“I am telling the truth in Christ (I am not lying!), for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed—cut off from Christ—for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen, who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 9:1-5 NET)
Why was Paul in anguish and would even wish he were cut off from the Messiah? It was because the Israelites, the Jews of his day, had rejected the Messiah. They did not accept Jesus as the Messiah who came to save all people.
Look at all the advantages the Israelites had (we can read about these throughout the Old Testament). They had been adopted as sons: God had taken a people who were in slavery and made them his people. They had access to his glory. He gave them his covenant through Moses to all the people. Part of this included his giving them his law, a law to live by to stay faithful to him in preparation for the coming Messiah. Later they received the worship in the temple. They had access to the promises of Abraham and eventually, through their line, came the Messiah. The Messiah is God over all.
They had all this! What went wrong?
Paul pointed out that the problem wasn’t God’s word – it had not failed (Romans 9:6). God had promised Abraham a child, not just natural offspring but a child “of promise”. When Isaac’s wife Rebekah finally conceived, God had selected Jacob to be the one through whom the promise would continue and the Messiah would come.
God’s plan was that not only the Jews would be his people, but also the Gentiles, those who were not Jews. Hosea had talked about this: “I will call those who were not my people, ‘My people,’ and I will call her who was unloved, ‘My beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God’” (Romans 8:25-26 quoted Hosea 2:23 and 1:10).
In a way it is ironic:
“[T]he Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 8:30-32).
The Israelites became so absorbed in pursing the law that they missed that to which the law was pointing. The law wasn’t given to point out they were better than everyone else. The law was given to show them sin (see Romans 7) and the solution to sin. The law pointed to the Messiah.
Yet the Messiah came and they ignored and rejected him. He did not fit what they thought the Messiah would be. And they killed him.
Sometimes it is difficult to see the trees for the forest. That seems to have been the problem of the Jews in the first century. They were so absorbed in God’s word that they missed what it was saying.
The warning is there for us. We have God’s word today, revealed by the Messiah through the Spirit and written down for us by apostles and writers. The blessing is not in knowing every nuance of what we read. The blessing is in obeying and doing what it says.
Jesus said, “If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).
Readings for next week: Romans 8-12