But they rejected Christ. Jesus came to the lost sheep of Israel and they rejected him and this rejection triggered a shift in the gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles. This is the progressive revelation of God.
And as I was studying this passage, I was reminded of an essay I had to write in seminary. The question was something like, did Jesus come to save the nation of Israel or did he come to save the world? And I thought, what kind of question is this? Of course, he came to save the world and I wrote a very simplistic defense of my position. And I got a B minus. And I was offended, what kind of seminary is this that asks obvious questions and when I give an obvious answer, they give me a low score. But now that I have spent some time studying Romans and in particular, Romans 10-11, I understand why my explanation was too simplistic.
Starting from the Old Testament, one cannot argue that the redemption plan definitely began with the nation of Israel. And Jesus was a Jew and he primarily called Jewish disciples during his earthly ministry. Of course, this did not mean he excluded Gentiles. When approached by a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, Jesus told her that he only came for the lost sheep of Israel in Matthew 15. However, this woman comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus and this clues us in that Jesus never intended to deliberately exclude Gentiles from being saved. And certainly, there were a few Gentile converts sprinkled throughout Jesus’ ministry. But Jesus had a specific mission – the lost sheep of Israel.
However, salvation for the nation of Israel was never supposed to be the end goal of God’s redemption plan. Even in the book of Isaiah, the point of God forming a people out of the nation of Israel was so that Israel could be a servant testifying to the other nations who God is.
That’s why we read in
Isaiah 42:6 — 6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
But because the nation of Israel failed in this mission of being a light to the Gentiles because they chose religion over a relationship with God, they were not able to recognize the true suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah 53.
And the suffering Servant mentioned is, of course, Jesus and he completed his mission. He died on the cross and rose again, conquering sin and death and bearing the sin of the whole world, not just the sins of the nation of Israel. And through the cross, Jesus paved the way for the salvation for the world. And starting from Paul, God begins to display the full scope of his redemption plan, that it included anyone who believes in him and that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
What does this all mean? Israel enjoyed a special place in God’s redemption plan, but somehow this privilege became a blind spot. Because they refused to heed God’s warning, they could not see Jesus for who he was. Following religious laws became their goal in life, when God appeared in the flesh and Jesus showed up at the front door, they could not recognize him as a culmination of the entire Old Testament law, even though they knew this law backwards and forward. It’s ironic, isn’t it?
If you remember the questions Apostle Paul raises in Romans 10 — How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?
Paul answers his own question in v18-21.
Rom 10:18 — 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Of course, the nation of Israel heard the message. They have been hearing it for centuries.
And in case you missed the irony of this situation, Paul reiterates it in v19.
Rom 10:19 – 19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.
Yes, of course, Israel heard the message and Paul cites a prophesy from Joel 2 that on the Day of the Lord, anyone who calls on the Lord will be saved. And this serves to foreshadow the gospel message shifting from the nation of Israel and being preached to the Gentiles. God’s plan was always to save everyone and was going to use the Israelites in this plan, but since they rejected God, God found another way starting from Apostle Paul.
You see from this verse that God is actually quite emotional. Sometimes, we think since God is so powerful, that this must mean He is above the realm of feeling and all the petty emotions that we feeble humans possess. Or we may think that God is like Spock on Star Trek, that he has no feelings. Not true. v19 – I will make you envious by those who are not a nation, I will make you angry — this is the vocabulary of a spurned lover. Okay, you don’t want me, I am going to make you jealous because I will find another nation who will love me. Do you see this? God is love and love is by definition very emotionally charged.
By Israel’s rejection of Christ, the culmination of the law, the gospel was given more explicitly to the Gentiles.
And we know that this is Paul’s calling to preach to the Gentiles so through Paul’s life, a life that was divinely ordained and chosen and revealed at precisely the right time in human history, the spotlight of God’s full revelation moves from its narrow focus on the nation of Israel and it shines out to the entire Gentile world. And this gospel message shifting to a Gentile audience is due in part because of Israel’s rejection of that very message. God’s plan was always to save everyone and He was going to use the Israelites in this plan. But since they rejected Jesus, God found another way starting from Apostle Paul.
And we read about this rejection of God by Israel in v20-21.
Rom 10:20-21 – 20 And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” 21 But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
It’s an interesting irony. While Israel is diligently seeking to be religious, they totally miss God. And these other Gentiles who don’t even have an ounce of religion in their bones stumble upon this Good News.
Now, the big idea. The question that we need to wrestle with. As believers, how do we know if we are settling for a religion and not a relationship? I answered this at the outset — it’s when Jesus is not the culmination of all that we do. And perhaps a more direct questions is — how do we know whether or not Jesus is the culmination of all that we do?
We just celebrated New Year’s so I hope you had a chance to evaluate 2010 and make resolutions for 2011.
How would we apply this passage in evaluating our year spiritually?
Did our personal history as well as our corporate history at LBC Pasadena this past year culminate in a drawing nearer to Christ?
Was Christ exalted in our midst? That is something that we need to wrestle with corporately and individually? Maybe we did not sufficiently focus our attention on Christ corporately in our worship structure, in our service order, in how we conducted ourselves after the service? These we can change together.
Maybe you did not come with the right attitude so even if Christ was worshiped in spirit and in truth every Sunday, you did not perceive it. When 2 or 3 are gathered, Christ says he will be there so maybe Christ was right next to us, but we could not perceive him because we were checked out.
Maybe we were a passive spectator instead of an active member, a living and breathing part of this body of Christ. Part of the body means that there are connecting ligaments, that we are connected with a web of relationships. Perhaps this is more of a personal attitude toward church that needs to change.
What about in our fellowship? When we gather together throughout the week, is the name of Christ exalted in our discussions? Do we leave each other’s presence strengthened and encouraged in our resolve to pursue Christ more passionately when we are alone? Did we express our need for one another because we are sinners and we need help dealing with our sins and receiving forgiveness as we come to the foot of the cross?
Maybe you don’t have a regular fellowship with believers and your commitment is spread over many different sets of people so that no one really knows you and is able to sufficiently carry your burdens? That’s more of a personal issue you may need to wrestle with in order to draw closer to Christ.
What about when problems hit this past year? Was Christ the first person you turned to? Were there others in this body of Christ that you could lean on in prayer?
What about during our joyful moments? Is Christ the first person you turned to and thanked? Were there others who could share in your joy?
What about in our service for church or for one of our ministries? Did that labor produce a greater dependence and hunger and thirst for Christ? Did we become more Christ-like this past year as we served his people?
These are all tough questions. These are some helpful questions to keep in mind because at the end of our lives, we want to say that we gained Christ. More of his presence. More of his character. That we followed him in sacrificial love and surrender. Otherwise, all we have is religion.
May we examine ourselves going into this new year and check ourselves on a regular basis so that we can quickly adjust our lives by asking ourselves a simple question, does everything I do culminate in Christ?