Paul's Anguish for His Fellow Jews, Part 1 (Romans Sermon 60 of 120)
February 27, 2005 | Andrew Davis
I. The Cause of Paul’s Anguish: “My Kinsmen are Accursed!”
The great preacher, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, was anointed by God with the power of the Holy Spirit with what they used to call an unction. There was a sense of the presence of God when he would preach. You could feel it in the sanctuary, and young preachers would come and try to understand the secret of his power. And there was one that came once to the church and met an elderly deacon there, and he said, "I want to know the secret, Robert Murray M'Cheyne's secret. I want to know how he does it. How is it that there's so much evangelistic fruit? How is it that lives are transformed like they are?" So he said, "I'll show you." He brought him in to M'Cheyne's study. He wasn't there at that time, and he brought him to his place of secret prayer. He said, "Kneel down here and weep and pray." And then he brought him out to the pulpit and he said, "Take this book and open it up and preach." That's it.
As I read Romans 9:1-5, I realized that I don't weep and pray the way Paul did. Maybe that's true of you too. Maybe you don't care for the lost the way that Paul did. My desire is, that after hearing this message by the power of the Spirit, you will. I want the same for myself. For what does he say? "I speak the truth in Christ. I'm not lying. My conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit. I have great sorrow, an unceasing anguish in my heart for I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people." That's what he says.
And therefore, as we look into this text, we're looking right into the heart of the apostle. We're looking into a pool of tears that he wept for his own people. We're looking into his heart of compassion for the lost and for the needy. And as I look in there and I find it to be somewhat of a mirror, I find myself coming up short. I find that I don't care like I should about the perishing around me.
And so I at least would like to be transformed by the scripture today. I'd like to be moved in my heart. I like to care more about people that are around me that are lost and dying. I'd like to care more about those on the other side of the world that are lost and dying. I want it to move me emotionally the way it moved Jesus. I want it to matter to me that the waitress serving me iced tea doesn't know Jesus. I want that to matter to me. And I think that the Word of God has transforming power. Under the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it can change a hard, cold uncaring heart to one that is genuinely conformed to His image. He who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness, that's our God. And if we're not like him, then we need to be transformed and thanks be to God, that that's the very work he's doing in us. That when we are done, we will be conformed to the image of Christ totally and perfectly in every way.
Paul’s Intensely Fervent Nationalism
Now, as we look in this text, we find ourselves moved by Paul as he opens himself up and bears his soul for all to see. He speaks very personally and very emotionally. And he's crying from the depths of his heart for the law, specifically those of his own people, his kinsmen the Jews who are rejecting Christ. And that's very poignant.
You see, Paul had naturally an intensely fervent nationalism. He was a Jew, and it meant everything to him, before he knew Christ. It meant everything to him to be a Jew. Now, they were living in a time when Jew-Gentile relations were at an all time low in terms of the strain and strife between them. The Jews were tired of Roman domination of the promised land. They would love to have seen the Romans evicted, but there seemed to be no end to that domination. Indeed there wouldn't be for centuries. They were weary of seeing the Romans plunder the best they had and threatened their people with imprisonment for no reason it seemed, or even with death. And events like this forge, or can forge a deep seated resentment in the heart of nationalistic people like the Jews. Now, we know from scripture, Paul was very proud of his heritage as a Jewish man.
If you look in Galatians, chapter 1, he says, "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism, beyond many Jews of my own age, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." What does that mean, "extremely zealous" except that he was proud of his Jewish ancestry? He brags about it to some degree, in one way. In Philippians 3, you remember, when he talks about that, he says, "if anyone thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more. Circumcised on the eighth day, the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in regard to the law of Pharisee as for zeal, persecuting the church as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." That's his pride there, that Jewish nationalistic pride coming out.
Even here in our section, if you look at Romans 11:1, he identifies himself directly with the Jews. He asked the question, "I asked then did God reject His people by no means," and then he says, "I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin." You see how he identifies himself. "Even now, I am a Jew. I am a physical descendant of Abraham." Now, we know that Paul was originally adamantly against the Gospel and probably therefore, almost certainly a hater of all things Gentile. Probably like the most zealous of the zealots, that was the Apostle Paul. I think he just specifically despised the message of Stephen who saw the significance of Jesus' death and resurrection as an end to the Old Testament sacrificial system and an end to the temple worship and possibly even an end to the Jew-Gentile distinction period, which all of it was true. And it could be that God gave Stephen an incredible anointing to preach that message and it was a message that I believe Saul of Tarsus despised. And so he was willing to say, "I was there holding the garments of and giving of those that killed Stephen and giving approval to those who put Him to death." That was where he started, but then everything changed.
