Chapter Nine begins a two-chapter discussion wherein Paul emphasizes the nation of Israel: what God has done in their past as well as what part they will occupy in God’s future plan. Woven throughout this section is Paul’s concern for the lost—the same concern all believers should have. He had experienced the grace of God, and because he had been a recipient, he wanted others to be as well.
We Should Have Passion for Unbelievers (vv. 1-5)
All of us probably have loved ones—maybe even spouses and children—who do not know Christ as Savior. While concerned about any person who is lost, knowing those close or related to us are is even more devastating. If death overtakes them before they repent, it is even more painful. The Bible says they will be eternally separated from us just as they will be from God (Luke 16:26). We often comfort ourselves by hoping they have made a last minute decision we weren’t unaware of, and that, of course, is possible.
Paul’s heart was filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for his people who had rejected Christ. While the Romans actually put Jesus to death, it is evident the religious leaders were responsible for instigating the crowd to cry out for his crucifixion. They were jealous of the crowds who followed Jesus, many of whom had previously been their followers.
According to their interpretations, many of Jesus’ actions broke the Law of Moses. His claim to forgive sins was heresy in their minds and an act of equating himself with God whom he claimed to be—another matter that infuriated them. Nor did they accept the proposition that he rose from the grave. Much of their unbelief lay in their misinterpretation of Old Testament scripture which they believed pointed to a Messiah who would deliver his people from their oppressors, not die on a cross.
As Paul viewed many of his kinsmen rejecting his message, it grieved him. He even went so far as to propose his willingness to be cut off from God if it meant they would be saved. The import of this statement is amazing. He was willing to give up his place in heaven for hell if it meant those he loved would be saved.
Paul was not simply making this statement but was honest in his willingness to carry it out. While theologically impossible, the intent and passion were there. These people are not what we would consider Paul’s blood kin but simply members of his own race. He was willing to trade his salvation not only for his blood kin but also for those of his own race. Interestingly, these are the same people who had harmed him physically and tried to destroy his ministry. The situation is similar to Jesus asking the Father to forgive those crucifying him because they didn’t know or understand what they were doing (Luke 23:34).
The privileges the Jews possessed should have made it simple for them to trust Christ, but many didn’t. God had selected them from all the people on earth and entered into a covenant with them. He sent Abraham to a land that would become the Promised Land and their home. Through Abraham, he made a great nation of the Jews and performed mighty works in their lives. He selected them above the Egyptians through the plagues, delivered them from slavery, dried up the Red Sea so they could cross, destroyed the Egyptian army who tried to follow, gave them his Law, and provided for their needs throughout the wilderness wanderings. He returned them to the Promised Land and allowed them to expel the pagan inhabitants, giving them every opportunity to fulfill his plan and purpose which was to be a light to the nations. But many of them failed.
When the time came for God to send his Son into the world, he was sent of Jewish heritage. He came unto his own, and his own rejected him (John 1:11). None of the privileges, however, made it possible for Jews to come to Christ in a different way than the Gentiles. The way has always been, and will always be, through faith.
Since it is evident all Jews are not believers, the question arises as to whether God has failed in his promise. The promise was always contingent on belief, and not all believed. Had Abraham not trusted God in faith, he would never have become the father of the faithful. True children of Abraham are not just his biological descendants. Paul has already stated that true Jews are ones who are such inwardly (Romans 2:29). And in another epistle, he said those who believe are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).
As proof of his argument, Paul appeals to the example of Abraham and Sarah and their children, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was the son of promise while Ishmael was the son engineered by the impatience of Sarah and the reluctant consent of Abraham. After the mistake, God told Abraham it would be through Isaac that his offspring would be reckoned (Genesis 21:12). Abraham had descendants by Ishmael, but they were not true descendants of faith or the ones through whom the promise to bless all nations would come. Nor were they in the line through which the Messiah would be born.
Similarly, not all who are born of the Jewish race are true Jews. Isaac was the son of promise, and only those who follow his example of faith, as well as Abraham’s, have access to God and his promise of salvation. Paul also appeals to Isaac’s family. He married Rebekah who became pregnant with twins. Before they were born, she was told of an odd set of events. The younger would serve the older. Jacob was chosen over Esau and became a man of faith while Esau didn’t have time for it.
Our Passion Must Include the Correct Message (vv. 6-13)
Even though the Gentiles didn’t seek God, those who came to him did so by faith. The Jews who diligently tried to get to God by obedience to the Law discovered this was not the correct way. They, too, had to approach by faith. They stumbled over the way God designed to bring them and all people to himself. To prove this, Paul quoted a passage from the Old Testament from a revered prophet (Isaiah 28:16). The rock the Jews stumbled over was actually Jesus, and they did this by rejecting him as God’s mean to procure their salvation.
What caused people to stumble over Christ? Salvation by faith regardless of works doesn’t make sense to some. Salvation also requires humility and this offends our pride. Obedience is required, and some want to go their own way and do their own thing.
Paul’s passion must be ours. We must desire that all people come to faith in Christ, while taking advantage of all opportunities God sends to share our faith. We must also depend on his wisdom to know how. Our message must include the way of faith, for it is the only avenue available to approach a holy God and know forgiveness of our sins.