by Roger McCay
23 February 2020
Sermon Passage: Romans 9:24-33
Link to Audio Version
Van Crouch, in his book Stay in the Game, makes this remarkable statement: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.” It’s a good point. Why would you waste your time doing something so utterly futile? It’s a road to nowhere but frustration, anxiety, anger, exhaustion, dashed hope, and failure.
Such is the path of works righteousness towards salvation. It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing. It is futile work. Oh, how much better it is to rest in the gracious, finished work of Christ. By God’s sovereign decree and grace, his work ensures the salvation and eternal destiny of his chosen people, who receive that salvation through faith—disciples of Christ—true believers—Christians.
Last week we continued in our journey through Romans 9, looking at how the Lord works in humanity with two groups of people, “vessels of wrath” (the reprobate) and “vessels of mercy” (the elect). We looked at how God has not only told us this is so, but the reality of double-predestination (including the balance of God’s sovereign election and human responsibility) is evident throughout history. We see it from the very beginning, continuing until now, with the revelation of the Lord Jesus’ own words that such will be the reality until he returns in judgment. We further looked at how not only is this divide true in a macro sense among humanity (Jew and Gentile), it is also true in a micro sense within the nation of Israel historically along with the continuation of Israel, (God’s church), with the weeds and the wheat. Indeed, within the remnant of God’s visible church (all the pew-sitters and pulpit-standers, if you may), within that assembly, the ecclesia, is the remnant of true Israel, vessels of mercy, God’s chosen people, the elect, spiritual heirs of the promise (which is God’s covenant of grace, fulfilled in Jesus Christ).
Paul elaborates on this theme in our passage today, illustrating the concept of God’s remnant from the prophets and highlighting the generosity of God extended across all humanity—the gift of righteousness received through faith.
In vv. 9-29, Paul goes back to the Lord’s actions of keeping a remnant for himself has been part of God’s plan all along. He refers to the prophet Hosea first and then Isaiah.
First, from Hosea, Romans 9:24-26
24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”
26 “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”
You may remember that Hosea …
Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, studying the NT without a knowledge of the OT puts you at a serious handicap to understanding God’s revelations in the NT.
Now, you might remember, Hosea was the last prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel, just before they were destroyed and taken into exile by Assyria, about 722 B.C. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute (“a wife of whoredom”), by the name of Gomer. She was a symbol of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Hosea then had three children with her. God assigned their names, which were symbols of his Divine judgment on the unfaithful kingdom. Their second child, a daughter, was given the name ‘Lo-Ruhamah’ (meaning ‘No Mercy’). This was because, as the Lord said, “I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all (1:6).” The Lord named their third child, a boy, “Lo-Ammi” (meaning “Not My People”). He said that this was because “you [the northern kingdom of Israel] are not my people, and I am not your God (v. 9).” God rejected them due to their covenant unfaithfulness, nullifying the marital bond made with them at Sinai. Yet, God doesn’t leave it at that. He continues, saying he will eventually reverse this situation (Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, quoted here by Paul in Rom. 9:25-26).
When it comes to OT prophecy, there are three aspects that are important to understand. John Stott summarizes them nicely:
According to the New Testament, Old Testament prophecies often have a threefold fulfilment. The first is immediate and literal (in the history of Israel), the second intermediate and spiritual (in Christ and his church), and the third ultimate and eternal (in God’s consummated kingdom).
What we are concerned with today is the second form of fulfillment, as revealed in Romans 9 by the Apostle Paul (likewise by the Apostle Peter in 1 Pt. 1:10). The Apostles authoritatively tie these verses to Christ and his church. God, in prophecy, has made it clear that those who are not God’s people can become God’s people—anyone, for that matter, whom the Lord calls according to his sovereign will. What might look like divine rejection can be transformed into divine inclusion according to God’s mercy, love, and choice. As such, God’s promise in Hosea’s prophecy is fulfilled in the NT with the inclusion of the Gentiles “those who are not my people” in God’s Covenant of Grace. Gentile believers, disciples of Christ, are now called by God, “My people” and “Children of the Living God.” The Gentiles were part of the covenant promise all along. Our inclusion in the Kingdom of God was always God’s intent (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8).
Paul next adds two quotes from Isaiah (in vv. 27-29), moving from the inclusion of the chosen Gentiles to the exclusion of the Jews, with the exception of the remnant:
27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”
29 And, as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”
While, from our sinful, limited perspective, those who might seem divinely rejected may in fact be divinely included, so also, those who seem divinely included, may be divinely rejected.
