Unrelenting Sorrow and Relentless Joy

Look at the Book Live Seminar | Houston, Texas

So, we just finished chapter eight — which is the greatest chapter in the Bible, full of some of the most precious promises that there are. And he says next,

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. (Romans 9:1–2)

The Christian Emotional Experience

Maybe I should pause there. This isn’t the one thing I was going to underline, but I said last night I think we’d come back to that “great sorrow and unceasing anguish.”

So in Philippians 4:4, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” So that is a moment that requires thinking. “Think over what I say to you, [Timothy], and the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). So here’s a text that says “Rejoice always,” and here’s a text that says, “I always have anguish.”

So either we say he just is overstating or forgot what he said or he had a good day one day and a bad day another day, or I rule all that out because of his apostleship and his claiming to speak in his letters words taught by the Spirit. He’s really claiming to be in the Holy Spirit as he speaks here and in Christ as he speaks here. I say Christian emotional experience is profoundly complex and layered, and that the key is found in 2 Corinthians 6:10, where there’s this little phrase, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

So when you ask Paul, “Okay, in Philippians, you said this, in Romans, you said this, but you didn’t say them together, and so we’re wondering if you meant them together.” And in 2 Corinthians 6:10, he does say them together. He said, “I am sorrowful and always rejoicing.” When you try to think that through or feel that through, another text comes to my mind. Romans 12:15: “Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Now, for a pastor at least, and really for most connected people, somebody’s always rejoicing and somebody’s always weeping. And in the world that is certainly true. There’s always a wedding going on and always a funeral going on.

So for God Almighty, who is a high priest who empathizes with his funeral people and his wedding people, he must be able to manage this. And since we have him within us and we love with his love and we hurt with his hurt and we rejoice with his joy, “My joy I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). Since we have him within us, then we probably in our profound, complex, layered Christian experience, experienced something like this — and I think it’s true.

I think probably those of you who are at least old enough, mature enough to have walked through a lot of sadness and happiness and the way they juxtapose and the way they interweave, you can probably point to times in your life when you did them simultaneously so that it’s not a contradiction.

There is a level. I think if you were to ask Paul, “Do you really mean this? Do you really mean unceasing anguish?” I think he would say, “You prick me at any moment, and you will find that I bleed sorrow for my lost kinsman. And you prick me at any moment, and you will find that I have learned to be content in every circumstance. I know how to be abased. I know how to abound. I am a peace-filled, content, happy man when I cry.” So I hope that God will take you there if he hasn’t yet.

The Mark of Maturity

Little children don’t know this. This is a mark of maturity in life. This is a mark of having walked through many things. Little children, their lives are compartmentalized and simple.

But as you grow older and you have to move, you have to move from one moment of pain to another moment of happiness, and you know that the loving thing is not to ruin this moment of happiness by bringing your tears in there. You know that. You know you must wash your face when you’re fasting so that people don’t see you’re fasting, but your heavenly Father who sees your fasting will reward you. Nobody else knows you’re fasting. They don’t know why you’re fasting. They don’t know what your ache is that would change in life.

It’s not hypocrisy. That’s love. I’m not going to ruin every sweet moment of your life. Moments should be sweet, and I’m not going to come in and sing a chipper song at your funeral. “What’s the matter with all you crying people? Wipe those tears away. Don’t you know you’re supposed to be happy all the time in Jesus?” You’re not going to do that. That’s not what love does.

So yes, Paul, we are thankful for your honesty and your putting your heart out there for us to see it, both in the sweet exalting times and in the painful times. And this is one of the painful times. And the reason he’s got this unceasing anguish is because he could wish, but it isn’t possible, but if it were, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers and my kinsmen,” which means they really are. They really are.

The Thesis of Romans 9–11

That sets up the whole problem of the chapter. They are accursed and cut off from Christ. Jesus said so. Paul says so. Peter says so in 2 Peter. They are Israelites to whom belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants. I’m going to come back to that. The giving of the law, the worship, the promises. “To them belong the patriarchs and from them is the Christ” (Romans 9:5).

