Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

To the Jews First
Pastor Steve Schell
Romans 1:16
It would be easy to brush by this simple statement because these few words seem to summarize an attitude that anyone who reads the Bible becomes familiar with rather quickly. Put in a single word that attitude is “favoritism.” Said in many different ways, it sounds as if God especially loves those who are physically descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and really doesn’t love other people groups as much, and in some cases doesn’t like them at all. Yet the confusing part is that other passages in the Bible contain statements that sound like He loves all people equally. So which is it? Does He have favorites or doesn’t He? If He doesn’t, why would the gospel go “to the Jew first”? And if He does, how does His love differ from ours because we humans have favorites too, and it’s a sad thought that His love might be as limited as ours. So that’s why, when we come to such passages as this one today, we tend to ignore it and move quickly by. The comment hurts. We Gentiles are very grateful He’ll let us into heaven too, but secretly we wish He loved us just as much as them.Thankfully, when we look closer at the question of why God sent the gospel to the Jew first surprising answers emerge, and we hear the heart of a loving Father who has and is doing everything possible to save us… all of us!

What does Paul say?
Paul acknowledges that even though God has now offered salvation to Jews and Gentiles alike, the gospel was rightfully presented to the nation of Israel before it was proclaimed among the Gentile nations. In the gospel God offers His saving power to all people, but He sent the gospel “to the Jew first.” When we hear such a statement it’s important to realize what Paul is not saying. He is not saying God passionately loves Jewish people more than everyone else and is only secondarily concerned to see people born to Gentile parents saved. In fact, Paul will go on to say, “For there is no partiality with God” (Ro 2:11). Yet there is a reality of spiritual privilege and history to which he points by this statement. The gospel indeed came to the Jew first for several reasons. Here are two:
1) Pre-gospel: Early forms expressing the essential elements contained in the gospel had already been preached to Israel for millennia.
• Abraham on Mt. Moriah (Ge 22:8-14) (about 2050 B.C.)
• Moses in the Passover Feast (Ex 12:1-14) and tabernacle system of atonement which clearly taught repentance and substitution (Lev 1-6:7) (about 1445 B.C.)
• Psalmists (Ps 2, 22, 110)
• Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah and Zechariah all spoke of God’s mercy through a coming Savior.
• So the gospel was preached to Israel long before Jesus was born, and this was part of His saving strategy.
2) God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to bless their descendants (Ge 12:1-3; 17:1-14; 26:24; 28:10-14; also Ro 3:1, 2; 9:4, 5; 11:11, 17, 24, 25, 28).
• Jesus’ parables (Mt 22:1-10; Lk 14:16-24) included this order of events
• He initially instructed His disciples, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 10:5)
• He told the Syrophoenician woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24), but seeing her faith healed her daughter anyway.
• On the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem, “For you first, God raised up His servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Ac 3:26).
• So God was keeping an ancient promise by sending Jesus first to Israel.

Insight: This order of events isn’t racial preference. It is:
1) A strategy to save the greatest number of people.
2) A promise kept to parents who believed Him for their children.

Strategies to save the world
When we look over the panorama of biblical history we can recognize different seasons in God’s plan to save humans. At different points in history He changed strategies:
PLAN #1: Leave the apple alone!
• Genesis 2:15-17
• (Prevent evil)
PLAN #2: Get rid of the rotten apples
• Genesis 6:5-7, 11-13
• Cain (exile), Noah (flood), Babel (division)
• (Contain evil) keep their corrupting influence away from the righteous.
• This failed miserably. Within two generations of the flood He had to divide the nations because they were uniting under an early manifestation of the spirit of antichrist (Ge 10:8-14; 11:1-9).
PLAN #3: Plant a new variety of apple tree that resists rot.
• God decided to stop trying to halt widespread moral decay and focused on nurturing a family descended from a man and woman of faith (Ro 1:24 “God gave them over...”). Rather than repeatedly annihilate most of the human race in order to purge the rapid regrowth of sin (repeated floods), He decided to allow the nations to pursue their downward course (within boundaries) and meanwhile raise up a believing nation into which He could incarnate His Son. He chose this course because it would allow Him to forgive all who repent and accept His mercy by faith.
• Plant a “mustard seed” (Mt 13:31, 32).
• The seed contains the power of life.
• Because of the righteousness of faith Abraham’s family had the Holy Spirit to help them resist evil and pass their faith on to the next generation.
• Abraham to Issac to Jacob to Christ (2000 years).
PLAN #4: Bring a dead apple back to life.
• Into this family of believers God could incarnate His Son who would die and rise to atone for all people of faith, both those who came before and after the cross.
• By preserving faith in the people of Israel God was able to save the world: preserve the truth (revelation, not speculation); incarnate His Son into a godly family; have the elders needed to start a church
• Romans 3:1, 2, 9, 29; 4:1-3, 13, 16

A promise kept
When God enters into a covenant, meaning, in most cases, He makes a promise to someone who responds by faith, He never forgets it. In fact, as we’ll see, He keeps His promises to a thousand generations.
• Listen to this promise: Genesis 17:1-9
• Now listen to God describe Himself: “I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness (hesed) to thousands, to those who keep my commandments” (Ex 20:5, 6).
• Notice: This comes after the first two commandments: “you shall have no other gods... you shall not make for yourself an idol” (idolaters).
• To the 3rd and 4th generations: God’s justice is tempered with mercy (70 yrs in exile).
• To thousands: God’s blessings are not limited by time, they extend for 1000s of generations
• Exodus 34:6, 7

The gospel was sent “to the Jew first” because
1) It was the only way to save the world: preserve the truth (God’s Word); incarnate His Son into a godly family; have elders needed to start a church
2) God keeps His promises to thousands of generations and He had promised to watch over all the generations of Abraham’s children.

1) Never doubt God’s impartial love for all. He blessed Israel so He could send a Savior for you.
2) Humbly trust Him when He does things you don’t understand. Don’t judge His heart on the superficial reading of a text. There’s a bigger picture we don’t see.
3) Remember, He still “keeps lovingkindness for thousands.” He never stops keeping a promise, even if we have disqualified ourselves by being unfaithful.
• 1Ti 2:13 “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”
• Has He made promises to your godly ancestors that still effect you?
• Have you made a covenant with Him concerning your children (physical and spiritual).
• Philippians 1:6
4) This is God’s heart toward Jews and Gentiles: all need to repent; all are loved; all are invited; all have been witnessed to; all have been died for

1) Do you know of a godly ancestor who likely prayed for you? Have you noticed a very undeserved level of grace at work in your life? If so, describe this. 2) Describe a time when you believed a promise God made to you. What took place in your heart? 3) Have you claimed promises for your children, grandchildren, spiritual children, etc.? 

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