Have you ever found yourself defending God? I'm sure you have heard things from people such as, "If God is love, how could He allow that to happen?" Which is an accusation against God's love. The Bible says that God is love, but many question that when things don't go their way. Some say, "It's not fair that innocent people suffer and babies die." Or, "it's not right that men like Hitler, Jeffery Dalmar, or Ted Bundy were allowed to live. There's no justice when good people struggle and wicked people live in great prosperity."
Some years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a best-selling book entitled, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. In it he wrestles with these difficult questions from a very personal point of view. He tells about his own son who died at a young age from a rare disease that caused his body to age rapidly. In the aftermath of his own loss, he came to the conclusion that he could no longer believe the traditional formulations about God's goodness and God's power. Finally, he came to the only conclusion that satisfied him. Very simply, he concluded that God is not all powerful. At one point he openly declares "God can't do everything." He said that God didn't want his son to die; not like that, not at such a tender age, not in such a terrible way. God didn't want that, but He didn't have the power to stop it either. He concludes that there are forces in the universe that are beyond even God's control.
Kushner is in effect saying, "God is either good and not all powerful, or He is powerful and not all good. You can't have it both ways." Well, Kushner is wrong. The Bible, from beginning to end, teaches the absolute goodness and sovereignty of God. Hopefully, statements like Kushner's have caused you to defend God.
Many people's view of God is far from biblical. We need to know and proclaim the truth of who God is. When we find ourselves defending God, we are giving a "Theodicy." A theodicy is a vindication, or defense of God. To vindicate means to: 1) Clear from criticism, suspicion, blame. 2) Defend against opposition. It is to say that what God is doing is absolutely just and righteous. It is to proclaim the God of the Bible.
The book of Habakkuk is in part a theodicy, it is a vindication of God's justice in using a wicked heathen nation to chastize His chosen people. Malachi is in part a theodicy, it is a vindication of God's justice in allowing His people to still be under foreign domination and to be in poverty while the wicked heathen are living so prosperously.
I believe that the Scripture's greatest theodicy is found in Romans 9-11. This is the greatest vindication of God's righteousness and justice found anywhere in the pages of Scripture. In light of what Paul had taught in the first eight chapters of Romans, a vindication is necessary. You may say, "Why?" What has Paul said that causes a need of God being vindicated? Over and over in Romans 8 Paul has been applying to the Church the blessings originally promised to Israel. Israel was promised the Holy Spirit, but this promise has been received by the Church. Israel was promised a future resurrection, but Paul speaks of the resurrection of believers. Israel was God's son, but now believers are God's adopted children. Israel was promised an inheritance, but now it has come to the Church. Israel was God's chosen people, but now believers are called chosen. With the application of so many of Israel's promises being received by the Church the question arises, "Has God gone back on His promises to Israel?" We see in 9:3 that Israel is accursed and cut off from Christ. This was because they had rejected the Gospel, they had rejected Christ. Here's the problem--the whole First Testament was simply packed with promises that God made to the Jewish nation. They were Messianic promises, promises which went with the Christ, the Messiah. For example the promise of the New Covenant was made to the Jewish people:
"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, Jeremiah 31:31 NASB
Now, if the Jewish nation will not accept Jesus as Messiah, then the unbelieving Jew would say that there are two possible conclusions: either the Gospel that Paul is preaching is not true, because the Jews rejected it, or else if it is true, then the promises of God to Israel have failed, because the Messiah and blessing to Israel were connected inseparable. The Jews would say either Jesus Christ is not the true Messiah or the Word of God has proven false.
In Romans 9-11 Paul shows that the promises made to Israel are true, and the Gospel is true also. Paul stated that the Gospel was to the Jew first:
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. Romans 1:16 NASB
"To the Jew first"--how does this square with the falling away and soon coming destruction of the nation Israel? How can the message of salvation be true when the people it was for have rejected it and will be destroyed? Paul answers these questions in Romans 9-11.
