Not All Israel
I tell you the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
Father, we pray for wisdom and understanding. You promised that if anyone lacks in these things that we ask of You, and You who give all things without reproach, in abundance, You would give, and so we pray that You would us wisdom, knowledge, understanding, not just of Your word, the words on these pages, but of You Jesus. You are the word made flesh. We want to know You more, so we pray that You would reveal Yourself to us through what we study here today, that You’d continue to transform us by the renewing of our minds, and God that we would be those who are filled with Your Spirit, enabled by Your power to bring glory to Your name in the world in which we live. So we pray for Your blessing upon this time now as we look through this passage of Scripture. We ask in Jesus’ name, and all God’s people agreed saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
Well, as I said, it’s been several weeks since we were in the book of Romans, and so let us not forget the victorious closing words of Romans chapter 8, as we step now into the 9th chapter. Look there, just a few verses back from Romans chapter 9, verse 1, to Romans 8, verse 38. There Paul proclaims, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What a good truth!! Amen? Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Now the clear problem is that those words of assurance, those words of victory leave a wide open door for an inevitable question. And you know that as we’ve been studying through the book of Romans, that Paul anticipates and answers the inevitable questions. When he makes a statement or declares some great truth, he knows that there’s going to be an objection. He knows that because Paul was a lawyer. Yes, he was a Pharisee, but really what that meant in his time was that he was a Jewish lawyer. So he anticipated what it was that the people would say in response to what he is teaching. And so the objection would come. After he says there, “There’s nothing that separates us from the love of God.”
Well if it is true that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God,” then what about God’s chosen people? What about those whom God spoke to in the Old Testament through prophets, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love?” And yet at this time in their history, when Paul wrote this letter to the church at Rome, most of those who would call themselves descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel, were not abiding under the love of God in Christ Jesus. They had not received the redemption that comes through Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. And so, if it is true that nothing separates us from the love of God, then what about this group of people that God spoke to, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love?” Just how sure can we be of our security if God’s covenanted people, the children of Israel, have failed to lay hold of the salvation that God offers according to His love? If anyone were to be certain of their position with God, one would expect that it would be those people – the nation of Israel, the children of promise. And yet, previously in this book, the book of Romans, Paul, a child of Israel himself, he essentially undermined that expectation by identifying the reality (Romans chapter 2, verse 28) that “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not of the letter; whose praise is not men but from God,” Romans 2:28 and 29. So Paul essentially undermines the expectation of the people who are descendants of Abraham of just being a shoe-in for God’s grace, a shoe-in for heaven just because Abraham was their father, when he says there, “he is not a Jew who is one merely outwardly.” But something internally has to take place.
So weakened is the expectation of the people, the descendants of Abraham, by Paul’s words there in Romans chapter 2, verses 28 and 29, that Paul anticipates the objection. In chapter 3, verse 1 he anticipates that the immediate response from a person who was a descendant of Abraham would be: “What advantage then has the Jew, or what profit is circumcision?” Romans chapter 3, verse 1. Now in some ways Romans chapter 9, the passage that we are going to be looking at for the next several weeks – 9, 10, and 11 – it picks up right where Romans chapter 3 left off. Paul, in Romans chapters 2 and 3, he is speaking much on the subject of the children of Abraham, the descendants of Abraham, which is the nation of Israel. Now in chapters 9 through 11 he returns to that subject again. And many people have questioned, “Why does Paul do that?” Now I suggest to you, as I did when we began our study in the book of Romans some six months ago, that this letter to the church at Rome, written by the apostle Paul in the mid-fifties AD, from the city of Corinth, at the end of his third missionary journey; this letter was written to a young church in the city of Rome, and it was written as something of a discipleship manual. So he’s writing this letter to encourage young believers, to strengthen them in their faith. That they would grow in their understanding of who God is and how He works. That they would grow in their understanding of what they are to believe, and then how they are to live. Romans chapters 1 through 8 are perhaps the most doctrinally focused words of the New Testament. Paul, in Romans chapters 1 through 8, is essentially telling us, “This is what a Christian is to believe.” And then in Romans chapters 12 through the middle of chapter 15, Paul gives a whole bunch of exhortations – practical applications – “This is how the Christian is to live.” So chapters 1 through 8 are what we are to believe; chapters 12 through 15 are how we are to live. But there in the middle of these two sections, we have Romans chapter 9, 10, and 11, where Paul speaks clearly and frankly about the relationship of God with this covenanted people, the descendants of Abraham. And there have been some who have asked the question – why even include this portion of Scripture? You see, the book of Romans could stand quite well without Romans chapters 9, 10, and 11. So if you were to just remove them from the text, the book would read just fine, there really would be no problem at all. And so a lot of people say, “Well why are they there?”
