Paul’s Desire for Israel (Romans 10:1-4)
Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Sunday, August 8, 2021
On April 12, 2012, the White Sox’s pitcher Philip Humber pitched a perfect game. That is, he retired 27 batters in a row. No walks, no hits. It’s a feat that’s been accomplished by only 18 other pitchers in Major League Baseball’s 108-year-old history. But then in November of that same year, the White Sox cut him from their team roster.
An article in Sports Illustrated zeroed in on Humber’s deadly character flaw—perfectionism. The article’s subtitle read, “For one magical April afternoon, Philip Humber was flawless. But that random smile from the pitching gods came with a heavy burden: the pressure to live up to a standard no one can meet.” The article continued:
The biggest problem with Humber wasn’t his talent. It was, according to those close to him, the unrealistic expectations he set for himself. “He’s a perfectionist,” says Robert Ellis, [a former mentor to Humber.]”
Humber admitted, “After the game it was like, I’ve got to prove that the perfect game was not a fluke—I almost felt like I had to prove that I deserved to be on that list. I was thankful for it, but at the same time I wanted to make sure that everyone knew that this wasn’t a joke. I’m really good enough to do this.”
Every time Humber took the mound, he tried to be the pitcher he was in Seattle—but competence seemed unattainable, much less perfection. In his next start, he allowed nine runs in five innings. Two outings later he was bombed for eight runs in 2 1/3 innings. Every time he fell short of the new standard he set for himself, he pushed himself harder. He began spending more time than ever in the video room. He played with every imaginable grip for his pitches. He threw extra bullpen sessions. He ran more, lifted more. He asked teammates how they dealt with their struggles. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t recapture the magic. “I just feel lost,” Humber said.
The article concluded with a ray of hope: “Philip Humber doesn’t know what will come next in his baseball story. This he knows: He’s done chasing perfection.”
My theme today is:
The Jewish people had a zeal for the Law, but missed Jesus, Who is the end of the Law.
My application: Trust in Jesus for salvation and pray for the salvation of others.
- Again, let’s place this passage in context:
- Paul has been talking about how God can do with nations as He pleases.
- Romans 9:1-6 was about Paul’s heart for his brethren, the Jewish people. Paul wanted to be cursed so they could be saved.
- As I shared last week, we see in Romans chapter 9 an antinomy, that is an apparent contradiction, or a paradox. This is a mystery. There is a mystery which is God’s sovereignty alongside the freewill of human beings. God is sovereign and people have freewill, people are accountable for their actions, yet God does have a predetermined plan. There is a mystery regarding how much freewill we have and how God orchestrates things to accomplish His will.
- Romans 9 was showing that God is in charge. God is in control.
- So far Paul has given examples in order to show that God is faithful, and that God is in charge.
- In verses 7-13 (Romans 9:7-13) Paul showed that the promise to Abraham was going to go through Isaac, not Ishmael, and then through Jacob, not Esau. In verse 13 (Romans 9:13) God said that Jacob He has chosen, but Esau He has rejected.
- In verses 14-18 (Romans 9:14-18) Paul gives the example of Pharoah. God raised Pharoah up for His purposes and God hardened Pharoah’s heart for His purposes. God has the right to do with nations as He pleases and Pharoah was the head of Egypt. Further, Pharoah hardened his own heart.
- In verses 19-29 (Romans 9:19-29) we talked about God’s providence and that we cannot talk back to God. Paul gave the example of a potter and clay. The clay cannot talk back to the potter (Romans 9:20). A potter has a right to make some for honorable use and some for dishonorable. The potter has the right over the clay. God has the right over nations. God chose Israel for His purposes.
- Paul then used a few Old Testament quotes, Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10 to show that God was going to call gentiles to Himself. Isaiah 10:22-23 is also quoted. Isaiah 1:9 is also quoted to share that God was preserving a remnant.
- In the end of Romans 9, in Romans 9:30-33, Paul was showing that gentiles were saved because they had faith and Jewish people had not been saved because they kept the Law without faith.
