Can God Be Trusted to Keep His Word, or Has He Rejected His People?
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Sunday, October 5, 2008 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1211
Pastor Don Horban

The question with which Paul leads off this section is understandable considering his closing words of chapter 10 - “But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people”(29). What then is to become of this rebellious people? That’s the issue. And even the wording of the first verse of chapter eleven shows the link with chapter ten - “I ask, then, [“then” - in view of all I have just said] has God rejected his people?” That word, “then,” shows Paul is relating this question back to something already said. Because Israel has been consistently, repeatedly rebellious to God’s electing purpose for them, what is to become of them?

In a nutshell, “has God - in view of Israel’s unfaithfulness - totally rejected His people?”(11:1). And the reason this is no small issue is God promised that He would never reject His people - Psalm 94:14 - “For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage....”

So the bottom-line question, the real issue is where do the Jews stand? Two issues stand out. Are they cast aside totally and are they cast aside permanently? Those are the two questions Paul sets himself to answer in this eleventh chapter. He will deal with the first question in our text today - Are the Jews totally rejected by God, or partially? A general outline of our text would go something like this. The point Paul will make is the nature of God’s rejection of the Jews is partial, not complete. And he will make that point in two ways (1-6). Then, after this point, Paul will describe the nature of the hardening work of God on Israel’s hearts for their stubbornness in unbelief (7-10).

1) GOD HAD NOT REJECTED THE JEWISH PEOPLE ENTIRELY, BECAUSE PAUL HIMSELF WAS A JEW AND HAD BEEN REACHED BY GOSPEL GRACE - Romans 11:1 - “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.”

If ever there was a Jew who was rejecting God’s grace in Christ Jesus it was Paul. He was persecuting any and all who would dare to embrace Jesus Christ as the Messiah. So Paul knew what rejecting God’s grace and plan was all about. But finally Paul quit his fight. Quite literally, he saw the light. Finally he gave admittance to the truth. Finally he swallowed his pride in Jewish ancestry and law-righteousness. And God was faithful to forgive and commission him.

So had God abandoned the Jews totally? Were they beyond hope if they turned in repentance and embraced the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promise and plan? Were they completely beyond reach? Paul points to himself as proof that such was not the case. God had been merciful to this Pharisee, stubbornly basking in the false security of his ethnic Jewishness. God had redeemed and fulfilled untold purpose in Paul’s life. So, no, God had not totally cast off the Jewish people.

2) GOD HAD NOT REJECTED THE JEWS ENTIRELY BECAUSE THERE WAS STILL A FAITHFUL REMNANT OF BELIEVING JEWS IN PAUL’S DAY - Romans 11:2-5 - “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. 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.’ [4] But what is God's reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ [5] So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”

The simple point Paul makes is that Elijah had overestimated Israel’s apostasy. Certainly what Elijah said was true. Elijah knew that Israel had indeed repeatedly killed the very messengers sent to bring her the truth. Jesus accused Israel of the very same crimes. But where Elijah was wrong was in his assumption that he was the only loyalist left and that everyone else in Israel had abandoned God.

3) PAUL AGAIN OUTLINES THE PATHWAY BY WHICH ALL PEOPLE - JEWS INCLUDED - MUST COME TO GOD’S LOVE AND GRACE - Romans 11:5-6 - “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. [6] But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” The remnant in Israel stands by grace rather than works. God works through promise given and received by Abraham in faith, not by ethnic Judaism. So the remnant in Israel is a remnant of faith, called and sustained solely by God’s grace.

God’s purpose in the faithful remnant is to constantly display His salvation people as a people reached by His grace rather than their works. Right from first pronouncement of covenant with Abraham God made it clear Israel’s role was to display the greatness of God’s grace to the whole world. This plan had never changed. And because God is so anxious to display such marvelous grace to the whole world, He is faithful to sustain a remnant of grace among the Jewish people to this day.

