Sunday, March 22, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "The Word of God Has Not Failed."

“The Word of God Has Not Failed”
All Roads Lead to Romans
March 22, 2015 :: Romans 9:1-29 

I hope your hearts are still ringing with the glorious truth that we discovered together over the last two months in Romans chapter 8. Mine is.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.”

“Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I hope that you have basked in that glorious gospel truth all week long!

We slowed down our study of Romans in chapter eight to soak up all of that goodness. Because our hearts so desperately need it.

As we go forward, we’ll pick up the pace once more.

I promised not to be like some pastors who go into Romans, get lost, and never come out again!

So, today, we’ll do most of Romans 9. We’ll do verses 1-29.

And this passage, Romans 9:1-29, might contain several surprises for you. For many people, at least the first time they read it, they are surprised by what they find.

And the first surprise is the dramatic change in tone.

It goes from ecstatic joy to deep lament.  Ecstatic joy to deep lament.

It’s like Paul takes a great big breath at the end of the exultation of chapter 8 and then wrinkles up his face to tell us about his anguish.

You see, Paul is troubled by something, tortured by something. He’s got a big problem. He’s got what he calls “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart.”

And that’s a surprise because he just came off of delivering to us those awesome promises of our never being separated from the love of God.

Whatever is bothering him must be big enough to almost threaten even those massively secure promises.

In fact, it is big enough to take Paul three chapters to fully answer it.

It’s what we might call “The Problem of Israel.”

I almost titled this message, “The Problem of Israel.” I didn’t. You’ll have to wait a minute before I tell you what the title of this message ended up being.

But I almost titled it “The Problem of Israel” because that’s what chapters 9 through 11 are all about. The problem of Israel is the theme of Romans 9, 10, and 11. So we’ll be studying it for a few weeks together.


Have you ever worried that all this Christianity stuff was not real?

Have you ever worried that all of these promises that we just heard about in chapter 8 is basically just wishful thinking?

Or that it doesn’t apply to you?

Last week, I asked you to fill in the blank of verse 39 of chapter 8 for what is your “nothing else in all creation.”

What do you sometimes worry will separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?

What do you worry might happen to keep you from experiencing all of what we just got done learning about the last two months?

Here’s what Paul thinks might worry us:

Paul thinks we might be worried that the word of God has failed.

And if it has failed before, then we could rightfully worry that it might fail again.

That’s what I mean by the problem of Israel.

Let’s see what Paul says, chapter 9, verse 1.

“I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit–I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Stop there.

Do you feel the change of tone? From “nothing can separate us” to “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”

Do you see how intent Paul is on verifying his honesty about these feelings?

“I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit.”

This is legit. This is how he feels.

It’s possible that because Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles that some people thought that he didn’t really care about his own ethnic people. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

He cares so much that he could (if possible) wish to be cursed and cut off from Christ if it would somehow help his own Jewish race to know Christ!

Do you feel that?

What’s the problem? The problem is that Israel appears to be cursed and cut off from Christ.

As Paul looks around, he see so many Gentile Christians and so relatively few Jewish ones.

And it’s same today, isn’t it?  When you look around, do you see millions of Jewish Christians? There are Messianic Jews for Jesus, but they are relatively few and far between.

And that bothers Paul. It bothers him because he loves his Jewish brothers.

But it also bothers him because it might lead his Christian readers to think that God’s word had failed.

So many Jews lost!

And these Jews had so many privileges. So many blessings. Do you remember how Paul has brought this up already in the book? In chapter 3 verses 1 through 8, Paul started down this train of thought, and I said back then that we’d be finding him pick it back up when we got here.

Israel was so privileged and blessed. That’s the point of verses 4 and 5.

“Theirs [Israel’s] is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

They had all of that. All of what we’ve learned as we’ve studied the Old Testament together.

Those are amazing privileges. Just take a few of them. The covenants. Like the Abrahamic Covenant. That was given to Israel. And the Law. We’ve seen that the Law is good gift. It’s been misused, but it was good. And Jesus Himself came as a Jew. And He is God to be worshiped!

Israel had all of that, but look around!  Why are there are so few Jewish believers?

Has all of that stuff in verses 4 and 5 come to nothing?

