Introduction: Paul’s Sorrow over Israel’s Unbelief Part 1 – Romans 9:1-3
Pastor Mark Hardy February 17, 2013
One day while the famous English preacher George Whitefield was preaching, he was overcome by his emotions, and he began to weep quietly. Then lifting up his hands, he exclaimed, “O my hearers, think of the wrath to come! Think of the wrath to come! Flee to Jesus for refuge and salvation right now while there is still time.”
One of those in the crowd who heard him said, “His earnestness brought tears to my eyes, and for weeks afterward I couldn’t get the picture of that concerned soul-winner out of my mind. My own heart was warmed by his zeal. Eventually the gospel he preached with such conviction resulted in my conversion.”
The person who would be mightily used by God to lead sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ must first have heartfelt love and compassion for them. This is one of the things that we will be looking at this morning. Turn in your Bible to Romans 9.
As we come to Romans 9-11, Paul begins with an introduction in the first five verses that can be divided into two parts: Paul’s sorrow over Israel’s unbelief in vv. 1-3, and Israel’s God-given privileges and promises in vv. 4-5. This morning we’ll see only the first.
In Romans 9:1-3 we’re going to look at three aspects of Paul’s introduction to help us understand what chapters 9-11 are all about. The first aspect is this:
I. An Overview to Understand these Chapters
A. Having finished the doctrinal teaching of chapters 1-8 of his letter and ending chapter 8 with the celebration of the security of the believer, we might expect Paul to have gone directly to the practical exhortations of chapters 12-15 on how we ought to now live our daily lives. But he doesn’t!
1. Paul adds chapters 9-11, which some see as only a parenthesis or excursus between 8:39 and 12:1. But it is important to understand that these three chapters as a unit are an integral part of the letter, for they help to answer some of the major questions in dealing with a very significant problem that was created in the first eight chapters.
2. It started clear back in the theme verse of the letter in 1:16, where Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” If the priority of the gospel is “to the Jew first” then why has the Jew so little share in this salvation?
3. John Murray said it like this, “It is this priority that appears to be contradicted by the large-scale unbelief and apostasy of Israel.” (pg. xiii)
4. We have seen in chapters 3-8 that while the Gentiles are entering into God’s promises to Abraham—such as righteousness, reconciliation, sonship, the gift of the Spirit, and future resurrection and inheritance—the majority of the Jews to whom the promises were given have rejected the Messiah.
5. But if God uniquely loved Israel as His chosen people (Deut. 7:6f; Jer. 31:3) and appears to not be faithful to the promises He made to her, then how can we as Gentiles be sure that He will be faithful to the salvation and sanctification promises that He made to the church? Especially after being told in 8:31-39 that absolutely no one and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ!
6. Therefore, the very character of God is at stake. So the central issue that Paul addresses in chapters 9-11 is God’s faithfulness to His promises to both Israel and the Gentiles. And so he will defend the trustworthiness of God throughout these three chapters.
7. There are two other things that we need to understand as we go through these chapters: First, is that we will see the biblical balance of both the absolute sovereignty of God and the full responsibility of man.
8. Chapter 9 focuses mostly on divine sovereignty, which Paul began in 8:28; chapter 10 focuses mostly on human responsibility; and chapter 11 focuses on these two biblical truths being interrelated. We must remember that both are true, although our finite minds cannot fully understand how they can be.
9. Second, since what is foremost in Paul’s mind in chapters 9-11 is Israel’s salvation, we need to understand that her election to salvation is both corporate and individual. Thomas Schreiner accurately states, “In Romans 9-11 we have both corporate and individual election, for we cannot have the one without the other. If individuals are not elected, one cannot have a corporate group.”
10. Therefore, as we go through these chapters we will be careful to point out when the text is speaking of the elect nation in general, the unsaved majority of the nation, or the elect remnant chosen out of the nation.
B. Now in your sermon notes I have given you a general outline of Romans 9:1-11:36 and I want to briefly go over this with you. Notice that this outline is divided into two major sections:
I. Israel’s current rejection of the Messiah (9:1-10:21)
A. Introduction of the issue Paul seeks to resolve (9:1-5)
1. Paul’s sorrow over Israel’s failure to embrace the Gospel (9:1-3)
2. Israel’s historical privileges and promises are called into question (9:4-5)
B. Paul’s defense of his thesis in v. 6, “But it is not as though the word of God (i.e. saving promises of God to Israel) has failed” (9:6-29)
1. God’s Word never promised salvation to all the biological descendants of Abraham (9:6b-13)
2. Paul’s defense against objections concerning the sovereign calling of God (9:14-29)
a. The first objection: “God isn’t fair!” (9:14-18)
b. The second objection: “We’re not responsible!” (9:19-23)
c. The third objection: “We’re special and the Gentiles are dogs” (9:24-29)
C. Paul brings Israel’s responsibility into focus (9:30-33)
(These four verses provide a transitional bridge to the theme of human responsibility in chapter 10)
D. Man’s undeniable responsibility (10:1-21)
1. Israel is responsible for confusing the Gospel (10:1-3)
2. All people are responsible for responding to the Gospel (10:4-13)
3. Believers are responsible for proclaiming the Gospel (10:14-15)
4. Israel is responsible for resisting and rejecting the Gospel (10:16-21)
II. Israel’s future restoration (11:1-36)
A. Israel’s rejection leaves a remnant (11:1-10)
B. Israel’s rejection leads to Gentiles being saved (11:11-24)
C. Israel’s rejection is partial and temporary not total and final; the promise of her future salvation (11:25-32)
D. Concluding doxology to God’s glory and praise (11:33-36)
We now come to the second aspect of Paul’s introduction, which is this:
