Romans 9:4&5 “The people of Israel. Theirs 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, for ever praised! Amen.”
I love the United Kingdom, and I especially love the Principality of Wales. You ask me why. A Russsian would explain his love for his nation in terms of the language and the great Russian writers and composers. Germans would speak of Mozart and Brahms and Beethoven and the German language. Americans love the freedom and democracy of that magnificent continent which is their home. I love Wales for its physical beauty, its language, its musical tradition, and its accessibility. It is a country of three million people living in a land 200 miles north to south and less than that in its breadth. You can get to know it well in your lifetime, bounce pebbles on each lake, climb every Munro, visit each county and eat a fine meal in every town, and preach in most of the gospel churches. The nation has a village quality about it. You will hear and see people appearing on the news or on cultural programmes and chuckle because they attended your school. There is a Welsh comedian from Tregaron named Ifan Gruffydd who came to a chapel in our town to a mid-week meeting which I chaired thirty years ago. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the preacher and that night Ifan who was then a farmer and later became a comedian came to an assurance of salvation. He is in church each Sunday 15 miles from here. When I glimpse him at a T.V. Noson Lawen on a Saturday night that knowledge about him and the visit of the Doctor to preach here those years ago warms my heart. So the country is small and lovable. Because I love it I am most aware of its faults. It is a frustrating place in which to live; it can drive me to despair, and yet I couldn’t live anywhere else. We grieve over the state of our nation; none of the other nations in the world give us the pain that our home country gives us. We long for our fellow countrymen to change. Patriotism is not enough. You must bow at the feet of the God who is over every nation and will call every nation to give account of how they have lived.
Paul must have felt affections like that for his nation, but on a far more divine and elevated scale – though geographically Israel is the same size as Wales. In these two verses before our text he tells us of his love for Israel and his grief over it, and in our text he gives us his reasons for his love for his people.
- SEVEN REASONS WHY PAUL LOVED THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL
Paul gives us these seven first of all, and then, we shall see, he gives us the very best reason why he felt honoured to belong to them.
i] God had adopted them as his sons. “Theirs is the adoption as sons.” Think of two girls in an orphanage both up for adoption and one gets adopted by a cruel man who abuses her and keeps her in rags while the other girl is adopted by a millionaire and is treasured by that family. The mighty and loving Creator God adopted Israel as his child. He says, “Behold, Israel is my son!” (Ex. 4:22). They only, of all the nations of the world, had God chosen to be his children, not the vast countries of Egypt, or Babylon, or Assyria, but the descendants of Abraham, the twelve sons of Jacob, this little people, and yet the Creator selected them to become his children. These are the people God loved, the nation he protected; he often spoke to them through his servants the prophets. He provided them with milk and honey in their own land. Paul said, “These adopted people are my people. I’m a blessed man because that nation is blessed which has God as its Father.”
But if those are the blessings of the adopted people of God under the old covenant how much greater must be ours under the new covenant. The fellow apostle to Paul, and also fellow Jew, John writes to Gentile Christians and he says to them, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (I Jn.3:1). “I am a Jewish Christian,” he says, “and you are Gentile Christians – but we are all the children of God!” How much better is our state under the new covenant. We are no longer under the tutelary discipline of the Mosaic economy. The old covenant adoption was preparatory for the coming privileges that we now enjoy. Our new covenant sonship is consummatory. Ours is mature and full fledged sonship. We Gentile Christians may run into his presence and cry to God, “Abba, Father,” and look into his great smiling face of welcome! We are loved with the same Fatherly love as Jesus himself is loved, the full blessing of sonship is ours. We have the right to our Father’s provision, and our Father’s protection and our Father’s pedagogy – his rebuke and nurture and admonition from the best of all fathers. What a privilege to be in this kingdom!
