Romans Lesson 102 - Leaving a Suitcase in Israel
The Apostle Paul invested himself in every city and every church and every person he came across because he realized that people are eternal. Will you do the same?
Leaving a Suitcase in Israel
It gives me great joy to invite you to take your Bible and turn to the Book of Romans.
I received an email from a radio listener living in Germany, 2 or 3 days ago. It began, “Dear Stephan (his spelling, which is how they would pronounce it over there), It means a lot to me to know people who have a personal relationship with Christ and are called to proclaim His Good news. He went on to say, “Here in Germany we have a saying – quote, ‘I left a suitcase in Berlin.’” He explained, “It means that you have kept some sort of tie to that city or to the people who are living there, even though you have moved away.”
The note went on to explain that while he had moved away from his home town, he still had a suitcase there . . . meaning his heart was still, in some way, back with his family . . . his people . . . his roots.
I like that expression. Most, if not all of us, can identify with that expression.
You have suitcases like these, don’t you? They’re in special places where you once lived or worked. They’re dotted around the countryside where you still have emotional ties.
Maybe it’s the farm where you were raised; the school were you began your first teaching assignment; that apartment where you lived when you were first married; the church where you heard the gospel.
A couple came into the visitor’s reception last week, explaining that they’d just come from another state – the couple talked about their home church with glowing faces – how they loved their church and were so involved – then tears came to her eyes as she, all over again, realized what they had left. I patted her on the arm and said, “It’s okay to grieve like that. My wife and I left a little church like that in Detroit, Michigan – the average age was 65 and the total attendance was about the same on a Sunday morning . . . I served there while in seminary; they ordained me into the ministry and let me preach once a month. They adopted us both and loved us – we will never forget that congregation,” I said. “It’s okay to grieve.”
You’re here today, but you have suitcases in other places.
Tomorrow morning, my wife and I are going to head north to college with our twin sons – pulling a U-Haul trailer stacked with boxes and clothes. We’re gonna deliver them to that hillside campus in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.
Talk about emotional ties . . . talk about family!
We’re gonna leave a suitcase there, right? In fact, we’re gonna leave our checkbook, home equity, spare jewelry . . .
We’re gonna leave a lot there!
“I left a suitcase in Berlin” . . . what a great expression.
Throughout his entire ministry, from watching his movement around the Mediterranean world; from reading his letters filled with emotion and longing, it is obvious that the Apostle Paul had left a suitcase in Israel.
Even though he traveled the world and would eventually die a martyr’s death in Italy, his heart was never far away from his heritage – his roots – his native people.
Paul had left a suitcase in Israel!
That couldn’t be any clearer than in Romans chapter 10 verse 1.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
What I want to do this morning is simply unpack Paul’s suitcase
and bring out into the open three characteristics that made him so capable as a representative of Christ.
Frankly, the first several times I read this paragraph, I missed it as I hurried on to verse 2.
But, let’s stop and unpack this together . . . and discover why Paul was so effective . . . so winsome . . . so endearing and, at the same time, so infuriating to the Jewish people whom he dearly loved.
The first quality of character we unpack is:
1) An inward passion-let me add-that explained his resilience
Paul writes in verse 1 – This is my heart’s desire. Later on in the verse he tells us, his heart’s desire is that the Jewish people come to faith in Christ.
This is my desire – eudokia – this is my passion – my desire – my pleasure – my satisfaction, the word could be translated.
In other words, Paul is saying, “I would find nothing in the world more satisfying than to see my fellow Jews come to Jesus Christ.”
Which is absolutely remarkable when you consider what Paul has received from the hand of his fellow Jew.
Stoned, beaten, forsaken, humiliated, ridiculed, hated, hunted, shunned, scorned . . . you name it!
By now Paul should be carrying a grudge a mile wide; by now he should be praying something like, “Lord, whatever Israel has coming to her, it’s her own fault, let her have it!”
