Thursday, August 3, 2017

Romans 9:1-5 Paul's Anguish for Israel

KEY TEXT: Romans 9:1-5 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

KEY THOT: Paul experiences great sorrow and anguish in his heart for his own kinsmen, the Israelites. He reminds us that to them belong "the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises"--in other word the Old Testament spiritual legacy. Without the Old Testament, there will be no New Testament. It is from the Israelites come the "patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all" (vv.4-5). So, Paul felt strongly about his own kinsmen (Jews) because the Gospel of Christ came through the Israelites. And Jesus himself limited his ministry to the Jews despite their rejection, for salvation is offered to them first. It's only because they rejected the Gospel that it was then offered to Gentiles. So Paul writes in Romans 1:16, "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" (Romans 1:16). 

Of course, Paul clarifies that he is not referring to all physical descendants of Abraham as Israelites but only those who were descended through his son of promise Isaac and from whom came Jacob and his twelve sons, the nation of Israel. As Gentiles believers, we must always be thankful for the spiritual legacy from the Israelites. We owe to them our covenant and Christ. Without the Jews, there would be no Saviour and no salvation. And like Paul, we must share a strong affinity with the nation that gives us the Christ, namely the present-day Jews re-gathered in 1948 as a nation called Israel.

While there are some who claim that present-day Israel are not true Israelites because they are "rabbinic" Jews whose religion is Judaism, I think such external distinction should not deny their physical ancestry from Judah, the main tribe that returned from Babylonian exile. For this reasons, they were subsequently called "Jew" because they were from the tribe of Judah from which David and Christ were descended.

Why should we bother with such historical antecedents? Despite their failure to keep the Law, Paul insists in Romans 11:1-2 that God has not abandoned his people: "I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." If God were to reject his people because of their failures, then it would not be election by grace, but by works. If Israel's failure to keep the Law means their rejection, then salvation is based on works, not faith. So Paul insists Israel remains God's people "whom he foreknew".

As much as we are saved because we believe God's promises and submit to God's covenant of grace, so Abraham's descendants (Israel) will be saved based on their faith in God's promises and covenants, not on their works--even when they failed in keeping the Law. Just as God has chosen us to be his people (elect) because of his foreknowledge, rather than our works of righteousness, so the same grace applies to the Israelites because of God's election: they remain God's elect on the basis of grace, not works: "So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace" (Romans 11:5-6).

Paul says Israel was cut off because of unbelief and we Gentiles are grafted into the commonwealth because of faith. So Israel would be re-grafted back into their spiritual roots if they have faith in God's promises given to them through Abraham: "They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness."

There are three things that come out of Romans 9-11:  Firstly, we must be thankful to the Jews for the spiritual legacy left by them, "for salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). Secondly, we must remember to pray for their restoration into the commonwealth for God has not abandoned them. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they remain God's elect for Abraham's sake. So if we bless them, we will be blessed: "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). And lastly, we must remember that Israel's restoration is a sign that Christ's coming is soon.

Let's continue to share Paul's anguish and sorrow for Israel that they may be saved. There is now an increasing antisemitism in Europe fueled by Islamism. Remember that if Israel is persecuted, the Church will not be spared, for we share the same spiritual destiny as the Jews: "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:15-16).

Abba-Father, You have called Israel into being that through Your people, You might bring blessings and salvation to the world. We pray for the restoration of the Jews back to their roots and faith in You through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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