ii] God had revealed to them his glory. “Theirs is the divine glory.” Paul is referring to an experiential phenomenon, to that dazzling, glorious cloud that showed itself in different ways, but which always declared to the people their God’s nearness and love. It would be there in the night in a pillar of fire going before them and in a glorious cloud each day. It would be there coming upon the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, and filling it when Moses entered it. It appeared above the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. It would even home in on Moses as he was once hidden in a cleft of the rock, and some of that blinding glory – not all of it lest it destroy Moses – would be revealed to him. The people could not look at Moses when he had communed with the God before whom the angels hide their eyes as they cry Holy, Holy, Holy! Moses’ face shone so brightly with that reflected glory for some days afterwards. He had to put a veil over his head to talk to the people. When Solomon dedicated the Temple again God gloriously came down on that building and filled it with his glory. None of the pyramids of the Egyptians, or of the Aztecs’ buildings in Peru, or Stonehenge, or the terracotta army catacombs in China were ever lit up with the heavenly glory that came upon these people when God drew near. This was the sign of his presence with these people, that he dwelt among them and met with them.
But now in the New Testament this same glory was focused no longer on the Temple but on the Son of God tabernacling among these people, and men beheld his glory, the divine Shekinah glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth. They saw God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. What new depths and brightness to this glory – it was the glory of his mercy to sinners, and his saving power, and his grand redemption. Think of Bethlehem and the glory mere Jewish shepherds saw when Jesus was born. The fields around them were filled with that glory. He has come! A virgin has conceived and borne a son! Then on the Mount of Transfiguration the glory of God came upon Jesus and his clothes shone as no launderer on earth could make them glow. He spoke with Moses and Elijah of his coming departure from the cross and tomb in Jerusalem. They conversed in the midst of heavenly glory. Today we see what the prophets of the old covenant sought diligently to see but failed to see. We have seen more than Elijah and Isaiah have seen, we have seen God the Son hanging on Golgotha’s cross bearing our condemnation, reconciling to us a holy God. We have seen the glory of the finished work of Christ. We have seen the conqueror of the grave. We preach that message to men and women who seek in vain some glory, and we show them where it can be found – in Jesus’ great salvation. The saints in heaven cry, “Glory be to the Lord who saved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”
iii] God had made covenants with them. “Theirs are the covenants.” A covenant in Scripture is a bond. It is God bonding with men. A covenant is a bond in blood; covenant are ‘cut’ as a knife cuts a living creature and blood is shed. A covenant is Scripture is sovereignly administered. Two parties negotiated a treaty of peace and cooperation – two nations or two tribes – then it was ratified by a sacrifice. They were now in covenant. Or a covenant could be simply unilaterally imposed by a powerful country or conqueror. Covenants bound the parties to each other in permanent, defined relationships, with specific promises, and claims, and obligations on both sides. When it is God who is making a covenant with his creatures, he alone establishes its terms. For example, in his covenant with Noah and thus with every living creature Jehovah made the sovereign promise. There was no negotiation. He would not destroy the earth with a flood again. When Adam and Eve failed to obey the terms of the covenant of works in the Garden then God again acted sovereignly. There were no negotiations with our first parents. God decided that he would not destroy them but he would drive them out of Eden. The decision was his; but he revealed his covenant of grace to them by promising a Saviour would come.
God’s covenant rests on his promise. There is the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah chapter 31. God himself would come, in the person of his Son. He would come to fulfill all his promises. He would come to give substance to the shadows cast by the types and sacrifices. He would come, the mediator of the new covenant He would offer himself as the true and final sacrifice for sin. He obeyed the law perfectly, and as the second representative head of the human race he would become the inheritor of all the covenant blessings of pardon, peace, and fellowship with God in his renewed creation. These blessings he would bestow upon believers in every nation of the world whose trust was in Christ.
It is all there in the heart of the letter to the Hebrews in chapters 7-10. There it is declared to us that God has brought in an enhanced version of his one eternal covenant with sinners. It is a better covenant, with better promises, based on a better sacrifice, offered by a better high priest, in a better sanctuary, and guaranteeing a better hope than the former version of the covenant ever made explicit, that is, endless glory with God in “a better country—a heavenly one.” But there was yet another reason why Paul loved them.
iv] God had given them his word. “Theirs was the receiving of the law.” Having the word of God was the Jewish supreme delight, and it is still today. When the couple of thousand Orthodox Jews arrive here for their summer holidays in August each year then as soon as they can read the male Jews spend their mornings sitting studying the law and the Talmud. In their synagogue services the parading of the word of God through the people is the climax of their meetings. God has given them his word. God has told them about himself and what he requires of them. They know that they have not been created autonomous, free to be a law unto themselves, but theonomous, that is, they were bound to keep the law of their God, and that is no hardship. It is their delight and highest happiness and duty to do what God has told them. The law reflects the holy character of God. It tells them of behaviour that he loves to see and misconduct that he hates. Jesus sums up the moral law like this, loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbour as yourself. By the word of God they knew how to do this! What a privilege.
