Romans 3 v 1 – 2
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Romans chapter 3. We’re going to consider together this morning the Ancient Words. We’re going to read only the first two verses this morning and I hope the reason will become apparent quite soon.
1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?
2Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. (ESV)
The Apostle Paul has been speaking about the Jews and about the rite of circumcision as we considered that last week, I hope you will remember. He’s been telling them about the true meaning of circumcision and we saw last week that he drew four conclusions about the true meaning of circumcision:
(i) The essence of being a truly religious man is not found in something outward such a circumcision, but it is inward and it’s invisible.
(ii) True circumcision is not of the flesh. It’s of the heart.
(iii) True circumcision is not effected by the Law; it’s effected by the Holy Spirit.
(iv) True circumcision wins the approval of God, not the approval of a nation such as Israel or of men. Those four conclusions he drew.
Now we need to know that Paul said these things in settings that were bound to bring him considerable opposition. People would not like – the Jewish people would not like to hear these four conclusions that Paul came to, even though their own Torah, their own Talmud taught it right throughout the ages – the same things! Paul taught nothing new because in the words of Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones: ‘anything theological that is new is by the same token false.’ Paul taught nothing new to the Jews, but because they had changed it into something different to what it really meant, what Paul said sounded new to them. And of course that would bring great opposition, especially if he went into the synagogues as he had the habit of doing. And when he came to the synagogues, he spoke there as long as he could, teaching and explaining and opening up the Old Testament and telling them about the life and death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Messiah. And then he gathered around him those that were persuaded by what he said, by the Spirit teaching them personally and in depth, and also establishing local churches wherever he went.
Now, of course as I said, when Paul had to walk into a synagogue and say these things there would be those who would not be very happy with it. And at the beginning of this third chapter of his letter to the Romans, he is saying something about that synagogue – what we may call synagogue evangelism – the arguments that he’d heard so often when he met with Jews and spoke to them. And Paul could imagine somebody jumping up and objecting to what he is saying, but Paul is no pushover when it comes to these things. He knew well the kinds of objections to the claims of Christ that would come from the Jews. Why would he know them so well? Because he once thought like that himself! When he was Saul of Tarsus, he believed all that these Jewish people believe because he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. And so what we have here is in effect an encounter between an old man – the old man Saul of Tarsus – the Pharisee who at the time that he wrote Romans was now quite dead, and the new man he’d become on the road to Damascus. It is a debate between Saul of Tarsus and Paul the Apostle – the Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, a Pharisee in the synagogue would jump up and raise the question: ‘Paul, tell us this, what advantage then – if you tell us that those are the true advantages of circumcision then what advantage do we have as the Jewish people? What was the use that we’d been God’s chosen people for all these centuries? What has it gained us? What advantage does it have Paul? Can you imagine a Pharisee asking Paul that? And that’s what Paul anticipated. And you would say to Paul you saying that today there are no longer fundamental differences between Jews and Gentiles! You’re teaching us that having the Law of God and having circumcision will not safeguard us against the Judgment of God! That’s what you’re telling us Paul! But what happens then to the Covenant that God made with Abraham? What about God’s promises, and what about God’s character? Is God breaking His promises? Is God changing His mind? Are you saying that there’s no advantage at all from being a Jew and there’s nothing to be gained from being circumcised? Are you saying that to us Paul? Because these things that you’re preaching to us today – they don’t seem to protect us from the Judgment of God if we hold to them like we did! And that’s where we are now in the letter to the Romans.
This chapter before us gives us the substance of Paul’s answer to those objections from the Jews in the synagogue. That’s how he began to reply to somebody who would raise objections such as that. Later on he’ll give us a more complete answer as we’ll see – later on in the letter. But right now here he just tells us that there’s more than one answer to this question. He says: ‘Do the Jews have an advantage?’ And he replies ‘much in every way!’ But he only gives us a very brief answer here. You need to get your mind around that. The question, you remember, is that if what Paul is saying is right, then what possible advantage can there be in being a religious person such as the Jews? We’ve just seen that it’s later in chapter 9 that Paul gives us a fuller reply concerning the advantages of being an Old Testament Jew. He’s going to give them to us in Romans chapter 9, especially verses 4 and 5, where he says: their’s is the adoption as sons, their’s is the Divine Glory, the Covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and all the promises. Their’s are the Patriarchs and from them is traced the ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised, Amen!
