SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 10 July 2022
Sermon Text: Romans 11:1-24
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”
I. Not about Israel but about Israel
II. God’s mysterious ways of saving sinners
III. All to the praise and glory of God
Some people regard Rom. 9-11 not easy to understand. They list some reasons why these chapters are so, and the most common and outstanding reason is related to the nation Israel. They seem to read in these chapters a prophecy concerning Israel’s future. Some say that, in these chapters, the Apostle Paul reveals God’s secret plan for saving all of Israel. Some others say that, though unclear, Paul talks about what God would do with Israel about the end of this world. In between these views, people talk about various interpretations of these chapters.
But let me tell you this – whoever reads in these chapters any prophecy concerning the nation Israel and her future in relation to the end-times is missing the apostle’s message, thus, God’s message for His Church. These chapters do not talk about the nation Israel or the offsprings in Abraham’s bloodline in the first place. This is why these chapters are difficult to grasp for them. Because they miss a very important point on which these chapters stand, they misconstrue the apostle’s message.
In a word, Paul the Apostle has never changed his topic since the beginning of Romans. Although he suddenly mentions Israel from the beginning of ch. 9 and culminates his point with Israel in ch. 11 (which is the text passage for us to consider today), his reasoning is coherent, admonishing all Christians about one truth, that is, salvation by faith and that according to God’s grace.
Paul’s message in today’s passage is not different. And he teaches us that we’re the true offsprings of Abraham through faith according to God’s gracious election. So, let us hear the Lord’s message for us.
I. NOT ABOUT ISRAEL BUT ABOUT ISRAEL
The subtitle of the first point we should focus on is ‘Not about Israel, but about Israel.’
You’d probably think, ‘That is wrong in grammar.’ I know it’s incorrect. To compare two things, they should be different from one to another. You cannot compare something to itself. So, to compare Israel to Israel, there should be a certain factor that makes one different from another – like for example, Israel of the 1960s and the same nation of the 2020s. Without such a determinant, a comparison like this – ‘Not about Israel, but about Israel’ – is incomprehensible as much as confusing.
Nevertheless, I chose this ungrammatical subtitle for the first point, intending to point out to you the way many people read Rom. 11. Although he does not define ‘Israel,’ he describes two different kinds of Israel. So, if anyone isn’t paying attention to the apostle’s words, that person could easily overlook the apostle’s point. This is why we hear various different interpretations of this section of Romans. But in this chapter, Paul talks about two different sorts of Israel.
What then, are two different Israels? The first kind is Israel as a geo-political and ethnic nation formed at the time of the Exodus and existing continually in the 1st C AD, despite the loss of her sovereignty to Rome a few centuries earlier. This Israel includes all who physically belong to the bloodline that started from Abraham and flows through Isaac and Jacob. And the next kind of Israel is a spiritual and covenantal nation or kingdom God elected and predestined from before time, that is, before the creation of the world. This Israel includes all people whom God chose to save in His grace, and according to the Father’s plan, called and justified and adopted into His own family.
Listen to Paul speaking in our text passage and see whether it is so. First of all, Paul tells us the story of Elijah the OT prophet to explain this two-tiered Israel. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and killed them all on a mountain top in Israel, but he ran away in fear of his life because of the evil queen Jezebel. He ran to Mount Horeb and hid himself in a cave. He was alone, being separated from not only Jezebel but also all of Israel. And he was covered with deep despair because he thought he was the only one left on earth who feared God! But God’s response was surprising – He said to Elijah that He had prepared 7,000 godly men who had not bowed to Baal. They were ‘remnants,’ separated from the rest of Israel. With this story of Elijah and the 7,000 remnants, Paul contrasts two groups existed in Israel at the time of Elijah – one is physical Israel and the other is spiritual and covenantal Israel.
Moreover, in v. 7, Paul talks about ‘the elect’ who have obtained salvation whereas ‘the rest’ have failed. He means, those ‘elect’ among the fleshly Israel are saved because they are of the spiritual and covenantal Israel. So, he says in v. 2, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” Those rejected from God’s salvation among Israel are the physical and fleshly Israel while every elect of God among them is called to faith in Jesus Christ and Paul himself is one of them.
This clearly matches with what the Bible teaches on God’s unchangeableness or immutability. He never changes His mind; if God ‘foreknew’ or elected anyone, He will surely save him/her. He never forsakes His elect. So, Paul is crystal clear when he asks in v. 1, “Has God rejected His people?” He means, the ‘spiritual Israel’. Then, answers, saying, “By no means! For myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham.” Among the ethnic Israelites, the members of the spiritual Israel are there. So, all those whom God chose to save have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ while the rest have failed to reach it. Some people might feel uncomfortable with this truth, but such a discomfort is, in fact, clear evidence of man’s sinfulness because God who said this truth to us is good, holy, righteous and eternally wise while men are not with all of these qualities.
The apostle’s message is that God saves His elect by calling them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. You and I and all who come to Jesus through faith are the members of spiritual Israel, chosen by grace.