Has the word of God failed?

That’s the problem of Israel.

And Paul is going to give several answers to that problem over chapters 9, 10, and 11.

He’s going to give several interesting, perspective-gaining answers to the problem of Israel over chapters 9, 10, and 11. Today, we’re only going to get through one of them.

But the basic gist of his fundamental answer is in the next sentence in verse 6.

“It is not as though God's word had failed.”

That’s our title for today: “The Word of God Has Not Failed.”

Don’t worry.

God’s word has not failed and therefore will not fail.

That’s what Paul is striving to teach.

In many ways, it’s just an extension of chapter 8.

Chapter 8 was full of those glorious promises that were as certain as anything in all creation.

But what about God? Was He certain?

What about His promises? Could they be trusted?

If Israel wasn’t experiencing the salvation and blessings that God had promised, then did God’s word fall to the ground?

Maybe God can’t keep His promises!
Maybe He’s not strong enough.
Or maybe He’s not good enough to do it.
Maybe he offers promises that He doesn’t intend to keep.


V.6  “It is not as though God’s word had failed.”

You can go home now. That’s the message in a nutshell. Really for the next several messages on Romans. More assurances. “It is not as though God’s word had failed.”

And if you’ve never had the worries that God’s word might fail, then this information may not do very much for you.

But if you’ve ever laid awake at night worried about this whole Christianity thing like I have, then lean in and listen closely because Paul is going to argue that the word of God has not failed for Israel and because of that, you can trust that it will never fail for you.

Sound good?

Now, here comes the second big surprise.

The first answer that Paul gives to the problem of Israel is that it was never God’s plan to save all of Israel in the first place.

It was never God’s plan to save all of Israel in the first place.

God had a different plan based on different choices that He had made.

Paul goes firstly to the doctrine of election. The doctrine of God’s choice.

Now, you and I would probably not start there.

I know that I would start with how Israel had failed to believe God’s promises and that’s why they seem to be accursed and cut off.

Israel wasn’t cooperating with God. Israel didn’t have faith. Israel rejected the Messiah, so that’s they’re in such a mess.

And Paul is going to go there. He’s going to go there next week in the last few verses of Romans 9 and a good bit of Romans 10 and 11.

Paul doesn’t let Israel off of the hook, at all, in the slightest.

But that’s not where Paul starts. Paul starts with the choices of God. The doctrine of election. The doctrine of election is the first answer to the problem of Israel.

It was never God’s plan to save all of Israel in the first place. V.6

“It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

Now, that’s confusing. Not all Israel is Israel.

I think what he means is that not everyone who is physically Jewish is spiritually Jewish. Not everyone who is of the Jewish race is spiritually an heir of the promises. We saw this idea before in chapter 2.

Not all Israel is Israel.

He starts illustrating this with Father Abraham. V.7

“Nor because they are his descendants [physically] are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: ‘At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.’”

Do you remember all of this from our study of Genesis?  I know it’s been awhile. I preached through Genesis in 2003.

God promised Abraham some things. Do you remember the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant?

Offspring, Land, and Blessing.

How many sons did Abraham have?

Two. Ishmael and Isaac.

Did they both inherit the promises?

No, which one did?  Isaac.  V.7, “It is through Isaac [not Ishmael] that your offspring will be reckoned.”

It was never God’s plan to save all of Abraham’s descendants in the first place.

Now, you could point out that Ishmael had a different mom than Isaac.

So, Paul moves to the next generation. V.10

“Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. [And therefore the same mom, they’re twins.] Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls–she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Now, there’s a lot there, but the bottom line is pretty clear.

It was never God’s plan to save all of Isaac’s descendants in the first place either.

God chose the younger to eventually get the blessings and carry them on.

And it wasn’t because of anything they had done, good or bad.

Paul wants to make that clear.

God has a purpose in election, in His choosing, that brings Him the most glory in salvation, namely that we can’t claim credit for it.

“Not by works but by him who calls.”

I think that means that we don’t get to boast about our works and how they saved us. God didn’t chose us because we were so good.

Our salvation is based on God’s gracious call not our good works.

Now, has Paul surprised you? Where he’s gone with this?

Do you have any questions for him?

