This sermon on Romans 9 was preached on June 8, 2018 at the weekly Progressing Pilgrims meeting of Niddrie Community Church. You can listen to it here (35 min.), or read the manuscript below.
Have y’all heard of Abram/Abraham? Do you remember what God promised him?
Listen to this:
Now the LORD said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Indeed, I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.
These are the promises of God to the Abraham and his descendants, Israel.
Thinking about these promises, here are some questions we need to answer:
Is God a failure? Is God a liar? Can God be trusted?
Now, why in the world would these questions be asked after reading those promises?
Look at Romans 9:1-5.
1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Paul’s own people, the Israelites, reject Jesus. They reject the only Savior of sinners. Their history is glorious. They’re from Abraham’s bloodline, saved from Egypt, brought through the Red Sea and the desert, given God’s laws, given victory over a land full of giants, blessed with God’s presence in the temple.
But through Israel’s generations, the Jews had rejected God time and time again, bringing judgment upon judgment from foreign armies. Though God has been patient and gracious to them, Israel has now rejected Jesus himself, the King of the Jews.
When Jesus is rejected, salvation and peace and life with God are rejected. And hell is guaranteed. The Jews were cut off from God, and, for the final time as a nation, would be smashed by the conquering Romans.
Paul is devasted by this. He actually says that, if it were possible, he’d choose hell itself if it would mean salvation for his kinsmen.
But how could this situation even be possible? Israel is from Abraham’s line. Didn’t he promise that Israel would conquer all its enemies?
I thought Israel would just keep growing until its numbers were more than the stars?
Didn’t he promise to be their God and have them as his people forever?
Yes, he did.
And so, has he failed to keep his promise? And if he’s failed, why should we trust any of the promises we’ve read in Romans?
Why should we believe a failure of a God when he says that he’ll work all things for our good, that he’ll keep us to the end, that nothing will separate us from his love?
Doesn’t the fact that Israel rejected Jesus prove God to be untrustworthy?
Not at all.
Look at verse 6.
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed.”
The word of God has not and cannot fail. God is perfect. He keeps all his promises.
The problem is not with God or his promises. The problem is our understanding.
If we ever think that God has failed us, we’ve failed to understand God. He is always dependable.
Look back at verse 6.
“For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel”
Now, Abraham’s grandson was named Jacob. And God gave Jacob the name Israel, meaning that God is his God and promises to fight for him. Those who come after Jacob and bear his name do so because they too are the chosen people of God. They are chosen to forever enjoy his salvation and forever enjoy his blessing.
All of Jacob’s physical children formed the physical nation of Israel. His 12 sons were the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.
But here Paul explains that the true Israel is not determined by physical bloodline. No one is part of this true Israel because of physical birth. No one belongs to the true people of God, those who are chosen by God to be his forever, and to forever get his grace and favor, because they’re physically Jewish.
Yes, there was a physical Israel that rejected Jesus. But there is also a true Israel.
Paul makes the same point in verse 7.
“nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants”
You’re not part of the eternal promise of blessing that God made to Abraham just because you can trace your DNA to him.
So then, how is it that someone is part of the true Israel? How is someone a son of Abraham, and so a child of God, if it isn’t because they were literally born with Abraham’s DNA?
Why are people saved?
Here is God’s answer. If you’re saved, it’s because God chose you to be saved. And he chose you to be saved because he chose you to be saved, not because of anything about you.
Look back at v. 7
“THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.”
Old Man Abraham had two sons. Ishmael and Isaac. One daddy. God chose Isaac, and rejected Ishmael.
He says in verse 8:
8That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”
What was the basis of God’s choice of Isaac and rejection of Ishmael? God’s promise. It was for one and not the other.
In case we don’t get the point, Paul gives another example in v. 10.
10And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”
Jacob and Esau weren’t just brothers. They didn’t just have the same daddy. They had the same womb at the same time! They were twins. And God hated Esau and loved Jacob.
Why? Why such an extreme difference? Why reject one and guarantee the salvation of the other?
