The Israel Trilogy, Part 1: How Odd of God (Romans 9)

September 11, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church. Prattville, Alabama. James Jackson, Senior Pastor

Once again, I am thankful for the teaching ministry of Skip Heitzig at Calvary Church, Alburquerque. The structure of this message is based on his teaching on this passage.

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 9.

In the early 20th century, there was a British journalist named William Norman Ewer, who has become famous for a little two line quip he made up and said to a friend at a bar one night in the 1920’s. He said,

“How odd of God to choose the Jews.”

People have been divided over whether or not Ewer intended that quip to be anti-semitic. It was the 20’s in Europe, so it certainly could have been. But a few years later, a Jewish American humorist named Leo Rosten added a couple of lines to Ewer’s poem. It now read,

How odd of God to choose the Jews

But not so odd as those who choose

The Jewish God, but hate the Jews.

We ended Romans 8 by talking about one of the greatest promises in all of Scripture—verses 38-39: that nothing can separate us from the love of God. So that raises the question, well, what about God’s chosen people, the Jews? Have they been separated from the love of God? Did God reject them?

There’s a line of incredibly ugly and anti-semitic theology out there that says that the Jews have been replaced as God’s chosen people by Christians. Is that true? Be very, very careful when you hear teaching along these lines. Because the Jews have NOT been replaced. They are still God’s chosen people, and God still has a plan for them.  But what is that plan?

We are going to spend the next three weeks talking about that, as we continue our journey through Romans.

You might remember when we first started talking about Romans that I showed you how Romans is divided into four sections: The overall theme of Romans is The Righteousness of God. Then, you have:

  • Romans 1:1-3:22: The wrath of God.
  • 3:23-8:39: The grace of God.
  • Now, chapters 9-11 are section three, which is the plan of God, for the Jew and the Gentile. This is the plan of God.

One preacher has called chapters 9-11 the “Israel Trilogy” of Romans. Chapter 9 is about Israel’s past. Chapter 10, principally about Israel’s present. Chapter 11 about Israel’s future. This morning we are going to look at chapter 9.

And I want to make four points about God’s plan in relation to the nation of Israel. So let me pray, and we will jump in to this text:

[pray]

So the first part of the plan is that God chose a people

Let’s look at verses 1-4:

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,[a] my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites…

Let’s  just pause and reflect on Paul’s emotional anguish in the first couple of verses. This whole thing about “I’m telling you the truth, I’m not lying, God knows how knotted up I am about this: if it were possible for me to be cut off from God’s promises, I would totally do it, for the sake of my brothers.

This is stunning. Keep in mind that the Jews are the very ones that have been trying to kill Paul ever since he became a Christian. He is in prison in the first place because of the opposition to the gospel from the Jews.

And I guess if I was in that situation, it would be really tempting to look at the people that put me in jail and say, “Ha! You rejected Jesus. I’ll get my revenge. You can put me in jail, but you’re going to hell.

But Paul doesn’t do that. Because he understands that the Jews are God’s chosen people, that Jesus is a Jewish Messiah; that Paul himself is a Jew—circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, he tells the Philippians in chapter 3.

So Paul has “unceasing anguish” for his Jewish kinsmen, and says that if it were possible, he would wish himself cut off from all the grace of God for the sake of his brothers.

Let me stop and ask you— to what extent are you in anguish for the lost around you? How much do you pour your heart out on behalf of those who reject you? It’s a humbling thing to think about.

But for all Paul’s anguish, he doesn’t water down the message to make it more acceptable to those who reject it. He longs with all his heart that his countrymen would embrace Jesus as their Messiah, but he isn’t going to alter the gospel to get them to buy in to it.

Paul sets an example for us today. If we want to be a gospel-centered church, those are the two things we have to have: Unceasing anguish for the lost and uncompromising faithfulness to the gospel.

In verses 4-5, Paul lists several advantages, several benefits, that the Jews have. For the sake of time, I’m going to fly through these, but there’s basically seven things Paul says God gave to the Israelites:

First, the adoption. No other nation on the planet could say that they were God’s special treasure like Israel could. In Deuteronomy chapter 7:6, the Lord declared,

out of all the nations on the earth, I have chosen you as my special treasure.

Second, they have the glory. It  means the presence of God. Exodus 29:42-45 describes the presence of God filling the tabernacle in the center of the Israelites camp.

