MESSAGE FOR APRIL 2, 2000 FROM ROMANS 11:11-16
This week, we continue our series from Romans in chapter 11. We have seen that in chapters nine through eleven, Paul takes up the subject of the fate of his own Jewish people. The vast majority of Jews had not rallied around Christ as Messiah, but had instead rejected Him. Last week, we saw that Paul explained the ultimate reason why only a very few Jews had placed their trust in Jesus as their Messiah. Though God holds the Jews responsible for their unbelief, behind that unbelief is the hand of God who “hardened” most of the Jews from coming to Christ. We saw from the Scriptures last week that this hardening work of God is not unique to Romans 9-11, but is seen in many places in the Bible.
Paul has earlier in 11:1-6 answered with a resounding “No” to the suggestion that God had totally rejected the Jews. He says that God had saved from the Jews those whom he had elected, a small number of believing Jews he calls a “remnant.” God has not totally dismissed the Jews. As we turn to verses 11-16, Paul labors to add that not only is the hardening not total, neither is it permanent or final. There is a new day coming in Jewish history and it will be the brightest one of all for the Jews as a people. That glorious day for the Jews will bring about the consummation of salvation history for all of God’s people.
With that as introduction, let’s read 11:11-16. Paul, speaking of the Jews writes, “Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! 13I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.”
This is a fascinating text because in it we are let in on a part of God’s cosmic, eternal plan to bring glory to himself in the lives of His people. Here, as elsewhere in the Bible, all the people in the world are divided into two groups, the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul tells us in this text that God’s work with each group is carefully planned to effect the other in a specific way. We already know this at a different level. Through the Jews God brought the Messiah who would be “a light to the Gentiles.” The Jews and God’s work with them provide a foundation for His later work with the Gentiles. But here in these verses, Paul points out an oscillating or alternating relationship that exists between God’s work with the Jews and the Gentiles. Its almost like two pipes running paralell to each other that are linked together with a one way cut off valve at the junction. The water can flow out of only one pipe at a time. As the valve is turned off to one pipe, it is free to flow out of the other pipe. What happens in the one has an immediate effect on the other. There is an interrelationship between the two.
Paul says the stumbling or, rejection of Christ by the national, ethnic Jews as a people has had a positive effect on the Gentiles. He says of the Jews in verse 11, “…because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles.” There is something about the sinful rejection of the Gospel by the Jews that will allow for the salvation of the Gentiles. The Jews’ unbelief in some way opens the door to the Gentiles receiving Christ. The question is, “how would the Jewish rejection of Christ pave the way for the Gentile acceptance of Christ?” We see the answer when we remember the way the gospel was originally spread. Even though the apostles knew that the gospel was to be taken to the “ends of the earth” we know that the actual spread of the gospel to the Gentiles was mostly accomplished as the church was persecuted and brought into those areas where they fled. The spread of the gospel to the Gentiles did not occur systematically as a part of some great, man-made strategy for global evangelism.
The gospel reached the Gentiles largely by default. That is, the apostles didn’t focus their evangelistic ministry exclusively on the Gentiles until the Jewish rejection of the gospel drove them to it. We see this in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas are on their missionary journey and when they get to Pisidian Antioch they begin preaching the gospel where they always began, in the Jewish synagogue. In verse 44 we read, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we turn now to the Gentiles.”
There you hear the reason for Paul’s turning to the Gentiles—because the Jews had rejected it. We see the same thing in Acts 18 as Paul is ministering in Corinth. Again, he preaches at the synagogue and verse six says, “ But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads!” I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” The reason why Paul, the greatest and strategically most important missionary in church history, the missionary who opened more areas to the gospel than any other—the reason why he became known as the “apostle to the Gentiles” was because the Jews rejected him and his message. In this way, the rejection of the Jews was actually a launching pad for the Gentile ministry. Verse 15 of Romans 11 says the Jewish “rejection is the reconciliation of the world.” So we see the way God used and even planned the rejection of the Jews to minister to the Gentiles.
We may ask, “How does this strategy of God’s for evangelizing the Gentiles have any practical or devotional application for us today?” Let’s look at three truths about God and how He works that this text shows us. the first turth is God works redemptively, using bad circumstances to make good and bring Him glory. This text has much to say to us because it tells us something about the way God works and specifically how he works through human failure. And the rejection of the gospel by the Jews was a failure of epic proportions. There’s an old expression in this context, “when God closes a door, he opens a window.” In light of how God works through failures and disappointment, it’s probably more accurate to say, “when God closes a door, he opens a new world.” For God, the failure of the Jews was not just a bad situation that He had to make the best of and so He made do with what was available to Him, the Gentiles.
