The Stumbling Stone

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, August 12, 2015 0 comments

by Logan Ames

We are living in a very interesting time in the United States of America. I use the word ‘interesting’ intentionally because I’m not sure that it’s really much more or less than that. There are some who try to downplay what is happening in our country and others who exaggerate it. I know quite a few who purposefully ignore the news or say that they don’t care what our leaders are doing with some of the hot topics as long as it doesn’t impact their lives. This is foolish, of course, because the things that usually impact us the most are the things for which we are not prepared. Others say something like, “It’s okay because God has everything under control." That’s true, but it certainly does not excuse our indifference since our God is concerned for ALL people. The other side of the coin is those who overstate our times. Recently at church, two elderly ladies were talking about how they’d rather go backward in time than forward, and how “this world is more corrupt than it’s ever been." I don’t believe that is true. While the issues may be different and the amount of attention paid to them has increased exponentially because of media, the Bible shows us that the world at the time of the New Testament was much like ours today.

In Romans 9:30-33, the Apostle Paul is continuing his writing about the relationship between Israel and God. Check out our blog posts from last week from the previous section of Paul’s letter to see more about his view that those outside of Israel (known as Gentiles) had become part of God’s people and received salvation after many Jews had rejected it. In this week’s passage, he addresses the reason for their poor standing with God. Take a minute to read it. It can be summed up by stating that the Gentiles found righteousness, while the Jews did not. How could this happen, given that the Jews followed the law and the Gentiles had no regard for it? Well, that’s just it. The Jews “pursued the law as the way of righteousness” and did it “not by faith but as if it were by works” (vv. 31-32). Paul had already written earlier in Romans 3:20 that “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law." The Gentiles who were reconciled to God accepted this truth and obtained the “righteousness that is by faith” (9:31). In other words, they humbly accepted their desperate need for a savior while the Jews still figured they could earn their way to God by obeying the law.

Paul goes on to say that the Jews “stumbled over the stumbling stone” (v. 32). We know from other Scriptures, including the ones he quotes in verse 33, that this “stumbling stone” is Jesus Christ. The initial prophecy is in Isaiah 8:14, but it’s quoted by Paul here and by Peter in 1 Peter 2:6-8. Peter plainly tells his readers that Jesus Christ is “precious” to those who believe, but a stumbling block to those who reject him. Paul goes into a little more detail about why the Jews stumble over Jesus in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. He says, “Jews demand signs… but we preach Christ crucified." As I’ve shared in many past writings, “Christ” is simply the title, not the last name of Jesus. To the Jews, the “Christ” was the promised Messiah from the Old Testament prophecies. They stubbornly refused to accept Jesus as that Christ because he promised that he would have to suffer, be crucified, and then defeat the grave by raising from it.

The Jews ignored prophecies and teachings about the Messiah suffering and made up their own minds about what the Messiah would look like, just as they did regarding righteousness. They demanded signs to prove Jesus was the Christ and could overcome all authority, so his crucifixion was confirmation for them that he and his followers were just crazy. And if the idea of the crucified Savior was crazy talk to them, there was no chance they’d believe that faith in him was not merely A way to God, but the ONLY way to God.

We must pay attention to this, because many in our country and even in our churches have taken a similar path, possibly without even realizing it. Only, the biggest problem isn’t how we view righteousness. For the most part, we agree that we are sinners and are in need of God’s mercy. There are, however, new points at which many have “stumbled over the stumbling stone." Think about some of the words you’ve heard tossed around: love, equality, tolerance. How do you define these words? Do you base your understanding of them on your faith in the authority of Jesus? Or is it more about your feelings and what is popular? These are serious questions that we must answer going forward so that those of us who believe in the total authority of Jesus Christ will not fall away and join the stumblers.

Righteousness was a topic discussed throughout the law and even by Jesus himself. The problem happened when mere men decided they could define it, judge it, and control it better than God himself. In our present times, love, equality, and tolerance are things of the Lord, for the most part, but not in the way so many define and evaluate them. Many in our country and in our churches have determined that calling homosexuality a sin is unloving, even though 1 Corinthians 6:9 refers to it as such. Many have said their love is no different than any other love and that it all comes from God just the same. But 1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." Will you define love according to God’s standards for it, or your own? It boils down to whether you submit to the authority of God and his Word or not.

I saw someone’s comment on Facebook recently that “God said all men are created equal." This is the sad reality of someone who does not observe God’s Word but simply repeats bits and pieces of what someone else has said. While he is clearly confusing God for Thomas Jefferson, there are references to equality in the Bible. James tells the poor to take pride in their high position and the rich to take pride in their low position (1:9-10). The reason is because they are on equal ground when it comes to sin, their need for a savior, and their acceptance of Christ as that Savior. The same is true with tolerance. We should tolerate one another’s differences because we are united under Christ. The Bible’s standard of tolerance is in Ephesians 4:2-3, where Paul tells us to “bear with one another in love… to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Unfortunately, many in churches have determined that tolerance means accepting and allowing everything. This is inconsistent with Scripture. Jesus hung out with sinners, but he had no problem acknowledging their sin (John 8:11).

When you hear words that sound good and make you “feel” right, it’s important to know the Word of God so you can check your feelings, which are guaranteed to lead you astray at some point. It happens to all of us. The difference between those for whom Jesus is a precious stone and those for whom he is a stumbling stone may seem small, but it means everything for eternity. As you read Romans, don’t judge the Jews any differently than you judge yourself. If you find yourself deciding what God thinks or means by his Word, or believing that your standard for love, equality, or tolerance is better than his, you’ll be stumbling over Jesus. I believe that he desires to mold and shape you into someone who speaks the truth and does so while still loving others and tolerating them according to HIS standard. Will you submit and let him?

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