God’s relation to Israel (preaching resource for 8/13/23, 11th Sunday after Pentecost)
This post exegetes Romans 10:1-21, providing context for the 8/13/23 RCL Epistles reading. It draws on "The Expositor’s Bible Commentary" and "The Message of Romans" by John Stott.
|"The Pharisees Question Jesus" by Tissot. (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)|
In Romans Chapters 9-11, Paul addresses God’s relation to Israel, focusing in Chapter 9 on the past aspect of that relationship, emphasizing God’s sovereignty. Then in chapter 10, Paul focuses on the present aspect of the relationship, emphasizing human responsibility in Israel’s continuing rejection of the gospel. Paul explains the reasons, the remedy and the results of this rejection. In studying this chapter, we learn a lot about the nature of faith, and the imperative to preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike (i.e. to the whole world).
The reasons for Israel’s rejection
Romans 10:1–13. You would think that as a nation, Israel would have been eagerly expecting the arrival of her Messiah and been prepared to receive Him. For centuries they had known the Old Testament prophecies and had practiced the Law (the Law of Moses, the Torah), which was “a schoolmaster” to lead them to Christ (Gal. 3:24). God had sought to prepare Israel, but when Jesus came, they rejected Him (John 1:11). To be sure, there was a faithful remnant in the nation that looked for His arrival (Luke 2:25–38), but the majority of the people were not ready when He came. How do we explain this tragic event? Paul gives several reasons why Israel rejected their Messiah:
1. They did not feel a need for salvation (1)
There was a time when Paul would have agreed with his people, for he himself opposed the gospel and considered Jesus an impostor. Israel considered the Gentiles in need of salvation, but certainly not the Jews. In several of His parables, Jesus pointed out this wrong attitude: the elder brother (Luke 15:11–32) and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14) are two examples. Israel would have been happy for political salvation from Rome, but she did not feel she needed spiritual salvation from her own sin.
2. They were zealous for God (2)
Ever since Israel returned to their land from Babylonian captivity, the nation had been zealous to avoid idolatry. In the temple and the local synagogues, only the true God was worshiped and served, and only the true Law was taught. So zealous were the Jews that they even “improved upon God’s Law” and added their own traditions, making them equal to the Law. Paul himself had been zealous for the Law and the traditions (Acts 26:1–11; Gal. 1:13–14). But their zeal was not based on knowledge; it was heat without light. Sad to say, many religious people today make the same mistake. They think that their good works and religious deeds will save them, when actually these practices are keeping them from being saved. Certainly many of them are sincere and devout, but sincerity and devotion will never save us. “Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20).
3. They were proud and self-righteous (3)
Israel was ignorant of God’s righteousness, not because they had never been told, but because they refused to learn. There is an ignorance that comes from lack of opportunity, but Israel had had many opportunities to be saved. In their case, it was an ignorance that stemmed from willful, stubborn resistance to the truth. They would not submit to God. They were proud of their own good works and religious self-righteousness, and would not admit their sins and trust the Savior. Paul had made the same mistake before he met the Lord (Phil. 3:1–11).
4. They misunderstood their own Law (4–13)
Everything about the Jewish religion pointed to the coming Messiah—their sacrifices, priesthood, temple services, religious festivals, and covenants. Their Law told them they were sinners in need of a Savior. But instead of letting the Law bring them to Christ (Gal. 3:24), they worshiped their Law and rejected their Savior. The Law was a signpost, pointing the way. But it could never take them to their destination. The Law cannot give righteousness; it only leads the sinner to the Savior who can give righteousness. Christ is “the end of the Law” in the sense that through His death and resurrection He has terminated the ministry of the Law for those who believe. The Law is ended as far as Christians are concerned. The righteousness of the Law is being fulfilled in the life of the believer through the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:4); but the reign of the Law has ended, “for ye are not under the Law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).
Paul quoted from the Old Testament to prove to his readers that they did not even understand their own Law. He began with Leviticus 18:5 which states the purpose of the Law: if you obey it, you live. “But we did obey it!” they would argue. “You may have obeyed it outwardly,” Paul would reply, “but you did not believe it from your heart.” He then quoted Deuteronomy 30:12–14 and gave the passage a deeper spiritual meaning. The theme of Moses’ message was “the commandment” (Deut. 30:11), referring to the Word of God. Moses argued that the Jews had no reason to disobey the Word of God because it had been clearly explained to them and it was not far from them. In fact, Moses urged them to receive the Word in their hearts (see Deut. 5:29; 6:5–12; 13:3; 30:6). The emphasis in Deuteronomy is on the heart, the inner spiritual condition and not mere outward acts of obedience.
Paul gives the spiritual understanding of this admonition. He saw “the commandment” or “the Word” as meaning “Christ, God’s Word.” So, he substituted “Christ” for “the commandment.” He told us that God’s way of salvation was not difficult and complicated. We do not have to go to heaven to find Christ, or into the world of the dead. He is near to us. In other words, the gospel of Christ—the Word of faith—is available and accessible. The sinner need not perform difficult works in order to be saved. All he has to do is trust Christ. The very Word on the lips of the religious Jews was the Word of faith. The very Law that they read and recited pointed to Christ.
At this point Paul quoted Isaiah 28:16 to show that salvation is by faith: “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.” He quoted this verse before in Romans 9:33. He makes it clear in Romans 10:9–10 that salvation is by faith—we believe in the heart, receive God’s righteousness trusting in Christ, and then confess Christ openly and without shame.
Paul’s final quotation is from Joel 2:32, to prove that this salvation is open to everyone: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Paul had already proved that “there is no difference” in condemnation (Rom. 3:20–23); now he affirms that “there is no difference” in salvation. Instead of the Jew having a special righteousness of his own through the Law, he is declared to be as much a sinner as the Gentile he condemned.
