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TEXT: Romans 2:1-3:20
SUBJECT: Romans #5: Jews Need the Gospel
The Gospel is for everyone. It is for men, women, and children. It is for the young, the middle-aged, and the old. It is for white people, blacks, Asians, Islanders, and every combination thereof. The Gospel is for billionaires, for beggars, and for people in-between. It is for conservatives and liberals, for moderates, Communists, fascists, and for people who have no opinion. The Gospel is for gay men, for married women, and for people whose orientation we can only guess at. The Gospel is for Catholics and Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and for people who claim no religion of any kind.
The Gospel is for everyone. This is one of the major themes in Paul's letter to the Romans, but not everyone agreed with him. The church in Rome was made up of two kinds of people-Jews and Gentiles. In the first chapter, vv.18-32, Paul proves that Gentiles need the Gospel. Of course they do: Deep down, they know God, but they don't like Him as He is. So they pervert Him into something He is not. They make an Infinite God into an idol-a bird, a beast, or a creeping thing. Their false religion leads to shameful living. Paul gives a long list of their sins, and it's nowhere near complete.
The Gentiles need the Gospel because they're sunk in sin and under the wrath of God. Every Jew in the church knew this, and I can hear the 'Amens' ringing from the pews as the first chapter was read out loud.
But as the man read on, the church fell silent. For chapters 2-3 told them the Jews need the Gospel every bit as much as the Gentiles. And for the same reason-
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
No honest Jew would say he was wholly without sin-that he had never had an idle thought or stole a lustful glance, or ever felt a twinge of envy. The most observant Jew was far from perfect. This, however, is not Paul's point-that the Gentiles are Giant Sinners and the Jews are Little Sinners. No, what he says-and what hushed his first hearers-is something far more radical than that. Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees admits-
'We're as bad as they are', sunk just as deeply in the same sins, and every bit as much under the wrath of God. The Gospel is for everyone-because everyone needs it.
My last sermon was 'Gentiles Need the Gospel', and today's is 'Jews Need the Gospel'. Whatever else can be learned from the chapters is secondary to it's big idea, an idea not well received in the First Century. Or the Twenty-First. God give us the grace to hear it, for Christ's sake. Amen.
The second chapter opens with an accusation-
Therefore, you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for whatever you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
Who is this man so eager to pass judgment on others? We've all known his type, both in the church and out of it, but Paul has a particular kind of man in mind. He is a Jewish man who confuses 'receiving the Law' with 'keeping the Law'.
He is quick to condemn the Gentiles for the awful things they're up to, but-for all his moral outrage-he's doing the same things himself. You remember the famous preacher always tearing into homosexuals while paying them to meet his own gay desires. This is what Paul charges Israel with-looking down on the Gentiles while, at the same time, living like Gentiles.
How did Paul know they were this way? He knew it because he was one of them. He was the flowering of Jewish culture; Paul's the man every Jewish mother wanted her son to grow up to be-A Pharisee of the Pharisees.
But for all this, his life was no better than the Gentile's! We know it wasn't because he said so. In Romans 7:7, he admits to living in breach of the Tenth Commandment-
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor''.
However moral Paul's outward life was, on the inside he was a tangle of lust, resentment, and envy, with a bitter grudge against the Lord, whom he thought, did not give him a wife as pretty as his neighbor's or a house as big, or an ox as strong. Lust, envy, resentment, and animosity to God sounds a lot like a Gentile.
This is not the only charge he laid against himself. In I Timothy 1:13, he calls himself-
A blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man.
Put the words together. A blasphemer is one who speaks ill of God, a persecutor one who torments His people, and insolent means proud and smug. These are not the words you think of when you hear the names, Abraham, Moses, David, and the other heroes of Israel. They sound more like Pharaoh-
Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice and let Israel go?
Or Jezebel, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, or Haman. All Gentiles and all monsters of iniquity.
This is what Israel had become-and not just the worst elements (like the Publicans), but the best (like Paul). Wagging the finger at others and doing the same thing themselves.
This means, if it is right for God to pass judgment on the Gentiles for their sodomy, boasting, and backbiting, it is also right for Him to judge the Jews for their sodomy, boasting and backbiting.
If He doesn't, the Judge in Heaven is as crooked as the judges on earth, a conclusion no self-respecting Jew could affirm. And rightly so, for it was their father, Abraham, who urged God to do the right thing-not because He was tempted not to-but because-
The Judge of all the earth shall do right.
Paul doesn't quote this verse to support his case, but he refers to Psalm 62 and Proverbs 24 to the same effect-
God will render to each man according to his deeds.
The Jews had an answer to Paul's charge. Of course God is just, but this is not all He is: He is also merciful, and especially to Israel. Psalm 136, for example, says twenty-six times-
For His mercy endures forever.
Paul is well-aware of God's mercy to people who don't deserve it, but he knows what the mercy is for, v.4-
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
Why did God spare Israel time after time? Not to give them more time to sin, but more time to repent of their sin. God's mercy is mercy-not laxity!
In a word, there is no partiality with God. If Jews live like Gentiles, they'll die like Gentiles: under the wrath of God. And justly so, because morally and spiritually, they're the same thing.
