10th Sunday after Pentecost “People of The Promise”
August 6, 2023 Romans 9:1-5 (6-13)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
You have probably seen before one of those bookmarks that lists various passages to look up in the Bible when you need a word of comfort in various situations, like when you’re worried, or feel alone, or are struggling with temptation. It may say something like: when you are worried, look up 1 Peter 5:7 which says, ‘Cast all your anxieties on God, because he cares for you.’ Many Gideon-placed Bibles in hotels have that kind of a book mark.
It’s a quick way to find a fitting word from the Lord. When you’re worried, the last thing you want is to start flipping pages & reading any verse. You might open up to Acts 5 when God struck Ananias & Sapphira dead in their tracks for their sin; or you might just open to 2Kgs2 when God sent bears to kill 42 boys for mocking the prophet Elisha. It’s much safer to open the Bible to a pre-selected verse for comfort.
That list of useful passages can be very helpful to someone who wouldn‘t know where to look in God‘s Word. But a down-side to that approach is that sometimes people never get beyond this kind of ‘nibbling’ on the Bible. They get their couple of verses & then they set the Bible aside until the next trouble. Without the bigger story & perspective, why would people use the Bible more than any other book of comforting or wise sayings? For some people, it doesn’t matter if they hear the words of Confusius, or the Dalai Lama, or Jesus = they just want to hear something calming or uplighting when they feel the need.
But God’s Holy Scripture is much more than that; it is the very word breathed out by God; the word of absolute truth for all people – of all places & times. By His Word comes the very Spirit of God. It is a physical & spiritual word; it is religious, historical, geographical, scientific, & miraculous. It is the very deep & rich story of God, who is at work for the world throughout human history.
The Bible is not another ‘self-help’ book meant for us to use the advise when we want to solve our occasional troubles. Christianity is not a personalized ‘life-philosophy’ that we customize to fit our individual lives. There is only one God & one true religion for all people & thru all history.
Our Creator-God, from Day One, has 6,000 years of continuous & merciful involvement with all humans & all the world events. If we’ve reduced The Almighty to just being the occasional useful ‘helper’ for the ups & downs of our life, then our view is upside down.
That view sees Him serving our kingdom instead of us being brought into & serving in His kingdom. The proper view is that God graciously brings our little life-story into His greater story.
This proper view is one of the themes in book of Romans. God is the source, producer & conductor of this world’s history & life, and we‘re the ‘scene-actors’ that come & go. God is the One who was there at the beginning, creating this world & the entire vast universe; & He told us how He did it. God also told us how He would deal with the inescapable Law of condemnation for mankind’s fall into sin. From Adam to Seth to Noah; to Abraham to David to Mary & finally to Jesus, it’s been God’s plan in motion all these years; and God is the One who will be there at The End. The End will not be by climate change, or a rogue meteorite, or by invading aliens from outer space. In God’s plan, The Son, Jesus Himself, returns in glory and with His heavenly army of angels. He gathers up His people, and brings about a new & holy re-creation. The focus of the whole existence of this life is God’s work.
In chp.9 of Romans, Paul brings in the history of how God’s story has involved a certain people. God certainly is present for every individual soul, & able to help a troubled person with a single Bible passage. Yet, God’s scope is also much greater than that. God has come to the world in Jesus Christ to save a whole history of humans; Jesus died, once & for all -Rom.6:10. Which means that you & I are joined into that historic fellowship of people who = past, present, & future = live by His promise as part of His time-less kingdom.
In chapt.9, Paul has a moment of ‘prayer’. It’s a thought you may have prayed on behalf of someone you care about; but someone who has turned their back on The Faith. You love that person; & you know that God desires that person to know & trust Him; and yet that person wants nothing to do with God. It causes us a deep sorrow that a friend, or relative, or our son or daughter has turned away from the faith. This is what Paul feels.
He says, “I am speaking the truth in Christ = that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Paul was very concerned about the Jewish people. About 5 yrs before he wrote, the Jewish people had been expelled from Rome. There had been some civil unrest in the city; & like previous emperors has done, Emperor Claudius blamed the Jews, & evicted them from Rome. When Emperor Claudius died, that law expired. The Jewish people were now returning to Rome; so how would the gentile Christians treat them? The NT faith in Jesus-as-the-Messiah had been born out of the OT Jewish faith which had been waiting for the Messiah.
When the Jews had to leave Rome, the NT Church grew among the gentiles; & now Paul was concerned that -as those Jews returned- the gentiles wouldn’t reach out to them with the gospel = maybe out of spite. But that would go against the larger view of God’s mission.
Earlier in the letter, in chpt.3, Paul taught us that ALL have sinned & fallen short of the glory of God; & he asks this important question: “Then what advantage has the Jew?” We might expect Paul to say, ‘none.’ Since all people of any ethnicity or age are sinful, and all are justified only by grace thru faith in Jesus Christ; therefore, there is no advantage to being a Jew.
