Since 1940 astronomers have been trying to figure out why the Sun’s upper atmosphere (corona) is up to 300 times hotter than the surface.
This is not what you would expect.
Imagine you are standing by a campfire on a chilly night and get a little too warm so you move away from the fire and you get warmer, a lot warmer…this would be surprising.
But that’s what happens with the sun and we don’t know for sure why.
A NASA scientist who is the lead on a project to explore this mystery said, “It defies the laws of nature. Its like water flowing uphill. It shouldn’t happen.”
Clearly it doesn’t defy the laws of nature, unless she is calling it a miracle…but I know what she means…she means “We don’t have any science that can explain it yet.”
Next year NASA plans to launch a spacecraft to in their words “touch the sun”
The ship will be about the size of your fridge and will be built to withstand temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while maintaining room temp inside the ship.
They say the ship will touch the sun, that’s not exactly true…it will get about 3.9 million miles from the sun…but relatively speaking that’s pretty close.
If the space between the sun and us was a football field, we are going to put the fridge on the 5-yard line…not a touchdown, but close.
So let’s take this one mystery from the universe…a campfire that is hotter as you move away from it…and consider some options we might take in regards to it.
- We can disbelieve in the sun:
-Since there is no none way this could be true in terms of our own experience, the sun must not be real after all.
-If we can’t get our minds around it…it doesn’t exist.
- We can give up understanding the sun at all:
-If we can’t figure this mystery out, what’s the point…the sun is the sun, let’s just live out our days underneath it…leave it alone.
- We can presume to know what we do not.
-We can concoct a theory that is not true to all the facts but allows us to not have to struggle with mystery.
“Oh, that’s not hard, here’s what happening out there.”
- We can try to understand it better.
– Hey, I know, let’s send a space fridge out there and see if we can better understand the sun!” (A project, by the way, that is 60 years in the making)
There are other possible options, but you get the idea.
Mystery exists in the world…it can lead to vastly different choices.
Today we start a section of Paul’s letter (chapters 9-11) that feels a bit like he has launched a fridge at the sun.
Huge flaming mysterious truths that we can always get closer to understanding and we should always try…but we can’t get close enough to fully understand them.
Because even if we someday have the technology to land a probe on the sun, we will never have the ability to enter fully into the mind of God.
Only God can ever fully understand God.
But we can and we should seek to understand him better.
So we grapple with these great truths.
And though there are many differences of opinion about what Paul is teaching in this section, the implications are of more than theoretical value…they have practical applications for us.
Even though there exists a variety of views on these three chapters and the views matter in terms of applications…there is in the end a consensus on at least one thing for those who take God, the Scriptures and the Gospel seriously.
The consensus is that we can understand what God has revealed to us in our limited capacity but everyone has to live with mystery, unsolved mystery…because we are talking about God here.
The two primary points of view that these chapters bring into sharp contrast are often called “Calvinism” and “Armenianism”.
These chapters are not primarily about these two things: The chapters are about the faithfulness of God.
But the chapters often highlight the differences that are out there.
The views are named for two men
John Calvin who died in Switzerland in 1564.
Jacobus Arminius who was born in the Netherlands in 1560.
They lived 600 miles from each other and their lives overlapped by only 4 years but the ideas attached to their names shape what is often thought of as two theological poles.
A group over here and a group way over there.
In reality there is a spectrum between what is called extreme Calvinism and extreme Arminiamism.
In simplistic terms as you dial up God’s role in salvation you move across the scale towards extreme Calvinism.
As you dial up man’s role in salvation you move towards the other end of the spectrum towards extreme Arminiamsim.
Thats not exactly true…but for our purposes it makes the point.
Most people live at different points in between the two extremes.
I really appreciate theologian Douglass Moo’s perspective and comments he writes:
“What difference, we may ask, does it finally make whether I believe in the Calvinist view of unconditional election or not? I need to write carefully here. On the one hand, both Calvinism and Arminianism are fully orthodox views. Each can marshal impressive biblical support in its favor. I am thankful to teach in a school and worship in a church where each view is strongly represented and where proponents of each view accept and honor those who hold the opposite view. On the other hand, I do not want to suggest that it makes no difference which view we believe or that each one has equal support from the Bible. I am generally (though not consistently) Calvinistic in my soteriology (theology of salvation). I think the Bible supports my view, and it does make a difference.”
