The Twenty-Seventh in a Series on Paul's Epistle to the Romans
In Romans 1:17, Paul told us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. He also told us that the gospel went first to the Jew and then to the Gentiles. But now the apostle must answer the difficult questions that Israel’s priority in redemptive history raise. “If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, why is it that Israel does not believe the gospel and has come under God’s curse?” “Does God not keep his promises?” Or, “Has God changed his purposes for Israel?” “What role will Israel play in the future, if any?” Answering these difficult questions and explaining God’s future purposes for Israel in light of the church’s mission to the Gentiles is theme of this section Romans, chapters 9-11.
As we have pointed out in previous sermons, Romans 9-11 is an integral part of this letter and is not merely Paul’s personal lament over the current unbelief of his own beloved people, the Jews. Yes, Paul speaks about his unceasing anguish for Israel. Yes, he tells us of his desire to spare his people by taking upon himself the covenant curses which have now come upon the Jews. Paul also tells us that it is his heart’s fervent desire that his people, the Jews, will at some point be saved. And so while the material we find in these three chapters is certainly personal, this is not merely a personal lament. These chapters are an explanation of a theological conundrum. If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and if through the preaching of the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, why is that Israel finds itself in such a lamentable situation? How do God’s purposes for Israel relate to God’s purposes for the Gentiles? How are Jew and Gentile to understand their roles in the church, now that the long-expected messianic age has dawned. These are very real and pressing questions throughout the churches and Paul must address them at some point in this letter. And this is why Romans 9-11 is such an integral part of this letter.
Preaching through this section of Romans presents a number of difficulties. For one thing, Romans 9-11 is one extended argument. Because of time constraints, we cannot tackle the entire three chapters in one sitting, which is most unfortunate. Splitting this section into several sermons makes it difficult to see the unity of Paul’s argument and obscures the big picture. And so, I want to do a bit of review, lay out the big picture once again, as well as cover some points of application we were but able to skim last time.
To answer the questions being raised in the churches, in Romans 9:6 Paul makes a very important distinction between “all Israel” and “true Israel,” a distinction which is foundational to everything which follows. “All Israel” is the broader group which is composed of all circumcised and ethnic Jews. “True Israel” is a much narrower group, composed of those elect Jews who do believe that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. Thus all of the blessings enumerated by Paul in Romans 9:4-5, were indeed experienced by “all Israel” throughout the unfolding drama of redemption in the Old Testament. But “true Israel”–the elect remnant according to grace–believed the promise of God to justify sinners and so the members of true Israel are those who call upon God to save them from their sins. Thus God fulfills his purposes and keeps his promises. But to understand how he does so, we must keep the distinction between all Israel and true Israel in mind.
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