MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 30, 2000 FROM ROMANS 9:24-29

 

          This morning we come to the end of the first major section of Romans chapters 9-11.  In the first 23 verses of Romans nine, Paul has been explaining to the Jewish Christians of his day how it can be that so few Jews had accepted Christ, their Messiah, when the parts of the Old Testament seem to indicate that all Jews would be saved.  These Jewish believers came to the conclusion that the word of God was false because the promises about Israel being saved, as they understood them, had not been fulfilled. The Jews had almost totally rejected the gospel, while the godless, pagan Gentiles had embraced it much more enthusiastically.  To them it looked like the MOST likely candidates for heaven had been rejected, while the LEAST likely candidates for the gospel were taking to it like fish to water. 

          Paul addresses this dilemma in Romans 9-11.  He explains in verses 6-13 that the Old Testament doesn’t teach that all of national or ethnic Israel, the biological children of Abraham, will be saved.  Paul shows that people are saved, NOT on the basis of some genetic tie to Abraham but on the basis of God’s choosing some and rejecting others.  Salvation is God displaying His mercy to sinners, not fulfilling some sort of alleged obligation to the Jews.  Last week we saw that this choice of who is saved is entirely up to God.  In fact, those who do receive His mercy understand more fully the wonder of that mercy because they see that most people receive God’s wrath, not his mercy.  Paul says that this mercy, received by the sinner against the overarching backdrop of God’s wrath, causes the sinner to be more aware of the riches of God’s glory in showing them mercy.

          This chapter raises many questions.  A few weeks ago, we put together a compilation of messages intended to answer many of those questions and they are in the lobby on the table.  If the truths Paul expresses here seem foreign to your thinking, or if you just want a more comprehensive treatment of the issues, please take a copy if you would like.  As Paul moves into verse 24 to close this section he aims to show that the way God has worked with both the Jews AND Gentiles in no way contradicts the Old Testament.  In fact, the Old Testament prophets predicted God would work in precisely this manner, including the Gentiles in his plan of redemption, while saving only a small percentage of ethnic Jews. This text can basically be divided into two sections.  In verses 25-26 Paul gives Old Testament proof from the prophet Hosea that it was God’s long established plan for the Gentiles to become part of God’s chosen people.  In verses 27-29, Paul shows from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah that only a small number of Jews would be saved.  Let’s read this section, beginning, for continuity sake, with verse 22.

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-- 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25As he says in Hosea:  “I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one,"  26and, "It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.' " 27Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:  “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.  28For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality."  29It is just as Isaiah said previously:  "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah."

          Paul’s central theme continues to be the mercy of God.  In verse 24 he speaks of those whom God has called and shows that the prophets predicted that the Gentiles would also be included in the people of God.  Here are the Gentiles—historically not part of God’s redemptive plan.  Many Gentiles didn’t know about God’s dealings with the Hebrews, the Exodus, the temple sacrifice system, the law of God.  These people had no preparation, no qualification to be the people of God, but in His mercy, God includes these unlikely people to be part of His gracious redemptive plan.  Paul quotes twice from Hosea to show that God had all along intended at some future time to bring the Gentiles in. 

          The church, with its mixture of Jews and Gentiles is not some sort of parenthesis in God’s plan for His people as some claim.  The Gentiles, from centuries before, were recorded as being included within the people of God.  The Jews of Paul’s day really had a hard time with the fact that so many of their fellow Jews had rejected God’s way of salvation, but so many godless, pagan Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ.  Paul here points out from the Jewish scriptures that this inclusion of the Gentiles should not be seen as some sort of perverse, unforeseen twist in history, but was God’s will from ages past. 