On the road to Damascus, everything changed. Acts 9 tells a story as he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from Heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "'Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute Me?' 'Who are you, Lord,' Saul asked. 'I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up, and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do.'"
Converted Man and Apostle to the Gentiles
Paul was given eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, all of his sins forgiven, but he was also given more than that. He was given a life work. He was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. Ananias, the one who went and baptized Saul, was the first who understood this. He didn't want to go be near this persecutor. He was afraid that he was going to get arrested, and killed. But the Lord told him. He said, "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
Those were his marching orders. He was going to carry the name of Christ before the Gentiles and their kings, including Caesar, and he was going to suffer greatly to do that. He was also going to be called to carry the name of Christ before His own people, the Jews as well. These marching orders were greatly clarified as time went on in Galatians 2:9. There he's talking about the whole circumcision controversy and did the Gentile converts have to be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses. And so Paul was dealing well with that, and he talks about James and Peter and John. He says, "Those reputed to be pillars gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the Jews."
So Paul's calling was as the apostle to the Gentiles. He's going to go and minister to the Gentiles. This is an incredible thing. This is an amazing thing. Paul seems specially trained and designed to be an apostle to the Jews. Thoroughly trained in the law under Gamaliel, just as zealous for the law, as any of those had ever been, able to argue with the best of them from Old Testament text. He seems especially designed to go to the Jews, but instead God called on him to go to the Gentiles. How strange are God's ways? How much are His ways different from ours than the heavens are higher than the Earth? God's plans are not our plans. His thoughts are not our thoughts. And so he chose this Jew of all Jews, this Hebrew of Hebrews to go and be the apostle to the Gentiles. And so he went.
In Romans 11:13, he calls himself, "the apostle to the Gentiles." Now Paul's call to preach to the Gentiles so that they would be saved was intensely opposed by his countrymen. They hated it, they despised that call. Probably the clearest evidence of this... There's lots of different evidences but the clearest is in Acts 22 when Paul is arrested because they thought that he was bringing an uncircumcised Gentile right into the temple. Absolutely forbidden and so they arrest him. There's going to be a huge riot and the Romans have got to send in the police and grab him and get him out of there before they tear him to pieces. And Paul, to him, a crowd is only for one thing, preaching the Gospel. That's what he's there to do. So, he sees a crowd. They all want to kill him. He's like, preaching opportunity. This is a mission chance. And so he says, "Can I speak to the people?" And so he said, "Certainly." And so he begins to speak to them in Aramaic and Luke records in Acts 22. When they heard that he was speaking Aramaic, they all got quiet and listened. You know the mother tongue. He's speaking that nationalistic mother tongue. He's speaking to us in our heart language.
And so he begins to go through his whole Damascus road experience, the blinding light, and resurrected Christ. They don't say a word. They're just listening. They were really into what he's saying until he said one thing. He's reporting that the Lord said to him, "Go. I will send you far away to the Gentiles." Oh my. Circle that word. At that moment, it just says, "The crowd listened to him until he said this, then they raised their voices, and shouted rid the earth of him, he's not fit to live." They hated the Gentiles and the very idea that God would call on him to go to the Gentiles and proclaim salvation, forgiveness of sins through simple faith in Christ was abhorrent to them. They were very angry about it.
Now what was Paul's evangelistic experience? As he went from place to place, everywhere that he went, he preached the Gospel. His methodology was always the same. He would go to a community. The Jews had been spread in the diaspora, the spreading of the Jews all over the Mediterranean area, and wherever they went, they set up synagogues. And so, therefore, Paul came along centuries later, and just would come and the first thing he would do is he would go and preach in the synagogue.
You know what he said? He said, "To the Jew first and also to the Gentile." So that was even his missionary strategy. He would go to a synagogue and he would go in there and on the Sabbath day, he would reason with the Jews from the Scriptures proving that Jesus was the Christ. He would use prophecies. He would use reasonings. He would talk to them. They would listen. They would reject. They would get a little aggressive. He would go to the Gentiles, they would accept. Hundreds of them would be saved and then the Jews would violently oppose and plot to murder him and chase him and hunt him down. It went that way, every place. How would you like that to be your ministry? But that's exactly what it was like for Paul.
