Paul’s Prosecution of the Jews
The following is a manuscript of the sermon presented by Roger Patterson on Sunday February 14, 2021 at our West U Baptist Church campus and in our Online Experience. To view the sermon in full, please visit our YouTube page. To listen to the message, check out our podcast page.
Dale Carnegie was a best-selling author, salesman and motivational speaker. His best-seller was How to Win Friends and Influence People. In this book, Carnegie talked about how he managed people. His premise in people-management was to approach people based on the fact that… “others rarely admit to having done anything wrong and that it is therefore pointless to criticize them.”
And one of the examples he uses to make this point was the Chicago gang leader, Al Capone. Al Capone ruled much of Chicago in the prohibition era. His gang massacred 7 rival gang members in the famous Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when his men posed as police officers and executed these men against a garage wall.
But what’s fascinating is that Capone writes of his own goodness. Capone thought of himself as a moral guy, as one who did right by people. And, though he was on the top of the FBI’s Most wanted list for many years, Capone said this of himself…
“I have spent the best years of my life, giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them to have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”
Isn’t that amazing? That this man, who was the FBI’s most wanted…thought of himself as a good man!
We all do, though, don’t we? Especially when we compare ourselves to a guy like Al Capone.
But let me ask you a question as we begin our time together today: If you died today, and you stood before the gates of heaven, and God called you by name and said, “Why should I let you into my kingdom…what would you tell him?”
That’s a tough question, isn’t it?
I have had the privilege of asking a lot of people that question. And the majority of the people that I have asked that question to answer something like this…they say:
I have been a good person. I haven’t killed anybody. I make good grades and live a pretty good life.
It’s the typical “Moralist” answer.
As we enter into Romans chapter 2, right in the middle of all of the Bad News, please recall that Paul is prosecuting all of humanity. He has made his indictment against the Gentile world (that’s chapter 1). It was probably much easier to prove his point because he proclaimed that though the Gentiles had seen God’s eternal power and divine nature, they suppressed the truth of God for a lie and exchanged the glory of the immortal for the mortal, making idols of the created. Their idolatry lead to impurity, immorality and debauchery. It was an easy charge to levy. Frankly, the entire Roman world was littered with idolatry, sexual acts of worship, temple prostitutes, and the like. This charge was not hard to make.
In chapter 2, though, Paul is going to now indict the Jews for their idolatry of Self-Righteousness. Here, Paul is coming right at the moralist…the one who believes that they are good enough on their own to make it into heaven.
So, today, I want you to see at a high level how this prosecutor is trying to convince the Jews of their guilt. It’s a harder task than pointing out the debauchery, immorality and impurity of Gentile living.
Warren Wiersbe explains…
It would not be an easy task to find the Jews guilty, since disobedience to God was one sin they did not want to confess. The Old Testament prophets were persecuted for indicting Israel for her sins, and Jesus was crucified for the same reason. Paul summoned four witnesses to prove the guilt of the Jewish nation.
Let me share these four with you as I do a high-level review of the argument in Chapter 2.
The Four Witnesses to Indict the Jews
- The Gentiles
- God’s Law
- God’s Blessings
Let’s take a look at this first witness, as Paul begins his indictment of the Jews.
I. The Gentiles – v. 1-3
The First Witness that Paul Calls to the Stand are the Gentiles.
Look at verses 1-3.
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?
Now, when you see a chapter starting off with the word, “Therefore,” what are you to ask?
That’s right… “What’s that therefore, therefore?”
Paul is connecting his previous declarations of guilt of the Gentile audience and their pagan idol worship to the Jewish people. He has just said to the Gentiles, that God’s revelation of himself to them has left them without excuse. He is now saying that the Jews also has no excuse…you too stand condemned. Notice now what he says in the second half of verse 1.
“For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
Paul is saying, that, “Your very judgment of the Gentiles reveals your heart. It reveals your idolatry.”
You see, the Jews may not have been guilty of sexual immorality in their marriages or men with men and women with women. But he is saying that they indeed did have an idol.
Their idol was their moralism. Their idol was their own performance. Their idol was their inability to be wrong. Their idols was their Self-Righteousness.
