God's Word Has Not Fallen
The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina
I stayed up and watched John Kerry’s acceptance speech, looking for a link with Romans 9-11, and he did not let me down. At one point, he referred to Abraham Lincoln. And he didn’t mention that it was the second inaugural address, but it was. And he said that God is not on the side of the Republicans and God is not on the side of the Democrats. And then he said, and I wrote it down, “I want to pray humbly that we are on God’s side.” And the place erupted with a great enthusiastic cheer. And I thought myself, “I wonder what in the world they are cheering for.” That’s a wonderful request and unbelievably dangerous and radical and life changing: to pray that you would be on God’s side on every issue and in all of life and into eternity.
Ascribe to Him Justice
Now what I did to forge the link with Romans 9–11 was go print out for you the section of “Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address,” which is one of the greatest speeches that has ever been made in the history of this country, and takes about five minutes to speak. It was muddy, and there were several thousand people there. It was 1865, a few months before the war was over. And this president had, with fear and trembling, guided the nation into and through the most bloody conflict we have ever had in the history of this country. I want to read this section with you and show you the context for Abraham Lincoln for that sentence and that prayer — that we would be on God’s side — so that you can see the bridge that happens to Romans 9–11. He’s talking about the Confederate and Union sides now.
Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to him? (“Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address”)
Can you imagine a President talking like this? In other words, after four years of about six hundred thousand brothers slaughtering each other on battlefields, if we do believe God brought this as a woe upon this land, North and South, shall we conclude from that that God lacks any of those glorious attributes that all believers in the deity profess that he has? And, of course, his answer is no.
Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsmen’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Now we’d like to hear a president talk like that. What Lincoln would have meant by, “Let us pray that we are on God’s side,” is: Let us pray that we submit ourselves to the providence of God, who, if in his inscrutable providence did will that slavery hold sway for a season, most certainly now wills that it be ceased. And if he brings upon this nation the worst slaughter it’s ever known because of that curse, God is just; God is just. That’s a good link to Romans 9, a very good link for this reason: Paul’s got a question here in Romans 9:22–23, which according to the dash at the end, he didn’t finish. And the question goes like this:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory —
And he breaks off. He just says, “What if?” And I think the sentence should be finished exactly the way Lincoln’s question was finished: “Shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him?” No, we shall not, in this action, view any departure from those glorious divine attributes of justice and mercy and wisdom and power that believers in a living God always ascribe to him.
Five Reason to Study Romans 9–11
So why Romans 9–11? What are we about here in these four or five hours together, four in teaching and one in Q&A? What’s the goal? What are we after here? Why that link? One of the the things you might say is that when you have a vision of God like that of Lincoln there or of Paul here in Romans 9, you will think more deeply and more clearly and more wisely about politics and war and history and your life. And your thinking and your feeling will be rooted in the whole counsel of God, and you will see his providence as relevant for everything. I hope that you do.
But why Romans 9–11? My answer to the question of why we should give ourselves so intensively to the word like this for four hours, why you would come from 27 states, and take a weekend out, and pay money to be here — why do people spend time studying the Bible like this? And I want to develop a five-point argument in the next five or ten minutes for why we should do this. And I’ll start with the big picture and work backwards.
1. Our chief end is to glorify God.
We do it because the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. You can see that in Isaiah 43:6:
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
So I don’t have any doubt about why you are on planet earth and what your reason for being is. There’s no doubt in my mind: you exist to magnify, to display, to highlight, to make much of the glory of God. That’s why you exist. And the Westminster Shorter Catechism adds “and enjoy him forever.” Now, I have devoted most of my life since finishing school, to arguing that it is helpful to render that catechetical answer: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” Almost everything I have ever written is intended to explain and defend that sentence: that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.
2. The Bible commands us to delight in God.
So we find in the Bible these amazing commands.
- “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he’ll give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). That’s a command.
- “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4).
- “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Those are commands. And the reason that they’re commands is because God is glorified when you are satisfied in him. That’s the sentence that flies over all of my theology: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. And therefore, it is your duty to pursue satisfaction in God so fully that it breaks your love affair with the fame and esteem of man, and with the approval of others, and sex, and drugs, and money, and esteem, and power, and all the things we fall in love with. It’s a huge battle we’re engaged in.