Acts 13 talks about it. It says, "When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly. ‘We had to speak the Word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us. 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.' When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the Word of the Lord, and all who are appointed for eternal life, believed." We'll get to that later in Romans Nine, but that's exactly what happened. The strategy, they turned to the Gentiles and the Gentiles believed in large numbers.
Again, you see the same thing in Acts 18. Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. Again, to the Jew first. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "'Your blood beyond your own heads. I am clear of my responsibility. From now on, I will go to the Gentiles.' Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and was baptized."
So the pattern's clear. You go to the synagogue. You preach. You unfold the Scriptures. You talk about the law and the prophets. You prove Christ. They oppose. They basically throw you out. You go to the Gentiles. They come in in huge numbers, then the Jews try to kill you. That's how it goes in every town. That was his ministry.
The Book of Acts ends on this exact same note. Acts 28:23-28, "the leaders of the Jews in Rome arranged to meet Paul on a certain day and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening, he explained and declared to them the Kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the law of Moses and the prophets." That's a challenge by the way, brothers and sisters. Could you do that from morning till evening, from the Law of Moses and the prophets? Oh, there's enough there, there's enough there. But there he was unfolding the Scriptures to the Jews.
Paul’s Spiritual Understanding: Jewish Rejection of Christ
Some were convinced by what he said. God always has his remnant. So some of the Jews believed but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement. "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers, when he said through Isaiah, the prophet, go to this people and say you'll be ever-hearing but never understanding. You'll be ever-seeing, but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become callous. They hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and I would heal them. Therefore, I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles and they will listen." That's how The Book of Acts ends. The theme is clear, Jewish rejection of the Gospel, Gentile acceptance and Jewish hatred and opposition as a result.
This didn't start with Paul. It started with Jesus. We don't have to go into great detail on this, but Jesus described this exact thing in the parable of the tenants and the vineyard. In Matthew 21, He said, "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a wine-press in it and built a watch tower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants. They beat one, killed another and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants, so then more than the first time and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son. 'They will respect my son,' he said. But when they saw the son they said, 'Look, here is the heir. Come let's kill him and take his inheritance.' So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of that vineyard comes, what will he to do those tenants?" The Pharisees, who are listening to him, answered, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time." Jesus said to them, "Have you never read the Scriptures? 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.' Therefore I tell you that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls in the stone will be broken to pieces, but the one on whom it falls will be crushed." Now, he said that the Kingdom of God is going to be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. We see that in Paul's ministry, don't we? He said, "I'm going to turn to the Gentiles and they will listen and they will be fruitful."
This is the exact same thing that's written about in John 1, speaking of Jesus, "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet as many as received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. Children born not of the will of flesh, or the will of blood or the will of man, but of God." Children born of God.
The exact same thing. This was not a localized experience for Paul, wasn't just Paul. "Paul, if you would just change your methodology, if you'll come on a little sweeter, if you could just understand the Jews better", it was nothing like that. This was a spiritual phenomenon, this was happening to the Jewish nation as a whole. The Jewish nation was rejecting Christ. They weren't just rejecting Christ, they were hating him. They were despising and rejecting Him as Isaiah said they would. And Paul, remembering his days as a blasphemer and a persecutor, and a violent man, had compassion on those who were persecuting him. He said that, "I was like you, I was just like you." And so, he had compassion on those who were persecuting him.
The Cause of the Anguish: The Eternal Consequences of Jewish Unbelief
And so therefore, what is the cause of Paul's anguish? Well, it's the eternal consequence of Jewish unbelief. This was not an idle issue, this is not one of trifling theological insignificance. This was not a matter of haggling over dietary rules, or bickering over a genealogy. This was right at the core and center of their being, of their future. Would they spend eternity in heaven or in hell? That's how vital this was. It was the consequences of Jewish unbelief that was hanging in the balance here. Just like John the Baptist had said of Jesus, in Matthew 3:12. He said, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering up the weeds into the barn but burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." And it's just as Jesus had said to the Scribes and Pharisees, "You snakes, you brood of vipers, how long will you escape being condemned to hell?" Paul's own countrymen, therefore, were cursed and cut off from Christ. That's the language he used. He puts it on himself, but that's the issue, that is the problem. Notice that Paul doesn't say this directly, he turns it around on himself. But that's the problem. It was true, they were rejecting the Gospel. And if they persisted in unbelief, they would be condemned to eternity in hell. That's the cause of Paul's anguish.
