April 21, 2024


God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 45

Romans 9:1-18 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney

One of history’s most renowned and influential theologians, philosophers, as well as apologists was an unassuming large statured man by the name of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).  As a young man he earned the belittling nickname of “Dumb Ox” due to his large physique and modest disposition. The name didn’t last long, however.  His intellectual brilliance and sincere devotion to Christ rapidly won him the name “angelic doctor.” In Aquinas’ brief 49 years, his world renown intellect achieved the same stellar level of esteemed appreciation as the likes of Albert Einstein.  Aquinas believed he could prove the existence of God through reason alone.  Part of his attempt to do this was his massive undertaking of what became known as one of the greatest intellectual feats of Westen civilization entitled: Summa Theologica (Summary of the study of God). It is made up of 38 treatises, three thousand articles, ten thousand objections in all.  His was the attempt to gather into one coherent whole all of truth.  His range of topics is breathtaking to say the least: anthropology, science, ethics, psychology, political theory, and theology.  Unexpectedly, on December 6, 1273, Aquinas abruptly stopped all his work.  While in worshiping one day he caught a glimpse of Eternity, and suddenly realized in all his efforts to describe God made all of his work seem like straw. When a friend urged him to keep writing, Aquinas replied, “I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value.”  Aquinas never wrote again and died three months later.  Even the greatest human minds cannot fathom the greatness of God.  John Wesley once chimed, Bring me a worm that can comprehend man and I will show you a man who can comprehend the triune God. 

When we come to the book of Romans we’re shown hands-down the greatest Christian mind that has ever lived – the Apostle Paul.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul more than persuasively demonstrates the existence of God, he does something even more – He show us the majesty of God. As we come to chapters nine through eleven, the great apostle invites us to look over his shoulder, as it were, and attempt the impossible – to comprehend the great mystery of God’s sovereign majesty. At one point Paul becomes so overwhelmed with the majesty of God that he bursts out: Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romas 11:33). 

Today, we’re going to dive into an admittedly difficult and sensitive section of Romans.  What Paul is going to share with us is going to defy human logic.  Paul is going to use God’s relationship with the nation of Israel to explain what God’s sovereignty means.  In doing so, he is going to tackle the thorny doctrinal issues of predestination and election.  These are deeply debated chapters because they teach us that God is in complete control and yet man is still responsible before God for his own choices. I read about one pastor who found himself so conflicted when he came to this section of Romans, he went straight from Romans 8 to Romans 12 completely ignoring chapters 9, 10, and11! For years Biblical scholars have debated and wrestled with these passages and still don’t have their questions answered.  But this passage was not written to ask questions, but to answer them. The most important question – Who is God?  If God is in complete control, what kind of God is He? Paul answers this question using God’s plan for the Jews to demonstrate His character.  Chapter 9 shows us the sovereignty of God, chapter 10 shows us the justice of God, and chapter 11 shows us the faithfulness of God.  God is saying in these three chapters: “Relax, I really do know what I am doing.”   

Let’s jump in. Read Romans 9:1-18.  Look at verses one through five.  Paul’s heart is filled with great sorrow for his own people.  In the close of chapter 8, he’s on the mountain top of joy! Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come… nothing can separate us from God’s love! Then suddenly, Paul is in the valley of sorrow.  I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart(v.2). Why? He remembers his own people, the Jews, the apple of God’s eye, have rejected their own Messiah. His love is so deep for them he wishes he himself could be accursed for their sake (V.3).  I think all of us here can relate to Paul.  We have loved ones and friends who are lost.  We enjoy spending time with them.  We laugh with them, cry with them.  We’ve shared some of life’s greatest memories with them. But there is always an underlying pain that they don’t know the Lord. Their eternity hangs in the balance.  This is the heaviness of Paul’s own heart.  He wishes he could take their place in torment.  Were Paul calling the shots, he’d take their place in a heartbeat.  

Paul then launches into seven reasons why Israel is God’s chosen people (vv. 4-5).  1) God adopted them as sons.  God said they were His people – different from all the nations (Exodus 4:22). 2) Theirs was the glory of God’s Shekinah presence as well as the pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 3) Theirs was the covenants God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David. Promises God committed to carry out for the Jews. 4) Theirs was the Law – the Word of God was given to the world through the Jews. 5) Theirs was the Temple worship with all of its sacrifices and offerings that prepared and pointed the Jews to Christ (Gal. 3:24). 6) Theirs were the fathers from whom the Messiah came. 7)And the greatest blessing of all – theirs was the human ancestry of the promised Savior of the world! 

