Every few months at my church I have the privilege of preaching at our small Sunday evening service in the chapel. As the schedule had it, I was asked to preach on Sunday night, August 6th. This was the Sunday that the lectionary had the New Testament reading as Romans 9:1-5. We had decided to preach on the Romans readings at the evening service over the summer, and so I had the challenge of addressing these weighty five verses from Romans in about 20 minutes:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
Here is the recording of the sermon and also the text of what I shared:
When I was growing up in Florida, until I was about three or four years old, my family and I lived in a small little town called “Clewiston”, Florida. Just south of Lake Okeechobee, and not usually a place where most people visit when they make a trip to the Sunshine State, I have a vivid memory as a little boy in that small town of playing on a backyard trampoline. One minute we were bouncing around and having fun, and the next minute I was flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me. It was an incredibly terrifying experience. I remember running inside – and slowly – thankfully – I could take little breaths again.
Getting the wind knocked out of you is a startlingly shocking physical experience. And that’s the kind of experience we get when we read these first five verses of Romans 9. One moment we’re soaring high on the promises of Romans 8:(38-39):
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We’re soaring! We’re jumping on the trampoline! And then we get the wind knocked out of us in Romans 9:(2-3):
…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers…
We’re knocked flat on our backs. What is going on here?
This is our text tonight. And we’re going to look what God is saying to us in a moment – but first… First things first.
Studying a difficult passage like this gives us a good reason to take a moment and make sure we’re all on the same page of how we approach scripture.
How do we approach scripture? From what posture? And for what purpose? Three quick ground rules:
- We let it hit us. What does it say? What exactly does it say? Well, that’s what it says. Sometimes it’s comforting. Sometimes it’s convicting. Sometimes it’s disturbing. But we let it hit us!
- We let it speak with authority. In Ephesians 6:17, we’re told that the Word of God (Scripture) is the “Sword of the Spirit”. It’s a sword!
But not just any old sword. According to Hebrews 4:12, “…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” We let it speak with authority.
- We let IT shape US. And not the other way around. We approach Scripture – always – as students of it. As clay, wanting to be formed. We don’t approach it, and then twist it, or finesse it, to make it say what we want it to say. We let it say what it says. And whatever it says, we allow to shape us. We’re cautioned in James 1:22 to “…be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” You hear the word. You do what it says. You let it shape you.
Those are our three ground rules for how we approach scripture. And so that’s how we’ll approach these five verses from Romans 9 tonight.
So here we are, after soaring high in Romans 8, and in the next verse…
1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
I’d like for us to picture ourselves standing inside of this passage tonight like it’s a room with four walls. All four walls are load bearing. You need all four walls. If you knock one wall out, the whole room collapses. It might even help if you keep this passage open in your lap or on your phone. So we stand inside this passage, and we look at the four walls that hold it up.
First, not everyone is saved.
Paul is very clear here that there are people who are “accursed“ and “cut off from Christ”. His brothers! His kinsmen! Israelities! Cut off from Christ. They have rejected Christ. They were adopted as the people of God. They had seen his glory. They had received the law. And then God gave them Jesus as their Messiah. And they rejected him. And they are not saved.
That’s the first wall of the room of Romans 9. Not everyone is saved.
This is true for millions of people around the world. This is true for our neighbors, for our colleagues, and for people in our families. It is a heart-breaking but true reality that many of them are not saved. They are cut off from Christ. This is not something we like to think about, so it makes sense that we try to find a way around this.
Love wins. Everyone is saved. Some version of universalism. Some version of universal salvation. This a popular theology, but it is not a biblical theology.
So what do we do with this? We weep.
And that’s the second wall in this room of Romans 9. Our love for the lost fills us with unceasing anguish for the lost. Look at how Paul describes it:
Romans 9:2: I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
The heart of a Christian should be filled with love for the lost. And great sorrow and unceasing anguish for those who are cut off from Christ. It should wreck us.
Those picketers you see from time to time on TV from Westboro Baptist Church… The ones who hold up the signs announcing how God hates everybody… Appearing to rejoice in the eternal damnation of whoever they deem has been damned to hell. There is absolutely nothing Christian about that. The spirit behind those protests – and the spirit reflected in those signs – is an anti-Christ spirit.