II. The Depth of Paul’s Anguish
What is the depth of his anguish? Look at verses 2-4. He says there, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 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, the people of Israel." These are overpowering emotions. The language is very strong here. "I have great sorrow. I have unceasing anguish in my heart." Powerful emotions.
And then he has an astonishing desire. He says, "I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ." This is incredible. This is an apostle speaking like this. Perhaps, by now, he's already been caught up to the third heaven, and he's caught a glimpse of the future glory of Christ. He says, "I know a man in Christ, whether in the body or out of the body, I don't know, God knows. He was caught up to third Heaven and He saw inexpressible things. Things that man is not permitted to talk about." And Jesus says in John 17, 24, "Father, I want those whom you have given me, to be with me, where I am, and to see my glory, the glory I had with you before the creation of the world." Paul says "I'd give it up. I would give it up. I would be willing to be cut off from Christ, to not see him again. I saw his glory in the road to Damascus, I saw his glory in the third heaven. But I'm willing to never see it again, that which is the desire, the heartbeat of my soul, I'm willing to never see it again, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain, but I'm willing to not have that gain".
"I could wish that I'd be cut off from Christ. I could wish that I would be accursed." Do you know what that means? Sent to hell. To languish in hell and the lake of fire, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth in eternal darkness. I could wish that on myself, if it would mean the salvation of my countrymen, those of my own race, the people of Israel. He's willing to trade it all. This is astonishing. He's willing to hear said into his ears concerning himself, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. I'm willing to have that happen to me". He's speaking about his eternal soul, of which Jesus said, "What good would it be for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul, or what could a man give in exchange for his soul?" He's willing to exchange his soul for that of his Jewish brothers and sisters, his kinsmen, that they would be saved. This is astonishing. It's an amazing desire on Paul's part. It's also an impossible desire. It cannot be. Notice what he says. "I could wish that". Every translation has it the same way. It's a good translation, because it's not possible, it's not possible.
He just got done saying in Romans 8, look at verses 38. "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 in Christ Jesus." So I can't, I can't do it. I could wish it, but it's impossible, because nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ. I can't be cursed and cut off from Christ. Jesus said in John 6, this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none, of all that He has given me, but raise him up at the last day, for my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Paul was going to be raised up by Jesus, is going to be raised up by Jesus, at the Last Day. It's impossible, I could wish. This can never be. Remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus? The rich man is down there, languishing in hell, Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham. and the rich man wants Lazarus to come and cool his tongue and Abraham says, it can't be, and he says, "besides all this, between us and you, a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can any one cross over from there to us."
Well, I think there's just as great a chasm in this matter too, Paul cannot trade his soul for that of the Jews, the Jewish nation. John Piper put it this way,
"God has not designed a world where a person can be damned because of Christ exalting love. If there were such a world, then the Biblical standards of the world that exists would not apply. And Paul stands ready to take Israel's place in hell, but he can't. God does not send people to hell because they love others enough to sacrifice for them. So Paul cannot take the place of Israel, he can only grieve."
It's very much like what Moses said after the incident with the golden calf, he basically says "Lord, now blot me out of your book on their behalf." And God said, "Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book." Neither Moses nor Paul can offer themselves up as a substitute for the sins of the people. But do you see how Christ-like this desire is? How Christ-like Paul is here? For frankly, this is exactly what Jesus did, it's not just that he could wish to be cursed and cut off from the Father on the cross, he was. Isn't that incredible?
Jesus drank the cup of our wrath on the cross, he was the propitiation, the atoning sacrifice, he was cursed and cut off from the Father, for those of his own people, for his sheep, he died for them. He drank the cup of our wrath. But Paul is not the substitute, is he? He's not the Savior, he cannot do this, he's just expressing an incredibly Christ-like desire. Let me just stop for a moment and say, "Is this your desire too? Are you like this?" You know, one of the things that Jesus does when we're saved, is he makes us like Him. He transforms us so that we're like him. And it's just a good time to assess yourself. Say, would I be willing? Could I? Could I even make the statement? I could wish. Do you wish it? Even though you know it's impossible. Or less than that, would you be willing to just put up with some abuse to lead someone to Christ? Not that you'd have to go to hell, but that you would just kind of get abused for a while, while they sort it out and think whether they want to follow Jesus. Are you willing to put up with that? Paul gives a sense of the authenticity of his anguish in verse one. Cause of his anguish is the eternal consequence of Jewish unbelief. The depth of his anguish, he's expressed in incredible terms.
