Dan Popp
The rock at the end of the road
Romans: The most important book ever written
By Dan Popp
April 12, 2011

    For he said to them, "This is the rest; give rest to the weary, and this is the tranquility," but they would not listen. And the word of the Lord shall be for them a precept for a precept, a precept for a precept, a line for a line, a line for a line, a little there, a little there, in order that they go and stumble backwards and be broken, and be trapped and caught. (Isaiah 28:12-13, a Jewish translation)

At our last meeting of the Romans Book Club we started to explore the question, "What is God's plan for the Jews?" Paul laid the foundation for the answer by showing that God is dealing with them by His sovereign choice (9:6-24); and that human works are not a factor in that choice (9:11,16).

Moving forward, in verses 25-29 the apostle tells us that God will continue His historical pattern of preserving a remnant, even when most of the nation is unfaithful.

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." [v.27, ESV]

The only question about this section is why so many readers stop here, as if this were the end of Paul's argument rather than the beginning. God's promises to Israel cannot be said to have failed because He has reserved for Himself a small part who will believe that's a true statement. But there's much more truth coming. Resuming at verse 30 we find another Pauline paradox:

What shall we say then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. [NASB]

Paul began his letter to the Romans by laying out the bad news. It seems he's doing the same thing here when discussing the Jews: making sure the problem is clear before he presents the solution.

In Chapter 9 Paul touched on the Jews' overconfidence in their relationship to Abraham. Here he mentions a second mistake: Love of their own homemade rightness. But that certainly isn't unique to the children of Israel. I shudder to imagine how many people in "Christian" churches today believe they'll get to heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments.

And please notice this: After basing his thesis regarding the future of the Jews on predestination, Paul has no problem pointing his finger at bad human choices. I'll just say again that our theology must somehow embrace both human autonomy and divine sovereignty.

For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written, "Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." [NKJV]

The apostle smashes together two of Isaiah's prophecies to identify the "cornerstone" as the stumbling stone. The same person, Christ, can be either the foundation of your life for today and eternity, or the obstacle that trips you up. The difference is faith. He whose faith rests upon it shall never be disappointed. [Wey]

Chapter 10

Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. [KJV]

Like a compass needle, Paul's thoughts swing back to the welfare of his relatives. It's easy for us to forget that most of the people trying to kill Paul at this time were Jews. If our attitude toward the earthly kinsmen of Jesus isn't one of mercy, then we don't have the same Spirit the apostle had.

For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. [NKJV] ...but it is not enlightened. [Amp]

This knowledge (Gr. epignosis: "full knowledge and recognition") isn't a matter of acquiring facts, but of coming to know by experience through faith. "In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Col. 2:3)

For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God's righteousness. [NRSV]

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. [ESV] ...For Christ marks the termination of law, so that now anyone who has faith may attain uprightness. [Gspd] ...For to every believer Christ is an end of law as a means of righteousness. [Mon]

The word translated end is telos, from which we derive our word "toll." It isn't the word for "consummation," but the word for "termination." When I'm at the telos paying my toll, I'm exiting one highway and turning onto another. When Jesus became the first human being to fulfill the Law, He ended it as a way to achieve rightness, and built for us a new road of faith (Rom. 3:21,22). Update your navigation system: the old map to heaven is obsolete (Hebr. 8:13).

Jesus is the end of the road — not for the Jews, but for legalism.

Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." [NIV] ...if a man does what the Law commands, he will live. [Nor]

The Law says, "Do this, and you will live." (Luke 10:28) Grace says, "Live, and you will do this." (Rom. 8:3,4)

But the righteousness based on faith speaks in this way: "Do not say, Who will scale heaven for us (as if we had to bring Christ down to earth); nor say, Who shall descend into the abyss (as if we had to bring Christ back from the dead)." [Wey, Mon, Knox, Con]

We never could have accomplished any part of our own rescue — the very idea is ridiculous.

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [ESV]

This word was originally the command of God (see Deut. 30:11-14). Here it stands for the good news. God's message is already within easy reach of each of us; in fact, it is as near as our own hearts and mouths, Taylor paraphrases. This word is also the fruit of faith that fills the heart — "For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." (Matt. 12:34) And it is the Object of that faith, the Word Himself. He, by His Spirit, is near us and in us who believe.

Jesus castigated the Pharisees for making it seem difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven. It isn't difficult — it's easy. So easy, it's hard. The good news is hard to hear for any religious person that has trudged many miles down the old, dead-end road of his own "goodness." For those who realize that "only One is good," it is easy.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." — Jesus (Matt. 11:28 NIV 2011)

"He who said to them, 'Here is rest, give rest to the weary,' And, 'Here is repose,' but they would not listen." (Isaiah 28:12, NASB)

The Scribes and Pharisees and other learned rabbis searched the ancient scrolls, but didn't find there what they needed to know (John 5:39). They had plenty of knowledge, but no knowledge. An illiterate robber finally came to know one thing for sure: Somehow this naked, bloody, helpless man dying on the cross to his left is the King of Israel, the Savior of the world, the Son of God.

© Dan Popp


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