Romans Lesson 34 - The Advantage of Being Jewish
The Israelites during Paul's day knew they were the chosen people of God. They had the Law. They had the prophets. They had the Temple. They had the heritage. And therefore they thought they had a free ride to Heaven. But Paul will astonish his Jewish brothers and sisters with the message that redemption is not in their blood . . . it is in Christ's blood.
“The Advantage of Being Jewish”
If you’ve ever heard this classic by Hans Christian Andersen, you’ve probably never forgotten it.
Once upon a time, there lived an Emperor who loved fine clothing and jewels; he was often seen parading about town in his latest custom tailored royal clothing. Hats, pants, robes and shirts were exquisitely made to suit his rather portly figure. One day several philosophers came visiting. They were actually con men. They claimed they could make clothing more exquisite and fine than any suit of clothes the king owned in his vast closet. They offered to weave for the king an expensive suit. The King was especially intrigued by the idea that the cloth they wove was so unusual and rare that the only people who could see the material were the wise and pure in heart. If a person was not wise or pure in heart, they wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty of the Kings new clothes. The Emperor was delighted and immediately hired them to weave his new clothing at whatever cost it took. These clever men sat down before empty looms and pretended to be weaving. It wasn’t long before the Emperor sent one of his political leaders in to observe the progress of the weavers. He didn’t see anything at all on the looms – he rubbed his eyes but still, the looms seemed empty to him. Not wanting to be considered unwise or impure of heart, he came back to the Emperor and declared that the clothing was absolutely beautiful. About that time, the weavers demanded more money. Then some time later, the Emperor grew impatient once again and sent another of his comrades in to observe the progress. He also saw nothing, but didn’t want to be accused of being unwise or impure, he also came back and reported to the king that the clothing would be the talk of the entire kingdom. Finally, the Emperor went himself and although he too saw nothing, he did not want to appear foolish or impure, so he announced that the clothing was indeed magnificent and he awarded the weavers with medals and more money. Finally, the day arrived for the grand parade. The clever weavers went through elaborate motions of dressing the Emperor in his new clothes and then they left town. Meanwhile the King paraded through his realm in nothing but his birthday suit – the whole kingdom joined in praising his beautiful clothes, lest they let on to everyone around them that they were wicked fools. This ridiculous parade continued – until that moment when a child standing in the throng of spectators was heard to say, “Mommy, the emperor has no clothes.” At once everyone knew the truth. The innocence of an honest child, who didn’t know anything about what he was supposed to see, had unmasked the hypocrisy of an entire nation. In one brief statement he revealed what everyone else had been pretending, including the Emperor himself.
Adapted from Romans; Righteousness From Heaven by R. Kent Hughes (Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois) 1991, p. 71
Thus far in our study through the first 2 chapters of Romans, the Apostle Paul has played the role of an unpretentious messenger.
He has revealed the nakedness of the unbeliever; he has revealed that the hands of men cannot fashion clothing that will cover the bareness of sinful hearts.
In spite of its ritual and all its parading and ceremony, the looms of religion, throughout all the world, are empty. They fashion what they pretend will cover the human heart, but in reality they leave a person exposed and naked before the One true God with whom they will give an account.
In chapter one he has exposed the guilt of the unbelieving immoral man who has ignored creation; in chapter two Paul has exposed the moral man who has ignored his conscience – both categories of people are found to be without excuse.
Romans 1:20 – “so they are without excuse”
Romans 2:1 – “therefore you are without excuse”
In the latter part of chapter two, Paul exposed the guilt of the religious man who has spoken truth but not lived it; the man who has taught morality but chosen to cover over the thoughts of his immoral mind and heart.
Paul has begun specifically addressing the Jew –the epitome of morality and sound judgment and passion for the law of God.
And in the last paragraph of chapter 2, Paul exposes the Jew as being as much in need of true spiritual clothing as the unbelieving Gentile.
This would have been terribly shocking to the Jewish person living in the first century. As shocking as it would have been to that make believe Emperor upon discovering that he was, in fact, naked. He was not clothed in exquisite, rare and expensive garments – he was completely uncovered and exposed.
If anybody felt they had a right to go to heaven, it was the Jew. They were sons of Abraham – they were God’s chosen people – they were the people who had received the covenants from God.
Yet Paul said to them, in effect, none of that is good enough to clothe your sinful hearts – you are still exposed before the gaze of a holy God.
The writer of Hebrews said, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and naked before the eyes of [God].” Hebrews 4:13
There is no race of men given an advantage before God! Sons of Abraham or not, nobody has an edge – nobody has strings they can pull to get out from underneath the gaze of God.
No Gentile – not even the Jew.
Now, for the past 43 verses, Paul has been anticipating and answering the questions and objections of his audience.
Under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, Paul has anticipated the very next objection that will come from their lips – and he says it for them.
In Romans 3:1 he anticipates the objection of the Jew as he speaks for them, - he writes, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?
In other words, Paul, if what you’re saying is true, who cares about the temple.
What difference does it make to be a son of Abraham; so what about the sacrificial system and the law and the rite of circumcision.
Why bother with keeping our blood line distinct – why put up with isolation from the world – why bother with dietary regulations and Sabbath observances.
Why go through the pain of misunderstanding – why bother with being different.
In other words, give us one good reason why we should remain Jews – you’ve taken away everything we thought to be unique and special.
What advantage is there to being a circumcised Jew is those things are a guarantee of getting into heaven?!
We might as well throw it all away and live like the rest of the pagan world!
The Jew could look back over their shoulder and see incredible suffering. The Jewish people have lived the most difficult life of any race of people. Centuries of persecution, captivity, humiliation, slavery and judgment.
They had spent 400 years in Egypt alone, the Jew served as penniless, mistreated slaves until God rescued and delivered them.
Even after their escape they wandered about in the wilderness for 40 years until the faithless generation died out.
Even after they entered the promised land they had to fight for every square inch of land and then they had to fight to protect it.
Several hundred years later they were divided by civil war. The nation was divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom and the southern kingdoms.
The disobedience of the northern kingdom brought about judgment as God brought the Assyrian kingdom against them. The idolatrous southern kingdom was ripped apart by the Babylonian kingdom – Jerusalem destroyed, the people nearly vanished once again from their homeland.
Eventually they were allowed to return and under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra, they rebuilt Jerusalem with one hand on the trowel and one hand on their sword, under the threat of war and extinction.
It wasn’t long before Greece conquered their homeland and Antiochus Epiphanes, the prefigure of the coming anti-Christ, desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on their holy altar and slaughtering their priests.
Then later, under Roman rule, the Jews continued their journey of hardship and pain and suffering. Tens of thousands of Jews who rebelled against Rome were killed, usually by public crucifixion.
Under Herod the Great, scores of Jewish male babies were killed because of his paranoid corrupt jealousy of some baby whom he’d been told had been born, King of the Jews. The nation wept bitter tears at the slaughter of so many children.
Finally, in A.D. 70-, the Roman general Titus Vespasian came under Caesar’s orders to destroy Jerusalem. Rome had had enough of the irksome Jew.
By this time, the origins of Jewish religion was twisted with unnatural maliciousness. It was said that Jews had originated from a company of lepers who had been sent by the king of Egypt to work in the sand quarries; and that a man named Moses had rallied this band of lepers and led them through the desert to Palestine.
It was said that they worshipped a donkey’s head because in the wilderness a herd of wild donkeys had led them to water when they were dying of thirst.
By this time, Jewish customs were mocked and misunderstood even hated.
Imagine friends, how many things do you do that invite open ridicule and mocking. Imagine doing something related to your belief in God’s word that invited mockery. Most of the church today doesn’t invite derision from the world simply because it is so much like the world.
Plutarch wrote that the Jews wouldn’t eat pig’s flesh because the pig was one of their gods. The Roman writer Juvenal jested that the Sabbath was observed simply because the Jews were lazy. He said that to the Jew the flesh of the swine was considered more honorable than the flesh of a human being.
Josephus tells us that Judaism by this time had become regarded as a “barbaric superstition” and the Jews were considered “the most disgusting of races.”
William Barclay, The Letter To The Romans (Westminster Press; Philadelphia) 1975, p. 48.
So when Titus came to destroy Jerusalem, he also came to destroy the Jew. According to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, more than a million Jews of all ages were mercilessly butchered, and some 100,000 of those who survived were sold into slavery or sent to Rome to die in the gladiator games.
Around this same time, Gentiles in Caesarea had killed 20,000 Jews and sold many more into slavery and the Gentile residents in Damascus had literally cut the throats of 10,000 Jews in one single day.
Ladies and Gentlemen, anti-Semitism can only be explained in light of it’s demonic origins. Satan hates Jesus Christ, the God man who chose to be born of Jewish blood. Satan knows the covenant God has made with Israel. In fact, therein lies the Devil’s murderous attacks against the Jew. If Satan can get rid of the Jew he can erase God’s covenant with Israel – and if God cannot keep his word with Israel then He is not God, but a liar.
Furthermore, Satan knows that 144,000 Jewish evangelists will be used by God during the great Tribulation to cause millions of people to turn to Christ according to Revelation 7. He knows the covenant with the Jew will be to restore their land and the city of Jerusalem as the center piece of God’s kingdom on earth according to Revelation 21. Thus, since time began Satan has launched his diabolical schemes, his hatred, his bloodlust against the Jew and will continue until he makes one final war against Israel in Revelation chapter 20 and is defeated and thrown into the lake of fire.
You cannot explain the hatred of the Jew apart from Satan and his hatred for Jews.
Often times, the Jew suffered because of their own desire for independence and stubbornness. In A.D. 115 the Jews rebelled again against Rome. When they failed, Emperor Hadrian destroyed 985 towns in Palestine and killed at last 600,000 Jewish men. So many Jews were sold into slavery that the price of a male Jewish slave was the same as a horse.
200 years later, the Roman emperor formulated a legal code that declared Jews to be an inferior race of human beings – a demonic idea of course that permeated Europe for more than 1,000 years.
In the 13th century they were banished from France. In the 15th century they were exiled from Spain.
During the French Revolution, thousands of Jews were killed; again in 1818 tens of thousands were massacred in the Ukraine.
In the 1940’s, the demonically inspired Adolph Hitler sought to exterminate from Europe all Jewish blood.
He would do nothing more than the bidding of Satan – Hitler’s hatred for Christ and the cross, symbolized by the swastika – a cross broken at all ends – led him to do the thing on earth that Satan longs to do – and will continue to do until Christ banishes him to hell forever – attempt to wipe the Jew off the face of the earth.
One historian records for us that as Hitler’s troops marched together they would often sing this song as a marching tune;
Sharpen the knives on the pavement stone;
Sink the knives into Jewish flesh and bone;
Let the blood flow freely.
Hitler’s regime would kill 6 million Jews. I have toured the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. and could not believe what I saw and heard.
Still to this day, the Jews who’ve returned to the land of their forefathers are in the newspapers and on the televised news reports nearly every single day as they fight to keep their land.
From a purely historical perspective, the Jews have been treated more ruthlessly and mercilessly than any other people of all time.
The pages of history are stained with the blood of the Jew. Most of this historical information adapted from John MacArthur Jr., Romans (Moody Press; Chicago Illinois) 1991, p. 64
Now read Romans chapter 3 verse 1. With that history as your backdrop, even though the Jew of Romans chapter 3 don’t know the sufferings of their future, they certainly know the sufferings of their past – no wonder they would now say to Paul, “What good is it to be a Jew if our connection to Abraham and our covenant with God and the circumcision of our flesh and the sacrifices of our altars and the mistreatment of our people don’t get us into heaven; then what’s the purpose of going through what we go through – of what advantage is there to being a Jew?!
We don’t have security socially; we don’t have security politically; we don’t have security physically, and now you are telling us we don’t have security spiritually!
By the way – if you give the gospel to a good person who lives a good life – and you reveal to him that salvation is by grace through faith and not of good works (Ephesians 2:8,9), then he will more than likely say, “Then, why bother living a good life?”
Tell someone who has an upstanding reputation that his reputation means nothing to God in terms of getting into heaven and he will most likely say, “Than what benefit is there to having a good reputation?”
Tell someone who has avoided the sins of the flesh that they cannot get into heaven simply because they are chaste and pure and they will say, “You mean I abstained from that for nothing?”
You need to understand my friends the gospel. You don’t do good works in order to get into heaven. You do good works because you are going to heaven. You don’t live a holy life so that you will be accepted by God; you strive to live a holy life out of gratitude that God has accepted you already!
Getting into heaven is not a matter of what you’ve done – it’s a matter of what Christ has done for you. It’s not who you are that matters – what matters is Who Christ is to you.
You didn’t get saved by being good, which means you won’t lose your salvation by being bad.
Then someone might say, “Then why bother being good?” Paul will deal with that objection later, but for now let me at least say that being godly is an evidence of belonging to God.
Spiritual security for the Jew was not being related to Abraham. Paul will continue to work toward the truth that being related to Christ brings spiritual security.
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Paul’s answer surprises them – they would expect him to say, “It’s all worthless!” Instead he responds in verse 2, “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
The Jew was entrusted with the oracles – the logia – the very words of God.
The Jew was given the Holy scriptures. And what are the scriptures? They are nothing less than the written description of God’s eternal nature. Who He is, what He’s like and what He expects.
The Jewish nation was given the inspired, infallible record of the nature and purpose of mankind – who we are – where we came from – how we got lost – and how we are saved.
What an incredible blessing – the Jewish nation, from Moses on Mount Sinai, to the prophets – to Christ himself and His Apostles – the Jew has been given the honor of being entrusted with the very words of God.
The word translated, “entrusted”, is the same Greek root word that gives us our word “steward.” They were given the stewardship of God’s words.
Now Paul has already stated in chapter 2 that having a copy of the law (or the Bible) does not make you a child of God. However, having a copy of the Bible is an undeniable privilege and blessing. Paul says to them in Romans 3:2, “Don’t forget, God chose to give His revelation to and through you, the Jewish nation.”
Have you ever had anybody give you something to take care of for them. You didn’t own it, they just asked you to watch over it for them?
I remember reading the story of Thomas Edison who was working on improving his first light bulb, and he finished it, and he handed the finished bulb to a young boy, an assistant in the lab. And that boy had to take it to the vacuum chamber up some stairs, and he cautiously took each step one at a time, but then at the last minute he dropped the bulb, and it shattered in a thousand pieces. The whole staff had to spend another 24 hours making another bulb, and when they finished, to the amazement of everyone, Edison handed the new bulb back to the same boy. Imagine that kind of grace and kindness and patience.
Imagine God handing to frail mankind of Jewish origin, the light of His infallible, unchanging, eternal word.
What an incredible privilege. And Paul in Romans 3 says to the Jew, listen, of all the privileges you’ve had – none can match the ongoing stewardship of receiving and sharing with the rest of the world, the words of God.
Do you own a copy of the Bible? Do you realize the great privilege you have to own one in your language when millions of people today do not have even one verse in their own language?
What will you do with it in the year 2002? For that matter, what will you do with it tomorrow? Is it an ornament for your coffee table – or is it a manual for life?
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scritpure is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17. that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
The Bible is good for teaching or doctrine – that tells you what is true and what you should believe.
The Bible gives you reproof – that tells you where you are wrong.
The Bible gives you correction – that tells you where you are right. The word literally means, “to stand you up on your feet.” In other words, the Bible enables you to stand up spiritually, morally.
The Bible gives you training – this equips you to do what is right.
I have shared with a few of my GreenHouse classes the time when my parents built their home . . .hearth . . .building up as high as the mantle . . .
That’s what the Bible is – our contractor who shows us how to live.
Many years ago, a man named Robert Chapman wrote this about the Bible. He powerfully summed up our privilege and responsibility as stewards of God’s word – not only for the Jew of the first century, but for the believer in the 21st century!
“This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts binding, its histories are true and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass and the soldier’s sword. It should fill the memory, test the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory and a river of pleasure. It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor and it condemns all who will trifle with its sacred contents. Christ is its grand subject, our good is its design, and the glory of God is its end.”
Erwin W. Lutzer, Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust The Bible (Moody Press; Chicago, Illinois), 1998, p. 31
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