III. The Authenticity of Paul’s Anguish
What about the authenticity? Is it authentic? Is he just using rhetoric here? Are these just words? Just preacher talk. I hate using preacher talk. "Oh, that's just a preacher story." Well, how then can you know if a preacher ever says anything true? I try never to use preacher stories in that sense. This is not just preacher talk for Paul. How do you know? Look what he says in verse one: "I speak the truth in Christ. I'm not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit." It's a piling on of words so that you will know how seriously he means what he's about to say. Repeated statements, like he's taking a solemn vow. He says, "I speak the truth in Christ…" His status as a Christian is on the line here. "I am in Christ and while in Christ, I'm telling you this, and my words are true, I'm not lying, this is how I genuinely feel".
"My conscience... " You know, that part of us that screams at us when we do something wrong, "my conscience is testifying, but not just by itself. Now I'm redeemed and my conscience is testifying in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart." Why does he lay on these phrases? Well, first of all, because all men are liars. Psalm one, 16-11 says that we're liars, we say things that aren't true, we exaggerate. It's just our nature, we talk and we lie. Secondly, because what Paul is saying is so unbelievable. In what sense is it unbelievable? Well how would you feel about a group of people that had basically taken an oath not to eat until you were dead? There were some Jews who did, they took an oath that they would not eat until Paul was dead. In that God ordained that Paul would live for a number of years later, that's an incredible diet right there. They were not going to be able to kill him, God rescued Paul because he must stand trial before Caesar. But that's how much they hated him, and he knew it. How would you feel toward people that picked up stones and threw them at your head, and would do it again if they had another chance? Disappointed to find that you got up out of the pile of rocks and continued preaching.
How would you feel about people like that? Would you not want at least to never have anything to do with them again? Paul wants to spend eternity in Heaven with them, he wants to live with them forever in Heaven. That's a supernatural attitude. How do we get to love our enemies that much? And what could prove this kind of heart attitude? If Paul had some tears running down his cheeks, would you believe it? No, those could be faked. How about if he had a certain facial expression, a kind of a quivery voice? There's some great actors out there. He says, it's got nothing to do with the tears and has nothing to do with the quivery voice, and it's not an act. I'm telling you the truth. If I could, I'd switch places. That's an incredible statement. Can I tell you that I think that this kind of genuine compassion for the lost is a rare thing? It's a supernatural work of God in your heart, and in... Something that God had worked in Paul.
IV. The Fruit of Paul’s Anguish
What is the fruit of his anguish? Well, he doesn't just leave it at feeling anguish. Look at verse one of chapter 10. Romans 10:1, he says, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved."
You know, emotion alone doesn't accomplish anything. To just feel feelings doesn't mean anything. Paul's tears in his anguish cannot save a single soul. It's not enough for Paul merely to be in intense anguish over the spiritual state of the Jews. It had to flow out into some fruit, some action, and it did. First, I think, manifesting a heart desire for their salvation, his deepest heart desire is for the salvation of the Jews, he yearns for it, it's what he wants with every breath and how beautiful and how perfect is this. Instead of harboring bitter, revengeful thoughts, in which he'd like their destruction. Rather, he wants to spend eternity with them. He wants to see them transformed and saved. That's the fruit, it's a heart desire first, and then flowing from that comes prevailing, fervent prayer for the Jews, brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
Never let anyone tell you for a moment that we are not commanded to pray for the lost. Romans 10:1 refutes that forever, we are to pray for lost people, we are to pray for lost relatives, pray for lost coworkers, to pray for lost people around us, even if we don't know their name. Pray right at that moment for this lost person here who's serving you or cutting your hair, or you might have a chance to talk to. We can pray to God for the lost, and Paul prays for the Israelites that they may be saved. And never let anyone tell you for a moment that God's eternal decrees in salvation, his predestination, His election, (which doctrines Paul will go through in great detail in Romans 9, and which he holds to be absolutely true) cut off energetic effort on our parts. He who believed more about predestination, election, than any of us in this room, prayed more and evangelized more than anyone.