Yet, two things are missing as you unpack Paul’s suitcase – deep resentment and desire for revenge; surely they would be in here somewhere.
He was a man once greatly honored. His family wealthy enough to send him to Jerusalem to be taught the law at the feet of Gamalliel; he grew up to become a special prosecutor for the Supreme Court of Israel, entrusted with the protection of Judaism from Christianity.
But now, without any connections, without any personal fortune, in fact, so poor, he must finance his trips abroad by making tents, he has mortgaged everything he owns and everything he is for his great pleasure – to see unbelievers surrender to the claims of Christ and worship Him as the true and living Lord.
You know anybody who’s driven with an inner passion?
Did you watch the Tour de France? There’s something on the inside of Lance Armstrong that makes him want to ride a bike faster than anybody else in the world. The reason none of us are in the Tour de France is not because we don’t own a good bicycle . . . or a pair of spandex shorts.
Which is a very good thing.
We don’t have that inner passion.
Do you know someone who is driven?
That kind of drive that causes a man to risk everything is and has to start a business; that inner passion that moves a woman to enter the jaws of death to deliver a baby. And then want another one. Did you forget?
There’s something on the inside that creates that kind of perseverance.
The Apostle Paul had this inward passion that created a special kind of resilience.
Listen to this incident that occurred after Paul had preached in Lystra:
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. (In other words, they drag him out of the city. stone him til’ he’s dead, they believe; Paul is miraculously healed, he gets up and goes where? Back into Lystra. That would have been all I needed to say, “Well men, it’s obvious the Lord wants us in another town!” The record continues: “The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith (Acts 14:19-22a)
Who better to encourage Christians to continue in the faith than one who is continuing in the faith?!
Paul’s inward passion explained his resilience.
Let’s unpack a second characteristic that made Paul so effective as the Lord’s ambassador.
2) An upward pleading that expressed his confidence
Paul not only had an inward passion that explained his resilience, but an upward pleading that expressed his confidence.
Notice, “brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them. . . .”
The antecedent to “them” is back in chapter 9 verse 31. But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Becuase they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.”
That is, Israel stumbled over Christ, the corner stone.
Which leads you to wonder why Paul would pray for them. I mean, after all we learned about in chapter 9 – about God’s sovereign election and Israel’s unbelief, why pray?
In other words, if we believe God is sovereign, and we do, well then, why pray at all for unbelievers?
First of all, the only kind of God worth praying to is a God who is sovereign. Prayer to any other kind of god is useless, because that god can’t really do anything about it.
Listen, the only kind of God who can answer prayer is a sovereign God!
Alva J. McClain, Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace (BMH Books, Winona Lake, IN; 1973) p. 186
And we intuitively know that if God is God, He is sovereign.
Even the liberal theologian, when driven to his knees will pray that God heal his child from certain death. Why? Because he knows that the God worth praying to is sovereign over disease and even death.
Even unbelievers prayed recently, please Lord allow the hurricane to not come near us. Why? Because they intuitively know that the one true and living God is sovereign over nature.
And so we pray to God for the souls of unbelievers because we know God is sovereign over the affairs of mankind.
Secondly, we pray for unbelievers not only because we know God is sovereign, we pray because we know God is the one who saves.
For those in here who are sharing their faith with unbelievers, this is incredibly reassuring.
God is the One who does the work.
We do the planting and the watering, but God gives the increase. (I Corinthians 3:6)
Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
God alone does the drawing . . . God alone opens the eyes of the blind, whose minds have been blinded by the god of this world.
(2 Corinthians 4:4)
Be prepared? Yes. But don’t wait until you have all the answers – you don’t have to fear missing a point . . . messing up an answer.
Paul is not praying for perfect answers . . . he is praying to God who is the answer.
And he is praying that God will save his kinsmen in the flesh.
The word for praying in verse one, is a strong Greek word – deesis – which is often translated, to beg.
