Connecting People to Jesus

Romans 9:1-5

September 7, 2008 | Brian Bill

Our family went up to Chicago on Labor Day to spend time with our oldest daughter.  We ate a picnic lunch, went down to Lake Michigan and then just strolled around downtown.  While we were walking on Michigan Avenue I glanced up and saw a well-dressed man in a tie handing out gospel tracts to people.  As we got closer I noticed that he was talking to one of his friends while he tried to get people to take a booklet.  While he was joking around with his buddy, he didn’t even appear to be looking at the people passing by.  Several thoughts went through my mind.  While I admired his courage for doing this, his heart didn’t seem to be in it.  I wondered if his seeming lack of interest in individuals was gutting the good news he was attempting to get out.  And then it hit me that people could say the same thing about me, and maybe about you.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I admire this guy for getting out there with people and trying to put the good news into hands and hearts.  In fact, when we walked back near where he was standing I saw a woman reading the booklet she was given.  Let’s do a little survey using the whiteboard.  Just shout out how you came to Christ.  Obviously, it was God who drew you but what tool or method or person did He use in your life? 

Evangelism will have little effect if we don’t love the lost

I’d like to suggest that our evangelism will only be as effective as the love and respect we have for people.  Let me say it a bit stronger than that: Evangelism will have little effect if we don’t love the lost.  As we begin a new series today called “The Promises Behind God’s Plan,” it’s my aim to help each of us grow in our passion for compassion.  

Some pastors, when preaching through the Book of Romans skip these three chapters, while others go through them quickly treating them as a parenthesis to the rest of the Romans.  While we’re not going to get bogged down in this section, we are going to dig in with some depth.  These chapters will help us answer two questions:

  • If the gospel is to the “Jew first” as stated in Romans 1:16, why are there so few Jews who have put their faith in Jesus?
  • Will the promise given to Abraham and his seed really be fulfilled?

You would think that after concluding with the closing crescendo of Romans 8:38-39 that Paul would begin chapter nine on a note of joy, but he doesn’t do that.  Look with me at the final verses of chapter 8: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

And now notice how abruptly the mood changes in 9:1-3 as I read a paraphrase of this passage: “At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow.  It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it.  I’m not exaggerating – Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses.  It’s the Israelites…If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute.  They’re my family.” (The Message)  Paul goes from the peak of joy to the valley of sorrow.  The lack of a conjunction and a smooth sentence transition shows how broken up he is.

Quality #1: Great Love (9:1-3)

Have you heard this phrase before?  No one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.  If people don’t believe that we care about them, they are not going to care much about what we believe.   Or to say it another way, we will never lead people to Jesus until we learn to love people like Jesus does.  We see three different aspects of Paul’s love in these first three verses.

1. Sincerity. 

Let’s look again at verse 1: “I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit.”  Notice that Paul is appealing to his integrity and like making an oath, calls on Christ as his witness, stating it both positively: “I speak the truth” and negatively: “I am not lying.”  Then he mentions that his conscience confirms everything and finally appeals to the Holy Spirit who enlightens and informs his conscience.

Many people today are skeptical of Christians because they have either been conned or have watched a parade of holy hypocrites come and go in their lives.  That’s why it’s so important for us to be sincere and authentic.  In a stunning study released by the Barna Group, extensive research among 16 to 29-year-olds has revealed the following: “People are expressing more hostility, doubt, frustration and skepticism toward Christianity – and this is particularly true among young people.  Their perceptions of Christians are filled with images of judgmentally, hypocritical lifestyles and political activism…They conclude that Christianity is old-fashioned, boring and unintelligent, and that Christians are insincere and too focused on getting converts. The followers of the Prince of Peace are thought to be unable to live peaceably among others.   In just a decade, the perception of evangelicals has become eight times less favorable among young non-Christians when compared to the image held by Boomer non-Christians.”

One of the most common reactions that young people have about the faith is that “present-day Christianity is no longer like Jesus intended. The authors ask a probing question: “What if they are reacting – not to our righteous lifestyles – but to our self-righteousness?”  

2. Sorrow. 

Beth and the girls like to tease me about how easily I cry when we watch a movie together.  They can watch moving moments without tears while I blubber my way through them.  In fact, sometimes I cry during commercials!  But my tears are nothing like Paul’s anguish.  In verse 2 he shares some pretty intense feelings: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”  While sorrow refers to heavy sadness, anguish is deep consuming personal pain.  Some commentators believe that sorrow is an intense inner feeling while anguish is the outward expression of it.

We could all stand to have more sorrow for the unsaved.  Listen to these different passages.