Well, again, as I said when we opened this letter six months ago, there is a reason. You see, from the earliest days of the Christian movement, there was a division within the body of Christ, which was clearly evident. And the division was between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. And Paul’s aim in Romans chapters 9 through 11 is to mitigate the division between these Jewish Christians and these Gentile Christians, because it is God’s aim that there be one body in Christ. It is not God’s desire that there be a Jewish group of Christians and a Gentile group of Christians, and that they never mix. No. When we read the book of Ephesians, in Ephesians chapter 2, we read that God has torn down the middle wall of partition or separation that was between us. So that in Christ there is no Jew and no Gentile; we’re made one in Christ. And then in Ephesians chapter 4, he emphasizes that when he says, “There is one baptism, and one faith, and one Lord, and one hope.” And so we recognize that we are to be one in Christ. So Paul, in writing this letter – chapters 9, 10, and 11 of Romans – he is writing to the church in Rome to seek to do away with, if possible, some of the division that was there between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. You see when Christ came, He came as a descendant of Abraham in the flesh. He’s fully God, but He’s also fully man. And in His humanity, in His lineage, He is a descendant of Abraham. And so He came to the Jew first. The Gospel came to the Jewish people first, but it was never God’s aim that it would stay there and only be among the Jewish people. He told His disciples just before He ascended into heaven, “You shall witness unto to Me in Jerusalem,” a Jewish territory, “in Judea,” a Jewish territory, but then into “Samaria,” not a Jewish camp, “and then to the uttermost parts of the earth.” God’s aim and goal has always been for all peoples. We need to recognize that. And yet Jesus came first to the Jewish nation, to the Jewish people, to bring the Gospel to them. And yet God’s desire is that there’d be one body.
Now we see this division between Jewish believers and Christian believers, followers of Jesus, throughout the book of Acts. You see until Acts chapter 10 there was no problem because it was only really that the Gospel was spreading among Jewish people. But you may remember in the book of Acts chapter 10 that Peter was invited to come to the house of a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius. And when he went to Cornelius’ house he was stepping foot into Gentile territory. This was such a big deal that God had to prep Peter’s heart before he would even do that. Peter had a vision three times where God tells him the application of the vision was “call nothing common or unclean.” And so Peter, when he goes into the house of Cornelius, he says, “Listen guys, oy vey, this is not normal, for me to come into this place. And if it weren’t for God telling me to come here, I wouldn’t be here right now.” And while he’s there preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to bunch of Gentiles, the Spirit of God fell upon them, and they believed. And God revealed to Peter and to those present with him that He is not One who distinguishes between people; He is not a respecter of persons. Now how many of you today rejoice in the fact that God is not a respecter of persons? We should. We should. The reality is we are respecters of persons. It’s a part of our fallen nature that we are respecters of persons.
And so Peter, he goes back to Jerusalem after that meeting with those in Cornelius’ house, and this caused quite a stir in the early church. “That Peter, you would go and you would be with Gentiles. Don’t you realize those Gentiles are unclean?” How many unclean Gentiles in the room today? [laughter] And so he gathers together with the Jewish Christian leadership there in Jerusalem, and he says, “God made no distinction. The same Spirit that fell upon us,” in Acts chapter 2 at the day of Pentecost, “came upon them. What was I to do?” He even, in Acts chapter 10, Peter turns to his Jewish friends, Christian friends with him, and says, “Should we baptize them? I mean the Spirit of God fell upon them.” So they baptized them. So there’s division. The church was addressing this in Acts chapter 10.
The division became even more sharp a few years later when the apostle Paul, a converted Jewish Pharisee to Christianity, formerly Saul of Tarsus, he and another Jewish man, Barnabas, they traveled into Asia Minor. They traveled into a region called Galatia, and they planted churches in cities like Lystra, and Iconium, and Derbe. All of these were Gentile cities. And although they began their ministry in Jewish synagogues they were quickly kicked out of the Jewish synagogue, and the Gospel was being received by Gentiles, non-Jews. And when Paul and Barnabas came back to their home church, they heard that there was an uproar over the fact that the Gospel was being spread among Gentiles. And so he, Paul, and Barnabas, a number of other people, they went down to Jerusalem, in Acts chapter 15, for what’s called the Jerusalem Council. And there they discussed this issue of Gentiles receiving the Gospel. And there was a recognition among those people gathered there at that time, that God was doing the same work among Gentiles that He was among Jews, because God is not a respecter of persons.
