📖 (Read Passage)
This appears to revisit the Gentile / Jewish divide. Interestingly, Jesus came, says Paul as ‘a servant to the circumcised’ (v8), which is a clear and unambiguous reference to the Jews. He says it is for two reasons:
- Firstly, (v8) to show ‘God’s truthfulness’ and to confirm the ‘promises to the patriarchs’, so we will look at what those are.
- Secondly, (v9) to trigger the worship of the Gentiles (this is expanded in v10–12). It also says what the Gentiles worship God for: ‘his mercy’. So we’ll look at the mercy of God, and hopefully that will inspire our worship in us as we reflect on it this coming week.
V8(a): God’s Truthfulness..
Paul says that Jesus became a servant in order to show God’s truthfulness, it is really important that we lay this foundation because our confidence in this aspect of who He is will directly affect our faith (or lack of it).
At His trial before Pilate, Jesus said: “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37) and Pilate’s response to this is “but what is truth?” (John 18:38). This is a good question for us to consider this morning, because our understanding of truth (and its importance) impacts our view of God himself.
Firstly, the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary defines truthfulness like this:
- Truthfulness: Noun. The fact of being true
Which isn’t over helpful unless we define true:
- in accordance with fact or reality:
- accurate or exact:
- loyal or faithful:
- chiefly archaic honest:
A number of years ago I was asked to talk to an official about an accusation someone made against someone else. As a witness, I described what I saw and said the accusation was unfounded. The response of this official (who had statutory power and could have had the accused arrested and prosecuted) wasn’t interested. She dismissed what I said with “well that isn’t the “victim’s” truth” (I use inverted commas because the accuser was not a victim).
In the film Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is told by the Jedi master Obi Wan Kenobi that his father was killed by Darth Vader. As the story develops, Luke discovers that his father actually IS Darth Vader. When he challenges the ‘spirit’ of Obi Wan, Obi Wan responded by saying that ‘you will find that many of the truths we hold dear depend on our point of view’.
Both of these stories reveal a belief that many hold today. That belief is that truth is ‘subjective’, or ‘relative’. That it depends on the person, the subject who holds that truth, and that if someone disagrees, that is fine, all they have to do is believe their own truth. They will talk about ‘my’ truth and ‘your’ truth, and will not accept that truth is ‘absolute’, that is (if it exists at all), it applies to ALL people for all time.
This attitude is often born out of a fiercely individualistic way of looking at life, and a worldview which believes that everyone has the right to live their own lives without what they would regard as arbitrary rules put on them. This claim that everyone can (and, in fact, should) live according to their own truth, echoes the attitudes of people during the time of the Judges (“everyone did as he saw fit in his own eyes”). Nowadays people argue that no-one has the right to criticise someone else’s truth. Or they say they do—but if you question any one of a number of modern mantras you will very quickly find that they actually DO hold to absolute truth. For example, question climate change activists about the effect of human carbon emissions on the future of the planet and you will find they will not accept a ‘that’s your truth but not mine’ argument.
One thing truth CANNOT be is relative. If a thing is true, by definition it cannot simply change according to someone’s opinion. It MUST be true for all people at all times in all circumstances. One thing it cannot be is true for me but not for you. Truth, by its nature MUST apply to everything.
We note that Jesus Himself claims a nature of truthfulness: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He also attributes truthfulness to the Holy Spirit: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). God is a God of truth in every aspect of His being. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all the epitome of truthfulness. If truth is universal, since God is a God of truthfulness, given that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth, and that Jesus IS the way, the truth and the life, then the offer of salvation that Jesus makes is universal, it is true for all people for all time.
Numbers 23:19 (ESV)
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?”
Titus 1:1–2 (ESV)
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began”
Hebrews 6:13–20 (ESV)
“For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”.
That God is true, that His truthfulness can be seen, is something which Hebrews says, gives us cause to: “hold fast to the hope set before us”. It is because of His truthful nature that He can be trusted in all he promises. As Proverbs 30:5–6 says: “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar”.
Speaking of calling God a liar, we read in the Bible that it is Satan, the enemy of God, who is a liar and the father of lies. Lying is the antithesis of everything God is. So, we can say with certainty that the truth attributes of God show us that we can rely on Him at all times and in all circumstances.
V8(b): God’s Promises.
“… in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs”
A cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals quite a number of promises that God makes, so, for example He says (and these are just 4):
- “He who honours me I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30).
- “If they listen and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness” (Job 36:11).
- “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
- “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).
But I don’t believe these are the kind of promises Paul has in mind here. I don’t believe he is writing generally about God’s promises in Scripture. He is, I believe, referencing the covenant promises God makes to the patriarchs. We have already looked at them earlier when we were in Romans 9, but they bear repeating here. Just to note that in a thesaurus, the words ‘covenant’ and ‘promise’ are seen as having the same essential meaning. A covenant is a promises, it is simply a particular kind of promise.
One of the foundations of the Jew’s understanding of who they were was that they were God’s covenant people; they looked at these promises God made to the Patriarchs, and they trusted them. I did list these covenant promises in June, but it is important to list them again here. Because I believe that THESE are the main promises that Paul is saying Jesus confirms.
There are generally five recognised Old Testament covenant promises that God made with His people …
The Noahic Covenant – Genesis 9
After having sent a global flood to destroy the wickedness that had become so prevalent on earth after the Fall, God promised Noah (and by extension all humanity) to never again destroy the world with a flood: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). This is a hint at the Gospel. God will use a different means to deal with sin and wickedness. Yeah He did! His Son went to the cross.
