Thursday, March 29, 2018

An Empty Crib and The Empty Tomb- 1 Peter 1:3-7

Many great stories in literature and in cinema begin in the middle only to then go back to explain how what was shown first in the movie/story came to be. Thereafter, the plot moves from the midpoint that was mentioned first onto the end. Think of Forrest Gump or the Homer’s The Odyssey. This device is called in medias res and it has been employed by storytellers for centuries. I’d like to employ this device this Easter Sunday as we take a close look at 1 Peter 1:3-7 in lieu of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rather than begin in verse 3, I want to take us immediately to verse 6. After what Peter says here is understood, I want to explain how in the world Peter is able to provide the encouragement that he does by looking at verses 3-5. Finally, I want to explain the application of Peter’s main point by examining verse 7. 

This we will do by also looking at another story the same way—my family’s story. For you see, it just so happens, by God’s providence, that this Easter Sunday our celebration of Jesus’ triumph over the empty tomb coincides with what would have been my late son Landry Allen Dickson’s first birthday. Much as we are going to thrust ourselves in the middle of Peter’s text (1:6), I am going to share with you where my family is at present, only to then explain how we arrived where we are (informed, in part, by what Peter explains in verses 3-5). Finally, I will explain why this must be the case (as celebrated in verse 7).   All of this we will do in the context of what took place outside a rich man’s tomb 2000 years ago.


In verse 6, Peter offers an encouragement to a church (group of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ) that is struggling to survive. “Because of their Christian faith, the church was being marginalized by their society, alienated in their relationships, and threatened with—if not experiencing—a loss of honor and socioeconomic standing (and possibly worse)” (Jobes, 1 Peter, 2). It is in this context that Peter encourages the church to “greatly rejoice” (agalliaw) which is no small encouragement as the verb means to be “overjoyed” and is often used with corresponding verbal expressions and appropriate gestures that indicate elation.

However, Peter is not aloof or ignorant to what his audience is facing. In other words, the encouragement offered is not given by someone who does not understand what the church was going through at the time. Peter is not that guy who preaches to people with little or no idea of what people are actually dealing with. He doesn’t try to gloss over the fact that people are hurting, struggling, facing pressure, and enduring persecution. The world is hard, tough, painful, and tragic. He concedes this, identifies this, and makes the encouragement anyway. First, he acknowledges the very present struggle his audience was facing—"even through now” –i.e. at the very point in time.

Though my wife and I had led a relatively grief-free life up until recently, the pain of finding your healthy six-month old child unresponsive after a nap and days later placing his body into the ground is something that nobody can just walk away from. The grieve was, is, and will remain very present and very real. However, I’m sure my family isn’t the only one going through something today, right now. Pressure, heartache, persecution, uncertainty, confusion, etc. I want to admit, as Peter does here, that I’m not Pollyannaish about the reality of suffering. It is real, and yet, the encouragement given is still going forth to “rejoice greatly” anyway.   

After acknowledging the very present reality of the trouble that people face, Peter suggests that these troubles are for “a little while“ (1:6c). A little while compared to what? Compared to the eternity that Peter will reference later. However long one suffers, Peter understood that suffering to be brief compared to the glories that believers can expect in the end.

Not only are the trials one must “greatly rejoice” through a present reality and brief when compared to eternity, they are, for the church (again, for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ) necessary—“if necessary.” These words reveal that suffering is not an intended part of life; it was not ordained by God in creation. Suffering is present because of a fallen world that people messed up with their sin. Death, a principle cause of a lot of the suffering in this world might be understood because of this as a most unnatural phenomenon—made even more unnatural when it claims a healthy baby boy.

However, this expression “if necessary” also indicates that suffering itself is under the control of God, even if it is not part of God’s ideal world. Suffering may not be God’s desire or intention, but it is not outside the scope of his sovereignty (Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 56). As a result God is able to work out, even in the suffering, things in such a way that history reaches its ultimate and good conclusion. This is promised to believers both here and in places like Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It is interesting that Peter and Paul offer these truths, especially when one considers that when it came to suffering, aside from Christ, few suffered more for his cause. On these present struggles in the life of believers John Piper says, “Not only is all your affliction momentary, and brief in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain,…every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory…I don’t care if it is cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness…it is doing something. Of course, you can’t (always) see what it is doing…when you mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk ad takes her out, don’t say ‘That’s meaningless!’ It’s not. It is working for you an eternal weight of glory.”

However, if we are sticking with the present for now, often the only thing that can be observed, felt, or remembered is the distress of various trials—“you have been distressed by various trials.”
I wish I could tell you that I quote 1 Peter 1:6 to myself every day and as a result find myself outwardly rejoicing greatly all the time in spite of what my family has been through. But the struggle is real, and these truths, while compelling, are often overshadowed by what I am feeling in the moment. “How in the world am I supposed to rejoice? How is my wife supposed to have joy in the midst of this? Brief? Necessary? The grief is sure lingering longer that I would like and I’m finding it hard to see what the purpose is!” However, in spite of these moments of weakness, honest questions, and heartache, by the grace of God, Brianna and I along with our children are making it. Our marriage is not over nor is it on the rocks and we are not cracking under the weight of a crisis of faith in God or His goodness. How are we making it? The answer is the only way anyone can.