II. GOD’S MYSTERIOUS WAYS OF SAVING SINNERS
In saving His elect, God works mysteriously. His ways are so inexplicable because they are so high and profound, thus, often incomprehensible to our eyes. To point this out, Paul brings to our attention the dynamics between Israel’s failure in reaching the righteousness and the Gentiles’ obtaining salvation through faith in Jesus.
Simply put, Paul argues that, firstly, Israel’s failure has become Gentiles’ joy; secondly, Gentiles’ joy would provoke Israel’s jealousy; and thirdly, in jealousy, some Israelites will believe and be saved. Then, that will add more joy to the Gentiles! Moreover, how joyful would the salvation of all Israel be to us all who belong to the spiritual Israel! With this spiritual dynamics between two groups, the apostle urges us to know how mysteriously and diligently and zealously God works to save each of His elect!
For some Israelites, as Paul points out in this illustration, God works through jealousy. I wonder how anyone could come to Jesus through jealousy. And let me assure you that jealousy surely brings people to Christ.
In fact, I’m one of them. When I was 20, I was jealous of a ‘novice’ [only to my viewpoint at that moment] Christian who had been Christian for only three years but decided to commit her life to God in mission. I prayed to God and my prayer was to express my anger mixed with jealousy, asking Him how come He was so kind to that ‘novice’ Christian but not to me. And that prayer night was the beginning of my personal encounter with Jesus Christ the Lord! In this way, I’m one of those who are led to Jesus through jealousy! So strangely God led me to His Son.
So mysteriously God leads each of His elect to the only Saviour of the world. It was a severe lightning storm that led the famous 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, to the One who through faith saves sinners. I don’t know whether any of you here knows who Billy Sunday of the 20th century was. He was a famous baseball player but one day, he entered a salon – the American version of tavern – and there he heard a group of people playing instruments and singing gospel hymns. [It was early 1900s.] One of the hymns resonated within his heart and he became not just a Christian but one of the most influential American evangelists in the first two decades of the 20th century. A Japanese friend of mine whom I met in the USA became a follower of Jesus because, on his first visit to the church, he was overwhelmed with everything he witnessed and heard that day in church. He told me that he had never seen people with that kind of facial expression, never heard a group of people singing in one voice to their God, never experienced people greeting one another with genuine care and love.
These are just a few examples, and our God leads His dear ones to saving faith in various and mysterious ways! Yet, His plan for each of us is profound, perfect, timely and effective. He never leaves His elect alone, never forgets His chosen Israel, but brings each one to His Son through faith!
III. ALL TO THE PRAISE AND GLORY OF GOD
So, the apostle tells us to always give thanks to God and bring all glory to Him. Why? Because you and I are of the spiritual and true Israel chosen by God’s grace. Each of us are from various ethnic groups and families. We all are different from each other. But we share one common and most important denominator, that is, chosen by the grace of God in the Son, Jesus Christ, and we’re members of His eternal kingdom! We’re brought in, grafted into this universal Church of Christ, not by our merits, nor by our beauty nor by our worth, but by the mercy of the Father alone!
As the Apostle Paul describes in the second half of today’s text passage, most of us are the wild olive shoots cut and engrafted into the olive tree by grace. So, we have nothing to boast of our salvation before God. It’s the same for all Jewish believers because they’re chosen by God’s grace and now belong to the true Vine.
God saved you and me in His kindness; Jesus came and died for you and me in order to wash us from all our sins, and resurrected to give us His eternal joy and to adorn us with His eternal glory. So, all we ought to give to Him is our praise and thanks all throughout our life!
A conclusion for us to take to our hearts and apply to our daily walk in the world as members of God’s eternal kingdom. That is, giving God praise and glory always, let us never boast of our salvation. In other words, let us never take this salvation for granted. Instead, treasure it and enjoy it because God has given it to us as the result of His thorough and perfect yet amazing plan and works. Giving of His Son to die for each of us is truly incomprehensible. Choosing each of us to salvation based on His grace is truly profound. So we cannot take our salvation for granted. We must enjoy it thoroughly by giving our deep thanks and praise to God and glory to Jesus our Lord.
Also, we should never think too little of God who leads His elect and saves them. We often, if not always, think that we evangelise the unbelieving others. Based on this idea we talk to others and do things. We consider some specific works of ours as evangelistic talks or works or events. But that’s partially correct. Truth is that all we do are parts of God’s amazing and mysterious way of saving His elect. Some are led to Jesus by jealousy – like my case, like the case of Israelites as Paul pointed out in today’s text passage. It could be a gospel hymn to some others; it could be your Christian smile; it could be our joyful gatherings on the Lord’s Days. Who among us would notice if our gracious Father has already begun His saving works in the life of a passer-by by showing him/her your Christian joy expressed on your face and walk toward this place of worship on a Lord’s Day? Who among us would realise that God works through us – through our words and works not only here when we’re surrounded with fellow believers, but also at our homes, works or at a street corner – and leads His elect to Jesus? After all, all of us have been led to Jesus likewise and received this faith we cherish as His gift.
So, no boasting but praise and thanks to God in the name of Jesus because you and I are of Israel chosen by grace! ***