the law, Paul writes in Galatians – “to bring us to Christ.”
• Christ himself said, “I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law.”
• At the end of the road of God’s righteousness, of his law, of all the prophets and miracles and exiles – was Christ.
• Everything God did was to bring them to Christ.
• But they continued on their own path of self-righteousness – what they assumed and insisted God wanted. And one day they looked up and God was nowhere to be found!
That’s a scary thought. That we could – in all sincerity, with all zeal, with the best of intentions – find ourselves walking away from God – and be too proud, too headstrong to admit that we are wrong. That what we thought God wanted, wasn’t what God wanted at all. You think it couldn’t happen? Paul writes in 1 Cor. 10:1-5,11-12 – For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert…. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
Now, in 10:5, Paul begins a contrast of these two paths – first the path of righteousness by keeping the law. He quotes Moses, “The man who does these things will live by them.” It’s a lot like what James says – if you are going to live by the law, you had better keep all of it, and keep it perfectly, because if you break the law, even one commandment, you have broken the whole law and are condemned by it, not justified by it.
Here’s the contrast – vs. 6-8 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). 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.
Let me tell you what Paul is saying: Righteousness by law keeping is not attainable by humans. But righteousness by faith is a path that is clearly marked and doesn’t require that we climb to the heights of heaven or plumb the depths of the abyss to find it. In fact, it is not a path that we can or should travel alone – we have a guide who leads us and encourages us and assures us along the way. It is not a path newly forged – real righteousness has always been by faith. In fact Paul takes us back to the OT -- Deut. 30:11-14 Now 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?” 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.
Jeremiah echoes that promise – Jer. 31:33-34 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
God’s call to salvation is not exclusive to one people. It is not shrouded in mystery and complicated rituals. It is accessible and universal – it is delightfully simple. Romans 10:9-13 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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Don’t misunderstand – when Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – far from being minimal in its requirements or a ritual formula to be incanted, it is a call to the most radical, absolute commitment of one’s life that can be demanded. It is an absolute surrender to the will of God.
In vs. 14, Paul takes us back to his concern for the Jews. Did no one tell them? Perhaps the news of the Messiah was obscure and hidden? Were they cheated out of their spiritual birthright because someone forgot to let them in on God’s plan?
• And so, in vss. 14-17, Paul walks us through this lyrical progression of the planting and the maturing of faith – 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? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” … Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
• Was the message preached? Yes. Was the gospel clear? Yes. Did God leave anything about his call uncertain? No.
So where does the problem lie? Look at vs. 16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”
Read vss. 18-21 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
• Hardened hearts, disobedience, obstinacy.
• Ignorance is not always a lack of information. Ignorance is often a choice we make, an attitude of the heart. There is no one harder to teach than the person who believes he knows it all.
What lies at the end of the path you are traveling? Is Christ your goal? Do you walk by faith? Or – be honest with yourself – is it a path of self-righteousness – self-confident of your own goodness and piety – certain that you are saved because you have performed the right rituals and you go to the right church and you’ve fulfilled God’s demands to the letter of the law.
It is a dangerous path to walk – and unnecessary. God’s path to righteousness is paved with grace, not law – it leads to Christ, and he calls you to come and follow him.
Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
Let’s spend just a few moments in chapter 11 as we close, because in this chapter, we find hope and redemption for those who seem beyond hope and redemption.
Years ago, Diana’s dad had some native pecan trees growing in their yard. The shells were small and hard, the meat wasn’t very tasty – they just weren’t worth much. Then her dad took some branches from some papershell pecan trees and grafted them into the native trees. Those branches grew and budded and began to produce those wonderful large, tasty pecans that are so delicious – and you could crack them with your fingers.
Paul uses that kind of imagery to describe what God did with the Gentiles. Those Jews had grown hard and fruitless and rebellious toward God. And so God cut off the native branches and grafted in the Gentiles and soon they were growing and producing fruit and thriving in the grace of God’s love.
It was sad for the Jews, but it created an opportunity for God’s love to be extended to everyone because the Jews had rejected God. But does that mean that God was finished with the Jews? Well, listen to Paul in 11:11-12 - Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
What is Paul saying? He’s saying that if the inclusion of the Gentiles because of the Jews’ rebellion was such an occasion for joy and celebration, wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if God’s people Israel turned their hearts back to God and were re-grafted into God’s kingdom? He says in vs. 15 – For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
He is saying, don’t count Israel out. God is never finished – no one is ever beyond redemption. In fact, God has always kept a remnant faithful to him – look back in vs 5: So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is not longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
God’s redemption and salvation are always by grace and always by God’s mercy. God celebrates that you and I, Gentiles, have been added into his kingdom, but he has always had a heart for his people Israel, and nothing would thrill him more than for them to experience the same grace that he has extended to us through the blood of his Son, Jesus.
And just about the time we think we have God figured out, that his reasoning begins to make sense, then we are blown away by the amazing, incomprehensible love of God who loves us in spite of it all –
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
Posted on Sun, April 22, 2012
by John Roberts