The Spirit of Christ weeps over the lost. Is filled with unceasing anguish for the lost. Look at what Paul says in verse 3:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
One of the commentaries I read called this statement from Paul: “a spark from the flame of the self-substitutionary love of Jesus Christ”. We know from 2 Corinthians 5:21 that:
For our sake (God) made (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Paul’s anguish – and God willing, our anguish – for the lost, is a spark from the flame of the self-substitutionary love of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave his life to save the lost. And when our brothers, our kinsmen, reject him, we weep.
So we’re here in the middle of this room of Romans 9. The first load-bearing wall is that not all are saved. The second is that this fills us with unceasing anguish for the lost. The third is staring right at us now – and that is that Jesus alone can save.
Paul writes in verses 4 and 5:
4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ…
All that they had – their lineage, their heritage, their inheritance, their last names, their good works, their blood – wasn’t good enough to save them!
It wasn’t good enough!
And friends – all that you have: your lineage, your heritage, your inheritance, your last name, your good works, your blood, isn’t enough to save you!
It’s not your parents blood that saves you! Only Jesus’ blood.
Jesus alone can save. There is no other way. To be cut off from Christ is to be accursed forever. Jesus is the key, Jesus is the door, Jesus is the room, Jesus is the treasure, life with Jesus forever is what’s promised to us in Romans 8 – so do not reject him! Let me ask you tonight, plain and simple, what have you done with Jesus Christ? Have you turned to him, have you placed your trust in him? Have you accepted the good news of the gospel? If yes, then praise the God who saves. If no, then turn to Jesus Christ. And if you’re not ready to do that, then come to our first Alpha course next month. Explore this man for yourself who makes the claim to be the One who saves. We believe He is who He says he is, because if he’s not who he says he is, then he was insane, and we’re all crazy.
But he wasn’t insane. He was God!
Paul says this is the last verse – verse 5:
“…from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
This is the only time Paul does this in any of the Epistles. He calls Jesus God. “The Christ, who is God over all”.
The third “wall” of Romans 9:1-5 is that Jesus alone can save. He is God.
The final wall, briefly, but just as importantly, is that we stand before this God and we praise him, and we implore him.
We praise him for saving us! For:
“…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – (Paul writes in Romans 5:8)
This is why our worship here, in the songs that we sing, in the communion that we participate in at the end of every service, is all centered around what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It never gets old. “This is amazing grace, this is unfailing love, that you would take my place, that you would bear my cross. You lied down your life that I would be set free, oh Jesus I sing for all that you’ve done for me!”
And we implore him to save the lost. We cry out to him, we pray, we bring our anguish and our weeping for the lost before him.
By the way, this is why we do things like Alpha here. It’s not some kind of sneaky church growth program. We have a burden for those who cut off from Christ. It’s why we’re constantly doing things, and hosting events for the people who are on the outside! You should hear us at staff meetings… We praise this God who saves and we implore him to save those who are lost.
So what do we do with all of this?
Simply: we rejoice before the God of Romans 8. All of the promises and the assurance of all that is offered and secured for us in Jesus Christ. And we tremble before the God of Romans 9. His wisdom, his mercy, and his sovereignty in Salvation.
We worship God with rejoicing and with trembling. There should always be a gravity to our worship of this great and holy God, while we praise Him for his saving grace, and implore him to allure to himself those who are cut off.
We’ve spent the majority of this sermon looking at 5 verses that the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 9. I’d like to close by going all the way back to a Psalm of David, Psalm 145. You don’t need to turn there, since I just wanted to draw our attention to one verse, Psalm 145:20:
The Lord preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
That is a promise that God will most certainly keep. His word will not fail.
O God, may sparks from the flame of the self-substitutionary love of Jesus Christ ignite our hearts with passion and unceasing anguish for the lost. Even now, send your Holy Spirit to open blinded eyes to the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And may Jesus be praised in this place by His grateful people who he has redeemed by his blood. Amen.