How is Peter able to say what he does in verse 6? Because of what he reveals in verses 3-5. Though there are many ways to frame these important verses, it might be helpful in lieu of our focus this morning to think of Peter’s second encouragement in terms of remembering what no one can take away from you. In the midst of loss, grief, struggle, persecution, pressure, etc. in which one’s patience, relationships, opportunities, or even children are taken, one of the ways to rejoice greatly in the midst of these losses is for a believer remember what cannot be lost or stolen from them.
In 1 Peter 1:3-5, Peter identifies three things that cannot be taken away from believers that ought to help them persevere life’s struggles and losses. The first of these is one’s salvation—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused use to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). In the beginning of his letter to the church Peter draws the attention of a preoccupied and bother people to the foundation of their faith—the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. So much is contained in this single verse that ought to inspire the believer. First, “Lord Jesus Christ” is a claim of Jesus’ divinity and special ministry as “Lord” is the Greek transliteration of YHWH. “Christ” indicates Jesus unique office as Messiah and Savior of His people. Second, “who according to His great mercy” betrays why God sought to save people in the first place—He loved them! In saving anyone God is not acting out of compulsion, obligation, or in reaction to something external to him. He saves as one who wants to save those who are lost and need saving. Third “has caused us to be born again” (anagennhsaV) is an aorist active participle that indicates that the direct object (people) play no part in what is being done (being born). Babies cannot cause themselves to be born any more than the lost can, in their own strength, make themselves born again and right with God. God is the active agent behind spiritual rebirth. Therefore, if people do not play any active role in being born again, neither can they lose their status of “child of God” once they have it! Fourth, the result of salvation is “a living hope” –i.e. an ongoing, motivating, confident expectation of a glorious future where once the threat of death and condemnation reigned. And finally, all of this is proven, confirmed, and legitimized “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The very event we celebrate every single Easter is the event that demonstrates the reality and assurance of salvation for every believer. After all, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:16-17, “If the dead are not raised, then not even Christ was raised from the dead. If Christ was not raised from the dead, your faith is worth nothing and you are still living in your sins.” On the other hand, if Christ is raised from the dead, then believer’s salvation is assured and neither nor the other blessings associated with it can be taken away.

So what evidence is there that the resurrection actually took place? I’m glad you asked. Here are twelve evidences that a growing number of critical scholars from both liberal and conservative, theist and atheist, historical and theological communities concede concerning the claim that Jesus was alive three days after he died.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion (though this doesn’t directly prove the resurrection it does help disprove that Jesus was in a coma or simply required resuscitation/rehabilitation).

2. He was buried (helpful especially when one remembers to what lengths the Romans went to in order to protect his grave).

3. The death of Jesus caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended (They were a wreck and they probably wouldn’t have been a wreck if he wasn’t really dead).

4. Although not as widely accepted, many scholars hold that they tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later (in other words, this was not a long time after the crucifixion so that a big plan/scheme to steal the body could have been formed and executed).

5. The disciples had experiences they believed were the literal appearances of the risen Jesus.

6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection.

7. This message was the center of preaching in the early church (where once others things were emphasized).

8. This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before (it was a staple among the church to talk about the deity, death, and RESURRECTION of Christ).

9. As a result of this teaching, the church was born and grew (if this was not a compelling message or found illegitimate, Christianity would have died early).

10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.

11. James, who had been a skeptic, was convinced to the faith when he also believed that he had seen the risen Jesus.

12. A few years later, Paul was converted by an experience that he likewise believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

For these reasons and many more, people like Brooke Foss Wescott has concluded “There is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.” Dr. Paul L. Maier agrees saying, “No shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy, or archaeology that would disprove that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the 1st Easter.” Harvard Law professor Dr. Simon Greenleaf adds, “According to the law of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history.”

When believers say “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” they are on very stable ground in making that claim. The reality of the resurrection confirms who Jesus is and what he did in providing salvation to repentant sinners. No one, not even God Himself can take that away!

Not only can the believers’ salvation never be taken from them, neither can their inheritance. Peter reveals as much in verse 4 when he says, “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” The point here is that while Christians may suffer in this age …there is waiting for the faithful a reward as sure and as real” as anything else (Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 52). The glories of this anticipated inheritance are illustrated by three adjectives that Peter uses in verse 4. First, it is “imperishable.” Unlike everything that is found in this world, a believer’s inheritance will not decay or rot. Second, it is “undefiled,” betraying something of its purity and holiness. Third, it “will not fade away.” In stark contrast to the generations, countries, landscapes, people, institutions, and programs of this world, a believer’s inheritance is eternal and will never age, grow obsolete, or wither.

This amazing inheritance not only possesses all these amazing qualities, it is “reserved in heaven for” believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The trust that contains a believer’s inheritance is protected by the full faith and credit of God himself in a bank that is not of this world! What a promise! What a gift!
In addition to a very real salvation and a glorious inheritance, believers can never lose the presence of God. Peter describes believers as those “who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5). Paul says it this way in Philippians 1:6, “for I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ.” Not only does God appear to be with believers in these verses, he appears to be guarding them. The picture is that of a fortress in which the believers are held. To be sure, the enemy assaults the compound with everything it has, but God protects his own. The purpose of this protection is “the salvation prepared to be revealed in the last time”—i.e. the ultimate culmination of the salvation process—glorification. What Peter means here is that God never leaves believers alone, but instead offers his protective presence to insure believers will persevere to the end.

It is only after Peter establishes these precious and protected gifts that he then encourages his audience to rejoice greatly, even in the midst of great struggle (in verse 6). “With verse 6 Peter shifts the focus from the certainties of future…glory to the more dismal realities of the present. However, the future…perspective is important, for it is meant to determine how Christians are to face life in their present situations” (Jobes, 1 Peter, 92). Certainly the rejoicing that Peter encourages is not a continual feeling of hilarity, nor is it a denial of the reality of pain and suffering. It is an anticipatory joy that believers can know when they remember what cannot be taken from them—their salvation, their inheritance, and God’s enduring presence.  In other words, when believers do not feel like rejoicing for a whole host of justifiable reasons, they must lean on what they know to be true—God is with them, glory is waiting for them, and they are saved! Believers must in these moments of weakness and pain learn to speak to themselves rather than merely listen to themselves (Crawford Loritts).  So how is my family making it in the midst of our great loss? We are “tak[ing] these truths and day by day focus[ing] on them” even when we feel differently. This we must do because of what Peter says in verse 7.


