Preached at Cornerstone in Cascade, IA on July 8th, 2018.
As always, let us begin this morning with our new July memory verse, Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
As we continue to work our way through the book of Romans, I want to touch on something that I mentioned briefly last week. For those who have been with us for the last several months, you know that Romans 9-11 is primarily about the salvation of the Jews. We have talked extensively about God’s relationship with the Jews. And some of you may be saying to yourselves, or to your spouse, or perhaps to others in the Church, “Enough already. Can’t we hear a sermon about marriage, or a sermon about the blessings of God, or a sermon about how to raise kids?” Some of you may not enjoy these sermons because you do not think they are particularly relevant to you.
If that is you, I want to encourage you to examine your understanding of the primary purpose of the Bible. Last week we looked at Psalm 19 because it was quoted in Romans 10. As I said last week, the first half of Psalm 19 is referencing general revelation. General revelation is God’s revealing himself through Creation. It is general in two ways: It is general in its audience and it is general in its content. Special revelation, on the other hand, is a revealing by God that is special in its audience and special in its content. Perhaps another way to say it is that special revelation is to a specific people with specific information. For general revelation we can look to the sky, but for special revelation we must look in the Book.
The primary purpose of reading, studying, meditating on the Words of God is for the revealing of God. The Bible is God’s specific revelation to His children concerning who he is. The Bible is not primarily a self-help book, the Bible is primarily a display of the glorious attributes of God. Having said that, knowing God better through the reading the Word, will greatly help in all walks of your life, but this is a secondary consequence of knowing the One True God.
When reading the Bible, our first question should be, “What does this tell me about God?” When we read and study about God’s relationship with the Jews we are being exposed to the beauty of who God is in all of his majesty. And from that exposure comes a greater appreciation of God, and greater reverence of God, a greater love for our God, and a greater faith in God. So do not be eager to move past these text, for in them are great treasures of the attributes of God. So with that said, let us read our text, pray and set our eyes upon the Lord.
And as we have seen in our study of Romans 9-11, Israel, this disobedient and contrary people, generally speaking would not come when the general call went out. The Jews were not willing to budge. They were not willing to repent and place their faith in Christ so that they could be reconciled with God.
Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, speaks of this Jewish disobedience and contrariness moments before his death. In Acts 7:51-53 Stephen says to the Jews, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
As we have learned, the reason for Israel’s rejection is because only those who God effectually calls will ever come to him through Christ. An effectual call always produces the effect of repentance and faith. This call is not general, it is specific and it is irresistible, for it comes in the power of the Holy Spirit. We saw this in Romans 9:12 when Paul explains people are reconciled to God “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—“ This calling is not a general call, it is an effectual call. A call to a limited amount of people.
Jesus speaks of this calling in John 6:44 when he saw, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus says it again in John 6:65, “And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” It is the father who draws the sinner to Christ. It is the Father who grants a sinner grace through faith.
And generally speaking, we can confidentially say that God has chosen not to draw the Jews to Jesus. In fact, we can see from our text today, that not only did God choose not to draw the Jews to Jesus he has actively prevented it. Look at verse 8 of our text for this morning, “as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” Then in verse 10, “let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” Sovereign God is ultimately in control of their spirit of stupor. Sovereign God is ultimately in control of their darkened eyes, their blindness.
God is Faithful
This understanding of Israel’s failure to receive Christ causes Paul to rhetorically ask the question in verse 1, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” To this question Paul emphatically says, “By no means!” This phrase “By no means!” is translated to “May it never be!” in the NASB and “God forbid” in the King James. The question that is posed by Paul himself is one of shock. It is unfathomable to think God would reject his people. Why? Because it impugns, or undermines, the nature of a Holy God who has promised over and over again in the Old Testament to never reject his people.
Having said that, the question of Paul's still needs addressing. How can God be faithful and simultaneously reject Israel? We have already looked at one side of the coin regarding that question in Romans 9:6 when Paul says, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” Meaning, that spiritual Israel is not the same as physical Israel. Some people who are biologically related to Abraham are not spiritually related to Abraham. Or to say it another way, the rejection of Israel is not really the rejection of true spiritual Israel.
In today's text, Paul now examines the other side of that coin and focuses, not on those who are rejected but those who are elected. Paul describes these people in verse 2, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” For those who have been with us for several months, that word “foreknew” should cause you to think back to chapter 8.