What I appreciate is that he affirms Christians from both sides of the spectrum as being fully “orthodox”…meaning they are taking the Scriptures seriously in coming to their conclusions.
He also says that it does make a difference in terms of where you land on the issues at hand.
Then he indicates he lives and works in healthy community with people on different points on the spectrum.
It matters…but not enough to cause a break in fellowship with other believers.
Norman Geisler; in his book “Chosen but Free” calls himself a “moderate Calvinist”.
He like Moo does not see these issues as polar positions but a theological spectrum.
I don’t prefer to use the terms Calvinistic or Arminian
I prefer to discuss the issues and use the language the Scripture uses in regards to those issues…usually it takes paragraphs not single words to describe those positions.
I like to imagine Paul with his hands on two dials trying to help us understand the reality of God and our salvation.
One dial is “God’s sovereignty” the other is “Human responsibility (our choices)”
He is turning them at the same time, trying his best to be as accurate as possible in describing this mystery.
Like tuning in some old radio, trying to eliminate the static and get the clearest sound possible.
- God is completely sovereign…as he turns a dial…then static comes as we think it means we are not responsible.
- We are completely responsible for our choices…as he turns the other dial…then static comes as we think it means we can save ourselves.
So he turns the dials this way and that…trying to get the clearest sound.
The sound is perfect (God is perfect)…the old receiver (us) is not perfect.
Turn the dials too far one way and we lose sight of God’s glory and we are no longer worshipping the true God.
Turn the dials too far the other way we lose of our sight roles as choosing, responsible image bearers.
This mystery is far more baffling than a sun-sized campfire that is hotter as you move away from it.
And we have several options:
- Disbelieve in God (this can’t be true, because I cannot get my head around it)
-But for me…things larger than my mind are never evidence against God, they are evidence for God.
- We can give up trying to understand.
-“This stuff makes my head hurt…I’ll be back on September 3 when you get to chapter 12”
- We can assume we have it figured out.
-“No mystery, here is exactly what this means…a,b,c…easy stuff.”
-I’m suspicious of the folks who have this all figured out.
- We can seek to understand God better for his glory and our good.
-Paul launched a fridge at the sun…not out of his hubris or his arrogance but out of his desire.
-He was driven by his Love for God, love for people…he wanted to know God better, and love people better with that knowledge…and he wanted others to know and love God as well.
Today we look at Paul’s introduction to these 3 great chapters in the greatest letter evenr written: 9:1-5
Rom. 9:1 I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit — 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
Paul has been determined since the beginning of his letter to demonstrate that the gospel of Jesus is the good news promised beforehand through the OT prophets.
Rom. 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures
There is no OT God, and then a NT God…Jesus is the fulfillment of the ages, the singular plan of God for the salvation of the world.
The question Paul’s readers would have struggled with is this…the Jews had not turned to the gospel in large numbers while non-Jews had.
How does this fit with God’s promises in the Old Testament?
Didn’t he send the Messiah to Israel, from Israel? How can his promises be fulfilled in a church that is largely Gentile?
Then even more troubling if God made promises to Israel and didn’t keep them (as it appeared to some), then how can we be sure he will keep his promises that Paul listed in chapter 8?
“All things work together for the good”
“Nothing can separate us from the love of God”
The theme for Romans 9-11 is found in 9:6 “It is not as though God’s word had failed”
Paul wants to demonstrate that this is all part of God’s plan…he is not making this up as he goes.
9:1 I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit
If someone tells you something and then says “I’m not lying, I’m telling the truth” it doesn’t normally strengthen their position.
In fact, liars are the first to tell you they are not lying…people who are truthful tend to just tell the truth.
There is no evidence that Paul was a man who was self-conscious about his convictions…so why does he speak this way here?
