SERMON PREACHED AT THE SYNOD OF THE DIOCESE OF SAPELE ON FRIDAY, 31ST JULY, 2015
THEME: “JACOB I LOVE, BUT ESAU I HATE: DIVINE PREFERMENT AS GOD’S PREROGATIVE”
TEXTS: Romans 9:13-16
Welcome all Delegates to the Synod and appreciate the Bishop and wife for the invitation to minister at the Synod and their hospitality since arrival. Pray God’s blessings into their lives and upon the Diocese as a whole. Reflect on the message of yesterday.
Having considered the context of our theme yesterday and the two possible interpretations, today we shall attempt to understand Paul’s statement as he appeals to the mercy of God in his attempt to rightly position both the Jews and Gentiles in their correct perspectives within the salvation history. It is therefore necessary to see Romans 9-11 as a continuum, with his discussion beginning in Romans 9 and ending in Romans 11. In chapter 9 Paul started by showing his frustration in the ways the Jews had rejected the salvation message; and remarked that it is not sufficient for the Jews to merely glory in being children of Abraham through their physical descent (Rom. 9:6-8). Being Abraham’s children goes beyond ordinary physical circumcision which was the apparent pride of the Jews. For Paul, the true children of Abraham are those who have been spiritually circumcised in their heart. This is the new life attainable through the confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ by faith, having forsaken one’s sin. It is this new life in Christ that has qualified the Gentiles as children of God (Romans 8:14).
That God has chosen the Jews as his own peculiar people was an act of deliberate choice of mercy by Him. Psalm 136 chronicles the choice, life, activities and achievements of the Israelites and premised them all on God’s mercy. The common phrase in Psalm 136 is, “For His mercy endures forever.” God’s relationship with human beings is principally anchored on His mercy not on anything man has put together to attract God’s attention. This mercy of God flows from His love for mankind in the giving of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son with the mission of restoring the fallen man to his original state (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).
God’s choice has nothing to do with human inputs. Whatever we are or have become did not come because of our sweat and struggle but simply because we are beneficiaries of God’s mercy. Though Ishmael was born before Isaac, yet he was not the choice of God (9:6). Likewise, both Esau and Jacob were born by Isaac and Rebecca, yet the choice of God to fulfil his promise to Abraham was through Jacob, and not Esau who was the first born (9:11-13). If God had actually promised to bless all the seeds of Abraham (Gen. 22:18), and yet Esau was not; it could only be grace that made the difference; after all the preference for Jacob started from the womb when neither Jacob nor Esau had done any wrong (Gen. 25:23; Malachi1:2-3). But the Bible tells us that all have sinned… (Rom. 3:23). In a way, God knew both Esau and Jacob as born in sin, when the two of them were by nature children of wrath just like others born of women. God had only bestowed on Jacob the prerogative of mercy by choosing to love him instead of Esau, whom he rejected.
The first appearance of the words used in Romans 9 is in Malachi 1:2-3 which says, “I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau,” and this was written between 557-525 B.C., thousands of years after the birth of both Esau and Jacob. Paul in this passage was not showing that God hated Esau and loved Jacob when the two were still in the womb of their mother, but to demonstrate the choice God made before they were born based on the eternal wisdom of God and his foreknowledge of what the two individuals would possibly do (Romans 8:29).
From the scripture it is evident that Esau and his descendants, the Edomites, were in many ways blessed by God (Genesis 33:9; 36:1, 9); just as Ishmael was blessed by God (Gen. 17:20). In a similar way, just as the promise of God to Abraham would not be fulfilled through Ishmael, the ultimate emergence of the nation of Israel would not be through Esau, but through Jacob, who was later renamed Israel by God (Gen. 32:24-28).
Again as we tried to examine yesterday, it is therefore important not to confuse Paul’s language of love for Jacob and hate for Esau with human emotions of love and hate. Rather, it should be understood from the view point of God’s exercising prerogative of mercy to do as he likes or likes.
Although at the point of the death of Isaac, and because Jacob tricked his father to rob Esau of his blessings, the two of them became great enemies (Gen. 27:41); yet later on in life, the two brothers seemed to have reconciled (Gen. 32:1-16). Despite this visible reconciliation between Jacob and Esau in their life time, it clearly showed Hundreds of years after their death that the Israelites and Edomites became bitter enemies. The Edomites on several occasions joined forces with Israel’s enemies in attacks on Israel (2 Chronicles 21:8-9; 28:17; Amos 1:11; Ezekiel 25:12).
Brethren, what comes out clearly from our message today is the fact that God does not need man’s approval to bestow his favour. He favours whoever he wishes. What can we say about David, whom the Bible described as a man after God’s own heart! (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Yet this man was covetous, committed adultery by sleeping with Beersheba, the wife of Uriah; and ultimately committed murder by killing Uriah. Yet the son to succeed him on the throne, Solomon, came from the same woman, Beersheba, the widow of Uriah.
Indeed, God will have mercy on whoever he will. It only requires a genuine repentance like David. Receiving the mercy does not depend on the works of individual, but his divine prerogative. Therefore, what you need is God’s divine mercy to make you the envy of those around you. What you need is God’s mercy to blot out the remembrance of your sins. What you need is a heart cry like the Publican saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). The position you hold will not be the reason for your salvation. The gifts you give to the Church will not be the reason for your salvation. The no of times you go on pilgrimage will not be reason for your salvation. Only the mercy of God will save you as your heart is moved to accept the gift of salvation he has brought to you in Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, we are not saying good works are not good. In fact, any good work coming from a child of God, who is genuinely born again is an attestation to the fact that his life has been approved by God. That is the message of Paul in Ephesians 2, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Beloved, let us pray for the mercy of God to locate us and make us object of mercy in our own generation. When God shows us mercy, we will become the envy of all around us and our lives will never be the same.