Therefore when Paul says that God has not rejected Israel, he qualifies it by saying that the ones he has not rejected are those who are foreknown within the nation of Israel. This would be the positive side of the coin, the true Israel that exists within the visible biological Israel.
To prove his point that God has not rejected true spiritual Israel that exists within visible Israel. He points to his own salvation as evidence. Look at verse 1, “For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. “ Paul is walking proof that God has not rejected visible Israel. In fact, you cannot get anymore visible Israel than Paul. He wore is Jewishness on his sleeve. He is the poster child of the Hebrews. Not only is he physically related to Abraham, he is from one of the two best tribes of Israel, Benjamin.
In Philippians 3:4 Paul expands on how Jewish he really is. Philippians 3:4 says, “though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
Chosen by Grace
So what Paul is saying is, if God was going to reject Israel, I would be the first to be rejected, but he wasn't. Paul was not rejected. In fact the exact opposite of rejection took place; Paul was elected. He was chosen by God himself, set apart while traveling on the road to Damascus, so be a light to the Gentiles. Paul was the most unlikely of people for God to chose, yet he did. Why? Because as we saw in Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
And we know that this choice by God was not made on the road to Damascus in response to anything that Paul had done. In Galatians 1:15 Paul says that God, “set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace.” Paul was chosen by God before he had done anything good or bad, just like we saw with Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:13, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Paul's second proof that God has not rejected his people is by example. Look at verse 2, “Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3“Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Many of you are familiar with this story, but some of you are not. It can be found in 1 Kings 19. The context is that the Prophet of God, Elijah, had just challenged the Prophets' of Baal to a fire from heaven battle. The Prophets of Baal were obviously unsuccessful and Elijah, was of course not. Fire from heaven consumed the offering that Elijah had put forward, as well as the altar itself. After this, Elijah slaughtered all of the Prophets.
This action of killing all of the prophets of Baal upset King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. And Jezebel sent word to Elijah that she was going kill Elijah within 24 hours. This caused Elijah to go on the run, and after a day's journey, Elijah was in great despair and he asked God to take his life. Elijah said to God, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Elijah thought that he was the last man standing, that he was all alone, but he was not. In 1 Kings 19:18 God tells Elijah, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Elijah was not alone, but let's be honest, 7,000 people in all of Israel is not many. Lets suppose there were two million Israelites at the time of Elijah, this would mean that less than one percent (0.35%) remained loyal to the One True God.
And why did they remain loyal? Romans 11:4, “I have kept for myself seven thousand men.” The only reason that they were devoted to God and not to the false God of Baal is because God had kept them. It was because of God's power, it was because God had chosen those 7,000.
And Paul argues in Romans 11, that just like in the days of Elijah, God has kept, or chosen, a remnant of Jews for himself. God has chosen a remnant to draw to his son, Jesus. First it was the 12 disciples, then the 120 after his death and resurrection, than 3,000 at Pentecost, then the number climbed to 10,000, then 20,000, And today it is estimated that there are up to 350,000 Jews who place their faith in Jesus Christ. That sounds like a lot, but it is still a remnant. For world wide there are approximately 14.5 million Jews, which equates to only only 2.5 percent who put their faith in Jesus as their Messiah, which still is only a remnant.
And why do these 350,000 Jews of today believe that Jesus is the Messiah? God chose them by grace. Look at verse 5, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” Their salvation is based on absolutely nothing they did. Their salvation is entirely, and completely a gift. It is God's unconditional election. Not based only anything, but God's Ultimate and Sovereign free will. And this is true for the remnant and it is true for all of us who place our faith in Jesus. Our relationship with God, from beginning to end, is dependent upon God drawing us, granting us, and keeping us in Christ.
This is what grace means. It is a gift of God. And we cannot think of it any other way, for as it says in verse 6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
It is so sad to see so many people turn grace into works. By doing so, they destroy grace and undermine their hope for salvation in Christ. You are not save through baptism, your are not saved through confession, your are not saved through the Eucharist, you are not saved through prayers to the saints, you are not saved by attending Church, for if you were, grace would not longer be grace, and you would would be just another person bending your knee to Baal. God gets all the glory for our salvation, praise be to God.