- Paul quoted from Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14 in that order to show that Jesus was a stumbling block.
- This brings us to chapter 10.
- One source shares: The chapter division signals a shift in Paul’s emphasis from God’s dealings with Israel in the past, namely before Christ’s death, to His dealings with them in the present.
- Paul’s desire for Israel (Romans 10:1-4)
- Romans 10 begins much like Romans 9.
- Romans 10:1 shares: Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
- Notice how Paul steps back and addresses them? He address them as brothers, or it could be translated as “brothers and sisters.”
- I think it was Dr. Rydelnic that shared: This is the only verse in the Bible about praying for lost people and this is about the Jewish people.
- Paul is writing here about the Jewish people, Israel. Paul’s desire and prayer for them is that they will be saved.
Paul prays that God would convert Israel. He prays for her salvation! He does not pray for ineffectual influences, but for effectual influences. And that is how we should pray too.
We should take the new covenant promises of God and plead with God to bring them to pass in our children and our neighbors and on all the mission fields of the world.
God, take out of their flesh the heart of stone and give them a new heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
Circumcise their heart so that they love you! (Deuteronomy 30:6)
Father, put your Spirit within them and cause them to walk in your statutes. (Ezekiel 36:27)
Grant them repentance and a knowledge of the truth that they may escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25–26)
Open their hearts so that they believe the gospel! (Acts 16:14)
When we believe in the sovereignty of God — in the right and power of God to elect and then bring hardened sinners to faith and salvation — then we will be able to pray with no inconsistency, and with the confidence of great biblical promises for the conversion of the lost.
Thus, God has pleasure in this kind of praying because it ascribes to him the right and honor to be the free and sovereign God that he is in election and salvation.
- One person writes: My wife, Angie, went to a rough high school. There were few Christians there apart from one teacher, Mr. David Bunton, who taught manual arts.
- Years after Mr. Bunton left his position, dozens of his former students became believers. Many have entered the ministry and become pastors and missionaries.
- I tracked down Mr. Bunton, who is now 70 years old and retired. He was stunned and choked with emotion when I told him of the many conversions since he had taught at that high school.
- I wondered how his influence had brought such a harvest. He told me that many times he had prayed softly over his classes as he sat back in his desk and watched them work. But apart from this, he’d done nothing to influence these students toward Christ. The only common point of spiritual connection the students shared was that they were prayed over by their teacher.
- Now, look at verse 2: For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
- He is talking about his ethnicity. The Jewish people have a zeal for God. Stop right there.
- CSB shares: Both zeal and true knowledge are necessary if one is truly to know God and serve him. In his zeal as a non-Christian Pharisee, Paul (then called Saul; see Ac 7:58 and note there) persecuted the church (Ac 22:3–5). Likewise, zeal among unbelieving Jews led to Jesus’s unjust execution. In spiritual blindness they not only missed God’s way of righteousness, they opposed it.
- But there is a logical contrasting conjunction here, which is translated as “but.”
- “But,” their zeal is not according to knowledge.
- They followed the Law without knowledge, or without the knowledge that God was sending a Savior. They were not trusting in Jesus. Paul will actually explain his meaning in verse 3.
- Romans 10:3 reads: For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
- His brethren, Israel, the Jewish people, were trying to establish their own righteousness. They thought they could be good enough by keeping the Law.
- Tony Evans shares: Many of you are trying to make it to God’s heaven by stirring up your own righteousness. You are stirring as hard as you can—got to live right today, got to do better today, got to go to church today, got to give money today. And you stir and you stir, and it’s still not sweet. You’ve stirred your life the best you can, but stuff is still settling at the bottom, and it’s just not blending in. The righteousness Jesus Christ offers is the end of your stirring. He’ll make you into sweet tea. He is the end of the law to everyone who believes because he’s already fulfilled the law for you and put his Spirit into you.
- They were ignorant of the righteousness of God. They did not submit to God’s righteousness.