It was variously divided up. There were the wise political and civil laws of the Old Testament that told the people how they were to behave in building their houses, and disposing of their waste products. There were the ceremonial laws concerning purity and diet and sacrifice, preparing them for the time the Messiah came to fulfil those requirements as the Lamb of God. There was also the moral law, the ten commandments. That alone was written on tablets of stone and kept in duplicate, one for the people and one belonging to the law giver, both copies were kept in the Holy of Holies in the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus affirmed that this law was unchanging and universal, binding the whole man, 24/7, to be kept from the heart, binding the understanding, the will, the affections and all the power of our souls and spirits. And wherever a duty is commanded in the law the contrary sin is forbidden, and when a sin is forbidden in the law then the contrary duty is commanded.
It is the moral law that binds us today. It is intended to function in three ways. It is like a mirror and it reflects the perfect righteousness of God and our own sin. In other words it shows us why we need a Saviour. It tells us that we need grace. It warns us of our danger of damnation and it leads us to repentance and faith. That is one function of the law of God. Its next function today is to restrain evil. The law is helpless to give us a new heart, but it can enlighten men’s consciences and its threats can frighten and prevent gross sin. It does secure some civil order and justice in the world. Then its third function is to tell born again disciples who love the Lord Jesus Christ how they are to follow and serve him. That is what we see in Romans 12 and in Ephesians 5 and 6. We see the law of God opened up to tell us how we should live. People don’t know, but God’s loved ones do and that is a great blessing.
v] God had told them how they were to worship him. Theirs was the temple worship. Worship was not a matter of human invention. They couldn’t think, let alone say, to one another, “Well I like more traditional worship . . .” or “I like more trendy spontaneous worship.” They couldn’t urge the High Pries
t or the Levites that they change the worship in the temple to attract more women or teenagers. They couldn’t tell God how they thought he should be worshiped. They sought to know from the book of Leviticus and Numbers how Jehovah required men and women to come before him and thus they came to him. They then sought to understand why God required it to be done in this way and no other, why they were to bring a lamb which did not have a blemish, and why they needed to put their hand on its head, and why the priest cut its throat and sacrificed it and not them, and why parts of some sacrifices were taken and eaten while with others there was a total holocaust, the whole sacrifice was consumed upon the altar, and why once a year they kept the Day of Atonment.
Why weren’t you allowed to tell the priest what he should wear and what you thought he looked nice in – particularly if you were his wife. No you might not. He wore the required garment, the long plain coat of white fine linen speaking of divine righteousness, and over it the robe that was all of blue speaking of the heavenly work which he did, and the fringe of the robe was of bells and of tassels, and the ephod on his chest had a breastplate with twelve fine stones on which were carved the names of the tribes of Israel. The little boy taken to the Temple with his father could look at the priest and see his name on one of the twelve stones and say to his Daddy, “See, ‘Judah’. That means us.”
And the Temple itself was one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and that encouraged the people, three times a year to come from Dan and come from Beersheba and every pace in between, and worship Jehovah in this temple, and all that was stipulated. That was the God-given pattern to help us to worship him in these days of consummation, and to us God has given the psalms that Jesus sang. And he has given to us the Lamb of God who has completed and perfected once for all the Old Testament ceremonies, their function is over but they speak so powerfully to us that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.
