I’m not sure if you’re a movie fan, but if you watch any kind of thriller movie, you typically see a pattern in the minutes before the bad guy takes his next victim.
An unsuspecting person comes home to an empty house, and instead of switching on the lights, he or she drops the keys, hangs up a coat, then heads to the kitchen or bedroom. A few minutes later, a noise outside or upstairs draws the character toward their eventual demise.
Sadly, seeing someone walk willingly into destruction doesn’t just happen in movies. Some of you may have a friend who dates all the wrong people or a family member who refuses to get help with an addiction. When someone we love ignores the truth we can so clearly see, it can leave us frustrated and heartbroken.
In Romans 9:1-5, the apostle Paul expresses a similar sadness over his fellow Israelites.
"I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises."
Paul’s sorry is spoken with a thought so extreme that if it had not been introduced in this way would probably have been dismissed as ridiculous. He actually says that he would gladly be anathema—that means, “cut off ” from Christ—if it would help in the blessing of his people. What we see here is that he (Paul), like Moses, would gladly suffer the ultimate sacrifice if it were possible and if it would do any good.
While Paul was proud of his Greek culture and his Roman citizenship, it was his Jewish heritage that was nearest and dearest to his heart. To be a member of the people of God was, to him, the most amazing privilege! The name Israelite was itself a reminder of God’s special intervention in the life of Jacob leading to the identification of his descendants as a unique people. To be Jewish was to be a part of the “adoption,” literally the “placing as sons,” or the special invitation by God to be His family.
The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people, but they were so obsessed with what they were doing for God, they didn’t see God in Jesus. Equally divine and human, Jesus was the rescuer they had been waiting for, but they missed it because He didn’t fit their ideas of who the Messiah would be.
Paul’s hope came from his understanding that God is sovereign and God is good. We can go to great lengths to help those around us and then lose heart when we don’t see results. But Paul reminds us in Romans 9:16 that salvation does not “depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”
The fact is, people don’t save people; Jesus does. Just like God was at work in Israel’s story, He is at work in our loved one’s stories. And just like Paul never gave up on telling others about Jesus, we never give up on pointing our loved ones and others to the truth. Because at just the right time and in just the right moment, God can make Himself known.