Romans Miniseries Part 3
Some of the greatest shows that I’ve recently been watching deal with people who are poor, down and out, receiving an opportunity to live the rich life. One of these shows, called Rich House Poor House, allows a poor family to switch places with a rich family in the UK.
The poor family lives with the same means as the rich one when they are switched. They receive the same salary that the rich people do. They get to have the same lifestyle of the rich people. Their children do with the rich children do.
But the rich family also has to live the lifestyle of the poor family. In a moment’s notice, the poor become rich and the rich become poor. Imagine what it’s like for the poor family to experience life on the other side of the tracks.
What if you could be part of the wealthiest family that anyone has ever known? Well, you can. No matter who you are: your background, ethnicity, sins of the past, bitterness, or anything else you think is a barrier to becoming part of this family, Jesus has a place for you.
And you don’t just become part of the family of God. You get all of the benefits, the inheritance, that he has saved up just for you. Paul will finish his explanations about Israel and the Gentiles. But as he does, don’t forget that God has a seat for you at the table.
Back to Romans
So far we have discussed Paul struggling to completely understand God’s sovereign choice in choosing his people, Israel, in Romans 9. He thought about it from a human and divine perspective in different areas of the chapter.
Then we moved to Romans 10 and talked about the process of the message and its reception. The gospel must be preached or proclaimed by Christians. And to be received, to begin relationship with Jesus, we must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts.
Even in Romans 10 Paul is talking about his countrymen in the flesh. In this final chapter he will consider the believing remnant of Israel, how the gentiles become part of God’s people, and God’s mercy throughout the process. Let’s jump in to the final chapter of Romans on Paul’s countrymen, Israel.
The Remnant (Romans 11:1-10)
The original text that Paul wrote did not contain chapter breaks or verse numbers. We left off with a quote about God waiting on Israel to respond to him again. He next asks if God has rejected Israel. He had every right to because they rejected him.
God was like the guy who brings the girl to the dance and gets ditched when she leaves with someone else. But God hasn’t rejected Israel. This is something theologians need to remember as they talk about covenants and dispensations. Israel was given an advantage in the beginning but is still a main player in God’s plans.
Paul gives his own biographical information to show that he, one of God’s people as a Jew and member of the Christian church, is still part of God’s plan. There are Jewish Christians that are part of the Church (Romans 11:1).
Then he brings up Elijah and the remnant that Elijah discovered when he thought he was the only one serving God (Romans 11:2-4). This comes from 1 Kings 19:10, 14. Elijah ran into the wilderness away from Jezebel who threatened to kill him after he won a mighty victory for God on Mount Caramel.
Elijah’s state of mind was that if Jezebel killed him, there will be no one left serving Yahweh. But he was sorely mistaken. God had reserved a vendor of 7000 for himself. Elijah wasn’t alone. As a side note, we often think that we’re the only ones suffering this trial or that one for Jesus but other saints have gone before us and they can help us if we turn to them.
Paul relates this historical situation to the present relationship Israel has with God. Instead of working as the law commands, Israel should rest in God’s grace. The more they do the works of the law, trying to fulfill every commandment on their own, God’s grace can’t take effect in them. They need to surrender to Jesus’ perfect and complete sacrifice on the cross (Romans 11:6).
The same goes for us today. The more we attempt to fulfill God’s commandments and gain our own righteousness the farther we get from God’s grace. His grace only works when we surrender to him and allow his work on our behalf to stand in the place of our own work (Romans 11:7).
Paul says that Israel failed to obtain what it sought, righteousness. Only the elect (referring to the remnant of Israel) that accepted God’s grace received righteousness (Romans 11:7). But it wasn’t their own. It was the righteousness of Christ. Those who didn’t obtain righteousness through God’s grace instead of their own works were hardened to the message of the gospel in Jesus the Messiah.
Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:10 to show the hardening of the Israelites who did not become believers in Christ and part of the remnant elect (Romans 11:8). It explains why they cannot hear or understand the gospel that Paul preached in synagogues before he went to the Gentiles in his ministry.
He backs it up with a reference to one of David’s imprecatory Psalms against his enemies (Psalm 69:22-23) in Romans 11:9-10. Like anyone arguing their case in the Jewish court, Paul brings two or three witnesses to explain the difference between the elect and the hardening (Deuteronomy 17:6; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).
The Key Player (Romans 11:11-16)
Paul introduces a familiar argument from the Old Testament prophets. He suggests that Israel’s stumbling over Christ was part of God’s divine plan to open a door to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-12). He defends the idea that Israel stumbled and fell. They stumbled to make room for the Gentiles in God’s family.
And he asks after he floats this idea of God’s sovereignty even in Israel’s stumbling means that God will bring them around to his plan with Christ in full (Romans 11:12). The idea of God using one nation against another comes especially from Habakkuk.
Habakkuk complains to God about the Babylonians. But God explains he is using them to discipline Israel. Later in the book God deals with the Babylonians using another nation. He is a player on the world stage. And Paul wonders if God is doing the same thing, using Israel’s stumbling over Christ to allow gentiles an opportunity to be part of his family.