vi] God had made exceeding great and precious promises to them. “Theirs were the promises.” What promises! Jehovah promised that the Seed of the women would crush the head of the serpent. He promised that he would never drown the earth with a flood again. He promised that he would give a land to Abraham’s descendants. He promised that all the nations of the earth would be blessed by the seed of Abraham, the Messiah. He promised that he would deliver them from Egypt and take them into the land. He promised that he would deliver them from Babylonian captivity. He promised that he would lay on the Messiah the sins of us all. He promised that though our sins were as crimson they would be as white as snow. He promised that our Redeemer would live and would stand in the latter day upon the earth. He promised that kings from the east and west would bow down before him. He promised that he would makes us lie down in green pastures and beside the still waters and that he would restore our souls and that we would dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. What magnificent promises, and they were all confirmed to us through Christ, and there are many, many more in the New Testament, and they are all Yea and Amen in Jesus and they have never been forfeited yet.
vii] God gave them extraordinary leaders. “Theirs were the patriarchs.” It is considered old-fashioned to think of history in terms of great leaders. Now history is to be taught in terms of market forces, and economic pressures, and social interactions, and while there is some value to that there is still enormous importance to think of men and women raised up by God and the significance of their lives and the influence they have had over the history of nations. That is certainly the biblical approach. There is a magnificent chapter in the New Testament, Hebrews chapter 11, which chronicles the stories of the patriarchs, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Deborah, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon and so on, each of them making his or her own impact on the people. The Bible uses them as an example to inspire, to encourage and also to warn us, and we are mighty glad that that is what it does because their lives help to bring our emotions to the truth. So we learn to love the people of God and love the God of his people.
You can see those seven great reasons why Paul loved those blessed people. God had given them all this, uniquely among all the nations of the earth. That made them so lovable to Paul. Each slave, the servant girl, the converted Moabite who had come to live among them and now worshipped Jehovah, the shepherd boy sleeping on the hill keeping watch over the flock by night, the widow, the orphan – every single one of them was given something marvelous to boast in. God wanted them to feel good about the people they belonged to. He wanted them to rejoice in his goodness in dealing mercifully and savingly with them all. They could speak about him and call him their God, their Creator, their Redeemer, their Saviour, their Lord. They could know the covenants and the promises and the word of God was theirs, his gracious gift to them. What blessings!
But far above all such honours and benefits there was a blessing infinitely exceeding all others a blessing which had implications for the whole world, which in fact brought the world into sharing in the other blessings. It was the key to obtaining them. A immigrant can arrive in the U.K. and he can hear of the National Health Service, and sickness benefits, and unemployment benefits, and housing benefits, and access to enter this country and to leave it and come and go just whenever he wants to. But before any of those privileges can become his one thing has to happen. He has to apply for and be given citizenship. He must identify with this country and work in this country and pay its taxes and belong to these people. That status must be given to him and he must apply for them.
I am saying that all these seven blessings cannot be yours without, first of all, this final privilege becoming yours, because Christ is all and in all. He is the only means by which the others can be yours. He is the key. This blessing is nothing less than this, that “from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen.” (v.5). For God loved not Israel only, but God so loved the world and had given to the world his only begotten Son, and that it was from this nation that he came, and through him the climax of all the other blessings could become ours, if we cry mightily to God that Christ may become ours, that he may dwell in our hearts by faith, that he can become our very own Saviour, and then if we have him we have all these other blessings too. Seek ye first the King. Make this King your King reigning over your life, and then all the other sevenfold blessings will also be yours. Give him no rest until these blessings are yours. Finally we must turn to him.
- THE BEST REASON WHY PAUL LOVED THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL.
“And from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen span>.” (v.5). You will notice that there is a change of preposition and pronoun here. Paul does not say, “Theirs is the Christ who is God over all.” He tells us that the Jews had the adoption, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, the promise and the patriarchs – they had all that, but they did not ‘have’ Christ who is God over all. He wasn’t in their pockets. He did not belong to them. Paul does not say, “whose is the Messiah” but rather he says that the Christ came from them. In other words, he was born of Jewish stock he was an Israelite. The Jewish fathers stood at the beginning of their history and all the Israelites were descended from them, but Christ came at the culmination of Jewish history. From these blessed people with all their privileges he finally emerged as promised, exalted high over them, towering above all the wrecks of time. Paul tells the Gentile Roman congregation that the privileges of the children of Israel reached their blessed climax in the coming of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen!
