Summary: Three facts to help us understand why the nation of Israel rejects Jesus as their Messiah.
Note: This sermon was introduced by the drama "The Perfect Bonds of Love").
God has a plan. It’s a plan that started at creation, and it has continued even when human sin corrupted God’s wonderful creation. It’s a plan that’s taken lots of twists and turns along the ways, a plan full of surprising heroes and unexpected villains. God’s plan is a grand story, what postmodern people today call a metanarrative, a story that makes sense of the world and all of our stories.
But there’s a problem with this grand story of God’s unfolding plan. And it’s this problem we’re going to start to tackle this morning. It’s the problem we saw raised in the drama, the problem of why Jesus’ own people rejected him.
Today we begin looking at one of the most difficult controversial parts of the Bible, the ninth chapter of Romans. Friendships have ended because of disagreements over how to understand Romans 9. Churches have split, pastors have been fired, and people have been excommunicated based on how they understand the ninth chapter of Romans.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called "Good News for Our Times." In chapters 1 to 4 of Romans we looked at "the Good News about God’s Integrity." In chapters 5 to 8 of Romans we looked at "the Good News about God’s Love." Today we start our third major section of Romans, chapters 9 to 11 of Romans. The key theme of these three chapters of Romans is "the Good News about God’s Faithfulness." As much as we might struggle to understand specific details of this part of Romans 9, the key theme of these chapters is that God is faithful to keep his promises. We can trust God to do what he promises to do. If we don’t lose sight of the fact that God’s faithfulness is the major theme of this section, then no matter how we understand the particulars, we’ll keep the main thing the main thing.
Today we’re going to first look at a dilemma in God’s grand story, and then we’re going to look at three facts that can help us solve this dilemma.
1. The Dilemma (Romans 9:1-4a).
Let me start by just stating the dilemma we find in this section of Romans: IF JESUS FULFILLS GOD’S PROMISES TO ISRAEL, WHY DO THE JEWISH PEOPLE REJECT JESUS AS THEIR MESSIAH?
This is the dilemma Paul’s agonizes over in vv. 1-4a. We tend to think of Judaism and Christianity as two separate religions, but that’s not entirely accurate. Jesus himself was Jewish, from the tribe of Judah, circumcised in the Jewish temple, and he grew up in a Jewish home going to synagogue every Sabbath. Although Jesus was critical of many things about the way the Jewish religion was taught in his generation, he lived his entire life by the Jewish torah. He celebrated the Jewish festivals like Passover and the Day of Atonement.
Jesus didn’t set out to start a new religion. You might think of the difference between a reformer and a revolutionary. A reformer tries to bring about change within a system, while a revolutionary tries to overthrow the system and start something new. Jesus was more like a reformer than a revolutionary. He wanted to help the Jewish nation be what God had truly called them to be.
And all of Jesus’ 12 apostles were also Jewish, again more like reformers than revolutionaries. Twenty-five of the 27 books we have in the New Testament were written by Jewish people. When the Christian Church was born on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, all of the Christians were Jewish, and the church was entirely Jewish for about the first ten years of its existence. In those early days, the Christian Church was more like a subgroup within Judaism rather than a distinct religion in its own right.
But by the time Paul is writing Romans, all that had changed. Now the non-Jewish Christians outnumber the Jewish Christians, and the Christian faith is starting to look like a distinct and different religion from Judaism. This is because the vast majority of the Jewish people didn’t accept the idea that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises. They also didn’t accept the idea that God welcomed non-Jewish people into God’s family without them first converting to Judaism, and this was a huge debate between Christian and non-Christian Jews.
So Paul agonizes over his own people’s rejection of Jesus. He wishes he himself could be cut off from God and accursed if only his fellow Jewish people could come to know Jesus as their Messiah.
Now this issue had special significance to the Roman Christians. We know from Roman history that the church in Rome started out exclusively Jewish, and only gradually did a few non-Jewish become Christians and join the church in Rome. The debate over whether Jesus was really the Messiah or not led to trouble between the Jewish who were Christians and the Jewish people who weren’t Christians. Finally the Roman Emperor Claudius got fed up and he kicked all the Jewish people out of Rome, whether they were Christians or not (Wuefel 85-101). Suddenly the few non-Jewish Christians in Rome were left in charge of the Church in Rome. Soon the Church in Rome started exploding in its growth, as hundreds of non-Jewish people were coming to faith in Jesus and joining the church in Rome. After the Emperor Claudius died, his successor Nero repealed the expulsion of Jews from Rome, and gradually the Jewish Christians started coming back to the city. They had left a relatively small Jewish Christian church, and they returned to find a non-Jewish church that was exploding with growth. They felt out of place, because their church had changed so much.