They are not mutually exclusive. And so here he is, pouring out his prayer, his heart. He’s not saying, "God, I know you've already got it sorted out. So what's the point in praying?" He didn't say that at all. He is praying fervently for the salvation of the Jews, almost certainly by name, some that perhaps had been in his face in the last city, praying for them, that they might be saved. And so prevailing, fervent prayer for the Jews. And tireless evangelistic labor for the Jews. In every city, he is willing to put up with imprisonment and suffering and yes, even death, for the salvation of the elect. This is exactly what he says in Second Timothy, 2:10. "Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." I'm willing to put up with incredible abuse, city after city, that they may be saved. And among those elect are some Jews. Like for example, Crispus, the synagogue ruler in Acts 18. He was a Jew, and he got saved. Paul was a Jew. There are a lot of Jewish people who become Christians, and Paul is going to maintain to the Jew first and then to the Gentile, and so he's going to pay fervently for them, and he is going to evangelize tirelessly. That is the fruit of his anguish.
V. The Significance of Paul’s Anguish
What is the significance of Paul's anguish? Well, first the status of unbelieving Jews. And I'm not going to develop this, this week. We're going to talk much more about it next week when we talk about the Jews inadequate spiritual blessings that he lists here. But simply put, unbelieving Jews are lost and need the gospel. They're not okay. They're not fine as they are, they need the gospel, they need Jesus Christ. If they don't believe in Christ crucified, they will be lost. If that is not true then what is all this anguish for?
Secondly, then let's extend it out. Look at the status of all unbelieving people. Paul's particular grief for the Jews here should be extended to all people everywhere. If the Jews, with their spiritual advantages are lost without Christ, how much more the countless millions of people, in let's say, unreached areas of the world, who don't even have these advantages, they're in now a much more spiritual situation. Should not or would not Paul grieve just as much over them? Yes he would. And shouldn't we? Thirdly, there is the terrors of hell. I've already described it to you, biblically. The driving force of Paul's agony and anguish is the irrefutable biblical fact that the majority of humanity will spend eternity separated from God in torture.
That is a biblical fact. We can try to mess with it, we can try to change the words of God, we can do all those things, but let me tell you something. If you mess with it too much, you don't need a savior anymore, after a while. You don't need Jesus, or you become universalist and say that his death saved everyone, and we don't believe that either, so we're left with this: The doctrine of hell that Jesus taught, it is true, and that's why he felt unceasing sorrow and anguish in his heart. Because hell is real, it's not a metaphor, it's a genuine threat. Revelation 14, it says "…he too, will drink the wine of God's fury [the lost person] which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the lamb, and the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever, there is no rest day or night." That is biblically accurate, that is the threat we're facing. Jesus himself said, "If your right eye caused you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It's better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes, be thrown into the fire of hell." That's what Jesus said. That is the significance of Paul's grief, here.
We see also the display of an evangelist heart. Paul's deep, heartfelt agony is a role model for the evangelistic compassion of all Christians. Paul shows us what we should feel about the lost, just as Jesus did when He stood over the city of Jerusalem, and wept over it. Wept over it. He said this, as he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day, what would bring you peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes." And he wept. That's Jesus. And that's Paul. More next week on the fifth, understanding the limits of Old Covenant blessing. I'll talk more about that next week, but simply put, the old covenant blessings that are listed here in Romans Nine, four and five, insufficient for salvation, it's not enough. There must be more.
Understand sixly, the power of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ alone has the power to turn Paul's wailing into dancing, it's the only power there is. The power of Jesus Christ in the gospel. It can save lost people. You know, I'm not speaking just theoretically. In a crowd this size, a group this size, undoubtedly, there are people listening to me who are not born again. And all of the danger that I spoke, the spiritual danger concerning the unbelieving Jews, it's true of you, in your unbelieving state. It's a dangerous state to be in, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ has power to save you. If you'll only believe in Christ, if you'll trust that His death on the cross is sufficient to pay for your sin, if you'll trust that His resurrection is your resurrection, God will give you eternal life. A mystery, you know, it's possible to rejoice in God greatly, while sorrowing over the lost greatly. Don't you find it remarkable that he goes from Romans 8, the soaring heights, "Nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us, and the love of God that's in Christ Jesus…" Amen and Hallelujah. "I speak the truth in Christ. I am not lying, my conscience confirms I have great sorrow... " How can you go from the heights to the depths in about seven words? But that's what he does.
