What About the Jews?

Title: What About the Jews?

Text: Romans 9:1-18

Time: October 25th, 2006

We now come to one of the biggest mysteries of the Christian faith – predestination. It’s such a great mystery that some people even deny that it is even a part of the Christian faith, it’s such a profound perplexity. But it clearly is, as Paul explains in Romans 9. What is predestination? It is simply the understanding that behind and beyond all human decisions, God ultimately decides. And yet it is also true that we as humans are called to decide. Predestination teaches that even though humans decided, God ultimately decides. How does this whole topic come up in Romans? Because Paul tries to explain the problem of the Jews. What is this problem? It is that even though the Jews are God’s chosen people, it seems that as far as Christianity is concerned, God’s chosen people aren’t choosing and aren’t being chosen by God to be Christians. That’s a strange paradox. God’s chosen people aren’t chosen. That’s almost a contradiction. So Paul has to address this whole problem. First, he underscores the fact that the Jews really are God’s chosen people by listing all the evidences of their being chosen by God. Second, he begins to explain how it could be that’s God chosen people aren’t chosen by God. Finally, third, he tries to explain how God is ultimately choosing and how God has the absolute right to do the choosing, even if it doesn’t seem fair. In this section, Romans 9:1-18 (read), Paul’s emphasis is on God’s right to ultimately choose, but in the next section, Romans 9:19-33, while continuing the theme of predestination, it ends with the theme of human free will. How can this be? How can Paul talk about predestination and then free will in the same chapter? Because both are true, both are taught from beginning to end in the Bible, and both are presented for us to believe. How can this be? Because sometimes things can be true without our ability to see how they can be true. This is an instance of that occurring. Predestination is definitely taught in the Bible; Paul teaches it clearly in this passage and the next passage in Romans 9. But so is free will taught also in the Bible, and even by Paul himself in this same chapter! How can this be? Because life is bigger than logic. Because as the Bible says elsewhere of God, “My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts.” The truth of predestination is beyond human understanding; it exists in the mind of God; maybe the angels understand it, maybe they don’t; maybe we’ll understand in the next life, maybe we won’t. But regardless of whether we will ever understand it, it is the truth, and God understands it, and so from his perspective it makes complete sense. Now the concept of free will we can understand, it makes sense to our thinking. It also motivates us to decide because we understand that we are accountable and responsible for our decisions and how we live. But that doesn’t mean that predestination isn’t also true; it is, but in a way we don’t understand. Paul uses the truth of predestination to explain how the Jews can be God’s chosen people, yet not be chosen by God. Let’s here what he says.

First, there is the tragedy of the Jews. Romans 9:1-3, “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 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, 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. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” It is odd that today, as it has been throughout history, that the most famous Jew of all time isn’t followed by the Jews. Jesus was a Jew, but this most famous of all Jews, was actually handed over to death by Jews. How can this be explained? It’s such a hard thing to accept. Paul is so moved by sorrow by this tragic situation that he claims that he would even suffer losing his own salvation if only the Jews would begin to believe. All of Jewish history had been building up to this important moment – the appearance of the Messiah, and then when it finally happens, the Jews reject their own Messiah! Paul goes through a list of the highlights of God’s chosen people: adoption by God of the children of Israel, their witness of the presence and glory of God, God giving them the law and covenants, their special temple worship, all the promises of God to Israel, their history with the patriarchs, and finally their blood relationship to the Jesus the Messiah. But even after all of these, still the Jews refuse to believe the gospel! It’s ironic; it’s tragic. Paul is all torn up about it because these are his people, the Jews. These are his flesh and blood relations. We don’t know anything about Paul’s family, but it’s certain that any family and relatives of Paul probably would have rejected the gospel and the Christian faith, as most all Jews did, as most all Jews do now today. Paul introduces the whole topic of predestination to explain how the Jewish Messiah can be rejected by his own Jewish people. It doesn’t seem to fit together right; it isn’t how the story should end. We’ve all read novels, seen movies, and heard stories where the ending fits perfectly. There’s something right about a good ending to a story. For example, the Book of Esther in the Old Testament ends right. The bad guy gets his punishment, the good guy (gal) gets the victory; and everybody lives happily ever after. The movie The Sound of Music ends right. The movie West Side Story doesn’t end right. Now in respect to the Jews rejecting their own Messiah, that is not how it’s supposed to be; there’s something wrong there. Paul knows it; we all know it. That’s why he brings up predestination, to explain it, because it doesn’t make sense in human terms.

Second, there is always a faithful remnant. Romans 9:6-13, “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: ‘At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.’ Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls, she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” Paul begins to define exactly what is a Jew, who is a Jew, what makes a Jew a Jew? Strangely, this is the same question that is currently being debated in the modern state of Israel right now. There is a big controversy in modern day Israel as to who is a Jew and what makes a person a Jew? Paul raises the issue because he intends to prove that not everyone who is a biological Jew is really a true, spiritual Jew. One’s spiritual status before God makes one a Jew, not merely biological heritage. Paul proves this by showing that not all of Abraham’s offspring are Jews, only through Isaac’s line, not Ishmael’s. Next, he proves that not all the Jews of Isaac’s line are Jews, only Jacob’s line, not Esau’s. And so forth. Now modern day Jews consider Jewish identity almost totally in terms of heritage and bloodline. For example, Karl Marx is considered a Jew, even though he was an atheist and the father of Communism. Other atheists, like the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud, are still considered Jews, even though they have no spiritual connection with the Jewish faith. But the Bible doesn’t consider mere blood line to be the test for Jew’s as God’s chosen people. Paul picks up on this point to show that not all biological Jews are really Jews in the spiritual sense. God’s chosen people are not just chosen by virtue of biology, they are chosen by God spiritually. This is where Paul gets into talk about predestination: “Before the twins (Jacob and Esau) were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,’” Romans 9:11-13. In this illustration we see God making choices before humans are able to make choices. But is this fair? That’s just what Paul answers next.