Certainly, the Jews would applaud Paul’s condemnation of the Gentiles in Romans 1:18–32. In fact, Jewish national and religious pride encouraged them to despise the “Gentile dogs” and have nothing to do with them. Paul used this judgmental attitude to prove the guilt of the Jews; for the very things they condemned in the Gentiles, they themselves were practicing! They thought that they were free from judgment because they were God’s chosen people. But Paul affirmed that God’s election of the Jews made their responsibility and accountability even greater.
God’s judgment is according to truth. He does not have one standard for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. One who reads the list of sins in Romans 1:29–32 cannot escape the fact that each person is guilty of at least one of them. There are “sins of the flesh and of the spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1); there are “prodigal sons” and “elder brothers” (Luke 15:11–32). In condemning the Gentiles for their sins, the Jews were really condemning themselves. As the old saying puts it, “When you point your finger at somebody else, the other three are pointing at you.”
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;”
James Boice makes an interesting point here. And it is one we ought to note. Boice argues that Paul could have pointed to God as the perfect standard to which all must measure up. He says…
“God being perfect, cannot be satisfied with anything less than perfection. That important point, which Paul is quite capable of making, means that we fall short of this divine standard and are therefore deserving of judgment, however good we may be … But that is not the way Paul answers. Paul does not let the objecting person of the hook by acknowledging, somewhat reluctantly, that he (or she) may indeed be innocent of the vices mentioned…On the contrary, Paul argues that the objector is guilty of these very things—perhaps even more guilty than the pagans to whom he feels superior. The very fact that this supposedly moral person is objecting shows that he has some kind of moral conscience. He ‘passes judgment on someone else’ in declaring the other’s actions bad, as distinct from his own actions, which are good. But this does not mean that he is innocent of what he sees and condemns in others. On the contrary, he is guilty of these very actions…Paul is not appealing to God’s standard as that by which self-styled moral individuals will be judged, though he had every right to do so. Rather, he is appealing to their own standard whatever it is.”
Now, there are many standards by which we could judge people for their sins. We could judge them based on the Ten Commandments. The first four are sins committed against God. The last six are sins committed against our fellow man.
So, if this is your standard, let me ask you a question: Have you ever lied? Stolen? Taken God’s name in vain? Whatever the case, if we use the Ten Commandments to judge another, we will find ourselves guilty of breaking at least one of them.
Others might use the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 to pass judgment on another. They may say, “Oh, those 10 Commandments are so old fashion. We want something from the New Testament.” Well, the Sermon on the Mount is much broader expression to the Ten Commandments. And this Sermon on the Mount shows that God wants the heart. He is not satisfied with mere external adherence to his laws. No, he requires an inner conformity.
Is your heart perfectly pure? Mine’s not! So, once again, you will find yourself guilty of sin, even as you use that standard to judge another.
Others might say, “Well, let’s just use the greatest commandment and the second one, to be our judge. We just need to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. That will be the standard we use.”
Again, we come to this same place. We like to think of ourselves of loving our neighbor and loving God at all times, but the reality is that we curse our neighbors and we are self-seeking in relationships. We don’t put God first and them before us in all things.
Once again, by our own standards we try to use and invent, we find that we are unable to live up to them.
It’s like the mayor of Denver proclaiming that people shouldn’t travel to relatives’ homes for Christmas, then being found boarding a plane to go and see his kids.
The standard he set for others, he himself couldn’t keep or believed he shouldn’t have to keep. And we do the same when we exalt ourselves by judging others.
But Paul must persist in his indictment. Remember, he is exposing the bad news to a people who don’t want to hear it, and they haven’t wanted to hear it for centuries…this is why they killed the prophets and our Lord.
Let’s quickly look at the second and third witnesses together.
The Four Witnesses to Indict the Jews
- The Gentiles
- God’s Law
- God’s Blessings
II. God’s Law and Circumcision
Now, let’s skip down to verses 12-29. I’m not going to read the entire thing. Please do that on your own. But I will highlight a few things for us here, borrowing heavily from Warren Wiersbe.
- The Law: Using the Law to indict the Self-Righteous Jew is found in verse 12-24. “Paul’s statement in Romans 2:11, “For there is no respect of persons with God” would shock the Jew, for he considered himself deserving of special treatment because he was chosen by God. But Paul explained that the Jewish Law only made the guilt of Israel that much greater! God did not give the Law to the Gentiles, so they would not be judged by the Law. Actually, the Gentiles had “the work of the Law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:15). Wherever you go, you find people with an inner sense of right and wrong; and this inner judge, the Bible calls “conscience.” You find among all cultures a sense of sin, a fear of judgment, and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared.