- The righteousness of God was, and is, Jesus. Jesus was completely righteous and died in our place.
- Romans 1:17: For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
- They ignored Jesus. Paul will show this in the next verse.
- Verse 4 shares that.
- Romans 10:4: For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
- This is saying that the Law ends with Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the Law. The Law was a tutor to lead them to Christ. As I shared last week: Remember that Galatians described the Law as a tutor to lead them to Christ (Gal. 3:24). The Law was to lead them to Christ. Galatians 2:16 shows that a person is not justified by works of the Law, but by faith in Christ. They thought the Law would make them righteous in, and of, itself, but it was supposed to lead them to Christ.
- The Moody Bible Commentary shares: The end of the law indicates that Jesus, by His death, brought the era of living under the law to a close. Just as the finish line is both the goal and the end of a race, Jesus is the goal of the law inasmuch as it anticipated and pointed toward Him, and He is the end of the law since He brings its era of governing life to a close (see the comments on Mt 5:17–19; Rm 3:21–26; Gl 3:10–4:11).
- MacArthur: Although the Gr. word translated “end” can mean either “fulfillment” or “termination,” this is not a reference to Christ’s having perfectly fulfilled the law through His teaching (Mt 5:17, 18) or through His sinless life (2Co 5:21). Instead, as the second half of the verse shows, Paul means that belief in Christ as Lord and Savior ends the sinner’s futile quest for righteousness through his imperfect attempts to save himself by efforts to obey the law (cf. 3:20–22; Is 64:6; Col 2:13, 14).
- One source shares: As the hymnwriter A. M. Toplady put it, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.” The only thing God requires of people is that they not persist in trying to earn what they can only receive as a totally free gift. Their problem is that pride stands in the way of receiving God’s gift. Deeply ingrained in people’s hostility to divine grace is a proud and stubborn self-reliance that would rather suffer loss than be deprived of an occasion for boasting.
- Paul addresses them as brother and sisters. We must address people with loving, familiar language (verse 1).
- The apostle Paul prayed for the salvation of his ethnic group (verse 1).
- We must pray for our immediate family to be saved. Salvation is from God (Jonah 2:9) and so we must go to God in prayer.
- We must pray that God would change the hearts of our children so that they would turn to Him for salvation.
- We must pray that God would change the hearts of our grandchildren so they would turn to Him in salvation.
- We must pray that our siblings would turn to Christ.
- We must pray that our parents and grandparents (if they are alive) will be saved.
- We must pray that our ethnic group will be saved.
- We must pray that those from our neighborhood, our city, and our country will be saved.
- We must pray for the salvation of people.
- We must understand that zeal alone will not save us, or others, we must have zeal and a trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior (verses 2-4).
Clifton Fadiman, in The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, tells a story about Valdimir Nabokov, the Russian-born novelist who achieved popular success with his novels Lolita (1955), Pale Fire (1962) and Ada (1969).
One summer in the 1940s, Nabokov and his family stayed with James Laughlin at Alta, Utah, where Nabokov took the opportunity to enlarge his collection of butterflies and moths. Fadiman relates: “Nabakov’s fiction has never been praised for its compassion; he was single-minded if nothing else. One evening at dusk he returned from his day’s excursion saying that during hot pursuit near Bear Gulch he had heard someone groaning most piteously down by the stream.
“‘Did you stop?’ Laughlin asked him.
“‘No, I had to get the butterfly.’
“The next day the corpse of an aged prospector was discovered in what has been renamed, in Nabokov’s honor, Dead Man’s Gulch.”
While people around us are dying, how often we chase butterflies!
 Albert Chen, “The Problem with Perfection,” Sports Illustrated (12-31-12); source: Nick Lannon, “The Problem with Perfection,” Mbird blog (1-9-13)
 Devotional excerpted from The Pleasures of God, pages 208–209
 John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Ro 10:4.
 Source: Vernon Grounds, Denver, Colorado. Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 3.