Israel’s Responsibility for Rejecting Christ – Romans 9:30-33
Pastor Mark Hardy May 19, 2013
I have a key ring here that has a number of different keys on it. Some of them are the same size and color and look very much alike, but only one will open the front door of my house. It doesn’t matter how sincere I may be in believing a different key will open the door, the fact remains that only the right key will open the door.
The same is true with opening the door to heaven. Although people around the world are sincerely trying many different keys to open heaven’s door, the only right key is saving faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is not mere intellectual assent to the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth. It is not believing in Him the same way we do about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln— real men who lived a long time ago, but someone we’re not trusting in to do anything for us. This is like what James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” Merely believing that God exists isn’t enough, for even the demons believe that and they are certainly not going to heaven.
True saving faith is transferring all of my trust from myself to Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” That’s saving faith!
Let’s say that me standing represents that I am trusting in myself and my own good works to try to earn God’s favor to let me into heaven. But you sitting in your chair represents that you are trusting in Christ alone for your salvation. In other words, Jesus is the chair and you’re relying on and putting all your weight on Him alone. It is this saving faith that has always been and will ever be God’s one and only key to open the door of heaven. And it is this faith that we will be looking at this morning.
Concerning this faith, John MacArthur states, “God’s demand for faith on the part of men is in no way inconsistent with His sovereignty. By His own sovereign decree, His gracious offer of salvation becomes effective only when it is willingly received by faith. In regard to salvation, the other side of divine sovereignty is human responsibility. From the human standpoint there is a tension, even a seeming contradiction, between those two realities. By human reasoning, they seem mutually exclusive. But both of them are clearly taught in God’s Word, and when one is emphasized to the exclusion of the other, the gospel is invariably perverted. By His own determination, God will not save a person who does not believe in His Son, and a person cannot save himself simply by the act of his own will, no matter how sincere and heartfelt. In God’s sovereign order, both His gracious provision and the exercise of man’s will are required for salvation. Like many other revelations in Scripture, those two truths cannot be fully harmonized by reason, only accepted by faith.” (pg. 49)
Whereas in Romans 9:6-29 Paul has been primarily focusing on divine sovereignty, as we now come to vv. 30-33 he brings Israel’s responsibility into focus in their rejection of Jesus Christ. These four verses provide a transitional bridge to the major theme of human responsibility, which we will see in chapter 10. Turn in your Bible to Romans 9.
In Romans 9:30-33 we see two statements about the success of Gentiles and the failure of Israelites regarding salvation and what we can learn from both of them.
The first statement is about:
I. How the Gentile Majority has Transpired
A. Look at v. 30: What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
1. Here Paul begins with the rhetorical question “What shall we say then?” He uses this question not only as a fitting summary and conclusion to what he has just said about divine sovereignty in vv. 1-29, but also as an introduction to the new section on the importance of human responsibility in 9:30-10:21.
2. In essence, Paul says, “In light of God’s sovereign calling of Gentiles and some Jews, what do we find now to be the case?” First, he shows how the Gentile majority has transpired.
3. Look again at v. 30: That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness… (Stop there)
4. When Paul says “Gentiles” here he is not referring specifically to all ethnic Gentiles or non-Jews, but only to Christian Gentiles who have been effectually called, which we saw in vv. 24-26.
5. Even though prior to them becoming Christians they “…did not pursue righteous,” Paul states they “attained righteousness.” The words “pursue” and “attained” convey the imagery of a foot race.
6. To “pursue” (diokonta) means to run swiftly after something, to earnestly strive for a goal. And “attained” (katelaben) is the actual achievement of the goal.
7. And the goal here is “righteousness.” The word “righteousness” (dikaiosunen), which occurs four times in vv. 30 and 31, does not refer to the moral uprightness that many Gentiles in Paul’s day diligently pursued, but rather refers to a right standing before God, which is justification or God’s saving righteousness.
8. Here Paul is saying that in their former pagan lives these Gentiles, who are now Christians, never pursued after a right standing before the one true living God. In reality, no one ever has!
9. Sure, many people try to be good and live moral lives, but as we have already seen earlier “There is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11) and the unbelieving “…mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Rom. 8:7).
10. But even though these Gentile Christians “did not pursue righteousness” previously, they “attained righteousness.” As we saw back in 1:16, although God’s saving righteousness through the gospel of Jesus Christ came “to the Jew first,” the Gentiles (or Greeks) received it in overwhelmingly large numbers.
11. But how did they attain this right standing before God? Look what Paul says at the end of v. 30, “…even the righteousness which is by faith.”