If the Jewish remnant deserved their special place, then the whole witness to divine grace is shattered. One ounce of merit totally destroys grace - “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace”(11:6). Now we come to a very important transition point in today’s text. There is a reason Paul restates his central proposition about grace and works right at this point. Because just as surely as grace is a wonderful thing to accept, it is a terrible thing to reject. And Paul now goes on to explain what has happened to the majority of Jews in his day and ours.

4) JUST BECAUSE GRACE IS OFFERED FREELY DOESN’T MEAN IT CAN BE REJECTED WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE - It might be tempting to think of grace as any other gift in nature. Someone offers you something for free. You turn it down. No harm is done. It happens all the time in the give and take of life. But such, Paul will argue, is not the case when the gift is God’s grace: Romans 11:7-10 - “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, [8] 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.’[9] And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; [10] let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.’”

That “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking”(7a), is not a new idea for Paul - Romans 9:321-32, 10:2-3 - “....Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. [32] Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone....10:2-3....I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. [3] For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.” Paul is very clear. Israel wasn’t guilty of ignoring God. Like many in our world, she was religiously enamored with God. But for all her talk of devotion to God she was guilty of refusing His grace. And in refusing God’s unfolding revelation of grace, consummated and completed in Christ Jesus, come in the flesh, she not only rejected God’s grace, she candidated for His divine judgment.

Romans 11:7 - “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened....” These are striking words. They prove we need to be very careful when we talk about the “elect” in the letter to the Romans. It is used in different ways at different times. All Israel was elect in a certain sense. All Israel was “chosen” to be the recipients of many cherished blessings. Paul has already outlined the general blessings to the nation of Israel in Romans 9:4-5 - “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. [5] To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Such was God’s marvelous grace to all Israel.

But Paul used the term “elect” very differently in 11:7. In fact, he uses it to separate the elect from the rest of Israel - Romans 11:7 - “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened....” So, there is the “elect,” and then there is the “rest” of Israel. So yes, as we’ve already quoted from Psalm 94:14, God would never forsake His people - “For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage....” In other words, in the elect - the faithful remnant - God was faithful to His covenant promise to Abraham. He has, says Paul, always maintained a faithful remnant - a witness to His covenant of faith - among Israel. But now Paul goes on to describe another aspect of God’s work among Israel. And it’s a frightful one indeed: Romans 11:7 - “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened....”

And, to make his point clear, it’s at this point Paul makes use of his two Old Testament quotes. First, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 29:4. But to get the flow of the thought, we’ll quote Deuteronomy 29:2-4 - “And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: "You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, [3] the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. [4] But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” None of God’s revealed grace reached Israel’s heart!

Then, to make his point even more strongly, Paul jumps from Deuteronomy, which says God hadn’t given Israel heart to see these things, to a much stronger statement of the same idea from the prophet Isaiah - Isaiah 29:10 - “For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers).” Obviously Paul wants no confusion to remain on the divine nature of this judgment. It is God, by His own Spirit, who pours out this spiritual blindness on the majority of Israel. And we’re taken instantly back to Paul comments about Pharaoh in Romans 9:17-18 - “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Again we see God is no respecter of persons. Jew and Gentile alike are judged for not responding to degrees of grace and revelation received.

Finally, Paul turns his attention to the Psalms to make his final point in this passage: that there is now a huge dividing line running right through the people of Israel as a whole and the elect faithful remnant within Israel, the continuing line establishing the Church as the people of God - Psalm 69:8-9, 22-23 - “I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother's sons. [9] For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me....22-23....Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. [23] Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually.” The clue comes in the eighth verse of this sixty-ninth Psalm - “I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother's sons.” This is not a Psalm about the godly praying vengeance on the ungodly in general. It’s about a devout soul in Israel, a faithful follower of God, who feels persecuted and forsaken by his own people - fellow Jews. It’s a vivid picture of the very situation Paul was describing, many centuries earlier. And Paul’s whole point is surely Israel, if she cared one bit about God’s revelation, should have seen and learned and been warned! But because she wasn’t, she would become increasingly blind to the truth and she would have her back bent for the whips of others. While Paul’s application of these words is to a very specific historic situation in Israel, the abiding principle is grace is only beautiful when it’s received.