The Jew boasted in the Law. He was different from his pagan neighbors who worshiped idols! But Paul made it clear that it was not the possession of the Law that counted, but the practice of the Law. The Jews looked on the Gentiles as blind, in the dark, foolish, immature, and ignorant! But if God found the “deprived” Gentiles guilty, how much more guilty were the “privileged” Jews! God not only judges according to truth (Rom. 2:2), and according to men’s deeds (Rom. 2:6); but He also judges “the secrets of men” (Rom. 2:16). He sees what is in the heart!
The Jewish people had a religion of outward action, not inward attitude. They may have been moral on the outside, but what about the heart? … The very Law that the Jews claimed to obey only indicted them!”
This third witness Paul uses to indict them was the mark of Circumcision.
- Circumcision (vv. 25–29). This was the great mark of the covenant, and it had its beginning with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation (Gen. 17). To the Jews, the Gentiles were “uncircumcised dogs.” The tragedy is that the Jews depended on this physical mark instead of the spiritual reality it represented (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 9:26; Ezek. 44:9).
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
A true Jew is one who has had an inward spiritual experience in the heart, and not merely an outward physical operation. People today make this same mistake with reference to baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or even church membership.
God judges according to “the secrets of the heart” (Rom. 2:16), so that He is not impressed with mere outward formalities. Paul is saying, “An obedient Gentile with no circumcision would be more acceptable than a disobedient Jew with circumcision. In fact, a disobedient Jew turns his circumcision into uncircumcision in God’s sight, for God looks at the heart.”
And this message would have rocked their world! But that’s not where Paul stops.
Transition: Let’s look at this last witness that Paul shares with his audience in Rome to indict them. Let’s back up in the passage to Romans 2:4-11.
The Four Witnesses to Indict the Jews
- The Gentiles
- God’s Law
- God’s Blessings
III. God’s Blessings
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
Instead of giving the Jews special treatment from God, the blessings they received from Him gave them greater responsibility to obey Him and glorify Him.
Notice what Wiersbe says here…
“In His goodness, God had given Israel great material and spiritual riches: a wonderful land, a righteous Law, a temple and priesthood, God’s providential care, and many more blessings. God had patiently endured Israel’s many sins and rebellions, and had even sent them His Son to be their Messiah. Even after Israel crucified Christ, God gave the nation nearly forty more years of grace and withheld His judgment. It is not the judgment of God that leads men to repentance, but the goodness of God; but Israel did not repent.”
Verse 5 is a warning to the Self-Righteous, moralist, as Paul once again references this wrath of God. Remember, the wrath of God is God’s hatred of all that is evil. The Apostle Paul here says, “You are storing up wrath for yourselves.”
A. Berkley Mickelson, in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary on Romans, says…
“God’s anger stored up in heaven is the most tragic stockpile a man could lay aside for himself.”
We saw a few weeks ago, that the wrath of God was being revealed against all unrighteousness and wickedness of men. Now we see that God’s hatred of all that is evil that is set against his nature and character, his wrath, is being stored up, to be poured out on the day of wrath…the day of judgment, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
You see, God’s judgment will deal with what every person really did, not what we intended or hoped. We see this in verses 6-11.
But verse 4 invokes the contempt that the self-righteous have for God’s patience with all of humanity. You see, it’s the fact that God is kind, tolerant and patient, that indicts the self-righteous person.
Look at verse 4 once again.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
These characteristics of God are the very blessings that the self-righteous person shows contempt for. And they do this by questioning and wondering:
- “Why doesn’t God just destroy that evil leader and nation?”
- “Why does God allow murderers to get off free of charge?”
- “Why does God allow Good things to happen to bad people and bad things to happen to good people?”
The moralist asks these questions from their self-righteous position. And their questions are full of contempt…because they judge themselves over and against the behavior of another. And what should lead them to repentance is the realization that they themselves are guilty. They themselves have fallen short and will also come under God’s judgment.
But instead, these blessings of God’s character indict them.
Here are the three qualities of God’s character that Paul invokes.