3. Faith is a fight to see God.
How do find this kind of satisfaction or joy which glorifies God? We must see him. I just finished a book in April called When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. And right at the center of the answer of how to fight for joy is we must see him — like we sang, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.”
Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Their blessedness consists in seeing God. That’s what will make us happy: to see him. In John 17:24, Jesus prays, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus prayed for you just before he paid for you. And he asked, “Father, on the basis on what I’m about to do, let them be with me to see me.”
I’m reading a book right now called The Glories of Christ by John Owen. It’s the last thing he ever wrote. As an old man he had outlived all eleven of his children. And he’s writing in a way that he always wrote, in one sense, and seldom wrote, because he knew he was getting ready to see Jesus. And all he did was write meditations on what the glories of Christ are. And the older I get — and I’ve outlived almost all my heroes. I mean, the ones that are already dead are from centuries ago; they didn’t live to be 58. And to be 58 is to be old, historically. And so I taste how close it is to see Jesus. And there’s a lot of grey hair in this room, and I hope that you are hungry with me to see him, and that therefore, you labor in this life to see him: that you pray that for yourself now, and you do what Moses did here. Moses said, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). That’s going to come into Romans 9. So that’s step 3 in the argument: we need to see him, so that we can rejoice in him, so that we give him glory.
4. We see God with the eyes of our heart.
Step four is that we don’t see him physically; he’s not here anymore. Jesus isn’t here and the Father cannot be seen. And therefore Paul says,
Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:18)
And Jesus said,
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (Matthew 13:13)
What’s the implication of “seeing they do not see”? The implication is there are two kinds of seeing. There’s seeing with this eye, and there’s a seeing with the eyes of your heart. Even when he was here to be seen physically, they didn’t see what was really there. So just like they could see with their eyes and not with their heart, we can see with our heart and not with our eyes. And the question is: How? If the key to joy in Jesus is seeing him for what he really is, and you can’t see him with your physical eyes but only with the eyes of the heart, how do you do that? What is that? What mediates that?
5. We see God in his word.
And that’s step five: you do it by the word.
And the Lord appeared [that’s a “see” word] again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
He appeared by the word of the Lord. I’m a preacher and that makes me really serious. Every week, I mean to make God seen by the word of the Lord. It’s a miracle; I can’t make it happen. I can be faithful, I can pray like crazy, I can humble myself under the word of God, I can be as close to the text as I can get, I can try the whole counsel of God and put it out there; but if God does not illumine the heart and open the eyes of the heart, if he doesn’t fulfill that song that we sang, I preach in vain. Because that’s my goal. I want it to happen in Minneapolis and here like it did in Shiloh. “The Lord appeared again . . . by the word of the Lord.” And then 2 Corinthians 4.
In their case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing [this is something that ought to be happening in the gospel age in which we live] the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
So when the gospel, which is news to be heard with the ear, is preached and the Holy Spirit overcomes this blinding effect of the god of this world, what happens is a spiritual light (not a physical light; it’s not like lightning) moves from the gospel into the heart. And what is revealed there is the glory of who Christ really is, so that people fall down and say, “That is worthy of my life.” That’s how all of you got saved who are saved, whether you know it or not. You don’t have to know how you got saved any more than you have to know how antibiotics work. And most Arminians don’t have a clue how they got saved.
And one of the great values of studying Romans 9–11 is to learn what really happened to us. And what happened is that the Holy Spirit came down — you were watching Billy Graham, or you were listening to a radio, or you were reading a tract, or you were hearing a sermon, or Mom was telling you about the gospel after you’d done something really bad at eight years old — and suddenly, unlike any time before, Jesus wasn’t stupid, he wasn’t foolish, he wasn’t boring, he wasn’t doubtful; he was suddenly awesome, needed, beautiful, cherished. And you could not but embrace him for what he then irresistibly showed himself to be to your heart. He drew you out with the revelation of the light of the glory of Christ. So it happens through the word or the gospel. And now we’ll walk backward through the argument:
5. The word is opened. It doesn’t have to be through me. It doesn’t even have to be through a living teacher. It could be through the Bible itself, tonight, alone in your room. The word is spoken or read. 4. And then the eyes of the heart are enlightened. 3. And you see God. 2. And thus, you are blessed with great joy in him. 1. And because you are now satisfied in him, he gets glory.
That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing together, at least that’s why I’m here. And I hope you will experience that.
