Sermon preached on Romans 9:1-13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/16/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“For My Brethren”
Today we begin a new section in the book of Romans. So far we’ve dealt with the subjects of justification and sanctification in this book. Now, Chapters 9 through 11 will deal with the subject of Israel. Paul will discuss how all this gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ relates to the Jewish people who don’t believe in Jesus. Are they still in a good place? The simple answer is no, of course. But the next few chapters will explain that in further detail. And this opening section is so important to grasp in order to understand the rest of these next few chapters.
And it’s here where we see Paul’s heart for these unbelieving Jews. Verse 1 he starts out in a very solemn way. He is using oath language. He’s letting you know that he’s really serious now about what he’s going to tell us. And what he then goes on to tell us about is that he’s essentially heartbroken for all the unsaved Jews. The Jewish people who don’t believe in Jesus. Who’ve not come to a saving faith in Christ and the gospel. And so he tells us about his agony in verses 2 and 3. Verse 2, he has great sorrow. Continual grief. Specifically he says this is in his heart. In other words, this is genuine, internal, deep concern and pain that he has. In verse 3 he even says an amazing thing. He says he could wish that he himself were accursed from Christ for their sake. In other words, it’s like it’s crossed his mind that he would consider sacrificing his salvation if it meant they could be saved in his place. Of course, that’s a hypothetical that couldn’t be realized. We know that because he just finished last chapter saying that for the Christian, nothing could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Paul might wish he could somehow sacrifice himself for others, but that’s just not an option. Not in this sense. He’s secure in Christ and nothing can make him accursed from Christ now.
And yet realize that’s a pretty profound thing for anyone to say. To say that you’d be willing to maybe even go to hell so others could go to heaven. And yet that’s what Paul is so serious to tell us about. Maybe that’s why he started off with such oath language. Well, it seems Paul tells us why he has such strong feelings for the Jewish people. Verse 3. It’s because they are his brethren. His fellow countryman. Of course notice that he qualifies this kinship in verse 3. It’s according to the flesh. Ethnically they are all brothers. Ethnically this is his family. These are Paul’s unsaved loved ones, essentially. He’s heartbroken for them. Because they don’t know the Lord. Surely, we can relate to Paul’s heart here.
And so as we begin to dig into this text, we’re going to see Paul’s heart for Israel, specifically ethnic Israel. Now, I could see how some might apply this concern of Paul to our own nation. How so many in our nation do not believe in Christ. I could certainly see some extended application there. That we would have a heart for our nation to turn more toward God and away from the paganism that it seems to be embracing more and more. But I think to apply this concern to our nation is a less direct application. And that’s because of how we see Paul go on to describe Israel. He will go on to describe Israel’s rich spiritual heritage and place of spiritual privilege. His concerns are about a people that were waiting for the Messiah, and should have recognized him, but did not. Instead they’ve now lost that place of privilege. As Paul will talk about in chapter 11, they are like branches that have been ripped off an olive tree. And so if we are thinking of the most direct applications of this passage for today, there is an even more direct application than our nation. There is an even more direct application than simply our unsaved loved ones in general. It’s those covenant children who’ve grown up in the church and have since left, proclaiming their unbelief. The children born of believers into the church and raised in the church, but who renounce the faith in one way or another. We see how fitting is this application because of what’s said here of Israel. Israel’s high place of privilege in many ways applies to the covenant children born into the church. And so let’s especially keep in mind our own wayward covenant children as we consider this passage today.
So, then, let’s look now at this high place of privilege that the nation of Israel possessed. You see, this is part of what grieves Paul so much. In verse 3 he talked about Israel was his brethren and countrymen, but then in the next two verses he paints a picture of their privilege. I think the idea here is that Paul’s anguish over them is twofold. First, it’s as we said: his close family relationship with them, family according to the flesh, that’s one reason. But second, Paul’s anguish in part is because of this rich spiritual heritage. It’s like Paul’s saying that if anyone should be a believer in Christ, it should be Israel. If anyone had the perfect preparation for believing the gospel and receiving Christ as their Lord and Savior, it should be his fellow Israelites. But of course, most of them have not believed. And this pains him.
Notice with me this place of privilege that Israel enjoyed. He mentions eight things. These are eight things that they specifically had in a way that the rest of the world did not. These things should have especially prepared them for welcoming the Christ. Verses 5 and 6 says that to them, they had the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, the promises, the fathers, and even Christ himself physically was born of this ethnic line of Israel. All these unique special privileges from God. And yet largely Israel missed the Christ. That’s not even strong enough language. Largely Israel rejected the Christ.
