Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE JEW AT THE JUDGMENT BAR”

Romans 2.17-29

 

The Apostle Paul is at Cenchrea, which is to Corinth what San Pedro is to Los Angeles, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea. Though he is about to travel East to Jerusalem with a huge offering from the Gentile Christians to help the Jewish believers during a time of great famine and hardship, his thoughts are to the West, far to the West. His thoughts are on the westernmost reaches of the known world . . . Spain. And as he prayerfully ponders his future service to Christ and sets his mind to the accomplishing of his great ministry, he sees looming in his path one great obstacle to reaching Spain with the Gospel . . . distance. It is so far to Spain. The distance is so great. Not that Spain is too far away to travel to, or that Spain’s remoteness makes it a fearful place to go, but it is so far from Paul’s base of support, so far from his base of manpower resources, so far from the Churches that undergird his ministry with prayers for urgent needs and with encouragement that soldiers of the cross so desperately need from time to time.

Paul has realized, as the boat he will travel home in is being loaded, that to reach Spain he needs a base of operations in the West. He has realized that, as wonderful as the people and the Church in Antioch have been to date, the distance from Antioch to Spain is simply too great to maintain a reliable line of communications. So Paul has looked to Rome. Rome, with its teeming population. Rome, with its already established network of strong Churches, sprinkled throughout the city. Rome, the capital of the Gentile world. Rome, whose Churches, though they are strong, do have some issues that need to be worked out. Rome, with its trade and communications link to remote Spain. But the Roman Churches were not established by Paul, and though they know him by reputation, it is not guaranteed that they will cooperate with him to the extent necessary. So, to solicit their cooperation, Paul finds it necessary to reinforce to them that those in Spain need to be justified in the sight of God.

To prove that all men need to be justified Paul first must establish that man possesses a problem. And this problem is clearly seen when man’s response to God’s revelation of Himself is analyzed. Once man’s problem is seen, Romans chapters one and two, then Paul will turn to the prosecution man faces, Romans three. In our text for today, Paul draws to a close his efforts to show that man has a problem. And here is how he does it: Imagine yourself in a courtroom. The Judge is the Lord Jesus Christ. The prosecutor is the Apostle Paul. Witnesses for the prosecution are the Law of Moses and truth and conscience. The defendant? A Jewish man.

The crime of sin is a multiple crime. All men have jointly participated in this heinous criminal act against God. But the prosecutor realizes that if he can bring a guilty verdict against the very best of the defendants he will be able to bring a guilty verdict against every other defendant, as well. It is the very beginning of the trial. The prosecutor is speaking to the jury. And as the manner of prosecutors is, Paul is going to talk about the defendant, and he is also going to talk about the Law. He wants to raise issues here at the beginning that he will touch on in the trial, so pay very close attention.

Three things Paul talks about as the Jewish man stands at the judgment bar of God: 

First, THE PICTURE OF THE JEWISH MAN AT THE JUDGMENT BAR 

Romans 2.17-20:

17  Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,

18  And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

19  And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,

20  An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. 

Audience, I want you to notice three things about this picture we see before us that Paul presents to the Judge:

First, we see a description of the Jewish man, in Romans 2.17-18: 

17  Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,

18  And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; 

Five virtues, if you will, are listed in these two verses that are the direct result of this special relationship this generic Jewish man who represents all Jewish men has with God. Because this child of the Mosaic Covenant has had the ministry of the Law of Moses in his life he is, #1, called a Jew, #2, reliant upon the Law, #3, boasting in God, #4, knowledgeable of God’s will, and #5, approving of things that are more excellent. Each one of those things is obviously wonderful. Each one of those things is right and proper and good. Paul is quite willing to grant that these qualities are found in every Jewish man’s life.

Second, we see the duty of the Jewish man, Romans 2.19-20a: 

19  And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,

20  An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes . . . . 

See this? The Jewish man is persuaded that God did not bless him for no reason. He is convinced that to whom much is given much is required. And what Paul acknowledges, that Jewish people were expected by God to be guides to the spiritually blind, shining lights to them who are in spiritual darkness, instructors of them who are spiritually foolish, and teachers of them who are spiritually infantile, is exactly what they saw themselves to be, as well. Paul is willing to grant that what this representative Jewish man saw as his spiritual responsibility, his duty if you will, was, in fact, his duty.

But the reason for it all, the reason the Jewish man is so described, and the reason he senses the duty to the Gentiles that he does, is because he has been made a depository, as the last half of Romans 2.20 reveals: 

“which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.” 

What have thinking men claimed to have aspired to for millennia? Knowledge and truth. And what have men lacked for millennia? Knowledge and truth. But the Jewish man, who has “the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law,” has been given by God what Gentiles claim they have sought after from the beginning. And do not think that the word “form” here means what is meant by the word “form” in Second Timothy 3.5, where we read “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” No. The word “form” here in Romans 2.20 shows by the context in which Paul uses it that the Jewish people, this prototypical Jewish man, had the exact picture of truth and knowledge. What a portrait of the defendant Paul paints for the Judge. You wonder how he can show all of this man’s good qualities and advantages and still prosecute him for wrongdoing. 