Next, to the Jews belong the covenants. There are several covenants in the OT. He made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the world with water. He made a covenant with Abraham to bless him and make him a great nation. God made a covenant to establish his house forever, and that there would never fail to be a son of David sitting on the throne of David.

The receiving of the Law. God gave the Jews the Law on the top of Mount Sinai.

He gave them the worship,  the complex and detailed rituals and offerings and sacrifices and feasts days laid out in the Torah.

Next, Paul says that to the Jews God gave the promises. That’s the next blank on your outline: God made a promise.

Did you know that in your Bible, you have 31,173 verses in total?

Of all those verses, it is estimated there are 7,487 promises that God made to us.

Many of them are promises God gave specifically to the nation of Israel. God promised them a land. God promised them and eternal kingdom. And God promised them a messiah.

Paul continues his list of the advantages of the Jews with verse 5: “To them (the Jews) belong the patriarchs. These are like the founding fathers of the Jewish faith.

God chose one man, one person, by the name of Abraham. God said to him, through you, I’m going to make a great nation. God took an old man with an infertile wife and gave them a baby. The family grew. That family went on to produce lots of children. Eventually they moved the entire family to Egypt, where for 400 years they were in slavery. God delivered them and brought them back to their promised land.

They conquered the land under Joshua. Then had 400 years of moral decline under the judges.

Came together again as a monarchy under Saul, David, and Solomon. Split into two kingdoms for the next 400 years after Solomon’s death.  

The northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians, the southern kingdom by the Babylonians, and for 70 years the Jews were in exile.

Cyrus decreed they could return to the land in 520 BC, and so the Jews lived in the Promised Land for the next 600 years, until Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD.

And for the next two thousand years, the Jews were a people without a country. But in 1948 they were able to return to their homeland. And if your Bible has maps in the back of it, you can flip to the maps and see that the land of Israel today has roughly the same borders as it did then.

So why this loong history lesson? Because I want you to see that God is faithful to His promises. The land God promised to them four thousand years ago is the land they still occupy today.

Against all odds, it still exists. Today, there are 9 million people living in that tiny little state of Israel, the entirety of which could fit into the state of Florida.  

This tiny country is a great nation, with a $300 billion per year gross domestic product.

  • It is the fourth leading exporter of citrus to the world.
  • It is the third leading exporter of flowers to the world.
  • If you like cherry tomatoes on your salad, they were invented in Israel.
  • If you use Waze to get from one place to another, it was invented in Israel.
  • If you’ve ever used a flash drive (hold up a flash drive), guess where it was invented? Right. Israel.

If you were to go to the nation of Israel today, there is a town in the West Bank that in the Bible is called Bethel. It is the place where, according to Genesis 28, Jacob laid his head on a stone pillow and dreamed of a ladder ascending to heaven. There is a sign at one of the intersections just outside of Bethel that says, “Here in Bethel 3,800 years ago, the Creator of the world promised the land of Israel to the people of Israel. By virtue of this promise we are living today in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Shiloh, and Hebron.”

I mean, if you’re one of those dad nerds that will add two hours or more to every road trip because he wants to stop and read every single historical marker, this is like the mack daddy of roadside historical markers!

In other words, they’re saying, the only reason we’re still here is because God made promises to us for us to be here. And so they are there.

And why? Paul gives the answer in verse 5:

“and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all,” Amen.

Every advantage to being a Jew Paul gives in verses 4-5 is leading up to this statement in verse 5.

From the Jews came Jesus. Jesus was a Jewish man. He was dedicated in the Jewish temple. He went through the Jewish bar mitzvah. He went to the Jewish Passover. And so salvation came to the Jews through a Jew.

So God chose Israel, for one reason and one reason only. Earlier I took you to Deuteronomy 7, where God told the people of Israel that He had chosen them, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth, for his treasured possession. But look at the next verse:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,

The only reason God chose Israel is because Jesus had to be born somewhere. God knew that for all mankind to be redeemed, they would need a savior who would be made in human likeness and found in appearance as a man. So He would need to send His son to be born, somewhere. Could have been Asia. Could have been Australia. Could have been Mexico.

But God picked Israel. And thousands of years before Jesus was born, God established a covenant with His people. He gave them the Law, the prophets, the worship, and the promises. All to pave the way for his greatest gift—His son.

So, the first part of the strategy: God chose a people.  The second part: God made a promise.

Now we get to the part that is hard for us to understand sometimes, but when you understand this, you will also understand Paul’s anguish in verse one.

