A Stumbling Stone and the Rock of Blessing


Sermon Text: Romans 9:30-10:4
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”

Main Points:
I. The irony
II. A stumbling stone
III. The rock of blessing

In today’s text passage, the Apostle continues explaining how come there are more Gentiles than Jews in Christ’s church. We heard the same question last week alongside the apostle’s answer to that question. But his answer is given in a slightly different angle in these verses, compared to the first part of Rom. 9.

Many of you would consider this question as an irrelevant issue, thinking, ‘What is the point of this question? What makes the apostle spend so much effort to answer such a question as this? Having a diverse church membership is so natural today. So, why were those Christians in Rome anxious to know the reason for having a few Jews in the midst of a multitude of Gentiles?’

Having a diverse church membership is, of course, not an issue but a blessing to us of the 21st century church because we truly are committed to the expansion of Jesus’ kingdom to the ends of the earth by preaching of Jesus’ gospel to the ears of every tribe and people.

But the core of the question to which the apostle addresses in these chapters of Romans is not simply the matter of church membership. Rather, the issue is of salvation. More specifically, how anyone is saved, and in what way God saves sinners. In other words, how you and I could become members of Christ’s church; how you and I who are not Jews but Gentiles could be counted as children of God alongside Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the core of the issue, and the Christians in Rome at Paul’s time were anxious to know because this matter is inseparable from the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the saving grace of His cross.

So, this issue is more than relevant to you and me as much as to the first recipients of this letter of Paul because this means to us Christians like birth certificate. The apostle’s explanation is about the origin of our salvation, about how we were born in Jesus.

Having said that, we’ll follow the apostle and his analogy of a stone and think about the role and works of this stone. More specifically, we’ll see how a stone becomes a stumbling atone to some but for others a rock of blessing.

Leading us to his illustration of this stone, the Apostle Paul begins with an irony. That is, the Gentiles who did not seek righteousness have attained it, whereas Israel who had diligently sought righteousness have not reached it. It was incongruity between what was expected and what actually happened.

It sounds like hearing of a fortunate scoundrel (that is, a non-Jew as reflected on Israel’s eyes) and this scoundrel made a fortune, finding a priceless jewel, on his stroll. The irony is that a miner who had spent all his time in search of the same kind of precious stone based on his thorough study and research and examinations, yet, has made no progress at all without any hope of finding one in the future. It is truly puzzling to the minds of Christians in Rome.

Although we don’t see that composition of the 1st century church membership strange or puzzling, we have a similar question in our minds, that is, ‘How can we – you and I – be favoured by God while others are not? How could a wife be saved while her husband is not or vice-versa? How is a brother saved but not his sister, or vice-versa, a parent saved but not her child or vice-versa? Why someone I know who is innocent, genuine and kind and thoughtful as well as generous toward others, especially the needy, is not in the midst of God’s favoured? But another person I know who is rather selfish, unkind, is a Christian – how come? By what factor is a person’s salvation determined?’

This question does not end there but goes further, including something like these – ‘How could Christians be the only ones to true salvation? What about Buddhists or Hindus or even Muslims? Why are they excluded from entering the heaven’s gate? What separates Christians from all others?’

Irony seems to be that all others – except Christians – endeavour to acquire the ultimate values – a priceless stone – according to the teachings of their own religion by doing various religious deeds, ranging from repeating some simple acts (like chanting, washing or bowing to their gods) to some extremes (like cutting and bleeding or going on an ascetic pilgrim). All others – except Christians – seem to be so serious in achieving various requirements of their religions in order to get a priceless stone or the highest value their religions teach.

So, the question is, ‘What determines anyone’s salvation? What’s the answer to this puzzling irony?’

The apostle’s stone analogy is to answer questions like these. This stone is a ‘stumbling’ stone – the apostle says. People stumble over it and fail in their search of that priceless fortune. Israel is a good example. They were truly religious people; they kept and observed the law according to their fathers’ traditions. But they stumbled over this stone and failed in their search for righteousness and eternal life.

This stone is Jesus Christ and His cross. Israel did not believe in Jesus, nor required His cross for their salvation. By their disbelief, they stumbled over this stone; by their rejection of Jesus and His cross, they failed and could not reach their goal.

Why did Israel refuse to believe in Jesus? Because all of Jesus – His birth, life, ministry, message and mostly His death on the cross – were to their eyes and minds a ‘scandal.’ They heard that Jesus was the Messiah came to deliver God’s people and establish His kingdom. But, to the eyes of Israel, Jesus’ life and message didn’t seem to prove His claim. So, it was nothing but a great ‘scandal.’ Interestingly, by the way, the Greek word used to describe this ‘stumbling stone’ in another place in the NT – that is, 1 Cor. 1:23 – is ‘skandalon’ from which the English word, scandal, comes.

The Jews, in fact, watched Jesus closely, and carefully considered His gospel. Then, they concluded that if they accepted Jesus and His gospel offer, then, the effect and accumulated merit of their works could be nullified. That’s because Jesus’ offer of eternal life was and is free of charge. It is like a call for giving up all your assets – your property and savings altogether that you’ve accumulated for having a pleasant life both now and in retirement – in lieu of the government’s promise for your future. If anyone accepts it, it would be to your eyes scandalous, shocking or even offensive.

Jesus’ offer of salvation is free – in other words, He does not require you a payment, nor a contract. Only believe that He is God’s Son came to die for sinners and to pay the penalty sinners deserved, that is, death due to their sins. Only believe that He has done it, and whoever comes to Him, believing, will receive from Him all blessings and benefits of His salvation. Only believe and bow to Him in worship, and His righteousness will cover your iniquities.

To the ears of Israel, this was a scandal. They thought, ‘How can I give up all merits I have accumulated by doing various religious activities and works? I’ve been doing this since my childhood for over 20, 30, 40, 50 or more years, and achieving my own salvation is not too far for me. Then, how could your word of promise replace this, and how could I abandon my work-merits?’ Surely, it was an offence to their eyes and ears!

What they hold onto is, in another word, ‘self-righteousness.’ They wanted to achieve salvation by their own hands, by their own doings. Self-righteousness means being one’s own saviour. Self-righteousness means being one’s own king and god. The self-righteous think that they do not need a Saviour because they would save themselves. To those seekers of self-righteousness, Jesus and His cross are cumbersome, irritating, offensive. So, they reject Him and the message of His cross, and that’s what Israel did, that’s what all people of various religions still do. And it includes atheists because atheism is a religion by itself.

But, why can’t they save themselves? Why can’t anyone save oneself? That’s because all men and women are sinners; we keep sinning. No matter how much good works we’ve done, soon we sin again. And once we sin, what we’ve done earlier leaves no benefit, no merit whatsoever to us because, as James declares in Jas. 2:10, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” This is because every sin – no matter how insignificant it might be to anyone’s eyes – is a serious offence to the holy God, a grave defamation of the character and person of the Almighty God, which requires a punishment that could balance, offset or cancel that offence made. No human can pay such a price because God is eternal and so is His holiness, but man is finite and the greatest value he has is his life, and never can his life offset the offence he makes by sinning against God!

If you have kept 10,000 laws and done a million charity works, but curse anyone in your mind, you’ve committed a sin, offended God, and you’ve just nullified all merits of those law-keeping and good works you’ve accumulated! This means that you and I and all in humanity can never be one’s own saviour; we cannot be self-righteous!

To all who seek to be self-righteous, thus, one’s own saviour, Jesus is the stumbling stone!

But this stone becomes the rock of blessing to everyone who gives up being self-righteous, realising his/her incapability of saving him-/herself, thus, looks to Jesus and seeks His righteousness. To all who do this, this stone is no longer a stumbling stone, but the rock of blessing, the rock of salvation.

How can this be? The answer is given in a verse we read earlier today, that is, Rom. 10:4, that says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

I want you to follow the apostle and focus on his point one step at a time. What he says here is that, firstly, ‘Christ is the end of the law’; secondly, ‘law and righteousness are inseparable’ – the law is for righteousness and righteousness follows the law; and thirdly, ‘to every believer, Christ is the end’ (or goal, as the Greek word for ‘end’ also means ‘goal’). The point the apostle makes in this verse is that every believer must look to Jesus alone because He is the end/goal of every believer. In other words, believing in Jesus is the end/goal of all believers for righteousness. That means, by Jesus, every believer gains completion of the law, satisfaction of every requirement of the law, meeting expectations of the law. How come? Because Jesus is ‘the end of the law for righteousness,’ that is, He completed all laws on behalf of every believer; He satisfied all requirements of the law on behalf of all believers; the Lord Jesus met every expectation of the law on your behalf and mine who believe!

So, in Jesus Christ, you and I have met all requirements of the law, perfectly satisfied the Giver of law, the Creator God who is now, by faith in Jesus, our Heavenly Father.

No wonder why the Apostle Paul earlier boldly declared in the beginning of Rom. 8, saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Despite we continue in sin, despite we often forsake God and forget His abundant grace and mercy, despite the fact that we break the heart of the Father and of the Son, by sinning, for you and I – who believe in Jesus and look to Him as the end and goal of our faith – there’s ‘no condemnation’ now and forever!

So bold are his words that he might sound, to some extent, arrogant before God. But he is never arrogant, nor ashamed, in saying this, but joyfully declares that we now have nothing to do with condemnation! Because Jesus has completed, satisfied, met all requirements of the law on your behalf and mine who believe! This is how a stumbling stone turns into the rock of blessing, the rock of salvation!

And Paul is not the only one who teaches us this truth; the OT psalmist has done it too. Let me open for you Ps. 118:22 and listen to what the psalmist says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” What follows is stunning, “This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes”!

Do you hear this? “This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes”! None of us can keep the law, nor be self-righteous. If anyone tries, he stumbles and falls. But, Christ, the Son of God, has completed it through His sinless life, and paid the penalty for our breaking of the laws by dying on the cross. So, by believing in Him, we all can join the apostle and declare boldly and say, ‘There’s now no condemnation for me and for us because we believe in the Son, Jesus Christ!’

Isn’t it marvellous in your eyes? Wouldn’t it be THE reason for our eternal worship and praise to Jesus and, through Him, the Father? It becomes our song, our dancing, our celebration. This Rock of our salvation marvels us!

So, going back to the question raised earlier, why were there not many Jews but a multitude of Gentiles in the 1st century churches? Why are some saved whereas others aren’t? What is the factor that determines anyone’s salvation? How could Christians be the only ones to true salvation?

The answer is Jesus Christ who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes! Everyone who comes to Him and believes that He is the Saviour has completed the law, has satisfied the law, thus, no condemnation awaits him/her! This stumbling stone for all who seek to be self-righteous is the rock of salvation, foundation of our eternal joy! ***

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