The remedy for Israel’s rejection
Romans 10:14–17. The only way Jews can be saved is by calling on the Lord. But before they can call on Him, they must believe. For the Jew, this meant believing that Jesus of Nazareth truly is the Son of God and the promised Messiah of Israel. It also meant believing in His death and resurrection (Rom. 10:9–10). But in order to believe, they must hear the Word (the gospel), for it is the Word that creates faith in the heart of the hearer (Rom. 10:17). This meant that a herald of the Word must be sent, and it is the Lord who does the sending. At this point, Paul could well have been remembering his own call to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1–3).
Romans 10:15 quotes from Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15. The Nahum reference had to do with the destruction of the Assyrian Empire, the hated enemies of the Jews. Nineveh was their key city, a wicked city to which God had sent Jonah some 150 years before Nahum wrote. God had patiently dealt with Nineveh, but now His judgment was going to fall. It was this “good news” that the messenger brought to the Jews, and this is what made his feet so beautiful. Isaiah, however, used this statement for a future event—the return of Christ and the establishing of His glorious kingdom. “Thy God reigneth!” (Isa. 52:7–10.) The messenger with the beautiful feet announced that God had defeated Israel’s enemies and that Messiah was reigning from Jerusalem. But Paul used the quotation in a present application: the messengers of the gospel taking the Good News to Israel today. The “peace” spoken of is “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1) and the peace Christ has effected between Jews and Gentiles by forming the one body, the church (Eph. 2:13–17). The remedy for Israel’s rejection is in hearing the Word of the gospel and believing on Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 53:1 was Paul’s next quotation, proving that not all of Israel would obey His Word. This verse introduced one of the greatest messianic chapters in the Old Testament. Traditionally, Jewish scholars have applied Isaiah 53 to the nation of Israel rather than to Messiah; but many ancient rabbis saw in it a picture of a suffering Messiah bearing the sins of His people (see Acts 8:26–40). In Isaiah’s day, the people did not believe God’s Word, nor do most of them believe it today. John 12:37–41 cites Isaiah 53:1 to explain how the nation saw Christ’s miracles and still refused to believe. Because they would not believe, judgment came on them and they could not believe. While this passage relates specifically to the Jews, it applies to all lost people everywhere. They cannot be saved unless they call on the Lord Jesus Christ. But they cannot call unless they believe. Faith comes by hearing, so they must hear the message. How will they hear? A messenger must go to them with the message. But this means that God must call the messenger and the messenger must be sent. What a privilege it is to be one of His messengers sent to share the gospel with unbelieving friends!
The results of Israel’s rejection
Romans 10:18–21. There are three results mentioned here, and each one is supported by a quotation from the Old Testament:
1. Israel is guilty (18)
Someone might have argued with Paul: “But how do you know that Israel really heard?” His reply would have been Psalm 19 that emphasizes the revelation of God in the world. God reveals Himself in creation (Ps. 19:1–6) and in His Word (Ps. 19:7–11). The “Book of Nature” and the “Book of Revelation” go together and proclaim the glory of God. Israel had the benefit of both books, for she saw God at work in nature and she received God’s written Word. Israel heard, but she would not heed. No wonder Jesus often had to say to the crowds, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!”
2. The message goes to the Gentiles (19–20)
What marvelous grace! When Israel rejected her Messiah, God sent the gospel to the Gentiles that they might be saved. This was predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 32:21. Paul mentioned this truth in Romans 9:22–26. One reason why God sent the gospel to the Gentiles was that they might provoke the Jews to jealousy (Rom. 10:19; 11:11). It was an act of grace both to the Jews and to the Gentiles. The Prophet Isaiah predicted too that God would save the Gentiles (Isa. 65:1).
In the New Testament we learn that “to the Jew first” is a ruling principle of operation. Jesus began His ministry with the Jews. He forbad His disciples to preach to the Gentiles or the Samaritans when He sent them on their first tour of ministry (Matt. 10:1–6). After His resurrection, He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem and to start their ministry there (Luke 24:46–49; Acts 1:8). In the first seven chapters of Acts, the ministry is to Jews and to Gentiles who were Jewish proselytes. But when the nation stoned Stephen and persecution broke loose, God sent the gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8:1–8), and then to the Gentiles (Acts 10).
The Jewish believers were shocked when Peter went to the Gentiles (Acts 11:1–18). But he explained that it was God who sent him and that it was clear to him that Jews and Gentiles were both saved the same way—by faith in Christ. But the opposition of the legalistic Jews was so great that the churches had to call a council to discuss the issue. The record of this council is given in Acts 15. Their conclusion was that Jews and Gentiles were all saved by faith in Christ, and that a Gentile did not have to become a Law-observing Jewish proselyte before he could become a Christian.
3. God still yearns over His people (v. 21)
This quotation is from Isaiah 65:2. “All day long” refers to the present day of salvation in which we live. While Israel as a nation has been set aside, individual Jewish people can be saved and are being saved. The phrase “all day long” makes us think of Paul’s ministry to the Jews in Rome when he arrived there as a prisoner. “From morning till evening” Paul expounded the Scriptures to them and sought to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 28:23).
Through Paul, God was stretching out His arms of love to His disobedient people, yearning over them, and asking them to return. God’s favor to the Gentiles did not change His love for the Jews. God wants to use us to share the gospel with all people (Jews and Getiles) everywhere. God can use our feet and our arms just as He used Paul’s. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and longed to gather His people in His arms! Instead, those arms were stretched out on a cross where He willingly died for Jews and Gentiles alike. God is long-suffering and patient “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Amen.