Have you ever wondered why some people respond to the Good News and some don’t? Two men can sit in the same congregation on a Sunday and listen to the same sermon. They might even be from the same family or come from similar backgrounds. And yet one of them listens and responds positively, and the other walks out the same as he walked in.
To answer that question definitively is beyond the scope of this devotional. There are verses which make it sound like God chose person A and didn’t choose person B, and some Bible teachers have latched onto those verses and said “OK, that’s all we need to know.” Other verses make an appeal to lost souls and plead with them to come to faith, and they sound like everything depends on the decision of the person hearing the appeal. Teachers who oppose the first group point to verses like those and say “You see, it’s all on the individual to make a choice.”
Like I said, I have no intention to resolve those arguments here. I'd like to say, however, that today’s passage can give us some perspective on what’s going on.
The reason I bring this up? Because Paul considered it extremely relevant in trying to figure out “What went wrong?” when it came to the Jewish response to Yeshua, which for the most part was rejection. According to this passage (again keeping in mind that this isn’t necessarily the last word on the subject), we can dispose of some things that might come to mind:
Was it that they didn’t have enough information? Absolutely not. They had God’s word, which put them heads and shoulders above the Pagans as far as knowing about the Lord. They had the Law of Moses, which as we saw yesterday was intended to show them the bankruptcy of their own righteousness and drive them towards Christ. They had the promises concerning David, which were fulfilled by Christ to the last letter. They had the prophets, who testified as one person as to what to look for in the Messiah.
Then we get into a little “inside baseball” concerning God’s plan. In vs. 19-20, Paul quotes Moses and Isaiah, who both predicted that God would make the Jews "envious" by revealing himself to the Gentiles. The Lord would be found by people who hadn't sought him, namely us. That was supposed to wake up the Jewish people as to their need for a personal relationship with the Lord.
But did this mean that God had abandoned the Israelites? Nope. Look at vs. 21. This is being applied here and now. Whatever the reason why the Jewish people aren’t responding to the Good News, according to this verse it’s not because of him. He’s holding his hands out to a disobedient and stubborn people. And not just once or twice and then it’s over: “All day long.” He’s holding his hands out to them right now. They just need to respond.
So what’s Paul’s explanation in these verses? Why haven’t the Jews turned to the Messiah? Well, from the context I think we can see one good reason. God focused his attention on and revealed himself to the Gentiles. Yes, he wants them saved, and ultimately the purpose is to glorify his holy name. But according to these verses, my relationship with the Lord is supposed to provoke the Jews to jealousy. That Jewish guy is supposed to look at my lifestyle, my kindness, my love for people, my joy, and my freedom in Jesus and say “I want some of that.”
OK, time for some tough love. To be brutally frank, the way the Church has acted towards the Jewish people has tended to turn them away from the Savior, not towards him. When you look at the persecution and bigotry which has been perpetrated in the name of Jesus, to some degree it's understandable if their reaction was “Um, no thanks. Think I’ll pass.”
This isn't just a matter of history. This has been the major stumbling block to reaching the Jewish people for quite some time. If you witness to Jews and bring up the name “Christian,” they tend to think of pogroms and Nazis. That needs to change. And it needs to change now.
Father God, I don’t know any Jewish people I come into contact on a regular basis, but I do know lots of other people who've been turned off because of the actions of Christians. Please make me an open door, not a closed gate. Change me into the type of person who makes them burn with jealousy.