Let’s briefly mention each of these eight things. First, they had the adoption. This is talking about God’s adoption of them as children. We’ve said it before that Christians are adopted of God, and children of God, in a way that the world is not. But this didn’t start in the New Testament. Even in the Old Testament, God refers to the nation of Israel as his son. Exodus 4:22 is one example of this. It may not be as clearly put forth, but it’s there. And so Israel experienced God in a special parent/child relationship even before Christ. That was something the rest of the world did not enjoy.
Second, Israel had the glory. You can think of in Exodus when God’s shekhinah glory shown at Mount Sinai and then covered the Tabernacle. This is not something the nations at large got to experience. It should have strengthened Israel’s faith. Third, Israel had the covenants. The Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic are likely the ones in mind here. To Abraham, God promised that through Abraham’s seed, all the families on the earth would be blessed. In the Mosaic covenant, blessings were held out through a law, one they wouldn’t ultimately keep unfortunately. But God promised through Moses of a day when God would restore then when they went astray, Deuteronomy 30. And to the degree that they did follow the terms of the Mosaic covenant, it did go well with them. The Davidic covenant promised a King from the line of David that would rule over all and forever. These covenants were given directly through ethnic Israel.
Fourth and fifth, Israel was given the law and the service of God. These were part of what was delivered with the Mosaic covenant. They received all the holy, and just, and good, laws of God. Laws that would tell them the best way to live. And the reference to the service of God is worship language. This has in mind especially how the Levites and priests were instructed in the temple service. In other words, Israel possessed the privilege of a real worship of God. As a people they had real worship services. The pagan nations had their pagan worship services, but that was not real worship. Israel did have that great privilege however.
Sixth, Israel had the promises. All the many promises that talked about the coming Messiah, and the restoration of God’s people, and eternal life. They had this wonderful light of prophecy. The other nations were in darkness, comparatively. Seventh, Israel had the fathers. This is surely referring to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as other notable heroes of the faith, such as Moses and King David and Elijah. I think of Hebrews chapter eleven which lists out many “fathers of the faith” among Israel. This is a blessing too. We know that having spiritual heroes and fathers and leaders of the faith in our own lives is helpful. Let alone if your heritage included people like Abraham and Moses and King David.
Eight, Christ came as well through this earthly lineage of Israel. Again, the text is clear to highlight that this is according to the flesh, verse 5. It’s also quick to exalt Christ as being over all, not just ethnic Israel. But nonetheless, this is a great privilege that Jesus was born of Israelite lineage. And so his earthly ministry and teaching focused in Israel and among the Jewish people. He focused on calling them first to himself. Surely that too is a great privilege enjoyed by Israel as a nation and people.
And so in so many ways, Israel enjoyed the greatest possible spiritual privilege. It continues to mind boggle many to see how Israel continues to largely reject Jesus. Surely if anyone should have welcomed him with open arms, it should have been the Jewish people. Israel, Paul’s beloved countrymen, should have received Christ. Just like how Paul himself should have originally received Christ, instead of persecuting Christians. But God intervened in Paul’s life. God changed Paul into a believer. Paul now grieves that so many Israelites, stubborn, and hard-hearted, will not believe in Jesus. Will not turn and receive the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. So many of his family according to the flesh that are accursed from Christ.
And yet it’s at this point that Paul makes a rather interesting point. He makes the point that not all Israel is truly Israel. This is verses 6-13, the second half of our passage for today. Specifically verse 6 starts with this assertion that not all Israel are of Israel. This is such a crucial point to get. Suddenly, it challenges all what some might have thought Israel was all about. Paul had just got done talking about all the earthly privileges that had come to the nation of Israel. To ethnic Israel. One might have mistakenly thought that God’s election of Israel as his chosen people meant that every single biological person descendant of Abraham was one of God’s chosen people. One might have thought that such biological descendants, and only them, were of God’s chosen people. But that’s not true, Paul says. What Paul says here is radical and so very important. Not all the of the biological descendants of Israel are truly of Israel.