If Israel enjoyed these seven God-given advantages – then how could Israel have missed the Messiah? Did God fail? This same question casts a shadow of doubt on all that Paul has just said in the close of chapter 8.  If God has failed to keep His promise with Israel, can we then believe His promise that nothing will separate us from His love? 

By listing Israel’s seven God-given advantages, he’s making an important point.  The failure was not on God’s part, but Israel’s.  In truth, Israel had a long history of stiff-necked rebellion toward God, yet God continued to extend His hand of grace and faithfulness.  It was not that Israel lacked for evidence to believe God.  The evidence was clear and inescapably obvious.  Israel’s problem was not a problem of the mind, but a problem of the heart.  In John 5 Jesus tells them they search the Scriptures thinking they give them eternal life. But the Scriptures are not the end in themselves. They point to Christ. They are the means to bring us into a close and satisfying relationship with God.  But Jesus tells them they are unwilling to come to Him so that they may have life (John 5:39-40). They mistook the gift of God’s Word for the Giver of God’s Word. They were biblialitrists – making an idol out of God Word. 

If this is true – that God has not failed, but Israel has.  It still begs the question why does Israel still reject the Gospel? Paul is going to delve into God’s sovereign plan for the Jews.  We’re going to see that God is not hardly finished with the Jews as some like to say today.  We’re also going to see that their rejection of the Gospel in no way questions God’s promised inseparable love for us.  Two lessons about the nature of God: 1) We can trust the choice of God. 2) We can trust the character of God.  

  1. We can trust the choice of God.  God’s choice is always perfect and dependent on His sovereign will, not the will of the majority. The word “Democratic” gets thrown around a lot these days.  News pundits, politicians, law makers alike often remind us we’re a “democratic” nation.  That is rule by majority.  In truth, we are a Republic – a nation of laws in which we elect representatives who represent the majority in order to make decisions that abide by the founding Judeo-Christian principles of our nation.  But God’s rule is not the rule of the majority, it is the rule of One.  And when it comes to Israel’s history, God’s rule was more often represented by a minority of His people than a majority. That is, true Israel more often than not, was made up of a small remnant of faithful Jews.    This is what Paul is saying in verses six through eight.
    1. God’s choice is based on His promise, not our preferenceBut it is not as though

the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants(Romans 9:6-8).  Paul says there have been two groups of people that identify themselves as Abraham’s descendants, that is Israel – physical Israel – children of the flesh, and spiritual Israel – children of the promise.  God told Abraham that Isaac was the child of promise in which He would bless their entire world.  We tend to think Abraham had two sons – Ishmael and Isaac.  Actually, Abraham had eight.  After Sarah died, he took another wife and had six more sons (Gen. 25:1-2).  But God chose only one out of the eight to carry on His promise.  According to the custom of Abraham’s day Ishmael should have been chosen since he was the first born; he would be the preferred one.  But God chose Isaac, the promised one.  Why? The best answer is the same why God chose you – His sovereign grace.  And you, dear brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, just like Isaac (Galatians 4:28, NLT). You might say, God chose Isaac because he was a miracle baby.  That sounds good, but that is not the reason God gives. In fact, if you’re thinking that, Paul submits another scenario of God mysterious choice – Jacob and Esau.  

  1. God’s choice is based on His providence, not our performance.And not only this,

but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13).  Here are two sons again, but this time they’re born from the same parents.  And again, the custom of the land is that the firstborn should receive a double portion of the inheritance and succeed his father as the patriarchal leader.  But, again, not so! Before either boy is born God selects the younger – Jacob. Why? Before either could chose right or wrong, God chose Jacob. It was not by his performance but by God’s providence. When you take a closer look at their lives, it seems neither one was a good choice! Neither were deserving by a long shot! Jacob, whose very name means “one who usurps” grew up to be a shameless schemer and deceiver. John Calvin, When God elects us, it not because we are handsome. The Lord eventually humbled and broke him of his old ways and named him Israel “strives with God.” The real marvel is not God’s rejection of Esau, but His choice of Jacob!

Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.  A greatly misunderstood verse that seems to make God’s choice of Jacob over Esau a fifty-fifty coin toss rather than an infinitely wise and perfect choice.  There is nothing Kasara-sara about God and His choices.  Two important things we need to understand.  First, God is not referring to them as individuals, but their descendants.  As for both Jacab and Esau, God greatly blessed them with great wealth and large families.  Both became powerful nations – Jacob (the Jews) and Esau (the Edomites) (Gen. 25:23). You can hardly say God hated Esau if He blessed him so greatly. Second, what does it mean God hated Esau then? It means in comparison to His choice of Jacob, He loved Esau less. This is not an absolute hatred but a relative hatred.  Jesus says it this way in Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26). Jesus is not saying we’re to hate our family, but rather in comparison, we’re to love Him more. A.W. Tozer’s words come to mind. We are to remove them from the temple of our hearts that God might reign unchallenged there.  We cannot love others correctly until we love God first. 

Why does Israel still reject the Gospel? Paul says, because not all Israel is Israel. But there has always been a remnant – a minority of genuine believers. God has not failed to keep His promises. God really does know what He is doing.  He can be fully trusted even though we don’t understand His choices.   

  1. We can trust the character of God. One of the many inconveniences of being imperfect beings made in the image of God is that we like to play God.  Even though we are pathetically unqualified for the job, this doesn’t seem to stop us. We are at times prone to try to supervise the lives of others. And if that is not enough, we are prone to try to supervise God! Neither works because only God is cut out for the job of being God. One person wrote, If the job description of “Supreme Judge of the Universe” ever opened, here are some qualifications necessary.  The right applicant must be omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere at once), immutable (unchanging), eternal (above and beyond the bounds of time), self-existent (needing nothing), holy (the very definition of “good”), and just (absolutely right in all decisions).  Not only is all humanity woefully unqualified for this position, we have no basis to second guess the One who is (Swindoll, Romans, Pp. 213-214).  

In verses 14-19, Paul illustrates God’s right to rule over our lives with the story of His conflict with Israel in the desert and Pharoah in Egypt.  Paul is going to show us two important truths about how God rules.  First, God is a God of grace, but His grace is gift, not an entitlement.  Second, God is a God of justice, but His justice is never flawed.  

  1. God’s grace is a gift not an entitlement. What shall we say then? There is no

injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:14-16). Paul is thinking about when the recently freed nation of Israel promptly forgets God and worships a golden calf (Exodus 33:19).  Fortunately for them, Moses prays for their forgiveness and God has mercy on them instead of destroying them for their idolatry.  God’s statement that He will have mercy and compassion on whomever He wills is all the clearer in light of Israel’s idolatry.  God’s grace is gift and as such God has the right to offer it or withhold it.  Because God choses to be gracious to one does not obligate Him to give the same grace to another.  Grace is not an entitlement.  It is not a right.  None deserve God’s grace. Therefore if God pours out His grace on one person doesn’t mean it is unfair if God does not give the same grace to another.  God’s grace cannot be earned, manipulated, or bargained for.  It is a gift the Giver has the right to give or withhold.  The truth is God gracious to all He gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike(Matthew 5:45, NLT).  In light of our sinfulness, we should be surprised that God is gracious at all!   

  1. God justice is never flawed. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very

purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires (Romans 9:17-18). This sounds like God’s justice is arbitrary and unfair.  But it is really a comparison of Moses and Pharoah.  Both men began their lives in the palace of Egypt. Both received an ivory tower education. Both grew up with a silver spoon in their mouths.  Both were heirs to royal privileges. Both were murders.  Both were offered the opportunity to repent. It’s at this point, their lives go in two drastic and separate directions.  God sends Moses to the desert to transform his character into the most humble man on the face of the Earth (Numbers 12:3).  Pharoah’s life however continues unchanged inward and outward.  When the time comes that Moses’ demands the release of the Israelites, Pharoah refuses.  At that moment God could have crushed Pharoah in an instant.  But He didn’t.  Instead, God unleashes a series of plagues giving Pharoah numerous opportunities to humble himself before God and repent.  Rather than responding with humility, Pharoah hardens his heart all the more against God.  It was not that God hardened Pharoah’s heart, but rather Pharoah hardened his own heart and God left him to the consequences of his choice. God was perfectly in His right to do so. God was gracious both men, giving them opportunity to turn to God.  God was also just in responding to each man’s choice as he made it.    

What is God saying in all this? “I don’t expect you to fully understand Me, but I do expect you to fully trust Me with your fears and concerns.  I really do know what I am doing.”

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