Rejection! - Romans 11:1-36

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 15th February 2009.

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I wonder if you’ve seen the film ‘The Kite runner’ – or maybe even read the book?  And if not then I can thoroughly recommend it as well as the author’s second novel called ‘A 1000 splendid suns’ which I’m currently reading.  Like the Kite runner, it’s set in Afghanistan, and this time the novel’s dealing with the issue of forced marriages and the oppression of women in Afghan culture.  The main character’s called Miriam who’s forced to marry a man she only meets on her wedding day.  At the beginning of the marriage, her new husband Rasheed tries to help her adjust to her new life.  He makes allowances for the fact that she’s living 100s of miles from where she grew up and so she’s homesick.  He take her on trips round Kabul and introduces her to the sights and sounds of her new home city.  He buys her presents.   It’s sort of like a courtship, only after they’ve got married.  But whatever love Rasheed has for Marian rapidly evaporates as she goes through a series of miscarriages.  Miriam herself is heartbroken by the loss of her unborn children.  But her husband is angry;  angry with the situation; angry with God;   and angry with his wife, Miriam.  And that anger descends into blatant abuse.    Whatever love Rasheed may have professed for Miriam on their wedding day – for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness  and in health, well all that turned out to be a sham;  Rasheed's love, if it ever existed properly in the first place, turned out to be a conditional love;  I’ll love you, if you meet my performance criteria;  if you produce children for me  - and preferably boys.  And if you can’t perform to my expectations, then I’ll toss you aside like yesterday’s newspaper.   Waste of space, get out of my sight. 

And as we know, the marriage relationship is used all through both the O and N Ts as a metaphor or a picture of the relationship between God and His people.  Indeed that’s the whole basis of the OT book of Hosea which Paul quotes from back in Rom chapter 9:25-26.    And it’s the presenting issue all through chapter s 9-11.  Has God abused His people?  His OC people the Jews that is?   So if you’re not already there, turn to Rom 11 on p[1056/ 1761] and look with me at v1:       I ask then: Did God reject his people?

And so the issue is:  has God’s love for the Jews been as fickle as Rasheed's love for Miriam.  A love that’s conditional;  dependent on Israel’s performance.  I will continue to love you, if you live up to my standards;  if you obey all my laws?    Because that’s the heart of the Jewish objections to Paul’s Gospel.  A Gospel that we’ve seen was embraced by lots of Gentiles, but had been largely rejected by the Jews of Paul’s day.    Yes the Jews had been unfaithful to God’s word;  they’d rejected the Messiah.  But had God basically decided to divorce His OC people because of their unfaithfulness?  And if he had, was that justified?  And if it was, how did that square with all those apparently unconditional promises going right back to Abraham in Gen 12?    And if the unconditional promises of the OC now appear to be conditional after all, what about the glorious unconditional NC promises at the end of chapter 8?  Let’s just flip back to 8:37 to see the issue:

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These are words we read at Anglican funeral services to remind us of the rock solid assurance of heaven that NC believers have.   But are these promises worth the paper their written on?  That’s the issue Paul began dealing with in 9:6:  has God’s word failed.  And it’s the issue he comes back to now in chapter 11:  has God rejected His people;  His OC people, the Jews.    And straight away we get Paul’s usual answer:  by no means, which he then unpacks in the rest of the chapter . 


1.  God’s rejection of Ethnic Israel had not been total (v2-10)

So first in v2-10 we see that God’s rejection of ethnic Israel had not been total.  God’s rejection of Ethnic Israel had not been total.   Because in the rest of v1, Paul’s basically saying this:  look I’m a Jew, a completely Kosher Jew in fact.  But I’ve become a Christian.    The vast majority of Jews might have rejected the Jewish Messiah, but not all of them.  Not Paul, not the rest of the Apostles, not Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and so on.  Just because they were in a minority didn’t mean that all the Jews has rejected Jesus.   

But of course, when you’re in a minority, you often feel like you’re the only one don’t you.    

