Sunday March 21st
A Jewish man walks into his synagogue on Yom Kippur with his dog. The rabbi stops him at the door and says "Abraham, what's the matter with you? You know you can't bring a dog in here."
Abraham says, "Don't worry, Rabbi. Isaac here is just as orthodox as I am, and he's come to pray." And as soon as he says that, the dog stands up on his hind legs, pulls a yarmulke out of Abraham's pocket, grabs a prayer book and starts praying in perfect Hebrew.
The Rabbi is amazed. "Oh my god," he says, "this is incredible, Abraham. You should allow this dog to become a rabbi!"
"That might be a problem, Rabbi," replies Abraham. "His mother wants him to become a doctor."
In Romans Chapter 9, the apostle Paul is going to give us a unique perspective on Abraham and Isaac.
He starts out by sharing the burden that is in his heart over the unbelief of his fellow Israelites:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my countrymen, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and daughters, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the temple service, and the promises; 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
This is really an incredible statement. Paul is saying that he would be willing to give up his own salvation, and allow himself to be back under the curse of sin, if somehow that could bring about the salvation of his Jewish brothers and sisters.
How many of us would be willing to make that kind of statement – That we would give up our own salvation if somehow that would lead to our family members, our neighbors, or other people’s salvation?
It just shows how serious Paul was about the unsaved status of his countrymen. He calls it “great sorrow” and “unceasing grief”.
As shocking as this expression of passion is, it’s not the most shocking thing that Paul says in this chapter. Get ready to dig into the concept of God’s total sovereignty and the doctrine of election:
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants shall be named.” 8 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. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah will have a son.” 10 And not only that, but there was also Rebekah, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 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, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
Let’s break this down, because Paul uses several examples to make his point:
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? Far from it! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy, and I will show compassion to whomever I show compassion.” 16 So then, it does not depend on the person who wants it nor the one who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very reason I raised you up, in order to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
If you were here when we studied the book of Exodus, you might remember that the question was raised, “Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, God or Pharaoh?” And the answer was – both were true. Pharaoh chose to have a hard heart and God chose to allow that hardness of heart in order to accomplish His divine purposes of setting His people free and of having His glory proclaimed throughout the earth!
Ultimately, Paul says, it is God’s decision who He wants to show mercy to and who He wants to have hardened hearts. But this still seems unfair to us.
So Paul continues to explain this difficult concept:
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, you foolish person, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does the potter not have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one object for honorable use, and another for common use?
The question that Paul is posing, a question that he anticipates people asking him, is this, “If it’s ultimately up to God which people will have hard hearts, isn’t it kind of wrong for God to blame anyone for having a hard heart?”
In answering the question, Paul uses the analogy of the potter and the clay. Who gets to decide what the pot will be used for? It is the potter or the pot?
In Jeremiah Chapter 18 we see the same issue being addressed: The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.”
3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. 4 But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 6 “Am I not able, house of Israel, to deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel.
Both Jeremiah and Paul are making the same point – What right do we have to tell God how to handle His business? If He wants to make certain jars one way and other jars another way, isn’t that His perfect right to do so?
And Paul says that God makes some jars for honorable or special use, and other jars for common, or not so special use. Isn’t He allowed to do that?
But now Paul takes it to a whole ‘nother level. He asks, “What if God makes some jars just to break them while He keeps other jars from breaking?
22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with great patience objects of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon objects of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
Think of it this way: God made all the jars, so He can break all of the jars if He wants to. Or He can break some of the jars and spare other ones. And in essence, none of the jars are perfect, so not one of them can complain if God chooses to reject them.
Now Paul brings it back to the issue of his people:
24 namely us, whom He also called, not only from among Jews, but also from among Gentiles, 25 as He also says in Hosea:
“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”
26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
The key here is that the nation of Israel was originally God’s chosen people. Why? Simply because He chose them!
But what if God decides NOT to choose some of them and instead chooses to make some of the Gentiles part of His chosen family. Is He allowed to do that?
Of course He is. And that’s exactly what He did!
Paul shares that quote from Hosea to emphasize that God had said all along that He was going to unfold His plan in a certain way. Then he adds these quotes from Isaiah to show that God knew which of the descendants of Abraham were going to follow Him and which ones were going to reject Him:
27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel may be like the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.”
29 And just as Isaiah foretold:
“If the Lord of armies had not left us descendants,
We would have become like Sodom, and would have been like Gomorrah.”
Even though the descendants of Israel would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore, God knew that only a remnant, only a portion of them, would come to salvation through faith in Jesus. And even that, Isaiah says, is evidence of God’s mercy, or they all could have been lost, like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Paul is going to explain in more detail in Chapter 11 how God is planning to bring even more of Israel to salvation, but for now he simply sums it up like this:
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, but the righteousness that is by faith; 31 however, Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though they could by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And the one who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”
Whether we are of Jewish heritage or Gentile heritage, we will never attain righteousness by our own good works. That is a stumbling-block for many people because they are convinced that they are worthy to be counted as righteous by their own choices and their own behavior.
But as Pastor Roger showed us back in Romans 3:10
“There is no righteous person, not even one.”
And Romans 3:23
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The fact that any of us are saved, the fact that any of us are here today, has nothing to do with our own good works. The sole reason that we are seen as righteous in God’s eyes is that He chose to reveal to us His great mercy. He chose to call us to a place of surrender, repentance, grace, and forgiveness.
Aren’t you glad that He chose you? I know I am!