  • When the psalmist sees a disregard for God’s law, a faucet of tears cascade down his cheeks as he writes in Psalm 119:136: “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.”
  • Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, writes these descriptive words in Jeremiah 9:1: “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” 
  • In Matthew 9:36, we see that Jesus was moved deeply when he saw people in distress: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
  • Later, when Jesus came up to Jerusalem for the final time, He broke down in Luke 19:41: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.”  This word for “wept” literally means that he “convulsed uncontrollably.”
  • And in Acts 20:30, Paul recalls the tears he shed in Ephesus: “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”

Where are our tears for those who transgress God’s laws?  Why don’t I cry for the unconverted?  When will I stop being so selfish and start really caring for non-Christians?

A man said to his friend, “I hear you dismissed your pastor.  What was wrong?”  The friend said, “He kept telling us we’re all going to hell.”  The first man then asked, “What does the new pastor say?”  The friend replied, “The new pastor says were going to hell, too.”  “So what’s the difference?” asked the first man.  “Well,” said the friend, “the difference is that when the previous pastor said it, he sounded like he was glad about it; but when the new man says it, it sounds like it breaks his heart.”

I feel so privileged to serve alongside the elders and deacons of this church.  This past Tuesday night during our elder meeting, I led a devotional from 1 Timothy 2:8: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”  I asked all of us to literally lift our hands as we entered an intense time of intercession.  Right before I closed my eyes I saw that everyone had their hands up.  During this time of prayer we prayed for our church family and our community, specifically asking God to keep the prison open.  We prayed for wisdom and unity.  One elder then prayed something very moving.  He said something like this: “God, the longer I keep my hands raised, the more uncomfortable I get…but that’s a good thing because I’m too comfortable and I want you to make me uncomfortable.”  After awhile I peeked during our prayer time (come on, you do that too!) and saw that everyone still had their hands lifted up.  And then another elder prayed and asked God to give us “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for those who are not yet believers.  I will forever treasure this time with these godly men.

Evangelism will have little effect if we don’t love the lost. Paul’s passion for compassion was sincere and it was sorrowful – and we see next that the lostness of people affected him so much that he was ready to take some sacrificial action.

3. Sacrifice. 

Verse 3 is without a doubt one of the most stunning statements Paul ever made.  If it were possible, he would be willing to go to hell if that would mean his Jewish brethren could go to heaven.  This is the ultimate “trading spaces” arrangement: “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.”  These words come from a man who loved Christ with all that he had and couldn’t wait to be with Him.  And yet, he’s willing to be cursed and cut off for the sake of others.  He’s using a hypothetical nuance or hyperbole here because it is impossible for him to be separated from Christ.  He’s letting us in on his heart. And yet, don’t miss the seriousness behind this.  The word he uses is anathema, which means to be condemned to total and utter destruction forever.  John Knox shared a similar sense of sacrifice when he declared almost five hundred years ago, “Give me Scotland or I die!”

Paul’s passion for compassion seems to be modeled after Moses when he prayed that God would not punish the Israelites for their ugly idol worship in Exodus 32:32: “But now, please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”  That’s a man who cared for his people.

I’d like to call on one of my favorite preachers at this point.  Since he can’t be here in person, listen to the words of Charles Spurgeon: “Have you no wish for others to be saved?  The saving of souls, if a man has once gained love to perishing sinners and his blessed Master, will be an all-absorbing passion to him.  It will carry him away, that he will almost forget himself in the saving of others…If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies.  And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay.  If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions and let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”  A modern-day preacher adds these weighty words: “I don’t know how anyone can call himself a Christian and not have a concern for the lost…Hell should be so real to us that its flames burn away apathy and motivate us to warn the lost.  Do we see the unsaved as hell’s future fuel?  Have we ever been horrified or wept because we fear their fate?  The depth of our evangelistic zeal will be in direct proportion to the love we have.  If you are not concerned about your neighbor’s salvation, then I am concerned for yours” (Ray Comfort).

Here are some good questions to ponder.  How far will you go to see your friends come to Jesus?  What sacrifices will you make?  What are you willing to give up so that others may be saved?  Do you see people as Jesus does?  Do you really see them or do you look past them, like I so often do?  Do you love them?

Quality #2: Great Respect (9:4-5)

The first quality we must have is love – a love that is sincere, sorrowing and sacrificial.  The second quality that is essential to evangelism is respect.

