Children of Promise

Scriptures: Genesis 32:22-31; Romans 9:1-8

As we go into the passage in Romans 9, it was a passage that I found somewhat fascinating, in that many commentators, and a lot of the people who actually wrote sermons on this passage, spoke of the fact that a lot of preachers like to skip from Romans 8 to Romans 12.

Romans 8 culminates in the predestination, or election, of God for His people, God’s presence is always promised with you, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And they’ve gone through what they call the Romans Road, where all have sinned, and Christ died for sinners, and we’ve been through 6 and 7 and 8 as we looked at some of those things.

But there’s always this question about what to do with the Jews. What do you do with the Jews? The Church has had different perspectives on them for a long time.

Some say we replace the Jews. We are the children of God now. We have the new covenant. The Jews are done, they’re forgotten. Others say no, that’s not true. God is faithful to his covenants, all of them, and that there is still a place for the Jews.

I happen to be part of that crowd, because of what we’re going to talk about here briefly in Romans 9 as we look at it, but also in Revelation, where it speaks of 144,000 Jews becoming Messianic Jews, understanding Christ and being the founders, if you will, once again of a revival of the church and the heralds of the Messiah.

But then people say, if you’re going to say that God still has a place for the Jews, then how do you deal with Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by me”? And my answer to that is, I have no idea.

But I accept the fact that God’s plan includes the Jews still, in some way. They’re still the center of the Middle East. There’s the politics and things around them that still impact the world – this small nation, smaller than Rhode Island, and the peoples that are therein. And yet I also believe firmly that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ.

Paul was dealing with this, in part, from the other side. As the liturgist noted, he was the apostle to the Gentiles. He spent a lot of his time with the Gentiles. He no longer followed some of the Jewish kosher laws and such. So the question came, has he abandoned his people? And many would have said, “Absolutely!”

Now Paul is writing to Romans, but he wants to make certain that they understand that you cannot forget the Jews. And he says, in the strongest terms possible, that he’s telling the truth. He vows that in Christ, he says it’s confirmed by the Holy Spirit – you know get much more solid than that.

He wishes that his people would come to understand and accept Christ, and says that he would be willing to be cut off from Christ for the rest of them.

But he notes that the Israelites have the adoption of sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law etc. And from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all. So the Jews are still God’s people. And we have been grafted into the vine.

If you believe that, though, then there comes the question, “Does that mean that Christ failed because he didn’t obviously didn’t bring all the Jews in? Did God’s Word fail?”

Paul says no. “Because not all who are descended from Israel are Israel, nor because they are his descendants are all Abraham’s children.” And he gives an example. And there’s another example I’d like to give as well, about how not everybody who was part of Israel, or Abraham’s children, were inheritors with the promise of Abraham.

We have, for instance, though Paul doesn’t mention it, Ishmael. Ishmael was born of a mistake. Basically Sarai and Abram were impatient. And because of that they had Ishmael, born about twelve thirteen years before Isaac was born.

And by the way, the descendants of Ishmael are the ones that are the Arabs today, the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Jordanians. And a large part of their argument is they were first-born, that
theirs is the inheritance of all the promises of God, theirs is the inheritance of the land that was promised Abraham.

That’s why I say there will never be peace in the Middle East until Christ comes again, because you don’t get much more basic than that kind of argument.

Now Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Again, Esau was the first-born even, if only by a few seconds, because they were twins. But by the Jewish law, by the law of that time, Esau was the one that was to get the blessing. And Jacob, through a series of tricks and things, basically claimed the birthright from Isaac, in place of Esau.

The Bible makes it clear that God was OK with that, because God had chosen Jacob from before time to be the inheritor of the promises, the second born. It even is strong enough to say that God loved Jacob and hated Esau.

Now God doesn’t hate anyone, but so we struggle with that, but it’s important to understand that Esau was someone who rejected the ways of God. The descendants of Esau were the Edomites and a lot of those other “ites” there in the Old Testament. They were in the land when Israel came back from Egypt to have to claim the land.

So we have God’s choice taking precedence over lineage. Jesus himself, when the scribes and Pharisees said, “We are the sons of Abraham,” said, “If God wanted to, He could make these rocks sons of Abraham.” That’s not a claim to special position with God.

It’s not as though God’s word had failed. God’s children are those whom He has chosen and the children of promise are those who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring by God. Paul says that those who ask that question have really stopped thinking theologically.

God’s promise was to Abraham’s descendants, and not all those descendants are part of the chosen people. What matters first of all is God’s choice. It’s God’s right to choose because it’s God’s sovereignty.

By the way, does anyone know what “sovereign” means, if you break it down? The only ruler, or only rule, sovereign. This is difficult for us to cope with sometimes in our democratic egalitarian culture. How are we going to understand the sovereignty of God when we live in a culture where even parents question their right to discipline their own children?

But we need to come to grips with this, with a God who has the right to choose what happens to His creatures. So I want to take a moment and ask, let’s think about who we’re discussing. Who is God?

I’m going to read you a short excerpt from Karl Barth’s commentary on this chapter of Romans 9. He’s one of my favorite theologians, even if he did tend to run to diarrhea of the pen. He had a twelve-volume set of systematic theology, and he was asked once by a reporter, trying to trap him and trick him, “If you could sum up that entire twelve-volume set into one sentence, what would it be?”