In Luke chapter 5, a leper saw Jesus and he fell on his face and begged Him saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And the Lord said . . . I am willing, be cleansed.”
Later in Luke chapter 9, the father of a desperately ill little boy comes to Jesus and the text says, he “shouted out, saying, “Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only boy.”
There is a sense of desperation in this word.
Paul is begging God on behalf of the unbeliever.
Why? Because He knows only God is sovereign and only God can save.
So why pray?
Third, we pray because our sovereign, saving Lord has chosen
to use us in His plan of salvation.
That’s the message of Romans chapter 10.
Look at verse 13. Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
God has ordained the ends, but God has also ordained the means.
And we are His means to an unbeliever’s saving end.
Nowhere does the scripture gives us the responsibility to figure out whom God has chosen . . . but He has given us the responsibility to preach and teach and testify and pray and exhort and plead with unbelievers, proclaiming the saving gospel to every person who will hear it, praying, pleading, begging God to save them.
And when He does, we are overjoyed that God alone saves and God alone is sovereign but God chose to use our prayer and our witness to fulfill His redemptive plan.
A week or so ago, I pulled up to a home for an appointment, knowing the husband was an unbeliever. A recent MBA graduate; sharp, gracious, inquisitive . . . a turned off my pick-up and for a brief moment prayed in their driveway. What did I pray?
“Lord, give me the ability to so articulate the gospel that he will be utterly convinced by my presentation and believe?”
“Lord, help me to outwit him . . . let’s see, I’ve got my palm pilot with quick verse installed . . . mention a word and I’m there – in 13 different translations) “I’m ready Lord.” On your mark, get set, go!
Not on your life.
My prayer was more like this, “Lord, if this is someone whom you are calling, would you please open his eyes tonight, and allow his ears to hear, and give me the privilege of being used by You to deliver the gospel and see him transferred from death unto life.”
After a few hours, our meeting was over . . . and he had indeed claimed the grace of God by faith in Christ alone.
When I drove away in my truck around midnight that night, I wasn’t shouting, “Yes . . . I did it!”
No, it was, “Oh God, thank you for letting me see You at work tonight – thank You for letting me see the miracle of redemption.”
This is to be our inward passion . . . it is to be, like Paul, our upward pleading and finally, the last thing we’ll unpack from Paul’s suitcase is: his outward purpose which defined his relationships.
Everything about Paul ultimately revolved around the work of redemption.
And I mean, everything.
He writes, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
Didn’t the Jew need peace in their world? Yes.
Didn’t the Jew struggle to survive? Yes.
Wasn’t there injustice in their world? Yes.
What about those things?
Jesus Christ provides this perspective; “What good does it do a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul.” (Matthew 16:26a)
In other words, what good is world peace, if you die and go to hell?
What good is education and prosperity and justice on earth, if you die and spend eternity experiencing the justice of God in hell?
And the church today seems to have forgotten this perspective. What are we trying to do? Make earth a more comfortable place for people to go to hell from.
Our mission is redemptive . . . our purpose is not earth bound!
While we may do a lot of things to stay the decay of our world, the most important thing we can do is rescue people from the god of this world . . . to declare the gospel of Christ to everyone.
This purpose should define our relationship with the world around us.
You might be saying, well, I’d like to be more like Paul . . . but I don’t know what to say at work, or at school . . . I’m a believer, and I want my friends and co-workers and fellow students and faculty to come to faith in Christ . . . where do I start?
Let me give you 5 principles to remember as you imitate the Apostle Paul in his passion and pleading and purpose.
1) First and foremost, be willing to embrace your calling as Christ’s representative.
In that office . . . on that campus . . . you’re it!
Do you own or manage a business? Here’s a simple idea; play Christian music.
“But somebody might not like it.” That’s okay; they like your business so much they’ll overlook it.
