Intro – Book of Failures
When does God quit and give up? How far away do you have to go before God says, “No more!” and closes the door? Is there a line across which you can travel that God will no longer pursue you?
Those are the questions that are at the heart of Paul’s agonized words in Romans 9-11. He has walked us through this contrast between grace and works, God’s righteousness and self-righteousness. God’s people Israel have walked the path of self righteousness and works and found themselves far away from God and cut off from their relationship with him.
• Paul asks, “Did God quit on Israel? Is God unfair, did he renege on his promises?”
• His emphatic answer comes through again and again – NO, God is faithful to his promises. God is not the one who abandoned his people.
• Paul’s message in Romans 11 is that God is not finished with his people.
Paul begins by reminding us of the story of Elijah – vss. 2b-4 Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me” ? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
In the midst of despair and depression, Elijah was convinced he had been abandoned, and his usefulness was over. God had to remind Elijah that he was not alone and he was not finished with him.
Think back to Moses. He underestimates the resolve of the Hebrews and when he defends a slave and kills an Egyptian and becomes a fugitive and flees into the wilderness of the Sinai. He becomes a shepherd and assumes his usefulness is over. Years go by and one day Moses looks up and sees a burning bush. He walks over to see what’s going on and the Lord calls him back into service.
On the eve of the crucifixion, Peter swears that even if everyone else abandons Jesus, he will stand by him to the death. A few hours later he denies he ever knew Jesus… 3 times – the cock crows, Peter’s heart is broken and he assumes his usefulness is over. A few days later, Jesus appears to them on the shore of Lake Galilee and restores Peter to himself and to his place of usefulness.
It’s their first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas have brought along Barnabas’ young cousin, John-Mark. Only a few weeks into the trip, John-Mark bails on them and returns home to Jerusalem. The next trip, Barnabas wants to give him another chance, Paul says no, they part ways, and it looks like John-Mark and Paul are irreparably alienated. Years later, as Paul writes to Timothy from prison – his last letter, near his death – he tells Timothy to bring John-Mark to be with him because he is very useful to him.
Paul brings us back to the condition of Israel – vs. 11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.
• Don’t ever forget that God’s plans reach deeper than we can ever comprehend. His plans will make turns that we could never anticipate. It’s that powerful principle we talked about a few weeks ago – the sovereignty of God – let God be God.
• God’s plan of salvation encompasses everyone – it’s not limited by race or national boundaries or ethnicity.
• And Israel, who always thought they were God’s one and only find themselves in the embarrassing position of being used by God in spite of their disobedience instead of because of their faithfulness – vs. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
Paul describes God’s kingdom as an olive tree – and God is the gardener who prunes and grafts – cutting off branches that have died and shriveled, grafting in branches that have promise of life and vitality. He has cut off the dead branches of the Jews and grafted in the branches of the Gentiles and they have sprung to life, budding with greenery and producing fruit.
The Gentiles have been patting themselves on the back thinking they are pretty special because God has welcomed them into the kingdom because of their faith And they are especially proud of themselves because their faith is in contrast to the unbelief and rejection of the Jews.
• But now Paul has a word for his Gentile listeners, who for the last three chapters have been overhearing the conversation – vss. 20-22 Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
• Salvation is not a cause for pride, but humility.
• The disobedience of the Jews created a place and an opportunity for the Gentiles. And so, Paul takes great consolation that what looks like a real tragedy was used by God to bring about an incredible blessing.
• And with a bit of wishful optimism, Paul says, wouldn’t it be great if, now that the Gentiles have been brought into the kingdom, that the Jews finally took their cue, prodded by their jealousy of the Gentiles and turned back to the Lord? In vs. 24 he says if God can graft wild olive branches into a cultivated olive tree, how much easier it would be for him to take the natural olive branches and graft them back into their own tree!
And then Paul goes beyond wishful optimism – vs. 25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.
He calls it a mystery. The truth is this is one of the most difficult verses in all the Bible to explain.
• Is there some magic number of Gentiles? Is God going to re-embrace national, ethnic Israel at some future time? (That is after all a part of what is the root of our national foreign policy toward modern day Israel.)
• Let’s not forget the point that Paul has worked so hard to make throughout Romans:
• 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
• 3:23-24 There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
• 4:16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.
• Paul’s point is that Jew and Gentile alike are lost in sin, and Jew and Gentile alike will be saved by the grace of God. It is God’s power that saves – not our national heritage or personal pedigree. In fact, it’s not being a physical descendant of Abraham that gives you any special privilege – it’s having the heart and the faith of Abraham – being a spiritual child of Abraham by faith.
• And so when Paul says that “all Israel will be saved” I believe he is looking at the larger picture - the whole of God’s people. “All Israel” is the whole of people of faith.
But having said that, there is something else going on with his meaning. Literal, physical, national Israel was always God’s object lesson to the nations. God’s plan was always for Israel to be his means of salvation to all people (in Gen. 12, God’s blessing upon Abraham was that his descendants would be a blessing to the nations). God’s will WILL be accomplished – whether through their obedience or their disobedience.
And once again, the Jews are God’s object lesson – vss. 30-32 Just as you (that is, Gentiles) who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they (that is, Jews) too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
And the bottom line here is this – Gentiles, you think it’s impossible that the Jews could ever be saved by God? They used to think the same thing about you – but God saved you by his grace and mercy. And now, you think the Jews’ disobedience has put them beyond the reach of God. No way. That’s the only kind of people God has ever saved – those who were disobedient and lost.
One thing Paul promises is that God is never finished. He will never cross your name off the book and give up on you – as long as there is one ounce of possibility that he can bring you back again.
Some of us here this morning have experienced the pain and frustration of abandonment – of waking up to the realization that the one you have trusted isn’t there any longer. We know how difficult it is to hold on to hope, to hold out the hand of reconciliation. And we wonder, how could God do that – not just once, but time and time again.
Others of us have experienced the equally painful results of failure and disobedience in our own lives. We have been the ones to walk away and leave God behind. We have spent time in the far country, as far away from God as we could get. And we wonder, have we gone too far, has God given up on us? How could he possibly take us back again?
The answer is found in Romans.
• Though you are faithless, God remains faithful. God will never abandon you or forsake you.
• He will never cross through your name and close the book on you.
• More than anything in all the world, God wants you home.
• He has already paid the price, he is already running down the road to greet you and welcome you home.
• He is looking for you on the horizon, he is waiting for you to take the first step towards home – he’ll meet you before you take the second.
Illust. – Love Never Gives Up – Natalee Holloway’s mother
Posted on Sun, April 29, 2012
by John Roberts