1. Find connecting points. 

Instead of blasting unbelievers, Paul recounts the blessings that the Israelites have received.  This is a key ingredient to effective evangelism: Find a point of connection, not confrontation, with those who don’t yet know Christ.  Look at the last part of verse 3 and the first phrase of verse 4: “my brothers, my own people, the nation of Israel.” He works hard at creating closeness and establishing common ground. This is developed further in verses 4-5: “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!  Amen.”  God has given eight great privileges to the Jewish people.

  • Adoption as sons.  In Deuteronomy 7:6 we read this: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.  The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” 
  • The divine glory.  The glory of God is the physical manifestation of God’s presence and was what led Israel across the wilderness and filled the tabernacle and then filled the Temple.  
  • The covenants.  God made several covenants with His people, through Abraham, Moses and David.  Jeremiah 31:31 also describes a “new covenant” that believers now enjoy because of Jesus.
  • The receiving of the Law.  The Law was a treasure because in it God had revealed Himself and His people had a way to govern their lives.  
  • The temple worship.  Israel was given the privilege of serving God through the Tabernacle and later on in the Temple.  What an honor for the people to know how to approach God!
  • The promises.  God is faithful to keep His promises.
  • The patriarchs.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons formed the foundation of the nation.

It’s so easy for us to become arrogant and argumentative when we speak with people who do not yet know Christ.  When I was first saved I was often confrontative with people, arguing points of doctrine and emphasizing points of difference.  Have you ever tried to argue someone into the kingdom of heaven?  It doesn’t work, does it?  Arguing just makes people angry. 

Instead, let’s start by loving and respecting people.  Make sure your friends know that you have a broken heart for them.  Listen.  If Hell is real, and it is, then it ought to tear us up.  We better have some tears for those who are headed to Hell.  If we can laugh about someone going there, or just not care about them, then we don’t have the heart of Paul…or of Jesus

I return to the Barna survey.  Young non-Christians frequently mentioned that their negative views of Christians were confounded by someone who provided an entirely different, vibrant picture of what it means to be a Christian.  Here’s a comment made by one insightful agnostic: “I know all you Christians are not bad because I’ve had a few conversations with Christians I respect.  Basically, I respect them because they respect me.”  

Let’s begin with a focus on areas of agreement and then move the conversation to a discussion about Christ, which is what really matters anyway.

2. Focus on Christ.  

After finding connecting points, then we’re to focus on Christ.  Look at how Paul does this in the last part of verse 5: “…and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!  Amen.”  The greatest privilege the nation of Israel had was that the Messiah was born as the son of David, the ultimate promise…and yet they didn’t receive God’s provision.  Jesus was Jewish, of the tribe of Judah, born according to the law, the fulfillment of prophecy.  If Jesus were not Jewish he would not qualify as the promised Messiah and believing Gentiles (like us) would remain strangers and aliens without hope and without God (Ephesians 2:12).

Jesus is both God and man.  According to His human nature, He came from the line of the Jews (see the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-18).  According to His divine nature, He is from eternity (John 1:1-3).  And He is Lord: “God over all.”

It’s Time to Try Tears

The founder of the Salvation Army was General William Booth.  Some of his salvation soldiers were sent into the ghettos of Los Angeles in the 1920s and after three years of no results, they sent Booth a telegram: “It just won’t work.  We have tried everything.  The gospel is just not being received here.”  A couple days later they received a two-word telegram from General Booth that said, “Try tears.”

Do you have unceasing anguish for your closest friends and family members?

It’s time for us to try tears!  When’s the last time you had great sorrow for someone’s soul?  Do you have unceasing anguish for your closest friends and family members?  While it’s important for non-Christians to know “where we stand” we can sometimes come across as rigid and judgmental.  Wouldn’t it be better if along with knowing where we stand that lost people know that we love them and that we fall to our knees and cry for their conversion?  Has it been awhile since you tried tears?

As a way to help us try tears, we’ve put some packets of Kleenex under each row.  I’d like the person sitting closest to the center aisle to pick up a packet and take out a Kleenex and then pass the packet down the row.  As we prepare for communion today, I’d like you to think of one person who doesn’t know Jesus and now imagine them in the agonizing fires of Hell.  Picture them crying out…forever.  Out of love and respect for them, it’s time for us to try some tears and then tell them about Jesus so that they can be connected to Him.

It doesn’t really matter how we do it – with a tract, a book, an invitation, or an explanation.  What really matters is whether we love and respect people.  

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to believers today.  There are actually three groups of people here today – believers, non-believers and make-believers.  Which group are you in?  What about your own soul?  Are you saved?  If you were to die this afternoon, are you certain that you’d go to heaven?  You may be religious like Paul’s relatives, but do you have a saving relationship with Jesus?  Jesus is “God over all.”  Is He Lord of your life?  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?