Something was lacking in Israel at the time of the New Testament. It wasn’t that they weren’t large enough or rich enough. It wasn’t that they lacked influence, or didn’t have their doctrines all spelled out.Though they had many errors, there were some who had stated things correctly. The problem was that they were not holy. They were not living in a way that truly honored their God, and set them apart as his people.
While we identify many problems in churches today, the most pressing problem is not that we aren’t large enough or rich enough. It’s not that we don’t have enough influence in our society, schools, businesses or governments. It’s not that we need to better spell out our doctrines, and better define our organization or methods. Though there are always imperfections in our understanding, there is a place were things are stated correctly.
The problem is that we are not holy enough. We need to get our lives in order so that we truly honor our God according to the principles he gives us in his word.In the first two chapters of Romans Paul showed from the Scriptures that all have sinned, both Gentiles and Jews, and are equally condemned before God. So then, what advantage is there in being marked out as a covenant child of God if it doesn’t liberate you from the final judgment?
Chapter 3 began by explaining the great advantage to the members of God’s covenant family. They have the Scriptures, the word of God. In this book God’s true character is spelled out and our duties to him are made clear. This book also points to the restoration that is possible by the gospel.Even with the advantage of Scripture, instead of learning what God was really like, and learning how to be holy, Ancient Israel assumed their blessings assured them of eternal salvation without a Savior like the one promised.
What had happened to Israel, the people of the book?Romans 3:3, “For what if some did not believe? Will their
unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?”
God made his covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was renewed through Moses, King David, and the prophets. He would make their descendants a special nation blessed uniquely. Through them the Messiah would eventually be born. All this was clearly spelled out in God’s word which had been graciously given to them.
The problem was that Israel did not remain faithful to the covenant. In Acts 7:51-53 Stephen summarized that history to the Jewish leaders, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
Through their long history of unbelief and sin God had not abandoned them. He sent his prophets, and delivered them from their captivities. So why did God preserve Israel through all those times of rebellion?She had not yet completed the purpose for which God had chosen them. By them was to come the Messiah who would reign on the throne of David forever, who would be the final Passover lamb to actually do what the other sacrifices only represented. He would suffer and die in
place of his people to redeem them.
By the time Paul wrote to the Romans, the promised Messiah had come. The atonement had been made. The gospel message been explained. God had completed the purpose of the Jewish nations as an image of the church to come. The church was now born.The symbolisms of it were no longer needed.The time had come when their unbelief reached its absolute limit, the breaking point. Israel committed the final and ultimate breach of God’s covenant. She rejected and crucified the One God had promised from the beginning.
Their rejection of Messiah denied a major point of the law (if it is understood rightly). The law was intended to reveal God’s perfect holiness and fallen man’s inability to live up to it. It was designed to drive humbled sinners in repentance to the promised Christ. But the Jews changed the idea of the Messiah from a needed Redeemer, into a Jewish conqueror. They made the law into a way of salvation instead of what reveals the need for salvation.
Far from admitting that, the Jews saw the problem in a different way. Their question was, “If what you are saying
is true Paul, that there is no special treatment for us Jews. Has God’s faithfulness to his promise to us been annulled? Was it no longer in effect?”
Romans 3:4, “Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.’ “
Just what had God promised Israel? God had not promised them that each person would be exempted from judgment.
God had not revealed his holiness as an optional thing which they were free to redefine. He said, “… You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy…” (Leviticus 11:44)
They had imagined that God’s covenant exempted them from that responsibility. They reduced the awfulness of sin into a minor issue.
When what we believe or practice differs from what God has said, God’s truth must prevail over man’s theories and
excuses.Paul quotes from two portions of Scripture that were familiar to the Jews.
First he used Psalm 116:11 to remind them that lies are common to man, not to God. When what we say or do differs from what the Scriptures teach, we must abandon our position.
Then he quoted from David’s psalm of repentance, Psalm 51:4. He quoted directly from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament popular in his day.
In Psalm 51:4 David prayed, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”
The problem was not that God did not live up to what he promised. It was that he never promised what they had imagined.The prophets often warned Israel that she had misunderstood God’s promises.
Jesus gave a full explanation of how Israel had distorted God’s truth. Paul, the other Apostles and other New Testament writers continued that same lesson.
According to the prophets, and as Paul was teaching here, even Israel’s unbelief was part of God’s design. By their unbelief God revealed his mercy and revealed more of his plan.
It was their unbelief that produced the atoning death of the Messiah on the Cross when their sin-blinded leaders demanded his crucifixion.