ONE OF THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS that the first Christians had to answer, as they bore witness to Jesus the Messiah, went something like this: "If Jesus really is the promised Messiah, how come so many Jews reject the claim?"
Inevitably, there were variations: e.g., "If you Christians are right, doesn't this mean that God didn't keep his promises to the Jews?" or: "Why do apostles like Paul spend so much time evangelizing Gentiles, as if they've walked away from their own group?"
Many complementary answers are provided in the pages of the New Testament to respond to these and similar questions. Here we note components of Paul's answer (Rom. 9).
First, whatever the focus on Gentiles within Paul's ministry, he has never written off those of his own race. Far from it: he could wish himself damned if by so doing he could save them (Rom. 9:3). It would be easy to dismiss such language as hyperbole grounded in a merely hypothetical possibility. But the fact that Paul can write in such terms discloses, not an apostle who is merely a cool and analytic expert in apologetics, but a man with passion and extraordinary love for his own people. The church today urgently needs evangelists with the same kind of heart.
Second, Paul insists that even if many Jews do not believe, it is not because God's word has failed (Rom. 9:6). Far from it: it has never been the case that all of Abraham's children would be included in the covenant. God insisted that the line would be through Isaac, not Ishmael or the children of Keturah (Rom. 9:7). To put the matter differently, only the "children of the promise" are regarded as Abraham's offspring, not all the natural children (Rom. 9:8).
Moreover, Paul had already reminded his readers of the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Rom. 4:16–17), not Jews only.
Third, the defense of these propositions takes a dramatic turn. God arranged a selection among the children of Abraham—and not only in Abraham's generation but also with respect to the children of Isaac (Rom. 9:8–13)—"in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls" (Rom. 9:11–12). Nothing makes clearer the ultimacy of grace than the doctrine of election. God did not have to save any. If he saved one, it would be a great act of grace. Here he saves a vast number of guilty people, out of his grace alone, having compassion on whom he will (Rom. 9:15), as is his right (Rom. 9:16–24).
Fourth, Old Testament Scripture had foreseen that one day the people of God would not be restricted to the Jewish race (Rom. 9:25–26).
1 Samuel 11; Romans 9; Jeremiah 48; Psalm 25