Stumbling Over Jesus (Romans 9:30-33)

Main Idea: The goal of the Bible isn’t that you would follow all the rules. It’s that you would see and believe in the One who followed all the rules, who we crucified.


Being that it’s Father’s Day, I should probably at least start my sermon this morning with a few good dad jokes.

Why do fathers take an extra pair of socks when they play golf? In case they get a hole in one!

My wife says I should do lunges to stay in shape. That would be a big step forward.

I’m afraid for the calendar. Its days are numbered.

I’m not sure that God tells any dad jokes, but I do know that He’s our Father, and He loves to welcome us into His family by faith. And yet, many people refuse to come to Him. Even many of His children refuse to come to Him, whether out of shame or even pride.

And yet, God had a plan to overcome both our shame and our pride through Jesus.

Romans 9:30-33

What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written, Look, I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and the one who believes on him will not be put to shame. (Romans 9:30-33)

Father, we often are ashamed. We’re ashamed of our sin. We’re ashamed of our past. And yet in our pride, we often think that we can absolve ourselves of shame through our good deeds. Help us to see Jesus as our righteousness, and believe on Him alone. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with beauty contests, but in one particular contest, some of the crowd complained that the winner was not ugly enough. This was the winner.

[Picture of Mison Sere]

This is Mison Sere, the winner of the Mister Ugly contest in Zimbabwe in 2015. Thirty-six people entered the contest that year, and Mison Sere was the winner.

Apparently, the runner-up to the Mister Ugly contest, who won for the previous three years, claimed that Mison Sere was too handsome to win and said that his ugliness wasn’t natural since it was based on missing teeth. Masvinu, the previous winner stated, “I am naturally ugly. He is not. He is ugly only when he opens his mouth.”

Now, I think Mison Sere isn’t as ugly as he or the judges think, because I think there’s beauty in everyone that God creates, and yet I share this illustration because when we hear a story like this, we might think that it’s kind of weird for them to be boasting about their ugliness. Yet, that’s exactly what our culture does, or really any of us does when we take pride in things like our possessions, knowledge, sexual immorality, alcoholism, or even false humility. We boast and brag about things that really should cause us shame.

And yet we all do things like this because, according to the Bible, we are all ugly by nature. We are born in sin, as David wrote in Psalm 51:

Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5)

This is the reality for all of us. We’ve all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Verse 30 of our passage this morning once again begins with the phrase, “What should we say then?” Just prior to this, Paul had just written about objects of wrath, and objects of mercy, and he made the point that even many of the Jews, God’s chosen people, had shown themselves to currently be objects of wrath because of their faithlessness. And we’ve all been unfaithful. None of us have perfectly obeyed God’s commands. We were all objects of wrath.

But this was all according to God’s plan, so that even the Gentiles, us, who were not God’s chosen people could also be made righteous. Continue reading verse 30.

Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. (Romans 9:30)

I think us religious people often forget this. We know all the theology about faith versus works, and how we’re saved by God’s grace alone, but in practice, we forget that righteousness doesn’t come through what we do, but through what God has done.

Now, many of you are probably thinking, “No, I haven’t forgotten that. I know that. I know that I’m saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus.” Awesome. So let me ask you this, what if someone comes in and makes the same confession, that they believe in the grace of God for salvation, but they’re convicted or even just accused of crimes in their not-so-distant past that you don’t even want to think about. Will you accept them as a brother or sister in Christ?

And maybe you would do that much, but would you think or even say, “I’d never do that,” and in doing so, subtly thinking that you’re better than them?

In other words, maybe you think you’re saved by grace, but made righteous through works. Maybe you like to compare your works to other peoples’ works, so that you would feel good about yourself and be able to judge others. But that’s exactly what Paul is saying doesn’t work. Paul is saying that non-Jews, Gentiles, obtained righteousness when they didn’t even pursue righteousness.

If there’s even a hint of you that thinks you’re more pleasing to God than an accused person or even convicted felon because of your superior lifestyle, then you’re not thinking like a Christian, but like a Pharisee.

That same way of thinking occurred in many of the Jews. That’s why many of them literally became Pharisees. Verse 31.

But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. (Romans 9:31-32a)

So, are you acting more like a Pharisee, or like a sinner saved by grace?

Jesus told this parable in Luke 18:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14)

God isn’t looking for us to prove ourselves to Him. He simply wants us to look to Him for mercy.

Now, I’m not saying that good works don’t glorify God; they do. But only if they’re done out of a position of faith. It’s good to pursue righteousness, but not as if it can save you. And not as if it can clean you up so that you’re more acceptable to God. We pursue righteousness because we want to follow Jesus, the Righteous One.

You see, the goal of the Bible isn’t that you would follow all the rules. It’s that you would see and believe in the One who followed all the rules, who we crucified. But that’s hard to accept, isn’t it? We like to think that we can be good enough, and don’t need to be rescued. And we certainly don’t like the idea that we can only be saved through the death of Another who paid the price for us. In our pride, we think we can fix it.

