We’ve spent a number of days on Romans 8, that marvellous chapter which began with the promise that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; and which ended with the promise that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And the rest of the chapter was just packed with things to encourage us and to strengthen our faith and to cause us to rejoice and to praise the Lord for his kindness to us.
Do you remember? Right at the beginning, Paul explained that what the law was powerless to do, because it was weakened by our sinful flesh, God has done for us, by sending his Son into the world to save us. What was the law powerless to do? It couldn’t give us life. But God has given us life through his Son.
And just as God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead by his Spirit, so he will give life to our mortal bodies at the resurrection through his Spirit who lives in us.
And then, Paul went on to tell us how we’ve received the Spirit of Adoption, to persuade us and to convince us and to enable us to know at the very core of our being that we’re members of God’s family and we’re able to call out to our Heavenly Father for the help we need.
And though we may suffer now, in this life, we know that the glory to be revealed in us will make our present suffering seem like nothing. And so, we have this great hope to encourage us and to enable us to persevere. And we also have the Spirit to help us. And one way that he helps us is by interceding for us.
And in any case, no matter what we face in this life, no matter what troubles may come, we also know that God is able to work together all things for our good, because not only did he choose us and predestine us to become like his Son, but he called us, and justified us, and he will certainly glorify us in his presence one day.
If God is for us — and we know he’s for us because he did not spare his Son, but gave him up for our salvation — if God is for us, who can be against us and succeed? He’s the one who justifies us; so who can condemn us? And Jesus Christ died for us and rose again and is interceding for us. So, who can separate us from his love? And who will ever separate us from the Father’s love?
And so, it’s as if Paul has been leading us up the side of a high mountain, and when we reach the end of chapter 8, we’re reached the top of this mountain, and it’s thrilling and it’s exhilarating and it’s marvellous. You just want to stand up and throw out your arms and cry, ‘Hallelujah! What a Saviour!’
Purpose of chapters 9 to 11
And Paul could have ended his letter there. You know, the preacher wants to end his sermon on a high. He wants his last point to be his best point, so that the congregation will go out, walking on air, because of this wonderful final point which lifts their spirits and strengthens their faith and fills their mouths with praise. And so, Paul could have ended his letter here, at the end of chapter 8. And everyone would be happy.
Or, he could have moved from chapter 8, straight to chapter 12 and to the practical points about living the Christian life. That’s often Paul’s method: he begins a letter with doctrine; and then, he ends a letter with practical points. You see it in Ephesians. First of all, there’s all the doctrine from chapter 1 to chapter 3. And then from Ephesians chapter 4 — which begins with the words: ‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received’ — he moves on to the practical application and how they’re to live as God’s people. And in Romans, we have all this doctrine from chapter 1 to chapter 8. And from chapter 12 onwards, there are practical points. Look how chapter 12 begins:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.
And then he gives instructions on how to live as God’s people in the world. Paul could have moved directly from the end of chapter 8 to the beginning of chapter 12 and we wouldn’t have noticed.
However, he didn’t end his letter at the end of chapter 8. And he didn’t go from the end of chapter 8 to the practical points in chapter 12. He included in his letter chapters 9 to 11. And it’s as if he’s taken us up to the top of the mountain in chapter 8, only to crash down to the bottom in chapter 9, because look at how chapter 9 begins:
I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
Great sorrow. Unceasing anguish. Paul, you’ve just cheered us all up! You’ve brought us to the peak! We’re ready to jump and dance and sing for joy, because of what you’ve been saying to us. But look: You’re in tears! You’re heartbroken! We’re praising God, and you’re weeping! Why?
And Paul goes on to explain why he’s weeping; and it’s because of the Jewish people and their unbelief. God has done all these great things to save sinners. He has a glorious future in store for all who trust in his Son. But so many of Paul’s kinsmen do not believe. And it breaks his heart.
But there’s also a theological problem for Paul to tackle. You see, at the beginning of his letter, he wrote about how eager he was to come to Rome and preach the gospel. Why was he so eager to come to Rome to preach the gospel? He tells us in chapter 1 verse 16:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
First for the Jew. Then for the Gentile. And so, do you remember from Acts what Paul’s method was? Whenever he came to a city, he went to the synagogue first. And there he preached the gospel to the Jews. But so often, they would not believe. And when it was clear that they weren’t listening, he then went and preached to the Gentiles.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe, Jews first and then Gentiles. But so few Jews believe. Why?
And what about all of God’s promises to the Jewish people in the past? All the things he revealed to them and announced to them in the Old Testament. Weren’t they his special people? Weren’t they the chosen people? But now, they’re lost and perishing because of their unbelief. Has God’s promises to them failed? Has God’s been unfaithful to them and to his word? Is the gospel not powerful enough to save them?
And so, there’s this theological problem for Paul to tackle. And that’s what he’s doing in chapters 9 to 11. And what he’s going to do is to explain that God’s promise of salvation through Jesus Christ, which he revealed to Abraham, was never intended to be for all who were descended from Abraham in a purely biological or physical sense. Look briefly at verse 6 where it says:
It is not as though God’s word has failed.
