Below are the notes I prepared for the message I gave at City of Refuge on Saturday December 31st, 2016:
New Years and Old Promises
A summary of Romans 9, 10, and 11
It’s that time again. That magical day when we metaphorically hit the reset button and all of our life choices are whisked away into the past and our calendar rolls back around to the first day of a new year. New beginnings. New chances. Try not to think about the fact that these same beginnings and chances can happen on any day at any time…. that spoils the magic. Buzzkill much?
In the midst of all of the celebration and hope for things to be different in 2017 and beyond, I want to take a look into the pages of Paul’s letter to the Romans and reflect on the relationships between the church and Israel – especially in light of events that have occurred in the last week and a half in international news. I’m not going to delve into all of the specifics because that would be an entire discussion all by itself but suffice it to say that no other country in the world has experienced the almost universal hatred and persecution that Israel has – throughout history. At the point of the writing of this letter to the Roman church though, Israel and her people were instigating some persecution of their own against the followers of “the Way” and the early Church. This was causing no small amount of confusion and differing opinions among the young believers and what their response and belief should be. In chapters 9 through 11, Paul addresses this specifically.
Beginning in Chapter 9, Paul lays out a burden he carries in his heart for his countrymen and brethren in Israel. Indeed, he exclaims that he would rather be cut off from Christ and the Promise if it would mean that his fellow Jews would believe and find faith.
Paul hurts for his people. They saw the glory and received the blessing of the covenants God made with the fathers. They were given the law and set apart to be an example to the nations. Christ Himself was born of their lineage and came as the promised Messiah and yet they had chosen not to believe. This was heartbreaking, but Paul points out through Scripture that not everyone born of the Israel is Israel – not all descendants of Abraham are children of the Promise. In verses 6 to 13, Paul explains that God was very specific in defining the promise and covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Ishmael and Isaac
Jacob and Esau
Through the remainder of Chapter 9 (verses 14 to 29), Paul continues to set forth his explanation regarding the actions and attitude of God towards His chosen people and their responses that have led to their current general disposition in relating to the events that unfolded with Jesus.
God has mercy on whomever He chooses, for His own reasons.
God can use any means, and has every right, to bring glory to Himself.
Who are we to question God and the way He chooses to dispense mercy or glorify Himself by allowing men to choose their own path and receive the just consequences of that path?
So in looking at the current state of Israel at the time of this letter, The gentiles are being counted among the righteous even though they had not sought it, while the Jews were not even though they had. Why? It’s a matter of the heart and intentions. The Jews had the Law and they had turned it into a form of self-righteousness that they sought through works and deeds – and they would never be able to live up to it. They were the chosen people and they couldn’t believe that God would do anything less than honor them and they held that over the other nations, which was never God’s intention in setting them apart. The gentiles received the message by faith, and it was counted to them as righteousness. Jesus was a stumbling block for the Jewish people because they were so deeply entrenched in trying to prove they were righteous by following the Law that they missed out on the heart of the Law that God had provided them when He came to them as their own flesh and blood to demonstrate what the fulfillment of the Law looked like.
Where does that leave Israel then? They have rejected the righteousness that God demonstrated through Christ and are continuing to pursue their own righteousness through works and are actively persecuting Paul and the other believers of “the Way.”
Even in the midst of the persecution and trouble, Paul still wishes and prays that his brethren would repent and seek the true righteousness of God. He knows that they are a zealous people after God – he is one of them after all – and he is actively praying that they would be enlightened to the truth.
Paul again points out the difference between the true righteousness of God and our attempts at being righteous. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law – our obedience to it is no longer the defining basis of our ability to enter into a relationship with God. The Law does not come to an end, it still shows us God’s standard and our need for a Savior.
“Christ did not come to make the law milder, or to render it possible for our cracked and battered obedience to be accepted as a sort of compromise. The law is not compelled to lower its terms, as though it had originally asked too much; it is holy and just and good, and ought not to be altered in one jot or little, nor can it be. Our Lord gives the law all it requires, not a part, for that would be an admission that it might justly have been content with less at first.” (Spurgeon)
The righteousness of faith is based on Jesus and we don’t have to do anything to earn that. There is no work that needs to be done, no set of trials you have to complete or figures you have to add up – you simply have to believe.
The summation of the Gospel and our call to take it to everyone
The prophets of old foretold of this rejection by Israel. Paul makes it clear that the reason they’re in such a state is that they have not believed on the Gospel that has been brought to them and is even now scattering to the edges of the known world. They have not believed it, but the gentiles have and the prophets wrote of those very events – that God would use a people that were not of those chosen to provoke them to jealousy.
So Is that it then? Israel is doomed and there’s no hope for her? Absolutely not. This is one of the dangers of the modern era in that there are some who want to assert that, because of Israel’s rejection, the Church is the new Israel and every reference made regarding Israel is actually about a “spiritual Israel” and it refers to the Christian church. God is no longer doing a work through the Jewish people and is through with them. His covenant promises have transferred solely to the church. This replacement theology is heresy and incorrect as believing it means accepting that God made a bad choice and was wrong and also means believing that He would change His mind and Himself – not something that is part of His character.
Plus that’s not what Paul says in chapter 11.
God has not cast off and rejected Israel. Paul himself, along with all of the original apostles and large portions of the original converts to the faith were Jewish. They didn’t suddenly stop being Jewish people when they accepted faith in Christ. Indeed, Christianity was never meant to be a separation from Judaism but the true “Way” and fulfillment of it. Paul cites the example of Elijah where God reminds him that there He has kept a remnant for Himself. So even now, through grace, God has preserved a remnant unto Himself – the earliest believers of the Church. The Jewish people as a whole had allowed their status as the “chosen people” to blind them to the message that God had for them and it was their unfortunate ruin at that time.
This rejection is not permanent. God has a plan for His chosen people and He is using the gentile believers to accomplish it. In his travels, Paul went to the Jewish synagogues in the cities he visited first to present the message to his brethren, and when he was rejected he went to the gentiles – who received it.
Acts13:46, 18:5-6, 28:25-28
Far too often in history, Christians have failed to hold up their end of this plan. God wants to use the gentiles to provoke a form of envy in His people – that the Jewish people would see the blessing and full life exhibited by those who believe in Christ and want to know that blessing for themselves and turn to Him. Historically though, the Christian response to the Jewish people has been scorn and disdain – if not outright persecution and violence.
Romans 11: 15 – 24
Yes, the wild gentile believers have been grafted onto the tree while the natural Jewish branches have been cut off. This is a blessing to be sure but it is not our place to use this as an excuse to be prideful. Jesus used the same analogy of a tree and its branches in John 15:1-8 and He was pretty clear that we have to remain in Him to receive the benefits and blessings of being part of the tree. If the natural branches can be cut out, so can the wild ones grafted in.
By the same token, there’s no reason the natural branches cannot be re-grafted back onto the tree. If we present the example that God intends to the Jewish people and their hearts turn to him and out of their unbelief there is nothing to prevent them from returning to the promises that He has.
Romans 11:25 – 32
It is still God’s plan to redeem and restore Israel. They may have been a source of trouble and persecution for Paul and the early church at the time of this letter, but God is not done with them as a people and as a nation and there will come a time when He again turns His attention towards them as a whole. We should be looking forward to that. We should be ready to honor it. God has not given up on them and the path to restoration is open and clear, and that should be a great comfort because that same promise is for all. He will not give up on us – ever.
Romans 11:33 – 36
Paul chooses to end this section marveling at the sovereignty and plan of God. The fact that he knows that God is mysterious and deep makes him Praise the Almighty even more. Who but God could orchestrate such a plan?