“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; 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
It is not enough for God to stand apart from history or from peoples. That we are God’s people is not a mere matter of citizenship in His heavenly kingdom. The ancient Hebrews knew this and the Hebrew canon is written in such a way to show us as much. God did not come down to stand aloof from the lives of people. God assumed a human identity and had human feelings. To do this God’s story had to be rooted in a particular place and time among a particular people. God may indeed work on a cosmic level, but He is known to us because He has come to Earth and to be on Earth in the lives of people roots one in a particular identity.
This is what Paul means when he says salvation came “to the Jew first.” In Christ, God came to what was a backwater on the world stage to a particular people. This people had always known the presence of God. Sometimes that presence was affirmed and at other times denied, but in this way their story is the same of many a people and nation. (How often America, replete with cries of being a Christian nation, distance itself from God!)
In the story of our universal salvation, we know we are not the only ones to hear God’s promise. Most of us, being “Greek” are not even the first. This should keep us from a certain conceit. God’s revelation is in the universal but God works in the particular. The beauty of this is that God is not content to stay in the particular. The “particular” person of Jesus is given over to a place, a people, and a time, but it is his divine nature that turns outward back to the universal, where it becomes “a light to the nations” and Jesus, the “particular” man becomes revealed as the universal Christ.
And just as it is easy to know a particular person for we can see and feel people, God must equip us to know the universal as well. This Paul tells us is done by that faith which makes one righteous.
The beauty of these two verses tells us that God comes to us in particular ways so that we may know Him, but He sustains us in the universal way of faith that we might believe and be made righteous.
Note: Photo by Jean Spector