As we head into the weekend, let us anticipate with joy our Sunday morning worship service! I pray that the Lord will pour out grace into our hearts and minds so that we see His glory and the great privilege it is to meet for His honor, to sing praises to Him, and offer our corporate prayers and worship as His people, and to hear from Him through the preaching of His Word.
So, as we think about this coming Lord's Day, I want to remind us that we examine our hearts in preparation; that we evaluate our thoughts, words, and deeds according to the reality of the grace of the gospel that is to produce holiness in us. What we think, say, and do matters just as much on Friday night (or any other time) as it does on Sunday morning at 10:30 am! Let us demonstrate our love for our Lord Jesus through knowing and obeying His Word (John 14:15, 21, 23)!
As we have been commanded to love the Lord with our minds ( see Luke 10:27 for one example), it is good that we reflect on the objective Truth of the Word of God in order to do this. This coming Lord's Day, I plan to preach from Romans 9:1-8. Romans chapters 9 - 11 are often read as a unit, and rightfully so. So, in preparation, I encourage you to read these chapters before the Lord's Day if you can. Read them regularly as we work through them in our Sunday morning services.
The following is meant to help you prepare for all of Rom 9 - 11, not just for this coming Sunday! But as we go through this glorious passage over the next few weeks (Lord willing), you can use what follows to help with some background for thinking about the significance of Israel's current unbelief, both during Paul's days and now.
The issue that Paul brings up is Israel's unbelief: the rejection of Jesus the Messiah facilitated through the unbelief of their religious (and civil) leadership. The logic of bringing up this topic is easy to follow: how can any follower of Jesus be certain of future glory if the ancient people of God have managed to remove themselves from salvation available only through faith in Christ? Have the promises of God failed? Can the same thing happen to followers of Jesus?
Paul answers these questions with the assertion of the sovereignty of God. He basically declares that God's promises have not failed (Rom 9:6), that God has not cast off His people (Rom 11:1), that God is and always has been working everything according to His own purpose and plan (Rom 9:14-18; basically all of Rom 9 - 11 affirms this!).
I invite you to consider several passages from the Old Testament in which God makes promises to claims about Israel. My heart is thrilled to see the correspondence of God's prophetic Word to the outworking of history:
Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; 22:15-19;
Deuteronomy 28; 30:1-10
Note particularly how Paul cites Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 in Rom 9:25-26 and Isaiah 10:22-23 in Rom 9:28. If you have a reference or study Bible, you can look up all of the OT citations to which Paul appeals in Rom 9 - 11. I recommend doing this as we study this passage.
It is obvious that Paul is broken-hearted over the unbelief of Israel, and his missionary pattern of going first to the synagogue to preach the gospel there on his arrival in a new place demonstrates his commitment to evangelizing his countrymen according to the flesh. Paul loved his fellow Jews, even in their unbelief. But he took heart that their current state of unbelief was according to God's plan and that eventually, "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26). Surely this is an example for us, in that we should have a desire that our fellow countrymen according to the flesh would be saved, and also that we should see how the salvation of the Jews will be a blessing to the Gentiles (Rom 11:11-15).
One other theme that is repeated and, I believe, is crucial to understanding the relationship of ethnic Israel and the Church is the pattern of "not only, but also." I plan for us to read Isaiah 49:5-6 this coming Lord's Day. This pattern is clear in Is 49:6: not only "the tribes of Jacob" and "the preserved of Israel," but also "the nations" are to be recipients of God's salvation. Praise the Lord! This is reflected in the book of Romans in Paul's stated theme of the letter with the phrase "to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom 1:16). The same phrase is used in explaining punishment for the evil ones and salvation for those who do good (who are born again and justified) -- "the Jew first and also the Greek" (Rom 2:9, 10). This theme is seen in the Lord Jesus sending of the twelve to the house of Israel and not the Gentiles (Matt 10:5-6) and later commissioning the discipling of the nations (Matt 28:19-20). This is reflected in Paul's declaration of one new man in Christ from the Jews and Gentiles as it is the Gentiles who were far off strangers who needed to be brought near (Eph 2:11-22).
Finally, it is needful to note that Romans 9 - 11 involves doctrine that has been the subject of controversy and contention. Two issues especially have been involved: the sovereignty of God in salvation, and the place of ethnic Israel in God's prophetic plan.
Personally, I experienced a huge crisis in my spiritual life over the first of those issues. For the first 10 years or more of my life after professing faith in Christ, I did not believe in "the doctrines of grace." I believed that God is sovereign, but that it is ultimately up to man whether or not he will agree for God to save him. I see now how inconsistent such a view was! I fought for weeks if not months when I first was confronted with the truth of Romans 9 - 11 concerning God's sovereign grace in salvation. Ultimately, I yielded to Scripture, because I did indeed have more loyalty to the Word of God than to my own preferences (and that, of course, is due to the grace of God--not my decision!). So, as the Lord grants me strength, I hope to make the truth of God's sovereignty clear in my preaching of Romans 9 - 11. Still, I hope to speak the truth in love! And as I was shown patience by the Lord and others, I want to show patience.
The second issue, the place of ethnic Israel in God's plan, has not previously been much of a source of controversy in my life. Most of the Christians with whom I interacted held the basic view that God was not finished with Israel and that they would one day come to the Messiah, Jesus. I rejoice that we seem to have very little controversy among us over the doctrines of grace. Yet, it is clear to me that we have a spectrum of beliefs among us concerning the place of Israel in God's future plan, at least in terms of how that future is worked out on God's calendar.
The DRBC Statement of Faith does not include a specific description of the doctrine of the end times (eschatology). So, it is not required that everyone agree with me in order to be a member, of course!. However, that doesn't mean that I don't have a position on the topic. I certainly do. I believe in a literal 1,000 year earthly reign of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth. I believe that ethnic Israel will one day come as a people to faith in Jesus the Messiah as God applies grace through the New Covenant to them. I have no desire to be loyal to a theological "camp" or position, but I have identified lots within Historic Premillennialism and Progressive Dispenationalism that I affirm.
I believe that God sent me to plant DRBC here in St. George. I feel the weight of responsibility for preaching and teaching in such a formal setting as our church (James 3:1). I can do nothing but preach what I believe is true. I am aware that many preachers and many Christians who have produced much fruit in the kingdom do not share my view. I am aware that I am not infallible. So, I want to have patience with anyone who does not agree with me. At the same time, I ask that you pray for me to preach the Word! And to preach it with conviction. To the glory of God, this is what I have set my heart and my mind to do!
Let us love one another! Let us pray for one another! And let us join with the Apostle John in the last recorded prayer in Scripture: "Come, Lord Jesus!"