But, Paul says something different. “What advantage has the Jew?” “Much in every way,” he says. “To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” That is, God’s gospel news of the world’s Messiah was first given to them to believe & to preserve for us all. Now he adds to that by saying, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their nation, according to the flesh, is the Christ = who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
Paul’ prayer is wrapped up in the larger story of God; he notes God’s historic involvement with His chosen people to save the whole world; and that makes us wonder whether WE have kept this ’larger’ view. Long before you & I, God had chosen Abraham to be the father of His people of faith in the world; and from Abraham, God had chosen to bless the Israelites.
Thru them, all nations on the face of the earth have been blessed. This is OUR foundation; and we dare not forget that it was from Abraham & his ethnic descendants that Jesus Christ arrived; and only thru Jesus is the whole world blessed. Paul knows this greater story of God, and this story shapes Paul’s life and prayers.
It’s because of this greater story that Paul is even willing to die for the sake of the Jews. Paul knows that not all of his Jewish brothers & sisters have believed in Jesus. Because of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome, it would be very easy for the Christian Church to become only a Gentile church, forgetting God’s historic glory. So Paul is distressed; and if him being cut off from Christ could bring the Jewish people to Jesus & save them, he would do it.
That is the kind of anguish & love that caused Jesus to leave His heavenly position and come among us lost sinners. Jesus is the very one who was willing to be cut off from God, /who was willing to drink the cup of His Father’s wrath over our sin, /who was willing to be forsaken by God & suffered hell, so that the kingdom of God would be opened to all people.
That was God’s OT promise to the sinful world. In Jesus’ cross & empty tomb is the promise that He has forgiven your sins. As you are Baptized in Jesus’ name, you are part of the people of God; people who live by that same old promise in God’s greater story.
Sometimes we can lose sight of this larger story; that we have been brought into this people of world history. If our view of this faith is narrow, & focused only on how it fits our life, when our life doesn’t go as ‘we’ planned, then we’ll think that God has let us down & we’ll seek out a more pleasing personal religion.(many have done that) But, when we hear & trust God’s larger view, then we will have a faith that is able to handle our life’s ups & downs, because we are not isolated or alone. We are part of that larger people, who have lived by that historic promise of God; and God has been at work for our blessing long before we were born.
Jesus didn’t come into the world ‘spur of the moment.’ The Son of God has been the promised Messiah from the day God exposed the sin of Adam & Eve. They were the first ‘Christians’ = believing the promise of Christ-to-come. Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, Moses & David were all ‘Christians’ = believers in The Christ. Only in time did God reveal that Jesus was that Christ, & that He is the fulfillment of the promise handed down thru the generations of the Israelites. As Jesus himself said, ‘salvation is from the Jews.’(Jn.4:22) So, the cross & empty tomb of Jesus is God’s saving good news for both Jew & non-Jew; all people.
This is one reason why we have a lesson from the OT each Sunday; it reminds us of our connection to God’s larger history & working. Like the reading from Isaiah this morning, as God calls His people to “come and eat.” And then we hear of Jesus feeding the 5,000.
They are both part of God’s eternal plan of a banquet for all peoples. When God spoke of an everlasting covenant made to David, it includes the larger view of that covenant for all people thru David’s Son & David’s Lord. This is the God of history. The Israelites received the manna from heaven in the wilderness; others received loaves & fish in a desolate place; and WE have received a meal of Jesus’ body & blood along with bread & wine. God has brought US into the history of being His blessed people.
This brings us to the ‘art-work’ for today; a painting done by artist Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia, in about 1440. It is of the ‘Annunciation’; that event when Mary received word from the angel Gabriel that she was chosen to bear the world’s Savior. Mary is seated alone in a room. Before her stands Gabriel, announcing that message from God. But the artist has also included the larger story, as on the left side we see the Garden of Eden with Adam & Eve.
That scene outside is miserable. The Father above is banishing Adam & Eve out of the Garden. Their sin has brought His wrath upon all of creation & human history; now they are subject to death, & must live in a fallen world. But the artist also shows the Father looking forward thru the centuries to that one chosen woman, who would bear God’s Son, who would crush the head of Satan, & provide redemption for all. Adam & Eve, Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, David, Deborah & Isaiah were all people of this same promise. It’s the same promise that WE gather around every Sunday = the promise that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…, so that we will not perish but have eternal life.’
Mary’s life didn’t go as she thought. She learned from Gabriel that she would have a part in the larger plans of God. In faith, she didn’t complain about how God’s plan didn’t fit into her plans. Instead, she humbly offered herself as a servant in His kingdom.
This is how The Faith works: for Mary, for the apostle Paul & those in Rome, and for you & me. We have been brought into this great & gracious story of the salvation of the whole world in Jesus – the Christ – & promised One. So, we rejoice that God has made us to be part of a greater people who live by His ancient promise; that makes us useful servants in His present kingdom; and makes us good witnesses to those who will live after us.