And here's how it works. When we look up to Heaven spiritually, and see a sovereign God sitting on his throne, filled with goodness, and light and power, we are filled with unspeakable joy, full of glory. But when we look at the Earth and look around and see the ravages and the devastation that sin has brought, we should be filled with unspeakable horror and sadness and sorrow. Can you do both? Can we live both? Paul does here, he says in 2 Corinthians 6:10, as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. How do you do that? Sorrowful yet always rejoicing? Can we be a church like that? First Baptist Church? Can we be the church that sorrows over lostness, and always rejoices over the God who has the power to save out of it? Can we not do both? Sorrowful yet always rejoicing?
And then finally, it is possible to believe in God's sovereignty, I mean His absolute sovereignty over all things, while sorrowing greatly over the lost. They're not mutually exclusive. Can... Just check your rationality at the door, and come into the scripture here, and say "Apparently it is possible." I know you don't know how it can fit together, how we can believe in a God who sovereignly chooses and hardens and has mercy if he wants to, and all that, and still grieve greatly over the lost. Yeah, it can be done. Now you may ask a question. Okay, if we're supposed to be sorrowing greatly over people who may be lost, I mean may be lost. Someday, in the future they may come to Christ, but we're supposed to sorrow greatly over people who may be lost. Will we not then actually sorrow more and eternally over people who actually are lost and now we know them? In other words, how can we enjoy heaven?
Have you ever wondered that? Are we not supposed to be sorrowing and grieving over people we knew in life, who now we know that didn't make it? Do you wonder that? Well, first of all, I know it's not possible, because it says in Revelation 21, "There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." How is that possible? I don't know, except that a vision of the glory of God will so swallow up any earthly concern and any earthly connections, that it will be sufficient. Jonathan Edwards put it this way, "With respect to any affection that the Godly have had to finally reprobate, the love of God will wholly swallow it up and cause it wholly to cease". So it's not going to be a kind of hell in heaven that forever we're weeping over lost ones, but our love for God will cause it wholly to cease. John Piper put it this way, "Those who die in their sinful rebellion, we say it with tears now, will not have the power to hold heaven hostage with their own misery. Here we groan and weep, there we are consumed with the glory of Christ".
Now, what application do we take from this? Well, Charles Spurgeon powerfully put it this way, "From all our congregations, a bitter cry should go up to God, unless conversions are continually seen. Can we be barren, and yet, content? If sinners will perish, then let them perish with our arms above their knees." It's been a while since we baptized anyone, folks. It's been a while. I take that personally, and I take it seriously. So should you. It's been a while. Has it been a while since you've witnessed anybody? Has it been a while since you've been willing to pay the price of someone's rejection of the Gospel? Are your arms metaphorically around someone's knees as it seems they're determined to go to hell? Are you doing what you can so that they would not? Are you willing to be kind of embarrassingly persuasive? Are you willing even to cry in their presence?
Do you have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in your heart? Is that a description of you? I mean, when you read about gay rights activists or terrorist cells, or even... I mean, the people, some of the people are hardest to love. Do you have sorrow over their spiritual state and want them to be converted? Do you pray for them? And my question is, if not, if not, how do you get it, how do you get it? Can I urge you to pray that God would change your hard heart? Acknowledge that it's a hardness of heart and mine too, pray for me too, that our hardness together would change and we would be soft in our hearts and care and be readily hurt by lostness? Can I urge you to load up your mind and imagination with biblical truths? Think of what it will be like on judgment day. Think of what it will be like when He says to people who are shocked, thinking they were okay. Depart from me, you who are cursed. Think of what that will be like. Load up your mind and your imagination with truth, biblical truth, think about it, and see if your heart doesn't start to melt. But even better, even better. It's really hard to be compassionate in the abstract.
Get involved in evangelistic ministry, as Paul was. And then you'll start to see actual faces and names of people who are rejecting, and then you can start to weep over them. In a few minutes or a few moments, we're going to have an opportunity to commission an urban ministry team with CEF. They're going into an urban elementary school and they are going to have the opportunity to reach out with the Gospel to some kids who are not hearing the Gospel. That's wonderful, isn't it? You may want to get involved in that ministry. There's lots of work to be done. Or if that aspect of ministry is not yours, look at the short term mission trips, or look at some other aspect of evangelistic ministry, but get involved. Be like Paul. Unceasing prayer, tireless evangelism. That's how we grow in our compassion for the lost.