Romans 11

Paul continues with his dialogue about his fellow Israelites, the descendants of Jacob. He addresses the next logical question; did God reject his Chosen People because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah? God’s sovereign choice provides righteousness for people; this includes salvation for the Gentiles and the restoration of Israel.

One proof that God has not rejected Israel is that Paul is a believer, “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin”; therefore God did not reject his people whom he foreknew. Romans 9:6 states, the word of God has not failed, “For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel”. Paul is making a distinction between believing Israel and un-believing Israel.

Paul uses the example of Elijah after his great victory against the prophets of Baal. Elijah was depressed, saying that he was all alone, that King Ahab and Jezebel had killed all God’s prophets and the faithful in Israel. God’s reply to Elijah, “I have kept for myself seven thousand people who have not bent the knee to Baal.” Paul is making the connection between the time of Elijah and his current time, as God reserved a remnant chosen by grace in the time of Elijah, so too now He has set aside a remnant of faithful Israel. “So in the same way at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace”.

Paul summarizes his argument by quoting Old Testament scripture; this is not the first time that some among the Israelites have had hard hearts against God’s plan, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, to this very day.” Because Israel pursued righteousness not by faith, as if that were even possible, but by works; they stumbled over the stumbling stone.

The next logical question is, will this stumbling over Jesus as the Messiah prove to be a fall beyond recovery, is this a permanent fall? Paul says no, the Israelites rejection prompted two divine purposes, the offer of salvation to the Gentiles and to make the Jews jealous. Paul was convinced that Israel’s fall, their transgression, was temporary thus he looks beyond its immediate results to the greater inclusion of the whole world.

Since Israel rejected their promised Messiah, does this mean that the promises of God to the nation of Israel are no longer valid? Remember Paul and Barnabas would always take the Gospel message first to the Synagogue, when the Jews rejected their message they relayed this additional message, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” The Jews rejection of God’s plan means, “Riches for the world” and the reconciliation of the world. Paul likens the Jews future acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah to “life from the dead”, a joyful and glorious event like the resurrection.

Paul names the believing Jews, faithful Israel, as the firstfruit offering; if the first portion is holy then the whole batch is holy. Followed by “if the root is holy, so too are the branches”. He expands on this example of an olive tree, calling the Gentile believers “the wild olive shoot” that has been grafted into the old tree. The new grafted branches enjoy the richness of the old olive root, the root supports the branches. Therefore do not boast but remember that the old root supports you not the other way around and do not be arrogant about your position in Christ. Israel was rejected because of their unbelief; the new grafted in Christians need to stand by faith and remember the kindness of God that allowed us the wild unproductive olive branches to be included, grafted into the root.

Paul reminds his readers that if Israel repents and turns from their unbelief, then God is able to graft them in again. God is able to restore the nation of Israel, now Paul says that God will do it! He calls this a mystery, a previously hidden truth now revealed by God for us to know and understand: “A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved”. The Jews continue to be dearly loved by God for the sake of The Fathers (Patriarchs, Faithful Israel), “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable”. God does not revoke what He has given or whom He has chosen. Paul reminds his readers that they were formerly disobedient to God but now have received mercy, God is able to restore and heal Israel, and they will receive mercy now if they believe.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen.

Romans 10

Paul continues his discussion about the Salvation of the Jews, whom he refers to as his fellow Israelites. Paul heart is burdened for them and he is in constant prayer on their behalf before the Father. Paul attests that the Jews are “zealous for God”, which is praiseworthy, but they are flawed in their thinking, “their zeal is not in line with the truth”. The Jew’s passion for God was strong, but they ignored the revealed truth, the true righteousness of God, that comes by faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul can easily identify with his fellow Jews, he was himself zealous for the wrong things, in Galatians he states, “I was savagely persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors”. Note Paul’s zealousness was for the “traditions of my ancestors”; he is confessing that he was zealous for the wrong things. Paul and the Jews were, “ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness”. Righteous standing before God comes from God, based on faith, which comes from God as a gift and cannot be earned by man’s striving.

Paul states that “Christ is the end of the Law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes”. Jesus fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the Law; therefore brought it to completion (the end) and the believer is no longer under the condemnation of the law. This does not mean that the Law has been abolished, as if the commands against false idols, murder, adultery and slander no longer apply. We must continue to submit to God’s righteousness, with the help of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts to mold and shape us to be like Jesus who perfectly fulfilled every requirement of the Law.

Paul quotes Moses from his final message to the Israelites before entering into the Promised Land which he applies to his current audience. They did not need another message from heaven, or another miracle resurrection because “the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”. The main point, the gospel is accessible, God has made Himself known and righteousness is readily available to anyone who will receive it freely from God through Christ.

“Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation”. Salvation involves inward belief, “with your heart” as well as outward confession “with your mouth”. Confessing with your mouth does not necessarily mean a public meeting, but rather a response to the truth which you believe in your heart. These are not two separate steps to salvation, they are entwined together, not mere assent to head knowledge but the weaving together of our emotions, affections, intellect and will. Additionally our confession comes with the great assurance that, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.

Paul closes out this chapter with a series of rhetorical questions and quotes, making the point that Israel (the Jews) heard the word from God and understood it, but still refused to believe. Paul quotes Isaiah, “how beautiful are the feet that bring good news”, this refers to the time when the exiles in Babylon would hear the news that would free them captivity and slavery. Paul applies this to the “good news” that the apostles bring of our release from captivity to sin. But what was true in Isaiah’s day is still true today, “not all have obeyed the good news” some still refuse to believe the good news of Jesus.

“Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Yes, they have: Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. But again I ask, didn’t Israel understand?” Paul continues with quotes from Isaiah, a reminder from the Prophet that God will provoke jealousy and anger in the Jews, when God reveals himself to the Gentiles, a people who were not seeking or asking about God. Paul’s reasoning, if the Gentiles understood God’s message surely the Jews could have understood if they had not willfully refused to believe. But about Israel he says, “All day long I held out my hands to this disobedient and stubborn people!”

What a beautiful picture of God, He stands with His arms opened wide, longing to accept all who call on His name, even the most stubborn and disobedient among us today.

Romans 9

Continuing to address the issue of our freedom and God’s sovereign election, Paul uses Israel to explain how this works. He begins with the perpetual question, “What about the Jews?” Since as a people group they have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, are the promises and covenants of God still effective? Paul states clearly that his heart is burdened with a great sorrow and unceasing anguish for his fellow Jews, to the point that he would deliver himself over to eternal Hell for the sake of his people.

Paul teaches us about God’s sovereignty in everything. We know that the Jews were proud of their status as God’s Chosen People, but now the Gentiles were responding to the Gospel in increasing numbers and the church was becoming more Gentile and less Jewish. Does this mean that God had abandoned the Jewish people? Paul stresses that God’s sovereignty is at work in His purposes for Israel and for the church.

Israel is described by Paul as a nation far from God and His purposes, even though they have many spiritual advantages that no other nation received. “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

Despite these advantages the majority of ethnic Jews have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Brokenhearted Paul raises the question, “Did the failure and faithlessness of Israel mean that God had failed? Did Israel’s failure result from God’s inability to save His people?” The answer, God’s word has not failed, “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”. Paul is not denying the election of Israel (as a nation) but stating that within Israel there is a separation, that of unbelieving Israel and believing Israel. Physical descent is no guarantee of a place in God’s family. God doesn’t have any grandchildren or great-grandchildren; we who believe are all first born sons.

Paul uses the example of Ishmael and Isaac to prove this point; it is only “through Isaac will your descendants be counted”. It was specifically the descendants of Abraham and Sarah and their biological child Isaac that became the “children of the promise”, not through Ishmael who was also Abraham’s son with Hagar. Ishmael’s descendants were Abraham’s through “natural descent”, but the descendants of Isaac were the “descendants of faith” – Israel of faith.

Paul follows the example of Isaac as the child of the promise with the example of Jacob carrying the promise even though he was the younger son, he was chosen before birth, not by works but by God’s calling –God’s sovereign election. Rebekah received the message from God, “The older will serve the younger.” Malachi 1:2-3 says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”, this phrase doesn’t speak of human emotions, it is equivalent to “Jacob I chose, but Esau I rejected”, addressing God’s sovereign choice. Paul is teaching on personal election not about national election. Both Abraham and Isaac tried to impose their personal will on God, Abraham with Ishmael and Isaac with Esau, but God is the one in charge and we are reminded from Isaiah “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD”. He is God and you are not; God chose Isaac and he chose the younger son, Jacob who was known as a schemer and deceiver then molded him into the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Naturally the next question becomes, “Is there injustice with God?” and answers, “Absolutely not!” God’s compassion, His mercy, does not depend on human desires or exertion; it exclusively relies on His gracious mercy. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh, “So then, God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy, and he hardens whom he chooses to harden.” God raised up Pharaoh and made him ruler of Egypt, then God reveals himself to Pharaoh and Pharaoh rejects the LORD, nine times. Exodus reports that Pharaoh hardened his heart towards God; another nine times the hardening of the Pharaoh’s heart is ascribed to God. Each time Pharaoh rejected God his heart was hardened more; this seems to me like a perfect example of the wrath Paul describes in Romans 1, “therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts”.

The next logical question is: if it is God who determines whose heart is hardened and whose is not, how can God blame anyone for hardening his heart? Paul is very blunt in his answer, who are you to talk back to God? Paul uses the example of a Potter and his clay, does the pot say to the Potter, “why have you made me like this?” It is the Potter (God), who has the sovereign choice to make the lump of clay into what he chooses a dog bowl or a serving platter designed for formal banquets. Paul is not silencing all questioning of God by man, but he is speaking to those with an unrepentant, God-defying attitude who want to make God answerable to man for what he does and who, by their questions, defame the character of God. The main point is the sovereign freedom of God in dealing with man; the emphasis here is on God’s mercy, not on his wrath.

Paul continues teaching that God has endured with great patience the objects of wrath and He has made known the wealth of His glory on the objects of mercy “not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” Paul quotes Hosea, “I will call those who were not my people, ‘My people,’ and I will call her who was unloved, ‘My beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” Paul applies the principle that God is a saving, forgiving and restoring God to the Gentiles, it is God who grafts the Gentiles into people of God. Paul then quotes Isaiah, “Though the number of the children of Israel are as the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved, for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth completely and quickly.” Even though the nation of Israel has rejected their Messiah, there will always continue to be small number of believing Jews, The Remnant.

Instead of pursuing a righteousness that is by faith, Israel pursued a law of righteousness, not by faith but as if it were by works, “as if it were possible”. The reason for Israel’s rejection lay in the nature of her disobedience – she failed to obey her own God-given law, which in reality was pointing to Christ. She pursued the law – yet not by faith but by works. Thus the real cause of Israel rejection was that she failed to believe, and hardened her heart. Paul quotes Isaiah again, “Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.” The Stumbling Stone is Jesus, the Messiah; rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God’s sight, the Living Cornerstone. What do you do with Jesus, the Messiah, is He a stumbling stone or the foundational stone of your entire life?