The two Isaiah texts used by Paul, here, were written in the 8th century BC. Isaiah was a prophet in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, but he had a message to both Israel and Judah. Judah had “forsaken the Lord,” and “despised the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 1:4). So, the Lord had judged them as deserving his wrath, sending Assyria to carry it out upon them. According to Isaiah’s prophecy (a prophecy fulfilled during the reign of Hezekiah), the destruction of Judah would be devastating, with the country desolate, the cities burned, and few survivors left in the country (1:7-9). Isaiah’s point was, that while most of the country and people would be destroyed, God would leave a remnant (2 Kgs 19:4), “the offspring” referred to in Isa. 1:9, quoted in Rom. 9:29. The majority of Judah was destroyed due to sin, the remnant was spared due to grace and God’s covenant.
Furthermore, Isaiah also provided the Northern Kingdom hope, despite God’s judgment on them sending them into exile at the hands of the Assyrian King, who carted most of the surviving population away. Despite this, God promises Israel that he will punish Assyria, and that a believing remnant will return to the Lord (Isa. 10:12ff). Yet, as Isaiah puts it in 10:22, quoted by Paul in Rom. 9:27, harking back to the Abrahamic Covenant in Gen. 22:17, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved.” The majority of Israel was rejected due to sin, the remnant was chosen due to grace and God’s covenant. So, in both cases, Israel and Judah, God promised and preserved a remnant.
Now, the point of these quotes from Hosea and Isaiah, taken together, is to emphasize the fact that God’s plan from the beginning was for his Kingdom to include both the elect remnant of the Jews along with the elect Gentiles—both, together, inheriting the promise. As a result, together, both Gentile and Jews are now one as God’s people—altogether making up the tree of true Israel. We’ll look at this tree in detail, Lord willing, starting in Rom. 11 next week.
What does all this mean for us? Simply, in God’s sovereign wisdom and will (despite the fact that every single one of us deserves God’s wrath in judgment like both Israel and Judah), God, by his grace and love, elected his people, a remnant from the vast throngs of humanity, choosing to show us mercy and prepare us for glory.
Now, these are hard teachings, hard to grasp, hard to deal with emotionally at times, and they involve mysteries. Accordingly, it is okay to ask questions. Remember, though, our attitude of inquiry must be one of humble acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty. Our position is to be with our head inclined in worship before Almighty God in wonder at his marvelous ways. Truly, our faith is revealed and confirmed in such things. God reveals just enough, and we receive his Word with trusting faith.
From a position of worship (my true-believing, disciple of Christ, brothers and sisters), give thanks that you are his vessels prepared by him beforehand for glory. Because God is sovereign, we must rest in Him.
With all that said, what are we to conclude? Verses 30-32a:
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32a Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.
Remember, Paul started off chapter 9 with a lament on why most Jews rejected their Messiah and salvation in Jesus Christ. He likely had the faces of Scribes and Pharisees and other friends whom he had known and loved all his life in his mind’s eye—devout Jews who were all about works righteousness in the keeping of the Law. Undoubtedly, Paul had the whole body of the Jews, those who rejected Jesus, in mind. He also remembered the synagogues in various towns where he had proclaimed the gospel and then been rejected, run out, beaten, sometimes with their trying to kill him. For the Jews who worked so hard, zealous in their religious pursuits of righteousness, they did not find righteousness.
The reason why? They tried to gain it by works through payment, not by grace through faith. The Jews could not keep the Law perfectly; no-one could. “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it (James 2:10).” The point of the law was never to save anyone, anyway (Rom. 3:19-20). Furthermore, in the aftermath of Christ’s sacrifice, no sacrifice at the temple was worth anything, and, after A.D. 70, the temple itself was destroyed. Christ Jesus had fulfilled the entire sacrificial system. There was no need for it anymore. There was and is no atonement for the Jews, or anyone else’s, sin outside of Christ. In trying to gain salvation by works, sin remains, with the sinner responsible for his or her sin. Justice will be served; God’s wrath will be satisfied.
Moreover, there is the amazing fact that Gentiles, who have none of the advantages the Jews (the law, the prophets, and so forth), that Gentiles are declared righteous without even pursuing it. Gentiles receive God’s righteousness in the hearing of the gospel message and trusting in Jesus Christ. Citizenship in the Kingdom of God is a gift dropped from heaven right into our laps, and it is one that we didn’t even realize we needed.
My friends, pursuit of righteousness by works; salvation by works is an utterly futile endeavor—like trying to teach a pig to sing. Keeping the law, going to church, partaking of the sacraments, giving to charity, keeping the speed limit, what have you, none of that somehow contributes to your salvation.