Last week we looked at Romans 8:31-31, which dealt with the security of the believer. Paul closes chapter 8 saying:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NASB
Now, think about this, this is where it gets real practical for you and me. If God rejected the nation of Israel, if they did not receive the promises made to them, what assurance do we have that He will keep His word to us? What security do we have? If God set aside Israel, couldn't He set aside us? Without spiritual security we live in fear of spiritual death, fear of your sins being held against you and coming under the wrath of God. How could we possibly have security if God broke His promise to Israel? Did God break His promises to Israel? No! His promises were misunderstood, they were to true Jews, not to national Israel:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Romans 9:6 NASB
God's justice and righteousness is called into question, so in chapters 9-11, Paul vindicates the justice and righteousness of God. These chapters are a theodicy, and they show us how Jews and Gentiles fit into God's plan of salvation.
Romans 9-11 is a very misunderstood section of Scripture. This is because the change between chapters 1-8 and chapters 9-11 appears so drastic that some suggest that they are not even an original part of this Epistle:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life...nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. Romans 8:38-9:2 NASB
Notice that chapter 9 does not begin with "therefore," or "on account of this," or any other kind of connective of that nature. Paul simply blurts out, "I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying," and that lack of a connective is technically called an "asyndeton," (a-send-da-ton), which means: "unconnected." We see a dramatic shift of tone from celebration (8:31-39) to lamentation (9:1-3).
Because of this dramatic shift, C. H. Dodd regarded chapters 9-11 as an old sermon that Paul had earlier preached, and he uncharacteristically plugged it into this part of Romans. Others consider these chapters as more parenthetical rather than substance of Paul's great argument concerning the Gospel of righteousness found in the first eight chapters. They say that Paul is diverting from his major theme of justification by faith, and he just drops in this section on Israel, and then he returns to his major subject in chapter 12. They say that 12:1 should follow 8:39. Chapter 12 could come after chapter 8, but we'd have a lot of unanswered questions if it did. Chapters 9-11 are not parenthetical, they are crucial to Paul's argument.
One writer has said, "Paul is now finished dealing with the doctrinal points of his letter." He is very wrong. Romans 9-11 deals with one of the most basic, most fundamental doctrines of the Bible. The emphasis in these chapters is on the absolute sovereignty of God. I would say that Romans 9 is the normative passage in Scripture dealing with the sovereignty of God. Romans 9 is difficult for many folks to handle, because it so strongly affirms the sovereignty of God.
Though many scholars used to see the section as an intrusion into the letter, disrupting the argument that was being made, in recent decades this view has all but vanished away.
We want to look at the first five verses this morning, which are an introduction to the chapter:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, Romans 9:1-3 NASB
Before Paul even introduces the subject of his discussion, he affirms that he is telling the truth. "I am telling the truth"--this is a claim to personal honesty. Paul was looked upon by the Jews as an enemy, a traitor. He wants them to know that he cares for them. "In Christ"--in my conscience I am in union with Christ, and I declare He is my witness, my life. He's calling on Christ to witness the honesty of his claim. We saw this same thing in:
For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, Romans 1:9 NASB
This is not a political move to win a hearing. Paul really cares for them. "I am not lying"--he also uses this in:
If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 2 Corinthians 11:30-31 NASB
Here he is saying that he really does glory in his infirmities, and he calls God to witness to it. Can you do that? Can you call God to witness to the truthfulness of what you say? We are all called to be that honest.
"My conscience testifies with me"--conscience is that activity by which we judge ourselves and bring our own conduct under scrutiny. Paul's conscience didn't accuse him because he did what was right. Can we always trust our conscience? Only if it has been programed correctly. It is somewhat like a computer, if you put garbage in, you will get garbage out. This is a good reason for us to spend time in God's Word; it will give our conscience the proper perspective.
The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:22-23 NASB
If you think that something is wrong and you do it, your conscience will condemn you. You should not violate your conscience, if you doubt, don't. For example, when I was a young Christian the fellowship that I was attending taught that it was wrong for men to have a beard. I accepted that teaching, and so for me, it would have been wrong to have a beard; my conscience would have condemned me. Once my understanding was reprogrammed with the truth, beards were no longer an issue.
