Friday, July 13, 2007

Romans 8 to 12

In a recent five-sermon series, Dave Stone and Kyle Idleman, of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, took their congregation through Romans 8. They offered five key words - one for each sermon in the series. The five words, in order, were: Freed, Empowered, Adopted, Transformed, and Loved. These five words, just to think about them without even hearing the accompanying sermons, offer great hope, relief, peace, comfort, and excitement. And that's a fair representation of Romans 8 to today's Christian audience. But did Paul's audience (the church at Rome) get these feelings when they read or heard this portion of his message to them?

The church at Rome was large, a mixture of Jewish believers, Gentile believers, and some say even Jewish not-yet-believers. This makes perfect sense when we see how Paul addressed that particular audience through his epistle (consider the differences in chapter 1, 2, and 3, for starters). By the end of chapter 8, Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions. Verse 31 is the big one: If God is for us, who can be against us?

The Gentiles in Paul's audience, upon understanding the logic of his arguments made in the first half of this letter, would have been feeling relief, peace, comfort, excitement, hope, awe, and all the rest. But the Jews receiving this letter for the first time could not yield just yet to those happy sensations. Here's why:

The Jewish tradition, while it may be hard to grasp for Gentiles, was the core of a Jewish person. To consider true something so radical as Paul's gospel (which in reality was not so radical but rather the logical and prophesied extension of the Old Testament Scriptures which had been misinterpreted and misapplied by the Jews as a whole, especially during the 500 year historical time gap between the end of the Old Testament and the arrival of John the Baptist and Jesus) seemed a great leap of faith for these Jews. They would be leaving behind (at least to some extent) all they had ever known for the sake of something new - a faux pas of the grandest kind, since it related to spiritual things. But Paul was able, in Romans, to systematically remove the legs of the Jewish stool to cause their system of works righteousness to fall, leaving only Paul's gospel - Christ's righteousness by grace through faith alone - as the stool that extended to God.

The Jews understood this and appreciated it, but it left them with a question of grave importance. What about Israel? The Jews were so certain of God's promises to them as a nation that this gospel of Paul's seemed to be making God's promises to Israel null and void. Picture the Roman Jews and Jewish Christians puzzling over the reason for Jewish disbelief (as a whole) in their Messiah. This was simply not possible if God was being faithful to His people. So before the Jews could feel that comfort of knowing the truths Paul proclaimed in Romans 8, they had to gain a little better understanding of what Paul thought of God's promises to Israel. It was a good thing for them to be curious here before falling wholeheartedly into the arms of Jesus Christ. Taking a true leap of faith requires understanding; the Bereans of Acts 17:11 understood this well.

So Paul explains in Romans 9-11 that not all Israel is Israel. God's promises to Israel have not failed, because God's true people, the "Israel of God" he speaks about in Galatians 6:16, has never consisted in the whole of the physical Jewish people; rather, the Israel of God is made of up a remnant of Jewish people, along with a vast multitude of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Paul offers three reasons for Jewish disbelief, roughly corresponding with the three chapters of Romans 9, 10, and 11.

First, Paul explains the doctrine of election. We don't have time to get into it now, but the hard reality is that God chooses some to believe the gospel and so be saved and not others. A key word in Romans 9 is "mercy." We might think election is unfair or unjust; we might think it is unjust for God to love Jacob and hate Esau. But if we're thinking in terms of fairness or justice, we're missing the point. Salvation is not about fairness and justice for us - if it were, we'd all be condemned. Rather, salvation is all about God's mercy, and He chooses some as vessels of mercy and others as vessels of wrath. Reason number one for Jewish disbelief is God's sovereign election.

Second, moving into chapter 10, Paul shows that Jewish disbelief is due to their stubborness. The Jews heard the message of the gospel, for God had always been faithful to send preachers who did indeed do exactly what God asked them to do (consider Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel for starters). But the Jews simply would not belief. They have no excuse.

