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"I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit - I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." Romans 9:1-5.
What an illustrious pedigree the Jewish people have! Is it any wonder that they are so hated by the rest of the world! The devil has made sure that God and anyone or anything that has to do with Him is thoroughly vilified.
Since the call of Abraham, the Jews have been the most blessed and privileged people on earth. From the first family, they have been surrounded by God's protection and provision. Abraham was called from his idolatrous environment in Ur to a journey of raw faith in a God who was unseen but real to him. He heard Him speak and learned to follow His instructions with amazing results.
Who else, at the age of one hundred years, when his wife was old and barren, became a father because God said he would? Who else was so blessed that he became so rich and famous in a foreign land that he was respected wherever he went, although he was a nomad?
Abraham's descendants became so numerous in Egypt that they were a threat to the Pharaoh of a new dynasty who disregarded Joseph's contribution to his nation? Who else was delivered from slavery in such a dramatic way that it became their signature? God, Israel and deliverance were tied together as their unforgettable identity. "I am the God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."
Who else received a constitution for their nation, written on stone by His own finger, that has never been surpassed? God's covenant with His people, if faithfully obeyed, would have elevated them above all other nations in their care for one another and for the foreigners who found shelter among them. It bound them to God in an indestructible union in which He pledged to live among them and be their God. What a God to worship! To belong to Him was the safest relationship in the entire universe.
What other nation had the glorious presence of their God in a visible representation within the very building in which they worshipped Him? Other nations had gods of wood and stone but they were as dead as the material that represented them. Only the God of Israel was among them, symbolised by the unearthly light that radiated His glory from the mercy seat between the golden cherubim above the Ark of the Covenant.
No other temple on earth was as beautiful or lavishly adorned as the temple that Solomon built as a place of worship for his God. It was David's dream to honour the God he adored with the best he could give - a dream carried out by his son - as a permanent and visible reminder of the glory of their God who was among them.
What other God wanted a family of sons and daughters who would live in harmony with Him and with each other in an eternal bond of love? What other God came in person to His people to tell them and show them how much He loved them - so much, in fact, that He paid the debt of their sin by giving His own life for them?
Is it any wonder that Paul grieved for his people, so much so that, if possible, he would have forfeited his own place in the family of God for them, if only they would believe? But Paul knew, just as it had taken a mind-blowing encounter with the living Christ to convince him of the truth, so his people needed the power of the gospel through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, to bring them to faith in their Messiah.
It had happened in Jerusalem fifty days after the resurrection, when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers and the church was born, Jewish to the core. But, once again, the stubborn hearts of his people turned them from the Messiah and drove many of them into becoming bullying persecutors.
And Paul grieved for their loss.
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