The 12th Sunday After Trinity August 14, 2005
1 Kings 19:1-8
26(1-4,6), 775(1-3,5) [TLH alt. 285], 373(1-3,6-7), 465
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen. But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. . .What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
In Christ Jesus, who makes us the true people of God, dear fellow-redeemed:
Just saying the word often brings to mind a recent news report of violence and contention in the Middle East. This past week the well-known news anchor, Peter Jennings, died from cancer. He spent a part of his career reporting nothing but the news and atmosphere of the Middle East.
As we hear about modern day Israel and the difficulties in the Middle East we do well to remind ourselves that the Israel of 2005 is not the Israel of the Old Testament.
God chose Abraham and his descendants to be the nation from which the Savior would be born. God’s choice was not because of who they were, and not because of any greatness in that people. The choice was purely out of God’s undeserved love. Moses reminded the people, “The did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples but because the Lord loves you…the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you…” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
Throughout Old Testament history, God preserved that particular people as a nation so that one day He could send the Savior through them. Once the Savior came, that signaled the end of the physical nation identified as Israel in the Old Testament. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. This was a judgment of God upon the people because they had rejected Jesus. The destruction of Jerusalem ended Israel as a physical nation identified in Scripture.
Even in the days of the Old Testament it was not the physical nation itself that ultimately defined the people of God. Never was salvation limited only to the people of Israel. Israel was the nation from which the Savior would be born, but it was the faithful—the believers—in that nation who were ultimately the children of God and true Israelites.
We too, by faith in Christ, are Israelites…not by blood, not be location, but by faith. We are “true Israelites” as God defines it. But, what does that mean? What then? As true Israelites we I. PURSUE righteousness by faith II. GUARD steps without stumbling III. APPROACH others in love.
Paul says in the text, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law” [vv. 30-32]
Take yourselves back again to the Old Testament physical nation of Israel. In the “good days” when they were following the Lord, the nation was a beacon of truth. All around Israel were Gentiles who served every manner of false god and involved themselves with all sorts of sinful, heathen practices. The nation of Israel stood out from these other nations, she was a testimony to the living God. Paul says those people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, did not attain righteousness, but the Gentiles did!
The division was this: The people of Israel were trying to attain righteousness by the Law. The people of the heathen nations around Israel had pursued their own sinful desires, but once they heard the Gospel they recognized their inability to pursue righteousness by the Law, so they put their faith and confidence in Christ. That is the dividing mark between those who are the “true Israelites” and those who are not.
If were to pursue being the people of God by ourselves—by the Law—we would utterly fail. We would then be like the Pharisees who not only took the laws that God had established but added their own and the more they added the better it was for them because there was more they could do! Then they took great pride in themselves because they were able to keep the laws. They thought, “Surely, God is pleased, because I’m living an outwardly good life.”
We know from Scripture that we can’t do it. No matter how good we think our lives are, no matter how well we think we are keeping those laws, sin still rages in our hearts, we still fail in our thoughts, and we still find sin in our words and actions as well. We can’t keep the law. We can’t earn salvation by the Law. The soul that sins shall die. The Law identifies us as sinners and pronounces judgment on us.
Still, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and others before them tried to earn God’s favor by what they did or by who they were. They took pride in being the descendants of Abraham. They trusted in the biological fact that they were part of the physical nation of Israel. Paul removes any self-confidence in physical descent when he says: “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” [vv.6-7] Never, ever did anyone have eternal life with Christ because of who they were by blood.
Every descendant of Abraham, just like Abraham himself, was saved by grace through faith. In Romans chapter 4 (4:3ff), Paul says that Abraham’s faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Abraham’s salvation was no different than ours. He put his trust in Christ and His righteousness. Through that faith God gave Abraham the forgiveness of sins. Abraham wasn’t saved because he was the father of a great nation! Isaac wasn’t saved because he was the son of Abraham nor was Jacob saved because he was the son of Isaac—salvation came through faith! Those who were of Israel by blood and geography were not necessarily part of the true Israel because the righteousness of God comes through faith. “…the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17).
In the beginning of his Gospel account, John wrote of Jesus and said, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
There is no way to enter salvation based on the family to which you belong. Similarly, a person could be in Christian education every day of his educational life and it guarantees nothing. Coming to church every time the doors are open for worship guarantees nothing of itself. The “doing” of things the “fulfilling of the Law” the counting on “I come from a good Christian family, we’ve been Lutherans all of our lives”—none of this makes us children of God. Pursue righteousness through faith!
As we pursue righteousness by faith, we need to remember from where our salvation came. The Galatians were brought to faith through the preaching of Paul. They had salvation through Christ. They were true Israelites. But then they began to forget how they were brought to faith. They began to turn back and be dissuaded by those who urged them toward salvation by the Law. Paul asked the Galatians, “How did you come to faith in the first place? Was it by what you did, or by the Spirit? (cf: Galatians 3:2). The answer was, “the Spirit!”
We have salvation guaranteed to us through Christ. He died so that He could give us righteousness. Pursuing righteousness through faith means not neglecting the faith, not forgetting what the source of our faith is, and knowing the source of the strength to keep the faith. That strength is in the Gospel of Christ. Pursuing righteousness by faith is to pursue the Word of God.
You are true Israelites, pursue righteousness by faith apart from the deeds of the law (cf: Romans 3:28).
