Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The People of God Pt. 11-Rom. 11:25-33

Since December 31st we have been on a journey through Romans 9-11. We decided to divide this portion of Romans out in its own section because in these chapters Paul seems to be preoccupied with the People of God. However, this study concludes today as we finish Romans 11. In Romans 11:25-33, Paul summarizes much of what he has been articulating concerning the Jews, the Gentiles, and how they relate to the People of God. Up to this point our study has taught us that the People of God are chosen by God, saved by grace after confessing with their mouth and believing in their heart that Jesus is Lord and that God raise Him from the dead, and are made up of a remnant of Jews and many Gentiles. However, today we are going to look at three elements of Paul’s conclusion that are necessary to understand before we proceed to the second half of his letter (Romans 12ff).

a) An Admonition for the Gentiles-11:25-28

At the opening of our passage, Paul reiterates the point that he made in verses 17-24—“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation…” (11:25a). Again, pride was festering among some of the Gentiles in Paul’s Roman audience. Some were feeling self-assured because God had extended to the Gentiles the gift that was once reserved for the Jews. However, Paul wants the Gentiles to be on notice (not to be uninformed of the mystery) that Israel’s corporate stumbling is only temporary (see 11:17-24). “God’s sovereign plan to put Israel aside temporarily in order to show grace to Gentiles is no basis for conceit on the part of the Gentiles…” (BKC). After all, as Paul mentioned earlier and alludes to here—Jesus alone is the source of salvation and it is faith in Him, not in oneself, that makes one right with God. This leaves no room for personal pride or for anyone to be “wise in (their) own estimation.”

That said, Paul reminds the Gentiles of what God is up to in his program of salvation at present in the rest of verse 25—“That a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” This reveals that God has purposed that some from all nations should by faith receive the righteousness provided by grace. This complies with the many global mandates Jesus gave to “go into all the world” (Matt. 28:19-20) and be witnesses in all kinds of places (Acts 1:8). However, in order to achieve this goal, Israel’s relationship as God’s Chosen People was rescinded for a time and the Jews were and continue to experience a partial hardening until the “fullness” (plhrwma) of the church is reached. God cannot have all nations coming to him if/when His Old Testament program for the Jews is still fully applied. Because of Israel’s failure to “the bless the nations” (as originally called to do), God was/is tabling them for the moment in an effort to bring the nations to Himself. To be sure, there is a fullness for Israel (Romans 11:12). But now there is a fullness for the Gentiles. God is at present taking from the Gentiles a people—a church—for Himself, and will continue to build up this people until the church is complete (as determined by God).

Acts 15:14-“Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name”

Inevitably after my kids play with Legos or some other set of building blocks there is a mess left on the floor with items strewn across the room. They know, however, that they have to pick up what they are playing with before they can move onto the next thing. When the time comes to clean up, they start off great, but then become preoccupied with something else. In spite of our many reminders and encouragements to continue their task, they grow less interested in completing it and Brianna and I (well, I at least), become impatient. Eventually, on occasion, things will reach fever pitch and I will then discipline them by having them sit down on the couch, unable to do anything, and I will proceed to clean up their mess. They are upset, sitting there doing nothing, and I am pleased to see the floor cleared. The same kind of situation was taking place (and is taking place) on the world’s stage. The Jews were chosen and appointed to go out into the world and clean up the mess that sinful man had created (in accordance with God’s plan and in His power). However, they eventually became preoccupied with other things and God grew frustrated. Placing them in exile twice didn’t help and so eventually, he set the nation on the couch—in a time out of sorts—and is, at present through His Spirit gathering his people from across the world. Eventually, when God is satisfied, all (including the Jews waiting anxiously under God’s discipline) will move onto the next thing.

On that future date, “all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, the deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’ This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins” (11:26-27). The reference to “all Israel” is “all Spiritual Israel” or “all true Israel.” Remember what Paul said earlier in his letter:

Romans 9:6-“…For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.”

Romans 2:28-29-“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

Romans 4:3-5-“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,”

On that future date, potentially following a rapture or some other supernatural event, the cloud of confusion among many Jews will be lifted and many will trade their law and traditions for faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. As a result, these will receive the promises of the covenant given to Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah and, like the church before them, have their sins replaced with God’s righteousness.  

However, for the time being, Paul concludes “from the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers…” (11:28). Here we witness how strange the relationship between God and the Jews is. Though they are present enemies of the gospel (which they reject in large number by  denying Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior), they are enduring participants in God’s faithful covenants (originally given to the likes of Abraham and only fulfilled sometime later in the future when they embrace what they present refuse).

b) A Revelation for All-11:29-32

Following this admonition to the Gentiles Paul reveals several important attributes of the God that He has been referring to in this entire letter. First, and very much connected to the admonition already presents, God is faithful—“for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). This is proved by the prophecy that God is not yet done with His people, even in spite of their rejection of His son. Nothing mankind can do—Jew or Gentile—can erase the gifts and the calling that God has made to them. What a revelation!