I think it is a display of his passion, his heart.
Don’t hear this like an unconvinced man trying to sound convincing…hear it like a convinced man sharing his passion.
Imagine a father speaking to his son about difficult and important things…the Father loves the son deeply but the son is struggling with his own confidence and with confidence in his dad’s love.
The Father might say “Son, I have no reason to lie to you about this, I am telling you the truth…from the bottom of my heart you need to believe me on this.”
This is not a display of the Father having a weak position, but rather the father having a strong passion…he so wants his son to hear his heart because the issues are so important for his life.
Looks where he goes next…he ratchets up the passion even more.
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
The Jewish people are his people in terms of his human ancestry…and it breaks his heart that many of them do not believe Jesus is the Messiah.
He has great sorrow, and unceasing anguish in his heart.
I wish I had his passion for God and people…but then I don’t really think I do.
If I really wished I did, I probably would.
I don’t have his passion…because I don’t live like Paul did…I live partly for others, partly for me.
I live somewhat surrendered to Christ and somewhat reserving part of my back life for myself.
He has “great” sorrow…I have small sorrow.
He has “unceasing anguish”…I have occasional anguish over the lives of people.
“Come on, he’s Paul…your not.”
Understood…but nowhere does Scripture indicate that Paul’s heart for God and people was supposed to be unique.
I don’t intend to wallow in guilt over it…but I do want to be compelled to action…I want to challenged.
There is nothing in the scriptures designed to cause us to “wallow”…that is the enemies game…condemn, bring guilt…so we will stop.
The prodigal “wallowed with the pigs in his shame”…that’s not for me or you.
God intends his word to be compelling…to move us to action.
Paul said…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
Embrace the challenge of that statement…and remember his sorrow and anguish were not over his own mistakes here.
He has just told us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ…his sorrow is for others.
This passion in his heart is for people who are far from God.
This is enormously challenging… it gets even more so.
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.
There is no evidence that Paul is exaggerating here…he means this.
He is running way out there in front of most of us…way in front of me.
He knows he cannot be cut off from Christ…not even his own desire for his people can separate him from the love of Christ.
So he knows this is not a real possibility but again what he is demonstrating is his heart.
It seems that he would, if he could, trade his relationship with Christ for separation if it could mean his people would be saved.
Of course, he cannot make that trade and his people can choose if they just would.
But we see his heart…and we see this same heart attitude in the life of Moses.
Moses was away meeting with God and the people, believing he would not return shaped an idol and began to worship it.
Judgment fell on the people and more was to come so Moses went to Lord and said.
Ex. 32:31 “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
Such was the heart Moses had for his people; such was the heart Paul had for his.
Interesting that Paul has been portrayed by some as a hater of women, homosexuals, non-Christians and others.
Paul is the opposite of this…he would trade his eternal destiny for his people.
Sometimes Christianity is blamed (at least as an attitude not always in direct action) for the Holocaust.
It has been said that the belief that the Jewish people need to be saved has lead to the repeated attempts to destroy them.
How can this be when Paul is telling us that Jewish people need Jesus…then he tells us he would trade everything to see them saved.
This is not “believe or I will kill you” this is “I would die for you to believe.”
The implications for this in terms of the kind of heart we are to have are challenging.
Working with aids patients:
-I knew a lady who believed homosexual actions were sinful.
-This same lady gave her life…time, effort, heart, decades of her life, threats to her own health to care for men dying of Aids.
-Many, if not most of these men contracted their disease through homosexual activities.
She told them they needed Jesus, then she showed them Jesus.
To say that people need Jesus…that they need to abandon all other belief systems is not incompatible with love…it is compatible with reality.
It looks and feels true to others when we tell them Jesus is the only way to God then we love and accept them just as they are.
Back to Paul’s people, the Jews…Paul writes…
Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs,
Look at all the great gifts they have been given…and then look at the greatest gift that many have missed.
The promised Messiah has come through the Jewish people.
From them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
As to his human ancestry Christ is from the Jewish people but as to who he is…he is God over all, forever praised.