God chose a people, and God made a promise, but God made the promise distinct from the people.

Look at verses 6-8 with me:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 

Imagine Paul’s critics. He’s finished up that incredible teaching of Romans 8, which says that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can thwart the purposes of God, that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God; that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose; that those whom God foreknew, he predestined, and if he predestined them, he called them; and if he called them, he justified them, and if he justified them, he glorified them.

And so now, imagine the guy at the back of the room, going, “hold on, Paul! What about the Jews?”  Martyn Lloyd-Jones imagines the conversation going this way:

You say that when God starts a thing He always completes it; you say that when something is the purpose of God nothing can frustrate it. But if your preaching of the gospel is right, then God’s purpose has gone very seriously astray, because the fact is that the vast majority of the Jews are not Christians. So has God’s promise failed? (MLJ, Rom 9, p. 4)

God’s promise didn’t fail. Why not? Look at verse 6: not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.

Whaat? What in the world does that mean—are you saying not all Israel, is real Israel?

To answer—Paul goes into another history lesson in verses 7-17. Abraham had one son with his wife Sarah. His name was Isaac. At one point, God tested Abraham and told him to take his only son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice. When Abraham passed that test, and the Lord stopped him from slaying His son, God renewed His promise to Abraham, and He told him that in his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

One generation later, Abraham’s son Isaac had two sons—twins—named Jacob and Esau. And here’s where things get uncomfortable for us. Even before they were born; in Paul’s words in verse 11, before either had done anything good or bad,” God revealed that His promise would be reckoned through Jacob, and not Esau. Verse 12:

11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

“Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Now, that’s a bothersome verse. But here it is. Both Jacob and Esau were children of Abraham, but only Jacob was the child of promise. Again, remember that Jesus had to be born somewhere. If God’s plan was He would take on flesh and bone, that means he had to have a family line. And in His foreknowledge, God knew that the line would go through Jacob and not Esau.

Why? Because Jacob was awesome, and godly, and virtuous? No!

When you read your Bible, Jacob really comes off as a dirtbag.

There was once a seminary student who said to his professor, Professor, I’m having a problem with Romans 9:13– “Jacob I have loved. Esau, I have hated.” What’s up with that?

And the professor looked down at the verse. And he said, “you know, I have a problem with that verse too. But my problem is different from yours. I don’t understand why God loved Jacob.”

Listen, friends—God takes every opportunity He can throughout Scripture to remind us that we aren’t chosen because of our own merit. We’ve already referenced Deuteronomy 7. Israel wasn’t chosen because they were more numerous than anyone else, or because they were more virtuous. And God didn’t choose Jacob over Esau because of any good Jacob had done or any evil Esau had done. It was all set before they were born.

Why? Because Jesus had to be born somewhere. And through Jesus, salvation is going to be available to everyone who places their faith in him. Including the Jews themselves.

So God’s promise to Israel has not failed. Because some Jews did believe. And for those Jews who did believe, they are a part of God’s elect remnant. God still has a covenant with them.

But understand: that covenant is through Jesus. Because of Jesus, it is now the same covenant He has with every single person on earth. It is a covenant not based upon physical descent nor human merit. The covenant doesn’t operate on the basis of human connection, who you’re related to.

It’s not based on  human perfection, working really hard, earning your way to God.

It’s based on divine election.

Now, again, this whole idea of election has had people twisted in knots for hundreds of years. It’s hard to figure out how God can predetermine and elect you before you are born and then demand that you make a choice to follow him after you are born.

He chooses us. But then he says to you, you must choose him. God elects us, but then he tells us to call on him. God predestines us to believe, but then He calls us to put our faith in him. How does that work? I can’t unravel it perfectly.

But let me tell you how DL Moody described it. Moody says, imagine you are walking down a hallway, and there are lots of doors on both sides of the hallway. You see a door marked “Whosoever will may come.” And you walk through that door. You trusted in John 3:16. You put your faith in Jesus, and you walked through that door.

But after you walk through the door, you look over your shoulder. And carved into the wood on the other side of the door it says, “chosen, from the foundation of the world.”

You were chosen to choose Christ before the foundation of the world. And if you were chosen, you will choose Christ.

Now, somebody can look at that and say, that’s not fair. Well, glad you brought that up. Because that’s exactly what he talks about in the next verse, verse 14.

“What shall we say then. Is there unrighteousness with God, or is God unfair?”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[b] but on God, who has mercy. 

