Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the Law, that “the person who does these things will live by them” (Leviticus 18:5). But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (Deuteronomy 30:12) (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (Deuteronomy 30:13) (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 30:14) (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).
Because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart we believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
The main word of the above Epistle passage is "righteousness." This is one of the key words of the whole Biblical theology in general. In the Epistle to the Romans, "righteousness" is the key word, it is the key that opens the door to the most acute problem of Jewish environment, from which Saint Paul came. The problem of righteousness.
Biblically speaking, righteousness is best understood as "hope" and "faith." For example, when the Bible talks about "the righteousness of God," most often wha tis meant is reliability or faithfulness of God: we can rely on God, He is true to His Word, He is true to His promises, He is true to His creation, He is true to His people, whom He separated from among all the peoples of the earth (3 Kings 8:53).
The faithfulness of God to His own people over time came into doubt. Century after century, the fate of Israel would not change much - one invader and aggressor is replaced by another. Israel, having escaped the Egyptian slavery, finds itself again and again in another slavery. Where was the promise made by God to Abraham? Where is the righteousness of God? When will the hope and faith of Israel become reality?
In his Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul begins with the great proclamation that today the righteousness of God has become reality. This righteousness is manifest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in His Word about salvation of everyone. "I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith, as it is written, 'The one who is righteous will live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17). The rest of the Epistle is dedicated to proving this point, especially that the faith in Jesus Christ, Who died for us and Who resurrected for our salvation, this faith brings righteousness to all people. Righteousness that according to faith, and not according to the Law, is from God, and not from us, and it is also a gift of grace, not a payment for our works, which are mostly imaginary.
Salvation is for all people, as Saint Paul states. And this statement was what caused so much opposition among the Jews, the chosen people of God. This statement offended many of them because, in a certain sense, it made Jews and Gentiles equal. This became a stumbling block for the Jews. Israel rejected Jesus Christ, did not believe in their Savior. This brought great sadness to Saint Paul. He always prayed for his people that they would see the truth and return to God, Who was always faithful to them.
With such prayer Paul opens the Epistle reading for the coming Sunday. Paul witnesses to the deep respect to the religious "zeal" of Israel. He himself, until his conversion, "was far more zealous to the traditions of [his] fathers" (Galatians 1:14). However, his respect for Israel's religious zeal does not prevent him from talking with all certainty what separates Jews from Christians.
What separates them is the refusal to accept that Jesus is God, and as God He acted on behalf of all people, for their salvation. And through Jesus we are given righteousness. For this reason, Israel's religious zeal became unenlightened. Even though, unenlightened, Israel was still aware of Who they were rejecting, but this awareness was false because it led to the obscuring of their minds.
Israel's passionate zeal miss the truth and was against the truth. After the revelation of Jesus Christ, after the preaching of His Gospel, it became clear that Israel's desire for righteousness in the context of obedience to the Law of Moses became a vain desire to establish before God their own righteousness, instead of accepting the righteousness of God, which was gifted to us by Jesus Christ. And Saint Paul tells his countrymen that "they have not submitted to God's righteousness" because they understood, intuitively, that "Christ is the end of Law." The Law was given to Israel to point them towards Christ, since He came, He put an end to it, He fulfilled it.
To accept Christ is to go further and higher than the Law, to go further and immeasurably higher than the reliance on your own merits before the Law. Righteousness is counted not according to our merits, but according to the gracious gift of God in Jesus Christ.
The above text is a rough translation from Russian of the sermon on the same reading.