The Apostle Paul makes is clear that we are all running toward eternity. The question is
Full Speed . . . in the Wrong Direction
If you were here last Sunday I informed you that Marsha and I would be taking our twin boys off to college. Our two daughters had to stay because of school, but after a few hours on the road I got a call on my cell phone. Now I ought to precede this by saying that our study last Sunday was on “leaving a suitcase in Israel – referring to leaving emotional ties and roots someplace. Well, on the phone was our 10 year old daughter; she asked me if I’d give a message to the guys. I said, “Sure.” She said, “Tell them to make sure they leave a suitcase in my room.” I said, “Huh, they left a suitcase in your room?” No, Daddy, tell them to leave a suitcase in my room.” “Oh!” . . . “Sweetie I don’t remember what I preached.”
After a couple of days in Pennsylvania, Marsha and I headed back. It took longer than usual. Part of the reason was that, at one point, I got turned around. That’s a nicer way of saying, “I was lost.” Marsha had climbed into the back of the van to take a nap, which was dangerous, since she’s my compass whenever we travel.
I was on Interstate 81 looking for Interstate 83. I was in the vicinity, but assumed I’d somehow passed it. I knew we were lost. I immediately pulled off to ask for directions. Well, I didn’t immediately pull off – I eventually pulled off.
Marsha woke up and asked, “What’s wrong?” “Oh nothing . . . just need to check the tires.”
A man in the parking lot said, “Yea, you missed it . . . go back that way.” So I headed back, and still, no Interstate 83 south exit. I’m traveling with Map Quest . . . the book of maps is in the back of the van under the suitcases.
So I stopped again at another gas station and was told to go back the other way . . . I did and just beyond where I had first pulled off, in fact, one exit further, was Interstate 83 South. It’s one of those moments, when you ask the Lord, “What was that all about?!”
We finally made it home.
Imagine for a moment, if Marsha had awakened while traveling along the interstate and I said, “Honey, we’re lost . . . but, don’t worry, I have the solution!”
“I’m gonna drive faster!” We’re lost, but don’t worry. I think we can get there if I can just drive with a little more confidence and determination and passion, I believe we’ll find that exit.”
She’d say, “Honey, it’s time to switch places . . . you need the nap more than I do!”
The truth is, speed is not the solution.
Going full speed ahead . . . in the wrong direction, does not fix the problem.
When you’re headed in the wrong direction, driving faster will only take you further away from home.
In fact, no driver who’s lost will arrive at their destination, just because they are determined.
You are aware of the fact, I’m sure, that all roads do not lead to Raleigh? No matter how good a driver you are . . . no matter how much gas is in your tank, no matter how good your tires are and how smooth the road is . . . all roads do not lead home.
Neither do all roads lead to God.
What is true the physical world is true in the spiritual world.
There are well intentioned millions today who are driving their spiritual SUV’s, believing that no matter what road they are on, it will take them home to God.
And don’t miss this . . . they are determined and passionate travelers! They are driving at full throttle . . . but they’re headed in the wrong direction.
This is not a new problem, by the way.
The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in Romans chapter 10. He’s writing about passionate, disciplined, dedicated people who were determined that their road led to God.
In verse 1 of Romans chapter 10, Paul shared his burden for these lost travelers, his kinsman, the Jewish people. Notice in verse 1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. (now Paul goes on to add) 2. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
This text, by the way provides insight, not only into the Jewish world that rejected the gospel, but the world at large today that refuses to trust anyone but themselves . . . their good works . . . their morality . . . their determined opinions . . . their four good tires, gasoline in the tank and ability to handle traffic.
Let me give you four characteristics, certainly illustrated in the nation Israel, but true of Jew and Gentile alike who refuse Christ as their personal Messiah.
1) They are Unwavering in their Religious Passion
Go back to verse 2 and notice their solid conviction, Paul writes, “They have a zeal for God.”
They are defenders of the God of Moses and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
You need to understand that to say ‘they were zealous for God,’ is a wonderful attribute for anybody.
Could we not be more zealous for God?
The word ‘zelos’ (zhloV) in the Greek language means “passionate commitment, enthusiasm.”
Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1985), p. 297
The word was used to refer to a fanatical group of Jews who rose up and believed the only way to handle Romans was to cut their throats. The became known as Zealots, from this same word.
They were zealous for God, for the law, for their country and for their people to the point of laying down their lives.
Trouble was, they turned God into someone He was not; they turned the law into something it was never intended to be.
Adding regulation upon regulation, tradition upon tradition, they made the law a wearisome burden that no one could follow.
Paul said the law was to teach mankind that they were sinners and needed saving. He wrote to the Galatian believers, Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
You want to know how zealous they were for the way they believed keeping the law would bring them eternal life?