“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:7) God’s glory is at stake and if there is anything that we learn from the creation of the world, the Ten Commandments, the life of Jesus, and what we are told about the future, it is that God’s glory is why we were made in the first place. After all, God did create us, loved us in spite of our sin, sent his Son to die for us, rose on the third day of us, and is coming again for us. What else can I do but bring him glory?

Yes, my son is dead. But God’s Son is alive and in this I can rejoice in my pain, grief, and suffering. In my rejoicing I give God glory that I could not otherwise do. Anyone can rejoice in the victories of life, but it is a peculiar thing to look upon someone who is suffering and yet rejoicing nonetheless. How am I going to uniquely draw people’s attention to the Lord Jesus Christ if I allow my grief to usurp my faith. The answer is, I won’t, and neither will the church if it fails to rejoice greatly, even in the midst of struggle.

So What?

I’ve been given salvation in Christ, a glorious inheritance, and the presence of God. I might lose my son, but no one, nothing, can take these away from me. Because of this, I “greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” Can the same be said of you? Have God saved you through Jesus Christ? Do you have an inheritance waiting for you in glory? Do you know a personal relationship with God? Peter’s message is for the church and believers therein. Unbelievers, those without these permanent, protected, and perfect blessings cannot, as believers can, rejoice greatly in anything, let alone their pain. Their suffering promises no end, is meaningless, and doesn’t lead anywhere. Friends, all that Jesus Christ is and all that he ever did is as real as the tomb is empty. Isn’t it about time you embrace him? His resurrected life is the most compelling hope available for a new life both for today and forevermore—so compelling that this grieving father is able to celebrate renewed life and the hope that it brings on the very day his late son was to turn one.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Salvation in Focus-John 19:17-30

One of the techniques that makes a good motion picture is the use of multiple camera angles/positions to convey different emotions or call a viewer's attention to different aspects of a scene. For instance, a wide-angle shot might be used to help an audience take in a landscape or a complicated battle scene and as much information as possible. A close-up shot does the opposite to draw attention to a single movement, prop, person, or feature. These and other perspectives help immerse viewers into what is happening to gain a better understanding of what is taking place and fully appreciate its meaning.

Capable authors are also able to provide similar perspectives of different scenes that they describe/report—even in the Bible and especially in its most important episodes. One such episode is the Passion of Jesus Christ. How is anyone supposed to adequately capture such an integral event? Thankfully, inspired by the Holy Spirit, John allows us to view the scene from all angles in the account he offers in John 19:17-30.

After observing these different perspectives of the crucifixion spectacle, we will gain a more complete understanding of to what lengths Jesus went to finish the work for which he was sent—something most completely informed by sophisticated literary camerawork that is found in this passage.

Wide Angle-19:17-22

John opens the scene with a wide-angle shot. This perspective allows for a bird’s eye view of the location, the crowd surrounding Jesus, and a clear shot of the inscription fixed to the top of the beams. By this time, Jesus would have received the verberatio (the most severe of the beatings administered under Roman law). From this perspective, one can see Jesus, having been stripped naked and having received a series of whips with a gruesome instrument of torture, “bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha” (19:17). Even the verbs used in this description draw attention to the heaviness of the cross Jesus carried. According to tradition, the condemned man would carry his cross to the site of crucifixion where a small foundation would have already been staked into the ground.

This particular site was “out” of the city as Jewish custom prescribed and was aptly named “the Skull” (Latin equivalent is Calvary) for its ominous and macabre features that resembled a human head. Perhaps this was a familiar spot for these kinds of executions, familiar even to Jesus throughout His life and ministry.

It was at this spot that “they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between…” (19:18). In ancient times, crucifixion was synonymous with horror and shame, a death inflicted on slaves, bandits, prisoners of war, and revolutionaries. Josephus even called it “the most pitiable of deaths.” Cicero described it as “that cruel and disgusting penalty” as victims were made a public spectacle, often being affixed to these cross beams in unusual configurations until vultures would devour the corpse. So gross was this specific program of execution that it was prohibited for a Roman Citizen unless the emperor Himself sanctioned it.

This was what Jesus was willing to go through for sinners everywhere. Once, the long journey to Golgotha was complete, Jesus would have lied on His back and had His arms and legs outstretched and nailed to the beams. This apparatus of torture was then raised. Once in the air, the victim could hang in the hot sun for hours, even days. To breath, the condemned would have to push with the legs and pull with the arms to keep air flowing into the chest cavity. This would incite agonizing muscle spasms. However, this painful pressure kept the victim from asphyxiation (the inevitable cause of death).

From above the cross you will also notice that Jesus is not alone. He is joined by two other criminals, fulfilling the prophecy that “he was numbered with the transgressors” and treated as any guilty criminal (although totally innocent) (Isa. 52:12).

Also from above the cross one is able to clearly read the label that Pilate attached on the top of this crude instrument, “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, ‘Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” (19:19). This notice served to indicate that Jesus was ultimately condemned for the charge of treason (claiming to be a king—i.e. the first charge brought against Him). However, this is not the only message Pilate sent with this inscription. In fact, this inscription, is one last jab at the Jews that pressured Pilate’s hand—a jab written in such a way that no matter who you were, you could understand it.

