Monday, December 11, 2023

2023.12.11 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 9:30–33

Read Romans 9:30–33

Questions from the Scripture text: How should we counter the sort of speech in Romans 9:19 (Romans 9:30)? Who hadn’t pursued what? But what did they attain to? What kind of righteousness? But who had pursued what (Romans 9:31)? To what did they not attain? How should the law (and its righteousness) have been sought (Romans 9:32a)? But how did the unconverted Jews seek it? Over what did they stumble? Who laid it (Romans 9:33)? What two negative responses to this Stone did the Lord prophesy? But what response should they have had? And what result comes to those who respond to Him not by works, but by faith?

How should we respond to Israel’s partial hardening? Romans 9:30–33 prepares us for the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we should respond to the realities of spiritual hardening and saving mercy by focusing primarily upon the mercy, while taking from the hardening a serious warning against works-ism. 

Learning what to say to hardening, Romans 9:30a. The apostle began Romans 9:19 with “you will say.” The things that he had heard others say in response to election and hardening were actually the very sort of blasphemous attacks upon God Himself that vindicate the righteousness of God’s hardening sinners. Now, the apostle asks a rhetorical question—rhetorical, because he is about to answer it for us: “What shall we say then?” This helps us come into the rest of the passage with the mindset to learn. If what follows is not the way that our hearts and minds are not responding to the hardening of many Israelites, then we have grace to look for and work to do. We need to ask the Spirit to help us see and respond this way. And we need to discipline our thoughts by squelching our wrong responses and preaching to our own souls what Holy Scripture says here instead.

Beginning with mercy, Romans 9:30. What we should say begins not with what has happened to Israel but with what has happened to the nations. “Gentiles” just means “nations,” and its usage sometimes even includes Israel. In this case, though Israel (taken generally) has stumbled in the way described in Romans 9:31-33, many Israelites have believed, just as many from other nations have believed (cf. Romans 11:1). In keeping with the Lord’s priority upon mercy in His decree (cf. Romans 9:16Romans 9:23), what we should say also focuses upon mercy. We begin not with those who have stumbled and been hardened, but with those who have attained to righteousness.

And how great is the mercy in which they have done so! The other nations did not pursue righteousness. They did not have “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). And, yet, the Lord has still come near to them by His Word (cf. Romans 10:8; Deuteronomy 30:11–14), proclaiming Himself to them in Christ. And the Word itself has produced in them a faith in Christ (cf. Romans 10:14–17) that has been accounted to them for righteousness (cf. Romans 4:6Romans 4:9Romans 4:11Romans 4:16).

Warning against works-ism, Romans 9:31. Although it is good that we might emphasize mercy, so that we would give our first and best attention to the Lord, and to His salvation, it is still important for us to see and heed the warning in the hardening that has come to Israel. The law that they have (vigorously—same word as for persecution) pursued is a righteous law (cf. Romans 7:12, Romans 7:22). But the righteousness that it offers us is a righteousness by faith, a righteousness that is found only in God Himself, and not in ourselves. Israel did not attain to it (Romans 9:31), because they did not seek it in this “faith” way (Romans 9:32a) but as if the law offered to them righteousness by works (verse 32b). They mistook what Moses wrote in Leviticus 18:5 (cf. Romans 10:5,, not understanding that in its original context, this verse was about the difference that the Lord makes in His people, not about how His people can earn life from Him. 

How the danger of works-ism works, Romans 9:32-33b. Works-ism is worse than we might at first think. Works-ism is bankrupt because it looks for good from within a sinner. And works-ism is blasphemous because it reduces God and His righteousness to something that a sinner could attain to. But, perhaps worst of all, works-ism is blind to Christ and His saving virtue as YHWH Himself. 

The quote in Romans 9:33 arises from the book of Isaiah. YHWH had offered to Ahaz Himself for salvation (cf. Isaiah 7:10–11), but Ahaz had refused under pretense of piety (cf. Isaiah 7:12), because he had determined to put his hope in the Assyrian king, Tiglath Pileser (cf. 2 Kings 16:7). Despite Israel’s general refusal to trust in YHWH, He still offered Himself to Isaiah and all who would trust in Him (cf. Isaiah 8:11–22). As we saw in Romans 9:24-29, the idea of a believing remnant within Israel is by new means a new thing in Romans 9. So, in Isaiah 8:13–14, YHWH is offering Himself to Israelites by faith. But to those trusting in their own efforts, He says that instead of finding Him to be a sanctuary, they will find Him to be “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (cf. Isaiah 8:14a). Later, in Isaiah 28:16, the Spirit gives the text that is quoted here.

Romans 9:33 of our passage recognizes what is plain from the entire New Testament: Jesus Himself is YHWH, the cornerstone of salvation, as He offers Himself for us to rest upon and build upon and be safe and saved.

But if someone is running hard after righteousness by his own works, he will not rest upon the Lord Jesus as a cornerstone; instead, he stumble over the Lord Jesus as a stumbling stone. He will be offended at the idea that he must stop hoping in his own works. What a dreadful danger is this works-ism by which we actually wound ourselves upon Christ and His gospel, and then rush to continue running after salvation some other way!

The glorious security of faith, Romans 9:33c. Our little passage ends where it began: mercy. “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Isaiah had prophesied that there would, indeed, be a remnant within Israel (cf. Isaiah 10:20–23), and this applied not only to the near-term salvation from Assyria, but to the eternal salvation from wrath, to which that short-term salvation pointed. Whoever trusts in Jesus, YHWH, will not be put to shame. The righteousness that God offers to sinners has always been righteousness by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. And it is absolutely sure. It is sure of no condemnation, already, now (cf. Romans 8:1). It is sure of no separation from the love of God, forever (cf. Romans 8:39). Salvation through faith in Christ is absolutely secure!

What doings do you tend to treat as if they make you “safe” in this life or the next? What does the difference look like, in your life, between on the one hand stumbling over Jesus and continuing to run some other way, and on the other hand resting upon Jesus and building only entirely upon Who He is and what He has done?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for giving Yourslef to us to be our salvation in Jesus Christ. Forgive us for when we have treated Your law or Your gospel as if either offered to us salvation by works. Grant unto us to find safety, strength, and blessing only in You—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—which we ask even now only through Christ and His merit, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “LORD, From the Depths to You I Cried” or TPH435 “Not What My Hands have Done”

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