But you follow the book of Acts and you see that everywhere Paul went in his three missionary journeys there was always this problem between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. And so Paul, when he writes this letter just after he had had one of the sharpest problems with this issue in the city of Corinth, he writes this letter to the church at Rome, and he says, “This is not to be a problem.” And so Romans chapters 9, 10, and 11 are dealing with this issue.
Now again, I already kind of mentioned it in passing, do not miss that Paul, the author of this letter, Paul the apostle was formerly Saul of Tarsus, a super orthodox Jewish Pharisee. God is smart, in that He used this individual as the vessel to proclaim these words here in this passage. Now there may not be, in the 21st Century, a big divide within the church between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, as there was in the 1st Century. However, there still are cultural and racial and even generational divides within the church, and God says, “I want My church to be one body. I don’t want there to schism and division.” And so these words in these chapters are going to be applicable to us, even though it’s dealing with the issue of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. In addition, we recognize from this text and others in the New Testament that although the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish nation, en masse are not following the Lord Jesus Christ today as their Messiah, God still has an aim and an ambition for His people, the descendants of Abraham. And as we go through this passage we’re going to see just what that is. We’re going to begin to understand and comprehend that God still has a plan, that we’re not to be ignorant of.
So, Romans chapter 9, look at verse 1; Paul opens there by saying, “I tell you the truth in Christ.” Aren’t you thankful that Paul’s not lying to us? “I tell you the truth in Christ.” And then he says it another way: “I am not lying.” You see Paul affirms, both by positive and negative clause, that what he about to say is sincere. He wants us to recognize that he’s not using hyperbole. He wants us to understand that this is the sincerest genuine truth in his heart. “I tell you the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing witness in the Holy Spirit,” to what? Verse 2: “that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.”
Paul, what’s so heavy? What is such a big deal that you would continually, daily be burdened with sorry and grief? Verse 3: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ.”
Wait, what? You could wish that you would be accursed from Christ; that is, you would give up your eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, for… Why? Why would anybody think to do that? For what? “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.”
Now again, Paul in verse 1, is establishing his sincerity in saying these words so that we will recognize that this is not hyperbole. Why? I don’t know a single person that would say, “I would rather be accursed from Christ, I would relinquish my eternal salvation so that this group of people might have it.” Now maybe someone in this room might say, “You know I love someone so much,” maybe your spouse, maybe your children, “I love them so much that I would even contemplate giving my life if it meant that they would live.” But would anybody honestly be able to say, “I would give up my eternity in the presence of God for the salvation of another?”
You know this is probably only rivaled by one other person in the Scriptures that we know of that would say something like this. Back in the book of Exodus, chapter 32; in Exodus chapter 32 the children of Israel, you may have seen the movie The Ten Commandments, remember the children of Israel after they came out of Egypt, they came to Mount Sinai. Moses is up on the mountaintop for 40 days, and down the mountain they go, “We don’t know what happened to this Moses guy.” And they came Aaron, Moses’ brother, and they say, “Hey, we don’t know what happened to Moses. Make us a god that we can worship.”
And so Aaron says, “Okay, give me all your golden earrings and all the gold that you have.” And he fashions for them a golden calf. How many of you remember that story? And they dance around the golden calf. They have a problem, big sinful problem. Moses comes down the mountaintop, God tells him to go down there.
And when he comes down he says, “What is this that has happened?!?”
And Aaron says, “I don’t know Moses, they gave me their gold, I threw in the fire, and out came this golden calf.”
“What, do you think I’m stupid?! Really. This is what you’re going to tell me. This is… you’re gonna come against my intelligence here.”
And so God tells Moses that His plan is to judge the nation of Israel. They’ve broken His law. He has every right to judge them. And Moses, in Exodus chapter 32, verse 32, he intercedes on behalf of the people. He says, “God, blot me out of Your book. If it means that You will not bring judgment upon them, blot me out of Your book.”
And now Paul, with the same heart says here in this passage, “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren,” that they might know, that they might come to faith. Now the reality is that this is not possible. It’s not possible that Paul could be accursed from Christ for the sake of another. Paul’s wish would never be granted, as it was neither possible nor necessary. Why is it not necessary? Well, because there was One who was accursed for our salvation. Who’s that? Jesus Christ. Galatians chapter 3, verse 13, there the apostle Paul says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.” How? “…having become a curse for us (as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’).” You see Paul did not need to be accursed from Christ for the sake of the sin of his people, the nation of Israel, because Jesus was accursed for all humanity. The sad reality is the people from which Jesus came, the descendants of Abraham, they rejected the salvation that was in Jesus Christ.
