Have you ever thought that you were alone on your walk of faith? Have you ever thought that you were the only Christian in the world? If so, you are not alone. Many of the Old Testament prophets felt that they were the only Christians in the world. Many Christians today sometimes fee that they are the only Christians in the world. They even feel that they have been rejected by God. At the end of Romans 10, it seems that the people of Israel have been rejected. It seemed that God’s plan and purpose for Israel had ended, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth as Paul argues in Romans 11:1-2,29-32.
God knew that the Israelites would reject him, but he chose them anyway and made a covenant with them. He could not make a covenant with them and then abandon them because they turned away from him in sin. To do so would go against his nature, because he does not go back on his word. God did have a “loophole” in his covenant. He was not bound to save the whole nation of Israel. He was only bound to save those who remained faithful. Those few that were faithful are the remnant referred to in Romans 9:27. Just as God reserved a remnant of his people when Elijah thought in 1 Kings 19:1-8 that he was the only faithful person left when in fact he had over 7,000 brothers and sisters in Christ, God has preserved a remnant of Christianity for Paul and for all of eternity. This remnant has been preserved by God’s grace.
Sometimes God uses the disobedience of one group of people to show mercy to another group. The people of Israel rejected God, so God decided to show mercy to the Gentiles by calling on the most hated, hardened Jew-Paul-to spread the Good News to the Gentiles. God surrounds his people with their sin with no means of escape so he can show his people grace. God stands off from his people when they rebel against him, but he never ignores people who cry out to him in faith. When we look beyond the struggles of this life we will see him waiting for us with open arms. When the lost cry out to him, he hears their cries and joyfully carries them to eternity.
God showed mercy to the Israelites even though they were ungrateful. Why? It can’t be explained. Such is the nature of grace. It can only be received with gratitude just like the Gentiles received God’s grace with gratitude.
The apostle Paul is proof that God is not finished with Israel. Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin and he believed in Jesus after his encounter on the road to Damascus. In Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 Paul uses various texts in Scripture to prove that God keeps the promises he makes to believers, unbelievers, disobedient and contrary-minded people, and this is a key part of Paul’s theology. After all, if God was not faithful to the people of Israel, Christians would not have a good reason to repent. God has the power to bring the Gentiles and the Israelites into his kingdom. Paul warns the Gentiles who have received salvation not to become proud and boastful because they can also be punished. The Gentiles were tempted to hate the Israelites because God found them to be unworthy, but Paul reminded the Gentiles that they needed to understand that they were the beneficiaries of Israel’s unfaithfulness. God made the same promise to the Gentiles, including the “loophole” that only the Gentiles who were faithful to God would be saved. These faithful Gentiles are also part of the remnant referred to in Romans 9:27. The Israelites also benefitted by Gentile obedience, because it caused the Israelites to become faithful to God.
God’s grace preserved people of faith throughout history. Noah and his family were preserved during the Great Flood thanks to the Ark. Joseph was preserved by God during years of hardship and imprisonment in Egypt, and in turn Joseph preserved his family and the people of Egypt during the famine. Daniel and his friends were saved from the lions’ den. Jonah was preserved even when he was in the belly of the fish. God always saves a remnant of his people when he punishes his people for their disobedience because this remnant consists only of people who have obeyed God in faith. God’s compassion is the last word when he is dispensing justice. His justice is always balanced by mercy for the people who obey him.
We are in the same situation today. Our world is full of sin. We as individual Christians may feel that we are alone, but God has preserved a piece of Christianity through our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. Justification is by faith for everyone.
Israel was willing to accept the special status of being God’s chosen people, but the people did not want to accept the responsibility of obeying him in faith. In other words, they wanted the benefits of the special status but they did not want to do any of the work that came with it. In spite of this, God made a promise to his people that he would deliver them from sin and evil, and he kept that promise through Christ’s death and resurrection. The Gentiles should not have been upset because God blessed Israel, because God’s promise of salvation was made available to both Jews and Gentiles.
Both Jewish disciples and Gentile disciples thought they were better than less enlightened people, but God’s true Israel includes Jews, Gentiles and any other human group we can think of. All of the members of God’s kingdom share in the same basis of membership-that is, the mercy of God in Christ. The historic people of Israel did reject God’s work of salvation, and that rejection allowed its acceptance by the Gentiles. The acceptance by the Gentiles prompted acceptance by the Jews. This proves that there is no basis for believers to be conceited, because where there is no merit, there can only be mercy.
God can turn disobedience and the negative circumstances of our lives to redemptive purpose today. For example, a celebrity smoker dies of lung cancer, and other smokers are motivated to quit. An alcoholic loses a spouse or a job and finds the motivation to stop drinking. Our disobedience is never good and often produces terrible suffering, but God always works behind the scenes to turn our disobedience to redemptive purposes. For example, God used the suffering of my father from lung cancer to return me to the church and to the role of lay ministry. God uses our disobedience to motivate us to change our ways. In effect he says to us, “Turn, or burn.”
God makes the same promise to his people today. It is God’s will to save his people and to be faithful to them. He promises to save us from our sins if we believe in him by faith. God’s mercy is always a gift. Mercy is kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. We know that we could be treated harshly. Our sin indicates that we should be treated harshly, but by the grace of God we are loved and forgiven anyway.
Those who have been called and who have responded to the gospel in faith have become both the remnant of Israel who were God’s elect in ancient times and the new Israel God has created in Christ. If we believe in him by faith, we receive the special status of being a member of God’s chosen people. In return, we must do God’s work in our world by spreading the Good News and by showing Christ’s love to a hurting world.
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- Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
- Rev. Brian Findlayson, “The Conversion of Israel.” Retrieved from www.lectionarystudies.com
- Rev. Brian Findlayson, “God Has Not Cast Off Israel.” Retrieved from www.lectionarystudies.com
- William Loader, “First Thoughts on Year A Epistle, Pentecost 16: 17 August Romans 11:1-2, 29-32.” Retrieved from www.staff.murdoch.edu.au
- Paul S. Berge, “Commentary on Romans 11:1-2, 29-32.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Matt Skinner, “Commentary on Romans 11:1-2, 29-32.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible Software package
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- Exegesis for Romans 11:1-2, 29-32. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Preaching Magazine (Nashville, TN: Salem Publishing Inc.: May/June 2014, pp. 61-62)
- John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod.org
- Amanda Shultz, “God Pause for Wed., Aug. 13, 2014.” Retrieved from www.luthersem.edu