The Value of a Broken Heart
Romans 9:1-5This week we are beginning a new series called “Understanding God’s Plan” from Romans 9-11. This is one of the most overlooked passages in the New Testament. It is certainly the most overlooked section in the book of Romans. I have in my library a book by a very famous preacher who has dozens of sermons covering Romans 1-8. You turn the page, expecting the next sermon to be from Romans 9, but no, the next sermon is from Romans 12:1-2. He skips Romans 9-11 completely. It’s amazing how many people do the same thing as they study this book. I have had a chance recently to look at how different preachers have approached the book of Romans. Most of them don’t do what that famous preach did. You really can’t just skip three chapters when you are preaching through Romans. But there are quite a few expositors who clearly want to get through these chapters as fast as they can. So they may have seven sermons on Romans 8, and one or two on Romans 9, maybe just one on Romans 10, and another one or two on Romans 11. Then they slow down again when they get to Romans 12, which most people regard as the “application” portion of the epistle. It’s unfortunate that some people prefer to skip Romans 9-11 because they think it’s hard to understand. That’s too bad because this passage of Scripture helps us understand God’s plan. If you want a subtitle for this series, I would call it “A Christian World View,” especially “A Christian View of History.” This is world history from God’s point of view.
I have already suggested that some people skip this section because they don’t understand it. Some expositors go so far as to call Romans 9-11 a “parenthesis” in Paul’s argument. If so, it’s a mighty long parenthesis. Others shy away from these chapters because they deal with controversial issues, especially the vexing question of predestination, election and the sovereignty of God in salvation. But Paul doesn’t shy away from those issues at all. He tackles them head on in Romans 9. Some people would rather not face what he says so they prefer not to study these chapters at all. Finally, this section can seem troublesome because it deals with an issue that is remote to most of us in the 21st century. Having laid out the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Romans 1-8, Paul tackles the question of Israel. The issue might be put this way. If the promises of God were originally given to Israel (and they were), and if the Messiah himself came from Israel (and he did), and if salvation is now offered freely to anyone who believes (and it is), how it is that Israel not only rejected her Messiah but continues in unbelief to the present day?
Has God canceled his promises to Israel?
Has Israel forfeited her place in God’s plan?
Have the promises of God somehow failed?
Does God have a future plan for Israel?
How do the Gentiles and Jews relate to each other in God’s plan?
Jesus Was a Jew
You could say it another way. How could God have a plan of salvation for the whole world if his own chosen people have rejected it? That is a problem, isn’t it? And the basic problem remains to this day. When we get to Romans 11, we will see that Paul speaks of a “blindness” that has come upon the Jewish people that keeps them from embracing Christ. That blindness is not complete, which means that there are Jews coming to Christ every day. The percentage of Jewish believers in Jesus is small but slowly growing. Thus you have organization like Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries, the American Messianic Fellowship and the International Board of Jewish Missions that specialize in reaching out to Jews with the message of the gospel.
Jesus was a Jew.
The apostles were all Jews.
The earliest believers were Jewish.
All the books of the New Testament except two were written by Jews.
So why did the Jews reject Jesus? And is that rejection permanent? What does Israel’s rejection teach us about God’s plan?
We may think that these are purely academic questions, but six decades ago a madman named Adolph Hitler tried to wipe the Jewish people from the face of the earth. Today there are those who hate the Jews and wish to see the destruction of the present-day nation of Israel. And too often those inside the church have used the Jewish rejection of Jesus as an excuse to persecute the Jews.
Having said all of that, I am aware that some people still find these chapters a bit theoretical. Paul argues at length from Old Testament history and repeatedly quotes various Old Testament passages. He adopts, if you will, a Jewish style of writing in order to make his points. That shouldn’t surprise us since Paul was raised in the heart of Rabbinic Judaism. But if we do not stop and think carefully, we may be tempted to do what that famous preacher did—skip Romans 9-11 altogether. That would be a tragic mistake because beyond the question of Israel’s unbelief, there is a deeper issue regarding the faithfulness of God:
Will God keep his promises?
If he does, why does he delay so long?
Why do I pray and pray and pray and nothing seems to happen?
She Prayed for Fifty Years
A few days ago I got an email from a friend who said his wife’s brother had died and they were about to travel to a distant state for his funeral. The brother had lived most of his life as an unbeliever. In fact, my friend’s wife had prayed for her brother to come to Christ for over fifty years. Fifty years!
That’s a long time to pray.
That’s a long time to wait.
That’s a long time to hope.
Finally he came to Christ. And recently he died.
It must have been hard to keep on praying for fifty years. What if she had given up after ten years? Or fifteen years? Surely the cause seemed hopeless after 25 years? No one could blame her if after 35 years she had said, “He will never come to Christ. It’s hopeless.” But she never stopped praying or believing or waiting or hoping. And she witnessed to her brother when she had the chance.
I know she’s glad she didn’t give up.
I know her brother is glad she didn’t give up.
Why did it take so long? How does that seeming delay relate to God’s mercy, his grace, his sovereignty and his justice? And how do our prayers fit in to God’s plan to bring salvation to the world? If God is sovereign in the area of salvation, why should we preach and why should we pray for the lost? Why send missionaries to the ends of the earth? Romans 9-11 forces us to grapple with these real-world issues.
Seen in that light, this section of Romans is far from theoretical. It’s as practical as any portion of the New Testament. With that as background, we turn to the opening verses of Romans 9.
Truth and Tears
In one of his books, Ray Stedman tells the story of a man who said to his friend, “I hear you dismissed your pastor. Why?” “Because he told us we were going to hell.” “What does your new pastor say?” “He says we’re going to hell, too.” “So, what’s the difference.” “When the first pastor said it, he sounded like he was glad about it. When the new man says it, it sounds like it’s breaking his heart.” It’s never easy for any of us to receive a hard truth, no matter how necessary it may be to hear it. But there is a much better chance of hearing it if it is told in love.
Something like that was said about D.L. Moody. It was said of him that he could never speak about hell without weeping. How different from some preachers who seem to delight in announcing the damnation of all unbelievers. During my sixteen years in Oak Park, I often had a chance to think about that because from time to time, we were engaged in a very public struggle over the encroachment of the homosexual agenda in the village. There were times when I found myself in a public controversy with a group of men and women with whom I found myself in complete disagreement regarding moral choices, marriage, sexual preference, and the policies that should be put forth by the school board and the village board. That controversy often spilled over into the media. Over time I got used to it, and eventually didn’t think much about it, but in the early years, it would be disconcerting to see my name pop up in the letters column, often by someone with a very negative view of the positions I had taken from the pulpit or in some article I had written for the local papers. I remember once when someone wrote saying that my ministry had been such a “blessing” to Oak Park (irony intended) that I should go and bless some other community. I actually thought that was funny. I found over the years that it helped to have a thick skin and a good sense of humor. If you’re going to take strong stands, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get a strong and sometimes extremely negative reaction from the other side. As Harry Truman reminded us, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
In the Heat of Battle
The question comes to this. How do you respond to those who respond negatively to you? It’s easy in the heat of battle to look on people with whom you disagree as the enemy. Once you do that, it’s only a short step to treating people like enemies. You find it easy to stereotype, to hurl insults, to say thoughtless things, to be petty, unkind, ungenerous, and to respond to provocation with angry outbursts.
I remember in the early years being interviewed on TV-38 about the gay rights controversy in Oak Park. As we neared the end of our time, Jerry Rose (the host of the program) asked me a very probing question. “Pastor Ray, how do you feel about the homosexual community? Are you afraid of them? Do you hate them?” It’s a good question–and a fair one–because anyone who speaks out on this issue risks be called homophobic (which means harboring an irrational fear of homosexuals) or a bigot or something much worse.
My answer was along these lines. “I don’t hate anybody. Without question, I fear certain parts of the radical homosexual agenda. I fear for Oak Park if that agenda is ever accomplished. But I’m not afraid of gays and lesbians. They live in this community just like we do. They shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, walk the same streets as we do. However much we disagree, I know in my heart that I don’t fear them or hate them. If anything, my heart goes out to them because I believe they are trapped in a pattern of sinful behavior that can only be changed by Jesus Christ.” That was the answer I gave twelve years ago. In September 2005 Stephen Bennett, a former homosexual, spoke at Calvary as part of the God Speaks Today sermon series. That night our church was picketed by noisy activists from the homosexual community. When I arrived, there were camera crews from every station in Chicago. People coming to the service had to cross the picket line, walk past the cameras, past the security set up by the local police and by our own security team. It was an unnerving experience for many people. I’m sure many people expected Stephen Bennett to utter a harsh denunciation of the gay lifestyle. But he did the exact opposite. He spoke words of love that came from a heart of love. Gays and lesbians, he said, were some of the kindest people he had ever known. He didn’t just talk about love; he showed it in the manner in which he spoke to people individually. His kindness defused the situation and turned what might have been an ugly confrontation into a powerful display of the love of Christ. People from “the other side” came to church and felt welcome, even though they may have disagreed with part of the message.
I mention that not to focus on any one person or group of people but because we all need to examine our motives from time to time. Do I do what I do because I am motivated by fear and hatred? In times of controversy you at least have to ask the question.
The Heart Makes the Difference
That brings me back to the story of the two pastors. One man told people they were going to hell … and seemed glad about it. The other man said the same thing … and it broke his heart. Which man had the heart of Jesus? Only the latter. The first knew the words, the second had the heart. And it’s the heart that makes all the difference in evangelism. You can mouth all the right words, say all the right Scriptures, make all the right arguments, and never see anyone come to Christ.
