SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 17 July 2022
Sermon Text: Romans 11:25-36
Sermon Series: “Romans Chatpers 9-16”
I. The mystery concerning Israel
II. Living in pride, being unaware of the mystery
III. Living in praise, being fully aware of the mystery
I divided ch. 11 into two parts for two messages. The first of these was preached last week and the second is for today. I divided this chapter into two messages not because it was too long for one message, but because I saw a natural division between vs. 24 and 25. The first part was about Israel ‘chosen by grace’ rather than ethnicity. From the beginning of God’s redemption history, Israel has always been ‘chosen by grace,’ not descended through bloodline. So, the ethnic and physical Israel and the true and spiritual Israel have never been the same entity. In the OT times, the true and spiritual Israel was within the physical and ethnic Israel and, in the NT times, the true Israel has been called out of the physical Israel as well as of the Gentiles. This was the message we heard last week from the first half of ch. 11.
The second begins from v. 25 and continues to the end of this chapter. And this section is about what we must know based on our relationship to this true kingdom of Israel. If the first was about the origin of the true Israel, this section is about the legacy we have received and carry on.
Having this in mind, let us follow the truth of God revealed to us through His servant, Paul, and grasp this great and glorious legacy we belong to.
I. THE MYSTERY CONCERNING ISRAEL
First of all, we begin with the ‘mystery’ the apostle mentions in v. 25. He wants us to not just be aware of this mystery but understand it thoroughly. Why does he want us to firmly grasp this mystery of God? As he begins v. 25, lest we be proud baselessly, thus, falsely and sinfully. Grasping this mystery, we could shun evil and live victoriously in Jesus. We’ll come back to this part in a minute.
But now, we’ll see what he means by ‘mystery.’ What is this ‘mystery’? According to the Apostle Paul in the following verses, the mystery seems to be that, firstly, God hardened the hearts of some Israelites in order that the Gentiles may believe in Jesus and be saved. Then, secondly, God will save all Israel at a later time.
But that’s not a full definition of the ‘mystery.’ In Romans, Paul talks about mystery only twice – that is, here in v. 25 and in 16:25. He mentions ‘mystery’ in four locations in Colossians and once in 2 Thessalonians. In 1 Timothy, he mentions this word only twice. To see the full picture of this mystery, you need to open Ephesians and follow the apostle in seven places – once in ch. 1, four times in ch. 3 and once in chs. 5 and 6. Especially, Paul elaborates this mystery extensively in ch. 3 and listen to him defining what this mystery is in v. 6, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
What he means by ‘mystery’ is about the membership of the true Israel. God’s kingdom is not for the Jews only but for the Gentiles also. This is the ‘mystery.’
For centuries and millennia, the Jews have believed that God’s kingdom was made up of a strict and exclusive membership, that is, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They thought that this was allowed to none from outside that bloodline.
But, the message delivered to the disciples and all others of the early church was different. They were told that God’s intention was not for the Jews only but also for the Gentiles through faith. This shocked all members of the early church, including Jesus’ apostles, starting from Peter, and other church leaders like James, Jesus’ half-brother who is to be believed as the author of the NT book of James. It was not a simple ordinary surprise but a total breakdown of their foundational conviction. God was of the Gentiles as much as of the Jews.
We of the 21st century might not be able to see how shocking this was to the Jewish believers of the 1st century because we see numerous non-Jews in churches but hardly any Christian of Jewish background. But, God’s plan revealed was like an atomic bomb to the minds of the 1st century Jewish Christians.
Let me tell you what the book of Acts tells us about this. In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter was led by God to go to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Knowing that it was God’s plan to preach the gospel of Jesus to them, Peter obeyed and preached Jesus. Then, the Holy Spirit came upon those who heard the gospel. So Peter baptised them that day. Having returned to Jerusalem, he reported to the church the happenings at Cornelius’ house. Then, he concludes his report, saying this in 11:17, “If then God gave the same gift to them as He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Hear what the following verse records: “When they [i.e., other apostles and church leaders] heard these things, they fell silent”! Did they fall in silence because they could not refute Peter in debate? No, they fell silent because that report of God saving Gentiles too through faith in Jesus shattered their worldview held so firmly for centuries and millennia up to that very moment.
When Paul says in Eph. 3:6 that the mystery is that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” I believe the apostle’s heart still throbs in excitement. Not only the believing Jews but also the believing Gentiles are coheirs and partakers of the perpetual Abrahamic covenant, thus, the true Israel!
What makes us amazed, thus, fall silent is that such has been God’s plan from the very beginning of time. Listen to Paul talking about this in Col. 1:26, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to [God’s] saints.” This is the realisation of what God said to Abraham in Gen. 12:3, “in you, all the families [or clans or peoples] of the earth shall be blessed.”
In a word, the true Israel is composed of believers from all families, clans, tribes and peoples. As Abraham was justified by faith and called as the father of all believers, his descendants are none other but all who are justified by faith. This shattered the worldview of the apostles and all other members of the early church. This was and is still the mystery of God, not because it is a puzzle or riddle, but it is so grand in scale and so profound in grace!
II. LIVING IN PRIDE, BEING UNAWARE OF THE MYSTERY
Going back to the point I mentioned earlier, knowing this ‘mystery’ is so vital to Christian’s godly life. Ignorance of this mystery causes one to live in sin; being unaware of this mystery would most likely lead even a believer to the sin of pride.