I’ll bet you do. And so do I.

Paul has argued that the word of God has not failed because the word of God never promised that everyone who calls themselves Israel, even everyone who is descended from Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob will be saved.

It was never God’s plan to save all of Israel in the first place.

He chose some, and He rejected others.

But that raises questions and even objections. V.14

“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!”

Do you feel that one?

“Is God unjust?” The word there is “adikia,” another word that could be translated unrighteous.

Is God unrighteous? Is He doing something wrong?

And Paul answers with his favorite little phrase, “May genoita.”

“Not at all!” “God forbid!” “May it never be!” “By no means!” “Of course not!”

And he dips into the book of Exodus to prove his point. V.15

“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

Was that another surprise?

Our minds don’t tend to go there, but Paul’s does. The Holy Spirit’s mind does, and He led Paul to Exodus 33:19 to defend the righteousness of God.

Do you remember Exodus 33 when Moses asks to see the glory of God?

“Show me your glory!”

And God says you can’t see that! But you can see the after effects of the tail end of my passing my glory before you.

He says, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

It’s like the definition of God.

God is sovereign.
God is free.
God gets to choose.
God decides who His people will be.
God decides on whom He will place His mercy.  V.16

“It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort (on us), but on God's mercy.”

And the opposite is true, as well. Paul drops back in the story to Pharoah. God told Pharoah that he had raised him up to lead Egypt and also hardened his heart to be disobedient to God’s command–for God’s own purposes.

Pharoah did not receive mercy.

Because God is God. V.18

“God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

This is the word of the Lord.

V.19 “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’”

Stop there.

How would you answer that? From what you know about God.

It’s not an easy question to answer.

Theologians throughout church history have tried to put together how God’s sovereignty over our salvation can be reconciled with our responsibility as humans.

Both things are taught in Scripture. Both things are true. How do they fit together?

In January, I attended the EFCA Theology Conference held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.

And we had a whole afternoon of presentations on this question from three different Trinity professors who all believe in our EFCA Statement of Faith but have three very different answers to how these things fit together.

There are those who follow Augustine and then Calvin who emphasize God’s absolute sovereignty over all things especially our salvation. Modern proponents of this approach would include John Piper, Tim Keller, R.C. Sproul, and D.A. Carson (the presenter from this perspective at the conference).. Their’s is the approach that makes the most sense to me.

Then there are those who follow Arminius and then John Wesley after him who emphasize our human responsibility for our owns sinful choices and our responsibility to exercise faith. They believe that God’s choices in salvation are predicated on God’s foreknowing the decisions to believe or not believe that people will choose in the future. Or in the case of Molinists, the free choices that people might make in any possible world.  Modern proponents of this approach would include Roger Olson, Grant Osborne (one of my professors from Trinity), and Jim Cymbala. And I’m sure many of you here. The one who took that position at the conference was a Trinity prof called Tom McCall who I got to meet and appreciate while there.

And the third approach was a Lutheran approach, named after Martin Luther. It came at it from a very different perspective. I wasn’t as familiar with that approach before this conference. It emphasized mystery. How this whole thing is mysterious and almost contradictory or paradoxical. The Trinity professor with that view was called David Luy.

I tell you all of that to say that this is a complex area of doctrine that has no easy answers and various approaches to putting it all together are acceptable within the EFCA because they all have a lot of biblical basis.

For instance, there are a lot of passages that teach that God wills for all to be saved. How do those passages fit with Romans 9?

Well, I have my answer for that which I’ll share with you if you ask [I think the most helpful way forward is this perspective from John Piper], but it might not be satisfying for you. And your answer may not be satisfying for me.

We’re in the deep end of the pool here, and we need to show humility and love towards each other as we grope towards the truth.

I will say this, however. Whatever your answer is to these deep theological questions, make sure that it explains Romans 9 and doesn’t disagree with it.

Because what Paul is saying here is that it is God’s right as God to choose.

Read verse 19 again and see what the objection was. V.19

“One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’”

Here’s Paul’s answer to that. V.20

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'’”

Paul says, “Be careful. Be very careful. You’re talking to God here.

Who do you think you are to question God’s choices?

Are you the authority over God?