We’re a small church and so we’re a minority within our community;  as a Christian, you’re probably a minority at work or maybe even a minority in your family.    And when you’re in a minority situation, there’s always a tendency towards despair and exaggeration.  I’m the only one left, so what’s the point;  let’s give up.  That’s basically what Elijah was saying in v2-4.  Back in Elijah’s day 100s of years earlier, the ethnic nation of Israel had largely turned its back on God as well.  The government was persecuting and even killing preachers and church members who were standing by the Bible.    And even the great prophet Elijah was worn down with it all;  Lord I’m the only one left;  I can’t stand the pressure any more;  just take me to heaven now;  I just haven’t got any more energy to carrying on standing up for the truth when I’m being constantly knocked down again and again. 

And the Lord said to Elijah, come on, stop exaggerating;  you’re not the only one;  I’ve reserved 7,000 who haven’t turned their backs on me.  And in the OT, the number 7 stands for completeness;  and so 7,000 is symbolic for an abundant completeness.  You’re not alone.  And in any case, I am with you through the valley of the shadow of death.  Come on, up you get, let’s get back to the coal face and I’ll take you to be with me in heaven when I’m ready.

And so the main point’s in v5:  just like there was in Elijah’s day, and just like there’s always been all through Israel’s history, in Paul’s day, there was a remnant of people within Ethnic Israel who were the true Israel, the true people of God that is.  And that remnant or subset, had been chosen or predestined by God’s grace. If God’s people weren’t dependent on God’s electing grace, then there salvation would be down to works and not grace.     And of course Paul’s alluding back to the teaching he’s already given back in 9:6-13;  not all the physical children of Abraham are true children of God.  Even though they were both Abraham’s sons, God chose Isaac over Ishmael.  And it was the same with Isaac's twins,  Jacob and Esau:  before they’d even been born, or done anything good or bad, in order the God’s purpose in election might stand, not by works but by him who calls, God made it clear that he’d chosen Jacob and not Esau. 

Yes we are still all accountable to God as we began to see in 9:19-21, which we unpacked even more last week in chapter 10.    God’s complete sovereignty even over evangelism doesn’t overrule our human responsibility;  our responsibly to respond to the Gospel; the simple Gospel as we were looking at last week.   

As God’s people, we have a responsibility to preach the Gospel, to reach out in evangelism.  And people will be held accountable for their response to that Gospel message.  But chapter 10 is wedged between chapter s 9 & 11 which make it crystal clear that the ultimate results of evangelism are up to God;  up to God to decide in His infinite wisdom. 

And just as he did in chapter 9, Paul anticipates our uneasiness with such teaching.  Look with me at v7:   What then?  What the majority of ethnic Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain. 

What’s he talking about?  Well it’s the righteous that he was referring to in 9:31;  salvation that is.  Why had the majority of Jews missed out on salvation?  Because in 9:32 we learnt they tried to pursue it by works and didn’t receive it simply as a gift from God; salvation by grace that is.  But actually in 11:7, Paul’s saying there’s a reason behind the reason:  the reason the majority of Jews had rejected the Gospel of grace is because they weren’t elect;  not chosen that is;  just like Ishmael and Esau in chapter 9;  they weren’t among God’s elect, and so as a consequence, just like Pharaoh, they were hardened.    And at this point, Paul brings in 2 OT quotes to back his point up. 

And so, in some respects it’s the same sermon as chapter 9:  God hasn’t rejected His people or broken His word, because He’d never promised to save every ethnic Jew in the first place. 

I know it’s hard teaching for some of us.  But as Christians, if we’re understood it correctly, God’s Word must overrule what we like to think is right and wrong.  Otherwise we’re back with Eve in the Garden of Eden.  So let’s flip back to 9:19 to remind ourselves how Paul handled possible objections to his teaching.  9:19:

19One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?"

Or in other words, why does God still blames us for rejecting Him, if he’s already decided everything in advance. And what’s the answer in v20?
v20: But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?

It’s the: “ I’m the parent and you’re the child” answer:  because I say so and I know best.  God’s ways are not our ways.    And because He’s totally holy and just, he will always have good reasons for everything he does;  even if we can’t fully understand it; even if he doesn’t fully explain himself;  which he can't of course, because he’s the infinite and all-wise God, and we are his finite and fallible creatures.   

But in v22-24 of chapter 9 we began to get a glimpse of God’s possible underlying reasoning;  God’s reason for only choosing a small number of Jews to become Christians in Paul’s day.   And in the rest of chapter 11, he returns to that issue and reveals a bit more of God’s thinking to us. 