Let’s see why it is so. If any Christian is unaware of the mystery of the true Israel, it means that he has no or shallow understanding of what his salvation means. He might know that, by believing in Jesus as his Saviour and Lord, his sins are now forgiven, and he will go to heaven. But that might be the end of his understanding of the blessings of salvation.
Some people say that ‘I believe in Jesus and that’s all I need to know.’ But, brothers and sisters in Jesus, that’s not all we Christians need to know. We need to know the full picture of blessings poured upon us through salvation in Jesus. We’re to inherit Christ’s kingdom and, alongside Jesus, judge the world. This is not only in the coming age but also now at present.
But if any believer is unaware of the mystery Paul makes clear to us in Rom. 11 and other places like Eph. 3:6, he misses out on most of these heavenly blessings, living as if he was defeated or forsaken.
Moreover, he could easily become proud of his salvation. He may consider his salvation a reward for his worthiness. He might think, ‘I’m worthy of God’s election; look at those thousands and millions of others who are not saved; but I’m in Jesus; I’ll go to heaven while they go down; what a worthy man I am!’ This is a direct result of being unaware of the mystery. From the beginning, God had a plan to save some. And that ‘some’ are to come from various families of the earth, including some of the ethnic Israel. Being one of these ‘some’ is, therefore, pure grace of God. This was a shocking ‘mystery’ to Peter and Paul and all of the early church, but it is now clearly revealed to us of the present generation. Any believer who isn’t fully aware of this mystery would easily fall into the sin of pride.
Moreover, anyone who is ignorant of this mystery of grace might consider achieving an earthly success as her life’s goal. To her, seeking first God’s kingdom and Jesus’ righteousness might mean not much, if not nominal. To her, simply attending Sunday services and doing some Christian things would be good enough. In this way, her sense of belonging to a local church would be nominal, and that is reflected on her relationship with other church members. Again, this is because she is unaware of the scope of her salvation – I mean, how long God has embraced her name in His divine heart, calling her as a precious member of the true Israel, and how thoroughly and carefully and meticulously the Holy Spirit has carried out that divine plan for her, and how mercifully the Son came in flesh and died to pardon her sins and grant her His flawless righteousness!
Let me add one last possible outcome of being unaware of this mystery of salvation. The heart of such a person would focus mostly on getting more out of God. Hardly would he remain content with God’s grace, but complain about various things.
In fact, all these things I mentioned so far as the most likely results of being unaware of God’s mystery can be summed up in a sin and, that is, the sin of pride!
III. LIVING IN PRAISE, BEING FULLY AWARE OF THE MYSTERY
The opposite is what the apostle desires for all Christians like you and me. He seeks us to not just be aware of this mystery but know fully and thoroughly about it. Then, this mystery becomes the source of our joy in the Lord. You and I will remain content with the love and grace of our Heavenly Father.
This is so because all things point out God’s love for you and for me. The scale of God’s love is immeasurable. He had you in His heart before He started creating the world. You were one of His elect to whom He decided to reveal His mercy and grace.
Recently, NASA released some of the first space images James Webb space telescope took. One of the photos was of a planet that was about 2,500 light-years away from the earth. Another news I read last week said that NASA had found the farthest star from earth, and it was 28 billion light-years away. I dare not try to understand how far 28 billion light-years might be because estimating such a distance is beyond my ability, beyond my imagination. But all these are tiny parts of God’s wisdom and power revealed in His creation. He had it all planned in His heart and formed all things.
But before His heart measured and scaled and located everything in the universe, He had embraced in His heart your name and mine, and decided to be gracious to us. Not only this, but also He willed to make you and me, us and all other true believers of Jesus, brothers and sisters in His Son. He chose us to be members of His eternal household or, in another word, the true Israel. How stunning this is! How satisfying this plan of God is! Greater is God’s plan for you and me and all of the true Israel than His works done to the physical universe. You belong to Him from the beginning of time; you and I are of Jesus the Saviour and Lord; we’re members of the true Israel, the true love of God from eternity to eternity!
So, your salvation and mine are not light but weighty, not simple but profound, not cheap but extremely precious. This eternal life given to us through faith in Jesus has come from before time and is running toward eternity. It never stops, nor is obstructed, nor is snatched by anyone or anything. God’s grace binds you to Jesus and to others of the true Israel, and carries you along on its wings toward the eternity.
Grasping this mystery, you’ll surely and immediately give God praise and thanks. And that’ll never cease from your heart and lips!
Then, all areas of your Christian life will naturally be deepened. It will begin from your relationship with this congregation, then, with sister churches in our denomination, then, your commitment to the works of the gospel in this region and beyond.
Your view on evangelism and mission will also be changed because sharing Jesus’ saving grace with others who are near and far will be your joyful participation in God’s saving work of His elect. Like the way you were led to Jesus, you are working together with the Holy Spirit in leading others to the Lord Jesus. In that, you become God’s instrument for saving lives! What a joy would that be! Like you’re precious to God’s eyes, others God chose to save are precious too. And you search for God’s precious. Likewise, coming to worship God is a pure joy; giving Him your time and talent as well as materials is a pure delight. Loving God and loving one another in Jesus give your heart and soul the taste of the deepest satisfaction which we all will enjoy as the members of the true Israel, the true love of God!
No wonder why the Apostle Paul gives his praise to God in vs. 33-36. I believe this is a natural and immediate reaction of his soul to the profound mystery of God. I sincerely pray that the same praise may come from your heart and mine, and we give our thanks to our Father through the Son now and forever, rejoicing as the members of the true Israel, God’s true love! ***