Was it because God sees everything and so could see how they would turn out? That one would end up trusting him and the other wouldn’t? That one would end up a better guy?
Not at all. Paul says God loved Jacob and hated Esau not because of anything about Jacob or Esau.
What’s the reason for God’s choice to love and hate? What does Paul say?
God chose one because he is the chooser. He called one because he is the caller. He loved and hated because he wanted to love one and hate the other, so that his choosing purpose that has always been set would stand.
So is Paul telling us that some folks will be born and be loved by God, and some folks will be born and be hated by God, 100% because God had chosen before they were even born to love or hate them?
Yep. That’s what Paul is saying.
Is that right? Is it fair that some are destined for heaven and others are destined for hell even before they’re born?
v. 14, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.”
God has mercy on whomever he wants. He does what he wants. Mercy or judgment, completely based on the free will of God.
God says this to Moses when Moses asks to see God’s very glory. It is the glory and goodness of God to freely choose some for salvation and some for judgment simply based on what he wants, not based on anything about the people.
So is Paul saying that the salvation of man is not dependent on man at all? Yep.
Verse 16, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Think about Pharaoh. An enemy of God and an enemy of God’s people.
Verse 17 says, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.”
Why did God make Pharaoh, the mightiest of kings? To show his power when he stomped him. So that his greatness and name would be celebrated through the whole world.
We’re still talking about it.
Verse 18 reads, “So then God has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
God saves those he wants to save. God hardens and condemns those he wants to harden and condemn.
Verse 19 reads, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? 21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
Maybe what you’re learning about God is upsetting you. Paul expects that reaction from many. But he has a stern word for us. We are in no position to question the justice and goodness of God. Who do we think we are? He is the Potter, and we are just clay
Let’s say a Potter takes a lump of clay and uses some of it to make a vase to hold flowers on the Queen’s table. He takes some more and makes a butt washer for a Pakistani outhouse.
Has the Potter done wrong? Has he done anything unjust?
Of course not. A potter can do whatever he wants to do with clay.
So it is with God. He can do no wrong. He is the Creator.
Look at verse 22: What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
God created people as vessels of wrath prepared for destruction in hell. Why did he do that? The world is not about us. It’s all about God and his glory. And he made vessels of wrath to show his good wrath and show his great power.
God created other people as vessels of mercy prepared for glory in heaven. And by bringing destruction on the vessels of wrath, God shows the vessels of mercy the amazing riches of his glory toward them.
Vessel of mercy, look at hell! Look at what you deserve! Now look at what you get by grace through faith in my Son. Praise me!
If this doesn’t sound like good news to you, it’s because you don’t understand the world. You have too high a view of your own importance and too low a view of God. You think you’re the center, when in reality the point of everything, even God’s choosing of some and rejecting of others, is the glory of God.
Paul ends the chapter by connecting it to his question at the beginning. Who then belongs to the true Israel? To whom has God promised salvation and blessing forever?
Those who are declared right with God completely by his grace through faith alone in Jesus, who died on the cross and rose on the third day.
Look at v. 24
24even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
25As He says also in Hosea,
“I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’
AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’”
26“AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’
THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.”
27Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED; 28FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY.”
29And just as Isaiah foretold,
“UNLESS THE LORD OF ARMIES HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY,
WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.”
30What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,
33just as it is written,
“BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE,
AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
There are some who try really hard to be good people. There are some, Jews and Gentiles, who think that they can be right with God if they just do enough good things. They live their whole lives that way, die, and face destruction. They show that they are vessels of wrath.
There are others, Jews and Gentiles like us, who know that we can never be good enough for God on our own. They know that God is holy and they are not. They know that they can only be right with God by trusting in Christ. They know that God will accept them on the basis of the goodness of Jesus and his death for them. They know that Christ paid all their debt on the cross.
And they show that they are vessels of mercy. They are the true Israel.
Salvation and blessing are there’s.
Romans 9 is a chapter that calls for at least 3 responses:
1. Know that you are not the center of the world. You are not in charge. Life is not about you.
2. Worship God. He is trustworthy and it is all about him.
3. Trust and follow Jesus, and be saved.