Now here’s the fourth aspect of the promise: God’s plan is perfect. Look again at verse 14:

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! “

I want you to notice what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t ask if God is fair. He asks if God is unfair. What’s the difference?

Consider for a minute how it would be if God acted fairly toward us. Fair would be saving the people that deserved to be saved, right? But if that was the basis, how many people deserve to be saved? Right! Nobody. Thank God He isn’t “fair.” Instead, He is merciful. Verse 16 continues:

“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Mercy is waaaay different from fairness. It wasn’t fairness that nailed Jesus to the cross. Jesus didn’t deserve that. He was perfect. Yet he did it. Why?

Because God was showing mercy and compassion to me and to you. And God will do that, if you allow Him to. But if you harden your heart against Him, God will allow your heart to get harder and harder against him, until, like Pharaoh in verse 17, you are no longer able to choose God.

The point of all this is simple. If you decide you’re going to harden your heart against God, if you are determined to go to hell, God will honor your choice. Listen: God did not create hell for any human being. Let’s make that clear. Jesus said that hell is a place of everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. God never meant humans to go there. But he lets them go there if they choose to go there.

So if you want nothing to do with God, God’s not going to force you to have anything to do with him. You hear people say, “How could a loving God just hurl people into hell?” But turn it around: If someone spends their entire life pushing God away from themselves, then how could a loving God make them be in heaven with him forever? How cruel would that be? “I want nothing to do with you, God.” and God says, “Fine. I’m taking you to heaven then, so you have to be with me forever.

So don’t worry. God won’t save you if you don’t want to be saved.

But if you want to be saved, the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. God chose the nation of Israel, the tribe of Judah, the family of Joseph and Mary, for His Son Jesus to be born into. Jesus grew up learning the Jewish Scriptures. Worshiping in the Jewish Temple. Observing the Jewish feasts.

And he died in a Jewish city, at the hands of Jewish authorities, on the day of the Jewish Passover, and the eve of the Jewish Sabbath.

He was buried in a Jewish tomb, according to Jewish burial practices.

Three days later, He rose again, in fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. And it is those same Jewish Scriptures that Paul quotes in verse 24:

25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

God’s plan includes everyone, Jew and Gentile. It is all inclusive. He is not willing, the Bible says, that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. God’s plan includes you. Now, you might fold your arms and say, well, maybe God’s plan doesn’t include me. Maybe perhaps I’m not elected to be saved. This whole deal about election—and God choosing people for salvation. Well, maybe I just haven’t been chosen. What do you say to that, Pastor?

I’ll say, well, why don’t you choose him right now, and you’ll discover God already chose you. You’ll discover God has already been pursuing you. For Jesus said, no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And he said to his disciples who made their own choice to follow him– He said, you didn’t choose me. I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bring forth fruit.

You wonder whether or not God chose you for salvation? Here’s how you can know: choose him. Receive him today. Receive him right now in your heart. And you’ll discover God picked you.

You say, “No, I’m not willing to do that. Don’t push me into this. I’m not ready. I’m not ready to receive Jesus yet.”

OK, well, maybe he didn’t choose you then.

You say, Well, that’s not fair.

Well, then choose him! Pick him. Surrender to him.

Listen, God’s predetermination and God’s election never precluded anyone from entering the Kingdom of God because they just discover they were already selected by God when they made that choice.

Salvation is like throwing a rope to a drowning man. The rope itself doesn’t save the drowning man. The drowning man has to grab it. He can’t stay in the water and go, well, there’s the rope. I hope it saves me. He’ll die. He has to grab the rope. But he can’t be saved unless there’s somebody at the shore pulling him to shore. So that’s how it works. God, by election, draws you to safety. You, by your choice, grab a hold of the rope.

God’s plan includes you. But does your plan include God? And that’s where the appeal comes in to make a choice. Make a choice to follow him. You can argue over election and predestination all you want. I say just enjoy it. I don’t argue over it. I walk away going, he picked me. I’m on his team. I’m on the winning team. I don’t care how you wrangle that in your mind. The fact that he picked you should cause you great humility, because you didn’t deserve to be picked, and great joy, because He did!

Author: James

I pastor Glynwood Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama. I read a lot, write a little, and drink lots of coffee. I have three callings in life: surrender to Christ, be a husband to Trish, and be the best father/grandfather I can be. Everything else is an assignment, because everything else can be done by someone else.

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