Third, ultimately it’s in the hands of God. Romans 9:14-18, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” In this very section we have the very core of Paul’s teaching on predestination. It doesn’t come as an explanation as much as simply a statement: ultimately, God makes the choices. How this fits together with human free will, Paul doesn’t explain. He says, “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden,” Romans 9:18. This then is the answer as to why the Jews do not believe and why the Gentiles do believe: God has mercy on whom he wills, and hardens whom he wills. The Jews ultimately have closed their hearts to their own Messiah because God has ultimately closed their hearts towards the Messiah. The Gentiles are openhearted towards the Jewish Messiah because God has opened their hearts. For Paul, there can be no other explanation, no human reason why Jews wouldn’t have embraced their own Savior. The only explanation is that for now, God himself has ultimately closed their hearts to Jesus, even as he has opened the hearts of the Gentiles to Jesus. How does this fit together with human free will? The key point is that God ultimately decides, but that doesn’t mean that he prevents free human choices. The Jews chose to reject Jesus, but nobody forced them to reject Jesus, besides, some Jews did choose to accept Jesus; Paul is one of the Jews who accepted Jesus. The Gentiles accepted Jesus, not all of them, but many of them. Nobody forced them to believe; they chose freely, just as the Jews rejected freely. It’s just that ultimately, somewhere, someplace beyond human understand, beyond this world, in the very depths of God’s vast intellect, God made the ultimate choice. And somewhere, someplace, in God’s vast and infinite mind, humans have free choice and He makes the final choices, and these two are totally compatible to him even though they aren’t to us. If we think that free human choices and God’s predestination are incompatible, we need to think about the direction modern physics is going. Physicists now talk about how time bends, how space doubles back, and other paradoxical and seemingly contradictory things. Life is bigger than logic.

Now what does all this mind-bending, philosophical talk have to do with our Christian lives in the 21st century? Plenty. For example, based on what the Apostle Paul has just taught, if you are a Christian you are chosen by God, you are one of the elect. You have been in God’s good plan since the very beginning. You are a part of the faithful remnant that has always been present on the earth; you are part of the modern day remnant called to bear witness for God on the earth. In some strange, mysterious way, God has opened your heart, and using your perfectly free will you choose to believe. God has had his eye on your for salvation since all eternity past, so there is no chance that you will not enter into eternity future with God. When it says, “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy,” in Romans 9:18, it’s talking about you. You are the object of God’s mercy and grace. And when it says, “God . . . hardens whom he wants to harden,” Romans 9:18, it’s not talking about you; thank God! Somewhere in the great beyond, somewhere in the infinite mind of God, you were ultimately chosen to be with God forever, and using your perfectly free will you chose God. God chose you, and you chose God; or you chose God, and God chose you. How can this be? How does this make sense? It doesn’t make perfectly logical sense, but again, as even the modern physicists demonstrate, life is bigger than logic. But one thing we do know is that this is a teaching of the Bible because Paul himself teaches it. Now we are left with a choice, a free choice: will we believe the Bible or not? Will we “trust in the Lord with all our heart,” or “lean on our own understanding,” – to paraphrase Proverbs 3:5. We are instructed in that verse to “trust in the Lord with all our heart” and “do not lean on our own understanding.” Will we follow that instruction or resist? The question of predestination is perhaps the hardest of all the mysteries found in the Bible. We can see why many people would be motivated to reject it – it doesn’t seem to make logical sense. But we have to come back again to the point mentioned earlier: it is taught in the Bible. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s taught in the Bible. It’s taught in the Bible, but it doesn’t make sense. Paul is clearly teaching the doctrine of predestination in Romans 9, but that doesn’t mean that he’s denying free will. In the last few verses of Romans 9 (next week’s message) he’ll talk in terms of human responsibility. So for Paul, the two things, predestination and human free will, are not incompatible or contradictory. They are compatible, but only in the mind of God, not in the mind of man. It just goes to show that we are called to believe in God with our whole heart, mind and strength, but not commanded to fully understand it all.

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One Response to “What About the Jews?”

  1. alan paron dithers Says:

    I thought you might be interested in learning about OUR Jewish traditions which embrace the real Christ. We are the Frankist Association of America. One of our members has a new book out:

    http://www.amazon.com/Real-Messiah-Throne-Origins-Christianity/dp/1906787123/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245892844&sr=8-1

    These are our teachings passed on through generations. If you can’t afford the book you can see the website of one of our teachers – http://www.stephanhuller.blogspot.com.

    Shalom

    Beth El Jacob Frank

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