One frequently asked question: Why didn't the Jews accept Jesus as Messiah?

A partial answer to that question is that many Jews did.  The apostles themselves and all the earliest converts were Jews. So the question has to be modified somewhat. Why did so many Jews refuse to accept Jesus as the Messiah? An answer commonly given is that they were expecting a different sort of Messiah: not a suffering savior, but a political Messiah who would lead them against their Roman oppressors.

That's certainly true—although within Jewish tradition there is room for multiple messiahs.  Early Jewish literature even refers to two messiahs, a son of David who would be a conquering hero and a son of Joseph who would be a suffering savior!

But there was another problem with accepting Jesus as the Messiah. The Jews wanted someone who would be *their* messiah, a savior for the Jewish people. And Jesus claimed, not to be merely the Messiah of the Jews, but the Messiah for the gentiles as well.

This, believe it or not, was a major stumbling block. The Jews wanted to share nothing with the gentiles, not even a Messiah.

And many gentiles fell the same way about the Jews. The fact that Jesus was a Jew was enough to turn off many gentiles and make the turn away from the gospel altogether. Even today, there are many who despise Christianity as “Jewish.”  Nietzsche (and Hitler) regarded the “turn the other cheek” Christian mentality as part of a Jewish swindle.  

“Why can’t we all just get along?” asked Rodney King. Well, why not? Why such hatred between ethnic groups, and why such hatred between Jew and gentile in particular?

“You’ve got to be carefully taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made,” says the South Pacific song—but that’s just wrong. Ther is an almost automatic enmity that springs up between any ethnic groups living in the same community.

Some of you may have heard Tom Lehrer's song National Brotherhood Week.

Oh the white folk hate the black folk, and the black folk hate the white folk. To hate all but the right folk is an old established rule.
Oh the poor, folk hate the rich folk, and the rich folk hate the poor folk. All if my folk hate all of your folk. It's as American as apple pie.
Oh the protestant hates the Catholic, and the Catholic hates the protestant, and the Hindus hate the Moslems. And everybody hates the Jews.

That last line a real zinger-because it’s so close to the truth.

Now why do you suppose it is that people hate people of other ethnic groups?   Why do they hate the Jews in particular?   People of other ethnic groups look funny, talk funny, and even smell funny! 

Now it’s going to be difficult to get any two ethnic groups to get along, but it’s especially difficult to get Romans and Jews to get along. Why?

 The Romans had plenty of reason for despising Jews. The Jews refused to eat pork, which seemed stupid. They circumcised their male children, which seemed repulsive. They refused to take part in public religious celebrations, which seemed anti-social.

Further the Jews were disloyal--constantly rebellious. Almost all of Rome's other territories were content with Roman rule most of the time. Not the Jews. Rebellion after rebellion, problem after problem. A real thorn in the side! But what probably bothered the Romans most of all was that the Jews were sanctimonious hypocrites, preaching an exceedingly high standard--but no better in their conduct than anyone else.

The Jews on other hand had good reason for disliking the Romans.  They had struggled for centuries against various conquerors, and not long after they had won independence, in came Rome and took it away. 

Further, the Romans just happened to send an unusually poor series of governors to Judaea--greedy, corrupt men who were uncharacteristically insensitive to the religious sensibilities of the people they governed. Bad enough. In addition to this, Jews thought of the Romans as immoral idolaters, people who committed the worst sins imaginable.

Now how could any religious movement include both Jews and gentiles? One of the great achievements of the apostle Paul was to help bridge the gap between Jew and gentile, to make it possible for the two groups to work together in the same church.

To some extent, this is what the book of Galatians is all about. But even more important in bridging the gap between Jew and gentile is Paul's letter to the Romans.

Romans was written around 58 A.D., before Paul had even visited the city. That’s unusual: Paul's letters are usually to churches he had established himself and to which he felt a special responsibility. This letter is different.  Paul intends to visit Rome in the future, but apparently he feels that the issues at hand are so important that they have to be dealt with at once.

His main concern: a potential division between Jewish and gentile believers, a division Paul wants to prevent if at all possible. Paul's recipe for ending division: a true understanding of the gospel message. What Paul provides in Romans is perhaps the most detailed and thorough explanation of what the gospel is. Of all the New Testament books, this is the one that comes closest to systematic theology.  But, rather than trying to master the theology of the book (a very difficult task) it’s better for us to understand that key theme: Paul’s attempt to create unity among Jew and gentile.

Note first Paul’s stress on what Jew and gentile have in common:

1. The Gospel message itself: the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

2. The common need of salvation: all have sinned. Now it’s important to understand Paul's definition of sin. He uses the word, “hamartia,” the same word, that (in Aristotle’s Poetics) gets translated as “tragic flaw.” Oedipus’ pride, Creon’s stubbornness, Philoctetes’ inability to forgive: all sins.  A mistake, by the way, is not a sin: sin (for Paul) is the deliberate transgression of known will of God, the thing that makes a kid do exactly what his parents tell him not to do, or, perhaps better, the thing we hold onto no matter what harm it does us or others.

Do gentiles sin? How could they be accused of disobedience to God when they had never God's OT law, and when they hadn't even heard of God? Paul insists that creation itself is evidence of God's existence ("For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly

seen being understood by the things which are made.”).  This is what theologians call natural theology, the idea that God has made himself, to an extent, universally known through nature.

Note that the main sin of the gentiles is in turning away from God, not worshipping and glorifying Him as He deserves. All other sins are a result of this one sin. Notice the progression: because they did not like to retain God in knowledge and because they turned to idolatry, God gave them over to a reprobate mind…. Because they didn't glorify god, etc.

Notice also here Paul's contention that they know such things are wrong--yet they do them anyway. That's sin.

And as Paul reads this long list of sins '(fornication, etc.) you can just imagine how the Jewish Christians are reacting. "Right on, Brother Paul. That's exactly what those gentiles are like."

But notice what Paul does next--he now turns to the Jews. "Behold thou art called a Jew and rest in the law and make thy boast of God ... and say don't steal, don't commit adultery, don't worship idols: but you steal and kill and commit sacrilege. The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles through you.

And now it's the gentile believers who are saying "Right on. Tell it like it is Brother Paul."

They whole point is that sin is a universal problem. Notice what Paul includes himself among those trapped in sin.  "That which I want to do, I don't do, what I don’t what to do, that’s what I do.  Who will deliver me?

And now we get a tricky translation problem.  The KJV and other translations follow this question with a parenthetic, “I thank God.”  But I think that’s not quite right.  I think this line is an answer to the question: the gift of God.  Now what is this gift?

Well, it’s another thing the Jews and Gentiles have in common. “By grace ye are ye saved through faith,” says Paul.  Faith=pistis=obedience.  God gives both Jews and Gentiles a gift that enables them to to obey and brings about a transformation.

Notice 5:1-5:

Therefore being justijied by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith unto this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of the God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience, and experience  hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy ghost which is given us.

Note the end of this transformation. "For as many as are led by the spirit God, these are the sons of God."

That’s very important! The Jews thought that, because they were descended from Abraham, they were God’s chosen peoples. Paul says no.  Descent is not important: it’s obedience to God.  This eliminates a major cause of division between Jew and gentile.  Biological descent simply isn’t important.

Paul also helps maintain unity within the church by suggesting to gentils the proper attitude toward unsaved Jews. First of all, makes it clear that Jews misguided ideas on Christ are no excuse for hating and rejecting them. Notice that Paul says he wishes himself accursed for the sake of his unbelieving brothers "My heart's desire and prayer for Israel is that they should be saved. Gentiles should love rather than hate non-Christian Jews "They are beloved for the Father's sake." Paul stresses that they are natural branches, and the gentile believers shouldn't give up on them. Note how much this would help in church unity

Paul also deals with problems Jewish believers might have with non-Christian gentiles. The Jews resented gentile rulers.  Paul calls for a changed attitude ("Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.”) If Jews can be persuaded to respect secular authority, a major bone of contention is gone.

Similarly, Paul encourages gentile Christian to do kind of things that might make Jewish brothers happier with them. Notice the collection for the saints of Jerusalem in Chapter 15.

Paul also deals with the kind of ceremonial/ritual differences that might separate Jew and gentile. Notice Chapter 14 where Paul simply says not to get into disputes over these things. One man observes special days, another doesn't; one has dietary scruples, one doesn't. Everyone will give account to God, so they don't have to give account to us.

The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:7).

But suppose all this is to hard to understand-too intellectual. How about simplifying things a little? How about some practical advice? Well that's here too-look at Chapter 12.

If all believers lived like this would there be division in the church? Not a chance.