This is a unique phrase, found nowhere else in the New Testament, “the human ancestry of Christ.” It is unique in that it has a definite article before it so that it says literally, “Christ, THE one according to the flesh.” The Christ who has sprung from Israel – only as far as his conception in Mary’s womb, and his embryonic development, and his birth are concerned. That through the umbilical cord he is connected with the whole line of Mary and Joseph going back and back to David, and to Abraham along the patriarchal line. He is the seed of the woman.
Back in verse three Paul speaks of his fellow Jews, his brothers and kinsmen “according to the flesh.” In other words, he is related to them physically; there was his sister, his sister’s boy who overheard a plan to kill him, and all his predecessors according to the flesh. But most of his kinsmen according to the flesh were alienated from him through unbelief. They were under the curse of God, and he longed if it could have been possible to take that curse instead of them. However, Christ did not spring out of Paul’s sinful, unbelieving contemporaries. He came from these people mentioned in our text to whom such blessings belonged, the privileged Jewish people of God as far as his human ancestry was concerned, the men who wrote the psalms, the prophets and priests and common believing people of Israel, people like Boaz, and like Naboth, and like Uriah, the ordinary folk of the nation who loved the Lord. He was bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh and he enjoyed what those privileges brought.
Then he is more. He is God over all, blessed forever, Amen! They could never have dreamed that the Christ who would come into the world was the Word who was with God and was God who added frail flesh and dwelt amongst us. Who is Jesus our Saviour? He is God over all, blessed forever. Amen! This is the best translation. There is an 6 page appendix at the close of John Murray’s commentary on Romans in which he examines very, very carefully the translation of this verse and his conclusion is that what we read here in the N.I.V. is the most accurate and trustworthy. When modernists say that nowhere in Scripture is Christ directly called ‘God’ then we turn their attention to this verse where it could not be clearer. Or we turn their attention to Titus chapter 2 and verse 13, “the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,” or we turn to 2nd Peter and its very opening verse, “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” or we turn to the opening verse of John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” This is the great claim we make of him who cried, “I and my Father are one.” He has all the attributes of God, all the privileges of God, all the names and titles of God, all the honours of God, and all that God can do, to create and save and redeem and judge, he does.
Are you falling before him? Is he your Lord? Are you still defying him? The church is the people of God who cry, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and they do so to the glory of God.
In this verse is found the perfect summary of the twofold nature of Christ, that he is God and man in one person for ever. Of course there are also verses which don’t express doctrines but which give us illustrations of the two natures of our Lord Jesus in such a fashion that we cannot fail to be struck by the contrast. What is more human than paying taxes? What is more divine than having them paid by sending an apostle on a mission that combines supernatural knowledge with supernatural power to catch the very fish that has a coin in its mouth sufficient to pay the tax? (Matt. 17:24-27). What is more human than for a man to be so fatigued with work that he falls asleep in a boat on the sea of Galilee—so fast asleep that he is not awakened by a storm that frightens even seasoned fishermen? What is more divine than to have the man, awakened from his sleep by the fishermen, speak with authority to the attacking waves as to bring a great calm to the sea and the men lose their fright and have it replaced by a holy awe that makes them worship the Lord, saying, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?” (Matt. 8:27)? Again and again we see this throughout the four Gospels: the human Jesus wanders away from his parents and the divine Lord confounds the teachers in the Temple (Luke. 2:41-50); the human Jesus administers a mild rebuke to his mother for interfering in things which do not concern her and then turns, a little later, to change the water into wine (John 2:1-11); the human Jesus leaves the disciples that he may go and pray, and the divine Jesus walks to them on the water (Matt. 14:22-33); the human Jesus dies—surely there is nothing more human than death—and he dies in a divine way, head held high to the last moment even though the blood had been drained from his body, crying with a loud voice “Father into thy hand I command my spirit,” even though he’d been in anguish for the six hours of the crucifixion. He is the Lord! He is Jehovah Jesus! He is the king of glory! Then bow before him. Everyone here is bowing before something or someone. Who better to bow before than this Saviour? Christ who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen!
21st October 2012 GEOFF THOMAS