Two people were in a race. One had trained for it for a very long time, ran really hard, and then stumbled over a rock and was unable to finish the race. The second never got any training, didn’t know he was even in a race, and then stumbled upon the finish line or the prize. At the end of Romans 9 Paul says that those Jewish people who rejected Jesus Christ were like the first runner. They really wanted to win the race so they studied the law and they ran hard, but then they tripped over Jesus Christ and were unable to finish the race. They pursued a law that leads to righteousness but did not succeed in reaching that law because they did not pursue it by faith but as if it were based on works. Paul says that the second runner is like the Gentile who believes in Jesus. Gentiles often didn’t know much about the law of Moses, didn’t even know they were in a race and weren’t seeking to be righteous, but then they stumbled upon the finish line that they weren’t looking for and received the prize who is Jesus Christ. They weren’t looking for righteousness but they found the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus. In our passage today Paul says that Christ is the end of the law (10:4). The Greek term translated “end” has the sense of purpose, goal and end. In other words, Christ is the finish line of the law. A race has a direction, a goal, and an end. Saying a race has a finish line gets at all three angles. As we said with the kids, the Law of Moses points to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the purpose, goal and end of the law. Thus Jesus is the finish line of the law. And Paul really wants to see many more Jewish people not only reach for the finish line but to succeed and get the prize. Thus he says:
- Having a zeal for God does not always mean you will submit to the good news.
- Paul makes the point that many of the Jewish people have willfully rejected the prize. Romans 10:6-8 reworks Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in light of Christ being the finish line of the law. I would encourage you to take some time later to compare the two, but for now all you need to know is that the point of those verses in Deuteronomy 30 was that the people of Israel know what the law is and it is not too hard to do. In other words, the point was that they were without excuse. Paul makes the same point about the Jewish people concerning the finish line of the law named Jesus Christ: they are without excuse. You might understand if they had not heard the good news. For how can they call on the name of the Lord Jesus if they don’t believe in Him, and how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard, and how are they to hear without someone preaching, and how are those who preach to do so unless they are sent? But Paul tells us that the gospel had been preached to the Jewish people throughout the lands to which they had been dispersed. They had heard the gospel, but they did not all obey the gospel. They even understood the gospel, but they did not submit to God’s righteousness. What they heard about the prize offended them so they rejected the prize. You might say that they are willfully ignorant. They are without excuse. As the Scripture says about the Jewish people, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” They demonstrate that not all who have a zeal for God will submit to the good news.
- Many Americans today are also without excuse. They have heard the gospel preached, but they did not all obey the gospel. They have even understood enough about the gospel so that we can say that they are without excuse but they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Instead, they willfully rejected Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters in Christ, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I know that you want the same thing. Whenever we see them rejecting Jesus Christ we have some idea of how Paul felt seeing so many of the Jewish people rejecting Jesus Christ. Thankfully the parallel is not exact. We are not being seriously persecuted by those rejecting Jesus Christ. Indeed, many may not be hostile to Christ and Christians at all. Nevertheless, we want our children, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and the rest of our communities to hear the good news of salvation and put their faith in Jesus. Yet many seek to establish their own righteousness apart from Jesus. Within Christian churches there are are many who seek to be saved by their works. In Western New York there are many who do not attend church but have this same philosophy and think that good people go to heaven. So they may have a zeal for God, but not submit to Jesus. Others have very different ideas about right and wrong, about righteousness and salvation, and the rest. But regardless of the approach, many have heard and understood the gospel and so are without excuse and are willfully rejecting the only way of salvation. (I do not mean to say though that the situation is hopeless. Sure it is hopeless if left up to them. Nor did Paul think that the situation of Israel was hopeless though he did not find any hope for Israel in Israel. The only hope that Paul had for Israel was hope in God. But while we wait on God…)
- When those you are trying to reach have heard the good news but rejected it, you take it to others.
- Paul sought to take the gospel to the barbarians so that God would make the Jewish people jealous. Of course, how could those they considered barbarians call on the name of the Lord if they do not believe in Him and how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard, and how are they to hear without someone preaching, and how are they to preach unless they are sent? Paul is looking for help from the Christians in Rome so that he will be able to preach the gospel among those they thought of as barbarians. He needs to be able to explain the gospel so that they understand it. Thus he will need help from those Christians in Rome who could teach him the languages and customs of the land where he is headed. More than anything, Paul needs the Christians in Rome to be praying for the success of the gospel in that land so that the Jewish people will become jealous. If Paul can make them jealous because God has been found by those who did not seek Him and God has shown Himself to those who did not ask for Him, then some might turn and be saved. Paul wants the Jewish people to want what God is giving to Greeks, Romans, and no doubt also will give to “barbarians.”
- Likewise, one way that you can help to reach your neighbors who seek to be saved by their works is through reaching out to those who are not God’s people even living in another land. Perhaps God will make your neighbors jealous that others have received the righteousness of God by faith and then they will want it too. I imagine that verse nine is familiar, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The Old Testament quote in verse 13 is also well-known: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In the surrounding context Paul’s letter to the Romans is saying that one cannot call on the name of the Lord without believing in Him in your heart. The word of faith that we proclaim is near you – it is in your mouth and in your heart. Thus when you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord you are letting out of your mouth what is already in it. Paul says, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” And Paul once again reminds us that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek – He lavishes His riches on all who call on Him. You are being sent out to share the good news so that some might believe and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. When those you are trying to reach have heard the good news but rejected it, you take it to others – even when they might be from another country, or practice another religion, or live across the sea. For we do not need someone to go over the sea to find the word of faith that we proclaim and then bring it to us, it is in your heart and in your mouth. Thanks be to God. Amen.