A People Chosen By Grace
Re-Translated In March 2000
1. The Passion season put a suspension on it, but I would like for us to begin reading again from chapter eleven of The Epistle To The Roman Disciples written by Paul. With this chapter the second major division comes to an end, but let's go on in our reading by splitting this into three sessions. Today's is from verses one to twelve.
God Doesn't Reject [Anyone]
2. First I'll read verse one.
"So, let me ask. Did God reject his own people? It's just not so. I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a person from the tribe of Benjamin," (verse one).
3. Who is Paul asking this question? In verse thirteen the text says, "Well, I say to you Gentiles." Judging from the flow of his speech in chapter eleven, and even in verse one, they think that Gentile Christians are the ones on Paul's mind. In order to understand these words, first of all, let's turn back to the part before in chapter ten.
4. In chapter ten and verse twelve Paul recorded with great joy that, "There is no difference between Jew and Greek; for, there is the same Lord over every person and he is abundantly gracious to everyone who calls upon him." But, at the same time there was great sadness in Paul because of the fact that "Not everyone has submitted to the gospel," (verse sixteen). It must have been the Jews who had obstinately rejected the gospel that Paul had specifically pictured in his mind. The message of salvation was near them. It's not that they haven't been able to hear. Paul said quoting Psalm nineteen, "A voice echoes to every land and his words extend to the end of the world." These words extended to them as well. It is not that God did not raise his saving hand to them. At the end of chapter ten, Paul quotes Isaiah. "I have presented my hand all day long to a disobedient and defiant people."
5. They could not ascribe their unbelief to God's responsibility; this has been dealt with in chapter ten. A natural conclusion to that might go something like this, "God did what he was supposed to do. Nevertheless, since the Jews did not submit to the gospel, isn't it natural to assume the Jews had already been rejected by God?" From that [idea] it wouldn't be strange at all had the thought that "God abandoned the Jews and chose us instead" had arisen among Gentile Christians. Next we read from verse nineteen, he expresses the thoughts of these Gentile Christians that "the reason the branch was broken off is so I'd be engrafted in."
6. Or, this kind of thinking, even if it did not come from Paul's statements in chapter ten, may have already taken place in a specific evangelistic work. While on the one hand the Jews obstinately reject the gospel, the Gentiles are being led to faith. When we read The Acts Of The Apostles that was the general situation in the early church in the lands outside of Palestine. Perhaps the majority of the church members even in the church at Rome were non-Jewish. If somebody had said in such a context that "God had already abandoned them. He rejected them," it would not have been illogical.
7. Though the conditions are different, this is a similar experience for us as well, isn't it? We, too, think without realizing it happening in our hearts that he has cut some people off. "A person like that has nothing to do with faith. It makes no sense to tell them about Christ. Nothing can help people like them." For example, [we might think like that] towards some family or towards the people of some country. But, if we changed the wording, it would be little different from saying "God has already rejected them."
8. But, Paul says to the Gentile Christians here, "Did God reject his own people? It's not that way at all." If you think about it, I don't think anyone has encountered as strong a rejection from the Jews as Paul. You see that from reading Acts. He went to the Jewish synagogues first and tried to tell them the gospel. But wherever he went the Jews spoke ill of Paul. They caused riots. They stoned Paul at Lystra and even tried to kill him. [Scholars] say The Epistle To The Roman Disciples was sent by him from Corinth. But even while in Corinth at the time of his second missionary journey, he met with a very strong resistance from the Jews and he couldn't do evangelism in the synagogue. Yet, Paul, who had had these kinds of experiences, said: "Did God reject his own people? It's not that way at all." Therefore, these are clearly not just words of Paul's own mind that came out of his consciousness as a fellow countryman. But, upon what basis then is he speaking like this?
9. Then Paul quotes a story on Elijah which is found in the Old Testament. Please look at verses two and following.
10. Elijah the prophet enters the scene in First Kings chapter seventeen. The time period is the ninth century before Christ and it is the dynasty of King Ahab of Israel. It was a period in time when the religion of Baal had overwhelming controlling power under the influence of King Ahab's wife Jezebel, a Sidonian. Ahab himself rejected the Lord, worshipped Baal, and went so far as to build the temple of Baal in Samaria where the capital was. The prophets of Israel, then, were persecuted and killed.
11. All of a sudden there appeared the prophet Elijah. In Second Kings chapter eighteen we have the famous story of when Elijah assembled four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah on Mt. Carmel and had a confrontation with them. At a real risk to his life, Elijah posed the question to the Israelites of whether they would follow the Lord or Baal. For the details please read the corresponding chapter. As for the results of it, the fire of God came down right on the spot and it ended in a victory for Elijah by a miracle. But, the hearts of the people were not changed by the miracle. Jezebel was after Elijah's life, he became a fugitive and hid himself in the wilderness. There was no one to help him. He was alone. There he was a man exhausted from battle. He just wished for his death. Paul quotes the words of Elijah when he was like that.