II. Paul’s Shift from Celebration to Lamentation
A. Look at v. 1: I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit.
1. Here Paul begins by assuring his readers that what he is going to tell them is the absolute truth. And he certifies his truthfulness in three bold statements.
2. First, by declaring positively, “I am telling the truth in Christ.” The phrase “in Christ” refers to his union with Jesus Christ, who is the truth.
3. 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 in Ephesians 4:20-21 we read, “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught Him, just as truth is in Jesus.”
4. To Paul it is unthinkable that he would say anything other than the absolute truth, since he was in union with Christ and accountable to Him.
5. Second, Paul certifies his truthfulness by stating negatively, “I am not lying.”
6. Fredrick Godet correctly states, “In the eyes of Paul there is something so holy in Christ, that in the pure and luminous atmosphere of His felt presence no lie, and not even any exaggeration, is possible.” (Murray pg. 2)
7. Paul wants his readers to know that his words express exactly the reality of what is true. There is no flattery, no insincerity, and no exaggerated claims whatsoever in what he will say.
8. Third, Paul certifies his truthfulness by saying, “…my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit.”
9. The “conscience” (suneideseos) is the God-given capacity of moral self-critique. Since it has also been tainted and corrupted by sin like every other faculty of fallen man, it cannot function as an infallible guide, but it does either defend us or accuse us.
10. Whatever values we presently hold as to what is right and wrong, our conscience functions as the inner witness or moral referee that convicts us to make sure our motives and behaviors are acting consistent with our values. Thus, it impels us to do the right thing as we make decisions.
11. Our conscience either approves or disapproves our actions. When it approves we are said to have a good or pure conscience (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9; Heb. 13:18; 1 Pet. 3:16, 21). But when it disapproves we are said to have a bad, guilty, or seared conscience (Jn. 8:9; Rom. 2:15; 1 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:15; Heb. 10:22).
12. It is important to understand that our conscience doesn’t make the values we hold to; it simply keeps us faithful to what we believe. And since our conscience is dependent on our values, therefore, if our values are wrong then our conscience is not going to help us.
13. This is why the saying, “Let your conscience be your guide” is not correct, for it is not an infallible guide. The only infallible standard is the Word of God.
14. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” And 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
15. Notice again that Paul says his conscience “…testifies with me in the Holy Spirit.” Here he appeals to the fact that since he is indwelt by the Spirit, under the Spirit’s control, and divinely informed by the Spirit, his conscience is pure and thus his readers can be assured of the truthfulness of what he says.
16. Therefore, what Paul is going to say is certifies as absolute truth by Jesus Christ, a pure conscience, and the Holy Spirit. But why would Paul go to such great lengths to make sure his readers know he is telling the truth?
17. Because what he is going to say may seem unbelievable or at best highly exaggerated. His transformation from “Saul of Tarsus—the persecutor of Christians” to “the apostle Paul—the leading proponent of Christianity” made his own people see him as the great betrayer and they despised him more than a pagan Gentile (Acts 9:23; 13:50; 20:3; 2 Cor. 11:24).
18. And since he preached the gospel message of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from the Law, the unbelieving Jews thought that he was against them. But nothing could be further from the truth!
19. Paul then states exactly what he is absolutely truthful about.
B. Look at v. 2: that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.
1. What a dramatic shift from the mountain-top of joyful celebration because of our security in Christ in 8:31-39, to the depths of sorrowful lamentation. Paul presents himself as a man in mourning.
2. Now in this context the terms “sorrow” and “grief” are used synonymously and speak of the pain and anguish that filled Paul’s “heart.” The word “heart” (kardia) speaks of the mission control center of our lives; it refers to the whole of our inner life and includes our mind, will and emotions.
3. Paul wants his readers to know the absolute truthfulness that he was in “great” and “unceasing” pain in the very core of his being. Now isn’t it interesting that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive in the life of the believer.
4. Martin Luther rightly said, “Love is not only pure joy, and delight, but also great and deep heaviness of heart and sorrow.” (Hughes pg. 174)
5. As believers we can experience deep and even inexpressible joy in our love relationship with the Lord Jesus, and yet at the same time, we can also feel deep sorrow over a loved one who is not saved. This is what Paul is describing here.
