Week 7 – Parting Ways

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Welcome to week 7 of our study, Why Israel Matters.  This is a summary of a live study we’re doing each Sunday morning at CalvaryPHX in Phoenix AZ.  (11am in Room 209…you are welcome to join us!)  Last week we discussed the Jewish roots of our Christian faith, and how Christians and Jews are to rightly relate to one another.

We’ll follow that up this week by taking a close look at what happened to cause a split in Jewish-Christian relations in the 1st century, and what took place following that.  As you can imagine, backgrounds and traditions were much different between 1st century Jewish and Gentile believers.  The Jews had a history with God which included temple worship and sacrifices.  Meanwhile, background for most Gentiles was one, primarily, of pagan idol-worship.  Thus, problems arose as traditions clashed!  (Should the potluck be kosher or not!?!)

As we begin to understand the dilemma, let’s reflect back to Abraham.  To keep it all in perspective, we must remember that God birthed the Jewish people through a covenant with Abraham.  Prior to that time, there were no Jews.  God called a Gentile (Abraham) to be father of the Jews!  He then planted our Christian roots in that soil!

What do I mean by that?  Well, consider that “Christian” means “Christ follower,” and we know Jesus Christ was a Jew.  (We follow a Jew!)  Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses, was circumcised on the 8th day (as all Jewish male babies were), was brought to Jerusalem and presented to God, entered and read in the synagogues, observed the feasts and, ultimately, was crucified as “King of the Jews.”

Likewise, the apostles, the New Testament writers and the first followers of Jesus were observant Jews.  Yet, they all serve a function in our planting as Christians in the soil of Judaism!

Given that, let’s focus a bit on Paul and dispel a couple of misconceptions.  Turn in your Bible to Acts 9:1-19 to discover God’s call on Paul.  (You will find another account in Acts 22:1-16 as Paul “shares his testimony” while on trial.)

In Acts 22:3, Paul clearly identifies himself as a Jew…and a very observant one, at that!  It is important to understand that Paul remained a Jew even after that encounter with God in which he became a Christ follower.  He did not stop being a Jew!  He continued observing the feasts (as Jesus did!) and remained Jewish in his customs and traditions.  (Though he did recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, etc)

The point is: Paul was not “converted” to Christianity.  He was simply a Jew who chose to follow Jesus!  In fact, all the first followers of Jesus were JEWS!  (It was a bit later when the door of salvation opened to Gentiles.  Keep reading in Acts for that!)

The other misconception is that, upon his “conversion,” Saul became Paul.  In other words, his name changed.  Not so!  You see, “Saul” is a Hebrew name, while “Paul” is a Greek/Gentile form of the same name.  Paul was called as an apostle to the Gentiles, to whom he ministered.  Therefore, he was known as Paul by his audience.

Now, let’s put some puzzle pieces together.  In Acts 9, we read about the life-changing event that took place in order to prepare him for God’s service.  He is known as Saul in chapter 9 and, in fact, immediately following the Damascus road experience, he began teaching in the synagogues.  That means he was teaching Jews!

Read verses 19b-30.  How was he received by the Jews?  What happened to him?

Thus, you see that, beginning in verse 31, the focus turns to Peter and his ministry, and it remains there for the next several chapters of Acts.  Saul is seldom mentioned again until Acts 13:9.  Take a quick peek at that verse, and a look at the chapter heading to see how God brought Paul into mission with Himself!

Fascinating, isn’t it!  If you have not read the book of Acts lately, it is a great read!  You will get a pretty full understanding of the ministry to which God called Paul.  You will also get a great foundation of knowledge about the 1st century church.

That serves as our backdrop for the rest of this week!  Stick with us as we continue down our path of examining the parting of ways!  See you tomorrow!

Life from the Dead!

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You’re back…and I’m so excited for today’s lesson that I’m jumping right out of my skin!  If you’re new here and have no clue what I’m talking about, we’re in the midst of a Bible study called Why Israel Matters.  This week we are focusing on the Jewish roots of our Christian faith and yesterday we hit the meat of Romans 11.  We’ll conclude yesterday’s stream of thought, so go back and catch it if you missed it!

We left off in verses 11-16, establishing the idea that Israel’s loss was gain to the Gentiles.  Because of their transgression, salvation came to the Gentiles and reconciliation to the world.  But, God is not done with them!  For if their rejection meant salvation and reconciliation to the world, how much more will their fulfillment be?  It will be LIFE FROM THE DEAD!