We’re like this. Imagine you’re climbing a mountain, and there’s a big monster named Pride that never stops chasing you, and it wants to eat you. So you keep climbing up the mountain to get away from the monster, but it just keeps steadily chasing you. So you think, “I know what I’ll do! I’ll run as fast as I can to the top of the mountain, and lose the Pride monster behind me.” So you do, you run super hard for a long time and you get really far ahead of it and you reach the top of the mountain and think, “I’ve made it! I’m on the top of the world, I’ve lost that monster!” So you kick up your feet and take a break. And that’s when the Pride monster catches up to you and causes you to fall.

I’m sure you’ve heard the wisdom which comes straight from the Bible: Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.

The Jews thought the same way. End of verse 32.

They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written, Look, I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and the one who believes on him will not be put to shame. (Romans 9:32b-33)

You’ve maybe heard the phrase, “Don’t be a stumbling stone.” The phrase has plenty of biblical support. It’s saying, don’t be the one that causes others to stumble in their faith. Paul writes about this in other places.

But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

In other words, even if you have the Christian freedom to do something that isn’t sin, it’s often better not to do that thing in front of young Christians so that they don’t question their faith because they think that it is sin.

Probably the most clear example of this in our culture today is drinking alcohol. The Bible clearly says that getting drunk is sin, but it’s also clear that it’s not sin to drink in general, when it doesn’t lead to getting drunk. And yet, there’s a lot of wisdom in thinking very carefully who you’re around when and if you do.

Even as Christians, and maybe especially as Christians, we think far too much about what’s allowable for ourselves, and far too little about how it will affect the faith of others.

We even see this same thing later in the book of Romans. Paul writes:

Let us no longer judge one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in the way of your brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)

So it’s clear that we shouldn’t be a stumbling block, or a stumbling stone, because we don’t want to hinder anyone’s faith. Jesus even said in Matthew 18:6:

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away [or, stumble]—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

So, clearly, we should avoid being a stumbling stone. So it’s interesting that in our passage today in Romans, Jesus Himself is said to be the stumbling stone. Look at verse 33 again.

Look, I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and the one who believes on him will not be put to shame. (Romans 9:33)

Paul was quoting at least a couple verses from Isaiah, and mashed them together. Isaiah 28:16 says:

Therefore the Lord God said: “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will be unshakable.” (Isaiah 28:16)

Which, in itself, sounds pretty positive. Jesus would be the cornerstone, the foundation, who we should believe in. But then Paul also combined this with Isaiah 8:14, which says:

He will be a sanctuary; but for the two houses of Israel, he will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (Isaiah 8:14)

So Jesus would be both the cornerstone, and the stumbling stone for the Jews. And it’s not even so much something that Jesus did, but who He is. The very fact that Jesus exists causes people to stumble.

I find it extremely fascinating how so many atheists devote so much of their lives to trying to prove that Jesus wasn’t the Savior. But if that’s what they really thought, they wouldn’t spend any time talking about it at all. If they really thought that there was no God, and no true purpose in life, they would simply move on and leave spirituality behind them so that they would be the master of their own lives. But the very fact that they talk about it shows that they’re rebelling against the God they know they ought to be devoted to.

So, don’t be a stumbling stone. Instead, allow Jesus to be the stumbling stone. To be a stumbling stone for others would be to try to take the role that Jesus Himself has.

I think the difference is that when we cause people to stumble, they generally stumble away from faith, but when Jesus causes people to stumble, the point is that they stumble away from self-righteousness. Jesus doesn’t want us to get in the way of people having faith in Him, He wants to get in the way of all of us having faith in ourselves. Jesus wants to trip us up so that we’d reevaluate our lives. Jesus doesn’t want us to stumble in a bad way, but in a very good way. He wants us to see that the road that we often travel in life won’t justify us. That we’re not saved by our works, but by His grace.

Because what do you do when you stumble over a rock in your path that you didn’t see? You turn back to see it. You naturally want to get a good look at the stone that you just stumbled over. You want to prove to yourself that the rock was worthy of being stumbled over. You want to see this big massive rock so you don’t feel silly tripping on a crack.

So in life, when you stumble, and turn to see Jesus on the cross, the goal is that you would fall down and worship Him.

And in the same way, if you’re going down the wrong path, and all of us have at times, Jesus wants to interrupt your life so that you would stumble, and see Him, and see that He’s there to give you true life and hope. True life doesn’t come through having pride in ourselves, thinking that we’re strong, but in recognizing that we’re weak, and that Jesus is our strength.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote a message that he received from God, saying:

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

You see, even though we were all born ugly because of sin, God sees us as precious and beautiful, and He makes us beautiful. He is the master of redemption, the God of all grace, who can turn our sin to sanctification, our guilt to glory, and our “ugliness” to beauty. So He speaks prophetically of the Church through Solomon, who spoke of his bride in Song of Solomon, saying:

You are absolutely beautiful, my darling; there is no imperfection in you. (Song of Solomon 4:7)

This is what Jesus has done for those who trust in Him. Your beauty doesn’t come through your striving which leads to pride, which leads to a fall, but through Jesus Christ Himself.

So if you have pride, stumble over Jesus.

If you have sin, stumble over Jesus.

If you have insecurities about your lack of accomplishments, or your lack of righteousness, or your lack of beauty, whether spiritual or even physical beauty, stumble over Jesus, see Him, and hear Him say to you, “You are absolutely beautiful. There is no imperfection in you.”

And believe it. You are beautiful in Christ.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

Bible Passages: Romans 9:30-33
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