People often use very descriptive, emotion-filled words for those who show no gratitude, no loyalty, for the group to which they belong or those who have helped them become what they are. I’ve heard words like “turncoats, sellouts, betrayers, defecting, deserting, double-crossing,” and “Judas-like-snakes-in-the-grass” used to describe these types of people. You know the kind. They are those who sell-out. They are those who turn their backs on those who provide for them, those who have helped them, those for whom they should feel a debt of gratitude. Those like…well, you fill in the blank. I’ll just tell you the story of one such individual.
Today he is known as federal prisoner #48551-083. He is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at ADX Florence, a Supermax federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. He spends 23 out of every 24 hours in solitary confinement. That will be his daily routine for the rest of his life. Who would have ever thought that it would end this way for the man who was once highly respected by those in his community?
Robert Hanssen was born in 1944. He landed his dream job working with the FBI as a special agent on January 12, 1976. He held Top Secret clearance from his very first day on the job. Just two years later Hanssen was transferred to the New York field office. Just one year after his transfer, Robert was assigned to counterintelligence and given the task of compiling a database of Soviet intelligence for the Bureau.
For 25 years Robert Hanssen worked for the Bureau, but what the Bureau didn’t know, was that for the majority of those years, Robert was also working for the Soviets as well. He was selling the secrets of his own country to Moscow—highly sensitive secrets. Who would have ever suspected him?
The Hanssen family was close. They attended church together. His wife taught religion at his daughter’s parochial school. His priest said that he regularly attended a 6:30 am Daily Mass for more than a decade. There were times that Robert would also attend the daily noontime Mass at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. Who would ever suspect a guy like that?
Instead of receiving a gold watch for his 25th anniversary with the Bureau, Hanssen was placed in handcuffs and arrested on February 18, 2001, at Foxstone Park near his home in Vienna, Virginia. He was charged with selling American secrets to Moscow for more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 22-year period. On July 6, 2001, he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage in federal court. Several counterintelligence experts, including former FBI and CIA director William Webster, have equated Hanssen’s treachery with a “five-hundred-year flood.” Is it any wonder that Robert Hanssen is seen as the greatest turncoat in American history?
How could someone who had been entrusted with so much turn his back on his own people and sell-out to the enemy? It is unexplainable, incomprehensible, unfathomable, and beyond our ability to understand because it should have never happened.
You may be wondering what this story of betrayal has to do with our study of Romans 9? That’s a fair question. I want us to be able to see that the Apostle Paul, who wrote Romans, was viewed by many of his own people as a turncoat, a sell-out, a snake-in-the-grass because of his teachings about Jesus. How did Paul view those who had such a negative opinion of him? Let’s take a look at Romans 9:1-5 and then we will get started.
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. (Romans 9:1-5 NIV)
Paul was a Jew. He was born a Jew. He was trained in the finest of Jewish schools. He was not only a Jew, but he was a Pharisee, which is like saying you are an ultra-marathoner in a society of joggers. The Pharisees were one of the strictest, most committed groups within Judaism. The Pharisees saw themselves as the real Jews, the faithful of God’s people. Paul wrote to the people of Philippi and told them about his rich Jewish heritage. Turn to Philippians 3:4-7 and take a look with me.
4 …If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:4-7 NIV)
Paul was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was so committed to the Jewish way of life, adhering to the laws and customs of his people, that he described himself as “faultless” in regards to “legalistic righteousness.” You can’t raise the bar of commitment any higher than that my friends.
Yet, when Paul met Jesus his life was changed. Jesus sent him to the Gentiles, not to the Jews. When Ananias was called upon to go and pray for Paul, while he was still blinded by his experience with Jesus, Ananias was told.
15 …”Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 NIV)
Paul was called to go to the Gentiles and he went with passion. He traveled to share the Gospel with those who needed to hear that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. The more Paul’s message got out, the more angry Paul’s own people, the Jews, became.
In Acts 21, you can get a snapshot of what life was like after Paul became a follower of Jesus. I have to tell you that there were Jews who heard Paul’s message and turned to Jesus, but there were many who were so angry at Paul that they wanted him dead. In Acts 21, Paul entered Jerusalem, the place where he had been raised and taught by the famous Jewish rabbi Gamaliel. He was born in Tarsus, but spent most of his time in Jerusalem. Paul didn’t get a heroes welcome. Read along with me from Acts 21:27-32.