Where there is a failure like this on a human level as seen in the failure of the Jews to respond to the gospel, we must understand that this is not just a case of God making the best of a bad situation. That’s not what Paul teaches here at all. The rejection of the gospel did not force God to “punt” to back up plan “B.” The Jewish rejection of Christ was not just bad luck on their part. It wasn’t a miscalculation on God’s part—a tragic oversight. No, through Paul’s explanation here in chapter 11, He opens heaven’s gates and let’s us look over God’s shoulder. God lets us pierce the veil of his inner chamber and allows us to peer into His glorious strategic plan for reaching the world. These kinds of so-called failures whether it be on a cosmic scale like the Jews and Gentiles or on a personal scale must be seen through the lens we see modeled here.
The failure of the Jews is part of a sovereign God’s eternal plan to bring maximum glory to Himself by fulfilling all His eternal purposes in both the Jewish and Gentile populations. The Jewish failure not only doesn’t take anything away from God, it actually brings glory to God. This is such an encouraging example of God’s work for us. The reason is because there isn’t a person here who has not had major disappointments and pain in their lives brought about by failure, either our own or someone else’s. We have all been inflicted by the pain of seeing circumstances that did not go the way we had expected or planned.
In those times, we must remember that the God who used and even planned the rejection of the Jews to bring salvation to the Gentiles can take any rejection or disappointment or loss and not merely manage to salvage that situation, but actually make something wonderful come out of it. That’s the way God is—He is a God of redemption. He redeems people and situations and sin and failures and disappointments. He takes bad things, sometimes horrific things, and turns them into good things. The prime example of this is the cross. The most profound disaster in world history—in a class by itself—the betrayal and murder of God incarnate, the only truly innocent Man, treated like a murderous thug. That unimaginably horrendous event made possible and led to the enactment of the most glorious plan in history—the salvation of the church of Jesus Christ. God specializes in making Easter Lilies grow out of manure piles. He brings life out of death. God can redeem anything. No disaster, failure, disappointment, loss or painful circumstance is so wicked or hurtful that He cannot make it work for good. “ALL things work together for good.” If we knew this truth about the redemptive nature of God as well as we should, when something awful happens to us, we would respond by saying in faith, “I wonder how God will redeem this—what good He will bring of this” because He will.
Just as God used the rejection of the Jews to serve as a launching pad for the Gentiles to come to Christ, Paul reveals more of God’s plan here and again we see this dependent relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles. He says in verses 11, the Gentiles acceptance of the gospel is intended by God to make the Jews envious. As we said a few weeks ago, eventually the church of Christ with its Gentile majority will one day make the Jews jealous. The Jews will see that everything their history and God’s dealings with them have pointed to are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. They will see in the church of Christ, the glory of forgiven sins through the blood of Jesus. They will see the pouring out of God’s grace by giving His Spirit to these people without measure. They will see the wonder of a people who can know God personally like Moses and Abraham did. When they see that, they will covet what the church has and turn to Christ as their Messiah.
The obvious question is, “why didn’t the Jews respond with this kind of jealousy in the days of the apostles?” Let’s face it, the early church was a dynamic organism. And Paul’s ministry, which he says in verse 13 he “makes much of” and which he hoped would “arouse his people to envy and save some of them,” reeked with the supernatural power of Yahweh. Why, with that powerful manifestation of Christ in His church didn’t they rush to receive Christ? In fact, as we saw in Acts 13, the jealousy the Jews had for Paul and the church drove them NOT to join the church, but to throw stones at it. Why? Because God hardened them. A hard heart, when confronted with the gospel, only gets harder. But a heart that God has tenderized, when it sees the beauty of Christ in His church gets hungry for their God.
Paul indicates that the Jews will, at the end of this age accept the gospel in large numbers as a national people. He says in verses 12 and 15 that the Jews will come to “fullness” and “acceptance” respectively. What that will trigger will be glorious, even more glorious than the salvation of the Gentiles according to Paul. In verse 15 Paul says the acceptance of the gospel by the Jewish people will bring “life from the dead.” What Paul is almost certainly referring to is the bodily resurrection from the dead. The final and climactic chapter of salvation history will be the widespread acceptance of Jesus by the last generation of Jews. And Paul indicates that this will trigger the final event in this more than 2000 year-long chain reaction, the resurrection from the dead. So we see the wonder of God’s sovereign plan laid out here. The Jewish rejection of Christ triggers the Gentile acceptance of the gospel. But God doesn’t leave the Jewish people high and dry. He fulfills his promise that, “all Israel will be saved” when this final generation of Jews comes in droves to Christ.
God glorifies himself by saving the Gentiles and by showing His redemptive power by doing that through the rejection of the Jews. God will be glorified when He removes the hardening of the Jews, they become envious of the Gentiles in the church and come to Christ in large numbers, thereby fulfilling the prophecies and showing His everlasting faithfulness to Israel. Finally, God will be glorified when the wholesale salvation of the last generation of Jews occurs and the dead will raise and thus fulfill this prophecy Paul gives here. At every turn, God’s name is glorified as His purposes are accomplished. God’s redemptive nature is seen in this text and we need to remember that God takes the worst of circumstances and brings glory to Himself and can bring joy to us through them.