Remember this when, in your personal time of devotion you read promises like these:

Romans 8:28-29-“All things work together for good to those who Love Him and are called according to His purposes”
2 Corinthians 4:17-“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Philippians 1:6-“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

1 Peter 1:3-5-“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

God is just as faithful to these gifts, promises, and callings for us as He remains to those gifts, promises, and callings that he gave to the Jews, in spite of what they’ve done and what we’ve done to no longer deserve them.

Second, Paul celebrates the mercy of God. First, God is merciful toward the Gentiles—For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their (the Jews) disobedience” (11:30). God didn’t have to pick up the toys at all! He was under no obligation to save anyone once all fell into sin and decided to live contrary to God’s will (Jew or Gentile). However, He is a merciful God and wants relationship with his greatest of all creations—humanity. So when he reached down with His hand of love and mercy to His people in Christ only to have it slapped away, he extended it to others—Gentiles—who have proven receptive of God’s grace!

However, though His present mercy is being realized for the Gentiles, He has a future agenda—“so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may not be shown mercy,…” (11:31). God is on a jealousy campaign. Once he tried to woo disobedient Gentiles through a Jewish nation into the fold of God. Now he is trying to woo a disobedient Jewish nation by showing grace and mercy to Gentiles. In both cases, the disobedient were reached out to by means of God’s people in mercy. 

This is Paul’s point in verse 32—“For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” All at some point (Jews and Gentiles) were disobedient toward God and lost in their sin. Paul compares this condition to imprisonment as “shut up” means “to imprison” or “to confine.” Save from the mercy of God as witnessed in Jesus Christ and extended by the Holy Spirit, none would ever escape. However, many Gentiles allow the kindness of God to lead them to repentance and many Jews one day will do the same. It is God’s mercy, not our master plans that breaks us out of the prison of sin.

The Revelation Paul provides in these short verses speaks of the impeccable and longsuffering faithfulness of God and the wondrous mercy of God. Who wouldn’t want to be among His people?  

c) A Doxology of Praise for the Lord-11:33

The final element of this passage, the final comment in the greater section of this letter (Romans 9-11), and the final text for our study entitled “The People of God” is a doxology of Praise for the Lord in verse 11:33. Paul ends this section, and really the first half of his letter (Romans 1-11), by singing the Lord’s praise. Concerning God’s knowledge he says “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!...” (11:33a). Here, Paul’s praises a God who is wise beyond all measure. The plan of God for the salvation of all kinds of people demonstrates this infinite knowledge and His ability to use it wisely. He is to be praised for His capacity to execute such a sophisticated plan.

In praising God for the plan Paul has been explaining for the better part of three chapters, the apostle also humbly concedes mankind’s limitations. In fact, true worship is a two-sided coin. Not only is it actively confessing the greatness of God’s capacities, it is indirectly admitting the lowliness of man’s abilities. Paul continues in the latter vein by saying, “how unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (11:33b). This is quite a statement given that Paul was well-trained, well-connected, and well-experienced. He had the equivalent of the PhD in Old Testament studies from the greatest school around, was a Jew’s Jew, and had an incredible conversion experience with the risen Jesus! In spite of all of this, Paul admits that God’s plan and the implications for his people are far beyond his ability to exhaust. If Paul had this attitude toward the things that he wrote and taught, so too should we walk away from this study of God’s people with a great deal of humility, confessing the supreme wisdom of God and our failed capacity to nail everything down into a workable human-friendly system.

So What?

That said, God would not have moved in the heart and mind of Paul to write this (that is Romans in general and Romans 9-11 in particular), if He didn’t want us to understand something and apply it rightly to our lives. So what does this text and the series we’ve been carefully entertaining teach? God is faithful and merciful to His people. In the Old Testament His people were righteous Jews and in the New Testament world they are saved Gentiles. Why the change? The Jewish nation, in large part, rejected the greatest revelation of God—Jesus Christ. As a result, the program of salvation has temporarily benched the nation of Israel and drawn people from all nations to Jesus. However, the people of God should not grow proud in and of themselves (just as the Jews had in their law and traditions). For there will come a day when God’s many promises made to the Jews in the Old Testament will be fulfilled and God will save many who formerly rejected His Son. When will this take place? Once the size of the universal church reaches critical mass and God is satisfied. Why will He do this? Because he is a faithful and merciful God. To be sure, much is left up to debate as some of the details are unsure. However, we can trust that God is perfect in knowledge and exceedingly wise while we are limited. As a result, we can be assured that His ways are not only higher than our ways, they are better than anything we could possibly conceive of. Do you know this wise, faithful, and merciful God today? Are you counted among His people?

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