Romans 9–11 in Context
In order to see how Romans 9–11 fits into this bigger picture of glorifying God and helping us be satisfied in him, what we have to do is this: we have to go back and see how it relates to chapters 1–8, and we have to go forward and see how it relates to chapters 12–16. This is really not hard to do; it becomes pretty plain.
So let’s talk first about how chapters 9–11 relate chapters 1–8. Romans 1–8 comes to this glorious climax. Almost everybody would include some verses from Romans 8 among their favorite verse in the Bible, I certainly would.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:31–35)
Now the answer to that is nobody, nothing. And lest somebody with a kind of word of faith theology, or health, wealth, and prosperity gospel says, “The reason the sword can’t separate you from the love of Christ is because when you’re a Christian he spares you the sword. It doesn’t come near you, though ten thousand fall at your right hand. If you have enough faith, you won’t get beheaded in Iraq.” Now Paul profoundly disagrees with that. He did get beheaded, but he didn’t know that was going to happen when he wrote this. So here’s what he wrote: he took the Bible at its word from Psalm 44:22 and he said,
For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
The NIV paraphrases it and ruins it: “For your sake we face death all the day long,” which plays right into the hands of those who say, “We only face it; we don’t experience it.” That is not what the text says. The text says, “We are being killed all day long.” That’s happening in Sudan today, and I’m thankful that the government is finally getting their act together and putting some pressure on. But it’s happening there, it’s happening in Iraq, it’s happening in China, it’s happening in Indonesia. It’s always happening. The sword is coming down on Christians, faith-filled Christians. And Paul makes that very plain in verse 36.
So when he says that the sword cannot separate you from the love of Christ, he doesn’t mean you won’t get killed. He means that though they kill you, not a hair of your head will perish (Luke 21:18). You will be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). To die is gain (Philippians 1:21). There will be no separation. That’s what he means. And so he goes on to say,
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37–39)
But that’s only if God keeps his word. And there’s a huge question mark put over the faithfulness and reliability of God at the end of Romans 8 that has to be answered if we’re to count on the word of God. And that question mark is: Israel is perishing, the covenant people, the chosen people. That’s what we’ll see in Romans 9:1–5. “My kinsman according to the flesh are cut off from Christ and perishing.” And everything in a devout Jew says, “That can’t be. When the Messiah comes, the people are gathered, there’s triumph, the enemies are defeated; there’s not mass damnation. That’s why Romans 9–11 is written. You must have an answer to Israel — the unbelief of Israel for two thousand years with ninety-five percent of them in hell today, the chosen people of God blinded to the Messiah. “A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). There must be an explanation.
That’s why Romans 9–11 is written: in order that all believers might stand on Romans 8. You can’t stand on Romans 8 if God doesn’t keep his word. And it looks like God’s not keeping his covenant promises, and therefore there must be an explanation. And he takes three chapters to do it. That’s what we see when look backward for why Romans 9–11 is written. So that we can have the sweet assurance and deep confidence and profound satisfaction in these promises of Romans 8.
Now let’s look forward to Romans 12. Where’s he going? How does he come out of Romans 9–11? Where does it lead? If you just stay with Romans 12 to see where it leads, it’s really quite amazing.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
He looks back over eleven chapters, and he has just highlighted mercy as huge in chapter 9: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Romans 9:15). And Romans 11:32 says, “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Mercy has been huge in Romans 9 and in Romans 11. Of course, chapters 1–8 are filled with blood-bought, justifying mercy. And so he looks back over the eleven chapters, and he says, “Now, by those mercies, I beseech you, take your body” — he talked about the body in chapter 6: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13). Now God says, “Take those bodies, hands, and legs, and eyes, and tongue, and ears and use your body as a living sacrifice to worship me in all of life”; that is, “Make me look worthy. Make me look really good by the way you live.”
You come to the end of Romans 8 and you say, “Nothing can separate me from the love of God. Sword can’t, peril can’t, nakedness can’t, famine can’t. I can starve to death, I can go naked in caves, and he loves me still.” Yes, and you can have a deep soul contentment no matter what horrific circumstances you may face. And all of that satisfaction and contentment is inside, and nobody can see it — yet. And therefore, God’s not getting the honor, not getting glory, except as he sees your heart, he loves what he sees. And he gets honor from that. But he means to be known publicly, visibly.