 “Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek. So the Chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘the King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am king of the Jews’…” (19:20-21). The Jews did not want to claim Jesus as King. In fact, they even denied God and claimed allegiance to Caesar to avoid this (see verse 15)!

However, the outrage of the Jews meant very little to Pilate. With newfound resolve, Pilate determines to keep the inscription as is to humiliate those who humiliated him earlier (see 19:1-15). He says, “what I have written I have written” (19:22). In Pilate’s mind, if the Jews did have their own king, it would be the kind of king seen here, a king that He believed was easily tortured and killed. Once again, this is an example of Pilate speaking well above what he knew, for Jesus was and is indeed the King of the Jews, even of the world!

It is not a pretty picture from above the cross. However, things don’t look much better from beneath the cross in verses 23-25a.


The scene shifts and we are taken beneath the cross and are shown, as though through a hand-held camera, what is taking place around its base. From beneath the cross the scene is very different, “the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic;…” (19:23a). It was common practice for executioners to divvy-out the clothes and personal belongings of the condemned. Each of the four executioners received a piece of Jesus’ property (including perhaps a belt, sandals, head-covering, and outer garment).

However, when it came time to decide who received the tunic (the undergarment), things became more complicated, “now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be’…” (19:23b-24). Not wanting to ruin the integrity of a perfectly good tunic (which was one large and intricately woven piece of cloth), the soldiers gamble for it. After all, ripping a perfectly adequate tunic into several pieces would have been barbaric!

However, another more important reason for gambling away the tunic was “to fulfill the Scripture: ‘They divided My outer garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’…”(19:24-25a). This quotation comes from one of David’s prophetic Psalms (Psalm 22:18) in which the author is afflicted by both physical distress and the mockery of his opponents. Apparently, David uses the symbolism of an execution scene in which the executioners gamble for personal belongings to add emphasis to the degree of despair and abandonment that was felt by him. This is not lost on Jesus’ present predicament.

From above you see the horror of torture and mockery. From below you see the shame of indifference. However, our third perspective pans beside the cross where something very different is happening.

The Pan-19:25b-27

In contrast to those who are indifferent to the man hanging 7ft. above them are those who loved Jesus, “but standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene…” (19:25b). This proves the theory of many historical scholars who say that loved ones were allowed for a period to come close enough to the place of execution to speak with the condemned. This small bunch is an unfortunate representation of followers compared to the thousands of people who cheered for Him upon His entrance into Jerusalem a week earlier. It is also a pitiful showing of support when one considers that twelve men had served alongside Him for three years! In Jesus’ darkest moment, He was largely abandoned. However, this does not keep Jesus from looking out for others.

When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, Behold your Son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ from that hour the disciple took her into his own household…” (19:26-27). This kind gesture is the one shred of humanity we are given in this description of Calvary. Jesus’ mother, most likely widowed and in her fifties, was at this point totally dependent on Jesus for her livelihood. Therefore, to look out for her beyond His death, Jesus bestows her to John (the disciple whom He loved) so that she might continue to be taken care of.

In this small moment, Jesus reveals His totally others-centered mentality. Even in a moment when He could have saved His breaths for Himself, He spends some of His final moments looking out for those who cannot look out for themselves. This is grace under pressure and it is a moment capture beside the cross. However, this is not the last perspective given of the cross in this passage.

Close Up and Push-19:28-30

The final perspective the reader witnesses is a close up on Jesus Himself in verses 28-30. Once zoomed in we witness “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished to fulfill the Scripture,” say, “‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge fill of sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth…” (19:29). John lets us know that at this point the “to-do list” has been completed. However, this was no ordinary to-do list. The items on this list included things like: be betrayed by one of your own, hand yourself over to the authorities, be tried in a circus court, be interrogated by an unbeliever, be condemned to die, be beaten within an inch of your life, carry a cross beam outside of town, lay down to have your hands and feet nailed, be raised up, hand over your clothes to be gambled away, take on the sin of the world! All this Jesus accomplished and more to fulfill all that the prophets said about the Messiah. Following this revelation, sour wine is offered to the God-man.

This sour wine, or vinegar as it is called in other translations, was a cheap drink used by soldiers to quench their thirst. It differs from the “wine mixed with myrrh” Jesus refused on the way to the cross (see Mark 15:23). The “wine mixed with Myrrh” was a sedative while the vinegar Jesus received prolonged life and hydrated (for lack of a better analogy, think of an electrolyte-rich drink like Gatorade). Jesus was not about speeding up His death or making it easier for Himself. He wanted to remain alive until the job was done.

By 19:30, the job was done. “Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (19:30). Existing as one word in the original language (tetelestai), this word isno cry of defeat; nor is it merely an announcement of imminent death. The verb describes carrying out a task and fulfilling one’s obligations. Here, Jesus had accomplished atonement for sin, having taken on the sin of the world and the punishment along with it. Here, Jesus had accomplished His God given mission to redeem the world, standing in the place of sinners in order to bring them to God in right relationship. Here, Jesus glorified God, answering the call upon Him and executing His ministry without fail. Here, Jesus demonstrated the greatest love of all, laying down His life for others. Here Jesus completed the job He came to do. “It is finished”! And with this pronouncement Jesus “gave up His spirit.”

This final act prior to His death settles once and for all who is responsible for Jesus’ fate. Though anti-Semites want to slap blame on the Jews for handing Him over and others want to find Pilate and the Roman government guilty for actually performing the execution, this verse makes it abundantly clear. No one took Jesus’ life. He, because of His own authority, gave it up of His own accord (see John 10:17-18) in this final act of obedience (see John 8:29; 14:31).