Now, we saw that in Romans 9:6 he says, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” I think that’s the thesis, the main point of Romans 9–11. If you step back and say, “What are these three chapters doing in Romans, the way they are, the way they argue, what are they doing?” And the answer is they’re dealing with Israel. And the reason Israel is such a big deal is because of these promise, these, adoption and glory and covenants and law and worship and promises and patriarchs and the Messiah. This is a people who have been promised by God what?

Covenant Promise in Genesis

So let’s look at a couple of the covenant promises. Here’s two of them, and I wrote there at the bottom another one I think I want to look at. God says to Abraham in Genesis 17:7,

I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

Now, it’s not a stretch to say if the whole mass of Israel is thrown away in accursed cut off from Christ’s position, there’s a problem here. “I’m making covenant with you and your offspring after you, and it’s an everlasting covenant, and it’s not a covenant just for a land. It’s a covenant to be God to you. I’m going to be your God Almighty. I’m on your side.” That’s not true of people in hell. That’s not true of people under God’s curse.

You feel some of the weight of what Paul’s dealing with here? He’s a Jew. He’s a Hebrew of Hebrews. He knows his Old Testament backward and forward. He knows these covenants ten times better than we do, and he’s just said, “My kinsman, according to the flesh, are accursed and cut off from of Christ.”

Covenant Promise in Jeremiah

Here’s Jeremiah 29:10: “Thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed” — and so the people are in Babylon under God’s exile and punishment for covenant breaking — “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back.”

Now, the point of a text like that, and there are many, is that when Israel breaks her covenant, you would think, “Okay, on the terms of the covenant then, God has a right to throw her away.” “You broke the covenant. I’m done with you.” But what you find in the Old Testament over and over again is that God does punish her for covenant breaking, but he’s never done with her. He doesn’t ever seem to be done with her. It’s like a wife.

I know there are some people who argue that God divorces Israel. I don’t think he divorced her. I think there was a legal separation and a real serious pain for this bride. But he goes and gets her seventy years later, and the reason he does it is, “I will fulfill to you my promise.” So promises and covenants.

Setting the Stage for Romans 9 with Ezekiel 16

Now, Ezekiel 16. I’m going to jump out of my program here and see if I can go to my Bible. This is the ESV app by the way, and the Crossway publishers are a co-sponsor here. And I thought yesterday, “Cool, I get to advertise Crossway.” I love this app. This app, I think, costs you ten bucks. I’m not sure. It’ll be worth every penny of it because it’s got a study Bible in it.

It’ll read to you. I could tell it right now to start talking to you. I love this. When I’m dog tired in the morning and I just can’t say the words of two chapters in Ezekiel, I just tell it, “Read it to me.” I love this guy who — I don’t know who he is, but he’s got a great voice. It’s not dramatic. I don’t like guys that try to be dramatic when they read the Bible.

All right. Now here we are in Ezekiel. I’ll read the last several verses. Let me set this up for you because this is astonishing. I’m trying to help you feel the problem Paul felt between Romans 9:3–6. “They are cursed — cut off from Christ. It is not as though the word of God has fallen. Well, why did you think it had fallen? Well, look at these covenants and look at these promises, and I’m telling you, the mass of Israel is lost. They’ve rejected their Messiah. ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ A little tiny remnant, 120 people in the upper room, after three years of ministry and the vast, just hundreds of thousands of Jewish people have said no. And to this day, a veil lies over their faces and they say no. And they read Moses in their synagogues, and they don’t see. That should concern us.”

Lila’s Parable of Ezekiel 16

Okay, Ezekiel 16 is fresh on my mind because I just finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s new novel Lila, which is a kind of parable of this passage of Scripture. Lila being the Israel who is thrown out like a baby weltering in its blood. So here you got a baby — the umbilical cord is still attached, it’s all bloody and blah, and they just threw it on the dirt.

And God comes along and finds this baby, utterly undesirable, and it says in the first ten verses of Ezekiel that he picks her up. It’s a girl. He washes her off, and she grows up and she becomes beautiful, and he marries her. That’s what happens in Lila. He marries her. That’s Israel and God marrying.