And so he gets to chapter 12, and he says, “Now you’ve got bodies; you’ve got bodies. You’re not just little imprisoned hearts in love with me. You have bodies. Get busy using those bodies in ways that make me look all-satisfying.” That has huge lifestyle implications. “Make me look all-satisfying; not money, not clothes, not job, not house, not recreation. Make me look like your treasure with your body, what you do with it.” And what kind of life does that? And I just bulleted Romans 12. Since he appealed by the mercies of God, he now, first and foremost, says, that the Christian life, the radical Christian life, is a life of mercy.”
- Verse 8: “Let the one who does acts of mercy do so with cheerfulness.”
- Verse 9: “Let love be genuine.”
- Verse 10: “Love one another with brotherly affection.”
- Verse 13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to know hospitality.”
- Verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
- Verse 16: “Associate with the lowly.”
- Verse 17: “Repay no one evil for evil.”
- Verse 19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves.”
- Verse 20: “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’”
That’s the summary of the lifestyle of the Christian growing out of chapters 1–11. “I beseech you by the mercies of God, to take your bodies and offer them as worship”; that is, “Make me look infinitely valuable.” How? By not hitting back, by not passing the rumor along, by not insisting on the last word in the argument, by not putting down others. By treating with kindness the people that treat you like dirt. If you live like that, people are going to say, “So you’re not getting your satisfaction from revenge, you’re not getting your satisfaction by playing one-upmanship in argument, and you’re not getting your satisfaction by not taking risks because of the way you are kind toward your enemy who has it in for you, and you’re not getting your satisfaction from holing up in your house, lest anybody come and see the dust there, and you still have people over. Where are you getting your satisfaction?” God.
Our lives simply have to look counter-cultural. Otherwise, nobody’s going to conclude God off of our lives. Nobody is going to say, “That lifestyle is worship.” The world is not very interested in the avoidances of our lives — like, don’t steal, don’t commit murder, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery. Because most of them are able to do that pretty well, just pretty well. And it doesn’t impress anybody. It’s mercy, it’s not returning evil for evil, it’s doing good. Jesus says,
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . . If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43–47)
It was just huge to Jesus that when slapped on the right cheek we turn the left (Matthew 5:39). “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42). “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:41). These utterly inexplicable acts of mercy, this lifestyle that’s so free from money, and so free from the praise of men, and so willing to risk death and ignominy, that’s what will get a name for Jesus.
So that’s where Romans 9–11 is going. We will bump into some really heavy, heavy theology. And I just want to you know, Paul is coming from the sweetness of the promises of Romans 8 longing for you to have those as the rock-solid pillar of your life. And he’s heading toward lifestyle issues of chapters 12–14, which are as practical as the day is long. So if you say, “This chapter 9–11 just isn’t very important,” you are thinking very differently than the apostle Paul. He would have gone straight from chapter 8 to chapter 12, which he could have done very easily, if he thought that way, which he doesn’t.
Three Observations on Romans 9:1–5
So now we’re ready to 9:1–5. If you’re wondering how we’re going to get through this at this pace, we’re not. But we will try to get farther than I think we can. I don’t know how far we’re going to get. I’m going to go really slow through Romans 9:1–23. It’ll take us all of tonight and some of tomorrow morning. Then we’ll go fast from 9:24 to the end of 10, and then we’ll slow down again. And what that means for how far we’ll get, I’m not sure. But these are the heavy things, and we’ll do the best we can.
I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit — that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For 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. 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. Amen.
Now what is the point of those five verses? I have three points I want to make.
1. Israelites are perishing in spite of their privileges.
This is absolutely important to see because it’s the failure to see it that causes hundreds of scholars, pastors, and laymen to put a twist on verse 6–23 that they do not have to. One of the common ways of emasculating verses 6–23 is to say, “These verses don’t have anything to do with eternal destiny and they don’t have anything to do with individuals. These verses only have to do with peoples, like Edomites and Jews, and they only have to do with historical destinies, like who prospers and who doesn’t.” That is the common escape hatch for this chapter for those who don’t want to believe what it says.
Verse 3 will not allow that interpretation. The problem Paul is wrestling here is not Jew versus Edomite or Jew versus Gentile. The problem is: Some Jews, many Jews, in spite of their huge privileges, are perishing. That’s the issue. And the chapter is written to give an account of how the covenants of God with Israel can be true if some Jews are perishing. That’s the scope of the chapter. If you miss that here, you’ll miss everything in chapter 9. That’s the first point.