There’s the theological problem Paul needs to answer: Has God’s word of promise failed? And then Paul continues and says:
For not all who are descended from Israel [that is, Jacob whose name was changed to Israel] are Israel.
Paul says that God’s word of promise has not failed, because God’s promise was not made to the children of the flesh, or the natural children, but to the children of the promise. God’s promises were not directed to all of the Jews, but only to some of them.
But then, he doesn’t stop there, because in chapter 11, he goes on to answer the question whether God has rejected the people of Israel for ever.
And, if you glance forward to the end of chapter 11, you’ll see that through chapters 9 and 10 and 11, Paul is leading us up another mountain, even though we might not notice. But he’s leading us up another mountain, because chapter 11 ends with another doxology. And once again, we’ll find ourselves wanting to stand up and to shout: ‘Hallelujah! What a Saviour!’
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
And so, in chapters 9 to 11, Paul is tackling this theological problem. But we should also remember that, whenever he thinks of the unbelief of his kinsmen, it breaks his heart and it causes him great sorrow and unceasing anguish.
Verses 1 to 5
Having said all that by way of introduction, let’s consider verses 1 to 5 briefly. And in verses 1 to 2, Paul wants to make clear to his readers that his heart breaks for his fellow Jews. First of all, he puts it positively. He says: I speak the truth in Christ. In other words, as someone who is united with Christ, I’m telling you the truth. And then, he puts it negatively: He says: I’m not lying. I’m telling the truth; I’m not lying. And then he puts it in a third way. He’s says: My conscience — which has been shaped and influenced and guarded by the Holy Spirit — is clear. And what he wants to make clear to us, and put us in no doubt about, is his great sorrow and unceasing anguish for his fellow Jews.
Why does he feel like this for them? That’s what verse 3 is about. And what he’s suggesting here is something he knows is not possible. But he’s saying that if it were possible, this is what he would be prepared to do for them and for their salvation. So, listen to verse 3:
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.
In other words:
If it were possible, I’d be prepared to suffer God’s curse, so that they might be saved.
By saying that he’s prepared to be cursed and cut off from Christ, he’s implying that they’re under God’s curse and are cut off from Christ. So, let the punishment they’re facing fall on me, and let them be saved.
Now, what Paul is wishing for is not possible: none of us is able to pay for the sins of another person; only Christ is able to pay for our sins. But even though he knows it’s not possible, Paul is conveying to us his love and compassion and interest in his fellow Jews. He doesn’t despise them for their unbelief; he’s broken-hearted about it.
Then in verses 4 to 5, he outlines some of the privileges they enjoyed. First of all, they’re the people of Israel. In other words, they’re descended from Jacob, whom God loved. Then, ‘theirs is the adoption’, says Paul. In other words, of all the nations of the world, God chose them to be his special people and he regarded them as his children. Next he mentions the glory: and we read in the Old Testament how, at various times, God’s glory-cloud appeared to the people. Then, Paul refers to the covenants which God made with the Israelites. And he’s referring to God’s covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and with Moses and the people at Mt Sinai and his promise to David that one of his descendants would rule for ever. And then there’s the new covenant he revealed to Jeremiah. And the Israelites also received God’s law with all its regulations about how to worship the Lord and with all its promises of forgiveness. And the Israelites can trace their ancestry back to the patriarchs. And from the people of Israel, Jesus Christ was born, who is God over all.
The Israelites have enjoyed all these privileges. And yet, so many of them refuse to believe; and so many of them are therefore outside of Christ’s kingdom. They’re lost and they’re perishing and they’re liable to God’s wrath for their sins. And it breaks Paul’s heart.
And that’s where I’ll end today: with the thought of Paul’s great sorrow and unceasing anguish for his fellow Jews who refuse to believe. And all I’ll say is that that should be our attitude too, as we think of the nation we’re part of, and the city where we live, and as we think of the people we grew up with. Think of the people who live in our street. Think of the people who live in this district. Think of the members of our family who don’t yet believe. Sometimes we can get annoyed with them. Or sometimes we can look down on them. Or, in our hearts, sometimes we despise them, because they don’t believe and often their lives are a mess. From time to time, we might be tempted to regard them in that kind of way. But the right attitude to have is to share Paul’s attitude. And Paul didn’t get annoyed with his kinsmen, though they often persecuted him. And he didn’t look down on them or despise them. He loved them and wept for them. And so, we should always be praying to the Lord to fill our hearts with great sorrow and unceasing anguish so that we will be continually praying for them and for their salvation.
When I first preached from this passage, I had recently been at a meeting where a member of another presbytery was discussing ways to reconfigure their churches, because they’d become so small and the churches couldn’t support their own minister anymore. And so, this church could be linked with two or three other churches and share a minister. And they could have services in one church on three Sundays in the month, and in another church on the fourth Sunday in the month. And it’s not as if these churches are in the middle of nowhere, where they are no people. No, there are people everywhere. But so many who live nearby do not believe. And so, with broken hearts, we should bow before our Father in heaven and plead with him to turn the hearts of men and women and boys and girls, our fellow countrymen, to seek after him so that, instead of shrinking, our churches will be growing, and new ones will have to be planted because so many people have been convinced and converted to faith in Christ, and are joining together to give thanks to God.