So What?

It is still finished today! This is the good news—that because Jesus went through the horrors we saw in these four perspectives of the cross, we do not have to. This is the good news—that because sin has already been punished through Jesus, we can apprehend the grace of God and not His wrath demonstrated in this passage. This is the good news—that because Jesus stood in our place, we can stand in right relationship with God. This is the good news—that because Jesus was faithful to the end, we through faith can find no end. Because Jesus said “it is finished” we can say “we are not finished” in this world in which we live. This is the truth that these perspectives, angles, descriptions all work together to communicate to us today.

Do you know that “it is finished”? Have you apprehended in faith all that is to be gained because of what Jesus accomplished on Golgotha 200 years ago?

Poem by S.W. Gandy:
He hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, he sin o’erthrew
Bowed to the grace, destroyed it so,
And death, by dying, slew. 

Have you forgotten, O’ Christian that “it is finished”? Do you find yourself doubting that you are really saved, that you have to add something to what Jesus has accomplished, or believe you are still somehow guilty and at risk of receiving punishment for your iniquities.

The beauty about Jesus’ terse statement is that it portrays His death as a once-for-all kind of event. Christ died once, for all sin. His completed act is as present today as it was when John wrote these incredible words! Let them reverberate in your mind and resonate in your heart. It is finished, and because it is finished, you, believer, are not! Praise God!

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?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The People of God Pt. 10-Rom. 11:17-24

Last week we framed a complicated passage in Romans 11 with a helpful analogy of a door on a busy cityscape. Today we are going to make our way through another complex passage, only this time we are going to elicit Paul’s own metaphor for some help in organizing some of the things that Paul is saying. As Paul turns to address the Gentiles in his audience after having focused on the Jews for the better part of three chapters, he draws five comparisons that are witnessed in what we are going to refer to as the garden of God. Therein, there is tree that, if you look closely, reveals a lot about how the gardener (God) relatives to the fruit-bearing branches that he has planted (the people of God). So let’s go through the gate of this garden as presented in Romans 11:17-24, take a careful look at the five comparisons made, and learn about the attitude us Gentiles are to have concerning our the great gift that we have been given—our salvation.

a) Broken and Grafted Branches-11:17

Up to this point in Romans 9-11 Paul has spent a great deal of time and energy correcting many of the Jews in his audience who were tempted to reject Jesus and settle for their old and tired ways/means of relating to God—i.e. works, the law, and tradition. However, last week in Romans 11:7-16, Paul introduced the Gentiles into his discussion and made the case that because so many Jews had denied what God offered in Christ, the opportunity for salvation was extended to those who were not from Israel. I imagine that many in Paul’s audience who fit this category (saved Gentiles/Gentile church members) were sitting comfortably as the letter was read out loud all those years ago. However, in Romans 11:17-24, Paul arrests their attention and suggests that they ought not get too comfortable or worse, proud/sure of themselves.

To help aid the discussion, Paul endorses a new analogy that illustrates how everyone is relating to God at this current juncture in history—an epoch that has remained largely undisturbed to this day. The analogy he uses is of a garden and the pruning that takes place therein. First, in this garden he points out that some branches have been broken off—“but some of the branches were broken off” (11:17a). In the normal process of pruning and gardening, some branches that aren’t producing or prove unnecessary are removed to make room for better or more capable shoots. Here, the “branches” broken off are Jews who rejected Jesus and, as such, were discarded from God’s plan of redemption.  
I imagine many of you have either recently done similar things to some of your bushes or plants. Some of the bushes that I trim back every year in my yard are my knock out rose bushes. I also trim my crapes myrtles. Why? So that the dead/dormant branches go by the way side and new growth with more flowering bulbs emerge. This is similar to what God did in His garden when the winter of the Jewish rejection of Jesus settled on the world’s landscape.

Notice too that not all of the branches were broken off—only “some were.” In the same way the plants that we trim seasonally are not cut all the way down or totally removed, but a remnant is left behind to act as a foundation for the next season, so too is a remnant of Jews left behind in what Paul witnesses in the garden of God.

That said, in the place of those branches that were cut off, Paul continues, “you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partake with them of the rich root of the olive tree,…” (11:17b). It is interesting that Paul likens the ones to whom he was called to minister –saved Gentiles—to “wild olives.” Wild olives by nature bear small fruit and even then not much at all (Morris, Romans, 413). What was probably even more surprising to the general audience to which Paul wrote was that the symbol of the olive tree was typically reserved for Israel in the Old Testament. Therefore, Paul equates the Jews and the Gentiles within the context of God’s garden as both belong to the olive species of tree and are attached to the same “rich root.” However, he also draws a distinction between “wild” and “domesticated” olive branches, we will soon learn, in an effort to tamp down any potential pride among the newcomers to the faith—the Gentiles.

Therefore, in God’s garden you will see a single olive tree—a hybrid—that is made up of a Jewish remnant and added saved Gentile shoots. This combination forms what is called the universal church.

b) Branches and Roots-11:18

Having established these elements, the main burden of this section is identified in verse 18. There, Paul draws a distinction between branches and roots. In so doing Paul is warning believing Gentiles about the danger of boasting –“do not be arrogant toward the branches” (11:18a). More literally translated this would read “do not be boasting” or “do not be downgrading someone else.” The fact that a lot of Jewish branches were removed so that Gentile branches would be installed could lead to pride and, apparently, many Gentiles in the church at Rome were tempted to boast for this very reason.