          Notice the second quote from Hosea in verse 27.  It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, `You are not my people’ they will be called `sons of the living God.’”   One fascinating thing about this quote from Hosea was that it was originally given as a prediction that God would renew his mercy toward the rebellious northern tribes.  You may remember that God had rejected these people.  He referred to them as “lo-ruhamah” and “lo-ami” which means “not pitied” and “not my people” respectively.  Those names, you may recall were the names Hosea gave to his two children to symbolically represent God’s disposition to these northern tribes.  Well, in Hosea (where Paul takes this text from) it is clear that Hosea sees this prophecy being fulfilled when God would once again show his mercy to these northern tribes.  Yet Paul here uses this same text to refer to God’s mercy being displayed to the Gentiles. How does that fit together? 

          The most reasonable way to reconcile these two different understandings of the same text is simply that for Paul THE CHURCH made up of Jews and Gentiles constitutes the “sons of the living God” the people of God.  He is not contradicting what Hosea said, he is expanding on it to include the Gentiles.  In the church, we have Jews who believe on Christ and Gentiles who believe on Christ and that makes them THE people of God.  There is no distinction between the two in that respect—they have been called into the church, the bride of Christ. 

          In verse 27, Paul speaks to his fellow Jews from Isaiah about why so few Jews had accepted salvation through their Messiah.  He says, “though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.”  This verse restates more explicitly what Paul implies in verse six when he says, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  In both verses Paul says that God makes a clear distinction between those who are part of national Israel and those who are truly called by Him to salvation.  Paul refers to this truly saved group as “a remnant.”  A remnant in this case means “a small amount of something.”  Of the entire Jewish race, only a small number would accept the Messiah.  Now, when we get to chapter 11, we will see how Paul applies the promise of Isaiah that “all Israel will be saved.” but it is a scriptural truth that only a remnant of Israel, not all or even most Jews will be saved.

          When we get to verse 28, we come to a bit of a mystery.  Paul uses the word “For” to connect 27 to 28, but for the life of me, I have no clue how Paul is using this verse or what it means.  I studied this verse and it made no sense to me.  Then I went to the scholars and discovered they didn’t know what it meant either. As Paul draws this section to a close in verse 29, he once again raises the theme of God’s mercy.  He quotes Isaiah 1:9 and says “unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”  Paul says to these believing Jews who doubt the truth of God’s word, “You are asking the wrong question.”  You are asking why God would save only a FEW Jews?  In light of our rebellion, the question you should be asking is why did God choose to spare us from the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, because my people, apart from God’s grace and mercy, we would have experienced total destruction, not partial.  For God to save a remnant when EVERYONE deserves judgment is a glorious display of mercy.”  With that as a base understanding of what Paul’s message is here, let’s apply it to us because this text and all of this first section isn’t only about God’s dealings with the Jews and Gentiles.  This section is also about the Person of God and His character and those truths have application in every age.  Let’s make three specific applications about God’s Person from this text.

          God desires and is worthy of the glory of the whole world, not just one nation and therefore His vision has always been to show mercy to people on a global scale.  Anyone who thinks God in the Old Testament was only concerned about his glory being shown in Israel, simply hasn’t carefully read the Old Testament.  Some of the greatest missions texts in the Bible and which show God’s heart for the Gentiles come from the Old Testament.  In Genesis 12:3 God tells Abram that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  Right at the very beginning of the Jewish race, we see God’s heart for THE NATIONS he would bless and bring glory to Himself through his work with the Jews.  This same vision for the whole world is seen in at least four other texts in Genesis alone.

          Other Old Testament texts which prove that God has always desired to show his mercy and therefore manifest his glory to ALL nations are texts like Psalm 9:11.  Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion!  Tell among the peoples [plural, “nations”]  His deeds.”  Psalm 96:3, Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!”  Psalm 117:1, Praise the Lord, all nations!  Extol him, all peoples!” Isaiah 34:1 “Draw near, O nations, to hear, and hearken, O peoples!  Let the earth listen, and all that fills it; the world, and all that comes from it.” Isaiah 52:10, The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations;  and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”  Those are only a very few Old Testament texts showing that God’s desire and his plans have always been global.  The reason global missions and reaching the Gentiles is not found only in the New Testament is because those issues are grounded in God’s desire to bring glory to Himself and that has ALWAYS topped His agenda.  In truth, if the Jews had been more objective in their study of the Scriptures, they would not have wondered why God would actually reveal himself to the Gentiles.  That part of His plan was found repeatedly in their own Jewish Scriptures but they missed it badly.