- The Kindness of God: This is also called the Goodness of God. The word “God” is Anglo-Saxon, where “God” originally meant “The Good.” This meant that God wasn’t merely the “greatest of all beings,” but that He was also “THE BEST.”
Boice states, “All the goodness there is originates in God … and in the language of the philosophers, the simplest of all definitions of God is summum bonum, the chief good.”
God’s goodness is revealed in creation, in his providence, and in the Good News Message of the Cross of Jesus.
My friend, if you have received anything in this life that is good…the food you eat, the air you breathe, the water you drink, it’s because God is a good God toward you. And we would be wise to see more of His goodness in His leadership over your life and in his sending of His son Jesus to take away your sin!
The second quality of God’s character that Paul invokes against them is…
- The Forbearance of God: This is also called the Tolerance of God.
There is a lot that is said these days about tolerance or a lack of tolerance. This term in the New Testament carries with it the idea of a human offense to God’s goodness. In essence, as Boice states, a human, “…commits and offense that should evoke an immediate outpouring of fierce judgment, but which God actually endures.” (Boice, Romans, vol. 1, p. 212)
You see, we sin and God does not immediately implement the judgment we deserve. Instead, he bears with us, enduring this assault on his majesty and his holiness. Further, he offers us salvation, in spite of our rebellion.
What’s fascinating is that we don’t appreciate God’s tolerance. And instead we use it as an accusation against him…much like that of the Elder son in the story of the Prodigal Son. The younger son…the prodigal, has returned home and the Father has thrown a party. He has killed the fattened calf. And the older son is boiling over mad at the goodness of his father to his brother.
Notice this in Luke 15.
But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’
And what is his accusation? It’s as if the older son said…
“Your goodness is misplaced. You should have thrown a party for me…no, actually, you should have let me partied the way I wanted to…with my friends. But instead, your goodness is not warranted with your other son…how dare you be so good to him?”
My friend, are you like the older brother in the story? Do you show contempt for God’s tolerance in other’s lives? Maybe you have a brother or sister who you really struggle with? Or you have an ex…an ex husband or ex wife…and you wonder how they can excel like they do, when you are over here really struggling. They have no thought of God…and you are really striving to please him…but you feel his goodness is misplaced. Don’t show contempt for God’s tolerance.
The third quality of God’s character that Paul invokes against the Jews is…
- The Patience of God: The Greek term is MACRO – THYMIA. The prefix, MACRO, emphasizes how GREAT God’s longsuffering really is.
As James Boice succinctly states it, “Patience means that God bears with sin a long time.” And his patience is displayed for an express purpose…that we might repent. God tarries, God delays his righteous judgment, God waits for the day of Judgment, so that none would perish.
God’s kindness…God’s tolerance…God’s patience is given as blessings to us all, so that we might REPENT.
Peter affirms this in 2 Peter 3:8-10. He is speaking of the coming Day of the Lord. He is speaking of the coming judgment, just as Paul is here. But notice what Peter says about God’s patience.
2 Peter 3:8-10
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
God is not slow…
- but He does have a MACRO VIEW!
- He is not slow…but He does have a GREAT AMOUNT OF PATIENCE.
- God is not Slow…but He is not wanting any to perish…but that all would reach repentance…JEW AND GENTILE alike.
My friend, have you repented? Have you come to realize the bad news…that you too are a sinner in need of a savior?
My father, who loves to see people saved, who loves to see people put their faith in Christ, told me early on in my preaching…
“Roger, they can get found if they don’t know that they are lost.”
And he is right. We must recognize the bad news. We must recognize that we have offended a holy God…whether it be through our immorality or our self-righteousness. We need to recognize our sin…and we need to repent!
And by faith, we must receive the son.
He brings us a righteousness that is by faith in him.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
My friends, won’t you put your faith in Christ? Jesus, the Son of God, died for you and rose again. He conquered sin and death. And He and only He alone can offer you everlasting life?
My friend, if you answered that question that I asked you earlier, about God letting you into heaven because you are good…because you have done good things…because you are a moral person, then you are no different than the Self-Righteous person Paul is indicting here. My friend, recognize your sin…come to Christ for forgiveness!
 Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, (New York: Cardinal edition, Pocket Books, 1963), p. 20.
 Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary,