by James Lincoln on August 6, 2006
Like Isaiah, Paul was captivated by the beauty of the gospel. In verse 15 he wrote, "How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good news." This is a reference to an ancient messenger who would swiftly and joyfully bring the good news of victory from the battlefield back to the people at home. The beauty was not in the fact that these messengers had soft, well manicured photogenic feet. In fact, most likely they were calloused, cracked and rough from running across hills and deserts to get the message home as quickly as possible. The beauty was more in the message than in the messenger. Paul is reminding us about the beauty of the gospel
I want us to linger, again today, on the beauty of this gospel. Again, quoting Isaiah, Paul writes, "He who believes in the Lord will never be put to shame." How beautiful is that? In the gospel, God casts our shame as far as the east is from the west to be remembered no more. He throws our shame into the deepest pit. His perfect love drives out shame. At times, it's difficult to believe God for this extravagant gift of grace. The enemy of our soul loves to accuse us and to do his best to negate this blessing. The Hebrew word, satan, means accuser. But God is forever reminding us that in Jesus we are forgiven of past, present, and future sins. On the cross, Jesus said, "It is finished." We get to celebrate that today in the Lord's Table. Beloved, rest in this and adore Jesus who makes this possible.
Now, I need to clarify because Paul doesn't mean that Christians should no longer experience any shame. The experience of shame can be a good thing; it can be a sign that your conscience is working. The confidence that believers won't be ashamed, means that shame doesn't have to rule over us or dominate us or control us. Also, neither does the sin that causes our shame. And when Jesus takes us home, we won't even have to deal with the presence of shame.
Some teenage girls living Jackson Mississippi were describing why it was that so many of them were having babies so young. They all agreed that the reason they were, was because it was no longer viewed as a shameful thing. They said that so many teens were having a baby that is seemed normal. They said that it was no longer something to be ashamed of. The absence of shame or an environment where there is nothing shameful, is not what Paul is driving at.
The gospel holds out the grace of forgiveness as well as the creation of a new heart that yearns for a shameless life. There is a proper use of guilt and shame. For Christians to act in sinful ways is a shameful thing. And that's as it should be. However, in the gospel, shame doesn't have to rule us or control us. Instead, it can lead us to worship Jesus for His mercy, to forgive. and remove our shame. His advocacy is there for us when we sin. But so also is His power in us to progressively overcome our sin and shame and to live shameless lives. God's forgiveness and grace in the gospel is a beautiful thing.
Friday night. Debby and I visited Freedom House in Portland down by the airport. Freedom House is a refurbished motel that once had a reputation as a place of prostitution, drug use, and more. However, several years ago a church bought it and reclaimed it for Jesus. They've turned a number of rooms into a discipleship training center for those who have issues with addictions and criminal backgrounds. They offer a one year 24/7 intensive residency program. What was once known as blight on the neighborhood is now known as the Christian Motel, doing good in the name of Jesus.
One of the young men in the program had been an addict, a drug dealer, and money collector. Somehow he heard about the ministry and entered the program. He told us that for the first time since he was a kid he had dreams. He quoted Jer. 29:11, "For I know the plans that I have for you declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you."
To listen to him share his story was a beautiful thing. A father spoke of the horrors of his daughter's meth amphetamine addiction. However, after her stay at Freedom House she had been drug free for five years. If you could have seen the tears roll down that man's face, you would have felt again the beauty of the gospel. These aren't sudden quick fix stories. They are people who have labored day in and day out in the good and in the bad to persuade people of the power and beauty of the Gospel and God's grace.
Beloved, this gospel is a beautiful thing. The sense of safety and security it brings us in the presence of threat is glorious. Do you remember Gehazi, Elisha's servant? The king of Syria heard that Elisha was interfering with his plans, so he sent his army to put an end to Elisha. The army found his house and surrounded it with plans to kill him. When Elisha's servant woke up in the morning; he went outside and saw the hills around the house covered with Syrian soldiers ready to attack. He was terrified. Elisha comes out and prays to God, "God please show my servant that those who are for us are more than those who are against us."
At that point the veil that separates heaven and earth was lifted briefly and Gehazi saw the chariots of fire of the heavenly host, dwarfing the Syrian army and making them all look like toy soldiers. When we see that those who are for us are more than they that are against us and that those for us are the heavenly hosts of the Lord...wow! Then God struck the Syrian army blind. Elisha led them into the city and treated them with tender mercies.
Do you feel the beauty and security of knowing that those who are for you are more than those who are against you? Paul puts it this way, "If God is for you who can stand against you?" And if you obey the gospel and follow Jesus this and more is true for you. Now, the beauty of the gospel doesn't mean that there isn't any suffering. Christianity isn't escapism. Isaiah, Jesus and Paul all suffered. Tradition has it that Isaiah was sawed in two. Read 2Cor.10:24ff for an idea of what preaching the gospel costs Paul. The beauty of the gospel isn't in escaping suffering; it's in discovering how suffering can put us in touch with God's love that has suffered much on our behalf. The beauty of the gospel conforms us to the image of Jesus.
Then of course there's the beauty of the scope of the message. "Who so ever believes will be saved." No matter who we are or what we have become, God calls and invites us to hear, believe and receive the good news of Jesus Christ and call upon the Lord Jesus. Black, white, young, old, smart, dull, swift or slow, Jew or Gentile, male or female ...it doesn't matter...God holds out this good news to all. That's a beautiful thing.
So, if you are hungry for beauty, think long and hard about this gospel and if you do... your heart will be filled with beauty. Like David, we need to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.
BEAUTY REJECTED Now, what follows is enormously sad. Israel spurned and rejected this beauty. Note that in vv. 14-15 Paul isn't giving us an explanation about why Israel didn't love this gospel. He asks the questions, "Did they not hear?" His answer is, "Of course they did. And did they not understand it? Of course they did." Israel did hear and she did understand. She just didn't want what was being offered and commanded. Israel didn't want to admit she stood in need of God's grace like everyone else. He says that they didn't obey the gospel.
Does the Bible say anything about the state of Israel today? With the current crisis between Israel and Lebanon, I'm getting that question. I believe that it does and somehow in the next few weeks we'll find a way for us to consider these things. For now, let me just say that the reality of Israel's rejection of the gospel and Her Messiah Jesus...broke Paul's heart and caused him endless agony (cf.9:1). Emotionally he couldn't get passed it. But as we shall see in the next chapter God has plans for Israel that go beyond her present rejection of Jesus. He plans a future grace that will bring about a national revival. Someday, God and His Messiah, Jesus, will be honored and cherished and treasured in Israel. We'll talk more about that later.
A Warning But as we read this account of Israel's rejection, we need to guard ourselves against something. Any of us can fall to the temptation of judging the Jews here harshly. I was an assistant pastor at a church in the Chicago area during seminary. One of the church members was talking about the Jews and he said, "Maybe Hitler should have finished the job." I was shocked. We have to guard our hearts against this kind of racism. If you read these verses thinking that by nature you would have been wiser, more receptive, more eager and willing to have honored Jesus look at v. 19
"But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: "I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation."
20 But Isaiah is very bold and says: "I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me." NKJV
Yes, the Jews as a nation were disobedient and obstinate. But notice what he says about the Gentiles: the Gentiles were foolish, indifferent, not seeking nor asking for God's Messiah. No one -Jew nor Gentile- can claim they are saved because on their own, smarts, wisdom, eagerness and interest in seeking after God. In fact, in Rom.3:11, Paul quotes David who says flat out, "no one seeks God." And that includes Moses, David, Paul, you, and me. Paul's own conversion should illustrate this. He wasn't seeking God. He was on his way to kill the Christians! And the Lord grabbed Paul up by the knap of the neck, threw him off his horse and on the ground and said, "Why are you persecuting Me?" Then He saved Paul. Paul is careful to show ...All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God...All are saved by the miracle of grace."
Sadly, some have used verses like these to vilify the Jews. Martin Luther wrote scathing pamphlets against the Jews. One is entitled, "Concerning the Jews and Their Lies." In it, he admonished Christians to destroy homes and synagogues with fire to silence rabbis on pain of death, seizure of Jewish wealth, and the enslavement of Jewish young people into hard labor. Many literate Jews haven't forgotten this and some even argue that Hitler simply brought to flower the seed planted by Luther. One Jewish writer wrote this to a Christian:
How odd of God to choose the Jew But not so odd as those who choose the Jewish God and hate the Jew."
Anti-Semitism is well within the capabilities of Christians. I think we are seeing it again in the way the international community is responding to Israel as it defends itself against aggressive neighbors. Don't misunderstand...Israel shouldn't be supported when she does unjust and unmerciful things. But it's possible for any of us to read a text like this and cluck our tongues and judge Israel's disobedience rather than weeping at the tragedy and know that but for the grace of God... there go we.
When Debby and I read these verses we can see the names of our own family members who just like Israel reject the beauty of God's gospel and would choose hell over heaven rather than believe in Jesus. So, these are grievous verses. They break your heart. Listen, don't be like this! Don't be unbelieving and rejecting the gospel of God's grace in Jesus. Don't be obstinate and disobedient.
Israel Didn't Obey the Gospel
Notice that Isaiah asked the Lord in v. 16... "LORD, who has believed our report?" Paul anticipated the question, "Perhaps Israel didn't hear the gospel?" Yes, Israel heard the gospel but she didn't believe what Isaiah preached! She didn't obey the gospel. But Perhaps Isaiah wasn't an effective preacher. The truth is that no prophet was ever as articulate, enduring, and creative as Isaiah. Other than Jesus Isaiah was the best preacher Israel ever knew. Listen to the lesson Paul alludes to in Rom.10:16. It's a quotation from Isa.53:1ff...
"Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
...12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Let me ask this question...Was Isaiah an effective preacher? He called the nation to repentance for decades but Israel didn't fall in love with God nor the gospel. I wonder what church consultants might say to Isaiah today in order to make him a more effective preacher. I would argue that he was effective. I would say that he was effective because he was faithful. I've never read a better presentation of the gospel than Isa.53. I would argue the reason more didn't believe his message was because they didn't want to hear what he had to say. They didn't want to submit to his message nor the God behind the message.
Notice Paul's conclusion. His diagnosis is that they didn't want to submit or yield to God. They didn't obey the gospel. Because the gospel comes to us from God it always comes to us as a summons from our King, the Lord of the universe and our Creator. Therefore the way we respond to it is either with obedience or disobedience. Have all our worries about the way the gospel is packaged distracted us from the simplicity of its message and charge?
That's why the Lordship salvation debate was so absurd. You can't believe in the Lord Jesus without in some fundamental way acknowledging Jesus as Lord. Paul began this letter by saying that he received his apostleship to bring about "the obedience that comes from faith." He hasn't strayed from this call. This is not about meriting our salvation by our obedience. But when you believe you believe in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It would be patently absurd to think I could believe in the Lord Jesus without a commitment to obey Him. How could I say to my wife "I love you and then not submit to her?" When you love someone you submit to them. You say, "Your wish is my command." Of course our obedience to each other is always qualified by our obedience to the Lord. But to love God is to obey Him and do what he says. Israel disobeyed the gospel. Today many have no idea that believing in Jesus is a call to obey Him. Many see no contradiction in accepting Jesus and disobeying Him. In fact many think that if you call Christians to obey Jesus you are adding works and spoiling grace. How sad is this?
In v. 18, Paul presses on. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world."
19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, "I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding."
"Did Israel really hear?" Yes and then in v. 18 Paul uses Ps.19 as an analogy. Just as God has born witness to Himself if all of creation so God has made his gospel known to Israel. Just as nature cries out that there is a God So God cried out to Israel through nature and His prophets to believe the gospel.
The other day I heard some scientist talking about string theory of the universe. One was discussing the Big Bang theory. He asked, "Where did the stuff of the Big Bang come from? He continued, "Are we saying that all of this came from nothing?" Then he smiled and said, "Now that would be absurd wouldn't it." And he left it there with nothing more to say.
The design, irreducible beauty and complexities of the universe point to a Designer. That is the most natural conclusion one can make. When Spanish officials were investigating the terrorists train bombings several years ago I remember one of the investigators saying that there was too much of a pattern in the evidence to conclude that the bombing was a random accident. It was just the most natural thing to do... to conclude from the design of the bombing that there was a designer. To conclude that it was the result of the random collision of molecules would have been laughable. The same is true with our conclusions about nature.
And Paul says that just as God has spoken to all of our hearts in nature about Himself so He has spoken to His people through His prophets as well. He says, "and their words (the witness of nature to Himself) went through all the world." God did not fail to get Israel the gospel.
But maybe they didn't understand? (19) No, they understood, Paul quotes Moses in Deuteronomy. "I will make you jealous by a nation without understanding (unlike you who understood these things)...But as for Israel, all the day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.'" No, Israel will not be able to say, "We just didn't understand." The issue for Israel wasn't lack of hearing or understanding; it was an unwillingness to yield and believe what the prophets were saying.
Grace To Come But God has a plan. Rom 10:19
"I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER YOU."
His plan is to create a jealousy in Israel's heart as she sees the blessings of her God, falling generously on the Gentiles.
While living in Chicago, Debby and I often stayed in Jewish homes, taking care of Jewish children as the parents went away on vacations. On one occasion, I took the opportunity to teach the children some basic Hebrew lessons. When the parents got home, dad asked the kids what they did while they were away. Full of excitement and great joy, they ran up to their dad and said, "Daddy Daddy we learned Hebrew and read from the Scriptures." We were a little embarrassed because in the eyes of that dad was a pain and an envy. I have no confidence that he acted on it. But, he was dumbstruck by the idea that a goy -a Gentile- was teaching his children the Hebrew language of God's Holy Scriptures. Intuitively, he knew that this was a glorious heritage and a blessing he had neglected. Yet, in some mysterious way it had fallen on this Gentile.
Israel rejected the gospel. But God has a plan of future grace for Israel. He will use the blessings that He pours out on Gentile believers; as a means of creating a thirst in her heart for those blessings that were first given to her. God is always faithful to His word. Rom 11:1-2
"I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
God has a plan of future grace for Israel. He has not rejected the nation of Israel forever. This season of hard heartedness will someday be lifted and when it is God and His Messiah Jesus will be glorified by Israel. And because God is faithful to His word to Israel, we can be certain that He will be faithful to His word to us as well. This morning, before we celebrate the Lord's Table, let's listen again to the good news from Isaiah, Isa 53:4-6
"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
This is beautiful and good news about Jesus. Believe it and obey it today and live!