(Originally for a sermon, so the writing is choppy. And this is dense, so concentrate!)
God’s reconciling and saving Gospel, His victory over evil, the victory of the seed of Eve over the seed of the serpent, was supposed to come through Israel, right? Isn’t that what the call of Abraham meant? Well then, when this Gospel of God’s victory comes to a climax in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, why are so many of the children of Abraham unconvinced, denying even that Jesus is from God? Can the children of God deny the Son of God?
Either Israel is correct in their denial that Jesus is from God…but then that goes against what Paul’s written in the first eight chapters of his letter. Or, in denying Jesus the people of God actually are also distancing themselves from God, and, here’s the thing, doing so seemingly to no consequence.
This latter point is what Paul begins to discuss in chapter nine. His first step is to provide some historical context by reviewing the scriptural record of Abraham’s descendants. Along the way he traces out some patterns of God’s way with Israel:
- Not all descendants of Israel are Israel. It was never the case that just because one was a biological descendant of Abraham he is automatically a child of God (9:6-13).
- Throughout the years God had elected to be merciful to some children of Abraham, and by that mercy they become His children. Wait, what – Mercy? Yes, Israel is human, and thus sinful, and has to be reconciled in order to become God’s child. God has the right as Sovereign Creator to be merciful to any He chooses (9:14-16).
- But Paul (says his imagined conversation partner), the status quo condition of Israel shows that this discussion on mercy is all academic; it doesn’t make a difference practically whether God is merciful to someone or not. Israel refuses Jesus and life goes on as always. Paul’s reply: just because there’s no judgment now doesn’t mean there won’t be judgment ever. There have been periods of time before when people were deserving of judgment, and yet the judgment waited so that God could demonstrate to some of them the mercy that gloriously rises above judgment (9:21-23).
- God’s mercy to reconcile those who are away from Him and under the threat of judgment would be applied to some in Israel… and also some Gentiles! Yes, all along God had said that the salvation foretold in Israel’s scriptures would be for all the world (9:24-26).
- Finally, it has to be admitted that for hundreds of years it has been written down in their Scriptures that only a fraction of Israel, a “remnant,” would be saved by God (9:27-29).
Thus, in light of the Ancient Scripture, the fact that most in Israel have not responded to Jesus and come under the mercy of God isn’t surprising after all. And neither is it surprising that those who had rejected what God had done in Jesus the Christ hadn’t faced any consequence…yet. But the sentence will be carried out.
Yet Paul doesn’t want this to be the case. Like Moses before him (Exodus 32) he hears of the Lord’s sentence of judgment: God intends to carry out His sentence on all the earth, including on unbelieving Israel (9:27-28). And like Moses he intercedes for his people: “My heart’s desire and prayer for them is that they may be saved” (10:1).
Because Paul wants Israel to be saved, he studies the question: what went wrong with Israel? How could they stand so close to God’s saving and reconciling Word, sincerely wanting to put things right, and yet after all not be saved themselves (9:30-10:4)? Paul finds that their main problem was an exegetical problem – they failed to notice that the Law pointed away from itself… and to Christ!
And beneath this exegetical problem lurked something more spiritual: a stubborn unwillingness to submit to God’s way of making things right, to let God be God (10:3-4).
Ok, so that’s where Israel went wrong. But since Paul wants Israel to be saved, how could God make things right? What did the Hebrew Scriptures say about that? The Word of Torah spoke of another Word, a later Word, the Word of Christ that would bring them out of their perennial exile. Yes, Christ! Christ coming down from heaven, going down into the grave and then being raised from the dead (10:5-7).
This Word of God in the Gospel is a word of grace. The Word is not giving Israel instruction of what to do, but rather relaying to them what God has done. The Word of God does not set Israel out on a quest – when the word of faith is proclaimed it’s all right in front of them. The Word of God does not have Israel constructing a religious apparatus. It did not give them five steps to get themselves to the point where God can make them right. It tells Israel that they, through the Christ, apart from their involvement, have been made right (10:5-13)
The sentence of Israel’s disobedience has been carried out in the crucifixion. As God raises Christ from the dead He is mercifully announcing an eternal “yes” to those Israelites who in their faith are represented by Christ.
All Israel who will take this word of Christ into their hearts will not be put to shame. But, again, this is not just true for Israel! As Christ, David’s Son, is not just Israel’s king but the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords – then all the world, not just Israel, is summoned to believe the Word of Christ. To confess with their mouth and believe in their heart… and they will not be put to shame. At the final reckoning, it will be these Christ-believers from many nations who will be seen by the Gospel to have been set free from their sin, made right, set apart for God’s future, becoming the inheritors of the glory of being God’s image bearers! (10:9-13)
And so Paul understands himself as one sent by God to go into the world and announce this good, friendly, reconciling, gracious, sin-overcoming, eternal-life-giving message of God making people right through the drama of the violent death and powerful resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has decided that people all over the world will be saved by hearing and understanding and believing this word of faith that all along the Torah of Israel pointed to (10:14-18).
So a merciful God ready to reconcile with a world at enmity with Him sends a message of peace into the world; a message, remember, that Israel’s Scripture pointed to – and yet for the most part Israel has not believed. Even as Gentiles, who had no prior involvement or interest in the Creator God, respond to the word of Christ and come under God’s mercy, Israel ignores God as He, by the Gospel proclamation, holds out his hands to them. (10:19-21)
Paul wants and prays for Israel’s salvation. He understands that the word of salvation is going out to Israel. And yet on the whole they’re not accepting that Gospel. So he has to face a dreadful question: Has Israel been rejected by God? Is their unbelief the indication that God is rejecting them? Or, has God rejected them in response to their denying what He’s done in Jesus?