So how does Paul know that his conscience isn't mis-programed? He says, "In the Holy Spirit"--the Holy Spirit is controlling his conscience through the illumination of the Word. Paul calls two witnesses, Christ and the Holy Spirit. This tells me that he must have something to say that would be questioned. What is it?
that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. Romans 9:2 NASB
The Greek word for "sorrow" here is lupe, it means: "sorrow, grief, pain"; it is used of people mourning for the dead. If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know what this word means, you have experienced this type of pain. He also says that he has "unceasing grief"--the word "unceasing" is from the Greek word adialeiptos, which means: "continual." The word for sorrow is odune, it means: "consuming grief." It is used only here and in:
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:10 NASB
This is really how Paul feels about his Jewish brothers, this is Christ-like love. And I need to bring out here that Paul's grief is not for those who have died, but for those who have rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This has to call into question any Universalist ideas. If Paul was at all inclined to Universalism, why would he be so grief stricken? He wouldn't! Israel's rejection of Christ is a great sorrow of heart to Paul, he deeply loves his fellow kinsman. And it was vital for the Roman Jewish believers to know that his grief was genuine, because fabricated distress was a part of their culture. The presence of professional mourners at the deathbed of Jairus's daughter in Capernaum is an example of such disingenuous sorrow:
Now they were all weeping and lamenting for her; but He said, "Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep." And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died. Luke 8:52-53 NASB
Notice how quickly their weeping turns to laughter.
I said earlier that Paul calls two witnesses, Christ and the Holy Spirit, because he must have had something to say that would be questioned. The Jews may have felt that Paul hated them since they saw his Law-free Gospel as a departure from Judaism, and because he said many things that could be taken as anti-Jewish.
Another reason may be that they knew that Paul had plenty of reason to hate them, which makes this statement so remarkable. Because they hated him, they would have assumed that he hated them. The Jews hated Paul because they hated Christ, and he was Christ's representative:
From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. Galatians 6:17 NASB
Paul bore in his body their hatred for Christ. They saw him a traitor. He started out to stop the Christian movement, and he ended up leading it after his conversion:
and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?" Acts 9:20-21 NASB
The text goes on to say:But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, Acts 9:22-23 NASB
Paul was able to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, and because of this, the Jews tried to kill him. Paul experienced much suffering at the hands of his fellow Jews. He was stoned in Lystra and left for dead (Acts 14:19), publicly misrepresented in Ephesus (Acts19:9), beaten in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-32), and lashed on five occasions (2 Cor 11:24).When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece. And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Acts 20:2-3 NASB
It was at this point that Paul wrote Romans. They were plotting to kill him, they had stoned him, they had stirred up the people against him wherever he went, and he writes of his love for them.
How do you respond when someone just disagrees with your theology, or alienates you because of what you believe? Those of us who hold to the doctrine of Preterism are persecuted and excommunicated from fellowship by many of the Futurists for proclaiming what is the truth of Scripture. Many don't want to hear what we have to say. We, in a very small way, can relate to Paul and his rejection because of his doctrine. Now let me ask you this, "Can we relate to his undying, genuine love for those who persecuted him?" Our persecution is but a fraction of what he experienced, and yet we don't respond with a fraction of his love. Why is that?
Paul was a man under the control of the Holy Spirit, and Christ's love was manifest through him. He loved his enemies for Christ's sake. He lived what he preached:Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32 NASB
Paul makes it clear in the first two verses of Romans 9 that he was in a state of unceasing sorrow and grief, and now he explains why:For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, Romans 9:3 NASB
This is unbelievable! Paul is saying, "I love you people so much that I'd be accursed from Christ to get you saved, if it was possible. He is not saying he'd give his physical life, but give his eternal life in order that his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh, might be saved. Paul says, "I could wish"--not, I do wish. It is an idiomatic construction used here for stating an impossible wish. Paul couldn't actually become separated from Christ. He had just said:Who will separate us from the love of Christ?... in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life... nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 NASB
Paul was well aware that he could never be separated from Christ.
The word Paul uses here, "accursed." is the Greek word, anathema, it means: "devoted to destruction, cut off, or separated from Christ." Great difficulty arises from pressing the words too far. This is not the language of deliberation, but of heartbreaking passion.
Scholars have noted the similarity between Paul's willingness to take the place of his people and the willingness of Moses to be cut off for the sake of the rebellious Israelites. Some have argued that Paul saw himself to be a new Moses.