It is God’s gracious work, completed in Jesus Christ, that justifies you before God, saving you from God’s wrath. 2 Cor. 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This happened on the cross. Jesus, the perfect lamb of God, took our sins upon himself, and, in turn, gave his righteousness to his chosen people (both Jew and Gentile), those who believe in him. We have actually been made into God’s righteousness—a holy nation. The Lord did the work. When we try to add our work to his, we are saying his work was not enough. It was enough. “It is finished,” as Jesus said right before he died. Jesus’ sacrifice, the Son of God’s work, was accepted by the Father. God affirmed this victory over sin in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. We receive the benefits of the Lord’s gracious work through faith. This has, through all time, just like with Abraham, always been the case (Rom. 4).
Yet, people still reject Jesus and his gift of salvation, demanding to try to earn the rewards of righteousness in their own strength by their own works. Hence, Rom. 9:32b-33:
32b They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Paul, here, quotes from a combination of passages. Isaiah, in 28:16, calls for faith in the Lord in the midst of the Assyrian crisis, rather than faith in their own efforts, likening faith in the Lord to “a stone, precious, selected as cornerstone and highly valued.” The stone of which Isaiah spoke is Christ (prophesied in Ps 118:22–23; identified in Matt. 21:42; Acts 4 and 1 Pet. 2). The stone of Christ, faith in Christ, is also the stone of stumbling (Isa 8:14). Hence, Paul, from Isaiah, demonstrates that faith in the Lord is the way to receive God’s grace and salvation. As it’s been said, “Christ is the stone who provides a foundation to those who trust in him and a cause of stumbling to those who reject him.”
But the Jews, for the most part, did not listen and turn to God in faith. This was the way it was in Paul’s day and continues to this day—all but for a remnant. The idea of trusting in Christ trips them up, tosses them headlong onto the ground, and breaks their neck. Moreover, lest Gentiles feel superior, it is this way not only for the reprobate Jews, but also for all humanity that rejects faith in Jesus as God’s one and only way to receive his grace and righteousness.
Pride is a terrible thing. It is at the heart of why faith in Christ is a stumbling stone. It is an insistence on self-actualization—doing it my way and in my strength. “My choice, not God’s choice. My works, not God’s grace. Faith is my work, not God’s gift.” If all that were so, we would have a right to be proud, as we would be responsible for accomplishing our own salvation. God hates pride (Prov. 8:13), and for good reason. Pride destroys the human and divine relationship. It’s been that way since Adam and Eve’s first sin.
Humility before God is the proper balance of the human and divine relationship. “God’s choice, not mine. God’s grace, not my works. God’s gift of faith; my receiving his grace.” This is why Jesus says the first step in following him is to deny ourselves (Mark 8:34). In denial of self, we are trusting in Him.
All those who believe in Jesus, rather than stumbling on the Rock, rest on the Rock, the Lord Almighty, Jesus Christ, trusting in him to save us from God’s wrath that we deserve.
My friends, faith is like an eye. God’s grace is like a source of light, the light is all the benefits of Christ, the eye is merely the vessel through which the light is received. For his chosen people, the Lord’s Spirit removes the scales from our eyes, enabling us, who were once blind, to now see and receive through our eyes of faith, his salvation.
The Lord is generous. He doesn’t have to give anyone the eyes of faith. Yet as a generous God, he gives a way out to all who believe. The Lord did all the work. In his generosity, he gives us the blessings of his work.
Let us, then, purge futile works-righteous attitudes—trying to teach a pig to sing. Let us, together, live lives in obedience of faith, lives characterized by worship, following Jesus—every day, every step of each day. Because God is generous, we must rest in Him.
The question has been posed to me, “How do you know who is elect?” The answer seems simple enough. It’s all the true Christians. For the Jews, those not of the remnant of true Israel, their failure is not because God is unfaithful, unjust, or has lost control, but because they tried to work for their salvation. For all of us, both Jew and Gentile, it is only by God’s sovereign generosity, his free grace, that we receive salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Enabled by him, we rest in him for salvation rather than futilely striving to earn it for ourselves. Among all humanity, it is those who rest in the Lord for their salvation that are the elect, the remnant of true Israel.
What about you? Are you striving to do all the right things to be saved? Or, are you resting on the completed work of Jesus Christ, trusting in him, safe and secure in the salvation he freely gives? Because God’s grace secures his people, we must rest in Him.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 274.
 Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 1289.