In a democratic age, this sounds right: everyone is equal, we all agree with that. But Paul didn't write in a democratic age or to people who saw no difference between Jew and Gentile. In fact, the Jews saw a huge difference, and the difference was God. The Jews had not earned God's favor-nobody said they had-but God had favored them. You could look it up-
The Lord did not set His love upon you or choose you because you were more in number than any people, for you were the fewest of people. But because the Lord loves you and would keep the oath He swore to your fathers.
Of all the favors God did for His people, none was greater than giving them the Law. The Law of Moses told them the kind of God He is and the kind of people He wants them to be. They didn't live up to it, of course, but at least they had it, and this has got to count for something, right?
For not the hearers of the Law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
God wants His people to live by His Word, not just to hear it or read it or keep it dusted on the coffee table. The Jews did everything but live it. They studied it, they taught it, and even bragged about it, but they didn't live by it!
They preached good sermons, for example, telling people to not steal, not commit adultery, and to abhor idols. But for all this, they stole, they committed adultery, and they robbed temples, that is, they stole idols and hid them in their homes (just in case the Gentiles were right!).
Everyone was doing these things, but only the Jews were claiming not to do them, and turning up their noses at people who were, and telling the world: 'Our God has saved us from all your vices and body and soul!' When they were caught doing the very things they condemned, it wasn't they who got laughed at, but their God-
'For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you', as it is written.
(Again, the parallels with our famous preachers getting caught with their pants down is striking).
This is how Israel was living, in spite of having the Law. They were circumcised in the body, but not in the heart; they were Jews on the outside, but on the inside they were Gentiles.
In spite of their privileges, which Paul recognizes and appreciates, 3:1-2-
What advantage, then, has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much, in every way! Chiefly because to them was committed the oracles of God.
The Word of God was given to Israel in a way it was given to no one else. Nineveh heard one sermon (and that from a preacher who hated their guts). Israel had over a thousand years of prophecy, godly men soldiering on fired by a love for the Lord and His people. This was a great privilege, like some of us have had in growing up in the church with believing parents, and knowing the Bible all our lives.
The blessings of Jewish life are real, but some haven't lived up to them. This failure does not deny God's faithfulness, but strongly affirms it. For the wrath of God being revealed in Israel is the very thing He promised if they did not believe Him. Which they didn't, for the most part.
Israel's unbelief, in other words, has given God a chance to prove His justice by punishing His people. He is doing it and the Gentiles-as far as they know anything about Him-are impressed.
But if Israel's sin brings glory to God, why does He punish His people? The answer: Because He's the Judge, and that's what judges do-justify the righteous and condemn the guilty!
The lies of unbelieving men bring the Truth of God into sharper relief, but this does not justify their lying or get them out from under the wrath of God.
If you say otherwise-that because sin brings down judgment and judgment glorifies God, that sin glorifies God, Paul can only shake his head in disgust and say-
Their condemnation is just.
THE SECOND SUMMARY
Back to the big idea: Israel is under the same wrath the Gentiles are and for the same reason: they're worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, and all the clever reasoning and logic-chopping in the world won't save them from the fate of all impenitent sinners, for-
The wages of sin is death.
Paul completes his thought with a long list of footnotes, (sources cited, you might say), of the Bible verses that prove all men are sinful and under the wrath of God, including his own people who think they're not.
There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understand;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all gone out of the way;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good,
No not one.
Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced
The poison of asps is under their
Whose mouth is full of cursing and
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their
And the way of peace they have not
There is no fear of God before their
The Jews knew these verses as well as Paul did. What they didn't know is: they apply to them all, and not just the Gentiles and a handful of apostate Jews. Standing before the Law of God-the thing Israel prized most-shuts the mouth of anyone who thinks he's righteous!
The Law is not given to 'make us saved'; it's given to 'make us lost'. It's goal is not to make us good people, but to show us what we really are: bad people in need of a Savior.
Funhouse mirrors are fun, but they're not very revealing. They make a short fat man look tall and skinny, and maybe he likes feeling that way. But he's not that way, and a real mirror will show him what he really is. The Law is a Real Mirror, and is designed-not to justify anyone-but to give us-
The knowledge of sin.
Not sin in general, or the sins of other people, but our own sin. The Jews had this law, but they forgot its purpose. This misuse of God's Law is not unique to them. We're all prone to it, and can only pray God will deliver us from that way of thinking.
The Jews of the First Century were a deeply religious people, but religion did not help them-not even the religion they got out of the Bible. They were a separated people, who kept to themselves as much as they could and away from pagan things-but paganism was in their heart, and they couldn't get away from that. They had a sharp sense of right and wrong, properly judging the Gentiles for all the icky things they were up to, but knowing a thing is wrong is not the same as turning away from it. Hating sins in other people is not the same as hating sins in yourself!
The Jews, like the Gentiles, could not stop sinning; they might trade in one sin for another, but they couldn't find the righteousness of God, because they looked for it in the wrong place. It's not in the Gentile conscience; it's not in the Jewish Law.
It is in the Gospel.
The Law of God could not save people because it's best sacrifice was a goat; its best washing was with water; and it's only law was written on tables of stione.
What the Law fails to do, the Gospel does, for it's sacrifice is the Lamb of God; it's washing is with the Holy Spirit; and it's Law is written on our hearts.
The Jews need the Gospel; the Gentiles need the Gospel; Christians need the Gospel; everybody needs the Gospel because it, and it alone is-
The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
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