27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.) 30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. (Acts 21:27-32 NIV)
Why were they so angry? We’ve already run across the primary reasons in our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. It was his teaching concerning the Law and circumcision. In Romans 4:13, Paul wrote,
13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. (Romans 4:13 NIV)
Paul, before his conversion, would have agreed with the Jews that the Law and circumcision were the measuring rod of a person’s relationship with God. Paul, after becoming a follower of Jesus, learned that salvation is by grace through faith. In Romans 5:1-2, Paul wrote.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NIV)
Paul also took aim at the distinctive Jewish sign of circumcision. For the Jews, to be part of the people of God was equivalent to undergoing circumcision. Circumcision was so important that it could be performed on the Sabbath, even though no work was allowed on the Sabbath, nor was there to be any drawing of blood on that sacred day.
I’m sure that for the Jews who heard Paul’s new stance on circumcision, they felt that Paul had totally abandoned the faith. In Romans 2:28-29, Paul wrote,
28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29 NIV)
Is it any wonder that the Jewish leaders were upset with Paul? After all, he had been their brightest and best. As a young man, he had been the poster child of strict Judaism. What they witnessed with Paul would be like the followers of the White Supremacists of the 1970’s watching David Duke, the vocal leader of the Klan, become the leader of the NAACP, or joining forces with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. The Jewish leaders could have no more envisioned what they heard coming from Paul’s mouth than Duke’s followers hearing him embrace the equality of the races.
How did Paul respond to this opposition from his own people? Was he really a turncoat? Had a hatred sparked in Paul’s heart that drove him to be who he had become? Had Paul become “anti-Semitic?” Some might draw that conclusion, but they would be totally, absolutely wrong. You know what is really interesting? Everywhere Paul went during his ministry to the Gentiles he began by going to the synagogue. How could this be? Remember? He was called, appointed, anointed, and sent to the Gentiles so how could he, why would he, go to the synagogue? Let me show you what I’m talking about.
After Paul’s vision was restored to him following his Damascus road experience, he went to the synagogue. We can read about it in Acts 9:19-20.
19 …Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. (Acts 9:19-20 NIV)
In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit moved upon those who had gathered for worship and had them set apart Barnabas and Paul for the work of sharing the Gospel. After they were prayed for, Barnabas and Paul hit the road. In Acts 13:4-5, we read.
4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. (Acts 13:4-5 NIV)
Still in Acts 13, we read more about Paul’s travels. When he and his companions arrived at Pisidian Antioch we read about their first stop. Look at Acts 13:14-15.
14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.” (Acts 13:14-15 NIV)
In the very next chapter of Acts, we find Paul and Barnabas arriving at Iconium. Luke tells us that they went “as usual into the Jewish synagogue.” Read along with me in Acts 14:1-2.
1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. (Acts 14:1-2 NIV)
I could fill the rest of our time together this morning recounting the places and times that Paul visited the synagogue to share with his people the good news of Jesus. I have to ask you again—if Paul was called and sent to the Gentiles then why did he keep visiting the synagogue? There is no other explanation than that he loved his people, he yearned for them to come to know their long awaited Messiah like he had come to know Him. Yet, every time he went he ran into opposition, his life was threatened, and on many occasions he was run out of town. Because of the way Paul was treated he could have grown very bitter and decided to never speak to his people again. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
Now I make this point because if any man ever had cause to be annoyed or hurt by his fellow-countrymen it was the Apostle Paul; if any man had a right to regard them with contempt also for their blindness, it was this man. But there is no trace of it. You remember how they treated him? He tells us in 2 Corinthians 11:24: ‘Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one’—a most cruel treatment. They were, as he tells us elsewhere, constantly thwarting him, doing everything they could to hinder him, plotting against him, circulating lies concerning him, vilifying him. Never was a man treated more badly by his kinsmen…yet how does he react? There is not a trace of bitterness. He does not attack them, he does not denounce them. Rather, we find that he is full of compassion and pity, he is full of sorrow. Moreover, he tells them that he is ready to do anything he can in order to bring them to this knowledge and to deliver them out of their bondage and their blindness. (D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 9—God’s Sovereign Purpose, Banner of Truth Trust, pg. 33)
Paul had learned the Truth and he wanted more than life itself for those he loved to come to know Him as well. Take a look at Romans 9:2-4 so you can see what I am talking about.
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. (Romans 9:2-4 NIV)
In speaking about his own people, the Jews, Paul says that he has “great sorrow” and “unceasing anguish of heart.” The word that he uses for “sorrow” is the Greek word, “????” (lupe) and it means, “sorrow, pain, grief, or affliction.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament you can find the word used in Proverbs 14:13.
13 Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief. (Proverbs 14:13 NIV)
I love the translation of this verse that is found in the New Living Translation of the Bible.
13 Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains. (Proverbs 14:13 NLT)
Can you get an idea of just how great Paul’s sorrow was for his people and their refusal to embrace Jesus as their Messiah? Paul not only was experiencing “great sorrow,” but he also was experiencing a relentless, unceasing anguish deep in his heart. The Greek word for “anguish” that he uses is the word, “?????” (odune) and it means, “consuming grief, pain, or sorrow.” Once again, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament we find the word in Psalm 31:10.
10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. (Psalm 31:10 NIV)
The prophet Zechariah uses the word to describe the emotion that will be experienced on the day of the LORD by those who look upon the “one they have pierced.” This verse speaks of those Paul anguished over, the Jews. Read along with me from Zechariah 12:10.
10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zechariah 12:10 NIV)
Can you feel how deeply Paul ached for his people? What was the source of his anguish? It was his people’s rejection of Jesus. Not only did he feel deeply and hurt immensely for his people, but he says more. In Romans 9:3, Paul writes,
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. (Romans 9:3-4 NIV)
Paul says that he “could wish.” Paul knows full well that his salvation was not “earned” and it could not be forfeited or transferred—salvation is the gift of God. Paul writes from his anguish of heart and his passion for his people when he says, “If I could, I would spend eternity in hell, separated from my glorious Savior, if that would enable my people to turn from their errors and fall into Jesus’ arms.” John MacArthur writes,
It was for the salvation of his fellow Jews that Paul expresses himself in hyperbole, saying he was willing even to forfeit his salvation, if, somehow, that could save them from God’s condemnation. No one, of course, knew better than Paul that salvation is a believer’s most precious treasure and that only Christ’s sacrificial death has the power to save. But here he was speaking emotionally, not theologically, and there is no reason to doubt that his awesome statement of self-sacrifice was the expression of a completely honest heart. Paul felt such love that he was willing to relinquish his own salvation and spend eternity in hell if somehow that could bring His fellow Jews to faith in Christ! (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16. Moody Press: Chicago. 1997.)
As we wrap up our time together this morning let me ask you, “Was Paul a turncoat? Had he turned his back on his own people? Had he forsaken the glorious faith of his ancestors, the Jews?” I hope you have a much better understanding of the answer to that question now than you had when we first began our study. Paul was not a turncoat, he had learned the truth—Jesus is the fulfillment of everything his ancestors had been longing for and expecting. That his people would not embrace Jesus grieved Paul to the core of his being.
I have to ask you, is there someone in your life, in your circle of friends or group of acquaintances that you feel that same deep anguish of heart about? Do you feel deep sorrow over “your” people? The people you grew up with, family members, old buddies who have never turned to Jesus as their Savior and Lord? You’ve prayed and prayed but they still keep living life apart from Jesus. Don’t ever give up praying my friend.
Maybe in listening to this lesson the Lord has brought someone to your mind that you need to pray for, be burdened for, even shed tears over before the throne of God. Won’t you make that commitment today? Pray without ceasing for those you love who don’t know Jesus. Never stop praying. Never stop praying.
Maybe you are here this morning and you haven’t been to church in a long time. You rarely if ever even give God a thought, but for some reason here you are today. Have you ever considered that God may have been burdening someone’s heart for you all of these years that you’ve been running from God. Won’t you stop your running and fall into His arms of grace this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 11, 2014