The Pharisees and others stumbled upon Jesus. Quoting Isaiah, Paul writes: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).
Jesus once told His enemies: “You are searching the Scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, they are the Scriptures that testify of Me!” (John 5:39). The people who so hated Jesus, who ultimately plotted to kill Him, had in their very hands the Word of Life! They had the Word of that Cornerstone on which our hopes and the Church of God are built. They had all of this in the Old Testament Scriptures, but they tripped all over it and stumbled. In their rejection of Jesus and their blind unbelief they were seeing, but did not see. They heard, but did not understand (cf: Matthew 13:14-15). They had the Scriptures but they stumbled and fell and rejected Jesus.
We treasure Jesus greatly as our Savior. Many, many people with whom we live on this earth despise Him as a joke. If we neglect pursuing righteousness through faith it is a small step from treasure to joke. It is a step we will not take when the Holy Spirit is strengthening us through the Word of God.
It is important to stand guard against stumbling because there are so many things that attempt to pull us away. There are many things that ask, “Do you really want to believe in Jesus?”
You know what it’s like to meet people who stumble over Christ. They are the ones who snicker and call you a “goody-two-shoes” when you do what is right. They are the ones who make you tend to feel a little uncomfortable when you’re not with the crowd doing what they want you to do. The ones who stumble over Christ are the ones who believe (and want you to also believe) that there is no fun apart from sin and that we don’t have to be quite so strict all the time—lighten up a little bit, sin a little bit, enjoy it a little bit. These and others like them are stumbling all over Christ because they’re not seeing Him as the Savior who gave Himself to rescue them from all of this sinfulness.
People stumble over Christ when they try to apply logic—human wisdom—to what is revealed in Scripture. In so doing they think that our human minds have the capacity to understand all the things of God, but they don’t! Pursuing faith, and guarding against stumbling sets aside human reason and says, “Because my Lord says these things, they are true.”
We need to stand guard because the world wants to convince us that what God says is foolishness. Educational leaders in our world will mock the Gospel of Christ. Political leaders, co-workers, people you meet on the street, will stumble and ridicule your Savior. Stand on guard lest you stumble.
As true Israelites pursuing righteousness by faith and guarding ourselves against stumbling, we approach one another in love. The opening words of our text are filled with emotion by the Apostle Paul. Consider his position: He was an Israelite by blood/nationality. Generally speaking, his own people were all walking the road to damnation. Paul looked back and saw how God had graciously chosen Israel to be His very own. He knew how God had richly blessed them and given them every opportunity and advantage through their history. Earlier in Romans he wrote, “What advantage then has the Jew…much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1-2).
It deeply saddened Paul to see his people with so much opportunity reject Jesus. So Paul wrote: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” [vv.1-5]
Paul longed to be able to sacrifice himself and be cursed by Christ if that would somehow save his countrymen. You can hear through the words of Paul the weeping of a sorrowful heart of love. Paul did not become angry with God because of his lost countrymen. Paul knew that God’s desire was to save Israel and that He was working toward that goal. So Paul wrote, “It is not that the Word of God has taken no effect” [v.7]
The Word of God is the same. The powerful converting Word of God that had taken many a heathen Gentile and brought that person to faith was the same powerful Word that had been working among the people of Israel. The Word was not lacking. The Word was not at fault! God was not at fault! Paul’s countrymen were at fault, but out of great love, Paul longed for their salvation.
In Paul’s love and longing for the spiritual salvation of his fellowmen, we find an example for our own dealings with one another. We speak of loving one another. We speak of loving those who are on the “outside” of the family of God. We can ask ourselves, however, what has that love led us to do? When you know someone who is an unbeliever, does your heart ache? Does your heart weep contemplating that unless he is brought to faith that person will enter eternal damnation? Do your mind and your spirit stretch themselves to try to find a way to bring the Gospel to that person? Or is it a passing “I love you, but…I’m not really sure what to do, so good luck!”
You know the commandments. We know from God’s Word what is sinful and what is not. If you know of a fellow Christian who is caught in a sin, is your reaction, “Its none of my business”? Or does your heart long to bring restoration to that fellow believer caught in a trap? Do your mind and spirit work together to find some way to bring that person to repentance.
Consider the love of Paul—that longing love that pleaded for the salvation of his countrymen. As true Israelites, pursuing righteousness and guarding against stumbling, that is the love we have from Christ which we seek to reflect back to others. How can we stand idly by and see family, friends, strangers we meet on the street, walking the broad road of destruction, or being pulled that way through the sin they are currently following… and not say a word?
In Galatians, Paul encourages us, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one (a brother who has fallen into a sin) in a spirit of gentleness…” (Galatians 6:1). We also have this clear word of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19). Going to those who are lost in unbelief, going to those among our brethren who are caught in sin, are the reasons for which the Gospel was given and entrusted to us as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)! This is what we can do to prove our love! There is no greater love that you can show than to care for someone’s soul even as Christ as cared for yours!
That love of Christ has made each of us true Israelites. We are not limited by geography, we are not limited by blood. We are people from every tribe and nation of the earth (cf: Revelation 5:9) joined together in the kingdom of God as His true Children—pursuing righteousness by faith in our victorious Savior, with his strength guarding against stumbling, and by His grace showing the deepest love to one another. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.