A Contrary People
Ancient Israel serves as an example for us.
Their crossing of the Red Sea shows how God rescues His people from slavery. Their journey through the wilderness shows how God provides and cares for His people.
Pharaoh and his army chased the people and when they had nowhere to go, God opened a way through the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh’s army in that same sea.
In 40 years in the wilderness, they received manna from heaven every day except the Sabbath. In addition, their clothes and shoes never wore out
God rescued and provided for His people.
1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us:
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. ()
Both the good and the bad are included in the example. God’s provision and God’s judgment are examples for us. The Israelites’ wanderings and grumblings, as well as their victories are examples for us.
God is not finished with Israel, as Romans 11 makes clear. However, they serve as a picture of what God’s rescue and deliverance of all mankind looks like.
In Romans 10, the Apostle Paul discusses Israel’s failure to apprehend the salvation that God provided. He discusses three bridges they needed to cross in order to receive the salvation God offered.
First, Paul takes us back to the subject that he began in the first verse of chapter 9, his desire for his kinsmen according to the flesh to be saved. He says:
In chapter 9, he said that he wished that he could be cursed in order to save them. He was willing to die for them, and here in chapter 10, he is saying he petitions God for their salvation. However, he recognizes that they have not only stumbled over the stumbling stone (Chapter 9), but they also have some obstacles to recognize and cross, for this they need bridges.
The first bridge is knowledge.
His discussion of this is found in verses 2-4.
In verse 2, he recognizes that they have a zeal for God, but the problem with their zeal is that it is not according to knowledge.
Zeal for God is good and necessary. However, ignorant zeal can be dangerous. Zeal without knowledge strengthens us in our ignorance, or in other words, hardens us to the truth.
According to verse 3, Israel was ignorant of God’s righteousness, and therefore tried to establish its own. This is true of all of humanity. We try to establish our own righteousness, and, consequently, do not submit to God’s righteousness.
The important knowledge that Israel remained ignorant of is given in verse 4:
The first bridge that anyone who would be saved, Israelite or otherwise, must cross is that of knowledge. We all must come to the truth that we are not saved by any righteousness of our own. Many remain unsaved simply because of ignorance.
However, for those who come to the truth that we are not saved by any righteousness of our own, another obstacle comes up that must be bridged.
The second bridge is the message.
Verse 5-13 cover the message.
Romans 10:5 starts the section on the message by bringing up what Moses writes about the law that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. It is at this place that the message becomes objectionable to many people, because the law makes it abundantly clear that not one of us can ever manage to keep the whole law without stumbling at any point.
Therefore, the message moves forward with the statement:
But the righteousness based on faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). ()
The “ascending into heaven” and “descending into the abyss” is about human effort. We make saints out of people who seem to us to be spiritual giants. To us, it seems like our saints have managed to climb all the way to heaven by their great holiness and spirituality. Some even try to emulate saints by talking holy, praying holy and using holy words in all their speech. The message starts with abandoning all efforts at making yourself holy or righteous, not even suggesting it in your heart.
Once we come to this point, the message is simple. Are you ready? Here it is:
But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ()
From this, we gather that salvation is a mouth and heart issue, with the mouth one confesses and with the heart one believes. Notice no works are mentioned here. By believing, we are justified. By confessing, we are saved.
Another obstacle that we humans have to accepting this message is our prejudices. The Israelites thought that since God gave the message through them, they were the only ones to whom the message applied. In other words, they thought they were the only ones who could be saved. We are all tempted to think in these terms. If you are not born into the right family, do not even try. Well, this might be the human way, but it is not God’s way. Romans 10:12-13 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." ()
Salvation is for any person who will believe in their heart and confess with their mouth. Salvation is for any person who will believe.
Understanding this message, is the second bridge that we must cross to enjoy the salvation that God offers. However, along with knowledge and the message, another bridge must be crossed. This bridge is really the determining factor. As Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart one believes and is justified.” The third bridge is the bridge to the heart.
If one is ignorant, knowledge must be given or received before one can even begin to think about salvation. And if belief is required for salvation, then the message must be understood before one can partake of salvation. In the transition to considering the heart, Paul points out the truth of the antecedent bridges of knowledge and the message. Romans 10:14 says:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? ()
A person cannot believe in someone they have never heard of. This is obvious, and it points out the obvious need of a messenger. This is why Jesus told us to preach the gospel to all nations and to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into the harvest.
A person cannot believe in someone they have never heard of. This is why verse 15 says:
And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" ()
While this has much to do with our mission as a church, it does not cross the final bridge. Verse 16 points out the difficulty.
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" ()
The difficulty is that not everyone believes when they hear and even understand the message. Romans 10:18 makes it clear that Israel heard the message. In addition, it refers to Psalm 19:4 when it says, “Their voice has gone out to all the earth.” Romans 1 already told us that mankind is without excuse because God has made His existence and glory obvious in His creation. However, Romans 10, verses 19-20 addressing whether or not Israel understood the message, do not say that they understood the message. Rather, God says He will make them jealous. Jealousy and the affections are a matter of the heart. While the message addresses the mind and the understanding, the heart must be addressed for one to make a decision.
Therefore, God says:
“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:21)
The word translated “contrary” here in verse 21 literally means to “say the opposite.” Another translation would be to “contradict.” Therefore, we have a picture of a people that say the opposite whenever they hear a word from God. God says something is good. So, they say it is bad. God says something is bad. So, they say it is good.
This was true of Israel. Jesus preached a message of repentance to them. Repentance means to change one’s mind and to agree with God. However, while many repented and believed on Him, the vast majority did not.
This is still true in our world today. While Christianity is the largest and fastest growing religion in the world today, the vast majority of people on the earth do not believe in Jesus. Many have not heard, and we must continue to labor until everyone hears. However, most have heard and do hear. The problem is the contrary heart.
People have many different reasons for resisting the Holy Spirit. Psalm 2 speaks of resistance to the Holy Spirit when it says:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed... ()
Not just the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord. The people of the earth do the same. Although the message is almost universally available, the vast majority of people do not believe.
However, we do not need to despair or give up. Two things about this contrary people give us hope. First, we see in Romans 10:20 that those who were not seeking found the Lord. He showed Himself to those who did not ask for Him. You and I fit into this group. However, God can save those whom He chooses, even if they have contrary hearts. Many are yet to be saved. Our labor is not in vain in the Lord. The second thing that gives us hope is as God says in Romans 11:26.
And in this way all Israel will be saved...
We do not know all God plans on doing, but we have His promise that His word does not return to Him without accomplishing that which He has sent it to do. And, we know that He is not willing that any should perish.
So, what are we to do in light of the contrary nature of people’s hearts?
God shows us by example what we are to do. As Romans 10:21 says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Our tendency is to write people off, or count them as unreachable or beyond hope. However, God never gives up. He continually holds out His hands in invitation. He does not just offer one hand as in a hand up. But, He holds out both hands as in pleading and inviting. Dare we do any less? God tells us to preach the gospel. He holds out His hands to all people everywhere.
Another example we have is that of Paul. He begins chapter 10 with the statement that He petitions God for the salvation of Israel. Do we pray for the lost? Are we burdened with their condition?
What can we do?
We can pray, and we can tell the message.