2.  God has big plans for Israel in the future   (v11-16 &25-32)

So just to recap, in v1-10, we’ve seen that God’s rejection of ethnic Israel so far in history has not been total.  There has always been a remnant chosen by grace.  But then in the rest of chapter 11 we see that God has big plans for the Jews in the future.  God has big plans for the Jews in the future.  Look with me at v11:

 11Again 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.

Do you see what Paul is saying here?    He’s telling us the ultimate reason why so few Jews had become Christians.  Yes humanly speaking as we saw in chapter 10 it was because they were trying to get in by works and not grace.  Yes we’ve just been reminded it was because God had only chosen a tiny remnant of them.  But then in v11-16, we get a glimpse of a classified memo from the control room of the universe.    It’s a bit like those leaked memos that a senior civil servant left on a train last year – do you remember that saga;  a memo that revealed the government’s real thinking on Iraq and terrorism rather than the spin that’s usually fed to the media.  But this memo from God hasn't been leaked;  it’s been published on the web for everyone to see.  And the title of the memo is this:  Reason for only choosing a limited number of Jews to become Christians in the past.  So what’s the content of the memo? What do v11-16 say?  Well God’s reason for letting the church become predominantly gentile was to make the Jews envious, v11 says;  to arouse the Jews to envy, as he puts it in v14;  to arouse the Jews to envy because the gentiles are enjoying all the benefits of the Jewish messiah.  

And flip over to v25 where he makes it even clearer:

25I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved

In the Bible, a mystery is something previously kept secret, but now revealed by God.  Now published on God’s website so to speak for all to see.  There’s a reason why I only chose a small remnant of Jews to become Christians in the past;  a reason for hardening the vast majority of them.  And that’s because I’m going to use a predominantly gentile church to arouse the jealousy of my OC people the Jews.  And when the time comes, when the full number of gentiles I have chosen has come into the church, then there’ll be a massive revival amongst the Jews.  There aren’t 2 ways to God remember.  There’s only one way to be saved whether you’re a Jew or Gentile:  by trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.  And so towards the end of time, as we move  towards J’s second coming, which is what the quotes in v26 & 27 are all about, as we approach that day, there will be a revival amongst the Jews which will result in floods of Jews becoming Christians.  And so in v26, All Israel will be saved;  a significant majority of ethnic Jews at that time will become Christians. 

We can't stretch this to mean that every single Jew without exception will become a Christian.  When the July 7 bombs whet off in London killing dozens of people, politicians were quick to go on the air saying that the whole country condemned these attacks;  all Britain that is.  But of course, as you can see by looking at extremist websites, there are a minority of people in Britain who supported the attacks.  And so not everyone in Britain denounced them.  In everyday language, we often use the word all to mean the vast majority.  And that’s what Paul is saying here.  In the future, as we approach J's second coming, there will come a day when a significant majority of Jews will accept Jesus the Messiah;  will become Christians that is and so be saved, which if you remember was the heart of Paul’s prayer back in chapter s 9 & 10.

Yes the doctrine of election and predestination if found all through the OT as well as the New.   But the promises of the OC did seem to anticipate that a vast number of God’s OC people would be saved in the end;  would make it to the new creation;  a multitude so vast, that they’d be like the sand on the seashore or like the stars in the night sky, as God put it to Abraham.  And what Paul’s saying in v11-32 is yes;  ultimately there will be an abundance of Messianic Jews in heaven;  Our God is a God of abundance and generosity.  Yes he had good reasons for continuing to delay the out-flowing of that abundance;  God’s people have always had to live by faith in His promises that will only be fulfilled at some point in the future. 

But God has big plans for the Jews in the future;  all Israel will be saved;  a large majority of Jews that is;  a future that is heading towards the second coming and the new creation.    How amazing is that.  Or as Paul puts it in v33:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" 6For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

God has big plans for the Jews in the future then.

3.       Root out Anti-Semitism (v17-24)

But in the middle of all this section, in v17-24, Paul applies this amazing teaching to the predominantly gentile church of his day.  So in v17-24, we’re commanded to root out anti-Semitism.  Root out anti-Semitism. 