Third, Paul gives us a glimpse of God's eternal plan in chapter 11. A third reason for Jewish disbelief lies in this once-mysterious-now-revealed-truth that God has used the Jews to bring Jesus into the world and thereby bring salvation to the Gentiles through hardening them. But God is not finished with the Jews. Gospel reception by the Gentiles will make the Jews jealous, and they will turn to Christ for salvation and be grafted back into their original Olive Tree root. So their disbelief, as a nation, is part of God's eternal plan to save people and bring glory to His name.

Finally, all of this ties in to Romans 12, for Paul begins the lifestyle application portion of his epistle by appealling to God's mercy as the primary motive for us to love one another. Why should we love? Because God has shown us mercy. Some commentators will say that you can jump right from Romans 8 to chapter 12; you can just skip the hard stuff of Romans 9-11, because it's inapplicable to our present-day lives. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Romans 12 begins, "Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices..." In view of God's mercy. Paul uses the word mercy 5 or 6 times in his letter to the Romans, but not once before chapter 9. You can't skip this section.

The hardest questions of our day involve the gospel and why some people believe and others don't. The answers to these questions lie in Romans 9-11; before the Jewish people, as the Israel of God, could rest in the love of God, from which nothing can separate them, they needed to see the mercy of God as the reason for their belief. They don't get justice but mercy. And it becomes the core of who they are. No longer is tradition at their core, but mercy. We are the same way. Before we, as the Israel of God, can experience those feelings of comfort, hope, awe, and relief, which Romans 8 brings, before we can rest in the love of God from which nothing can separate us, we need to see the mercy of God as the reason for our belief. We don't get justice but mercy. It becomes the core of who we are. No longer do we trust in our works, but in God's mercy through Christ Jesus. So now we can pck up in Romans 12, "In view of God's mercy...."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Breaking News!

A Reuters article out of Moscow, Russia, hit the front page of Yahoo! News this morning. The headline, "Baby Mommath Find Promises Breakthrough," is indeed true. (Visit the actual article from my linked title.) Here is a portion of the article:

The mammoth, a female who died at the age of six months, was named "Lyuba" after the wife of reindeer breeder and hunter Yuri Khudi who found her in Russia's Arctic Yamalo-Nenetsk region. She had been lying in the frozen ground for up to 40,000 years, said Tikhonov. The hunter initially thought the mammoth was a dead reindeer when he spotted parts of her body sticking out of damp snow. When he realized it was a mammoth, scientists were called in and transported the body to regional capital Salekhard, where she is now being kept in a special refrigerator.

Weighing 50 kg (110 lb), and measuring 85 centimeters high and 130 centimeters from trunk to tail, Lyuba is roughly the same size as a large dog. Tikhonov said the fact the mammoth was so remarkably well-preserved -- its shaggy coat was gone but otherwise it looked as though it had only recently died -- meant it was a potential treasure trove for scientists. "Such a unique skin condition protects all the internal organs from modern microbes and micro-organisms ... In terms of its future genetic, molecular and microbiological studies, this is just an unprecedented specimen."
The scientists begin with the presupposition that mammoths died out some 12,000 years ago, based, of course, on their evolutionary worldview. Thus they conclude that this mammoth, a near "perfect specimen," must be older than that. In fact, they say that it had been lying in the "frozen tundra" (not of Lambeau Field) for "up to 40,000 years." But then notice, to the surprise, of the investigating scientists, that the mammoth "looked as though it had only recently died." Guess what. In all likelihood, it probably did only recently die. Why would I say that?

Consider the preservation method of this animal. For a mammoth body to be this well-preserved, it must have died very recently, before decomposition set in or before scavengers found it; or it must have been buried rapidly by vast amounts of water in a worldwide flood; or it must have been frozen in the ice age that immediately followed the worldwide flood. All of the possibilities, which I firmly realize are just as presuppositional in nature as the views of the evolution-biased scientists examining this creature, lead to a "recent" life and death for this mammoth - 4500 years ago or less, as the Bible tells us.