No one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.
Something like that is on Paul’s heart in the opening verses of Romans 9. As he begins to talk about the mystery of Jewish unbelief, he starts by declaring his great love for his unsaved brothers and sisters.
These verses do two things: First, they reveal the secret of Paul’s great effectiveness as an evangelist for Christ. Second, they answer an important question: What will it take for us to win our friends to Jesus? Sooner of later, if we are true Christians at all, we will become concerned for our friends and loved ones. No one wants to go to heaven alone. The greatest blessing we could ever have would be to arrive in heaven surrounded by a great host of people we influenced for eternity.
That was Paul’s dream–he wanted to make sure his Jewish countrymen went to heaven with him. These verses reveal his great heart for his people, and in so doing, they show us the two indispensable qualities for sharing Christ with others.
Quality # 1: Great Love (vv. 1-3)
I find the words of William Barclay very helpful at this point. Paul, he says, “begins not in anger, but in sorrow.” In that respect, he is like the God he served–he hated the sin but loved the sinner. No man will ever begin to save others unless he loves them first. The Jews could say many unkind things about Paul, but they could never say he didn’t love them. He did, and these verses prove it.
Each verse reveals a different aspect of Paul’s love for his brethren.
His words are very simple, yet powerful. “I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit” (v. 1). All effective evangelism begins with sincerity, honesty, truthfulness, and integrity. Those are four qualities that seem to be in short supply today. Even in the church, we’re good at telling people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear. Sincerity means what you see is what you get; Honesty refers to your motivation; Truthfulness refers to the content of your words. Integrity to the overall impact of your life.
Unbelievers may not know much about Jesus, but they are used to being conned, especially by religious people. They can smell a phony 100 miles away. They know when they’ve been lied to, or misled, or buttered up by a con artist. That’s why sincerity is so powerful. It’s like rare perfume in a world filled with the foul stench of deceit.
Here Paul shares the intensity of his feelings. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (v. 2). The words are instructive. “Sorrow” refers to sadness, while anguish refers to deep personal pain. Paul was not a passive observer, standing by idly while his friends rejected Christ. He saw their unbelief, and it tore at his heart.
Now we come to one of the most amazing statements Paul ever wrote. He actually says he would be willing to go to hell if he could if it would help his Jewish brethren come to Christ. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Jesus Christ for the sake of my brothers” (v. 3). No man ever exulted in knowing Christ like Paul did. He is the man who spoke more than anyone else about being “in Christ.” Yet he says he would be willing to be separated from Jesus forever if it would help his friends be saved.
The word he uses is anathema. It’s a terrible word, one that means to be condemned to total and utter destruction. Think of it. In Chapter 8 Paul just said that nothing could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus. But now, almost in the next breath, he says he would be willing to be separated from Christ if only his beloved countrymen could be saved. Most of us can’t understand something like that. It sounds almost unchristian. But you don’t analyze a statement like statement in a laboratory. He’s not writing systematic theology; he’s sharing his heart.
How far are you willing to go to see your friends come to Jesus? What sacrifices are you willing to make? Does it bother you that people you know are going to hell? How do you feel when you think about that? Or do you simply prefer not to think about it at all? Paul said, “I think about it all the time. And it breaks my heart. If I could, I would trade places and go to hell if only my brothers and sister could be saved.”
It only sounds radical because we are so far from having that kind of broken heart.
Quality # 2: Great Respect (vv. 4-5)
It’s very instructive to see how Paul refers to his Jewish brethren in these verses. He calls them “my brothers, my own people, the nation of Israel” (v. 3). Then he lists the eight great advantages God gave the Jewish people. These are things that were given to the Jews and to no one else:
Adoption as Sons
The divine glory
The Law of God
The temple worship
And best of all, God gave them Jesus, “who is God over all, forever praised” (v. 5). He saved the best for last. Of all the blessings, none was greater than this: Jesus was a Jew, born of Jewish parents, raised in a Jewish home, taught the Jewish law, steeped in the Jewish traditions. Jesus was a Jew. And therein lay the ultimate privilege of Judaism. They gave to the world the Son of God, the Messiah, the Man from heaven. They gave us Jesus. For that, if for nothing else, we owe the Jewish people a debt of eternal gratitude.
From that, I deduce a great principle of evangelism. You’ll reach more people for Jesus by seeing the best and not the worst. You’ll have better results if you begin with the positive and not the negative. As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about evangelism, most notably this: You can’t argue people into the kingdom of God. I’ve tried, it doesn’t work. Arguing just makes people angry. It makes them defensive and closes off any chance of winning them to your point of view.
You can love people to Jesus … but you can’t hate them to Jesus!
