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Romans (Series 1)

The Character of God

Romans  10:16 - 11:36

At first glance this appears to be an extension of Paul’s long diversion about the Jews and the Gentiles. So it is, in a sense. In another sense, and I hope a much deeper one, it is a sterling lesson on the character of God. Let us see what we may glean from the diamond mine of Romans.

Rejection by Israel

(Rom 10:16-21 NIV) But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" {17} Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. {18} But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." {19} Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, "I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding." {20} And Isaiah boldly says, "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." {21} But concerning Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people."

Bear with me, please. The temptation is to see this as Paul talking about Jews and Gentiles, and nothing more. But look at what this little passage teaches us about the nature of God:

·         God sees the future -- even the rejection of the Messiah by Israel. Indeed, He sees the feelings of his servants, for verse 16 is a quotation from a Messianic passage, Isaiah 53:1.

·         He even sees the excuses to be used! Is this foresight, or the knowledge of what man is like, or both?

·         “We didn’t hear the message.” To this God makes his reply again; the passage is from Psalm 19, which begins by telling us that the heavens declare the majesty of God.

·         “We didn’t understand the message.” This too is foreseen, in a quotation from Deuteronomy 32:31.

·         His reply is already declared: he will take the Gentiles (“not a nation” but a collection of peoples) and with them proclaim his truth.

·         God will use even sin (in this case, envy) to turn his people back to Him. He is, in a way, very unscrupulous.

In this passage, also, we see the principle that God uses in dealing with the stubborn. Elsewhere in the Scripture we see it as “shaking dust.” God will not forever plead and send messengers; there is a limit. If those who are chosen first reject his words, the messengers will take them onward.

(Luke 9:1-5 NIV) When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, {2} and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. {3} He told them: "Take nothing for the journey--no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. {4} Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. {5} If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them."

Three times in Acts it is recorded that the messengers of God did just that. For example:

(Acts 13:49-51 NIV) The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. {50} But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. {51} So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.

He sends his messengers; he gives time for the message -- and then He commands his messengers to shake dust and move on. We will see later that this is part of the principle of bringing good out of evil, as well. For now, it is sufficient to note that God’s messengers are not commanded to preach forever to a brick wall -- but rather to shake dust and move on, whatever the heartache that might be.

But His heart is always open to us. Note the phrasing in verse 21. God is pictured as holding out his hands to the sinners. Not chasing them (remember the father who waited at home for the Prodigal Son to “come to his senses?”), but waiting. God does not pursue the wicked who have rejected him; he waits for them to come.

Principle of the Remnant

(Rom 11:1-10 NIV) I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. {2} God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah--how he appealed to God against Israel: {3} "Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me"? {4} And what was God's answer to him? "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." {5} So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. {6} And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. {7} What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, {8} as it is written: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day." {9} And David says: "May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. {10} May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever."

Throughout the Scripture God makes clear the principle of the remnant: He is not going to get everyone to follow him. He does not expect it to be; rather, he expects that a remnant of the faithful will remain.

·         The example here is given as that of Elijah. A man easily discouraged, that Elijah (remember the aftermath of Mt. Carmel?) -- but God tells him he is not alone, there are others.

·         Sometimes the number saved is very small (Noah); sometimes beyond counting. Always there is the remnant.

·         The call is issued in the broadest sense; the number responding is obviously much smaller.        (Mat 22:14 NIV) "For many are invited, but few are chosen."

·         Those who respond do so of their own choice: (Luke 13:23-24 NIV) Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, {24} "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

·         And finally, as this passage makes clear, these are the elect, the chosen -- chosen by grace, the unmerited favor of God. These have chosen God, therefore God has chosen them.

One cardinal principle of the remnant must be remembered. God forces the division; He tolerates no one on the fence:

(Mark 9:38-40 NIV) "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." {39} "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, {40} for whoever is not against us is for us.

When you meet Jesus you find (as per C. S. Lewis) that he is either the devil, a lunatic -- or the son of God. He left us no other options.

What can God do with Evil?

(Rom 11:11-24 NIV) 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. {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! {13} I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry {14} in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. {15} For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? {16} If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. {17} If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, {18} do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. {19} You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." {20} Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. {21} For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. {22} 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. {23} And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. {24} After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

Again we see much to learn about the character of God. The first point is in verse 11; the word “hopeless” cannot be applied with God. Even though the Jews have rejected the Messiah, Paul utterly rejects the idea that God is through with them. To reject the Messiah is evil, and in this passage we see how God deals with evil:

·         First, God does not give up -- He still waits.

·         Even on the evil God brings his blessings. Indeed, this is such a part of his character that we are commanded to do likewise:

(Mat 5:44-48 NIV) But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, {45} that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. {46} If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? {47} And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? {48} Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

·         And when He permits evil, He will bring an even greater good out of it (St. Augustine’s solution to the problem of pain).

·         Here, in the metaphor of “branches,” (a common one in the Scripture), he makes clear both the basis of our spiritual life and the consequences of ignoring it:

·         If you are disobedient he will prune you right off: (John 15:6 NIV) If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

·         If he prunes you, you will be replaced with someone else:

(Mat 21:33-44 NIV) "Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. {34} When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. {35} "The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. {36} Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. {37} Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said. {38} "But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' {39} So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. {40} "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" {41} "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end," they replied, "and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time." {42} Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone ; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? {43} "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. {44} He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed."

Therefore, take heed!

·         Finally, for this section, note that there is only one olive tree. Whatever the grouping in the faith, there is only one church -- for there is only one God. Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One.

“All Israel” - the Controversy

Now comes a passage which has caused a good deal of controversy:

(Rom 11:25-32 NIV) 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. {26} And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. {27} And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins." {28} As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, {29} for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. {30} Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, {31} so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. {32} For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

There are three primary interpretations of this:

·         The most common is that, at the time of the end, just before the return of Jesus, all of Israel will be converted to Christ.

·         Some (Calvin, Barth and others) hold that “all Israel” is meant in the spiritual sense -- i.e., Israel before the advent, the church afterwards.

·         Others hold that this means “all” in the sense of “all the remnants.”

I would not answer the controversy (the first seems the obvious). But note what this means about God:

·         We cannot limit Him to the idea that “Israel and God are finished with each other” -- even after two thousand years.

·         Again, the disobedience of men is taken by God as an opportunity to do good to other men.

Doxology

(Rom 11:33-36 NIV) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! {34} "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" {35} "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" {36} For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

In this little passage we see a tremendous picture of God:

·         God’s wisdom and ways are far above our own; we cannot begin to “figure him out.”

·         Obviously, then, he takes no policy advice from us.

·         More importantly -- and contrary to what so many feel must be so -- we cannot obligate him. There is no way we can get to the point where we can say, “I’ve been good. God owes me.” Salvation is a gift; a gift cannot be earned.

·         He is the sustainer of the universe; the place is not just something he wound up and set spinning. As Paul says it,

(Col 1:16-17 NIV) For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. {17} He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

·         Which thought yields the proper reaction to a true picture of God: “to him be the glory.”

This is the season at which we celebrate the birth of Christ; the Incarnation of the Word of God. (Heb 1:3a NIV) The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

We are the ones who have the heritage of His coming -- and the anticipation of His coming again. We have seen his character; we have seen his person -- what is our “right reaction?”

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