How many of you remember falling on the pavement when you were little and receiving road rash? How many of you had a parent who insisted on making sure that your road rash was cleaned and that the best way to clean it was with rubbing alcohol or peroxide? What hurt more: receiving the road rash, or receiving the alcohol or peroxide to clean the road rash?
After my crash on June 21, 2017, I received road rash from hitting the pavement from my shoulder down to my ankle. To be honest with you, I was not all that aware of the road rash probably because of the pain I felt in my hip from hitting the pavement. After I was transported to the ER, the nurse assigned to my care took one look at my road rash and the very large contusion on my right hip and informed me with a hint of remorse: “We will need to scrub that.” I then asked: “Scrub what?” I was horrified by her answer: “All of it.” The few minutes it took to “scrub” my road rash and huge contusion so that I my wounds would not later become infected, felt ridiculously long; all that I wanted to do was scream at the nurse.
Romans 9 feels like a much needed, but painful scrub to wash out the theological infection of a man-centered theology that places human beings at the center of God’s universe. So, what I would like to do today is help you understand why Romans 9 is in the Bible. This will serve as the foundation for helping you understand for Romans 9:6-33.
There is a Future Shame Coming
There is coming a day that, all of Scripture points to, will bring great shame upon millions of souls. The day that is coming is referred to in the Bible as the Day of Judgment; a day that is described vividly in Daniel 12:1-3 and Revelation 20:11-15. The description given to us by the prophet Daniel describes that day in the following way:
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1–3)
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John describes the coming day with a bit more detail:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11–15)
It is in light of this coming day that the apostle Paul begins with Romans 9:1-5. The reason Paul has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart is because many of his Hebrew kinsmen would eventually stand before the Judge of creation only to experience the wrath of God. Why was Paul’s sorrow great and his anguish unrelenting? Because it was through the Hebrew people that salvation was promised, came in the form of one person, and it was that salvation that many of them could not accept. The very last verse in Romans 9 is what I believe to be the linchpin between the first eight chapters and the rest of the epistle, and it is a quote from Isaiah 28:16 which simple states: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (v. 33).
The stone of stumbling is the same stone that people stumble over today: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The stone that Paul’s kinsmen stumbled over is that none of us could ever be good enough or do enough good to get into heaven. We need a righteousness that is satisfactory to God that is impossible for you or me to generate on our own. It is the righteousness of Jesus that we need because it is a righteousness that is perfect. Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
In verse 3, Paul escalates the description of the pain he feels over his fellow Hebrew kinsmen in his writing: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh, the people of Israel.” There are people in my life that I really want to see come to faith in Jesus, but I have never wished my own damnation in their place, but Paul did. This is significant because of what he continued to write after verse five (which we will look at next week). Why does Paul feel so strongly about the salvation of his fellow Israelites? He tells us why in the following verses: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:4–5).
In other words, through the Israelites came a true and perfect son of Abraham, and his name was Jesus. Yet, it was Jesus they rejected, and continue to do so even today as a nation. The tension Paul feels is that the promises were not only through Israel, but also for Israel. To understand where Paul is coming from, you need to understand Israel’s history.
The Promise is God’s Blessing
The story of mankind begins in Genesis with Adam and Eve who were created in the image of God and called to manage the Garden by the Creator Himself. We humans are the only creatures on planet earth that bear the image of God Almighty. The grass of the field, the trees, the animal kingdom, nothing in all of creation bears the image of its Creator except the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
There was peace in all creation, but all of that ended in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit from the only tree God commanded them not to eat from because they wanted to be like God instead of subject to God. Adam and Eve’s sin against God ruined the peace creation was designed to enjoy. The only creature created in the image of the Creator rebelled by declaring his intention to usurp the authority of God and oppose Him. Adam’s sin resulted in a curse upon all creation. Since that fateful day in the garden, our world has been characterized by shame and hiding. But we learn from Genesis 3:15-16 that God will not leave the world cursed. God promised Adam and Eve that He would one day make all things new, and He has been on a mission do so ever since.
Like Noah before him, God found Abram and spoke to him: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” But when God spoke to Abram, he not only called him to a land that He would show him, He promised him the following: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). On five other occasions throughout his life, God promised Abram that He would bless him and make his descendants a blessing to the nations, promising to transform irony into outright blessing.
After Abraham’s descendants moved to Egypt to escape a severe famine, they wound up spending four centuries in Egypt, leading to their eventual slavery to the Egyptians. God raised up Moses to lead the Jews out of bondage in Egypt to the land promised to Abraham. What would further distinguish the Jews from the rest of the nations would be God’s code of ethics (the Law) given to them through Moses. At Mount Sinai, God entered into a covenant relationship with a people instead of a person (e.g. Adam, Noah, Abraham). By agreeing to obey God’s law, Israel would be marked in the following ways: being His priests to the nations (Exod. 19:4-6), becoming His dwelling place before the nations (Lev. 26:11-13), and blessing for their obedience to God or curses for their disobedience to Him. Through an entire nation, God would bless the nations by manifesting His presence through them.
Israel’s history is one of disobedience in the midst of God’s enduring patience. Throughout her history, God raised up prophets who spoke on behalf of God to encourage and also to warn his people of where their disobedience would eventually lead. Jesus, days before he would be betrayed and then crucified, lamented: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37)!
The Old Testament ends with no promised land, no blessing, and no messiah. The only thing Israel is left with before the 400 years of silence that would precede the birth of the one they would crucify.
Throughout Israel’s history, there was always a group of faithful worshipers and lovers of God that are described throughout the Scriptures as the remnant. After Cain murdered faithful Abel, the faithful remnant was Seth. In the midst of the violence of the violent generations that came after Seth, the faithful remnant was Noah and his family. Abraham fathered Ishmael with Hagar and then he fathered Isaac with Sarah; of his two sons, Isaac was the faithful remnant. Isaac and Rebekah had twins by the name of Esau and Jacob; of the two sons, it was Isaac who represented the faithful remnant. Many years after Jacob, after the nation of Israel became known for her idolatry, there was a faithful remnant who remained faithful to God. When Elijah was convinced that he was the only faithful prophet of God, God reminded him that there still remained a remnant of 7000 prophets who were still faithful to him. Throughout Israel’s history there has always been a remnant of God’s faithful.
Many throughout Israel’s history, like the religious leaders of Jesus day, believed that just because they were the physical descendants of Abraham, that they were the true people of God. The most religiously devoted even prided themselves on following the Law of God as a guarantee for being the children of God. Do you know what Jesus said of these people? Jesus protested: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27-28).
The mark of true Israel had little to do with a person’s heritage or lineage, but everything to do with where their faith rested and the focus of their love. Therefore Paul observes in verse 6-7, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…”
How about you? Just because you grew up in the church, repeated what some call, “The prayer of salvation,” or are very religious, does not mean that you are a Christian who belongs to the remnant of God’s people. The evidence of your salvation is not based on your religious activity, but a changed heart that God produced in you that now loves him. Love for God, and not religious duty, has been the mark of the true people of God since the beginning. How is this love for God developed? It is developed through by faith alone in Christ alone by the grace of God alone. This is why Paul concludes Romans 9 with these words that we will come back to next week:
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30–33)
There is a judgment coming and all who find themselves on the wrong side of that judgment will be put to shame. James Montgomery Boice once said “God’s judgment in the end will be so absolutely perfect that the damned will agree with the rightness of their damnation. There will be no question at that point that evil will be seen for the evil that it was, but God’s goodness will be demonstrated for the goodness that it is.” However, the one whose faith rests solely in Jesus Christ as their savior and perfect righteousness, will not be put to shame on that Day.