When Moses went up in the mountain to receive the Law, he was away from Israel for a considerable period of time. And, finally, the children of Israel came to Aaron and they said. "Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." And so, he had not been in the mount but a few days before Israel is turned from the God who brought them out of Egypt and now wants Aaron to make gods. So he made them a god. And the people began to worship it. God responded to their sin by saying:The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. "Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation." Exodus 32:9-10 NASB
I would have responded, "Great idea Lord, I'm sick of this bunch." But Moses pleads with God to remember His covenant, and then says:Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. "But now, if You will, forgive their sin--and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!" Exodus 32:31-32 NASB
What Moses and Paul were willing to do. but could never have done, Christ did. According to Galatians 3:13, Christ became a curse for us.
Do you understand this type of love that Paul has for Israel, a passionate concern for those who hate you and try to harm you? Why not? What did Paul have that we don't? I believe that we can and should live like this. We are called to love our enemies:"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44 NASB
We are called to love our enemies, and yet we have pastors praying for war, praying that America would kill Israel's enemies. We have Christians who want to go to war with anyone who is against Israel. And I think we have to ask, "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" The answer is, "no one!" We are to love our enemies, not kill them.
We can love like this if we are dependant upon Christ:I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 NASB
Back to our text:For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, Romans 9:3 NASB
Paul calls them, "brethern." This is the only time Paul uses this term of the Jews. He generally uses it of Christians. He qualifies it for us by saying, "My kinsmen according to the flesh"--He is speaking of the physical decedents of Abraham. This phrase, "according to the flesh," is taken by many to refer to human nature. The problem with this view is that "flesh" is never simply human nature for Paul. Flesh to Paul always carries negative overtones. The contrast between flesh and spirit run throughout this letter, and is common in Paul: Rom. 7:5-6; 8:2-13; Gal. 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-18,19-24; 6:8; Phil. 3:4.
The phrase "according to the flesh" should be interpreted in redemptive historical terms, serving to elucidate the contrasting natures of the two covenant ages. The flesh participates in the old age of sin and death. These were Paul's brethren under the Old Covenant system.
Paul wanted them to know that he was not their enemy. He cared for them deeply. Their rejection of Christ caused him great pain. As Jews they were very privileged people:who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. Romans 9:4-5 NASB
Please notice here that all these privileges of Israel are things that Paul has been saying in Romans 4-8 belong to the Messiah, and through the Messiah they belong to the Church. N.T. Wright says, "It is not a matter of God taking Jewish privileges and giving them to Gentiles. That would be a kind of displacement of one ethnic identity with another. Paul never does that. Rather, Israel's privileges are focused onto the Jewish Messiah, He is the one of whom they all speak. And then those who are "in Christ," Jew and Gentile alike, share and inherit those Jewish privileges."
Paul's attachment to Israel is not due merely to natural ties. It is accentuated by the place Israel occupied in the history of revelation. Look at their great privileges."Who are Israelites"--a name of dignity. Jacob was called Israel, which means "Prince of God." Paul is going to redefine this term in verse 6, and tell us who is Israel.
"To whom belongs the Adoption as sons"--Paul does not speak of these privileges in the past tense, but instead uses the present tense: "to whom belongs…" These privileges remained Israel's until the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, which was the end of the Jewish age. This expression is applied to the Jews only here in the New Testament, it's normally used of Christians. Israel did not naturally belong to the heavenly family. This is God's electing grace:"For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 14:2 NASB
Do you remember what Paul said to the Church about adoption? He said in 8:23 that they were, "waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." The Church was inheriting Israel's privileges in Christ.
"And the Glory"--this points to God's Shekinah revealed among them as the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night; as the majesty that filled the tabernacle and temple at their dedication; and as the radiance that crowned Moses' face as he left God's presence. It indicated to them, God's presence.
In Romans 5:2 Paul said of the Church, "We exult in hope of the glory of God." And then in 8:30 he said, "For those whom He foreknew...He also glorified."
"And the Covenants"--some of the manuscripts have the singular here, "the covenant," but most have the plural. This refers to the Abrahamic, Davidic, Mosaic, and the New Covenant which were all given to Israel, and only to Israel.