Now not all of them; because Paul, Peter, Bartholomew, Thomas, you go down the list, many of these people, what was there heritage? They’re Jewish. They’re Jewish. And so not all of them have fallen. Not all of them have stumbled. Not all of them have rejected. There is a remnant. There’s a remnant. And this is exactly what God said there would be; that there would be, of those people that were descendants of Abraham, there would be a remnant.
But Paul says, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart for my countrymen, my brethren according to the flesh.” Now notice he says, “according to the flesh,” because he’s not talking about his brothers and sisters in Christ. He’s talking about those from whom he descended. We have to ask the question when we look at this: Is there, in our hearts, in any way this kind of pain, this kind of grief, this kind of sorrow for people that we’re connected to – our family members, our friends, our co-workers, our own countrymen – who’ve not repented, who’ve not bowed the knee to Jesus Christ? Do we have this kind of sorrow, this kind of grief? It’s challenging. Would to God that we would hurt for those who are lost; that we would hurt for the lost in such a way that it compels us to bring the Gospel to them. You know if anything, the life, the ministry of the apostle Paul is a life that reveals that kind of compulsion. He was so driven by the reality of the lostness of humanity that he was pressed to go into the work bringing the Gospel. Are we? Are we challenged by the lostness of those who live in Escondido and San Marcos, and this area of North County? Are we burdened by the fact that so many in our nation are lost without a Savior, to the point that the love of Christ compels us? You know it’s my prayer that God would move in our midst in such a way that He would stir that kind of love for us.
Well, Paul, in verse 4 of Romans chapter 9, he begins to express just who these people are. Who are these countrymen? Who are these brethren according to Paul’s flesh? Well, he tells us in verse 4 – they “who are Israelites.” They’re Israelites. What exactly does that mean? Well, Paul’s countrymen were direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom God changed his name to Israel. But what does it mean that they are Israelites? Well, he goes on to unpack that for us. Not only are they descendants of Abraham, and Abraham was God’s first believer, the first follower of God by faith, the one to whom was given the promise according to his faith.
They are Israelites, “to whom pertain the adoption.” Now, the adoption that Paul speaks of, that the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham had, was not a spiritual adoption, because that spiritual adoption only comes in Jesus Christ. Ephesians chapter 1, verse 5 tells us that. The adoption that Paul is speaking of here is a national adoption, that they were God’s chosen people, that God had chosen for an intended purpose. You see in Deuteronomy chapter 7 God tells the nation of Israel, “Don’t think I chose you because you’re something special. Don’t think I chose you because you’re the greatest of all nations; because you’re the least. I chose you because I loved you and I have set My purpose upon you.” You see God chose the descendants of Abraham for a very specific and perhaps the most important purpose, which we’ll see at the end of this passage that we’re going to be going through here.
And so he says, “They are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, they have the glory.” What does it mean that they have the glory? Well, to Israel was granted the privilege of possessing the manifested glory of God. God!! The infinite, almighty Creator of all things seen and unseen; He manifested His glory among the people of Israel. What did that look like? Well, in the book of Exodus it looked like God leading them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It looked like God telling the nation of Israel through Moses, their earthly leader, telling them “I want you to build a Tabernacle, a tent of meeting, in the middle of your camp, and I, My presence, will come and abide there in the Holy of Holies.” God’s actual presence, the Shekinah Glory of God there, manifested in their midst. To no other nation did God reveal His glory in this way. And so Paul says, “They are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption.” They had, in their midst, the glory of God, “they had the covenants.”
So they have the covenants. Israel maintained a special relationship with God by covenant. They were connected to God in a covenantal relationship. Now, in our culture today the only covenantal relationship that we can understand is the covenant of marriage. Every other relationship is generally a contractual relationship. But this was a covenantal relationship made by vows before witnesses. And so God established covenants with His people. A number of different covenants that we know are mentioned in the Scriptures – the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, and the Davidic Covenant. But ultimately the greatest covenant that God desired to establish through the nation of Israel was for all peoples, and that is the New Covenant that Jesus established on the night that He was betrayed. So they had the covenants.
Not only that, Paul says the children of Israel, they had the law. Israel was given the direct revelation of God almighty. God revealed to this people, to no other people, He revealed to this people – the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham – His will and His nature. He said, “This is who I am and this is what I want.” And as a result of this, Paul says not only did they have the law, but they had “the service of God,” the service of God. You see contained in the law were the rights and ordinances of religious and sacrificial service to which that people, the nation of Israel, was called. They were called to be a nation of priests. Unfortunately, after the sin with the golden calf, there in the chapters of Exodus that I mentioned previously, the entire nation did not end up being a nation of priests, but only one tribe of that nation was therefore called to be priests. Before the sin with the golden calf, in Exodus chapter 30 through 34, before that sin, every firstborn son of every household was called to be a priest in that nation. But because of their sin only one tribe. An unfortunate consequence of sin.
