Romans 15:7-13 (NLT)
Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote:
“For this, I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing praises to your name.”
And in another place it is written,
“Rejoice with his people,
And yet again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles.
Praise him, all you people of the earth.”
And in another place Isaiah said,
“The heir to David’s throne will come,
and he will rule over the Gentiles.
They will place their hope on him.”
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s focus on Paul’s concept of the Gentiles, the word for people not of Jewish descent.
The Bible as a whole is a very Jewish story. While God is the creator of all people and things, what we now call the Old Testament is told very much from a Jewish perspective, a viewpoint that continues into the New Testament.
By the 12th chapter of Genesis, Abraham and his descendants are quickly established in the biblical narrative as God’s Chosen People, the ones who desire, seek and finally possess the Promised Land.
Non-Jews are merely supporting actors on the stage, people who rise and fall depending on their interaction with the main characters. And yet, there are clues all along regarding how God loves all of creation, and how God’s close relationship with the Jews leads to salvation globally.
As I’ve already noted earlier in this Romans series, we can see the broadness of God’s plan in the first promise made to the man eventually called Abraham. God tells him to go toward Canaan. There will be blessings for those who bless you, God says, and there will be curses for those who curse your venture. But most importantly for our meditation today, the father of the Jews is told “all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
In our text today, Paul quotes from the Psalms, Deuteronomy and Isaiah to demonstrate how the plan for the Jews was designed to become a plan for all people.
Our problem in understanding this plan has been a problem of time. God’s plan plays out over thousands of years, and individually, we are just mist, curling into a brief shape and then vanishing.
For the Jews, it is easy to get lost in the idea of being special, set apart as an example of holy living before God. They can become so focused on their unique relationship with God that they forget the whole purpose of their existence, to be a light to all the world so that salvation may spread.
For Christian Gentiles, it is easy for us to forget that our Savior is a very Jewish carpenter, a descendant of Abraham. Often this forgetfulness can express itself simply as disinterest in the Old Testament, but the effects also can be much, much worse. Some of history’s most horrific acts of madness have occurred when people calling themselves Christians have seen the Jews as enemies, persecuting and killing them.
Paul offers us a broader way to see Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is the bridge allowing the promise of salvation to be exported from the Jews to the Gentiles.
We see the transition happen in Jesus’ ministry. Mostly his ministry is a very Jewish one, reflecting the Jewish perspective on Gentiles. Just look at Matthew 15:21-28, where Jesus calls Gentiles “dogs.” In the story, he does ultimately point out the power of faith and hint at the unexpected grace to come, but the rude reference comes as a shock.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 12, verse 20, we see Jesus transition from Jewish Messiah to global Christ. Here, Jesus has just ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers of the people. Greeks—to a Jew, just a particular kind of Gentile—ask to see Jesus.
The odd thing about the telling of this story is we don’t know if the Greeks ever spoke to Jesus. The whole point of the story is that Jesus sees deep meaning in their arrival. Gentiles are seeking him, and now it is time to die for the sins of all people, Jew or Gentile. If you keep reading in John, it is clear Jesus’ mind is set on the cross once those Greeks ask to see him.
Christians, you know how the story continues. Jesus goes to the cross and dies. And then, glory of glories, there is the resurrection.
Word spreads, and spreads, and spreads, and here we are today, in Ten Mile, Tennessee, on the other side of the planet, worshiping Jesus Christ. Mostly we are the descendants of a bunch of Gentiles, knowing we have eternal life because of a promise made to and through the Jews thousands of years ago.
I guess we’re just a bunch of lucky dogs!
The featured image is “We Would See Jesus,” James Tissot, circa 1885.