2. Paul is brokenhearted over his kinsmen.
The second point in these five verses is that Paul is deeply grieved about this situation. So let tears cover this chapter, please. Because we’re going to talk about things that make some people believe tears are impossible, because when it first lands on them, their heart and minds are in such a construction of reality that they say, “If this is true, I’d never weep over anybody.” And that’s their problem; that’s not the Bible’s problem. Paul introduces this by saying two amazing statements about his grief: great and unceasing.
I’m a Christian Hedonist. Everything I write has to do with joy. And I’m not blind to that word anguish right there. And I’m not blind to Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” So the apostle who said, “Always rejoice,” said, “I always am brokenhearted.” That governs my life. It governs the feel of worship at our church, at least I labor with Chuck, my right-hand guy, and Dan. This is what it tastes like at Bethlehem. We’re not a bouncy, “praise God anyhow” kind of church. And we’re not a morose, dull, boring, sullen church. There is a phrase where Paul puts them both together in 2 Corinthians 6:10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
My guess is that the older folks among you, you just nod, and you know this. You know this experience. Younger people probably have had life in such a way that they hear that, and they say, “That doesn’t compute with anything I’ve walked through yet.” The older you get, the more complex you get, the more perplexing emotions are. And you wonder, How can I be as content as I am when I’m crying as hard as I am? And you learn the mystery of the Christian life. It isn’t simple; it isn’t carved up in little pieces — a little joy piece and a little sorrow piece. Today we have a joy piece, tomorrow we’ll have a sorrow piece. It’s just not like that.
And I just want to help you, in this minute, grow up a little bit, just to get your heart big enough, complex enough, mysterious enough, so that it’s okay to be sitting there right now brokenhearted about something in your life, like a lost Jew, a lost kid, husband, wife, sister, mom, dad — just brokenhearted. They’re really close to eternity, and they may not believe, and you long that they’d believe. And to lift you voice and sing with joy, that’s not hypocritical, that’s not a trick. That’s Paul’s experience: “unceasing anguish in my heart.” There wasn’t any time in which his mind felt brokenhearted for the Jewish people.
Let me just say a word here about politics. I don’t like political swagger from evangelicals — meaning, a kind of, “Give us back our country. Who do you think you are to take away our Christian land and wreck it with perversions and blood?” It doesn’t have the brokenhearted flavor. The world, yes, they need to hear strong, prophetic, clear calls to divine righteousness. Homosexuality is wrong. Marriage cannot be two men or two women. And let us weep at the judgment that is on our land already. It’s not coming; it’s there, the judgment that’s on us such that so many people don’t see it and celebrate it. But let it be with tears. Let the flavor of your conversations and your lessons be with brokenheartedness and firmness. And that’s just one of many examples.
I long for the evangelical world to be a brokenhearted movement. We’re just sinners so desperately in need of grace. And I don’t mean that you go so far in that grace that you can’t do Romans 9. We’re going to see things in Romans 9 that certain churches wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because it doesn’t sound soft, warm, cuddly, and fuzzy. So that’s the second thing: Paul is brokenhearted over the lost Jews, and he is going to explain unconditional election in that context.
3. Jesus Christ is God.
Third point from these five verses is: Jesus Christ is God: “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.” There are some grammatical punctuation issues there that allow some versions to make it look as though Jesus is not God. But we could go to chapter 10:9 where it says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Then watch the way Paul argues, first from Isaiah 28, and then in verse 13, from Joel 2:32, where “Lord” is Yahweh. And he argues you must confess Jesus as Lord, for Joel 2:32 says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” — meaning, Yahweh. It’s absolutely daring exegesis to make Jesus, Yahweh or Jehovah.
“In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). I just got an email from a missionary in the Muslim world who asked me, “Would you be considered with a translation into Arabic that is paraphrased roughly, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was essence of God.’” I said, “I don’t know the whole cultural situation, I just know that I’ve just spent four weeks on vacation reading the fourth century on this issue because I have to talk about it in February. I’m reading Athanasius, I’m reading Arias, I’m reading the Nicene Council deliberations, and I’m reading the fight that went on for five decades and cost Athanasius five exiles of his life to stand for homoousios — one being with the Father, one essence with the Father — and that Jesus is God. And Arias was saying there was a time when Jesus was not, and he was created, and there was this huge battle to preserve orthodoxy in the church in the fourth century. And it felt like this translation was just slippery as some of those Arian phrases were.
