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TEXT: Romans 9:30-10:21
SUBJECT: Romans #18: What Went Wrong?
The prophets of Israel could see into the future. They couldn't see everything, of course, but they could see what the Lord wanted them to. Typically, they saw two things: what was going to happen in the near future, and what was going to happen much later.
In the near future, things would be bad for Israel. They were a sinful people, and the Lord would not put up with it much longer. The prophet Joel cried-
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
And sound an alarm in my holy
Let all the inhabitants of the land
tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming,
For it is at hand:
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness.
This is not an isolated prophecy; pages and pages could be read to the same effect, using the same kind of language, and images even harsher than these. Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and the others were prophets of doom-in the short run.
But the short-run wasn't all they could see. The judgments of God were terrifying and sure, but they were not final. On the other side of famine and war, disease, and exile, there was a bright future for the People of God-
The wilderness and the solitary place shall
be glad for them,
The desert shall rejoice, and
blossom as the rose.
The good men of Israel believed these promises, and patiently waited for God to act on behalf of His People. Through His goodness and power, they would enjoy a New Exodus, receive a New Covenant, and be ruled and secured by a New David, the Messiah. All these things would happen-they must happen-because the Lord is Righteous! He keeps His Word and makes good on His Covenant.
This was the hope of Israel; it was Paul's hope.and also the hope of the men who hated Jesus and wanted to stamp out His name in the world! They all wanted the Messiah to come and set things right, but while Paul said He had come, his critics said He hadn't.
Messiah couldn't have come-they said-because the prophecies were not being fulfilled. There was no king in Israel; the nation was largely in exile, and the people were as sinful and guilty as ever!
If Jesus is the Messiah, how do you explain all this?
What went wrong?
This is the question Paul sets out to answer in today's text, Romans 9:30-10:21. What went wrong? How come Israel, for the most part, is not inheriting the Promises?
The question comes up in vv.30-31. How come the Gentiles-who did not seek a right standing with God-have found one, while the Jews-who did-did not find what they were looking for?
Paul might have said they were not sincere: they said they wanted to be right with God, but it was all words. He didn't say this, however, because it isn't true. They were sincere, and Paul knew it, 10:2-
For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God.
How did Paul know this? Because he had been one of them. He was the truest man in Israel, willing to live, die, and kill in defense of the Law and the good of his country. But for all this, he was not right with God!
Therefore, it wasn't a matter of sincerity or enthusiasm: Israel had plenty of both, but neither one put them with right with the Lord.
What were they doing wrong? V.31 tells us-
They did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the Law.
What does this mean? It doesn't mean Israel was trying to earn the favor of God by keeping His Law. They weren't trying to do that because they already had it; God chose them centuries before He gave them the Law, and the Preamble to the Ten Commandments reminds them of His pre-existing favor-
I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
It means Israel was looking to the Law as their savior. Not just the 'rules' it contains, but the whole thing. They thought they were in good standing with God because they were Abraham's descendants, they were circumcised, they worshiped at the Temple, they offered the sacrifices, they kept the holidays: in a word, because they were Jews, children of the Law!
This is what they looked to for their salvation. Paul knew it because he himself had felt this way. Contrasting the true Israel to the false, Paul said-
If anyone thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the Law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless.
This is the fly in their ointment: the Law was the gift of God and a very good one, but it had been turned into an idol; what was meant to help them on their way to Christ, became-
A stumbling stone, a rock of offense.
Think of what it cost Paul to become a Christian, and to find his salvation and identity in Christ alone. It meant all the things he prized the most, the things his nation loved, the things that nourished and sustained and empowered his fathers were-
Loss and dung for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ.
Every Jew is tangled up in the history of Israel and not many of them are getting free of it to find salvation in Christ. This cuts Paul to the heart, and drives him to pray for his beloved countrymen. Having suffered so much from them, you'd think he would resent them and smirk at their lost state, but he didn't-
Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer for Israel is, that they might be saved.
Like Jeremiah who was threatened and jailed and beaten by the rulers of Jerusalem, Paul's heart churned within him as he thought of their impending doom. He didn't want them to get what they had coming! He longed for their salvation, prayed for it, and did everything humanly possible to see them have it.
THE FATAL MISTAKE
As I said earlier, the Jews of Paul's time were dead-in-earnest about their religion. Paul, a fervent man himself, never criticized their enthusiasm; it was not passion they lacked, but knowledge, 10:2.