          What that means to us, among other things, is this.  We must never replicate the mistake the Jews made in making God a parochial, provincial God who exists ONLY for people who are part of OUR church or OUR nation, people or culture.  The Jews had become smug and self assured in their relationship with God.  They were the chosen people and tragically, they became very prideful of that fact.  It was as if they had been invited to join some sort of exclusive, spiritual club.  That’s why it was such a train-wreck for them when most of the Jews rejected Christ while the Gentile dogs were coming to Him in droves.

          We must see, believe and act on the Biblical truth that God seeks glory from all over the world.  God loves those who live in Mongolia or Kenya or Somalia or China as much as he loves us here in the U.S.  His heart is for the proclamation of His glory.  Is our heart there?  I would venture to say that it is impossible for most of us to have a global heart for God’s glory and for the lost across the oceans unless we are working hard at being global Christians.  This concern for those we cannot see, do not understand and have no physical connection to does not occur naturally for most of us.  We must be disciplining ourselves to pray for the missionaries, financially giving to missions and regularly reading resources which tell us of God’s global work and the global mission fields if we are to have God’s heart on this issue.  If we are not doing those kind of things, the great majority of us will stay in our own ghetto.  It is clear that God is not like that so we should be placing in our lives those activities and resources which can, by His grace give us His heart for the world.

          A second truth we can apply about God’s character from this text is:  God often works in unexpected ways.  We must always be so careful about thinking that we have God and his plans figured out.  He has repeatedly demonstrated He will not stay inside our boxes.  The Jews made this error.  They knew the way God was going to act, what the Messiah would look like, how they would respond to Him and the place of the Gentiles in all of this.  They thought they had all this figured out and the sobering truth for us to learn from is; they thought they were getting all their beliefs from the Word of God.  We in the church are in no way immune to this kind of self deception about what the Bible says.  In hindsight, we can see the Jews were actually distorting the Scriptures and when Christ came along with his new wine, their old wine skins—all their mistaken, man-made theological boxes couldn’t hold Him.   He blew their minds in this respect.

          In light of this and scores of other examples of people (sometimes highly educated people) who were being so sure of what biblical prophecies of future events say and being completely wrong, it is good for us to be humble about our understanding of end time biblical prophecy.  It is very alarming for me to see people who have it all figured out about the end of the world.  We should study prophecy and do our best to come to biblical conclusions.  But history teaches us that people who are dogmatic about biblical prophecies often end up bringing great hurt upon themselves and others.  We should be humble in our interpretation of prophecies of the end times, especially when they are taken from apocalyptic literature.  The Jews and their tragic errors in this area should teach us at least that much.

Speaking personally, most of the times of true spiritual growth for me have been preceded by a mind blowing, box exploding experience or biblical revelation or discovery about God and his ways that opened up an entirely new arena of God’s Person to me.  This has generally been painful for me because it was during these times that my pre-conceived, treasured notions about some aspect of God were vaporized; who he was and how he acted.  If we aren’t regularly being forced to reexamine our view of God and how He works, we might very well be stagnating in our spiritual growth.  God does not change.  HE is not in process, but our understanding of him should grow and develop as we continue to study the Scriptures and experience him and His work in our lives.

