Refusing Good News – Romans 10:16-21
Pastor Mark Hardy July 14, 2013
A couple weeks ago Julie and I went to our granddaughter Natalie’s one year birthday party. It was a time of celebration and I couldn’t help but remember this time last year was very difficult for our family.
As most of you know, while our daughter Jessica was at the hospital in labor suddenly her uterus split open vertically causing both her life and Natalie’s to be seriously threatened. Jessica was immediately rushed into emergency surgery but Natalie was code blue upon birth since she was without oxygen and it took fifteen minutes to get her out. The hospital staff got her breathing again and immediately sent her to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit at Sacred Heart Hospital where they medicated her and put her on a cooling machine to reduce any swelling in the brain from lack of oxygen.
At first we were all praying that Jessica and Natalie would survive the ordeal and were excited to receive the good news that they were both alive. Then we prayed that God would glorify Himself in healing Natalie of any damage that was caused by being so long without oxygen.
When the time came for her to go through the various neurological and muscular tests to diagnose the damage, we waited in anticipation and hope of hearing good news instead of bad. When the test results came back we were absolutely thrilled and gladly accepted the good news that everything was normal. And we all praised God for the miracle that He had performed in Natalie’s life. She is our miracle baby!
Everyone hopes for and gets excited about the good news in our lives. It may be the good news from our doctor that everything will be fine or the good news that we got the job or the good news that our retirement account went up or the good news from countless other things. But when it comes to the greatest good news ever given—that the life-saving and life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ will save our eternal souls, it is astonishing that this good news is often refused instead of accepted. This is exactly what happened in the passage we will be looking at this morning as we come to the end of our study of Romans 10. Turn there with me in your Bible.
In Romans 10:16-21 we see three facets of Israel’s rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for which she is fully responsible before God. The first facet is this:
I. The Reality of Israel’s Rejection
A. Look at v. 16: However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?”
1. Last time we saw in vv. 13-15 that Paul stated four rhetorical questions that outline a logical sequence or chain in reverse order that must be fulfilled if people are going to call on the Lord and be saved. When this sequence is put in progressive order it begins with God sending us as believers as His messengers; we then proclaim the good news of the gospel to others; people hear Christ’s message through us; and those who believe what they hear then call on the name of the Lord and are saved.
2. But as we come to v. 16, Paul suddenly declares an astonishing reality. Look again what he says, “However, they did not all heed the good news…”
3. The word “However” (alla) or “But” shows that in stark contrast to what would be expected these people “did not all heed the good news.” The word “heed” (hupekousan) here means “to listen attentively to or hear with the intent to obey and submit to it.”
4. Now who are the “they” and “all” that Paul is referring to here? Although these words are broad enough to include both Jews and Gentiles, in vv. 16-21 they refer primarily to the Jews. When we get to vv. 19 and 21 Paul will use the term “Israel” specifically.
5. Now what an understatement for Paul to say that the Israelites “did not all heed or obey the good news.” For we have already seen in our study that the majority of the Jews had rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ and only a small remnant had believed in Him (9:27).
6. Paul drives home this point by quoting Isaiah 53:1. In vv. 16-21 he will quote five times from the Old Testament and each time he does so from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, rather than from the Hebrew Scriptures.
7. Look at the end of v. 16: for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?”
8. This verse introduces one of the greatest messianic chapters in the Old Testament. It is a picture of the Suffering Servant or Messiah Jesus dying on the cross as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).
9. Here the prophet Isaiah wasn’t just concerned about his own generation, but foresaw the general rejection of the “report” (akoe) or heard message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially by God’s chosen people Israel.
10. Israel did not welcome Jesus at His first coming, for John 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” (12:37) “But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him.”
11. And in Paul’s day he stated in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.” And the reality of Israel’s rejection of the gospel is still true today!
12. The majority of the Jews did not and still do not believe and obey the good news of the gospel. Notice in v. 16 the inseparable connection between “heeding” or obedience (16a) and “believing” or faith (16b).
13. Faith and obedience, as well as, unbelief and disobedience are two sides of the same coin. Scripture makes it very clear that saving faith is marked by a pattern of submissive obedience to God’s truth, and that unbelief is marked by a pattern of disobedience to that truth (Acts 6:7; Rom. 1:5; 2 Thess. 1:7-8; 2:10-12; 3:14; Heb. 5:9
14. The gospel contains an implicit demand for obedience. For Acts 17:30 says that God “…commands all men everywhere to repent.” (NKJV)
15. Therefore, to obey the gospel is to believe it, which is to receive Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and Lord. And to refuse the good news of the gospel invitation is to disobey God.
B. Paul then gives a summarizing conclusion to what he has just said in vv. 14-16 as he comes to v. 17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
1. Just because the good news of the gospel is proclaimed doesn’t mean that those who hear it will necessarily believe and obey it. But when they do, it is because saving faith comes from hearing the message of the gospel, and this message heard is “the word of Christ.” The “word of Christ” is the spoken word about Christ, not Him speaking.
