In Romans 10:21 the Apostle Paul invites us to forsake the binding chains of religion and embrace the liberating arms of a relationship.
The Wounds of God
In the first century, the gods of the Romans were brutal, unfeeling, manipulative and calloused. They didn’t really like human beings all that much either!
One of the chief Roman gods was Mars – the god of war. In appearance, he was handsome, yet vindictive and cruel toward humanity. At one point he was almost killed by another god when they got into a fight – he was captured and stuffed into a jar by two giants. When he appealed to his father, Zeus, for help, dear ole’ Dad was too busy throwing people off Mount Olympus and sending lightning to strike other gods to bother. Well, Mars escaped nonetheless and continued his bloodthirsty antics. He was usually depicted carrying a bloodstained spear, and his throne on Mount Olympus was said to be covered in human skin.
This past summer, I visited one Museum in England, where relics dating back to the time of Paul were discovered in these ancient Roman temples. People had written notes to their gods, on pieces of ceramic or stone . . . I saw the actual notes, dating back to the 1st century and earlier, where people asked their favorite gods to do all sorts of cruel things to their enemies.
One man requested that his god would take the life of his enemy; a woman wrote on a tablet, requesting that her god blind the person who had stolen her jewelry; another man requested that his god curse all of the efforts of his business competitor.
Little wonder that the Romans knew nothing of love for their gods, or ever hoped to receive mercy from them.
The idea of a patient, loving, caring god was foreign to them. There was no such thing as love from the gods, or love for the gods.
If you got in the way of Zeus and his father before him, you’d simply be swallowed . . . or worse.
The Apostle Paul eventually stood in Athens, the city by Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, surrounded by statues and temples of gods and goddesses. He remarked about the image they had constructed about the “Unknown God.”
You see, 600 years before Paul’s visit, history recorded that Athens had been overwhelmed with a terrible plague. Hundreds were dying and the city was desperate for a cure. It was assumed that the gods were angry with them . . . they just didn’t know which gods were angry.
So they devised a plan to pacify the gods who were causing the plague. They let loose a flock of unblemished sheep. The plan was to let the sheep roam the city freely. But whenever any sheep lay down, it was to be sacrificed on that very spot to the god of the nearest temple.
The assumption was that the angry gods would actually draw the sheep to themselves. However, when the sheep were turned loose, some of them lay down in places with no temples nearby.
The people didn’t know what to do so, in order to cover all their religious bases, they sacrificed the sheep and then built a monument in that place and simply named it, “To the unknown God.”
Imagine the irony . . . Paul would deliver the gospel of Jesus Christ – the physical manifestation of immortal God – who came, not to swallow up His enemies . . . but to voluntarily die for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).
The physical manifestation of God, who was called the unblemished Lamb.
Imagine that! The only true and living God . . . came in order to be wounded. The gods of the Greeks and Romans did not have wounds . . . certainly not from mankind!
The true and living God not came to be wounded for our transgressions, and by His stripes we are healed.
Imagine that . . . the true and living God has wounds. For us, He was willing to be wounded!
That’s the kind of portrait Paul paints of God. You can easily see that picture of God in Romans chapter 10 and verse 21. It’s a portrait of God that not only defies the world’s concept of what God must be like, but encourages the heart of you who believe – God was wounded for you.
10:21. But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
There are actually two portraits here – one is of a patient God. The other is of a defiant nation.
Notice first and foremost:
A) The Portrait of a Patient God
As you study this particular portrait of God, there are two very dominant themes. Two bold colors in this picture arrest your attention.
1) The first thing that catches your eye is this picture of God is His persistent invitation.
Paul begins quoting Isaiah who quotes the Lord, “But as for Israel, all day long I have stretched out my hands!”
You know, when you’ve waited for something a long time, you tend to you that expression, “all day long.”
“I’ve been waiting here all day long for you to show up.”
“I’ve been waiting all day long for the phone to ring.”
“I stood in line, all day long.”
We’re usually exaggerating, aren’t we?!
God isn’t exaggerating. In fact, if anything, He’s doing the very opposite.
“All day long.”
How long is that?
Travel back several centuries to Moses and watch as God patiently invites His people to follow Him, only to have them gripe and complain and rebel over and over again.
Go back even further to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and watch while God waits for His chosen ones to trust and follow Him.
Travel back even further than that . . . all the way to the beginning of human history where God asks, “Adam, where art thou?” In other words, “I’m waiting . . . ”
You want a picture of God? It is with his hands out in persistent invitation to mankind.
There’s another dominant theme in this portrait.
2. Not only persistent invitation from God, but the personal involvement of God.
We humans become successful, we prove it by having people do our bidding . . . serve our needs. We send a cadre of people to run our errands, answer our calls, write our letters, arrange our schedules.
The more successful you are, the more people you have to do your bidding.