          This truth has several individual applications, but one that is consistent with this text is this—we must NEVER ever see anyone as outside the reach of God’s plan or His grace.  This is what the Jews did with the Gentiles.  They basically wrote them off as being beyond the reach of God’s grace and plan.  We can do this too.  Who here would have thought that Jane Fonda would ever profess Christ?  Yet, a well respected periodical confirmed this week that this was known about her 18 months ago.  I would never had enough faith to pray for her, but praise God someone did and apparently God did a miracle.  Frankly, if we understand that salvation comes to a person ONLY as a result of a miracle of God, rather than by human choice or reasoning, it would change the way we see sinners.  We should never simply assume that someone growing up in a Christian home would automatically become a Christian.  God often uses that environment to funnel his miraculous saving grace through, but He is no more obligated to save a person with Christian parents than He was to save a Jew because of their genetic connection to Abraham.  God isn’t OBLIGATED to save anyone.  People aren’t saved by growing up in Christian homes.  They are saved by God choosing them, miraculously giving them a new heart and by calling them into his kingdom.

Because that’s true, we should never assume that any sinner is so wicked or so deceived or so hardened as to be unsavable.  God is in the business of making the hardest hearts soft so as to show forth his glory.  The people we may think are the most likely candidates for the kingdom often end up like the rich young ruler, walking away from Christ.  On the other hand, all you have to do is know little bit of church history to know that God is in the habit saving the most unlikely people.  Think about John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace.  A thoroughly debauched, godless slave trader.  Was his heart too hard for God to soften?  Think about the apostle Paul—the Pharisee so zealous, so deceived by Satan he was viciously persecuting the church?  Was He too tough a case for God?  On a more contemporary note, how about Chuck Colson, the self proclaimed “White House hatchet man” under President Nixon.  You’ve doubtless heard the story of how God, at Colson’s conversion, turned this tough-as-nails-ex marine into a blubbering baby.  It’s no great challenge for God to save those kind of people.

So often, the reason we write sinners off as lost causes isn’t because we don’t think God can save them (although that may be the excuse we give). It’s because we don’t want to take the trouble to be vulnerable and talk to them about Christ.  We don’t want to spend the time praying for their salvation.  We convince ourselves that “they would never accept Christ” so that we won’t have to get our hands dirty with them.  Calvinists ought to be the greatest evangelists in the church if for no other reason than they know that salvation is FROM THE LORD and that means that NO ONE is too hard for God to save.  That truth obligates us to pray and witness to our neighbors, co-workers and the people at the bus stop.  When we see a person with what we perceive to be an especially hard heart (and all dead hearts are equally hard)  we shouldn’t be thinking, “That person would never accept Christ.”  Rather, we should be thinking, “Wow, what glory Christ would receive if THAT person were to come to Christ.  I’m gonna’ pray for them.”  That is the appropriate response in light of this text in Romans nine.

A third and final truth about God’s person we have seen before, but because it is so prevalent here, we must give it and that is this.  God is indescribably merciful to spare us from judgment.  This is the point of verse 29.  Instead of thinking that God, in saving only a remnant of the Jews was being less than gracious, the Jews and we too must see that for God to save ANYONE is an act of tremendous mercy.  One implication of verse 29 is to know that one reason God includes stories like Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible is to remind us that He has the sovereign right as a holy God to wipe any sinner off the face of the earth any time He sees fit. 

He would have been perfectly justified to do to Israel what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah, but in his mercy he provided Christ for this remnant.  What is noteworthy is NOT that so many go to hell, but what is amazing is that He chooses to save anyone.  We must never make the same mistake the Jews made in thinking that God owed them something because of who they were as Jews, descended from Abraham.  God owes no one anything—He is a debtor to no one.  In His mercy, he continues to allow us to remain alive.  When a loved one dies outside of Christ, whether a family member or friend, the temptation is to become angry with God.  In light of verse 29, the appropriate response is to instead fall on our face in gratitude and thank God He DID reveal His mercy to us.  It is so easy to forget that God does not owe us mercy, but justice.  May God give us the grace to understand more fully the riches of His mercy and may we by his grace live our lives basking in it for His glory.

 

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