12. "O Lord, they have killed your prophets and broken down your altars. And I am the only one left, but they are after my life," (verse three). We shouldn't overlook that before that it said, "this is how he accuses Israel before God." It wasn't Ahab and Jezebel that Elijah had accused. It was the entire unrepentant people of Israel. Elijah would no longer intervene to God on their behalf. He personally spoke in opposition to Israel. He says Israel already deserved to be deserted by God.
13. But, God says back to this very same Elijah, "I have reserved for myself seven thousand persons who have not bowed their knees to Baal." Elijah had already ended up deserting Israel. He had given them up for dead. But, God hadn't. God did not give up. He did not throw in the towel. The sentence, "I have reserved for myself seven thousand persons," means that God has not yet deserted Israel.
14. Then Paul says, "In the same way, those chosen by grace are left. If it is by grace, then it is not by works. Unless that is so, grace would no longer be grace," (verses five and six).
15. First of all, it is on he himself that Paul is thinking about here. That's why he was saying in verse one, "I am also an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a person from the tribe of Benjamin." He considers the significance in that he himself a Jew became a Christian. Why was he himself there as a Christian? Was it because he had within him some kind of superior qualities? Was it based on his excellent works? Paul can't avoid admitting that that wasn't why. And he trembles at the fact that he deserved to be abandoned from the very start by nature, but he was forgiven of his sin, justified and became a person who lives with God. All he can say is it is due to God's unilateral grace that he was chosen and left to remain. And he sees a sign that God has not yet abandoned the Jews in the fact that a person like him was left behind. Therefore, he says with conviction, "Has God rejected his own people? It's just not so."
16. We, too, ought to see a sign of God's mercy in the fact that we are thus under the pardon of Christ and have been made worshippers. In Japan Christians are still very few in number. Some say Christianity doesn't fit in Japan. But, even though there are a few Christians, but since they are left behind by the grace of God, it is nothing but a sign that it is all under the mercy of God. Or, you may be the only Christian at home or on the job. Like Elijah there may be times when you can't help but moan, "It's just me by myself!" But, truthfully haven't you been permitted to be with God, though you deserve to be abandoned right from the start by your nature? Since that's so, your very such existence is a sign of the mercy that God does not abandon [anyone], isn't it?
God's Plan Goes Forward
17. "Actually even now the ones chosen by grace remain." Therefore, Paul was not gripped by the reality right before his eyes. He was not seized by the hardness and resistance of the Jews right before his eyes. With hope, he put his eyes on what God did. Please look at verses seven and following.
"So, what about it? While Israel did not obtain what it was seeking for, the chosen ones did. The others were hardened. 'God gave them dull hearts, eyes that couldn't see, and ears that couldn't hear, even to this day,' says the scripture. David also said, 'Let their dining table become their own snare and net. Let it become a stumbling block and divine punishment. Let their eyes be blind so they can't see. Let them bend their backs always,'" (verses seven through ten).
19. Israel as a whole certainly has not yet obtained the righteousness that it had been seeking for and has not obtained salvation. As it says in chapter nine and verse thirty-two, it is because "Israel thought that it could be attained not by faith but by works." They took pride in their works and their arrogance in relying upon their works kept them at a distance from the faith that accepts and just gives thanks for God's grace. The judgment of God against their faithlessness and disobedience was already apparent in the fact of their becoming obstinate and hardened. The word of judgment recorded in the Old Testament was exactly the current shape of the Jews who were right before Paul's eyes.
20. But, Paul poses a question to them out of this. "So, let me ask. When the Jews stumbled did it mean they fell for good?" They stumbled. But, stumbling is different from falling down for good. They stumbled and fell, but it was not over. He did not see their current situation as a final conclusion. Why? Because as we've already seen, he was looking at the sign of God's mercy in the fact a chosen and remnant people existed. Thus, he responds to his own question. "No, not for good; [It's just not so]." Then, Paul turns his attention from there not onto the unbelief of humanity, but on the work of God.
"So, let me ask. When the Jews stumbled did it mean they fell for good? It's just not so. On the contrary, through their sin it resulted in bringing salvation to the Gentiles, but the reason for that was to arouse them to jealousy. If their sin became the wealth of the world and their failure became the riches of the Gentiles, how much more wonderful would it be if all of them participated in salvation?," (verses eleven and twelve).
22. When they rejected the gospel, salvation was brought to the Gentiles, and the salvation brought to the Gentiles did not just remain with the Gentiles alone. As long as it was in God's plan, it would always be used for the Jews to be saved. That was Paul's conviction. The plan of God does not return void because of the obstinate rejection and disobedience of human beings. God can even make use of the unbelief or sinfulness of a person.
23. That process may truly seem like a detour going the long way. The elements of its progress are truly slow and most of the time cannot be perceived by human senses. But, Paul sees the future with hope and says, "how much more wonderful would it be if all of them participated in salvation?" Such a statement does not derive from the current situation visible to the eye. What Paul is looking at is the reality that God does not just throw people away in abandonment and the truth that God does things through his mercy.
24. For sure, the specific subject matter that Paul is talking about may not be that close to ours. But, even though the situation and time period are different, it doesn't change the place we should turn our eyes to. If we are unable to speak about things with the hope like Paul had, isn't it because we are not turning our eyes on the same place as Paul?