I remember as a seminary student running errands for a very successful commercial real-estate company. The president and founder of the company was very wealthy. I’ll never forget the day I discovered he never had to go to the clothing store. He never went to buy his own clothes; he had someone come to office with fabric samples and tape measures and they measured him, took down his ideas and desires and then they went and met with the tailors and designed his suits and his shirts and even his belts. Someone went and took care of all of that for him. He never had to go to the store, someone went for him.
No doubt . . . he was somebody!
But wait a second . . . God is the ultimate Somebody!
Surely someone will do His bidding for Him!
Would you notice the personal pronouns of this text. I have stretched out my hands!
“I . . . my hands.”
“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.” (John 1:14) He came . . . personally!
He Himself, “came to seek and to save those who were lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Behold, I stand at the door and knock . . . (Revelation 3:20). Even here, Christ could have sent someone else to invite the wayward church to fellowship. But even in this errand, our Lord is portrayed as the One doing the knocking.
Salvation and fellowship comes from the personal invitation and personal involvement of God.
“All day long, I have stretched out my hands.”
Hands represent labor and effort and strength and purpose.
Trust your own labor and good works and strength and purpose and you will go to hell. Come to the hands of Christ, and trust in his labor and His perfect work and trust in His strength and you will go to heaven.
The News and Observer ran an article a couple of months ago that, had I not spend time overseas observing the superstition of world religions, would have had a hard time believing. Tens of thousands of people lined up Thursday in Hong Kong to see one of Buddha’s fingers, which was on loan from China for 10 days. Although the people were herded past in a hurry, many people said the relic offered Hong Kong fresh hopes of peace and calm.
It had been flown in on Wednesday for a temporary display as locals were celebrating Buddha’s birthday. Several hundred thousand people paid their respects. Saffron-robed Buddhist monks chanted prayers as visitors quickly filed past the finger, being shown with three giant golden Buddha statues as a backdrop. Chiu Dan-yin said to a reporter, “I hope the relic can help people become happier. 70 year old Margaret Luk’s eyes welled with tears after spending a few moments gazing at the bone fragment, encased in bulletproof glass. She said, “I think this finger will protect me through the pains of life.”
Adapted from News and Observer, Friday, May 28, 2004
Whose hands are you trusting today?
When I read this invitation of God to Israel, first given in Isaiah, I could not help but fast-forward the tape, from Isaiah 65 to Matthew 27 where Jesus Christ will indeed stretch out his hands on the cross – stretched and then nailed there – even in His dying, His arms are spread out as if to say, “Whosoever will may come . . . come to Me and I will never cast you out!”
What a beautiful picture of God . . . “all day long I have stretched out my hands. . .”
A portrait, made even more beautiful by it’s contrast to the second portrait that Paul paints.
First, there is the portrait of a patient, persistent God.
Secondly, Paul reveals to us the:
2) Portrait of a Defiant Nation
Paul continues on in this text – “. . .I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
Again two dominant themes.
The first is the theme of disobedience!
I stretched out my hands to a disobedient people.
The Greek word translated disobedient refers to someone spurning belief.
They simply refuse to believe.
It’s interesting that the New Testament translates the same word disobey and disbelieve. They are interchangeable truths.
Paul calls the world the world of unbelievers, “sons of disobedience.”
Unbelief is tantamount to disobedience.
In Ephesians 5:6, Paul warns the believer, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
So God is seen here stretching his hands out toward a disobedient people – a nation that refuses to believe – and to this day, refuses at large to believe.
They simply turned a blind eye to the evidence that God provided.
Imagine the shocking nature of this piece of evidence.
When Jesus Christ was crucified, God the Father did something that should have profoundly shaken every Jew who heard the news. Do you remember, as soon as Jesus uttered those last words, Mark recorded, “he breathed his last, and the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
This was the veil that separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. For centuries, the Holy of Holies (the most holy place) was barred to everyone but the High Priest. No one had access to the presence of God . . . but now the veil has been ripped apart – starting at the top, it was torn – perhaps as high as 28 cubits – 48 feet high. Signifying no man could have done such a thing – unless he had some scaffolding or ladders
And we’re told that this was at the very moment of the evening sacrifices.
Can you imagine the sight and the sound of that veil tearing apart?!
It signified access into the Holy of Holies! All believers are now priests (I Peter 2:9) with direct access into the holy presence of God by faith in Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:19)
What would you have done?
“Wow . . . look at that . . . whatta we gonna do?!” I know, let’s sew it back together and pretend it didn’t happen! We like our religion . . . don’t mess it up . . . somebody get some blue thread!”
And that’s exactly what they did.
They sewed it back together and went on with their sacrifices and their rituals and their religion.
“All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient people.”
But it gets worse.
The second theme is the theme of obstinance!
“I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
The word “obstinate” is anti – legonta. Literally, anti-speaking.