6. This brings us to the third aspect of Paul’s introduction, which is this:
III. The Reason for Paul’s overwhelming Sorrow
A. Look at v. 3: For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
1. The word “For” (gar) here indicates that Paul is beginning to give the reason for the great and unceasing sorrow in his heart. Now he does not directly say what this is, but it is expressed indirectly.
2. Look again at v. 3, “…I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
3. We can discern the reason for Paul’s sorrow by what he says he would do for them if he could. Notice specifically whom he is talking about.
4. When Paul says here in 9:3, “my brethren” (adelphon) this is not a term of endearment for his fellow Christians, which is the normal meaning, but for his fellow Jews. This ethnic designation is conferred by his next statement, “…my kinsmen according to the flesh,” which speaks of earthly descent.
5. So Paul is talking about his fellow unbelieving Jews when he says, “…I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren…”
6. The word “accursed” (anathema) here is used in the negative sense and refers to being devoted to God for destruction in eternal hell (1 Cor. 12:3; 16:22; Gal. 1:8-9). And thus as a consequence, one is forever “separated (or cut off) from Christ.”
7. It is important to understand that Paul is not speaking theologically here, but emotionally out of the depths of his pain and compassion for his fellow Israelites. The imperfect tense of the one Greek word translated “I could wish” (euchomen) conveys the sense that Paul could entertain such a wish if it could possibly be granted, but he is well aware that it was impossible to ever be able to happen.
8. He had just concluded the previous chapter in v. 39 saying that absolutely no one and nothing “…will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Although he knows nothing can separate him from Christ, here he states the impossible wish to be “…separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren.”
9. Therefore, the words he chooses indirectly expresses the precise condition of his unbelieving kinsmen: they are accursed, separated from Christ. What is foremost in Paul’s mind in chapters 9-11 is Israel’s salvation.
10. Paul’s great sorrow and unceasing grief is over Israel’s unbelief and rejection of the Messiah. He says this directly in 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
11. And in 11:14 he states, “If somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.
B. What a beautiful picture of the depth and intensity of Christ’s sacrificial love freely flowing in and through the heart of Paul for the lost.
1. Here we see that Paul loved his fellow Jews so much that he was not only willing, but also wished if possible to relinquish his own salvation and spend eternity in hell on their behalf if that would bring them to saving faith in Christ. He knew that, but for God’s gracious intervention on the Damascus road, he not only would still be among those unbelieving Jews, but he would also still be leading them in persecuting those who had acknowledged their Messiah.
2. And because of that, his heart is broken for them and he is willing to sacrifice himself if they could be saved. What love!
3. John Calvin rightly said of Paul, “It was, therefore, a proof of the most fervent love that Paul did not hesitate to call on himself the condemnation which he saw hanging over the Jews, in order that he might deliver them.” (Murray pg. 4)
4. This sacrificial love of Paul for his fellow Jews is reminiscent of Moses who interceded for the people after they built and worshiped the golden calf during the very time he was on Mount Sinai receiving the tablets of the law from God. When he saw what the people were doing, Moses said to them in Exodus 32:30, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
5. In vv. 31-32 we read: Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written.” Moses loved the people with a similar sacrificial love.
6. However, the supreme examples of sacrificial love are God the Father and God the Son. It is the gracious heart of the Father who so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to provide for its redemption.
7. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
8. And Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
9. And it is equally the gracious heart of Jesus Christ, who, in obedience to the Father and as our Substitute, gave His life so that we might live. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
10. Jesus Himself grieved over Israel’s unbelief. On Palm Sunday during Jesus’ triumphal entry when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, Luke 19:41 says, “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it.”
11. Jesus’ heart was broken over those who on the one hand hailed Him as their king, and yet on the other hand, rejected Him as their Messiah. He cried out to Israel in Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”
12. Because Paul was so surrendered or yielded to Jesus Christ and allowed the Holy Spirit to fully control him, he was able to manifest in his own life the depth and intensity of Christ’s sacrificial love for the lost. And it was Paul’s great sacrificial love for the lost that made him such a powerful instrument in the hands of God.
13. William Barclay said it best, “Paul was like the God whom he loved and served—he hated the sin, but he loved the sinner. No man will ever even begin to try to save men unless he first loves them. Paul sees the Jews, not as people to be lashed with anger, but as people to be yearned over with longing love.” (pg. 123)
In closing, let me ask you: What is the depth and intensity of Christ’s sacrificial love flowing in and through your heart for the lost? Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Do we really care about and weep over those who are right now on their way to a Christ-less, eternal hell? Are our hearts full of sorrow and grief for them like Paul’s was?
The person who would be mightily used by God to lead sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ must first have heartfelt love and compassion for them. But we will only experience Christ’s sacrificial love freely flowing in and through our hearts when we yield fully to His Lordship and allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, so that His fruit of love can be manifested in our lives. May we all do that afresh today!