So, let’s pick it up there.  Recall that God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) was that ALL families of the earth would be blessed.  We have established that the blessing is salvation.  It is intended for all…Jews and Gentiles!  By their transgression, the descendants of Abraham set themselves aside and, in Romans 11, Paul addresses them as “Israel,” not as Jews.  Keep that in mind, as we will come back to it!

The next passage in Romans (verses 17-24) is a stern warning to Gentiles.  So, let’s identify the elements Paul speaks of:

  • Broken off branches = unbelieving Israel
  • Wild olive branches = Gentiles
  • Olive tree = Israel
  • Root = Abraham and his descendants

Because wild olive branches (Gentiles) may be grafted into the olive tree, Paul is illustrating the manner in which we Gentiles attain salvation.  After all, John 4:22 tells us salvation is from the Jews, thus God must establish a way in which we can attain it.

Wild olive trees do not bear fruit!  Thus, only when we are grafted into the cultured olive tree do we attain salvation and produce fruit.  However, broken branches (unbelieving Israel) may also be grafted back into the olive tree.  (Salvation is available to both Jews and Gentiles.)  It is as if Paul said, “So, Gentiles, don’t be arrogant!  You do not support the root…the root supports you.”  Because we have salvation, we must not lord it over those through whom salvation has come.

Then, Paul talks about another mystery!  Romans 11:25-27 identifies the mystery as the hardening that happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.  At that point, all Israel will be saved!  National salvation will come and a worldwide revival as never seen before will take place.  The transgression and sin that once set the descendants of Abraham aside will be removed and Jews and Gentiles will be one as Paul described in Galatians 3:28.

Now, back to verse 15 where we are told Israel’s acceptance will be LIFE FROM THE DEAD.  Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the spiritual state of all people without salvation: dead in trespasses and sin, forever doomed and dominated by the devil.  Beginning in verse 11 of Romans, Paul addressed Israel, rather than the Jewish people.  As “national” Israel set herself aside by transgression, God did not give up on “national” Israel!  In fact, He had “life from the dead” on His mind for all mankind, but illustrated it through His chosen people.

Ezekiel 37 clearly describes Israel as a valley of dry bones, which come back to life.  We know that, after suffering through many attempts at annihilation (including the Holocaust), the land of Israel was re-born on May 14, 1948.  The fulfillment of Ezekiel 37 began, and Israel demonstrated “life from the dead” on that day!

However, that was only a physical rebirth.  God’s promise to Abraham was one of salvation!  While a remnant of Jewish people have gained spiritual rebirth, the nation of Israel still lives in spiritual death.  But Romans 11:26 speaks of a day when ALL Israel will be saved!  God is not done yet…and we have a part to play.  It is our responsibility to move them to jealousy so that God will fulfill His plan.

It is no wonder Paul ends chapter 11 in the manner he does, and we’ll end this week’s study likewise.  But before we do, just know that the study launches into more exciting things as we look at what the Bible tells us lies ahead!  Stick with us!

Now, for Paul’s closing words:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?  Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Has God Rejected His People? May it Never Be!

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Study friends, we’re headed down the homestretch for this week’s lesson…but it may take us two days to get there!  Romans 11 is rich in content and that’s where we’ll hang out to finish our thoughts about the Jewish roots of Christianity.  I hope this key point is resonating with you right now: we need the Jewish people and they need us!

So, open your Bible to Romans 11, while I remind you how Paul ended chapter 10:

But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
~Romans 10:21

So, though God gave the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Jewish people through Abraham and his descendants, are the Jews in or out?  That seems to be the question, and if we stop reading at chapter 10, we are left with the impression God is fed up and put off by them.  But suddenly, opening chapter 11, Paul makes a definitive statement to the contrary!

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!
~Romans 11:1

He then spends the first 6 verses, using himself and Elijah as examples, to say, “Hey…listen up, you Gentiles!  God has saved a remnant of Abraham’s physical descendants who have not bowed the knee to Baal (false gods).  Also, let me remind you that it is grace, not works, that brought us here.”

Yet, by and large, the Jewish people (outside that remnant) did not attain what they desired.  Take a moment to read verses 7-16.  (No, really…stop and read it before going on!  I want you to hear it straight from God’s Word!)

