“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 people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” (Rm 9:2-4)
Through Romans chapters 1-8, Paul systematically and elaborately described what the gospel is. The gospel is Jesus Christ through whom we can be forgiven and justified only by faith in Him.
In chapter 5, we talked about what kinds of blessings we came to have as a result of justification by faith such as peace with God, access to His grace, hope for the glory of God, and so on. After that, Paul explained what it means for us to believe in Jesus. It’s to be united with His death and life. We die to sin and live for God. We are no longer the slaves of sin, but of God.
We also died to the Law which means that we no longer consider it to be the means of salvation. However, we uphold the law through the power of the Holy Spirit who has set us free from the law of sin and death. These are essential facts included in the gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul talks about from Romans 1 to 8.
Now, in Romans chapter 9, Paul’s tone changes. After he finishes explaining what the gospel is, Paul now discusses in earnest the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles and God’s plan for them in Romans 9-11.
At that time, Christianity was growing dramatically despite severe persecution. At first, most of the Christians were not Gentiles, but Jews. After Jesus’ disciples received the Holy Spirit, they immediately went out and started proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah. However, it took time for this gospel to be delivered to the Gentiles. Most of the believers in Acts chapters 2-8 were Jews.
But, things started to change starting in Acts 9. After encountering Jesus on the way to Damascus, Paul, who had been a persecutor of Christians, converted to Christianity and started to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. In Acts chapter 10, we read how God sent Peter to a centurion named Cornelius, who was a Gentile, and had him proclaim the gospel to him and his family.
The door to the mission to the Gentiles was gradually opening and it started in earnest in Acts chapter 13. The church at Antioch supported Paul and Barnabas on missions, so they began to proclaim the gospel in all the regions they traveled, and many Gentiles came to believe in Jesus as a result of Paul’s mission trips.
So, when Paul wrote a letter to Rome, the Jewish Christians were outnumbered by the Gentile Christians. Some people might have thought that God abandoned His original people and chose the Gentiles instead. That’s what Paul deals with in Romans chapter 9-11.
Paul’s Anguish For the People of Israel
Paul starts chapter 9 by expressing his great sorrow and anguish for the people of Israel. Paul said,
“I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit - 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 people, those of my own race, the people of Israel…” (Rm 9:1-4)
Paul’s anguish was caused by the people of Israel. Even though Paul was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles, he was still an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin. So, it must have been very hard for him to see that many of his people weren’t saved.
His anguish for them was so great that he even said that he wished to be cursed and cut off from Christ, if that could lead them to salvation in Jesus. Paul’s confession is similar to Moses’ prayer in Exodus.
In Exodus 32:32, Moses said to God,
“But now, please forgive their sin - but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Ex 32:32)
Moses said this after he found out that the Israelites did evil things by making a golden calf and worshiping it. He boldly prayed to blot him out of God’s book of life. By doing so, Moses expressed his great concern for the Israelites.
That’s the mindset Paul also had. Paul really wanted his own people to be saved. I think this strong desire was the driving force that made him keep proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone even though he faced great persecution and hardships.
In Romans 1:14-16, Paul said,
“I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Rm 1:14-16)
Paul said that he was obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, not because he owed them anything, but because Jesus had entrusted him with the gospel to deliver it to others.
Paul was so passionate about preaching the gospel because he had already experienced its great power and really wanted others to experience the amazing power of God’s salvation as well.
That’s one of the common characteristics of Christians who have truly experienced the power of the gospel. They become so eager to preach the gospel, not just because that’s an obligation to do so as Christians, but because they know that the gospel is the good news and the power of God that brings salvation.
And, that’s also the mindset we should pursue as Christians. If we don’t have that kind of passion, we should ask ourselves whether or not we truly believe in Jesus or experience the power of the gospel.
8 Privileges of the Jews
After expressing his great sorrow and anguish for the Jews, Paul listed the 8 privileges they had in God in verses 4-5. He said,
“Theirs is the adoption to sonship; 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 the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” (Rm 9:4-5)
These were the blessings the Jews had—adoption to sonship, the divine glory, the covenants, the law, the temple worship, the promises and the patriarchs of faith. Above all else, the Messiah himself was a Jew. Not one of these blessings is trivial. These are very great things to have.
By listing these blessings, Paul was pointing out how incredulous it was that they who had all these privileges could possibly reject the Messiah.