I just want you to know that in a day since 9/11, in which front burner is Islam everywhere, we must talk about Jesus as God. We worship Jesus. We bow down with Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). We must make this crystal clear. We must not fish for language that sounds a little bit acceptable to a person who rejects not only the deity of Jesus but the death of Jesus. If Christ did not die, everything falls down: there is no Christianity, there is no acceptance the Father. Islam is a huge issue in the world today. And to live in America, which is now as pluralistic as it ever has been, is a huge challenge to us.
Oh, how we need to think deeply and carefully what it means to live in a pluralistic land, which has never been and will never be ours. Our land is the kingdom of heaven. We are aliens and exiles. And yet, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Submit yourself to every governing authority because they are of the Lord (Romans 13:1). We have a citizenry responsibility to do all that we can do. And what is that? It is very complex, is it not?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers on how to be a Christian in a pluralistic world. I just know that if you get a chance to be interviewed, do like a lot of the runners do in the Olympics, “Praise Jesus, praise Jesus, praise Jesus, praise Jesus, praise Jesus.” I saw the two women who won the hundred-meter dash. I forget their names. Both of them said, “I just thank Jesus for helping me run the race.” I don’t know whether they mean it. They’re dressed in a way that I wouldn’t want my daughter to run a race in.
So in summary, Israelites are perishing, Paul is deeply grieved, and Jesus is God. So as we read now the rest of the chapter in the hours to come, every time you hear God, don’t just hear it in isolation. Don’t just say, “Where’s Jesus in Romans 9–11?” Because he doesn’t show up by name very often. He’s here in these five verses, and he’s here in four verses in chapter 10; that’s all. Jesus doesn’t even show up in chapter 11. He’s just everywhere, because he’s God.
Not All Israel Is Israel
Romans 9:6–13 is part of the heavy section. The problem now, as you will see Paul address it in this right here, is that Jewish people, covenant people in spite of their blessings, are accursed and cut off from Christ. And Paul wishes he could take their place. “But it is not as though the word of God has failed” (Romans 9:6). That’s the issue. In fact, if you were to ask, “What’s the main point of these three chapters?” that would be it. That’s why he’s writing these three chapters. It looks like the word of God has failed. Jewish people, with all their blessings, are accursed and cut off from the Messiah. What good is the Old Testament, pray tell, with all those glorious promises? Who can trust a God like that with the promises of Romans 8? And you’re going to stake your life on Romans 8, and he doesn’t keep his promises to Israel? That’s the issue. And his answer is: the word of God has not failed; it has not fallen. And then begins a three-chapter argument for that sentence.
And here comes argument number one. And it takes him through the first two chapters. “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” That’s his answer. Do you think the promises have fallen in relation to Jews who have perished without Christ? My answer: they weren’t Jews. “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” Or to put in another way: “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Romans 9:7). So there are two Israels: You can be descended physically from Israel, and you can be spiritually Israel. You can be an offspring of Abraham, and you can be one of his children, which is different from being his offspring.
Now that’s a pretty daring thing for Paul to say. He’s got to do some heavy-duty arguing to make a Jew understand what that means. “You’re saying now that the reason the promises of God have not aborted, in the case of these perishing Jews, is that they weren’t really Jews, they weren’t really Abraham’s children, they weren’t really Israel?” And he says, “That’s right.” Well, how’s he going thing make a case for that?
Children of Promise
First of all, he states the principal in verse 8. “This means that it is not children of the flesh [that is, just born in an ordinary way] who are the children of God.” So now you’ve got a certain kind of Israel. You’ve got children of Abraham who are not his offspring, and you’ve got children of God who are not children of the flesh. “But the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”
So, when he calls them “children of promise” instead of “children of flesh,” he means that flesh is when two people sleep together, have intercourse, become pregnant, have a baby. That’s a child of the flesh. All Jews came that way, except Jesus. And he says, “That doesn’t make you a Jew, to have a Jewish mommy, a Jewish daddy. There has to be promise.” And he must mean a particular promise: “This one is, and this one isn’t a Jew.” Otherwise, what’s the point of saying, “You’re not a child of promise.” If every Jew said, “I’m a child of promises because I was born of Jews,” this argument would make no sense at all. So he’s contrasting “child of God” and “child of promise.”