At the risk of mixing metaphors let me call your attention to how my children behave on occasion. Sometimes, if one isn’t playing fair or unwilling to share something, Brianna and I will take it away and give it to the other who can handle themselves more appropriately. However, there is always the chance that the one who receives the toy looks back to the other and haughtily exclaims “ha, ha! I get to play with it now!” This juvenile tendency is what Paul is trying to prohibit among the Gentiles. They are not to go around and rub God’s grace in the Jews’ faces. 

To help admonish them to this end, he continues and says “but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root who supports you,…” (11:18b). To silence any possible pride, Paul reminds the Gentiles in his audience that they are a new wild olive branch in a garden of old and well-established trees. They are merely a part of the latest iteration of God’s salvation-history, and ought to embrace their status with all due respect and humility. After all, they are branches, not the root. Where would the former be without the latter? DEAD! Non-Existent! If it were not for God’s work through the Jews there would be nothing to graft the Gentiles onto in the first place!
I’ll never forget one of the questions Dr. Fink would ask upon learning the age of someone much younger than he (which was almost everyone as he was 81 years old). He would ask young bucks like myself “Did you know there was a whole world of history before you were born?” The inquiry was equal parts humorous the compelling as many people often assume that they are living in the most important generation. Paul wanted the Gentiles in his audience (and us Gentiles today) to remember that they stood on the shoulders of those who went before them. There was a whole world of history well before they were grafted into the tree and they ought to hold their place in God’s program of salvation with reverence, not pride.

c) Unbelief and Faith-11:19-20

In anticipating some of the rejoinders to his comments, Paul answers at least one possible response to this admonition in verses 19-20. In so doing, he compares unbelief and faith. “You will say then, ‘branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in” (11:19). This comment betrays the kind of pride and self-centeredness that Paul was trying to prohibit among those in the church of Rome—the attitude that sees salvation as self-serving leading to self-righteousness rather than a God-glorifying pursuit of Jesus’ righteousness.

To such a person Paul answers “quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief” (11:20a). The charge against the branches lying on the group, ready to be burned in the brush-pile was that they wanted nothing to do with light of Jesus Christ and the refreshing water of life that he alone provides. By refusing the light and the water, these branches dried up, failed to produce fruit, and were broken off to make room for new ones. The haughty Gentile had this much right! However, those who are prideful in their faith fail to remember something very important.

In case the believing Gentiles forgot, Paul reminds them, “but you stand by your faith!” (11:20b). Branches cannot pick themselves up and graft themselves onto another tree! A gardener has to do that. In the same way, Paul reminds the believing Gentile community that they didn’t bring themselves into a right relationship with God, but through faith God brought them the whole way. They were “standing” as a result of God picking them off their former “wild” tree, carrying them across the garden, and grafting them onto the family of God. Elsewhere Paul says it this way, “for by grace are you saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is a gift, not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In fact, instead of boasting about their situation, the Gentiles are called to fear –“do not be conceited but fear.” This sentiment is shared by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:12—“The one who things he stands should beware lest he fall.”

d) Kindness and Severity-11:21-22

But fear what? Paul answers this as he compares the kindness and severity of God in verses 21-22. He says, “For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you,…” (11:21). In other words, “If Jews who fell prey to unbelief were not spared God’s judgment, then neither will Gentiles who succumb to unbelief (because of their pride) escape his wrath” (Schreiner, Romans, 607). “This is precisely what many Jews believed, concluding that God would never reject the original branches on the olive tree. Paul insists in the strongest possible terms that no one can presume upon God’s grace and imagine that blessing will be theirs regardless of their continuance in faith.” Assurance of salvation does not and should not lead to being sure of oneself.  Anyone guilty of the latter betrays that he/she may not possess the former. Salvation doesn’t lead to pride, but humility before an awesome God who saved people in spite of themselves to awesome glory.

Reflecting of this awesome God of salvation Paul exclaims “Behold then the kindness and severity of God…” (11:22a). Earlier Paul called the Gentiles to fear and not pride (as reverence proves an antidote for boasting). Here, he demonstrates one reason to fear God and not presume upon His graces—the Lord is equal parts gracious and judging, kind and severe. He is kind to those who in humble faith recognize their need for His Son and follow Him all the way to glory and He is severe against those who reject His Son and haughtily execute their own plan for salvation with no success.
This is where Paul lands in the last part of verse 22—“to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness, otherwise you also will be cut off,…”. In Paul’s day, the severity of God was witnessed as many Jews were being cut off because of their rejection of Christ. On the flipside, God’s amazing kindness was drawing many Gentiles into relationship with His Son. However, the tables could easily turn if those Gentiles became proud of themselves and less impressed by what God had done to save them. They too could just as haughtily reject the light and the water of Jesus as many Jews before them, and, as a result, be cut off from the same life-giving tree. This is why Paul places a qualification on God’s kindness for the Gentiles when he says “if you continue in His kindness.” Those who humbly persevere to the end, in other words, demonstrate that they are legitimate branches who belong in God’s garden.

e) Reality and Potentiality-11:23-24

The possibilities continue in verses 23-24 as Paul shares “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft then in again,…” (11:23). As in verses 7-16, Paul indicates that there a potential future in which many Jews will come to faith in Christ and be reinstated in the tree. God is not only able to bring them back into relationship with Him, he is happy to do so if and when they turn from their pride and humbly accept the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul wraps up with an argument from the lesser to the greater in a final effort to prevent undue pride on the part of the Gentiles reading this letter. He states, “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivate olive tree, How much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” (11:24). Gentiles are wild and contrary to nature, and yet they are added to a cultivated rich root. This root began as a Jewish root—(“salvation is from the Jews” and “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile”—see Jn 4:22 and Rom 1:16 respectively). Such a realization ought to inspire humble worship of a kind God, not lead one to the kind of pride that will incur the severity of the Lord. 