Not only did they have the service of God, but Paul says they, the descendants of Abraham, they had the promises. You read through the Old Testament, the old covenant, it is filled with great and precious promises for God’s people. They were the people of promise. Now one of God’s greatest promises, that He promised to Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, was that they would be a great people, more in number than the stars of the sky and the sand of the sea. Now let me clue you into a reality – the only way that that is fulfilled is spiritually and not physically. Because the physical number of the descendants of Abraham is not more than the stars of the sky or the sand of the sea. But those who are children of Abraham by faith, as Paul spoke of in Romans chapter 4, which we’ve studied already, the descendants are innumerable. There’s no way that we could perfectly count the descendants of Abraham by faith.
So, they had the promises, and not only did they have the promise of a great people, but they would have the promise of a great possession; they would possess the Promised Land as an inheritance. And Paul adds to that that they had the fathers. What does that mean – the fathers? Is that like the godfather fathers? Well, in a sense, yes; because they had Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (who was Israel), Joseph, the 12 patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, go down the list – men who followed God. Not just men who are accounted as followers of God, but women who followed God by faith, and glorified Him in the world. Hebrews chapter 11 is a listing of many different people who followed God by faith, the bulk of them descendants of Abraham. They had the fathers.
But the greatest advantage of all that was afforded to the nation of Israel is given to us there in verse 5, where Paul says, “according to the flesh, Christ came;” according to the flesh, the Messiah, the Savior of all the world, came through them. Every other one of these advantages pales in comparison to this: That Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, descended in the flesh through the nation of Israel, through the descent of Abraham. Notice what Paul says about the Christ here; this is perhaps one of the only places in all the Scripture where it is explicitly stated that Jesus is “the eternally blessed God.” Now I recognize that some of the punctuation in our English translations sometimes does away with what is being said here. But in the original language it’s clear. In the original language: “Christ is over all, the eternally blessed God.” And to that we should all say, “Amen. So be it.” He is the Christ, the eternally blessed God.
So Israel, by God’s grace, was accounted great blessing, which afforded them also abundant opportunity. These blessings that Paul mentions here, that they had the glory, that they had the adoption, the covenants, the law, the service of God, that they had the promises, the fathers, that through them would come the Christ, the Messiah. It afforded them opportunity like no other nation. They had the opportunity to draw near to God. Not only did they have the opportunity to draw near to God, they had the opportunity to declare God in all the world. And what did they do with that opportunity? And listen, I’m not saying this as some anti-Semitic tirade; what I’m saying is they missed what it was that God called them to, because they took and they horded what was given them, what was afforded them instead of declaring it to all peoples. They were called to be priests to the nations, and in large part, they did not meet what God called them to. Not all of them, but many of them. They became an exclusive group, if you will. Now, in recognizing this, we need to see that we’re in real danger of doing the same thing as the church. We’re in very real danger of becoming an exclusive club, where we say, “You have to walk this way to come and meet with God. You have to look like this to come and meet with God. You have to do it in this way, or be baptized by this church to come and meet with God.” Do you recognize and realize that we’re guilty of the very same thing? By God’s grace Israel was accounted, afforded with great opportunity, great privilege, great blessing; by God’s grace we’ve been accounted and afforded great blessing too. How are we using it? Are we taking advantage of it, or are we taking it for granted? Paul’s exhortation here is clear: We must be those who bring the grace of God to all peoples.
Now one of the awesome realities of Romans chapters 9 through 11 is that although Israel was privileged with all of this, many from the descendants of Abraham did not receive the promised redemption that was brought to the world through them. It came through them, and yet they did not partake of it, most of them. And this has been the case for the last 2000+ years. The Redeemer, the blessing for all humanity, it came through the descendants of Abraham in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, and yet those through whom the blessing came have not, in large part, been partakers of the blessing. Such a sad reality.