2. It is the gospel message which has Jesus Christ as its content. And the saving proclamation of the gospel always involves the proclamation of Jesus as Lord, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead, as we saw back in v. 9.
3. This is the essence of the gospel. We see a similar description in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 when Paul declares, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
4. Now since it is proclaiming the gospel that leads to hearing and hearing to believing, why is it then that the majority of the Israelites did not believe and obey it? We see this in the second facet of Israel’s rejection, which is this:
II. The Rationalization for Israel’s Rejection
A. In vv. 18-20 Paul presents two possible rationalizations or excuses for why Israel rejected the gospel. The first rationalization is this: Israel never Heard the gospel. Look at v. 18: But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? (Stop there)
1. Since hearing the message of the gospel is a vital step leading to believing in Jesus Christ, in this question Paul addresses the possibility that Israel never truly heard the gospel. For if the Jews had not heard the gospel they might use this to excuse or rationalize away their unbelief.
2. But having presented the possibility—“…surely they have never heard, have they?” Paul succinctly and emphatically answers the question, saying again in v. 18: Indeed they have.
3. And to make it crystal clear that Israel’s rejection of Christ and His gospel had absolutely nothing to do with their not hearing the gospel, Paul goes on to quote a portion of Psalm 19:4: THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH, AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD.
4. Since the spoken word about Christ is the gospel and this has to do with God’s special revelation, it is confusing why Paul quoted a portion of Scripture that refers to God’s general revelation in nature. There are various views as to why he did this.
5. However, I believe Thomas Schreiner brings out Paul’s meaning best when he states, “Psalm 19 refers to both general revelation (vv. 1-6) and special revelation (vv. 7-14). Paul perceives that the progress and the course of the gospel is such that it now extends over the whole earth, so that the proclamation of the gospel is now comparable to the all-encompassing reach of general revelation. One should not press Paul’s words inordinately here. The purpose is not to say that all missionary work has been accomplished, for as Rom. 15:24 demonstrates Paul had plans to evangelize Spain. What these words indicate is that the mission was now extended to include Gentiles (Col. 1:23). God’s general revelation thus functions as a type and anticipation of the gospel message that extends to all peoples.” (pg. 571)
6. So in this verse Paul is invoking the authority of Scripture to prove that even in his day the gospel was permeating the inhabited earth (Col. 1:5, 23), although not every place was reached so there is a degree of hyperbole here. But Paul’s point is that since the gospel is spreading universally so much that even the Gentiles have heard it and received it, then the Jews cannot say that they have never heard it.
7. The Jews in Thessalonica dragged Paul and some other Christians before the city authorities and said in Acts 17:6, “These men who have upset the world have come here also.”
8. And in Jerusalem the Jews from Asia began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on Paul crying out in Acts 21:28, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”
9. Indeed the Jews have heard, but they would not heed. No wonder Jesus often said to the crowds, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15; Mk. 4:9).
B. The second rationalization is: Israel didn’t Understand the gospel. Look at v. 19: But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? (Stop there)
1. Here Paul explicitly identifies that it is “Israel” that is the real subject in this paragraph. In this question Paul addresses the possibility that Israel “did not know”—understand or grasp the meaning of the gospel that they had heard.
2. But Paul also rejects this rationalization or excuse for the Jews unbelief. He proves his point by again appealing to the authority of Israel’s own Scriptures to show what they really knew.
3. Paul quotes two Old Testament leaders—Moses, who represents the Law, and Isaiah, who represents the prophets. First, he quotes a portion of the song of Moses, which was written 1,500 years earlier from Deuteronomy 32:21.
4. Look at v. 19: First Moses says, “I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER YOU.”
5. Here we see that God Himself is speaking through His prophetic mouthpiece Moses, who prophesied that Israel would be driven to jealousy and anger by another nation. Originally, God was rebuking Israel for making Him jealous and provoking Him to anger by their idolatry.
6. In response, God makes Israel jealous and provokes them to anger. And Paul says He does so “…BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING.”
7. The phrase “not a nation” here is a reference to the Gentiles, who are not a part of Israel, God’s chosen people. This goes back to Hosea’s prophesy (2:23; 1:10) about those “not My people” who God chooses to be included among the people of God in 9:25-26.
8. The Gentiles are also described here as “a nation without understanding”—those who are spiritually foolish because they lacked the special revelation, moral and religious training that God provided to Israel.
9. Leon Morris rightly states that, “…Israel went serenely on its own way not realizing that the gospel of God’s grace meant that the way of faith was open to the Gentiles and always had been. The point is of critical importance to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith, so he cites both the law and the prophets to show that this was in God’s plan.” (pg. 393-394)
10. Therefore, Israel knew from her own Scriptures that God was at work in the gospel and that Gentiles would be included among the true people of God.
C. Second, Paul shows that Isaiah made the same point later. He quotes Isaiah 65:1 in v. 20: And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME, I BECAME MANIFEST TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME.”