Barclay provides an historical incident about a Jewish priest named Eleazar. He was brought before Antiochus Epiphanes whose aim was to stamp out Judaism. This second century Adolph Hitler hated the Jews, and wanted to exterminate them. He put a statue of Zeus in the Temple and forbade any worship to Yahweh. When Eleazar the priest was brought before Antiochus, he was ordered to eat a piece of pork – forbidden in the Old Testament dietary prohibitions. The old priest refused and said, “If you were to pluck out my eyes, we who live under divine law, will die rather than violate it.” He went on to say that if he was put to death, his fathers would receive him “holy and pure.” He was ordered to be beaten and, history records, “his flesh was torn off by the whips and he streamed down with blood; he fell and soldiers kicked him. However, in the end, the soldiers so pitied him that they brought him dressed meat, which was not pork, and told him to eat it and say that he had eaten pork. He refused and as he was finally killed he said, “I am dying for the sake of the law.”
William Barclay, Romans (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 137
If you were carefully listening, you might have caught Eleazar’s comment that by not violating the law, he believed he would be received into eternity as a holy and pure individual.
Great zeal . . . but for the wrong thing.
Full throttle along the highway of religion, but full speed, in the wrong direction.
In fact, that’s Paul’s very next statement as he adds to his comment about the zeal of the unbeliever.
Not only are many unbelievers unwavering in their religious passion, they are, secondly, Unteachable in their Spiritual Position
Notice verse 2 again. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge, not knowing about God’s righteousness . . .
In other words, they had zeal for their truth, without knowledge of God’s truth.
Did this mean that the Jews were ignorant of God and the law of God?
Oh no. They knew about God and knew much of the law.
Their scribes interpreted and developed and expounded on the law. They were brilliant scholars and the synagogue was a place of education.
One author noted that “these scribes were given the prestigious titles of rabbi and master. They always sat in the places of highest honor at banquets and religious feasts. In the synagogue they would sit with their backs to the cupboards that contained the scrolls of the Torah, the sacred law of Moses, indicating their unique positions as its sole interpreters . . .the people were almost completely reliant on those leaders for any knowledge of God’s word. Even the tombs of famous rabbis were venerated with a superstitious awe.
John MacArthur, Romans (Moody Press, 1994), p. 55
But it was to these leaders that Jesus Christ hurled his strongest words of condemnation. He chastised these experts in the law, in Luke 11:52, when he said, “Woe to you for you have taken away the key of knowledge.”
To another group of leaders he said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the scriptures, or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)
With all their effort and all their scholarship and all their learning, they were ignorant of the true meaning of God’s word, because they did not believe in the God-man, Jesus Christ.
When Paul wrote in Romans 10:2, “they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge,” the word he used for knowledge was not the usual word for intellect – gnosis. Facts, head knowledge, we could call it.
Instead of that word, Paul used the compound word, epignosis, (epignosiV) which means “recognition, spiritual perception or understanding . . . you could translate it true knowledge.”
Paul referred to this issue when he wrote of the unbeliever, “they are always learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)
They had memorized a set of rules . . . but they had no relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
They had chosen facts over fellowship. Doing over being; religious action over authentic Christianity.
Jesus Christ said, “If you abide in My word . . . you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)
Do you know what the message of the church is? It is to teach the truth of God’s word. And Jesus said that the truth of His word would set people free.
The religious Jews and scholars would not be taught and they remained bound to their traditions and their rules.
They were going full speed . . . in the wrong direction.
I was in the store a few days ago and was being helped by a young man who was very helpful, as I purchased a small printer. Since I was the only person in line and he didn’t seem in a hurry, I asked him if he was able to get free on the weekends and attend church somewhere. He said, “Oh, I have major problems with organized religion.” I said, “You know, I can’t stand it either.” “Yea, I’ve got philosophical differences with organized religion.” I said, “Well, just what do you believe?” He said with absolute conviction, “It’s rather complicated, but I have developed my own religion.”
Whether he knew it or not, he happened to believe in the organized thoughts of his own philosophical opinion, which in fact, was his own religion.
He was confident . . . committed . . . at high speed, going down the wrong road. God says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
How different from that story of unbelief was a note I received 2 or 3 days ago from a young woman I had shared Christ with some time earlier – at the time she didn’t accept Christ, and I had left her with the challenge to read God’s word. I believe David’s promise in Psalm 119:130, “The unfolding of God’s word give light and understanding.” A couple of weeks after that conversation she wrote to me a very kind note which included these words that so clearly apply to what Paul is saying in our text today, “I have always thought that seeking out literature was the best way to find a solution; to be prepared and knowledgeable about a wide variety of subject, and feel good about knowing “the facts.” (I promise I didn’t make this note up.) She then wrote, “But guess what? The best source of knowledge was right there in front of me all along in the Scriptures. How wrong I have been . . . and I HAVE accepted the gift of salvation from God (three exclamation points)!!!