Turn in your Bibles, if you will, to Genesis chapter 12. You can turn to Genesis like you’re an authority on the Bible because it’s the very first book of the Bible. Genesis chapter 12; look at verse 1. Genesis 12:1 – “Now the Lord had said to Abram.” Abram’s name would later be changed to Abraham. “The Lord had said to Abraham,” some time in the past, “’Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” God speaks to Abraham, the Scriptures tell us he was 75 years old, married to a woman named Sarah, who was 65 years old. God speaks to him as he’s 75 years old, perhaps another time, because it seems he had spoken this to him in the past. But “the Lord had said to him: ‘Get out of your country, from your family, from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” God was calling him to uproot; He was calling him to leave everything that he knew, to follow, by faith, the One who called him.
And God gives a promise, verse 2: “I will make you a great nation.” Very clearly this promise is a conditional promise, conditioned upon the fact that you follow Me by faith. “If you follow Me, I will make you a great nation.” Now, when God spoke this to Abraham, at 75 years old, he had no kids. I don’t know if you recognize, practically speaking, if you’re going to made into a great nation, you kinda need to have some kids. He had no kids. So God is promising here, in the promise to make him a great nation, He’s promising that he will have descendants.
“I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.” “Because of everything that I do, therefore you shall be a blessing.” Notice He does not say, “You shall make yourself a blessing.” Everything that God would do would make him a blessing by default. “If you follow Me by faith, I will make you a great nation, bless you, make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Every people of all the earth shall be blessed through you. Now that’s a heady promise – “You follow me, I’m going to make you the greatest blessing to all the world.” How?
The blessing that is spoken of here, when He says to him here in verse 2: “you shall be a blessing,” the reason that Abraham would become a blessing to all peoples is not because of who Abraham was. It’s not because of anything spectacular he would do. You follow his life in the book of Genesis, he really did very little that was spectacular. In fact the guy was quite a bonehead. Seriously. He said to his wife, before he went into Egypt, “Listen, don’t tell them you’re my wife, tell them you’re my sister, because they’ll kill me and take you because you’re pretty.” Now that may have been a compliment, because she was in her sixties at that point, and he’s saying, “You’re pretty hot.” [laughter] But wives, how many of you would like that, your husband says, “Hey listen, I’m afraid they’re going to kill me, and so you just tell them you’re my sister.” He didn’t get it, because after he got kicked out of Egypt, he did it a second time. Bonehead!! Now, I realize, a lot of us guys can identify with the boneheadedness of Abraham. How is it that he would be a blessing to all peoples? It’s not because of him; it’s because of the One who would come through him – Jesus is the blessing. Jesus is the blessing. He is what makes that name great. Now I recognize this might ruffle some feathers, but when we read in verse 3: “I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you,” that is actually speaking primarily of the Blessed One that would come from Abraham. You see, “you will be blessed if you bless the Messiah; you will be cursed if you curse the Messiah” – cursed eternally. He, Jesus, is the blessing; He’s the Blessed One that came forth from Abraham. Why? Because Abraham followed God by faith, not by anything that he had done. It wasn’t according to his works, his righteousness; before he was a follower of the one true God, he was an idolater, he bowed down to false gods. And then God called him, and he followed and left all of that behind, he followed God by faith. And as a result, he became a blessing, because through him comes the Messiah. And if you bless the Messiah, you will be blessed; if you curse Him, you’ll be eternally cursed and damned.
Why did Israel, the descendants of Abraham, why did they not largely receive the redemption made available through them? The Scriptures tell us here, back in Romans chapter 9 – because they stumbled, they stumbled. What did they stumble at? Well, they stumbled first, if you’re taking notes, they stumbled first at the fact that they were not saved by their lineage or their good works. They stumbled at the fact that they were not saved by their own good works or their lineage. Secondly, they stumbled that the redemption that would come through them would come also to Gentiles. They stumbled that they were not the exclusive ones to whom the redemption would come. Thirdly, and probably the biggest thing they stumbled at, they stumbled at the redemption Himself. They stumbled at Jesus. Jesus did not fit the bill of what they anticipated and expected that their Messiah would be, and so they stumbled at Him.
Look at Romans chapter 9, verse 32, this is where we’ll get next week. Romans 9, actually look at verse 31: “but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.” They tried to save themselves by keeping the law. Why have they not attained to righteousness? Verse 32: “Because they did not seek it by” what? By faith. How was Abraham blessed? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him as righteousness. But many among his descendants, not all, but many, they sought to make themselves righteous by their own good works, and they stumbled. Why? “Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by works of the law. For they stumbled at the stumbling stone.” Who’s the stumbling stone? Verse 33: “As it is written: ‘Behold, I,” God says, “lay in Zion a stumbling stone, a rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Who’s the “Him?” Jesus. They stumbled at the stumbling stone. All these great advantages, all these great blessings that would come to them and through them for all peoples, and yet they would not become partakers, in large part, of those blessings because they stumbled.