In other words, the unbeliever doesn’t just disbelieve in Jesus Christ, he must speak against Him.
The late 19th century philosopher Nietzsche profoundly influenced the western world
He wrote, “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge . . . Christianity is the one immortal blemish on mankind.”
He was followed by other atheists like Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx who believed religion was a mere fantasy of man’s creation.
World Magazine, May/June 2002
Just this past weeks issue of Time Magazine devoted several pages to Dean Hamer, a molecular biologist at the National Cancer Institute. Hamer has written a new book called, “The God Gene” which postulates that our most profound feelings of spirituality, may be due to little more than an occasional shot of intoxicating brain chemicals governed by our DNA. God, he concludes, is an artifact of our evolved brains.
Time Magazine, October 25, 2004
Why is man so intensely interested in denigrating God. Why not just not believe in God and go on to something else?
Paul answers . . . the human heart is not only disobedient to God, but obstinate . . . it must give anti-God speech.
Why doesn’t somebody produce a movie that Buddha was really a homosexual? Or that he never meant to teach the way to enlightenment . . . he was mistaken . . . he was just a good moral teacher?
Why is Jesus Christ’s name the name used in cursing?
You ever heard anybody hit their thumb with a hammer and say, “Oh Buddha, that hurts . . . Oh, Confucius . . . Krishna!
No, it’s Jesus Christ this and Jesus Christ that.
If I were God, I’d do something about it!
He did . . . For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son – menogenes – His only unique Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
All day long, I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people. (Romans 10:21)
This can apply to not only the nation Israel, which is the specific people in mind. They rejected the Messiah. So does the world of Gentiles.
Israel refused to believe – so does the world.
Israel speaks against Christ . . . so does the world.
And the amazing news is this . . . God is still holding out His hands . . . they have not yet dropped to his sides.
The invitation is still open for you.
I have thought of four different kinds of invitation that God would be extending today . . . several applications of this universal invitation to Jew and Gentile alike.
Number 1 – God is holding out His hands toward those who are tired of living up to religion.
Jesus Christ once said, “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” In other words, if you’re weary of the heavy yoke of religion; the heavy demand of ritual; the heavy burden of trying to do more good works than bad works – hoping against hope that the mountain of your good deeds will block God’s view of your sin.
The gospel is an invitation, not to requirements and regulations and religious rituals, but to a relationship that’s personal.
For those of you who are tired of living up to your religion, His hands are held out.
And remember, they are held out to disobedient people; obstinate people. Sinners.
Secondly, God is holding out His hands toward those who are tired of, not only living up to religion, but running away in rebellion.
He offers the obstinate and rebellious renegades a peace treaty – it’s in the form of a wooden cross.
The same prophet quoted by Paul in Romans 10 also quotes God giving you His personal invitation.
Come, let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet (permanently stained) I’ll wash them as white as snow; they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
We had some unexpected guests the other day – they had 5 wonderful children – traveling from another state. We had a great time of fellowship. Just as we were saying goodbyes, one of their little guys ran inside and into the living room. We have white carpet in the living room. He had red clay on one of his tennis shoes. We have a permanent reminder of their visit. The slightest brownish/orange tint . . . you’d never know it if you didn’t know where to look for it. I know it – because I tried everything to get it out. I couldn’t get it completely out.
God says, “Do you have permanent reminders of the past . . . permanent blots on your record . . . let me take care of that.”
“I will turn the condition of your heart to that of fresh fallen snow; I will renew crimson stains as new white wool.”
No matter what you’ve done; no matter how weighted your past with sin; no matter how heavy the load . . . He stands before you like He did before Thomas and He says, “See here my hands!”
I have been wounded for you . . . and I have chosen to retain these wounds as eternal reminders of my love for you.
My friend, with a God like that – a God with hands like that – can you do anything less than fall at His feet and say, “My Lord, and my God.”
Third, He’s holding out His hands toward the believer who is tired of serving out of your own resources.
The hand of God not only redeems, but it refreshes and reinvigorates and redirects.
Is this invitation not for us, too?!
Believers can be obstinate, can’t they? Not you . . . the person next to you!
It is in the heart of all of us to talk back to God. It is in the nature of us all to wander away on our own.
One of my favorite hymns is a prayer that reminds me to return to the hand of God – the strength, and purpose of God;
William Williams, a Welch preacher and friend of Whitefield and Wesley wrote this hymn,
Guide me, Oh Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land,
I am weak but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Oh how I thank my God that all day long, He holds out His hands to a rebellious and obstinate people.
God is so good . . . God loves me so . . . I’ll praise His name . . . He’s so good to me.
Make sure you go out this week and vote – not just for the president you believe should fill that office, but the judges who play a critical role; the senators and house members who will represent you. Exercise your part in God’s ordination of these public officials and vote.