This isn’t gnosis – the facts . . . it’s epignosis – the understanding of truth by coming to know the One who is the truth, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is agonizing over his fellow kinsmen . . . 1) They are unwavering in their religious passion; they are unteachable in their spiritual position
3) They are Uninhibited in their Spiritual Performance
Notice further along in verse 3. “they are . . . seeking to establish their own – their own what? Their own righteousness.
They refuse to acknowledge their sin; they refuse to admit their need of salvation; they refuse to accept a God who might judge sin and condemn sinners . . . so they’re left with nothing to believe in but themselves.
So they’d better make themselves worth believing in, right?
They seek to establish their own righteousness. The present tense of this verb – to seek – emphasizes the fact that they are continually in search of ways to establish themselves as holy people.
Matthew 6 catalogues their public performances before men. They prayed in public so they could be seen by men; they didn’t bathe or wash their hair whenever they fasted so that people would know they were going without food and admire them as holy men; they gave money in the most ostentatious manner possible so that people could see their giving and ooh and aah over their godliness.
Jesus Christ said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them . . . don’t be like the hypocrites . . . for they love to do what they do in order to be seen. (Matthew 6:1 & 5)
They are seeking to establish their righteousness!
The Greek word translated “to establish” (sthsai) in Romans 10:3 – “they seek to establish their own righteousness” is a word that actually referred in Paul’s day to the building of a monument; a shrine to the glory, not of God, but to themselves.
We saw illustration after illustration of this in England and Scotland where we entered one cathedral after another and saw the shrines . . . the elaborate tombs inside the cathedral walls. We visited the most famous indoor graveyard of all – known as Westminster Abbey and walked it’s famous corridors and into the massive cathedral where the stones were marked with the names of people buried beneath your feet. So many noblemen and women; heads of state; kings and queens were buried there. Some with grand shrines above ground – statues in their likeness, showing them with folded hands in prayer. No matter if you know enough church history to know many of them were antagonistic to the gospel of Christ; some of them openly persecuted the believers . . . no matter their rejection of Biblical truth . . . just make sure I’m buried in the church.
What irony it was to walk across one large stone, carved into it was the name, Charles Darwin. Imagine spending your life and intellect and influence arguing against the Biblical record of creation; but then your family, we were told, paid enough money and arranged with the right people, so that your grave is inside a church, which supposedly acknowledges the existence of God the creator.
Never mind that . . . just make sure his bones are in the sanctuary.
What beautiful statues . . . what a magnificent cathedral . . . surely this is the way to God. Surely this is the doorway into heaven.
I’ll tell you the grave that I’ll never forget . . . it housed the bones of a believer named John Knox. Outside his church inland where he thundered the truth, even though nearby reigned Bloody Mary who hated him and his gospel. He led the reformation in Scotland and was used incredibly to lead thousands to the truth of God’s grace.
Walk around behind the cathedral of St. Giles where he pastored and you will find his grave. But it’s easy to miss. You see, it’s underneath the asphalt of a parking lot – the only thing that marks the spot is a small square of yellow paint – right there on parking space number 23. When I went to find it, there was a car parked in that space, but I could see behind the rear bumper the block of paint.
No shrine . . . no monument like the others . . . no sculptured figure with folded hands . . .not even a grave stone marking the spot. Just some yellow paint on parking space #23, while men like Charles Darwin lie in Westminster Abbey. He really doesn’t care.
So many others have tried to establish their own righteousness on earth . . . he has established his righteousness in Christ and is even now in a magnificent, glorious heaven.
The unbeliever is unwavering in his religious passion; apart from the illuminating, redemptive work of God, they are unteachable in their spiritual position; 3rd they are uninhibited in their spiritual charade or performance
One more . . . the unbelieving are 4) Unyielding in their spiritual pride
3b. they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
Literally, they were unwilling to place themselves under the orders of God (upotassw) – to surrender themselves to the righteousness of God.
Sanford C. Mills, a Jew who came to faith in Christ, wrote, “Israel wants to be the captain of her own soul, the master of her own ship. But Israel lost both her rudder and her compass . . . what is to save her from being drawn into the vortex of hell?” Ibid, p. 56
The answer isn’t more speed! More wind in her sails. Better sailors . . . a better boat. None of that matters when your sailing toward Niagara Falls.
The solution is humbling . . . but much simpler than any of that.
Best put in that email I read earlier where a young woman said, “I was wrong . . . it wasn’t about finding my own solution . . . feeling good about knowing certain facts . . . feeling worthy to approach God . . . I have simply . . . humbly accepted the gift of salvation that comes freely from God.”
If you’re going full speed, in the wrong direction, stop . . . stop! The further you race down that path, the further away from home you go.
Perhaps today is the day when you humbly accept the gift of salvation that comes freely from God.