The Abrahamic Covenant – Genesis 12
God would chose one man to become one nation which would (or should) be the instrument of His blessing the entire world: “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1–3). Note God promised Abraham three specific things:
1. He will be made into a great nation (12:2).
2. This nation will be led into the Promised Land (12:1).
3. Through him (Abraham) all people of the earth will be blessed (12:3).
Abraham is the father of the Jews, Jesus is a Jew (a descendant of Abraham), and in His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus says: “salvation is from … the Jews” (John 4:22).
The Mosaic Covenant – Exodus 19–24
Exodus chapters 19–24 is key to understanding both redemptive history and the history of Israel as a nation. It is a ‘conditional’ promise, the Mosaic Covenant is dependent on the peoples’ response to the law He gives through His servant Moses. “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:5–6). God tells Moses that if Israel obeys, they will be His chosen people, His treasured possession. He also says that they would be the people who stand in the Gap between man and God, the function of the priest is to represent God to the people, and to represent the people before God. As a Jew, and one who obeyed God’s voice and kept His commandments (in fact He was the ONLY one who does that), Jesus fulfils this promise, and one of his offices is priest. (Perhaps we might do a 3 week series and tackle this thing called the ‘threefold office of Christ’ after we’ve completed Romans).
The Davidic Covenant – 2 Samuel 7
After the people disobeyed the commands made in the previous covenant, God made the Davidic covenant as a means to bring them back into relationship with Himself. The key passage for this unconditional promise is 2 Samuel 7:12–17: “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My loving kindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever”’ Here God tells David that his descendants and his house will rule over Israel forever. Matthew goes to great trouble to establish Jesus’ lineage and thereby show He is a descendant of David.
The New Covenant – Jeremiah 31
Despite the failure of God’s people to live up to the covenants that were made, God graciously made a new one with his people. He promises this through the prophet Jeremiah: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–34). Hebrews is very clear that it is Jesus who is the mediator of this new covenant: “ Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).
Looking at these covenants through the lens of the New Testament, through the lens of salvation, I am sure we can see how they all point in some way to Jesus. Paul’s point here is that Jesus coming to the Jews powerfully and persuasively shows that God is keeping his covenant promises. Understanding that should spur not only the Jews, but the Gentiles also to worship.
V9: Gentile Worship
Romans 15:9–12 (ESV)
… in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” (this is a quote of 2 Samuel 22:50)
And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” (a quote of Deuteronomy 32:43)
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”(a quote of Psalm 117:1)
And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” (a quote of Isaiah 11:10).
In John 4:20, Jesus talks to a Samaritan Woman about worship, she talks about where worship happens, saying the Samaritans worship on ‘this mountain’ but that the Jews insist that worship happens in Jerusalem. The Samaritans, strictly speaking, were not classified by the Jews as completely Gentile; they had Jewish roots in the exile. But they were not considered by the Jews to be fully Jewish, so I am going to taking a liberty when talking about gentile worship, but I think it’s close enough!
For the Jews, the temple in Jerusalem was the very dwelling place of God, they worshipped Him there, but Gentiles were not allowed free access into the temple. There was an area in the temple called the ‘court of the Gentiles’, where Gentiles were permitted to go, but nowhere else. You had no hope of getting anywhere near the Holy of Holies, if you were a Gentile (the Holy of Holies being the place where the Jews believed they could enter the presence of God).
But here in John 4, Jesus says that in the final analysis, the location won’t matter for worship. This is because worship is not about location:‘the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father’ (John 4:21). Stephen before his accusers speaks about the dwelling place of God. He quotes Isaiah 66:2 and points out that God doesn’t dwell in any physical place we can build:
“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favour in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’
The NT clearly views the dwelling place of God as not being a physical place, in the sense that it is not a physical building (the temple), but rather God dwells with the people themselves, so we can read:
- 1 Corinthians 3:16–17: “ Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).
- Ephesians 2:19–22 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22).
Jesus says to the Samaritan woman that “true worshippers worship in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:23). Which is really significant for this morning since we’ve just camped out for a while on the subject of God’s truthfulness. Which is given in order to spur the Gentiles to worship Him.
So, the two connect: God’s truthfulness confirms God’s promises given to the patriarchs which spur the Gentiles to glorify God. The Gentiles glorify God not by going to a particular mountain, but by worshipping Him in what? In “Spirit and in TRUTH”
Because our worship of God is rooted in truth and in the Spirit, and because we are given ONE Spirit: (📖 Read Ephesians 2:11–18)
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit”.
Jesus really does bring real unity to His people. I find it VERY troubling that this aspect of our faith (our worship) is one of the things which really divides Christians from each other. We argue, it seems, about all sorts of things:
- Style. Hymns or Worship songs? (Remember the Hymns we see as old today were new and avant-garde just a couple of hundred years ago!). Use of ‘secular’ songs in worship?. What about Drama? What translation of the Bible do we use?
- Venue (though remember John 4!). This ranges from disagreements about church v community hall v home, to pews v chairs, carpet?
- The role and gifts of the Spirit.
- How different roles function – What are people allowed to do? from ordination (clergy or lay?), to the role of women, to children and how we accommodate them. What about baptism? Do we baptise babies or not?
The things we can disagree on seems endless!
It seems fitting this morning to use v13 as a final blessing for everyone. It’s not one I’ve heard very often in churches, but I’m not sure why—it’s beautiful!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NIV).