Paul rolled into town, once upon a time at the city of Ephesus, with all the subtlety of a gunslinger.
Or maybe I’ve watched too many Westerns. But in truth, Paul was the type of guy who made an impression everywhere he went. Miracles, healings, exorcisms.
The things we picture happening in large tents in places like Rustwater, Kansas, and of dubious authenticity, were actually taking place in broad daylight for all to see as Paul was going around. This must have impressed the seven sons of Sceva, whose pappy was a Rabbi in the city.
They recognised that there was power in the Name of Jesus, but they wanted to use the power without knowing Jesus or being filled with the Holy Spirit. You can’t piggyback on someone else’s relationship to Christ. They learned that lesson in a 7-1 beating when a demon-possessed man sent them running back home, bruised and with their britches down.
The lesson they should have learned that day was that being a child of God is not something that is baked into your family’s cake. It needs to be authentic. The demons in the possessed man berated them that they knew Jesus and Paul, but not these seven posers.
Once, when Jesus was having a back-and-forth with the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law at the Temple, they were disputing with him and he pointed out that they were still slaves to sin.
Even in the midst of the Law, and their pursuit of righteousness, Jesus pointed out that the religious professionals still needed saving, and were still slaves to sin, to which the Teachers of the Law naturally became offended and played what they thought was their trump card to end all debate: “Abraham is our father” (verse 39).
It was supposed to be a mic-drop type of moment. Not so because Jesus had their ticket:
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would[c] do what Abraham did. (verse 39). These guys were secure in their own minds of their connection to God and yet they were completely wrong, probably not unlike the seven sons of Sceva. They weren’t children of Abraham because they did not have the faith of Abraham. They had the DNA of Abraham but that wasn’t the thing that saved or saves.
I think passages like these are what Paul was thinking about when he wrote back in Romans 4 about Abraham:
Not by works but by faith. Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Here’s Paul in Romans 9 then, agonizing about his Jewish brothers having missed their Messiah. How did this happen? And by implication, what does this mean for the Gentile Believer?
Paul’s brain unpacks it for us, but his heart is solemn and serious about the souls of men.
“ For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.” (Romans 9)
Does he mean that? Viewed through the lens of our time, could Paul be ‘virtue signalling’? Not from the first verse of Romans 9: Paul says he’s not lying, that he’s doubly sure. His conscience confirms what he’s saying through the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s exploration of the question of the Children of Israel and their destiny in salvation stretches over three chapters of Romans (9 – 11) however he comes to the conclusion that:
- God is faithful (his word has not failed)
- God is sovereign: some he saves and some he hardens
- Jew and Gentile alike are saved the same way, through faith in Christ
Like that old song which you may remember from childhood (Sunday school):
Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them (and so are you?)
So let’s just praise the Lord…