Sound confusing? What we are to understand is that the label of Israel can be used in two different ways. One, it can be used to refer biologically to an ethnic group of people we also call Jewish or Hebrew. Second, it can refer to the true chosen people of God. The true Israel, in the sense of verse 6 is the second usage of the term. And this true Israel is not made up of the people referred to with the first usage of the word. Not made up of exclusively all biological descendants of Israel. What Paul wants us to recognize is that the ethnic people who descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob formed a nation known as Israel. This was the outward visible church of God at the time. But just like in today’s church, there are people who are outwardly members of the church, but aren’t really, truly, members. People in the church today who aren’t really believers, aren’t really a part of the church. Outwardly they are, but not spiritually. Not truly before God. Likewise, in the Old Testament nation of Israel, there were many physical descendants of Abraham, but not all of them were actually children of God, children of the promise. Not all are Israel who are of Israel. Many are biologically related, but not all are truly God’s chosen people. That’s what Paul is saying the term and concept of “Israel” is ultimately all about. The real Israel is the people God has actually chosen to save. They are the one’s God’s chosen to work his good promises through.
That is what verses 6-13 spell out for us with several examples. Verse 7 asserts that just because you are Abraham’s offspring, doesn’t mean you are really part of God’s promised chosen people. The example given is Isaac versus Ishmael. Abraham and Sarah had thought maybe God could fulfill his promises to Abraham if he had a son through Sarah’s maidservant Hagar. That is how Ishmael was born to Abraham. But God said no. There would yet be a child born through Sarah and Abraham. That was Isaac. Through him would the promise be fulfilled.
But in case that made you think the issue was the different mother, the next example rules out that possibility. Verses 10-13 give the example of the next generation. Isaac and Rebecca have baby twins, Jacob and Esau. In that case, the mother was the same. They even were conceived at the same time. But even before they were born, before they could do anything good or bad, God chose ahead of time to work his promise through Jacob. Not Esau. As it says in verse 11, “That the purpose of God according to election might stand.”
The rest of the chapter continues to flush this out further. We’ll be studying this chapter more in the next few sermons. But the point here with these two examples are that True Israel is clearly not made up of everybody who is biologically descended from the patriarchs of Israel. Ishmael and Esau are but examples of this. You could point to many others in Israel’s history that show themselves not to really be of God. Those ones are not truly Israel, because they weren’t really of God. They weren’t really God’s chosen ones. Otherwise, they would be of God.
Well, what’s also clear as we read on and say especially when we get to chapter 11, is that this true Israel also includes some who are not biologically related to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Chapter 11 especially describes how God is now bringing Gentiles into his family. They are being grafted onto the olive tree of God’s people in Christ. This is the reality for the New Testament church today. It’s made up of both Jews and Gentiles, ethnically speaking. Biologically speaking. But this mixed group is the true Israel. People made up of many nations, from many family trees, biologically speaking, are together the real Israel, if they believe in Jesus. If they truly are in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. They are real Israel, which basically means they, we, are the real chosen people of God.
You see, that’s what this passage is getting at. It’s getting at the fact that God has chosen a people for himself. That God has elected or predestined some humans to be in a special relationship to himself. In the Old Testament, those chosen people were generally referred to as Israel. The nation of Israel outwardly existed as an organization that gathered the true Israel, those truly born again into a real saving relationship with God. Now that the gospel is going out to the nations, this means Gentiles who become believers and join with God’s church are also shown to be “chosen” by God. And so all along, this is what really makes someone part of God’s people. If God chose you from the beginning, regardless of your ethnic background, then you will ultimately, at some point in your life, hear the gospel and believe and be saved. We’ll deal with the doctrine of predestination more in our next Romans’ sermon, but for now see that this is the answer to the question here of who is truly Israel. It’s not a biological or ethnic distinction ultimately. Not as he uses the term here.
Of course this might come as a surprise to some. Too many churches today still refer to the nation of Israel today, or the Jewish people in general, as God’s chosen people. But they miss the revelation of Romans 9. The Christian church today is the real Israel. And even then, really the invisible church, is the real Israel. Not just those outwardly members in a Christian church. But those who have a real saving faith in Jesus. They are the ones who God has chosen and called and justified and brought into his one body. The church is God’s chosen people; not the nation of Israel today.
All of this is to answer the question and concern raised by Paul in verse 6. Has the word of God failed? Has the word of God failed if there are so many Jewish people alive today that don’t believe in Jesus? That are enemies to the gospel of Jesus Christ? That are not saved and have no hope. Did all their place of privilege serve no good purpose? Did all the promises fail? Did God’s Word not accomplish what it claimed to do? Paul says that God’s word did not fail. And he answered that by showing how the promise has worked. We just have to understand who the promise is ultimately for. It’s for God’s chosen ones. His elect. And that’s not ultimately a biological distinction.
