Summary: Take to Heart God’s Frustration 1) Over those who are careless 2) Over those who care less
Three years ago the ABC reality show “Extreme Makeover” and local volunteers demolished an old home in Lake City, Georgia just outside of Atlanta. In six days they replaced it with a mini-mansion while its owners were having fun at Disneyland. When Milton and Patricia Harper returned from Mickey’s Magic Kingdom they not only giddily accepted keys to a small castle they hadn’t paid a cent for, they also received a quarter of a million dollars for scholarships for their three children and enough money to pay taxes on their new home for twenty-five years!
You’d expect a news report like that to end: “And they lived happily ever after” but not this one. The Harper’s dream home is now in foreclosure. How do you lose a house that someone gave you as a gift on national television? According to the Associated Press, the Harpers took a loan against the house’s value to start a construction business that failed.
Reaction to the upcoming foreclosure has been predictable. Lake City mayor, Willie Oswalt, recalled a chilly January day when he and a handful of other volunteers wrestled an aged beam into place in the mansion’s living room. “The Harper’s future seemed just as solid,” the mayor said. “It’s aggravating. You do that much work, and they just squander it.”
It is frustrating when people squander a gift others worked so hard to give them. Perhaps this news story helps us begin to understand the frustration God must feel when people throw away his gifts to them. Paul voices that frustration today in our text teaching us that God is not only frustrated over those who are careless with their blessings, he’s also frustrated with those who care less about blessing others.
Our text is a continuation of our Epistle readings from the book of Romans. Last Sunday Paul assured us that nothing can separate us from God’s love - not famine, not sickness, not even demons or death. Although God’s love never fails we can reject that love and its blessings. That’s exactly what many of Paul’s fellow Jews had done much to Paul’s frustration, not to mention God’s. Paul wrote: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all” (Romans 9:2-5a).
If anyone should be certain of God’s love, it is the Israelites. No other nation has seen God’s glory as they have. When God rescued them from slavery in Egypt he led them to the Promised Land in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He appeared to them at Mt. Sinai in smoke, lightning, and the blast of trumpets. While heathen nations tripped over themselves prancing around idols they had made out of wood and stone, the Israelites followed a worship form God himself had designed to illustrate how one day he would forgive their sin through the death of a substitute. This substitute, the Savior, was even born an Israelite!
What had many Israelites done with this God-given “advantage”? Well, what did many of them do with Jesus? They laughed at him. They scorned him. They tried to push him off a cliff. They spat on him. They finally had him crucified. And as if that wasn’t enough they continued to persecute his followers. How did it come to that? The short answer is pride. The Israelites stopped reading God’s Word in humility. They no longer approached the study of his Word with the attitude: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” but “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking.” They had made up their mind that salvation was not a free gift. It was something they thought they needed to earn by keeping God’s laws. They even thought they had done this and so had no use for Jesus as their savior. In addition the Israelites had started looking for heaven on earth. They thought their God-given destiny was to become a world superpower. That’s why many were initially excited about the arrival of Jesus. Here was a man who could do miracles. Certainly he had the power to run the Romans out of Palestine. When Jesus didn’t use his power in that way but kept talking about how the life of a believer on earth is the life of the cross and not the couch, many left him.
Oh, how frustrating it was for Paul to see his fellow Jews do this. Sure, he had been one of them once. He had been a persecutor of Jesus but God had turned him around. Why couldn’t more Jews see what he now did by God’s grace? Couldn’t they understand that the key to heaven hung around their necks, so to speak, while they stubbornly tried to pound heaven’s door open with self-righteous fists and feet?