Listen, we sit here this morning as one of the most blessed and privileged people in all the world – financially, as it relates to health. In many of the indicators, we are the most blessed people in all the world. But one of the great blessings that we have, as people who live here in America, is that we also have access to the Scriptures, we have freedom to worship, and we have an abundant opportunity to learn and to share our faith. May it never be that we not take advantage of that; that we fail to recognize the great blessing and opportunity that we have.
Now, although we’re running out of time, I want to cut through these next verses quickly, because Romans chapter 9, in setting up where we’re going next week, Romans chapter 9 builds upon the sovereignty of God that we’ve seen previously in Romans chapter 8. Although it doesn’t do it to the negation of the responsibility of man, it builds upon the sovereignty of God. And what it reveals is that God is the One – through His power, by His promise, and according to His foreknowledge – that brings salvation. God is the One – by His promise, through His power, and according to His foreknowledge – that brings salvation.
And Paul illustrates this in verses 6 through 9. He says this: “But it is not that the word of God has not taken effect.” They had the word of God; it’s not as though the word of God has not taken effect. “For they are not all Israel who are Israel.” Now Paul is using a play on words here when he says, “They are not all Israel who are Israel.” But it’s a very important play on words; because although they were descendants of Israel – Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel – they were descendants of Israel. Although they were descendants of Israel, not all of they were Israel. What does that mean? Well the name Israel means Governed of God. And even though they were descendants of Israel, they were not all governed of God; because to be governed of God you must submit to His governance by faith.
Verse 7: “Nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’” You see if you follow the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis, God called him in Genesis chapter 12 and says, “I’m going to make you a great nation.” But then about 10 years later he still had no kids. Now he’s 85 years old, his wife is 75 years old; they’re well beyond the age of childbearing years. And Abraham is believing and trusting God, and Sarah, his wife, comes and says, “This ain’t workin’ old buddy. We need to do something. Practically speaking this ain’t working. So Abraham, you go in to my handmaid, Hagar, produce a child by Hagar, and we’ll make that child ours.”
So he does, and that happens. So they have a son – Abraham with Hagar, his name is Ishmael. He’s of the seed of Abraham.
Now 13 years pass, God comes and reaffirms His covenant with Abraham, and He says, “Abraham, I’m going to make you a great nation. And your wife Sarah, she’s going to have a child.”
And Abraham goes, “Wait a minute!! What about Ishmael? Let’s just use Ishmael; that’ll work.”
God says, “No, that’s not gonna work.” Why? Galatians tells us, the book of Galatians tells us that was the son of Abraham by his flesh. It was his own work, his own ingenuity, his own power, and God said, “I will make you a great nation. Because it’s going to be according to My promise and My power, not according to your power.” And salvation is never according to our power, it’s always according to His promise and His power. And so He says, “Ishmael cannot stand before Me in that way. Although I’m going to bless Ishmael; I’ll make him a great nation too. But he’s not the one through which the promise is going to come. The promise is the Messiah. But in Isaac, the promised son, your seed, Jesus, shall be called.”
And so when Abraham is 99 years old, God reaffirms His covenant, His promise, with him again, and says, “You’re going to have a son this time next year.” And Sarah, she conceives, at 90 years old she has a son, and they name him Laughter. They’re so blown away by this they called him Laughter – that’s what Isaac means. And so “in Isaac shall your seed be called.”
And so Abraham, by God’s power, according to His promise begets a son, Isaac, through which the seed would come, as we see here in Romans chapter 9. “Nor are all children because they are the seed of Abraham.” Abraham had two sons, and he had more than that later by another wife named Keturah, so he had multiple sons, but Isaac was the one through which God says, “This, by My promise, by My power, not by your own ingenuity, this is going to be the one through which the Messiah will come – Isaac.” So, “’In Isaac shall your seed be called.”
Verse 8, Romans chapter 9: “That is, those who are the children of the flesh” – Ishmael and others – “these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted the seed. For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.’” So God says, “It’s not going to be just because you’re of the descendants of Abraham.” The children of Israel, by the time that the Messiah would come, by the time that Jesus would come, they would think that it was purely by their heritage that they had privilege with God. And John the Baptist, he reveals the fallacy in that thinking in Matthew chapter 3, verses 8 and 9, where he tells the Jewish people, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”
And they are saying within themselves, especially the hyper religious, “Why do we need to repent? We have Abraham as our father.”
And John says in verse 9, “And do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” Why? “For God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones.” It’s nothing to God that you’re of the lineage of Abraham.