Notice, that he doesn’t say, “Oh no, God doesn’t blame you. He made a choice and it’s on Him.”

And he also doesn’t say, “Oh no, you can and often do resist His ultimate will for you.”

No, he just says, “Don’t talk back to God.”

God has the authority. God has all of the rights here. God is God.

Is that hard to swallow? I think it can be hard to swallow because of our pride.

But God has the rights. V.21

“Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? [Yes.] What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–  prepared for destruction? [Like Pharaoh.] What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

And there’s the next surprise!

God is showing grace to the Gentiles, not just the Jews. And many Gentiles.

Even Gentiles in central Pennsylvania!

Paul’s point is that God has the right to choose some for wrath and some mercy.

Correct? He has that right?

And perhaps He has done it this way to show in stark relief just how gloriously good He is to those whom He has shown mercy.

“The riches of his glory [made] known to the objects of his mercy...even US.”

Mercy shines brightest against the backdrop of justice.

God has the right to narrow whom He chooses, “Not all Israel is Israel” and to expand whom He choose, “also from the Gentiles.” Verse 25.

“As he says in Hosea: ‘I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one,’ and, ‘It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'’”

Remember when we went through Hosea together? That was 2006, I think.

Paul applies that teaching from Hosea to Gentiles.

Those who were not God’s people have become God’s people.

People like you and me.

Grace and mercy poured out on us.

And also on the Jews. Right now, just a small number, a remnant. V.27

“Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.’ It is just as Isaiah said previously: ‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.’”

It’s God’s grace that any of them are saved, as well.

We’ll learn more about the remnant theology when we get to chapter 11.

The point of this is mercy.

It’s all about God’s mercy that any of us are saved.

It’s about God’s amazing grace.

What was stunning to Paul was not what is stunning to us.

We are stunned that God wouldn’t plan for everyone everyone to be saved.

Because, I think, deep down we think that everyone deserves it. Including ourselves.

But Paul was stunned that God showed mercy to sinners.

Because we certainly don’t deserve it.

It’s all because of God that we saved.

Now, I’m sure that this sermon has raised more questions for most of you than any sermon I’ve ever preached here at Lanse Free Church.

I have to say that I’ve studied longer and harder for this sermon than most of the sermons in the last 17 years.

Because it’s just not the way that we tend to think.

It’s so full of surprises and different perspectives. Divine perspectives.

So, if you have questions, bring them to me. I’ll be glad to do my best to answer them.

But let me share with you 3 points of application that I think flow naturally from this text. And they all start with a “W.”



Because the Word of God has not failed.

Remember, that’s the point of this section.

We can get all caught up in confusion over the doctrine of election and forget that the whole big point that Paul is making is that God’s Word has not failed.

God has not failed Israel. He hasn’t made any promises that He is not intending to keep.

And if God has not failed Israel, then He will not fail you.

This whole Christianity thing will hold up.

So trust God.

Trust Jesus. He’s the Sacrificial Savior. He’s the Messiah. He’s God to be praised (v.5). Put your hope in Him.

Everything we learned last month about our forgiveness and adoption and future and the love of God in Christ Jesus is TRUE.

So worry not.

Don’t fret about anything, especially the future because it’s in the bag.

God’s got it all taken care of for His children.

Don’t worry.


This passage reminds us that God is God.

That God is righteous. He is not unjust. He is holy.

This passage reminds us that God is sovereign. He is free. He has all of the rights.

We need to not just be careful how we talk to Him or object to Him, but to open our hearts in amazement at how gloriously powerful and autonomous and supreme He is!

God is God!

We don’t limit Him. We worship Him.


Wonder at the mercy that He has shown you.

There is no human reason for your salvation.

It’s not because of anything you did good or bad.

It’s not because of your willing or running, your desire or effort.

It’s because of God.

If you’re saved, it’s because of God.

It’s because God has been merciful to you.

If you have put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, then stand amazed at the grace of God.

Be stunned that you are included in Christ!

Where Israel failed with all of their privileges, you have been given their promises!

You have received amazing grace.

Be amazed by grace.

Wonder at the riches of God’s glory made known to the objects of His mercy whom He prepared in advance for glory–even us.


Messages in this Series

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us
19. Who?