Paul loved his brothers, his fellow Jews, but he knew a sad fact about them. God had called the Apostle Paul to evangelize the Gentiles with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Once God had made it clear to him that He loved the whole world and that Gentiles were every bit as worthy of God’s mercy and grace as His Chosen People, Paul went willingly and enthusiastically to him with the Word of God. However, he never forgot or neglected his Jewish brethren.
In writing to the Romans, Paul dealt with a mixed audience of Jewish and Gentile believers, so in the letter he addressed both. He lamented in his epistle about the Jews and their fate. It caused him to declare in anguish in Romans 9:3:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Paul literally said that if it were possible, he would take the fires of hell in place of those Jews who would remain unbelievers so that they could have eternal life.
The Jews had everything going for them. They truly were special. God had raised them up for a purpose. Prior to the Tower of Babel incident, Yahweh had revealed Himself to all mankind to be their God. Despite all that He did and said, man continued to reject Him. The Tower was the final straw. It was what caused God to choose another path because He’d had it with mankind in general. He needed a timeout from them. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (ESV) explains this for us:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
God took peoples and placed them into diverse nations of His choosing. By confusing their languages they essentially had to remain separate and no longer conspire against God as they could previously. Following that, God raised up the nation of Israel to focus His love and attention.
Israel had all the benefits since they were the primary focus of God and His love, as Paul lays out in Romans 9:4-5:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
But, they had a problem. Rather than realize that it was love and not law that drew them close to Yahweh, they made their relationship with Him all about legalistic religion. Thus, Paul explains in Romans 9:8:
This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
Only those who came to the Lord believing in Him through faith were rewarded, and that ended up being a very few, just as Paul relates in Romans 9:27:
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved.”
The many advantages the Jews had became the stumbling block that kept them from knowing Jesus as their Messiah (Romans 9:32-33).
The result was what Paul outlines in Romans 9:30-31:
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
Paul’s fellow Jews were left behind, while the Gentiles drew near to God. This is why we see Paul going to the synagogue in whatever city he visited on his missionary journeys, and by and large, leaving them unsuccessfully, while the Gentiles then accepted his message with joy.
The Word for us today is the same that Paul brought to the two very different groups. If we try to make God out to be simply a rule-giver who creates laws that we must rigorously follow, we’ll end up in the same place as the Jews. God wants us to know Him directly, purposely, intimately, and relationally.
He makes the way through His Son, Jesus Christ, and He has stated plainly how we can come to Him to enjoy all His blessings and favor. By simply obeying God’s Word, by doing what it says, eternal life is ours.