And then you get this key word here of what constitutes “Jew” as “offspring.” It is a divine counting. “I count you. I count you. I reckon you, I declare to you, I choose you as one of the elect.” Now I’ve used the word elect. I’m not making it up; it’s going to come in verse 11. Now how in the world is he going to defend this selectivity from the text of the Old Testament? How does he do this? This is so important, because Paul is not just pulling rank on the Jewish readers here. He wants them to see that he’s getting these kinds of thoughts out of the Old Testament. He is an organ of inspiration, but he does all he can to help them see there’s continuity between what he teaches and what was written.
What God Supplies
So now he starts his argument from the illustration of Isaac and Ishmael first, and then Jacob and Esau second. So let’s talk about Isaac and Ishmael first. Verse 9 begins with “for.” For is a little word that means he’s arguing now for this principal that not all Israel is Israel: not all the children of Abraham are his children just because they’re offspring, and not all are children of promise just because they’re children of the flesh. This is from Genesis 17. “For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’” And that’s the end of the argument from Isaac. Because now he turns to Jacob.
And Paul really expects a lot from you here. What does he see in Genesis 17:21? “Next year I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” He expects you to supply this: Abraham’s a hundred years old and Sarah is ninety. She’s been barren all her life and has never had a child. They conspired to get a child of the flesh with Hagar, and they got Ishmael. Now you’ve got seed and the promise can be fulfilled. And God comes and says, “No.” And Abraham pleads, “Oh, that Ishmael might stand before you.” And God says, “Next year I’ll show up — not Hagar, not the flesh, not human possibilities. I’ll show up. And I will create my child of promise.” That’s what he expects you to supply.
This is against being a hundred years old, against being ninety years old, against barrenness. And God says, “I’m going to show up and I will produce a child.” All of which he expects you to see spiritually as God is at work here to say, “Not all those who come from your seed, Abraham, are my seed. I produce my seed. You may do what you want to do to get seed, but I count as my seed whom I please.” That’s what he expects you to get from that story in Genesis 17. “I’ll show up and I will produce a child against all human designs, so that you see that the child of promise was produced by miracle. He’s a child of the Spirit, not just a child of the flesh.” That’s Isaac.
Jacob He Loved
Now it gets even more amazing with Jacob and Esau. “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac” (Romans 9:10). Let’s just stop there and see how Paul is piling up differences between the Jacob and Esau pair and the Isaac and Ishmael pair to remove a loophole in the argument. The loophole is this: “Okay, Paul you’re trying to make a case from God’s activity that he chooses his children without respect to any human design or fitness. The reason, Paul, that God didn’t choose Ishmael is because he had a Gentile mother. So there, your argument is down the tubes: there’s a clear human distinction between Isaac and Ishmael. Sure, you’ve got one dad, but you’ve got two moms, and one of them is a Gentile. And therefore, of course, God’s not going to choose that kid.” In other words, that’s exactly the opposite of what Paul is trying to say. He’s got to close that loophole, and it’s not a problem with Jacob and Esau.
Rebekah — one mom — conceived two children. They’re in one womb at the same time. They’re twins “by one man.” It’s no accident that he inserted “by one man.” We don’t have a Hagar and a Sarah now any more than we have a Jacob and somebody else. We have one man and one mother, and we have two boys in the womb. Neither of these boys has any claim on God above the other. Paul draws that out now in verse 11: “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works [not because of anything they had ever done] but because of him who calls — she was told [while they were still in the womb], ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written [and then he quotes, to our dismay, Malachi 1:3], ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” — before they were born or had done anything good or evil.
So you’re just kind of rocked, right? This is where we’ll stop. You’re just kind of rocked back, saying, “Paul, why are you going there? Nobody asked you this. Why are you taking us there? I mean, just say that not all Israel is Israel and move on.” And there are reasons. And they are weighty, and you need a good night’s rest to handle them tomorrow morning. So I’m going to stop here and pray with you, and ask you to keep in mind the end of chapter 11,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
That’s where Paul ends after these weighty matters: God’s ways to our minds are going to wind up being, at least in large measure, inscrutable and unsearchable.