They knew a lot about the Law, but they didn't know what the Law was for. They thought the Law was God's way of making Israel righteous; it isn't that-their own history demonstrates it isn't. What the Law is is God's way of bringing Israel to Christ, v.4-
Christ is the end of the law to everyone who believes.
.means He is its goal.
The Law was like the John the Baptist. He was sent from God-the Bible says-but not to be the center of attention. He came to introduce The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When his friends winced at Jesus baptizing more than John, John didn't share in their hard feelings, but said with joy-
He must increase, but I must decrease.
You're at a wedding. As the piano plays softly three pretty girls in lavender gowns walk to the front and take their place on the left side of the church. Then the bride comes in wearing white, and everyone stands to honor her. As the preacher intones, 'Dearly beloved, we are gathered this day.', somebody yells out from the back, 'Hey, you on the far left, move to the middle!'
The man's a lunatic or a fool-or he doesn't know what a wedding is. No matter how pretty the girl on the far left is, the wedding is for the bride-not the bridesmaid!
WHAT THE LAW OFFERS
Does the Law offer Israel anything? Sure it does: a good, long, and prosperous life on earth-if they would keep it. But they didn't keep it, and so it gave them nothing but a long list of curses. You can read them in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.
WHAT FAITH OFFERS
If the Law brought the curses of God, faith in Christ will secure His blessings. This brings us to vv.6-8, and what have to be one of Paul's most challenging quotes. The lines are taken from Deuteronomy 30:12-14, and Paul inserts commentary throughout-
But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, 'Do not say in your heart, Who will ascend into heaven? (that is to bring Christ down from above) or, 'Who will descend into the abyss? (that is to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? 'The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart' (that is the word of faith which we preach).
The meaning of these verses depend on where they are. They're in Deuteronomy 30. In chapter 28, Moses warned Israel of the calamities that would befall them if they forsook the Lord-famine, disease, war, exile, and more. In time, Israel would suffer every one of them-and Moses knew they would, because he knew what kind of people they were.
But after all their suffering, God would deliver them by writing His Law into their hearts and filling their mouths with it. This is an earlier version of the New Covenant we find in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and other places.
What Moses promised way back when, God has done in and through the Messiah! The Law didn't make Israel obedient to God, but faith in Christ does!
As Paul was dictating these words, Jews and Gentiles were-
Confessing with their mouths the Lord Jesus and believing in the hearts that God raised Him from the dead.
And being saved.
Not by the works of the Law, but by faith in Christ.
Paul doesn't say, 'Take my word for it'. Current history is proving him right. Both Jews and Gentiles were calling on the name of the Lord and not being put to shame.
Rather than contradicting the Law and prophets, this was fulfilling what they had said centuries before.
PREACH THE WORD
Since, 'faith in Christ' is God's one and only way of salvation, people have got to hear the good news, and this means they have got to hear it from somebody. And, though we're all eager for God to send someone else, He wants us send us. Let us, therefore, join Paul and-
Not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith, as it is written, 'the just shall live by faith'.
After this brief exhortation, Paul returns to the subject: What went wrong with Israel? It wasn't that God did anything wrong, or failed to do something right. Historically, He gave Israel every privilege, and in the present, He sent Gospel preachers to them wherever they were, v.18-
Have they not heard? Yes, indeed:
Their sound has gone out
To all the earth,
And their words to the ends
Of the world.
Read the Book of Acts, and you'll see Peter preaching in Jerusalem to both its residents and Jews from nineteen other countries; Barnabas preached in Antioch and Cyprus; Paul preached everywhere! The Gospel reached into every synagogue; in one generation, Jews in Israel and North Africa, West Asia and Southern Europe heard the Good News of what God had done in Christ.
But the great majority did not believe.
This was a rerun of Israel's tragic history, for centuries before God had complained of His people's stubbornness in light of His patient offers of mercy-
All day long I have stretched
Out my hands
To a disobedient and contrary
Near the start of this sermon, I posed the question: What went wrong? Why did Israel not receive the promised blessings? It wasn't because God failed them, but because they failed God. God is faithful, but Israel is not. For all their sincerity, morality, and religion, they wouldn't take the righteousness God gives in His Gospel, and because of that, they did not get it.
We won't either. Sincerity doesn't save. Morality doesn't save. Not even religion saves. Jesus saves.
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