Well, we know that the Word of God has not failed, because the Scripture says that all God’s promises are “yes” in Jesus, 2 Corinthians 1:20. In Christ, all God’s Word has found its full effect. Just for a moment think about how Christ brings to fulfillment all those many privileges enjoyed by the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Think about how he fulfills the eight things we read about. Our adoption comes in Christ, because he solves the enmity we have with the Father. No true Father/child relationship could otherwise truly happen. True glory comes as we behold Jesus Christ. As John 1:14 says, “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.” In terms of the covenants, they all pointed to Jesus. Galatians says that Jesus is the promised seed of the Abrahamic covenant. The Mosaic covenant and the giving of the law finds fulfillment in Jesus who fulfilled all the terms of the law, for us. Also, the sacrifices for sin mandated in the Mosaic covenant are fulfilled by Jesus’ atonement on the cross. And the Davidic covenant clearly is fulfilled by the coming of King Jesus, son of David. In terms of the temple service of God, we realize how in Christ, we now have access to God. We all serve God in worship as a royal priesthood. That’s what makes our weekly Worship together so wonderful and so real. As for the promises, we’ve already mentioned their fulfillment in Jesus. And when you think of the fathers, just think of a passage like Hebrews 11 that talks about the faith of all these fathers. They were looking toward Jesus and to the kingdom he would bring. Well, that Jesus has come. Yes, even born physically through the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Born to save his chosen people from their sins.
Christ then is the true Israel. And it’s in Christ, that we are a part of this true Israel. He makes all these spiritual privileges meaningful. And it’s in him that we find their benefits. We even here today, have become a part of these things because of our faith in Christ. The spiritual heritage of the nation of Israel has become our heritage, the adoption, the covenants, the promises, all of it. Israel’s history is our history. Frankly, it’s more our history, than any Jewish person who isn’t a true believer in Jesus Christ. All this is possible because Christ did what Paul could not. He let himself become accursed so we could be saved. On the cross, Jesus took on our curse, so we would be forgiven. He experienced hell on the cross so we wouldn’t have to.
And it’s in that, that we know Paul has a very good desire here. Paul’s heart is right. He’s broken for the lost. Particularly for those unsaved loved ones in his life. For those who grew up in the church and when what really mattered came to them, they missed it. They missed the Christ. And his heart is broken for them. And so brothers and sisters, this is my closing application for us today. Paul has a heart for these unsaved loved ones. Ones who even grew up in the visible church. We too should have that same heart. We’ve said it already. This passage especially applies to those children born to believers, baptized at birth and raised in the church, but who have since turned away from following Christ.
Think of all the privileges they’ve had. Surely the list of verses 4 and 5 apply to them. We can think of their baptisms. Their Sunday School lessons. Their catechism training. All their many hours in worship. Surely all the contributions they made to the church and all the ways the church ministered unto them. Maybe even their initial professions of faith for some of them, and receiving of the Lord’s Supper. All the sermons they’ve heard. All the Bible passages they’ve memorized. Our heart aches with Paul as we think of their present state.
The application here then, at least to start, is to affirm our yearnings. To affirm that deep pain and grieving we have for these loved ones in our life. It’s not always just a covenant child of your own even. It’s any close friend you’ve known that you’ve seen walk away from God. It breaks our heart. This passage tells us that it should break our hearts. That it should pain us. Let that sorrow be acknowledged and affirmed. It’s okay to mourn about this.
I wish I could promise you that we could know for sure that these wayward ones would eventually come back and be saved. I don’t know that. None of us can. Only God knows. But the encouragement I would like to offer is what we will see in the next few chapters. Several things offer us hope. One, Romans 11 talks about how the wayward Israelites can yet be grafted back into the olive tree, if they believe. That should give us hope.
But Paul also talks about how God is using the faith and conversion of so many Gentiles into the church to bring about jealousy among ethnic, unbelieving, Israelites. The point is that as the church does its work, some of these wayward ones can see what God is doing in the lives of new Christians coming to the faith. This might spark in them a draw to come to Christ themselves. I believe this same hope would apply to those who’ve left the Christian church today. Even rebellious covenant children who’ve walked away from the church. Or anyone who’s walked away from the church. God can still excite them to return. And he often does that by them witnessing the faith and conversion of others.
So that means, if nothing else, we should keep busy with the work of the church. Keep evangelizing to others. Who knows, God might use you to convert someone else. And that wayward unsaved loved one might see it, be aroused to spiritual jealousy, and return to the Lord. In general, these unsaved loved ones who have left the church are watching. They are witnesses to how you conduct your life and to what the church is doing. They are watching. By God’s grace may we look to be used for Christ, even when the watching world consists of the wayward ones in our midst. Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.