Christ is fully human and fully God…which is another reality that is impossible to get a human mind around.
Paul makes this profound statement then simple says “Amen”
Amen means “truth”…it is a solemn expression of certainty.
The foundational question behind every question is “who or what has always been here?”
Carl Sagan: Sums up the materialistic worldview
“The cosmos (universe) is all that is or was or ever will be.”
Hinduism: Braham is the Ultimate Reality in the universe.
“It cannot be exactly defined but it is the unchanging, impersonal reality that exists apart from the changing illusion we see as the physical world.”
Gen. 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Rom 9 Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
You can imagine when it comes to questions like:
- Does my life have meaning?
- Why is there suffering in the world?
- What should I give my life for?
The answers will flow from the larger question…”who or what has always been here?”
Does my life have meaning?
- Materialist: No, not really…but I suppose you can try and make some up
2.Hindu: Your life as a separate reality is an illusion.
- Gospel: Yes, you were made by God for God
Why is there suffering the world?
- Materialist: Stuff happens, its all a roll of the dice…quit asking “meaning” questions.
- Hindu: Suffering is illusion
- Gospel: It’s complex, but essentially it all started with man’s separation from God
What should I give my life for?
- Materialist: Whatever you want…serve, kill…give, hoard…what difference does it make
- Hindu: Escape illusion, and the endless cycles of reincarnation, collect good Karma
- Gospel: The glory and purposes of God: Love God, love people
It this sounds theoretical and “out there”…it is all enormously practical.
The way people answer these questions trickles down from the top of the mountain (what has always been) all the way to: hateful words, murder, divorce, drug addictions, depression, wars.
Or other completely different ways of living.
I believe everyone lives out of their worldview…starting with Ultimate reality: “who or what has always been here”
I believe that’s why the Bible doesn’t start with “You must be saved” but…”In the beginning, God.”
Paul’s life of sacrificial living and giving flowed from his conviction (he was convinced) that Jesus is the Savior of the world.
His belief: Jesus is the Messiah, the gospel is true
His values: He would give his eternal life for others if he could
His actions: He was giving his life away for others
“Yea, I believe this stuff…but I don’t want to go too far…Paul was kind of out there…he was Paul.
I don’t think Paul went too far…either Jesus is Lord, or he is not Lord.
I think we should all be all in.
“Okay, what do I need to give, sacrifice…where do I need to move?”
I don’t think those questions are the best starting point for an “all in” life.
I think the starting point is a declaration not a question…it is “yes.”
We had some people over for lunch on the 4th…many from other cultures.
I was sitting with some older men, one was infirm.
His son(probably around 30) walked by and the dad called his name and the son looked at his dad and didn’t say “what?”
He said “Yes”…and he meant “yes”…It was clear he meant…”Whatever you want, the answer is ‘yes””
The dad held up his empty paper plate and the son smiled and came to get it and fill it for his dad.
I later told the son that I thought it was a good thing he had done for his father, that I had appreciated seeing his heart.
Our Father is not infirm, and yet our attitude is to be like what I saw…not “what?” but “Yes!”
What if we lived with an exclamation mark not a question mark…what would that change in us.
Not that we cannot have questions…but that we need more “Yes!”
1 Cor. 4:2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
This life of “yes” means faithful…God determines the path, you don’t go looking for sacrifice you go looking for faithfulness.
Faithfulness in my heart (why do I not more consistently have concern for people who are far from God? Where I am missing you God?)
Faithfulness in my choices (Where I am living for me, redirect me…show me what it means to lay down my life for others.)
This makes no sense and will be a waste of your life if the gospel is not true.
If the gospel is true, then nothing else makes any sense and everything else will be a waste of my life.
Don’t leave her and go wallow in guilt…and don’t go looking for sacrifice.
Examine your heart, see if it leads with “yes!”
Ask God to help you where it doesn’t…scrutinize your thinking about what is ultimately valuable if you struggle with “yes”
Don’t wallow, close the gap…be challenged, be motivated.