September 7, 2011

Thursday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, 2 Sam. 4:1-5, 7-12, Lk. 22:13-46
Evening - Ps. 90, Hab. 1:2-4, 12-2:4, Rom 10

Commentary
Romans 10:1-21

Chapter 10 of Romans continues the theme of the relationship between Jews and the doctrine of justification by faith. The major point made is that the Jews also, even in the Old Testament, were always justified by faith, never by the works of the law. This had to be so because, first, no one could actually keep the law perfectly, and, second, and more importantly, because the true religion of the Old Testament is about the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law. We can state this in different ways. We can say the true Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly in his relationship to God, not outwardly in his cultural ceremonies. We can say God wants religion of the heart, not a religion of works. Either way, we are expressing an essential point of Romans, and the Old Testament, that the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament were never meant to be ends in themselves; they were always means by which God drew His people to Himself and by which their faith was expressed. They were very much like the means of grace in the New Testament Church. We read the Bible, for example, in faith, not just to mechanically accomplish a duty. Likewise, the believing Jew of the Old Testament era offered his sacrifice in faith. He knew the life of that animal could not really atone for his sin, but he had faith that God was going to receive him and accept him and bless him, and his faith was counted for him as righteousness, just as it was for Abraham. The average Jew could not have said, "a Virgin named Mary will have a child in Bethlehem, and He will be the Son of God, and He will die on the cross as the Lamb of God, and He will take away my sins, and this lamb that I am offering is only a symbol of Him." But he did know his sacrifice pointed to something God was going to do that would atone for his sins, and that God was going to accept him on the basis of that Greater Sacrifice, and he believed this in faith, and God counted him as just. Thus, the believing Jew looked for a righteousness apart from the law, given as the gift of God and received by faith.

But the unbelieving Jews, especially the leadership, perverted the true meaning of the law from a covenant of grace to a covenant of works by which merely performing the outward ceremonies made one acceptable to God. They assumed the words of Moses in Leviticus 18:5 meant they could earn the pleasure of God just by performing the ceremonies (Rom. 10:5). Thus, they lived and thought in very unGodly ways, but were careful to do all that the ceremonial law required, and they thought they were righteous because of their law keeping. This is the point made in Romans 10:2-5.

Verses 6-13 return to God's way of making sinners righteous; justification by faith. It is not our efforts but God's grace that cancels our sin and makes us acceptable to Him. We do not need to go on a mighty quest, to ascend into Heaven or descend into Hell. God has already done that for us. We don't have to hunt for a word from God; the word is "nigh thee." All we have to do is receive it in faith. The word is, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (10:9). It doesn't matter if we are Jews or Greeks, meaning, Gentiles (10:11-12), "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (10:13).

The great tragedy is that many of the Jewish people will not call upon Him. Verses 14 and 15 ask rhetorical questions that lead to the conclusion of verse 16, "But they [the Jews] have not all obeyed the gospel." Verse 18 reiterates this, asking, "Have they not heard?" Then, answering its own question, it says, "Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." Gentiles have heard and believed (10:19 & 20), but Israel has turned a deaf ear. As verse 21 says, "All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."