1. The words of Isaiah 65 are a judgment addressed to apostate Israel. And since Paul considers the majority of Israel to be apostate in his day, this prophecy is very suitable for his purpose.
2. Although God originally addressed this verse to Israel, Paul applies its principle to the Gentiles. Therefore, God is here speaking of the Gentiles who have obtained saving righteousness even though they did not pursue it.
3. The wording is similar to what we already saw in 9:30, which says, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith.”
4. Notice Paul’s unusual introduction: “And Isaiah is very bold and says.” This means that since Moses predicted somewhat obscurely the calling of Gentiles to salvation, here Isaiah makes it very plain and clear.
5. Paul’s point is that God “was found by” and “became manifest to” those who did not pursue righteousness, seek or ask for Him. Once again we see that the sovereignty of God in salvation is the decisive reason for the inclusion of Gentiles among the people of God.
6. Now if the spiritually foolish Gentiles could understand and grasp the simple gospel, then the Jews who were the recipients of God’s self-revelation could too. Yes, they were ignorant but theirs was a culpable ignorance and they are without excuse!
7. This brings us to the third facet of Israel’s rejection, which is this:
III. The Reason for Israel’s Rejection
A. Paul now shifts from talking about the Gentiles and applies Isaiah 65:2 to Israel, which was also originally applied to them. Look at v. 21: But as for Israel He says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.”
1. The word “But” (alla) shows that in stark contrast to the Gentiles’ eager acceptance of the good news of the gospel, the Jews responded totally different. Again Paul makes it clear that it is “Israel” who is being addressed primarily here and the speaker continues to be God Himself.
2. Look again how God describes Himself and His wayward people Israel, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.”
3. Israel is described as “A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.” It is her stubborn Disobedience that is the reason for Israel’s rejection of the gospel.
4. Although Israel is primarily being addressed every sinful person also has this same problem of stubborn disobedience.
But throughout her history, Israel has, for the most part, stubbornly and rebelliously contradicted and opposed God and His truth. And they are doing the exact same thing with the truth of the gospel.
B. But how does God respond to His disobedient and obstinate people?
1. God Himself says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO” them. The phrase “All the day long” describes God’s continual pleading for Israel to return to Him in loving obedience.
2. And when He says, “I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS,” God reveals His tender heart and His offer of grace to rebellious people. We see this same loving and tender heart of God when Peter said in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
3. C.E.B. Cranfield is absolutely right when he states, “The quotation points firmly to the fact that the last word is not with Israel’s disobedience but with God’s mercy and patience.” (pg. 541-542)
4. What a gracious and longsuffering God He is! Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
5. When I think of Jesus standing there with His hands stretched out in gracious invitation to sinful men to come to Him, what comes to my mind is the huge statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil called Christ the Redeemer.
6. The statue is 98 feet tall and its arms stretch 92 feet wide. And it is located at the top of Cor/co/va/do Mountain 2,300 feet high overlooking the city.
7. Jesus stretched out His arms to be nailed to the cross to willingly take upon Himself the holy wrath of God against sin that we deserved. And the risen and glorified Christ still stands today with His nail pierced hands stretched out wide saying to everyone who has ears to hear, “This much I love you! Come to Me.”
C. But despite the fact of God’s gracious and continual invitation to her in the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, Israel refused the good news.
1. What a tragedy! The very people who ought to have known better because they were given God’s Old Testament Scriptures and were called to be His chosen people have stubbornly refused to believe and obey their promised Messiah.
2. This is why Jesus lamented in Matthew 23:37, “O 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.”
3. Paul drives home the point that Israel is fully responsible for her unbelief and rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel. Because they had heard the gospel message and knew what it meant, this only increased their condemnation instead of leading to their conversion.
4. For Luke 12:48 clearly states, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” (NKJV)
5. I like how Thomas Schreiner summarizes this passage saying, “God’s election of some for salvation does not exclude the notion that he genuinely invites all to be saved. The outstretched arms of God in Rom. 10:21 reveal a genuine longing on his part that all will respond in faith (cf. 1Tim. 2:4). Some respond that such an idea is nonsense if he has determined that only some will be saved. Paul himself, however, was certainly well aware that his view of divine sovereignty seemed to cancel genuine human freedom and responsibility (see Rom. 9:6-23). Nonetheless, he continued to advance both divine sovereignty and human responsibility as true, without reconciling the tension between the two philosophically. I suggest that all attempts to solve the problem philosophically are either unconvincing or inevitably suppress one side of the biblical witness. The resolution of the tension between divine sovereignty and human freedom lies beyond our present rational capacities. This does not mean that Paul is irrational. It simply means that some truths are suprarational.” (pg. 575)they transcend the rational
In closing, the greatest good news ever given is the life-saving and life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ that will save our eternal souls. Have you refused this good news like Israel? Or have you accepted it by believing in and receiving Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord?
What we do with Jesus Christ in this life has eternal consequences, for we are all fully responsible before God. If you have never received Jesus Christ I encourage you to do today what one day you will be glad you did when you stand before the Almighty God.