Did you notice?  He now speaks about Israel, not the Jewish people.  Attention is turned to national (ethnic) Israel, and he says:

  • What they are seeking, they do not find.
  • But those who were chosen (those who received by faith) obtained it!  That’s the remnant (and believing Gentiles).
  • The others were hardened (given a spirit of stupor, eyes that see not and ears that hear not).

Then, verses 11-16 get really juicy!  Paul states that, though they may have stumbled over the Stumbling Stone (Jesus), they have not fallen (left without hope)!  In other words: God is not done with them yet!

Meanwhile, notice what resulted from their stumble:

  • By their transgression salvation came to the Gentiles!
  • The door was open for us so that we might move them to jealousy.
  • Their transgression means riches for the world and for the Gentiles.  (God’s promise to Abraham was that through him ALL the families of the earth would be blessed!)
  • If the Gentiles gain such riches, HOW MUCH MORE will be their fulfillment when they recognize and receive the Messiah!

Then, Paul nails it in verse 15:

For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Stop and meditate on that verse for a moment.

God promised salvation to both Jews and Gentiles in an everlasting covenant!  He also promised that it would be through Abraham and his descendants that the entire world would be blessed with salvation.

Once the Jewish people rejected it, they set themselves aside as “national” Israel and God proceeded with His plan for Gentiles.  It is not that God gave up on them.  It is that God has now called us to demonstrate the blessing that came through Abraham!

Thus, their rejection meant life…eternal life…for us.  Yet, they have remained in the state Paul described in Ephesians 2:1-3: dead in their trespasses and sin.  So, if their rejection means life for us, what will their acceptance be but LIFE FROM THE DEAD!

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow, so you’ll have to come back for “the rest of the story!”  Also, bear in mind that Paul’s message to the Gentiles is to avoid being arrogant.  Yes indeed, Israel’s loss was our gain, and our call is to move them to jealousy.  But he will put us in our place tomorrow!

It all comes together in a glorious crescendo in our next lesson, so don’t miss it!  See you then!

Paul’s Heart for His People

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Welcome back, study partners!  This week’s study focuses on the Jewish roots of our Christian faith, and we established a foundation out of Ephesians 1-3 yesterday, indicating that we had a need, God had a plan and the Jewish people were given a solution that they shared with us Gentiles!  Praise God for that!

But is God done with the Jewish people?  Absolutely not!  In fact, as we pick up our study today in Romans 9, we find the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles (Paul) lamenting over his people.  In “great sorrow and unceasing grief,” he longs for the salvation of the Jewish people, stating even that he could wish himself accursed for their sake.  (Keep in mind that he just finished chapter 8, where he declared that NOTHING could separate us from the love of Christ.  So he knows he can’t lose his salvation.  He uses that as an expression of the depth of his yearning for his countrymen.)

In verses 4-5, Paul reminds us of those things which belong to the Jews.  (We studied that last week.)  Then, he makes a very important declaration. Don’t speed through these verses, but slowly and intently read verses 6-8:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;  nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.”  That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

What is Paul saying?  It is not those BORN of Abraham who are Abraham’s descendants (children of God), but those of the promise.  Let’s simplify that with cross references to Galatians 3:6-9, 29:

Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Thereforebe sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.  The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.  So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. …And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.  [Emphasis mine]

My friends, three times in that great passage we are told it is GRACE, not RACE, that saves!  In fact, Paul goes on to say in Romans 9:25-26:

“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”
And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

God calls whomever He wants into His Kingdom, and He uses whomever He wants to accomplish His purposes!  He has a plan for both Jews and Gentiles.  Neither is left out!  But, regardless of ethnicity, righteousness comes through faith alone.  (Verses 30-33).  While the Jewish people stumbled over the stumbling stone (Christ) by trying to do the works of the law, Gentiles attained righteousness through faith.

But rest assured…God is not yet done with the Jewish people, and we Gentiles dare not become arrogant!  We’ll find out why over the next few days.

Israel matters because God’s plan for the Jews benefits Gentiles, and God’s plan for the Gentiles benefits Jews.  Paul yearns for his people, while instructing us Gentiles.  We must not stray from God’s plans for one another!

Stay tuned…it gets better and better!  See you tomorrow!