BUT THEN PAUL, SECOND, COMES TO THE PRACTICES OF THE JEWISH MAN AT THE JUDGMENT BAR 

Romans 2.21-24:     21    Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest

21  Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

22  Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

23  Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

24  For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. 

It is wonderful to be described in glowing terms, and to see your duty to God, and to have the treasure of truth and knowledge. But we must ask a question. Do you discharge your duty? Do you use the treasure properly to minister to the spiritual needs of others?

Verses 21-23 introduce the prosecutor’s questions regarding the Jewish man’s duplicity: 

21  Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

22  Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

23  Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? 

These questions that Paul is asking the accused show us what the problem is the Jewish man has. The problem is duplicity. The problem is hypocrisy. It is obvious the Jewish man does not learn the lessons he has taught to others. He commits the very sins he has preached against to others. He secretly does what he publicly speaks against. And he defiles himself with that which he does hate. This Jewish man is the preacher who hires the prostitute, the policeman who deals in drugs, the school teacher with child pornography on his laptop. Sins are always wrong, but sin is especially nauseating when it is committed by those who have taken a public stand against it. Amen?

And the consequences of such duplicity? Verse 24: 

“For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.” 

It had happened before. Paul alludes to the Old Testament record of it when he writes, 

“as it is written.” 

In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of God when they sinned and were judged by God for their sin. Remember that King David’s adultery with Bathsheba, Second Samuel 12.14, is only one example. Here in our text, it is the hypocritical lifestyle of the Jewish man, doing what he says is wrong, and despising the Gentiles, he was supposed to minister to. And the result? Men did not blaspheme God. They blasphemed the name of God. That name which the Jews refused to speak aloud because of its holiness, they claimed, that name which must be called upon for men to be saved, the Gentiles ridiculed in response to the Jewish man’s personal testimony. You see, Paul shows us, this Jewish man is blocking the way that he is supposed to be showing. He is tripping the blind that he is supposed to be leading. Amazing. Sad. 

BUT IS PAUL FINISHED? NO. FINALLY, IN VERSES 25-29, HE EXPLAINS THE POSITION OF THE JEWISH MAN AT THE JUDGMENT BAR 

Romans 2.25-29:    

25  For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

26  Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

27  And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

28  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

29  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. 

Paul explains the Jewish man’s position at the judgment bar of God, first, by considering physical circumcision of the flesh: 

25  For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

26  Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

27  And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? 

There are four conditional statements in these three verses, two in verse 25 and one each in verses 26 and 27. The first three conditional statements address hypothetical situations, and the last one asserts something which is contrary to the real facts. That said, each statement is very instructive: 

“For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law.” 

“but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.” 

“Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” 

“And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?” 

Next, Paul considers the spiritual circumcision of the heart, Romans 2.28-29: 

28  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

29  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. 

Negatively, verse 28, real Jewishness and real circumcision, the circumcision that counts that is, is not that which is outward, is not that which is only of the flesh: 

“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh.” 

Positively, verse 29, real Jewishness and real circumcision is that which is of the heart, that which is in one’s spirit, not just words written down which say certain things. And real Jewishness is that which receives praise from God, not the praise of men: 

“But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” 

See what Paul has accomplished, while writing from that port city of Cenchrea? As a tenacious and worthy prosecutor, he stands a Jewish man before his primarily Jewish Christian audience as if he was in the courtroom of God. By showing an accurate picture of the defendant, and acknowledging his obvious assets, Paul has created goodwill in the minds of the jury. But by showing the defendant’s actual practices that are known to one and all Paul has created doubt about the defendant’s innocence in the minds of the jury. Finally, by discussing the defendant’s position, the relative value of physical circumcision versus actual obedience, as well as bringing up the circumcision of the heart and that which is really pleasing to God, alluding of course to the New Covenant, Paul has brought his readers, his jury, to the point where they actually are wondering whether or not this Jewish defendant really is Jewish.[1] Is he what he says he is or is he an impostor?

Paul’s boat is about to sail with the tide. Phebe stands ready to take Paul’s important letter West, even as Paul is about to journey to the East. But Paul knows that the very first thing he wanted to accomplish in his letter has, in fact, been accomplished. He has succeeded in convincing his readers that mankind has a problem. They will agree that outward conformity to rules is simply not enough. They will agree that recognizing one’s duty to God and your fellow man is not enough. They will agree with Paul that it’s obedience that counts with God and that obedience can only be the result of what has happened to your heart.

He will go on in his prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty and is in need of God’s forgiveness. But during this opening part of the trial that he is prosecuting, Paul has done what he set out to do. He has proven that a crime has been committed against God. And he has proven that there is reasonable cause for prosecuting this Jewish man, and everyone else for that matter. What he will do in chapter three is prosecute. The defendant will protest and claim his innocence, but Paul will introduce to the court irrefutable evidence of man’s guilt in the sight of God.

Friend, do you see the handwriting on the wall? We know the outcome of the trial. Paul convinced his readers of the defendant’s guilt. The Romans ended up supporting Paul’s mission to Spain to get the Gospel to guilty sinners in need of salvation. But what about you? Are you any less guilty than the Jewish man Paul argues against? If the answer is no, then you are in a heap of trouble, and you need salvation provided for you by other means than being good and doing good. You need Jesus Christ.

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[1] Jeremiah 31.31-34

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org