In addition to this text powerfully showing us an example of God’s redemptive nature, this text teaches another truth about God. That is, that God does not hesitate to allow his children to suffer to accomplish His larger, good purposes. Unlike so many human parents, God does not see the pain and suffering of His children as being the worst possible thing that can happen to them. If it means accomplishing His purposes in the life of a person or family or race or nation or world, God will, without hesitation, allow pain and suffering into the lives of His children. We must always remember that God’s highest priority is not sparing us from pain, but bringing glory to His Name. And it is not at all uncommon for our comfort and God’s glory to be on collision courses. And when the faithful saint sees that collision approaching, he doesn’t alter his course to avoid the crash. He picks up his cross, obeys Christ and seeks to trust Him through the pain. The Jewish Christians suffered in their ostracism from their unbelieving Jewish loved ones because God was doing something deeper than simply keeping His children free from persecution. God and His eternal plans are bigger and more important than freedom from pain and He knew that the pain they were caused would only work for their sanctification and would ultimately result in their greatest joy and His highest glory.
If you are suffering in some way today, if you are in pain, you can be assured that the cause of it is not an accident of nature. God never causes sin but He is in the business of controlling and limiting the distribution of pain and suffering. The pain and disappointment and failure are part of His sovereign plan and, though they are unpleasant now, joy will come from them. This goes totally against the ethos of our culture which views pain and failure and suffering as our biggest enemies. Pain and failure and suffering are not our biggest enemies. They are merely tools God picks up to shape us into the image of Christ. Our enemy is the father of all lies. And one of his favorite lies, propagated by the world and readily believed by our comfort-starved flesh is “If we are in pain, something is drastically wrong with the universe somewhere and it needs to change NOW.” He tells us our top priority should be to remove the pressure and suffering from our lives. That is a lie. That comes from the enemy of our souls who knows that pain and suffering in the life of a believer are two of God’s most effective sanctifying tools if they are allowed to do their work. Satan knows that, so when God allows suffering to come into our lives, he begins his deceptive influencing of our minds. He tempts us to complain and gripe and get us to believe that we don’t deserve the pain, or that it comes from the arbitrary and unrestrained hand of a cruel God. The evil one yearns to get our eyes off of God and His good plan for us and place them on ourselves and our hurts. Satan has been the caterer and honored guest at every pity party we have ever had. He’s in attendance right there next to our comfort-addicted flesh.
A final truth about God this text brings out is God is faithful to his promises. The history of the Jewish people is riddled with sin and faithlessness. As we noted in our study in Ezekiel on Wednesday evenings, God had given so much to Israel. Out of all the nations of the earth, God had chosen little Israel to receive so many awesome privileges. They were chosen to be his special possession. By his covenant relationship with them, God intended to show all the nations what He was like. As He miraculously won military victories, as he abundantly provided for their material needs, as He gently Fathered them as a nation, the other nations would see His glory and His special provision to the Hebrew people. The Jews were to be a kingdom of priests before Him and were blessed in ways no other people on earth had ever been blessed.
Yet with all that grace, the Jews repeatedly and adulterously broke the covenant relationship. They made a habit of betraying God’s covenant love, thus communicating to God and the other nations that the gods of the nations, the deceitful demonic beings were actually more desirable than Jehovah. For most of their Old Testament history, they committed adultery with other god’s against Yahweh. And their crowning folly, as we’ve said before was their rejection and murder of God’s Son, their own Messiah.
With that dismal track record, with that shameful history, what is God’s response to them? He remains faithful to his promises to the patriarchs made over 4000 years ago. That’s who Paul is referring to in verse 16 when he says of Israel, “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.” God sees the Jews of the last days as part of the same lump of dough as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the “firstfruits.” The more than 4000 year time lapse is nothing to Him, like four days to us. And He will be faithful to the covenant He made with Abraham with respect to the national, ethnic Jewish people.
Doesn’t that give us hope? How many times have we gone to the Lord, our hearts caked with our sin and blubber to Him, “I don’t know how you can still love me after that. I’m just such a loser—I’m sure you’re gonna turn your back on me now.” No. The reason God doesn’t push us away when we sin isn’t because we don’t deserve it—we do and we deserve much more than that. The reason God doesn’t send us into orbit when we rebel against him isn’t because we pray such heart-felt and emotional prayers of contrition or because He knows that deep down we are basically very nice people. No, the reason He stays with us is because He is faithful. Its not about us, its about HIM. “IF we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13) God’s patience, His faithfulness to sin-racked Israel should never lead us to believe we are free to sin. Instaed, it should amaze us at what a glorious God we serve and motivate us to be faithful to Him as He is faithful to us. May God give us the grace to know the truth about God and how He works so that we can be set free to love Him at all times.
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