It caught me off guard a bit. I was on the phone having a normal conversation with my dad when he stopped me mid-sentence, “Jason,” he said. “I cried today. I was just sitting there in my office and my eyes started to water and I cried.” I’ve never seen my dad cry before and so even to hear him talk about it nearly brought me to tears. Now, there was a good reason my dad cried that day. His own dad, my grandpa, had recently passed. Crying though is a fairly common thing – and we do it for all kinds of reasons. We cry at the birth of a child or when holding that first grandchild. We cry after a break-up or when injured. We cry tears of joy when our favorite teams win. Ladies sometimes cry, just to cry, and, ladies, when you ask your boyfriend or your husband if they are crying and they say, “No, I just had something in my eye.” That’s a lie. They were crying.
We all cry. And, so it isn’t unexpected to hear that Paul finds himself weeping today as he writes in the 9th chapter of Romans. Except, what Paul weeps for is something far greater than a team winning a game or even a loved one being buried. Paul today weeps over the unbelief of others. Take a look for yourself. Paul doesn’t say it flat out, but his words are clear. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.” It was the unbelief of his own race, his own people, the Jews, that led Paul to weep.
Now, I gotta tell you, this is all hard to believe. It’s hard to believe that Paul could have such anguish over the Jewish people to the point that he’d ask to suffer hell in their place. Here is why I say this. Take a leisurely stroll through the book of Acts in the New Testament and you’ll find that the Jewish people didn’t care much for Paul. They mistreated him, chased him out of towns, followed and harassed him in other towns, and even stoned him leaving him for dead. Yet, here Paul weeps…for them. Why? He knew their history. He knew their roots, and that made their unbelief and his anguish that much greater.
Listen to Paul’s description of the Jews. “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all.” A few weeks ago, as my wife was during her daily Bible devotional reading, she asked me “Is it important that I read all these names?” You likely know just by the question that she was referring to one of those sections in the Old Testament that is literally just a list of names, and it was. She was reading from 1st Chronicles. But her question “Is it important that I read all these names?” connects well with what Paul is doing here as he addresses his fellow Jews. Paul is pointing the Jewish people back to those very names that we often speed read or skip over, because those names, those people, are their history
These were God’s chosen adopted people. God’s divine glory was ever present among them. God made special covenants with them. He gave them his written law and a place to worship. He made promises to them, and kept them, the greatest being the promised made to Abraham that the Savior himself, God’s own son, would come from their line.
And step back with me for a moment. Look again at this rich history of God’s people, look at the roots. Do you see what I see? This is our history. These are your roots. You are one of God’s adopted children. God’s divine glory dwells in you as his Spirit lives and breathes living faith in your soul. You have God’s law, and here we worship. And even though there are times we doubt, God has kept his promises to you and to me. The greatest promise made and kept – you know it well – was God himself here in human flesh. So, as Paul is talking to these Jewish people, he’s talking to people, just like you, and just like me. He’s bringing us all back to our roots. And he does this to show us the source, to remind us of what makes us who we are, Paul brings us back to our roots to bring us back to Jesus.
This needs to be heard today. If you’re like me, you’ve seen your present life change dramatically. From lockdowns, to mask mandates, from protests, to riots, from politics, to more politics, and then this virus…this virus…things are not right. Things – dare I say it – are not normal. And we could discuss and argue all day about how to return to the present time of life that we all knew, we could do that. Or, we could join Paul and we can get back to our roots. We can remember who we are.
The adoption…the divine glory…the covenants…the worship…the promises…Christ! You look at that history. You look at what that means. We are the children of God. We know Jesus, better, he knows us. And his history of a death for all sin and a resurrection for life, life eternal. This has now become a part of our history. And that, that makes your present and your future not something uncertain, but quite certain. That’s why we go back to our roots, to remember what matters in this world. To find comfort in peace in a world rent asunder by all kinds of horrible things. To live now, here to the glory of God, and one day with and in the glory of God as we each receive that eternal rest won for us in heaven.
And so I go back to that list of names that my wife asked me about – those names from chapter one of 1st Chronicles that we so often prefer to skip over – and I start to wonder about those people, their stories, their families, and their history. What things did they endure? What hardships, what challenges, what joys? Those were people just like you and me, and they experienced that history Paul points back to, yet there is one major difference between us and them. They looked forward to the promised child, Jesus Christ. They believed in the Savior to come. We believe in the Savor who did come. And it’s easy then to understand why we find Paul weeping.
The Jews of Paul’s time forgot this. They forgot their roots pointed to a Savior, to Jesus. And so their great history meant nothing. For when Jesus came, they didn’t proclaim him as Lord, rather many of them shouted, “crucify.” So, Paul wept. You know Jesus wept for them too as he stood outside the city of Jerusalem just before Palm Sunday. He wept and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” He saw the rejection. He saw the arrest. He saw the trial. He saw the cross. More than that, He saw the end of Israel. He saw Roman armies besieging the city 30 years later. He saw what the historian Josephus recorded so vividly in his histories – not one stone left on another and every stone drenched in blood. Because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you. Because you forgot your roots.
Ultimately, isn’t this the lesson for us today? To always go back to our roots? And, I admit, I’m not much of a crier myself, but when we go back and look at our history, it’s hard not to weep. First, tears of sorrow over our long soiled history of sin, but then tears of joy as we hear not Paul, wishing he could take our place, but Jesus insisting “Lord, take me instead” and God accepting, allowing his own Son to be cut off and cursed in our place. You know this history. These are your roots.
But I want you to notice one more thing today. Notice Paul not bragging about his connection to God, nor hiding it out of fear of what others might think. No, with a heart of anguish, with great sincerity he desired that others might call Jesus “Savior” with him. Was it not the same with Jesus? Jesus loved his enemies. He prayed for those who persecuted him. “Father forgive them,” he said even while they mocked and killed him. Can you and I learn to love and pray in such a way? If we get back to our roots, we can, and we will. Because there we see how Jesus did this all for you and me. There we see a love underserved, and we must share it. A message that drives out doubt, and fear, and unbelief, and brings trust, and peace, and faith. It matters not who we share it with, for in Christ there are no differences, not ethnic, not socio-economic, and not politic. There are simply people, people whom God loved so much that he gave his Son. And, it’s now our time in history to bring to all people the power of the Word that proclaims these deep and rich roots, roots that rest solely in the power of Christ, God over all, forever praised! Amen!