I was in Chic Fillet yesterday, eating and reading the newspaper – there was music playing over the loudspeakers and it finally dawned on me that the music I was listening to was Christian music by a contemporary Christian artist. There is a brave manager somewhere in the wings saying . . . I get to choose the music and I must seize this opportunity for Christ!
2) Be willing to communicate only what you know.
When you’re working next to that person who knows you’re a Christian . . . they’ll ask you a question and you won’t know the answer.
That’s okay . . . remember, if God’s at work, that tough question may only be masking their conviction and guilt. I have found that often, when the heat gets a little too hot and the person realizes they are under the lamp, they’ll deflect to something else, or ask you a question that’s really hard to answer.
Tell them you don’t know the answer. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, they may see in you what they are not willing to admit – that they don’t have all the answers.
Then you need to go home and get the answer. Study . . . read . . . get out your concordance and Bible dictionary; your word studies and Bible encyclopedias – buy them if you don’t have them . . . study! If you’re sill stumped, call the church . . . ask for Pastor Brian of student ministries – he’ll be happy to answer you.
Communicate only what you know.
3) Be willing to walk away from an argument you could easily win.
You don’t want to win the argument, but lose a relationship.
Can you recall the many discussions Jesus Christ was in with scribes and Pharisees who wanted to argue – to pin Him down. He usually avoided being pinned with some great answer, but then left it alone. Every debate He was in, He could win!
And on that day, when He was judged by the Sanhedrin and Pilate and Herod, He could have nailed them to the wall. But He didn’t . . . because His purpose was redemptive. And He let them nail Him to the cross.
4) Be willing to compliment before you critique.
In our pluralistic age, people believe in some very strange things.
Like the Apostle Paul, who stood in Athens; a city with so many statues to gods and goddesses all along the roads and in and on every building. When he stood on that hillside to speak to the leaders and philosophers and citizens, he didn’t begin by saying, “You are all a bunch of idolaters.”
He began by saying, “I see that you are religious in every way.”
And then, having won them with his respect, he gave them the gospel.
I was in an ice-cream store with my 10 year old daughter, Charity, 3 or 4 days ago. It was a new part of town for us, in Raleigh. The woman behind the ice-cream counter was Pakastani, very kind and helpful. I introduced myself and my daughter, explaining what her name meant. It will be the first of many conversations, I trust. When we walked out, I asked Charity, “Did you see on the counter, a miniature gold elephant covered with tiny jewels, sitting in that glass case?” She said yes. And I said to her, “that elephant, which I had seen many times in India, “is an idol to her elephant god.”
On our next visit, obviously the approach would not be to say, “What’s that?” You mean your god is an elephant? He has a trunk?
Frankly, she could say to me, “You mean your God is an invisible Spirit, who had a Son on earth who was martyred on a cross?”
If I am to follow Paul’s example, my next visit would find me asking, “You know, I think it’s really courageous for you to tell all your customers about your god . . . say what is your gods name?”
Next visit: Do you think he knows who you are?
Next visit: Do you believe he really cares about you?
Next visit: Do you mind if I tell you about my God?
That leads me to the fifth principle:
5) Be willing to distribute truth, one piece at a time.
You don’t have to back up the doctrinal truck and unload everything in one visit. Just because you’re passionate doesn’t mean you have to panic.
If God is calling this person through your witness, He has ordered the universe to make room and time for this one to hear the gospel.
If I could slip in here, at this point as we close, the overarching truth of Romans 10:1 as it relates to effectively reaching the lost; I want to give you 3 keys to opening the heart of the unbeliever:
- Pray passionately for lost people
- Pray passionately for lost people
- Pray passionately for lost people
While I’m at it, let me give you one more key to winning …
- Fifth . . . and this is critical; pray for lost people.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
What passion . . . what pleading . . . what purpose!
No wonder the church is still reading and studying what this man had to say, 2000 years after he left his suitcase in Israel.
Pray for people in Florida! Punta Gordo & Governor Jeb Bush
See Allison Riegel
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