So What?

So how do you hold onto your salvation? Does it puff you up with self-righteous pride? Do you feel entitled to it because of where you come from or what family you belong to? As Paul walks around the garden of God he warns against such arrogance. Sure, many Gentiles are saved and being saved, but they are all wild branches grafted into an existing tree that began with another people altogether—people of promise, special blessings, and important implications. While their failure has led to our inclusion, make no mistake, whoever is saved is saved by God and as quickly as God broke off those who rejected him because of pride in the past he can do the same now and in the future.

The proper way to hold one’s salvation is with reverence, awe, and wonder—reverence for a kind but severe God, awe for his program of salvation that has spanned thousands of years, and wonder that he saw fit to save someone like you and me. Such sentiments breed humility before God and a grace toward others—not haughty self-absorption and misplaced comparisons.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The People of God Pt. 9- Rom. 11.7-16

I want you imagine this morning that the world is a busy city street, filled with all kinds of people moving in different directions, motivated by all kinds of things to make it to varying destinations. Now I want you to imagine in that scene that salvation is a glorious banquet taking place in the midst of this cityscape at one of the many venues on the boulevard. Invitations have gone out and there is even a glowing sign on the outside of the building revealing what is going on inside. Clean windows also expose what is happening beyond the threshold. The only thing standing between the party and the city street is Jesus Christ—the door (John 10:9ff). To gain admittance into the celebration, one must pass through that door and anyone who refuses must walk about the street into the night where danger and darkness lurk. Today we are going look at Romans 11:7-16 and pay special attention to that door and in what direction is swings for certain people as they approach it.

a) Swings Closed to the Hardened Jews-11:7-10

Paul begins his observation by surveying the pedestrians that are perambulating about on this imaginary cityscape. As he looks across the street, he categorizes the different groups of people he sees into three distinct groups. First, he observes a nation—“What then? What Israel is seeking it has not obtained,…” (11:7a). Here, Paul identifies the same nation that he has been correcting for the better part of three chapters—the Jewish nation of Israel. As had been the case for centuries, Israel in large part during the time of Paul and even to this day was actively “seeking” to be right with God but had “not obtained” such. Why? Because they were seeking about it the wrong way. Earlier Paul said of these Jews that “they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness…” (Rom. 10:3).

Have you ever been shopping for something out of the ordinary—something obscure? Maybe on occasion you have traveled to the hardware store, Walmart, or grocery in pursuit of such an item. You spend some time in multiple sections—any possible department that might contain that item that you need. You search high and low to no avail and finally ask a sales associate about what you are looking for and find out that they don’t carry that item. In that moment you realize that no matter how hard you search at that particular location, you will never find that item you need. Unfortunately this was the experience of many that Paul saw around him as they sought to achieve the unachievable.
The first kind of people Paul sees are those people who try to achieve righteousness with God (a noble quest), but do so in the wrong way (shopping in the wrong store and trying to pay with monopoly money). We might draw a comparison between the first century Jew and the purely religious today who somehow believe that church membership, acts of service, and looking the part are enough to earn God’s good graces. None of these will find what they are looking for.

Next, Paul observes another type of person, a chosen people—“But those who were chosen obtained it,…” (11:7b). Earlier Paul referred to these as a “remnant” (see 11:1-5) of people who have placed their faith in the only source of true salvation—Jesus Christ. In this group you will find saved Jews and believing Gentiles for, as Paul has said elsewhere, “there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11) for “anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved“ (Rom. 10:13). Not only that, but “these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). These did not earn their salvation on their own merit but received it as a gift of grace after “confessing with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and believing in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9). We will talk more about these later. However, let’s see who else Paul observes as he looks out into the world.

The final group is very much related to the first group identified—the hardened—“and the rest were hardened” (11:7b). To “harden” means “to cause someone to be completely unwilling to learn and to accept new information” (Louw Nida). This may be all at once or after a time of “hardening” as was the case in the example Paul mentioned of pharaoh earlier in Rom. 9:17. In Exodus 9, because Pharaoh hardened himself against God, God hardened his heart. Those who, like Pharaoh, actively suppress the truth of God and respond negatively to the revelation provided them fall into this category. This group might include Jews who, going about righteousness in their own way, refuse the true gospel of Jesus Christ and His righteousness by grace through faith. This group might also include atheists who not only disbelieve in God, but argue against him. Ultimately, anyone failing to respond to the revelation of God well falls into this category—those pedestrians who upon approaching the door of salvation refuse to approach it, and as a result, find it shutting on them.
What else does the Bible have to say about such people? –“Just as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day’…” (11:8). In other words, those who avoid the door of salvation and find it shutting on them prove themselves blind to the things of God and deaf to the message of his salvation. The Bible calls this state of refusal a “stupor” (“a numbness resulting from a sting”) and likens it to blindness, and deafness.

Truly this passage is not lost on us today as we look out into our evermore secularized world. Though at one point the Bible and its truth proved to be a code/standard many were familiar with and organized their lives around, more and more are totally ignorant to the things of God and the truth thereof and the salvation inherent therein. Justice, reason, morality, responsibility, accountability, sin, righteousness, etc. appear to be foreign concepts and/or denied altogether. Why? More and more are afflicted by spiritual blindness and deafness. Spiritually disabled, our world is run by the blind leading the blind, and the deaf calling the shots over the loudspeaker to those who aren’t listening. Imagine a world in which the majority of the people are blind and deaf. Open your eyes to see that on a spiritual level, this is true! No wonder the mess that we witness exists!