12. Here we see that saving faith is the only means of attaining salvation. Previously in chapter 4, we saw that Abraham, who was “the father of all who believe” (vv. 11, 16), was saved by his faith which God “credited to him as righteousness” (vv. 3, 9, 22), and this happened before he was circumcised (v. 10) and long before God ever gave His Law through Moses.
13. Therefore, how the Gentile majority has transpired was even though they never pursued God’s saving righteousness, when they were suddenly confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit powerfully worked in their hearts and drew them to Christ (Jn. 6:44). At that moment they transferred their trust from themselves to Christ alone for eternal life.
14. Seeking to keep divine sovereignty and human responsibility in its biblical balance, Thomas Schreiner states, “The ultimate reason that Gentiles, who were not even pursuing a right status with God, exercised faith is the electing word of God that cannot fail (9:6) since election is not based on the will or effort of the one chosen (9:16). The reference to faith shows that human response is imperative, but the ultimate source of such faith is God’s merciful election.” (pg. 536)
15. Now in stark contrast to the Christian Gentiles who at first did not pursue righteousness but ended up attaining it by faith, we now come to the second statement, which is about:
II. How the Jewish Minority has Transpired
A. Look at v. 31: but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
1. The Gentiles didn’t seek a right standing before God and found it, but the majority of the Jews who zealously strove to find it “did not arrive at the law.” They never reached the goal.
2. What a shocking irony since the Jews themselves possessed the Mosaic Law to instruct them about God’s will! Now what was true in the 1st century is still true today in the 21st century!
3. Notice that Paul says that Israel was pursuing a “law of righteousness.” Although there are various views as to what this phrase means, I believe C.E.B. Cranfield says it best, “The law is the law of righteousness because it was intended and designed to show the people of Israel how they could be righteous before God, to show them that the way to this righteousness is—faith. In the law which they were pursuing so zealously they had that which was all the time pointing out the way to possession of a status of righteousness in God’s sight.” (pg. 508)
4. Although Israel had the Mosaic Law to show them how to have a right standing before God, the great tragedy was that they failed to grasp it real meaning and to render it true obedience.
B. Paul goes on to explain the reason for this in v. 32: Why? Because they (i.e. the unbelieving majority of Israel) did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.
1. Notice that Paul gives no hint that Israel’s zealous pursuit of keeping the Law, if done as an expression of faith and obedience to God, is wrong or useless (Ex. 19:3-6; 20:1-17). The Law itself is not the problem, for we saw back 7:12 and 14 that the Law is “holy and righteous and good” and “spiritual.”
2. The reason why Israel failed to arrive at the Law’s righteousness is because they pursued it in the wrong way. Legalism was their problem!
3. Instead of humbly coming to God by faith, which is how the Jewish minority or remnant has transpired, the majority of the Jews attempted to establish their own self-righteousness by their own self-effort and law-keeping.
4. Notice again that Paul says, “…they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” God’s saving righteousness has never been attained by “works,” but they acted “as though” it was.
5. People around the world do the exact same thing today. They try to earn God’s favor by doing good deeds and trying to be a good person, so that God will one day weigh their good against their bad and accept them into heaven.
6. But God’s Word is crystal clear that absolutely no one is “good enough” to deserve heaven because God’s standard of goodness is perfection. James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
7. And Isaiah 64:6 states that to a perfectly holy God “…all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”
8. No wonder Romans 3:20 declares that, “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
9. The primary function of the Law, which the Jews should have known, is to show us that it is impossible in ourselves to keep it. As the Spirit of God uses the Law of God it exposes that we are all sinners and convicts us of our sin, in order to drive us to despair in ourselves and to lead us to saving faith in Jesus Christ who alone can save us from the penalty and power of sin and give us eternal life.
10. Galatians 3:24 says, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
11. When you boil down all of the religions and cults of the world into their bottomline belief about how to be saved, how to open the door to heaven there are really only two religions in the world: one is works-righteousness—what we can do by our own self-efforts to earn God’s favor; and the other is grace-righteousness—what Jesus Christ has already done for us in His death and resurrection and our simple faith in Him.
12. Salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no other way!
13. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” And Peter declared in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Matt. 7:13-14)
14. Whereas only a minority of the Jews came to Jesus Christ in saving faith, the majority of them kept on attempting to establish their own self-righteousness by their works.
C. Paul shows us the result of doing this at the end of v. 32: “…They stumbled over the stumbling stone.”
1. If the imagery of a foot race is still in Paul’s mind, then the picture of a runner stumbling over a hurdle and losing the race here vividly captures his point. Now although the identification of the “stumbling stone” here as being Jesus Christ is not immediately evident, this is confirmed in v. 33.