Much of our evangelism is ruined because we have forgotten Paul’s approach. He starts by sharing his broken heart for his own people. No one can read these words and doubt his love for his Jewish brothers and sister. Were they sinners? Yes. Had they rejected Christ? Yes. Were they guilty? Yes. Did they face eternal judgment? Yes, but Paul doesn’t start there. He begins by sharing his great love and great respect for others. In other words, Paul starts with the good news first. The bad news would come later. If Paul started with the bad news, they might not be around to listen to the good news.
Don’t miss the point. Paul’s great respect is seen two ways:
Seeing the best, not the worst.We would be more effective if we would do what Paul did. Anyone can shout at people and condemn them to hell. But the danger is that people will think we’re glad they are going there. If hell is real, it ought to break out hearts. We ought to speak of it without deep sorrow. If you can laugh about someone going to hell, you don’t have the heart of Jesus … or of Paul.
Beginning with the positive, not the negative.
Four Penetrating Questions
Let’s wrap up this study by making it very personal. Here are four penetrating questions for you to consider.
1. Do you anguish over those who don’t know Jesus?
For many of us, the answer must be no. We don’t sorrow, we don’t grieve, we don’t agonize like Paul did. As I examine my own heart, I must confess that these words are true of me. It seems as if in my early days as a Christian, I was much more concerned for the souls of men. I know much more than I did then, but my heart tells me that I don’t agonize now. Is it is because we are so busy? Is it because we don’t believe in hell nowadays? Is it because we secretly hope that everyone will end up in heaven so why bother? Is it because we are so filled with our own concerns that we have no time to think of anyone else?
If we were more like Jesus, we would weep over our own town like he wept over Jerusalem.
2. Do you anguish over your closest friends and family members?
Paul did. He considered the Jews his own people. And he wept over them, prayed over them, agonized over them. If we felt the same way, fathers would grieve over their children, husbands over their unsaved wives, wives over their unsaved husbands, parents over children, and children over parents. When was the last time you wept over your friends who don’t know Jesus? What about the members of your own family? How do you feel knowing that they are rushing into eternity without Jesus?
Charles Spurgeon knew a story like this. A girl who was not in good health approached her pastor with thoughts about her own funeral. She spoke of her father, who was an unbeliever and who had never accepted an invitation from her to go to church. “Pastor, you will bury me, won’t you?” she asked. “My father will have to come to my funeral and hear your speak. Please speak it clearly. I have prayed for him a long time. I know God will save him.” According to Spurgeon, the father came to his daughter’s funeral and was converted. I know of another similar story of a man from Nigeria who came to America to study theology. He had prayed for his brother for 10 years to no avail. One day he died suddenly and his body was sent back to Africa for burial. At his funeral, 10,000 people showed up, including his brother who that day gave his heart to Jesus Christ.
If we had a similar burden for our friends and family members, if our desire was so great, we would see more of them coming to Jesus Christ.
3. Do you anguish over those who may be your enemies?
Does that sound like a strange question? It shouldn’t. After all, it was Jesus himself who said, “Love your enemies.” When he hung on the cross, his words were a prayer of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” To many of the Jews, Paul was an enemy. They hated him with a fierce, demonic hatred, following him from town to town, stirring up animosity and opposition. But Paul said concerning his enemies, “I would be ready to go to hell if I could, if only my Jewish brothers and sisters could be saved.” So the question pierces the soul of every Christian reading these words: How do you feel about those who may hate you? Perhaps you wish they would go to hell and get out of your life. For many of them, that’s exactly what will happen some day. How will you feel then? Will you be glad when your enemies suffer eternal torment, knowing that you didn’t even care enough to pray for them?
4. Do you anguish over the state of your own soul?
In this message I have been speaking to you of your concern for the salvation of others. And well I should, for this is where the text leads us. But I do not want to close without pressing the point home. What about your own soul? Where do you stand in relation to Jesus Christ?
Years ago I remember a gospel song with these words, “How about your heart? Is it right with God? That’s the thing that counts today.” The songwriter was correct: “That’s the thing that counts today.” How sad if in discussing our concern for others, we ignored the most basic issue of all. So let me ask the question very pointedly: “How about your heart? Is it right with God?” All that Paul has written in Romans is meant to lead you into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But the teaching of this book will do you no good unless you personally apply it to your own life. Truth–even the greatest truth in the world–avails nothing unless you do something about it.
Let’s come back to the question again: Where you do stand with Jesus today? Is he your Savior? Can you say, “Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life?” Are you saved? Are you sure? Do you know for certain if you died tonight you would go to heaven? These are not minor issues. Where do you stand with the Lord? You may be extremely religious like the Jews of Paul’s day, but that’s not the question. Where do you stand in relation to Jesus Christ? So I ask the question for the final time. What is the state of your soul? How about your heart? Is it right with God?
Nothing in the universe matters more than knowing Jesus Christ. That’s the thing that counts today. Amen.
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