David says of such people “’Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever,’…” (11:9-10). A more modern colloquialism sympathetic to this statement might read, “Now that they have made their bed, they can lie in it!” The Jews had, in fact, erected an entire system—elegant, sophisticated, complex—to service their program of righteousness by works and the law. However, ultimately this system proved to be an elegantly thought out trap. What they worked so hard to make as a means to provide salvation has ensnared them.  Now, they were stumbling around, caught in the very apparatus of their own creation and will remain in guilt and under punishment forever (bend their backs forever).

Such are the hardened that Paul observes in the world. These see the door of salvation close on them and many are too blind and deaf to recognize the opportunity that they are missing.

b) Swings Open for the Receptive Gentiles-11:11-16

However, there is another direction in which the door swings and another group of people that exists on the inside of its threshold. However, before Paul identifies such, he makes sure to clarify that though the Jews, in particular, were still “stumbling” around in their blindness, they had not stumbled as to fall completely—“I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be!” (11:11). In other words the promises God made to the Jews were still assured and would one day come to pass. Paul has already cited the presence of a remnant of faithful Jews as evidence of this fact.

That said, the present failure of the Jews to enter by way of the door that God has given has provided an opportunity for others to enter in—“But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous” (11:11). The Jews’ refusal to embrace the salvation God made available on His terms moved God to extend the invitation to others—outside the nation of Israel. This proves that God is inclined toward grace and love, so much so that he has preserved a remnant of faithful Jews in an otherwise wicked nation and has made His salvation available to those who aren’t of Jewish heritage!

In addition to paving the way for the Gentiles to enter into relationship with God, the open door for the Gentiles is also intended to make the Jews jealous—jealous that the Gentiles were enjoying exactly what they had always wanted and worked so hard for. Why would he want to make them jealous? 

The answer lies in verse 12—“Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!...”. God anticipates a time in which a large number of those on the outside will be healed of their blindness and deafness and respond correctly to the door of opportunity that is available to them. This will occur when the Lord Jesus returns to the earth. The second coming will instigate a revival in the Jewish community and many will flood through the door of Jesus into a relationship with God.

All of that said, Paul’s primary audience is, believe it or not, the Gentiles—“But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry,…”(11:13). Paul’s calling was to those who were receiving the revelation of God positively and as a result, were walking through the door of salvation. At this point in history (and to this day), the majority of those who fit this category are Gentiles. As much as Paul spent time talking to the Jews in this book, correcting them, admonishing them, his primary focus and aim is the Gentile reader—of which there were many in Rome. (all that we have taken the time to dissect as it pertains to the Jews is, in other words, an indirect message also applicable for the Gentiles in some way—just thought I’d mention that so you didn’t think that we had somehow wasted our time.).

Even this ministry that Paul enjoyed to the Jews was, in part, an element of God’s jealousy campaign—that is, an attempt to make the Jews jealous for the Lord—“if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them” (11:14). Paul, a Jew himself, has a sweet-spot for his brothers and sisters in the Jewish community. He was hoping that even as he ministered to the Gentiles, some of his Jewish friends might grow curious about what he was doing, jealous for what was being done, and repentant of their ways so as to join them. Put another way, Paul was hoping that some might hear what was taking place beyond the door and trickle in to experience it for themselves.

After all, as Paul sees it “For their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?...” (11:15). While the Jews’ failure led to a worldwide Christian movement that knows no boundaries, certainly those few Jews who did/do accept Jesus would/will know the same life that the Gentiles were/are now enjoying.

So convinced was Paul that Israel’s stumbling is temporary that he provides two illustrations that reiterate this one last time. His first illustration was taken from God’s instructions to Israel to take “a cake from the first of their ground meal and present it as an offering after they entered the land of Canaan and reaped their first wheat harvest. This offering was to be repeated each year at their harvests. The cake made from the first ground meal of the wheat harvest was sanctified or made holy by being offered to God (BKC). As Paul explains in verse 16 “if the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also.” Paul’s second illustration was that of a tree—“If the root is holy, the branches are too” (11:16b). Both illustrations teach that what is considered first implies the character of what is related to it. With a tree, the root obviously comes first and contributes to the nature of the rest of the plant. With the cake presented to the Lord, the flour for the cake is taken from the ground meal, but that cake is formed and baked first and present as a firstfruit. Since it is set apart to the Lord first, it sanctifies the whole harvest. The firstfruits and the root represent the patriarchs of Israel or Abraham personally and the lump and the branches represent the people of Israel. As a result Israel is set apart (holy) to God, and her “stumbling” (rejection of Christ) must therefore be temporary (BKC).

So What?

There are two directions in which the door of salvation swings—it swings closed to the hardened and it swings open to the receptive. This was true in Paul’s day and it remains true even now. You don’t have to be a traditional Jew to be left standing outside after refusing the invitation of the Lord and you don’t have to be a Gentile to respond positively to such and enter in. Salvation exists behind a double-hinged door that is a relationship with Jesus Christ and all of the blessings appertaining thereunto. On what side of the door are you? In what direction is the door swinging as you approach it? I want to end this message by sharing a parable with you from Luke 14.

But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’  And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.”

In the spirit of this parable and in lieu of what we have discussed, we are going to extend an invitation today to walk through the door that is Christ and enter into His salvation. Maybe you have refused the door. Maybe you have proven spiritually blind and deaf to it (not able to recognize it or discern its implications). Maybe now, however, you have been made aware of the glories inside and want to come in. Don’t leave here today without accepting the invitation. Don’t let the door of opportunity close on you. Walk through and taste and see the goodness of the Lord as his banqueting table.