That’s what Paul says – there are the advantages – but now, here in our text Paul answers the question by giving us one single benefit that the Jews had. He says: ‘to begin with’ actually it says ‘first’ but he never gets to secondly, thirdly fourthly – he just says ‘first.’ That’s why the ESV people said ‘to begin with’, hoping we’ll forget about 2, 3 and 4… So what he’s saying here is very important. He says ‘first, to begin with’, but we look in vain for two and three or four and so on. ‘First of all’ – it could mean first by way of priority or ‘chiefly’ or ‘of first importance’ or it could mean just ‘in the first place’, but either of those has meaning. It is the most important of all and he’s giving it to us first. And in his answer here in Romans 3, Paul simply focuses on one priceless advantage of being a religious person – whether you are a true believer or not, such as the Jews were – one priceless advantage – an advantage that outshines all other advantages and what is this advantage? I want you to hear me when I say it. What is this priceless advantage – this ‘first of all?’ Here it is:
- They were entrusted with the very Words of God
That’s the first and the chief advantage. It’s a great translation. I love that phrase. Those two words in the original Greek would be known to many of you: Logos in the plural form and thus, Words and then the Greek word for God Theos, from which we get our word Theology; the study of God. You see, what are we confronted with here, in this text? What does it teach us? Well, Paul is making the claim that there is such a thing; such a glorious reality in this world as the very Words of God our Creator and Judge. He’s saying to us as people: ‘you have the very Words of God our Creator and Judge; you have His Words. You can know what He says. You can know how He feels, you can learn what He does and you can learn why and how.’ It’s an enormous blessing and no other nation in all the ancient world had them, except the Jews. That’s what Paul is saying to them. To them alone God had spoken. He is speaking about the entire Old Testament Scripture; the 39 books that it contains from Genesis to Malachi and his inferences that God has sent inspired Prophets to the Jews from the time of Moses and they had faithfully charged their minds with retaining the Words that God had given to them and then they declared those very Words to the children of Israel: ‘Thus says the Lord’, but not only that, they’d also written them down meticulously over a period of a thousand years and God in His Providence had preserved them. We have them. Just incidentally, I’ve been watching some debates between Christian apologists and I discovered a really bright guy on YouTube about it and I subscribe to his channel, because he really knows what he’s talking about. You can come and ask me and I’ll tell you his name, because I don’t want you to be on YouTube all day. You’ve got stuff to do and you’ve got a world to live in and so on. But, Muslims keep on telling us about there so many bibles – we have one Quran. Let me tell you: that is nonsense. There are various versions of the Quran. Don’t let a Muslim tell you that there is only one Quran. It is a lie for starters; there are many other lies too and at the risk of being beheaded if I lived in Europe today, let me tell you Muhammad was a false prophet. Let’s just set that aside for now. The Lord by his Providence had preserved these Words for Israel and you and I have them. They are here before us today, and what they are, are the very Words of God. This is not just a preacher who needs to do his job on a Sunday. What you have before you are the very Words of God. I can show them to you, I can hold them in my heart. I can carry them around. I possess the very Words of God. That’s what you can say to yourself. Now let me ask you this morning: Do you begin to get even a little bit of an idea of the glory of all that? Do you? That Book that lies around in your home – so barely gets touched in many places. We have in our possession the most life-changing, world-changing force in all of God’s world; the Words of God Himself! Something that has had incomparable power over human life and that created the greatest civilization that the world had ever seen: The Western Christian civilization, which is now under siege. The Bible is the Words of God and that statement catches the fullness and depth of Scriptures’ uniqueness. Those who read it for the first time and whose hearts are touched By God’s Spirit, they sense that they are in contact with something Divine. It’s not just another book and those who’ve read the Bible for decades find that even after many years, they have not solved its mysteries or plumbed its glorious depths. Sometimes upon discovering a mind-blowing truth on its pages, we will shake our heads in wonderment and say under her breath: ‘These are the Words of God; they’re not the words of man.’
Now someone may come and say to us that this was only a theory of the Apostle Paul. And this is what I want to go in to: ‘The advantage of the Jews as religious people as that to them were entrusted the Oracles of God’ or they were entrusted with the Oracles of God. They had the Word of God. It’s the first, the chief, the supreme and the first advantage. Now, as Paul was expounding it to them, we can imagine somebody in that same synagogue jumping up and say: ‘…but this is just your opinion, Paul and it’s new.’ To which we can say the following in the remainder of my message. I want to say a few things about that. The first point I want to make is this: The Apostle Paul is simply explaining to us what the Lord Jesus Christ Himself had taught and we can prove that. So it’s not just Paul’s opinion and let me try to show you this and I want to prove to you that in their attitudes to the Scriptures you cannot put a hair between how Jesus regarded the Old Testament and how Paul regarded it. You’ll not get a human hair in between it. Christ and His Apostle were absolutely one in believing those Scriptures to be the very Words of God.
(i) Christ recognized the same Old Testament that we have today. Do you remember on the road to Emmaus? He is speaking to Cleopas and his companion and He says to them: ‘Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ That, on the part of the Lord Jesus was a reference to the accepted Canon of the Jewish church of His day. Every Jew would have known He’s talking about these 39 books of the Old Testament when He says that. There were those three major divisions in the Old Testament among them and the risen Lord Jesus claimed that all three of them referred to Him. And during His ministry the Lord referred to no other sources. Paul quoted a couple of the Stoic Poets – which I sometimes enjoy reading – but the Lord Jesus never quoted other writers. He quoted the Scriptures. That’s the first point. They held to the same body of Scripture.
(ii) Christ regarded the Scriptures as coming directly from God. In everything that the Lord Jesus said and did He showed that He held to the divine origin of Holy Scripture. We read about it in Mark 7:13 and He speaks of the Law of Moses as the Word of God almost exactly what we have here in our text in Romans 3, except that it is singular: Word of God, not Words of God. The Lord also charges the Pharisees: ‘you are making the Word of God of none effect through your traditions which you have delivered.’ And to this day people are still doing that – making the Word of God of none effect through their traditions. Each time Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness, how did He reply? ‘It is written!’ He quoted three times from the book of Deuteronomy. He confronted Satan with the Words of God; not His own words. We know they are His own Words, but I speak as when He was a Man.
(iii) The Lord Jesus Christ regarded the Scriptures as authoritative. He never contradicted or found any fault with Scripture, but He was very critical of the Pharisees’ religion and their beliefs. He said in The Sermon on the Mount: ‘Don’t you think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets! I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.’ In Matthew 26:24, He showed that He was self-consciously doing what God wrote of His life to come in the Scripture: “The son of man will go just as it is written about Him.” The Lord based His actions and His teaching on the Old Testament. He considered it authoritative.
(iv) The Lord Jesus Christ regarded the Scriptures as true and as reliable. He never put His own words above Scripture – as if there were any contradiction or different levels of authority. He never did that. He placed Himself under the authority of the Ten Commandments; one of which says ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness.’ Now when He was praying for His Apostles and those who came to faith under their teaching, He said to His Father: ‘Your Word is truth.’ And in John chapter 8 He said that ‘the Scripture cannot be broken.’ That means it cannot be annulled. Man – even the most brilliant philosopher – cannot deprive the Scriptures of their binding quality as reliable truth. Darwin couldn’t do it, Dawkins can’t do it, Thomas Paine couldn’t do it. No man can do that. Let them speak, they are babblers, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Even the book of Psalms – full of poetry – has its own factual, binding authority over man.
(v) Christ regarded the Scriptures as testifying to Himself – as did Paul. The people of Jesus’ day, they’d made the Bible a selected rule book to just shape their outward conduct and amplify them by their traditions, but the Lord Jesus’ point and Paul’s point was that the primary interpretation of Scripture means seeing Christ the Redeemer in every part. The whole Bible is Christology. I used to say to my students at Baptist College: ‘Do you know what this book is? It’s Christology; all other branches of theology are sub branches of Christology in Christian Theology.’ He urged them to read the Scriptures, to search them because they testified of Him and He challenged His hearers: “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But since you don’t believe what Moses wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
(vi) Christ regarded the Scriptures as able to save. Jesus said that “man lives by the Word which proceeds from the mouth of God.” in Matthew 4:4. That is life – returning again and again to the Bible, looking at the Scriptures, grasping their meaning and putting them into practice and becoming the kind of men and women who show they are blessed of God. Jesus encouraged His congregation that they were right in believing that in the Scriptures, they had life. All His miracles even, had this most important thrust: “son be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.” They all showed the power of Jesus’ word to save and deliver. And after hearing the Lord preached to the Samaritan villages of Sychar, they said: ‘now we have heard for ourselves and we know that this Man really is the Saviour of the world.’
So Jesus taught the Apostle Paul to have this high and this holy view of the Old Testament Scriptures and Paul in turn taught Timothy, writing to him: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And so that’s how important it is to believe in an infallible Christ and that infallible Christ gives to us an infallible Bible. Every preacher who has an awakening and church-building ministry believes in the inerrancy of Scripture and he does so, because the Lord Jesus had taught him to do so. Let me tell you a little line this morning: ‘It’s a sin for a Christian to try to know better than Jesus. It’s a sin!’
And so there we have first of all this morning in those few points the fact that Paul the Apostle of the Lord Jesus taught exactly what the Lord Jesus had taught, and he did it in those six ways: Recognizing the Same Old Testament Canon, regarding the Scriptures as coming directly from God just as Jesus did, regarding the Scriptures as authoritative just as Jesus did, regarding the Scriptures as true and reliable just as Jesus did, and regarding the Scriptures as testifying of Christ. And the sixth one: He regarded the Scriptures as able to save. Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ taught exactly the same on that. And that the Apostle says, firstly: ‘This is the advantage that we have this Word of God; the very Words of God.’
So what advantages are there then to being the religious person? Someone who perhaps thinks he’s a Christian or knows he’s not but goes to church. What advantages are there? There are many advantages and that is Paul’s point with regard to the Jews. I want to highlight some of it for you in my second point:
- The advantages of a religious person
The Jews were moral and religious people. They were not bad people. Their religion was Supernatural. They believed the Scriptures and the God they worshipped was one living God. That’s all very good. Those truths must have had some good influence over them. You look at the people that we find at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke: Joseph and Mary and Elizabeth and Hannah and Simeon. You can think of Timothy – how his faith had lived first in his grandmother Lois and then in his mother Eunice and Paul could say to him: “From infancy you’ve known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” You couldn’t say about those men and women that believing the Scripture promises about the coming of the Messiah and waiting for His appearing were harmful or of little use to them. They weren’t harmful and they were of much use to them. So what advantage comes for someone from coming to church like ours each Sunday? Let me give you a few things. First of all, then here is why gathering as the corporate church – people of God we’re going to be careful with this pandemic. We’re going to do our social distancing and our mask-wearing as long as we have to; we’re going to protect the vulnerable, we’re going to live-stream. But I can tell you this – together with every Bible-believing Pastor in the world – I am extremely impatient that the Lord’s people come back together to worship corporately again. Amen? And I say again: I miss the hugs.
Let me give you some advantages why we come here – at great risk in the midst of a pandemic. Why do we come? We know why we don’t come; we know that we have words and realities and truths proclaimed to us in every newscast and they’re shaping our behaviour. They’re shaping our perspective. They’re shaping our emotions. They’re shaping our plans. They’re destroying our lives. They’re destroying our economy. We are letting the words that people speak on a virus affect our lives more than the Words that God speaks on our eternal souls and that’s standing things on their head! Now don’t go hearing me saying become irresponsible. We’re not, because being responsible and wise and prudent is part of hearing the Word of God. And people who don’t come are not being disobedient to the Word of God. We need to show each other grace in this, but let me give you some advantages for why we do come together here:
(i) you will sin less and so you will receive a milder judgment. Let me prove it to you. Let me start here. That is true and obvious and it is so not to be sniffed at. It was Christ himself who spoke of ‘being beaten with many stripes or with less stripes.’ The Lord spoke about that; about ‘a great reward in heaven and so a less great reward.’ It was the Lord Jesus Himself who spoke of the fires that are not quenched and outer darkness and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Who can live in that eternal fire? If you’re still an unbeliever, your situation is desperate; you are dead in trespasses and sins and you cannot give yourself life. You can try but you can’t; you cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God, because they are foolishness to you. But to make matters worse those things – in other words – a sight of the Lord Jesus Christ and a love for Him, you can only receive that by the ministry of the Spirit of God Himself, which people are often stubbornly rejecting. You must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. If you don’t, you will receive the wages of sin, which is death – which is eternal death! You’re storing up wrath for yourself by your frequent sinning. Yet the wonderful reality is that you are still sitting under the preaching of the Gospel, week after week. Your conscience is still being enlightened as to what is right and what is wrong. Yes, you are kicking against the goads while your sin persistently, but the things of the Law are written on your heart so that you cannot do the things that you desire in your lustier moments, because your conscience prevents you. So while you’re not a Christian, yet you admire and you enjoy the presence of Christians and singing the praises that Christians sing and these restraints are for your good both now and also when you stand to be judged by God. They cannot save you for heaven, but they can save you from what the Lord called many stripes; in other words a more severe punishment in hell, but there are better advantages, and here’s the second:
(ii) you will become familiar with the Person of Christ and the way of Salvation by attending church on Sundays. Maybe someone who’s never heard the Gospel and the name of Jesus for him is a swear word; means nothing to him at all to tell him Jesus loves him. ‘So what, who is this Jesus?’ But you’re not like that, you know the Gospel message: That we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but God sent His Son Jesus Christ to become the Lamb of God to die for us because Father and Son both loved us and if we trust in Him and follow Him, then we will be saved. You know that you must repent and turn from your unbelief and you must ask God to save you. You’ve heard Godly, loving people – the people you most admire; you’ve heard them praying all your life. So you know what real prayer is like when you – and we pray that it comes soon – when you start to have dealings with God yourself, you’ve had many good examples and teachers. So don’t stop hanging out with Christians.
(iii) One of the most common ways in which men and women are saved is hearing the Words of God, but by being religious and going to church each Sunday, the work of God’s Salvation can become real as the Scriptures are preached and explained and applied to the heart by man and God.
(iv) you’ll become aware that there is a different way of viewing the world and life to that which drives the world at large around you we call it: World and Life View. You will learn that we do not understand the world like the secularists and the humanists who believe: ‘Everything never came out of nothing that’s why there is everything.’ Because before there were space there was no time. So it’s not just that it came out of nothing; it happened never. So ‘everything never came out of nothing, that’s why we have everything.’ You will learn we don’t believe that here. It sounds silly to us; very silly. Amen?
Secondly, that there’s something wrong with the world. You will learn that; you will see why we say it, and we will tell you what is wrong with it. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Within us – that’s within our hearts – there dwells no good thing. That’s why people do what they do and fail to do what they should do. You will learn that, but you will also learn this: We’re not just going to get better on our own. We need a Redeemer. We need a Saviour. We need freedom from the penalty, the power and the presence of sin and we have it in Christ our Prophet, Priest and King and our Sacrifice. You will learn that we see the world differently. I contend this morning, both as a pastor and a little bit of an academic that I think; that’s why I hold to that conviction. I think we’re right; I think God is right and I think we’re only right, because we believe Him and if you come to church, you will learn that too.
So what do you do with the Bible? As I close, let me challenge you. Are you ready to risk picking up the Bible; reading it with an open mind and heart and letting it change you? There’s a great advantage to having it, Paul says. It’s the very Oracles of God. It’s possible that right now you’re trying to cope with a mass of confusion that’s out there and I think you see it. But as your head is spinning and your heart breaking and at this low point in your life, you realize that you failed everybody important to you – those who depended on you and those whom you depend upon – you failed yourself and God, your will power has practically vanished and you’re powerless to overcome some of the bad habits that have you in their grip. I saw it with some of those addicts again this week and some dear friend of mine; a new friend of mine said to me: ‘When it comes to drugs first you use to live and then you live to use.’ We see the brokenness. We see the pain. We see it all around us. If you read the Word you may be suffering from some of the sayings. Have you ever taken up the Bible to read it? Try it! Begin with the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament; the second book there and let the power of the Good news of the Lord Jesus Christ; let it break into your life.
He writes in the text before us how God’s Words were the greatest advantage of being a religious person. When we read the Bible today, we meet Jesus face to face: the Son of God; the Saviour; the Word of God in the flesh. And so when reading about Him, we receive a double portion of the Word of God; Jesus Christ is the Word of God, because He reveals God most perfectly. And the Bible is the Words of God because it reveals Jesus Christ through and through. I challenge you to do that this morning. Take up your Bibles; let it rule your life. It’s not like reading one of those lovely short stories that people don’t even read anymore – they just Google it and they watch it on YouTube. People don’t read anymore. The Bible is life-changing at the deepest level, and I strongly suggest that if you are serious about letting the Bible change your life, you will need the help of the church – one which holds the same convictions that Jesus and Paul and Timothy held about the Bible being the very Words of God. I want to close with the words of John Wesley that’s very applicable to this. That dear man of God said this: ‘I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I’m a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing – the way to Glory; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He has written it down in a Book. Oh, give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book). Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In His presence, I open, I read His Book.’