A few weeks back I mentioned that many scholars and theologians consider the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans to be the high point of all scripture. And inside of Romans there is a thought that Romans 8 is the summit, the tip top of this high point. That means that, over the course of our journey through Romans, we have just collectively visited the summit of new life in Christ that has become the new normal for those who have been called out of darkness and into Jesus’ marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 ESV
And, if this is true, then Romans 9 feels like we are leaving the summit and are now faced with the treacherous descent back down into the everyday living out of this new life we are admonished to walk in (6:4). But while on our way back down, we are going to pause a bit to hear the apostle’s heartfelt plea and burden for his people. Turn with me to Romans chapter 9. We will be reading vv. 1-5. The title of this sermon is An Unceasing Anguish. Now, God’s word as given to Paul, and via the agency of the Holy Spirit, us:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 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. 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 race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. - Romans 9:1–5 ESV
Paul is baring his heart here. He is granting the recipients of this letter, and now us, a look into his interior life. His love for his people. His pride for his culture. His desire that they be saved. In particular, we are going to make a few observations from the text, then we will seek to apply God’s word as given to Paul, and now us, to our own hearts. Firstly, we see that:
· Paul is acquainted with sorrow. vv.1-3
Now, I have long operated under the conviction that the apostle Paul’s genius was found in how he always managed to take the words of Christ and present them in such a way that his immediate, intended audience understood the way, the mind, and the heart of Christ. Paul was a master of re-presenting the word of Christ in a way the represented the Christ of the Word. And we see this gift powerfully displayed in this most heartfelt call for those of his own race, his nation, Israel. Jesus cared deeply about Israel as well.
Isaiah 53 tells us that Jesus is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” and we see more evidence of this in Jesus’ great lament that we find in Matthew 23:37.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” - Matthew 23:37 ESV
Now listen to Paul:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 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. - Romans 9:1–3 ESV
How many of us have our own people? How many of us know this feeling? How many of us here are acquainted with this particular sorrow and unceasing anguish? You see, we all have that special someone (or group people) who we love and cherish in spite of the fact that they seem to exist on a cliff overlooking death itself at all times. There existence is not because there is no help, it is all their doing. We all know these folks who, when presented with the opportunity for good, always seem to choose the bad. And, if we are honest, it pains us to see them go through this time and time again. We are all acquainted with this particular grief. Paul is baring his heart here. The knowledge of his people’s rejection causes him great sorrow and unceasing anguish. his grief is not passing or fleeting. He feels it deeply. And, in the middle of his great work, he pauses to reflect on this. To him, his people have missed out on the privileges that God himself has granted in his grace. To Paul:
· They Seemingly Had It All. v.4
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. - omans 9:4 ESV
Look at this list! Adoption. This is the great benefit that is received by all who are justified and brought into God’s family. We have seen this great benefit and have even spoken of it. To many, adoption is a NT revelation, but, did you know that adoption has OT roots? In Matthew’s gospel account he references the Exodus and deliverance from bondage and connects it to the birth of Christ. Let’s look at Matthew 2:13-15 and then Hosea 11:1
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” - Matthew 2:13-15
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. - Hosea 11:1 ESV
God adopted the nation of Israel. Israel was chosen to enjoy adoption. Paul experiences unceasing anguish because they just don’t get it. But, not only have they missed the privilege of adoption, they seem to have missed out on the Shekinah Glory of God itself!
Shekinah is an old church word that we need to reclaim! You see the Shekinah was a sign that God was present. People could look out and say hey, do you see that?! That is proof that God is with us.
Now, why does this matter? Why is this important? Well, let’s not forget that Paul was Jewish and that his unceasing anguish was for the Jewish people. So we have to look at what the Shekinah Glory meant for the Jewish people. You see it represented the manifestation of God in the temple, where they worshipped. In other words, when we gathered to worship, the Shekinah was proof that God inhabits the praise of his people.
The apostle Paul is saying that this long held Jewish belief moved onto its most glorious manifestation in Christ. Listen to this powerful quote from Orlando E. Costas (a Puerto Rican scholar and theologian) from his masterful work Christ Outside The Gate:
With Jesus there came a fundamental shift in the location of salvation; the center was moved to the periphery. Jesus died in the wilderness among the outcast and disfranchised. The unclean and defiled territory became holy ground as he took upon himself the function of the temple.” - Orlando E. Costas
In Matthew 17 we read of the transfiguration where Jesus, in all his glory, was revealed to the rock and the sons of thunder (that is Peter, James, and John), alongside Moses and Elijah (two of the largest Jewish heroes of the faith that Israel has). The text tells us that his face shone like the sun, he let a little of that Shekinah break through the constraints of his earthly wears, and he was simply radiant.
Israel, they had the covenants! The law! The worship! The Promises! Yet, they missed out! Paul is in the midst of his great sorrow and unceasing anguish because of it.
You see, although they had a history and a story like no other nation:
· They didn’t have Christ! v. 5
To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. - Romans 9:5 ESV
Jesus the Christ has come, and he is one of their own. Paul goes on to state that they are the people of the fathers! Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. They are a royal people. And from them, the King had come and they couldn’t see it.
As Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, making his way to the cross, in the middle of his GREATEST OF ALL WORKS, he himself pauses to feel deeply. Let’s look at Luke 19.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” - Luke 19:41–44 ESV
Great sorrow and unceasing anguish. Paul is pausing to acknowledge that his people had, at that point, mostly missed out. They had been visited. Peace had come upon them.
There are people in our lives that we would want that they not miss out. What are you going to do let them know about eternal peace in Christ? What are we going to do to ensure that in the middle of our work, we pause, to feel great sorrow and unceasing anguish at the idea that they may forever be lost.
This passage is a great call to care. Will we care enough to pray and petition for the salvation of our people? Will we pause long enough to speak the truth in love. Beloved, we are a people who exist in a state of urgency. We are called to feel great sorrow and unceasing anguish over the prospect of loved ones missing out on the greatest invitation they will ever receive? Moses, the great hero of the Jewish faith, prayed for his people to be saved and spared (Exodus 32:14). Will we do the same for those we love? Our collective call is to care for the souls of our families, friends, and neighbors. We are called to care for our co-workers and classmates. Will we pray that they would know Christ, who is God over all. Amen.