And without pausing for breath Karl said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But it took him twelve volumes to say that. In this chapter he says:

God the pure and absolute boundary and beginning of all that we are and have and do; God who is distinguished qualitatively from men and from everything human, and must never be identified with anything which we name, or experience, or conceive, or worship, as God; God who confronts all human disturbance with an unconditional command, Halt, and all human rest with an equally unconditional command, Advance; God the Yes in our no and the No in our yes; the first and the last and consequently the unknown, who is never known a thing in the midst of other known things; God the Lord, the Creator, the Redeemer, is the Living God. In the Gospel, in the message of salvation of Jesus Christ, this hidden living God has revealed Himself as He is. Above and beyond the apparently infinite series of possibilities and visibilities in this world, there breaks forth, like a flash of lightning in possibility and invisibility, not a some separate second other thing, but as the truth of God which is now hidden as the primal origin to which all things are related ,as the dissolution of all relativity, and therefore as the reality of all relative realities.

If you had trouble getting your mind around that, then I have achieved my purpose. Because this God about whom we’re thinking is so far beyond our finite minds that we can never even come close to comprehending Him or His purposes in its entirety.

Yet as we think about this salvation that He gives to some and not others, we ask the same sort of question that the Jews were asking, and the Romans were asking, of Paul. Is God unjust in choosing one people, or set of peoples, and not another? Is this really someone that we can trust?

And here’s where it becomes important that we understand the difference between us and God. We ask the question, but God gives the answer. No, it’s not, as far as He is concerned. God chooses Jacob to demonstrate to us quite clearly that His is the authority in this world.

He speaks of the elder serving the younger, in just a couple of verses later in this same passage. God wants it to be absolutely clear that the decision to choose Jacob is His and His alone. He wants us to understand that our salvation doesn’t depend on our effort or desire but on God’s mercy.

He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” elsewhere in the Scriptures. It’s not how hard we work for our salvation that will get us through. It’s not how deserving we are. In fact, if you look at most of the characters that God chose, their character left a lot to be desired.

Jacob’s name meant trickster. Abraham lied to kings and said that his wife was his sister, and was apparently OK with them possibly taking her into the bedroom, because he was afraid for his own life. Noah got drunk, in celebration of them being saved from the world’s destruction. For that matter, so did Lot. All these people.

There’s a book called Crazy Stories, Sane God, which I recommend anyone to read, that has a whole lot of these stories in it. It mentions about how, if you look at the Bible here, this is not an elementary school textbook. There’s a lot of stuff in here that we would call for mature audiences only.

And yet we have to deal with it. And we deal with it by understanding that to a large part, God is greater than we can understand.

Before we finish, though, we need to think about what does this have to do with us? Why not stop at the end of chapter 8 and jump to 12 so many preachers do?

It’s important that we look at these chapters, because when Paul approaches the question of Israel, he’s also raising the question of the Church. You see, just as Israel was the possessor of God’s promise, so now that promise had been passed on to the Church.

And the church suffers from all the same temptations that Israel faced. As members of the Church, we can be tempted to think that we have it all sewn up. I have heard people that when talking about it, whether they think they are saved, are going to heaven, they’ll say, “Well, I was raised in the church and I was baptized when I was an infant.”

Those two things are wonderful. I recommend them heartily. But they don’t mean that you’re going to be saved.

We know what we have believed and are persuaded that we have it right. But in the end, we can be in the same position as Israel, who thought that because they had the law they were OK. But rather, we need to remind ourselves that we stand under the judgment of God as well.

Remember, in Chapter 8, it didn’t say that we don’t experience the judgment of God. It said there is no condemnation in that judgment, because of, not anything we did, but because we are in Christ Jesus, because he paid the debt for us.

If God dealt with us only with His justice and not with mercy, we’d be consigned to an eternity outside His presence. All our present knowledge of God is like sand that slips through our fingers before we can properly grasp hold of it.

Our membership in the church, even if it’s the best church we can find, will not save us, any more than circumcision would have saved Paul. Yet at the same time, the church, like Israel, is the holder of the truth of the gospel, even if at times it has failed to understand that truth.

But even in its failure, we can see God at work, saving those whom He chooses. That’s because the promise of God doesn’t fail simply because Israel fails or the church fails. No, God continues to call out those whom He chooses, not because of any merit on their own, but simply because He chooses to show them His glory.

So let’s sum up things for today, because we kind of went from one end of history to the other. Gods promises have not been forgotten. Nor have they failed. God has the right to choose because He is the sovereign Lord and Creator.

And even though we don’t understand His choices sometimes, we need to accept them. God’s motive is love and mercy and the demonstration of His glory. He does nothing out of unkindness or hatred or evil.

So then as Christians, as the members of a fallen church, we, like Paul and the Jews, need to be aware of our own limitations, our own failings, so that we turn to God again and again, asking Him in His mercy to save us despite our failings, despite our inability to please Him on our own, knowing that His mercy has guaranteed us a place with Him in eternity.

The true descendants of Israel are those who believe in God’s promise, those who have faith in that promise. Many of the Jews do not believe that Christ was the Messiah. Thus they did not believe in and have faith in God.

They chose not to believe the fulfillment of God’s promise in Christ. The same can be said of the rest of the world. But God’s word did not fail. It was fulfilled. The Jews just did not understand their role in God’s plan.

They are the chosen people. But not necessarily the chosen for salvation that belongs to those who have faith in Christ Jesus by God’s election.

Hopefully these chapters keep us humble. And I think that’s why they’re important. We don’t want to fall into the same kind of errors that the Jews did, particularly in Jesus’ day. We don’t want to fall into the same kind of complacency that the Jews did, in knowing that they were the chosen people of God.

We have an urgency to our call. As the chosen people of God, it is up to us to share that gospel, to help make disciples. Not to skate in on our membership and our lineage, if you will. Not because of a one-time event, perhaps, where we said a special prayer or even had a baptism.

It’s something that we need to live out, each and every day, as we follow God. And as we do that, the compassion that we show, the love that we share, will bring others to know the love of God in Christ Jesus. And God will be glorified. And that, after all, is why we’re here.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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