It needs rooting out, because the predominantly Gentile church in Rome was arrogant.  They had a sort of spiritual snobbery against the Jews.  Look with me at v17:

 17If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

The Olive tree was a common OT metaphor or picture for the people of God.   And so the point of the metaphor is the gentiles are like wild olive shoots.  Through the Gospel that the OT anticipated and pointed forward to, lots of gentiles had become Christians;  lots of gentiles has joined the people of God that is;  had been grated into the Olive tree.  An Olive tree that had its foundations or roots in the OT.  And so even though the gentiles made up the majority of the church in Paul’s day, he’s commanding them to repent of their spiritual snobbishness;  how dare you be so condescending to the Jews. 

And before we start tut tutting against these Roman Christians, what about us?  When was the last time you prayed for the Jews.  

When I was at Bible College in London, we had to do some street work in the Jewish area of North London.  And in that part of London, you often see orthodox Jews wearing skull caps and old fashioned clothes.  In one area, they even have an enclosure to help them obey the Sabbath;  Orthodox Jews believe that you can’t walk more than a certain distance on the Sabbath without breaking the 4th Commandment;  but any walking within the enclosure doesn’t count for some reason.  We’re back to a salvation by works and not grace.  And I have to admit, that my first response to all this was not compassion and a zeal for evangelism, but contempt.    How can you be so religious and miss the main point?  Jesus is the Messiah.  And that kind of attitude is exactly what Paul is talking about.  Root out anti-Semitism;  get rid of any contempt you might feel for non-Christian Jews.  Remember that the Gospel and NT church are built on the foundation of the Jewish OT.  Remember that the Gospel is first for the Jew and then for the gentile.    Our response to non-Christian Jews should be compassion, prayer and evangelism.    And if we don’t know any Jews, and if there aren’t any Jews living in our parish, then we should be giving serious consideration to supporting mission agencies that are seeking to reach Jews where they do live:  mission agencies like CMJ, the Church’s Mission to the Jews, which was another of Wilberforce’s many projects that carries on to this day. 

The Christian church has a long tradition of anti-Semitism.  And we should be rightly ashamed and repentant about that.  But since the Holocaust, some parts of the church have reacted by going to the other extreme;  by toning down Jewish evangelism in an attempt to make appeasement for the past. But as we’ve seen in chapter s 9 & 10, Paul wasn’t anti-Semitic; he was a Jew himself;  and although he was the Apostle to the gentiles, he loved his fellow Jews;  loved them so much in fact that he was desperate for their conversion;  so desperate that he was even prepared to give up his own place in heaven if that meant more Jews in heaven.

Last week in the bad weather, a taxi driver saw a woman veering off the road into the pond at Bishop Burton.   Her car was upside down and she was banging on the window about to drown.  So the taxi drive steamed in, broke the car window with his fist, and dragged the woman out;  he saved her life;  it was an act of love, not romantic love, but love for a fellow human being. 

Non-Christian Jews are drowning in a pond of unforgiven sin;  they’re heading for the bottom of the pond- an eternity in hell to pay for their own sins.  But there is a way out:  the Gospel of sins forgiven in J’s name;  Jesus the Jewish Messiah.  And so the most loving thing we can do for non-Christian Jews is to tell them the Gospel;  to support Jewish outreach.    The application in v17-24 is to root out anti-Semitism.  And to root out Anti-Semitism, we need to deal with any lingering contempt we still have for the Jews;  and then we need to get on with Jewish evangelism.    It’s one for all of us to think about as individuals;  but also perhaps one for the Steering Committee to think about in conjunction with our rep on the SJs main Mission Committee].   

God’s rejection of ethnic Israel has not been total in the past.  There has always been a remnant chosen by grace.  And in the future, God has big plans for the Jews.  Plans that involve a Jewish revival.  Plans that God will effect through the evangelism of His people, the church.  God still has a heart for the Jews, and so much we.  We must root out anti-Semitism, both from our own hearts and from the church.  Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, forgive us for any contempt we might have for the Jews;  and forgive us lord for the sins that have been committed in your name against the Jews over the last 2,000 years.  Give us hearts that are full of compassion for the Jews, and zeal to reach them with the Gospel of sins forgiven in J’s name.    Help us to accept both your sovereignty over the results of evangelism as well as our responsibly to get on with it.  Help us to delight in the truths we do know, and not to fret about the things you haven’t revealed to us.  Give us the humility to submit to your word, and the resolve to get on with the job in hand.  For our eternal joy, but your ultimate glory we pray, Amen.

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