2. The word “stumbled” (prosekopsan) is used metaphorically of Israel striking against, falling down and tripping over the “stumbling stone” of Christ. A “stumbling stone” is that which gives offense, causes revulsion, arouses opposition, and is an object of anger or disapproval.
3. That is exactly how the majority of Israel felt about Jesus Christ and His gospel of grace through faith. This was totally contrary to all that they believed was the means of attaining righteousness before God.
4. They failed to see that Christ was the fulfillment to which their Old Testament Law pointed and the only Source of saving righteousness. Therefore, in rejecting Him by refusing to believe in Him alone they were rejecting God’s only way of salvation.
5. Galatians 2:21 says, “…if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” In other words, if God knew that we could save ourselves by our own good works, why would Christ have bothered to die for our sins?
6. John Stott said it well, “The fact that Christ died for our sins is proof positive that we cannot save ourselves. But to make this humiliating confession is an intolerable offence to our pride. So instead of humbling ourselves, we “stumble over the stumbling–stone.” (pg. 277)
7. This is why when Jesus in essence said to the Jews, “Transfer your trust from yourselves to Me,” they stumbled over Him and were so enraged that they would enlist the Roman’s help to put Him to death. But although Israel’s rejection of the Messiah was sovereignly ordained by God, they were fully responsible (Acts 2:23; 4:23-24).
D. Paul then shows how God predicted that Israel would stumble over Christ, long before the Messiah ever came. Look at v. 33: just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
1. Paul’s quotation here, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is a combination of Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16, although it does not match either of those verses exactly. The first and final phrases are from Isaiah 28:16; and in between these is a portion from Isaiah 8:14.
2. Douglas Moo accurately states, “By replacing the middle of Isaiah 28:16 with a phrase from Isaiah 8:14, Paul brings out the negative point about Israel’s fall that is his main point in this context. At the same time, by including the reference to Isaiah 28:16, he lays the foundation for the positive exposition of Christ as a ‘stone’ that he will develop in chapter 10.” (pg. 630)
3. The stone imagery that Paul brings out from these two passages is that positively God Himself is a refuge and security in the midst of judgment to those who trust Him, but negatively He is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to those who don’t. And the identity of this “stone” is seen to be the Messiah, Jesus Christ, by the phrase “HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM,” which is also seen in 10:11 and 13 that refer to Christ.
4. Notice that to Israel especially Jesus Christ is not only “A STONE OF STUMBLING,” that which gives offense, causes revulsion, arouses opposition, and is an object of anger or disapproval, but He is also “A ROCK OF OFFENSE.”
5. The word “offense” (skandalou) here is the term from which we get our English word “scandal.” To the majority of Israel who had rejected Him, Jesus was to them a great scandal.
6. But it is important to see here that Paul says God is the One who appointed the Stone over which the Jews would stumble and be scandalized when He says, “I LAY IN ZION.” To this Thomas Schreiner rightly states, “The disbelief of the Jews is placed under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty, without any intimation that their responsibility for unbelief is lessened.” (pg. 540)
7. Now this stone imagery being fulfilled in the Person of Christ is seen in various places in the New Testament. Jesus applied to Himself the stone prophecy of Psalm 118:22 when He said in Matthew 21:42-44, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (Mk. 12:10-11; Lk. 20:17-18; Acts 4:11; Gal. 5:11; Eph. 2:20)
8. Peter combined these same two Isaiah texts with Psalm 118:22 when he said of Christ in 1 Peter 2:4-8: And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER store, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,” and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE;” for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
9. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18-23: For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; to the Jew a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
10. He went on to state in 3:11, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
11. The prophet Daniel completes the picture in Daniel 2 (vv. 34-35, 44-45) by adding in that the One who was the stone over which the Jews stumbled and the rock that offended them will, in the future, be the Stone that will break in pieces all the kingdoms of the world.
12. Therefore, this stone imagery refers to Jesus Christ and as the Stone, He has either a positive or negative effect on everyone depending how they respond to Him. Since He is both the Savior and the Judge—those who receive Him are saved and He is to them a precious cornerstone; but those who reject Him are judged and He is to them a crushing stone.
13. Instead of putting their faith in their long awaited Messiah and building their lives on Him, when He finally came the majority of Israel stumbled over Him and was offended by Him. What a tragedy!
14. But, as Paul concludes at the end of v. 33, “…HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
15. Those who put their trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior and Lord never need to fear that their faith is ill placed or ill-founded. For what He has promised in His Word He will do!
In closing, let me ask you: What are you depending on to open the door of heaven for you? Is it your own good works, or are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone? You and I are fully responsible for either rejecting or receiving Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven.
If you haven’t yet received Him by faith, I encourage you to do today what you will one day be glad you did when you stand before Almighty God.