So this is clearly a picture of incredibly unconditional choosing of a, “I just found a baby. I’m going to marry this baby in 18 years.” Unbelievable.

Well, what Lila doesn’t talk about is that from Ezekiel 16:10–58, Lila is torn to shreds under God’s judgment. She becomes beautiful and falls in love with her beauty and pays, instead of being paid to be a prostitute.

God’s Faithfulness

The picture of Israel in this chapter in rebellion against her husband is horrible, and her judgments are horrible in Ezekiel 16. Now, here’s the end of the story, just that chapter story.

For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord. (Ezekiel 16:59–63)

Now, that happens over and over in the Old Testament. Choose Israel, a sweet and short season of fellowship, Israel’s sin, idolatry, prostitution, unfaithfulness, God’s judgment in horrible ways, the book of Lamentations — just horrible — and then God comes back, great is your faithfulness, your mercies are new every morning, and he reestablishes his relation. So it sure looks as though if Israel is gone, God’s covenants fail. That’s the problem.

The Future of Israel

Question — this is not the point of this course because it’s Romans 11, but in your mind you should be asking, “Is there a future in the 21st century for Israel as an ethnic corporate entity, or is he done with them?”

Well, I’ll tell you what I think, and then we’d have to do maybe in a few years we’ll come back and do Romans 11. Let’s see. This is Romans 11:25, and the interpretations of it are varied. I’ll give you mine so you know at least where I stand on this. Paul says, “Lest you Gentiles be wise in your own sight.” This is speaking to John Piper — “Lest you be snooty and huffy that you’ve replaced the Jews as the branches in the rich root of the olive tree of the Abrahamic covenant,” context.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:25–26)

I think that means that we, next year, could read headlines in the leading paper of Tel Aviv, “Mass Conversions to Christ by Jews.” One of the differences between me and historic dispensationalism, and if you don’t know that word, it doesn’t matter at all to me. But one of the differences is that I don’t think God saves Jewish people and Gentile people, or the church, in distinct ways or along two parallel paths. I think that’s just not at all what that picture is in Romans 11 about the olive tree.

I think there is one covenant of grace and one path along which people are saved. People are saved by faith. In the Old Testament, faith in God, in the promises of Messiah to come. And today, faith in Messiah, Jesus, and Jew and Gentile are both grafted and saved in one people, one cross, one Messiah, one Christ, one atonement. And that the way this is going to happen, all Israel — and by all Israel, I simply mean the mass.

When John the Baptist was baptizing, it says, “All Israel came out to be baptized by him.” Well, what did that mean? It just meant it was a mass movement. It didn’t mean there weren’t some grand-mamas who couldn’t come and some kids who couldn’t come and some sick men who couldn’t come. It just meant, as a mass, they came.

I think that’s coming. I think you should pray for that. I think you should talk to your Jewish friends that way. I think you should call up and talk to rabbis and do as much Jewish evangelism and Jewish praying as you can. So my answer to, if you’re asking the question, “So are you saying when Paul says in Romans 9:3, ‘They are cursed and cut off from Christ,’ that’s it? As far as the corporate ethnic entity, the six-million-plus Jews are gone forever.” I don’t think that’s true.

Anticipate Israel’s Turning

Someday I think there will be a turning, and I could give you about five reasons for that from Romans 11, and I think some from the prophets, but that’s not where Paul goes in Romans 9 In Romans 9, his answer is different. So his answers to, “The word of God has not failed,” that’s the main point.

In view of the lostness of Israel, the word of God has not failed, it hasn’t fallen. The covenants have not been broken by God. The promises that God made have not ceased to come true. They are coming true right now and they always will come true. God has never lied. God has never broken his word to Israel, and therefore he won’t to the church or anybody else. God does not lie. He’s not a man. Nothing slips up on God that changes his mind about what he had promised to do. And his answer here starts right here with this word “for,” and that’s what we want to look at now.