The Jews

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them.”
Romans 9:1-3 NLT

After the dizzy heights of Romans 8, Paul turns a page in his writings, and thinks about his fellow Jews. Paul was of course, by his own admission, a Jew. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:5, “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law”. Not only was Paul a Jew, he was a particularly fanatical adherent to Jewish customs. But his meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9) turned his life around to the extent that, referring to his Jewish heritage and way of life, he wrote in Philippians 3:7, “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done”. The Bible version quoted for this verse (NLT) uses the word “worthless” but the Greek word for this was rather vulgar and consequently avoided by the translators. Paul had turned his back on his Jewish roots. But that didn’t stop him grieving for the rest of his race, his people, his Jewish brothers and sisters. Paul had discovered salvation through Jesus, and was in a state of “bitter sorrow and unending grief” because most of his countrymen hadn’t. In Acts 13:47, we read, “Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles”. Paul tried to get the Jews he met to accept the “word of God” but he was rejected and turned to the Gentiles instead. But that didn’t stop his feelings of intense regret.

Why was Paul apparently so hung up over the obstinacy and outright rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, by his fellow Jews? Why would he rather be “cut off from Christ”  if the Jews would accept salvation? Because he knew that, regardless of their behaviour, the Jews were, and are, God’s chosen people. This has been, and still is, a problem for many Christians because they believe that because the Jews have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, that have relinquished their right to be God’s chosen people any more. But we perhaps forget that the very Messiah, Jesus Himself, was a Jew. Born of Jewish parents, with, as we find in Matthew 1, lineage that could be traced all the way back to Abraham. Following an extensive list of unpronounceable names, we read in Matthew 1:17, “All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah”. I love the order in the three sets of fourteen – the symmetry and multiples of the use of the God-number, “7”, to me just puts God’s fingerprints all over the plan for the Messiah’s first coming to Planet Earth.

Christians have quoted the verse, Matthew 21:43, to justify their claim to replace the Jews as God’s chosen people. We read, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit”. But there are two problems in drawing this conclusion. Firstly, Jesus didn’t say that the Jews will not be God’s chosen people anymore. He implied that at that particular time in history, the Kingdom of God was not available to them because of their choices. Secondly, Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders who happened to be in His presence. We read in Matthew 21:23,45, “When Jesus returned to the Temple and began teaching, the leading priests and elders came up to him. They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right? … When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realised he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers”. As we read in Matthew 21:46, the ordinary people, the “crowds”, had a very different opinion of Jesus, “They [the religious leaders] wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet”. 

Paul desperately wanted His people, the Jews, to be saved. His zeal carried him through many challenges and difficulties during his missionary journeys. Everywhere he went he met fellow Jews, the diaspora living throughout the Middle East at that time. On occasion they listened to his message and put their faith in Jesus. But on others they abused Paul badly. He never lost his love for his people. But what about us pilgrims? Do we have the same zeal and longing to see our fellow countrymen saved? Do we share Paul’s “bitter sorrow and unending grief” for our neighbours and friends? I know that they have to be free to make their own choices but we must share the love of God with them. What else can we do?

Dear God. We pray for our families and friends, that a new awakening by Your Spirit would draw them out of their spiritual slumber into the light of Your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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