Next, Paul offers his rationale for why he became the missionary to the Gentiles. But he is speaking to the Gentiles. He wishes to make Jews jealous said that some of them would be saved (Romans 11:13-14). Of course he is glad that Gentiles are being saved through his ministry but he also has a heart for his people.
Because they have rejected God and Jesus Paul can use this ministry to reconcile Gentiles to God. But he is also interested in the Jews accepting Christ and its effects on them, that they would enjoy life out of the dead, perhaps referring to eternal life (Romans 11:15). Throughout his ministry when he went to synagogues on the Sabbath he did see some Jews come to the light of the gospel.
Paul introduces two images to illustrate his point, dough and branches (Romans 11:16). He’s going to run with this analogy of branches as he continues to talk to the Gentiles about their privileged place in God’s family.
With both images Paul is contemplating the same idea. If one part is holy, the whole thing is holy. If the dough is holy, so is the entire lump. If the root is holy, so are the branches. The dough and the root represent the remnant, or elect. The lump in the branches represent the rest of the nation that has rejected the Messiah (Romans 11:16).
The Grafting (Romans 11:17-24)
Paul is still speaking to Gentiles as he talks about the branches that are broken off, those who rejected the Messiah and are temporarily broken off of the tree (Romans 11:17). The Gentiles become part of God’s people because of the Jews who have temporarily rejected the Messiah.
The concept Paul is dealing with is the Church itself. Remember back in Romans 9. Everyone who joins the tree of God, the family of God, must come from belief. Believing Jews and believing Gentiles become part of the Church. The Church, Christ’s body, is the composite people of God.
Paul has a message for Gentiles who think they’re all that and a bag of chips while Jews have missed the mark, even though they were originally part of God’s people through ethnicity and genetics (Romans 11:18). Gentiles came to the tree from the different tree. The root still brings the nourishment to the branches on the tree.
For any Gentile who considers himself arrogant enough to think that he belongs on the tree more than any of the other branches, unbelieving or believing, he has missed the understanding that God’s grace made him part of his family.
God is kind to those who have faith. But if a Gentile would lose his faith, God would be just as severe and react the same way he did for unbelieving Jews who fell away from the tree, the family of God (Romans 11:19-22).
Paul makes the case that anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, who is in unbelief can be drafted in to the family of God through belief. If they have faith in Jesus, they can join the family of God. Even those Jews who have rejected Jesus will rejoin God’s people when they believe (Romans 11:23-24).
The Mystery of Mercy (Romans 11:25-36)
Paul reminds Gentiles that Israel is hardened to the gospel right now so that they have the opportunity of joining the people of God. But the time will come for Israel to believe once again and become part of the tree (Romans 11:25-27).
In Romans 11:26, Paul once again expresses his desire that all Israel will be saved. The apostle continues to hope that his people will come to know Christ. We all should demonstrate the passion that Paul has for his countrymen. We also must desire that none should perish but that everyone would respond to the gospel.
For now, Jews will reject the gospel and be part of the hardening. But they do this for the sake of the Gentiles to come into the kingdom of God for this time. But those who are elected among the Jews, the remnant, they have the first rights of the oldest brother, in a sense, because of God’s love and promises to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Romans 11:28).
Paul says something next that confirms the idea that God has promised this to the Jews because of their forefathers. He never reneges on his promises. And the gifts and calling that he gives the Jews, according to Paul, he will completely fulfill (Romans 11:29). This verse has to do with God’s promises carried through time from the forefathers of Israel to its completion. That is the context of this phrase and verse.
Everyone, including Gentiles, has experienced God’s grace, his gifts, and his calling as they have become part of the whole family of God. This is Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus. That’s all it takes to become part of the tree. God keeps his promises (Romans 11:30-32). God is merciful to all who trust in Jesus.
We all have experienced God’s kindness to us once we have joined in the tree, been grafted in through faith in Jesus. God is merciful to anyone who believes. Paul can’t help but glorify God because of his goodness and kindness to us all.
So he ends his discussion about Israel, the Gentiles, and God’s Church, his family, with a doxology. This is his outburst of praise as he considers all of the angles concerning God’s sovereignty, the nation of Israel, the elect (the remnant), and how God is grafting a tree that will last for eternity.
No one can completely understand what God is doing in our day and age. He is doing things that are way beyond our comprehension and ability to discern the whole of God’s plan. None of us can grasp everything that he can. So we glorify God because he is greater than us and he’s got everything in his hands in complete control (Romans 11:33-36). Praise be to God!.
We followed Paul through a winding and twisting road of trying to understand how God works in this world for the sake of unbelievers. We all long for everyone we know to be saved so that they can experience the same benefits we do in our relationship with Christ.
Although Paul’s main subject and concern are his fellow countrymen, Israel, the principles that he ponders work for all of us. Everyone who has become part of God’s family and kingdom came the same way, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Whether you are Jew or Gentile, it is my hope along with Paul’s prayers for his people, that you may open your heart to the mercy of God and he may welcome and usher you into his presence and family forever. If you don’t know Jesus, now is the time before it is too late and the family tree is complete. There’s a place for you!