What's the significance? The Bible is trustworthy in its account of the historical timeline. Praise God.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Marriages on the Rocks

When I hear about marriages between unequally yoked spouses or marriages between a pair of unbelieving spouses being "on the rocks," it comes as no surprise. Without Christ as the foundation for this kind of relationship, the union between one man and one woman that becomes so intimate that Jesus declares the two united to be "no longer two but one," serious trouble is almost always bound to occur. There are exceptions, of course, but even these exceptions must be attributed to the grace of God - perhaps He is using these "successful" pagan marriages to raise up godly children. But I can't become proud and glory in the Lord that Christian marriages are thriving; the sad fact is that, as a whole, they are not. Divorce rates among professing Christians are as high as those of pagans. How is this possible?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Evangelism - A Right Way and a Wrong Way?

Should we say, "perhaps you should try Jesus as you savior" ...almost with a consumer market oriented mentality"?. "There are lots of religious options and if you try this particular religious option you might like it." ... No... rather, Jesus is Lord and He will soon be invading with His armies. He is offering pardon in advance of His invasion and should you receive the pardon and ally yourself with Him now before He invades, when He comes you will be considered His ally and He will raise you to Kingship. The alternative is to be under the wrath of the king. It is not some kind of religious option. It an announcement that a new king is on the throne and he'll be invading. The gospel is not an invitation to an array of a buffet style choices, it is a command. Will you heed the command? Jesus is Lord, repent and believe.
The above quote by William Wilder is a challenge. I have busied myself in the past several years wrestling with the right way to evangelize. (Do I strive to build relationships first without mentioning spiritual things until that relationship is ready for it? What if I'm no good at relationship building - primarily because I'm not fond of small talk and getting to know people? I'd rather get to the point... Or do I just boldly demand an anser to the 2 EE questions without even asking a person's name?) Obviosuly, there are extremes and everywhere-in-betweens... My wrestling has come at the expense of actually evangelizing! Wow! How silly!

I've tried in recent months to "practice evangelism" both by relationship building and boldly jumping right into spiritual matters. Both seem to be going well. What a shock! When you "just do it," instead of bitting your fingernails wondering which method is best, God works. The following verses share no contradictions:

1 Peter 3:15 - "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 - "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."

Acts 4:20 - "We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Acts 4:29-31 - "'Now, Lord...enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.' After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."

Acts 13:46 - "Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: 'We had to speak the word of God to you first.'"

Acts 28:31 - "Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ."

2 Corinthians 3:11 - "Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold."

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Glory

The first time the word "glory" is used in Scripture, God speaks of gaining it for Himself through the judgment of pharaoh in Exodus 14. This immediately brings to mind questions of justice and punishment in matters related to the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Did God merely foresee pharaoh's rebellion and thereby decide to gain glory through punishing him? Or did God ordain before the foundation of the world that pharaoh should be raised up to rebel and thus serve as a vessel of wrath by which God would gain glory through His just wrath? Certainly the latter is true, as Paul explains in Romans 9:17-24.

We may object for the sake of upholding the "massive" importance of our own decisions, but then we mistake God's purpose for all things - to bring Himself glory.

Psalm 24:7-10 says, "Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is He, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty—He is the King of glory."

Psalm 79:9 says, "Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name's sake."

Psalm 115:1 says, "Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness."

Interestingly, for us to "give glory to God," we tell the truth (Joshua 7:19; John 9:24). Romans 5:2 says, "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."

Avalon sings a song called, The Glory. Here are the lyrics:

In the solitary moment of His birth
On this barren dusty land
All of heaven kissed the face of the earth
With a miracle of love
God became a man
But He was sent away to draw His final breath
When He was only thirty-three
And in the shame of dying a criminal's death
He cleansed an angry world
And in His suffering I see

The glory of the blood
The beauty of the body
That was broken for our forgiveness
The glory of His perfect love
Is the heart of the story
The glory of the blood

Now I have tried to find salvation on my own
In a search for something real
But there's a guilty heart inside this flesh and bone
Fall upon His grace
And I begin to feel
And when I close my eyes I can see Him hanging there
Oh the precious wounded Lamb of God
All the majesty in this world cannot compare to the glory
The beauty of the body
That was broken for our forgiveness

The glory of the blood
The beauty of the body
That was broken for our forgiveness
The glory of His perfect love
Is the heart of the story
The glory of the blood

But He was sent away to draw His final breath
When He was only thirty-three

Romans 11:36, Paul's greatest doxology, declares: "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen."