The Stumbling Stone
Man has always found God offensive.
Offensive, might not be the right word. However, we just do not get along with God.
For example, what was so hard about not eating the fruit in the Garden?
I mean, really, out of all the different fruit available, would it have been so hard to just leave one of the varieties alone?
Okay, let’s think about this for just a minute. God made the Garden. God planted the Garden. Therefore, it was His garden to do with as He pleased. So, He decided to give it to the man and the woman with only one tiny condition attached. Oh, and by the way, He also made the man and the woman; so, they were technically His as well. Anyway, God decided to give them the Garden with His condition.
That condition was a stumbling stone, a rock of offense. Not literally! I do not mean the fruit was a stone. I mean that the man and the woman tripped over this one tiny condition God had set on their ownership of the Garden. They were “offended.”
The Bible tells us that the serpent tempted the woman by telling her that by eating the fruit she would become like God, knowing good and evil. All they knew up to that point was good, and the serpent failed to tell them that knowing evil is not such a great thing. Perhaps, it was the lure of knowing something they did not yet know. Or, perhaps it was the lure of adventure, new experiences and having something they did not have. But, whatever the reason, the man and the woman tripped over this one condition.
We are their descendants. If they had lived with the tiny provision God made and not eaten the fruit, we would be living in the Garden. However, we are not living in the Garden, and we, their descendants, are always stumbling over the conditions God gives us. He said, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.” The conditions God requires of us are summed up in two statements:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
We, as in humanity, have a hard time with these conditions. These rules, commands or requirements offend us, we chafe at being told what to do. Psalms 2 quotes humanity as saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (Psalms 2:3, ESV) The ultimate offense or stone of stumbling came in a person, the person of Jesus Christ. While Jesus came to satisfy the conditions that God set, He became the focus of all the hostility of humanity toward God.
In the person of Jesus Christ, more is at stake than the Garden. The stakes are eternal life and heaven. Everybody wants to get into heaven, but few want to meet God’s conditions. Therefore, we find fault with God’s conditions.
Romans 9:19-33 speaks to this issue. The conclusion is given in verse 33, which says:
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." ()
Verses 19-32 bring us to this conclusion by taking us through three ways in which we stumble in relation to God. These three ways are:
1. God’s power
2. God’s ways
3. God’s plan
First, we stumble or are offended because of God’s power.
We see God’s power discussed in verses 19-24.
In verses 14-18, leading up to this discussion of God’s power, Paul has been speaking of God’s sovereignty. His conclusion was:
Therefore, the response he anticipates is:
This response reflects the response of the man and the woman in the Garden. When God asked if the man ate the fruit the man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12, ESV) Not only does this statement put the blame on the woman, it points the finger at God by saying, “You gave the woman to be with me.”
The first thing Paul does in response to putting the blame for our sin on God is to point out the absurdity of our challenge to God. He says:
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? ()
This illustration of the right of the potter over the clay is used a number of times in Scripture to illustrate God’s power. The normal human response to having our sin pointed out is to say, “God made me like this!” God’s power, authority or sovereignty is offensive to us.
Job made a similar complaint against God when he asked why God found fault with him, and he received a similar response from God. God basically said, “Job, you do not know what you are talking about.”
When we try to understand how God is absolutely sovereign and yet we have free will and must make choices, we run up against the offense of God’s power. We come up against the question, “Who are you, O Man, to answer back to God?” However, it is not as though God has not given us insight into how He works. In speaking of the right of the potter over the clay, in another place He says:
"O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.” ()
Here we see an illustration of our ability to make a choice to either rebel against God’s power or repent and live according to the conditions God has set. Saying “God made me like this” is never sufficient as an excuse. We are still responsible for our choices.
However, God is not out to “get” us. His power need not be a stumbling stone. Notice that Romans 9:22 says He “endures with much patience” those who are prepared for wrath. And then, it says He does this “in order to make known the riches of his glory.” In other words, God uses His power to bring grace to us. He is preparing us for glory as it says in Romans 9:23-24.
God is preparing us for glory as a potter shapes clay. We stumble over His power to do this. We also stumble over His way.
God does not do things the way we do. We see this in Romans 9:25-29.
Humanity divides itself into tribes, groups and nations. We are all descended from one man and one woman, but we talk about races. We look out for and fight for the interests of our tribe, group or nation. This is the way we do things.
God chose the nation of Israel and they are known as His people. Therefore, their assumption was that God was like us. Since they were God’s people, naturally God would fight for their interests and they would all be saved. However, God purposed to save people from every language and nation through the nation of Israel. This is God’s way. He works with a purpose to save anyone who will come to Him regardless of tribe, group or nation. This is a stumbling stone for humanity.
”God is for our tribe.”
According to Romans 9:25-26, God promised to call people His people who were once told they were not His people. This is exactly what He has done by creating the Church. The Church is made up of people from every language and nation. God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:11) He does things His way. We rebel against this and do things our way. We gather in our tribe or group and say, “We are the right ones.” But, God says through the prophet Isaiah:
And as Isaiah predicted, "If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah." ()
As Romans 9:28 says, the Lord will carry out His sentence, or have His way, on the earth, and this will be done fully, completely, and it also will not be delayed. If the Lord did not intervene and in His mercy and grace save some of us, we would all end up in hell, along with our tribe, group or nation, in spite of the fact that we convince ourselves that “We are the right ones.”
God is the judge, not us. In Psalm 50:21, He addresses this issue in another way when He says:
These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. ()
In this, we see the charge that we think that God is like us. This is why God’s way is a stumbling stone for us. He is not like us. One more way in which we stumble is because of God’s plan.
In the Garden, when the man and the woman ate the fruit they were not supposed to eat, God made this statement:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. ()
This statement was made to the serpent, and it reveals a small piece of God’s wonderful plan, the offspring of the woman.
We started with the typical response of man to God’s power:
Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? (Romans 9:19)
In Romans 9:30, we come to another question:
What shall we say then?
This is kind of like saying, “What’s the use?” If God’s power is unassailable and His way is inscrutable, how then can we be right with God?
What is said next is so important that we should include it here in full.
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone... ()
God’s plan has always been to save those who call upon Him and come to Him in faith.
We believe we have to do something, but we are unwilling to let God in His power and His way do something in us. There is a big difference. To us, it looks the same in holiness of life and in self-control and discipline, but it is not the same. The Scripture is clear here and in every place, righteousness is by faith.
In Romans 10:12-13, it says:
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
The key, the answer and the stumbling stone are found in the person of Jesus Christ. He was the Word that was in the beginning with God. He is the One who was both God and with God and through whom all things were created. He was the plan of God from the beginning and He is the stumbling stone that men and women either accept and are saved or reject and are destroyed.
Do not stumble over God’s power. He is sovereign over His creation. He does whatsoever He pleases.
Do not stumble over God’s way. He is not like us. He is holy, righteous and just.
Do not stumble over God’s plan. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.
Do not make the same mistake that the majority of the Israelites made and are making even now by rejecting their Messiah because He does not fit into how they think He should be. Come in faith to receive from Him the gift of righteousness that comes by faith.