Romans 4 is based upon Genesis 15 and the Abrahamic Covenant:For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. Romans 4:13 NASB
All who have faith in Messiah receive the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant. The New Covenant was given to Israel and received by the Church at Pentecost. The Church has inherited Israel's covenant.
"The giving of the Law"--only Israel had God's Law. But it is the Church that has God's Torah written on the heart.
"And the temple services"--this interpretation may convey less than what Paul intended. It's really the totality of worship in the temple that is intended. They had that magnificent ceremony of the Levitical cultus; day after day the priests in their garments carried out their ministries, and then on the day of atonement came the garments of glory and beauty and all of the other things that made for the sacrifices, which on that particular day were designed to teach. They were designed to teach Israel that there was coming someone who would fulfill all of this and all of it would be done away, and the time would come when we would worship God in spirit and in truth.
Though the nations about them worshiped gods of stone, wood, and metal; Israel worshiped the God of glory who revealed Himself among them, and who even dwelled in their midst. What a privilege to know this God and worship Him!
Israel had the type, but the Church has the anti-type, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Lamb of God.
"And the Promises"--the Messianic Promises were all given to Israel, and in Christ they belong to the Church.
"Whose are the Fathers"--this is their godly heritage. Abraham is our father through faith in Jesus Christ.
"From whom is the Christ according to the flesh"--Paul says that Christ came to the Jewish people. He was their Messiah. The antecedent of "whom," is not the fathers, but the Israelites. Christ was born a Jew, and in Him all of God's promises to Israel reach their consummation. Jesus took on flesh and entered into the old age in order to inaugurate the new age.
"The Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen"--it's possible to translate this phrase in at least four different ways. Now it is not a problem of the text, it's essentially a matter of translation, which in turn is a problem of punctuation. When the apostle wrote, and when ancient men wrote Greek at this time, they did not ordinarily put any punctuation marks at all in the text. Furthermore, they would string their letters together one right after the other. To us it would look like this, thechristaccordingtothefleshwhoisoverallGodblessedforeveramen.
Translation involves punctuation, and so this is a problem of punctuation. It is possible to punctuate that text in ways that will produce at least four different translations. It is possible, for example, to translate it as we see in the NASV. That would attribute deity to Christ. That is what we essentially have in the Authorized Version and in the New International Version. The Revised Standard Version, however, has a different translation, which is perfectly legitimate so far as punctuation is concerned. It reads: "To them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen." In that case, the term God is not applied to Christ, but is a reference to the Father. And there are other slight variations possible which make for four different translations of the same Greek text.
So does this text call Jesus, "God"? I agree with the KJV and the NASV and think it does. Just as Romans 1:3-4 stands at the beginning of Romans 1-8; in proclaiming the deity of Christ, so Romans 9:5 stands in a similar relationship at the beginning of 9-11. The Messiah is the sovereign LORD, their covenant God, whom they have rejected.
N.T. Wright states, "Just as Israel rejected their God on Mt. Sinai, precipitating Moses into his extraordinary prayer, so now Israel according to the flesh has rejected its God as He came in the flesh, precipitating Paul into his own version of that prayer and his own great, unceasing grief."
We could sum up the first 5 verses of Romans 9 as follows: It greaves me deeply that in spite of all the remarkable advantages which God has showered on Israel, they have rejected the Gospel. Has the purpose of God been frustrated? No! God is in total control as we will see in the weeks to come.
Paul was not simply fulfilling some divine duty in preaching the Gospel. He truly loved and cared about people, and his love for them was not dependant upon their treatment of Him.
How can we love like this? Only through the power of the indwelling Christ. We are to yield ourselves to Him and allow Him to work through us. Paul had the mind of Christ, and so should we:Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, Philippians 2:3-5 NASB
Do you have the attitude of Christ, that of self-sacrifice for the needs of others? Is the glorious Gospel of the blessed God so wonderful to you that you want to give it out even to those who hate you and hurt you? Is your love for God so deep that you share His Gospel with even your enemies? I pray that we would see more than Paul's theology in this text. I pray we'd see his heart. He truly followed Jesus!
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