Salvation, Romans chapter 9, verses 6 through 9, is according to God’s power and His promise. Lastly, salvation is according to His foreknowledge. Verse 10: “Not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac.” So, Abraham, by God’s power and by God’s promise, begot Isaac, and Isaac married Rebecca, and they came together, but could not produce children. She was barren. And they cried out to God, and God gave her the ability to have children. She conceived by one man, by Isaac. But she didn’t only conceive one child, she had two, she had twins. And her pregnancy was a hard pregnancy. Any women relate to that? Hard pregnancy. She cries out to God, “Why am I having such a hard pregnancy?”
And He says, “Because there’s two nations within your womb. You’re going to have twins, sons, and both of them are going to become great nations.
So “(for the child,” verse 11, “children yet being born, not having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not by works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’”
There in Genesis chapter 25 God says to Rebecca, as she is pregnant with these two children, “You have two nations in your womb, and the older son that’s going to be born is going to serve the younger son.”
So she gives birth, and the first one comes out and he’s red and he’s hairy and so they named him Hairy. True. His name’s Esau, means hairy. So they named him Hairy. And as he’s being born, his brother is holding on to his heel, his ankle, so they named him Heel Catcher – Jacob, it means Heel Catcher. So Esau and Jacob. And God promised the older shall serve the younger. What that was was a promise that through the younger one, through Jacob, would come the Messiah, the promise.
And then verse 13, we’ll finish with this, and it’s a hard verse for some people: “As it is written, ‘Jacob,’” the younger, “’I have loved, but Esau I have’” what? “’…hated.’” A lot of people have a hard time with “’Esau have I hated.’” I think I have a harder time with “’Jacob have I loved.’” If you read about Jacob in the Scriptures, you know that guy was a rascal; he was not a good dude. He was a bad guy. God had to physically come down and wrestle with him, and pop his hip out of place. What is that for a UFC-like move? He had to disjoint his hip, and then rename him, and say, “No longer will you be called Jacob. I finally beat you. Now we’re going to call you Israel – governed of God. I mastered you,” is what He said.
“’Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.’” Now listen, this was written 1400 years after Jacob and Esau were born. Never in their lifetime did the older son serve the younger son. But as time went on, and as you would look at these two nations that would come from Jacob and from Esau, you would see that it would seem by observation that God loved Jacob more and He loved Esau less. The word hated there should probably be translated He loved less, because Jesus uses the same idea when He says, “When you follow God, your love for God should make your love for your family look like hate.” “Whoever does not hate father, mother more than me cannot be My disciple.” He’s not saying you’ve got to hate them, but love them less. And when you look at the love that you have for God in relationship with the love that you’d have for anything else, it would look like hate.
And so in Malachi chapter 1, the very last book of the Old Testament, God says to His people, the nation of Israel, “I have loved you.”
And they said, “Lord, in what way have You loved us?”
And He says, “’Was not Esau Jacob’s brother,’ says the Lord. ‘Yet Jacob,” the nation of Israel that came from Jacob, “’I have loved them.’” Why? Because through them will come the Messiah. “’But Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for jackals of the wilderness.’”
And so He says the nation that came from Esau, the Edomites, they have not received the same blessing that Israel, that Jacob has, even though Israel was not a perfect people. But God had a perfect plan. And so before they were born, before they’d ever done anything good or evil, God made a declaration: “Jacob is going to become the one through which the Messiah would come into the world.”
The ultimate point of this passage – Romans chapter 9, verses 1 through 13 – is, and these illustrations that Paul uses, the ultimate point is that God, in His sovereignty, brings salvation by His power, through His promise, according to His foreknowledge. He knew that Jacob would be the one through which He would bring the Messiah. His salvation is by His power, according to His promise, according to His foreknowledge. The issue is: Will we respond to His promise, His power, by faith, putting our faith in Him? The sad reality is that still, at this moment in history, Israel, the descendants of Abraham, they have largely rejected God’s promise of redemption in Jesus Christ. But it’s not the end of the story. We’ll look at more of it next week. Amen?
Father, thank You for this good word. It’s a tough passage, but I pray that You would help us to comprehend it, to understand it, and to be able to walk in the truth of Your grace, to be able to share that with those that we know in our families, our neighborhoods, our co-workers, wherever we would come in contact with people who have yet to respond to Your grace. God, give us boldness to share it with them, and to not be fearful to do so. Lord, help us not to be hoarders, who think that this grace is only ours, but to recognize that just as You called the nation of Israel to be a nation of priests, you have made us a chosen generation, a royal priesthood to declare Your praises in this world. So use us as Your priests, we ask, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.