Let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Lucius. I’ve been through a lot here in Rome. Some Jewish believers not long after that great Pentecost event came and shared with me the good news of salvation and I’ve been following Jesus ever since. They went through much worse than I will likely ever face. Some of their own Jewish people persecuted them. I saw it happening to these members of my new family, but only experienced a little myself since I was a Gentile. Then the Roman Emperor Claudius exiled all of the Jewish people. He didn’t care which side they were on – whether they were persecuted or persecutors, whether they were Christians or Pharisees. He just didn’t have any space for such conflict in Rome. Thus both my Jewish friends and those who were hostile to our faith were sent away from the city. A few years later when Claudius passed away, both Jewish people who followed Jesus and those who thought He was a heretic started coming home. Once again I’m enduring some of that suffering for my faith that I remember before. I almost prefer the abuse to the taunting and ridicule that they like to heap upon my friends and I. They seem to think that our suffering is evidence that God does not love us. I meet with some believers in a house in the neighborhood for worship each week. Lately we’ve been listening to this letter from the apostle Paul. Everyone has heard of Paul. He used to persecute the church, but now has planted congregations all over the eastern Mediterranean. At long last he is on his way to visit us here in Rome. We just heard in Paul’s letter that God loves us with a love that will never let us go. Amen! I needed to hear that right now. But it got me to thinking: What about the Jewish people? Isn’t God rejecting Israel? I’ve been told that the Jewish people are elect of God – they are the chosen people. So why does it seem like the vast majority of the Jewish people reject the good news of Jesus Christ? I mean: so He told them that I love you with a love that will never let you go, but now isn’t He letting them go? Paul’s letter has just said that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” let’s hear what he has to say next:
- It is so very difficult not to look for some reason that God chose one person over another.
- It is reassuring to hear that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, but it is really hard seeing that so many of the Jewish people are separated from the love of Israel’s God. Paul also sounds bothered that such a large number of the Jewish people have rejected the gospel. I had been thinking that God had chosen everyone descended from Israel. Ok, well maybe not everyone, but nearly so. I mean, many Jewish people have genealogies that show they belong. But if not their family lineage, I would have thought that they would be elect over those awful barbarians living out west – the stories I’ve heard are just thoroughly disgusting. Yeah I know that the Jewish people were not perfect, but compared to the barbarians they were a very moral people. Those stories I’ve heard about the barbarians aren’t even the kinds of stories I feel comfortable describing—I feel dirty just hearing them. At the very least, the Jewish people should be chosen before the prodigals of the world. After all, the Jewish people are the older brothers who I would have thought still have a right to the Father’s inheritance. Maybe you understand a little better now how it really disturbs me that while the gospel went to the Jewish people first, so many did not receive it. I feel like this is a safe place to say it – thinking about these things made me wonder whether God’s word had failed.
- I’ve never heard those stories in Genesis and Exodus explained the way that Paul does, everyone else likes to search for some reason or another that God chose those that He did. One Jewish philosopher I’ve heard often quoted, Philo of Alexandria, illustrates this point well. He looked through the Torah of Moses and noticed that 9 people were blessed without some explicit reason given in the text. Looking at the 9 he decided that 8 had names showing they were worthy of election. Of course, the one that didn’t fit was Jacob. It has long been thought that his name means deceiver. So Philo said that God must have looked into the future and seen that Jacob would be more righteous than Esau. But it wasn’t just Jewish philosophers, this is the way that everyone was reading the passage. Next thing you know someone will be saying that Paul missed that Esau was hairy and that is why he was rejected and Jacob was chosen. Though I myself would be more persuaded that you were chosen because God saw the future and knew you would be more righteous than those barbarians.
- But Paul doesn’t let me look for any reason that God would chose one person over another. Paul says, using the first pair of Isaac and Ishmael, it is not the children of the flesh but the children of the promise who are the children of God. So genealogy isn’t a reason. Using the second pair, Jacob and Esau who were twins conceived at the same time, Paul rules out all moral activity and the social standing of the firstborn. God chose the younger brother before either had done anything bad or good and before they were even born. Then Paul quotes Scripture, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” I can’t imagine anything more offensive –it just doesn’t seem right—God had no reason for loving Jacob instead of Esau. Surely that cannot be right, but then you heard with me that third pair that Paul mentioned – Moses and Pharaoh. Indeed, I can see his point that it isn’t about the human will or work but God who has mercy. It is truly amazing that there is no “because” regarding salvation. So now it still bothers me that so many of the Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus, but I have no reason left to doubt that God loves me with a love that will never let me go. (For…)
- God’s word has not failed, He will have mercy on whomever He will have mercy.
- Paul understands that God will have mercy on a remnant of Israel, on some Romans, and also on some barbarians. He has given us hints along these lines earlier in the letter. Those who came with it have been telling us all about his plan to reach the world. His missionary strategy has been to go to the synagogues and share the good news of Jesus Christ and then when they run him out of the synagogue he begins reaching out to the Gentiles. Moreover, his strategy has been to plant churches in urban centers throughout the eastern Mediterranean so that they can see to it that everyone has the opportunity throughout the region to hear the gospel. Now he wants to pass through Rome on his way to the western Mediterranean where he plans to reach the barbarians and set up churches in urban centers. One difficulty he faces is that there are not synagogues throughout the region where he wants to go. Nevertheless, he thinks that he is obligated to share the good news not only with Greeks as he has, but also believes he is obligated to do so among the barbarians in the west. Thus it is important for him to be able to see that God’s word has not failed concerning the Jewish people, for it will not go out void among the barbarians either. I too find comfort in knowing that God will have mercy on whomever He will have mercy. As some of my fellow Romans receive the good news and many do not I don’t have to worry about my failures and successes – God’s word will not fail. He will have mercy on whomever He will have mercy. I just get to share.
- I wonder if you will join us on this mission. Your congregation needs a mission strategy too. I was talking with your pastor who told me that you are a congregation of disciples of Jesus Christ who call the nations to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We had no idea how much of an impact our little house church in Rome would make, but you can reach people from many nations living in your own community, those from many nations who come to visit your big waterfall and to trade for goods at this thing he says is a mall. But might I suggest as Paul would not want to see you neglect this as a part of your strategy. Find a community somewhere else in the world where you might participate in God’s work of mercy. But if you are going to get behind such an important project then you first need to embrace the reality that God will have mercy on whomever He will have mercy. All glory be to God forever and ever. Amen.