Sunday April 4th (Easter)
The other day I went to the library, and I asked the librarian if they carried a book called “How to deal with Rejection.”
She told me no, so I fell on the floor and started shaking and crying uncontrollably!
Rejection can be a difficult matter to deal with.
But fortunately for all of us, Romans chapter 11 is going to assure us that rejection is not part of God’s plan for our lives. Paul points that out in the very first verse:
I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? Far from it! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
The verb used here for rejected conveys the sense of vigorously pushing away, almost repulsion. Paul’s response to his own question is simply – Far from it!
God certainly hasn’t rejected or pushed away the Jewish people. And Paul uses himself as an example to prove his point.
He says “I too am an Israelite”. Paul’s lineage could be traced back to Abraham, through the line of Benjamin, which was the tribe in whose territory Jerusalem was and also the tribe of Saul, the first king of Israel. If God had rejected the Jewish people, Paul asks, then how did I get saved?
Then he continues to build his case for the salvation of Israel:
2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Paul says that God’s special love and His choosing of the nation of Israel as His own makes it unthinkable that He would reject them as a people, even though they have now rejected Him by rejecting His son, Jesus Christ.
But he brings up the example of Elijah to show that God always saves a remnant, or a portion, of His people in order to keep His promise to them alive. Verse 5 picks up on this same theme:
5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.
In Elijah’s time, when there was a great level of apostasy in Israel, there was still a remnant of faithful Israelites, proving that God had never fully rejected His people.
But the other key point about the remnant is that it only survived because or God’s faithfulness and grace. And that’s what Paul wants to emphasize next:
6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, since otherwise grace is no longer grace.
All throughout this letter to the Romans, the power of God’s grace is contrasted with the ineffectiveness of works of the law. It actually becomes the defining factor as to which of the Jewish people get saved. Paul keeps this thought going in verses 7-10
7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“May their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
10 May their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs continually.”
Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10; and Psalm 69:22-23 to describe a biblical process of people hardening their hearts by rejecting God’s grace and trying to obtain righteousness by their own works. And God allows them to harden their hearts because it fits in with His overall plan:
11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? Far from it! But by their wrongdoing salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.
According to Paul here in verse 11, the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jewish people is neither total nor final. Their rejection of Jesus has simply opened the door for the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles. And to complete the plan, God is going to use the salvation of the Gentiles to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy and envy over the Gentiles’ blessings in their relationship with Christ, which will ultimately lead to their salvation as well.
That’s why Paul says that they didn’t stumble in order that they might fall. The Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah is not irreversible.
Here’s how one commentary sums it up:
Paul sees a divine pattern and purpose behind the unbelief of the Jews. The pattern therefore, is as follows: (a) the transgression of the Jews has led to the justification of the Gentiles; (b) the salvation of the Gentiles will cause the Jews to envy; (c) the envy of the Jews will draw them to the same salvation as the Gentiles.
And how awesome is it going to be when God’s chosen nation comes back to Him through faith in Jesus! Paul expresses it this way:
12 Now if their wrongdoing proves to be riches for the world, and their failure, riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!
The phrase “their fulfillment” signifies the Jewish people’s acceptance of Jesus as their messiah and their restoration to God.
And Paul wants these Gentile Christians in Rome to not lose sight of the fact that God still has a plan for the nation of Israel. He says in verse 13-15:
13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Therefore insofar as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 if somehow I may move my own people to jealousy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection proves to be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
In Paul’s view, the Jewish rejection of Jesus was a blessing to the Gentiles because it allowed them to be reconciled to God by faith in Jesus. But the return of the Jewish people back to God through their own faith in Jesus will be an even greater cause for celebration, because it will be as though they were brought back to life from the dead!
Then Paul uses two analogies to remind the Gentiles that they are only “adopted” into God’s family, whereas the Jewish nation was born into God’s family:
16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are as well. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
The people would have understood the concept of a wild olive shoot being grafted into a cultivated tree. This was a common practice. But what his point here is that the Gentiles should “not be arrogant”, because since their salvation is entirely by God’s grace, they have no cause for criticizing or looking down on their Jewish neighbors. In fact, Paul warns them that if they get prideful about their salvation, that pride might become a stumbling block for them, just like it was for the Pharisees and others who trusted in their own self-righteousness.
Look how Paul explains it in verses 19-22:
19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 See then the kindness and severity of God: to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; for otherwise you too will be cut off.
The breaking off of the Jewish branches was an act of God’s judgment based on their unbelief, and the grafting in of the Gentiles was an act of God’s grace. It is certainly not based on any superior quality that God saw in the Gentiles.
Therefore, these Gentile believers are urged to take seriously the kindness of God’s character and not to take it for granted. Because God still desires to show that same kindness to the Jewish people:
23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
Again Paul emphasizes that the cutting off of Israel was simply because of their unbelief, and not because the Gentiles were better qualified, or had earned the right to be a part of God’s olive tree.
And God fully intends to bring those of Jewish heritage back into His chosen olive tree, even though how that is going to be fulfilled is still a mystery:
25 For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
There has been some discussion of what Paul means when he says that “all Israel” will be saved.
But based upon what the previous verses have indicated, it might be fair to say that Paul is proclaiming how God will, in the future, bring such widespread salvation to the Jewish people that it can be said in essence that “all Israel will be saved”.
It could also mean “all (spiritual) Israel,” that is, all of God’s chosen people, both Jewish and Gentile.
In that context, that we were all once unsaved, and therefore were once enemies of God, we should never see the Jewish people as our enemies:
28 In relation to the gospel they are enemies on your account, but in relation to God’s choice they are beloved on account of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Paul says the gifts, the calling, the promises of God are irrevocable. If God promised to send a messiah to save the nation of Israel, then He will certainly fulfill that promise!
30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience, so that He may show mercy to all.
Paul’s explanation of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles concludes by stressing that Jews and Gentiles are united by two things: they both struggled with the disobedience of sin, and they both can only be saved by the grace and mercy of God.
And that grace and mercy – wow! What an unfathomable gift we have been given!
33 Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him, that it would be paid back to him? 36 For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Listen to how a commentary sums up those final verse:
Having drawn together the various strands of his argument, Paul now responds in lyrical fashion with a song of praise that reaches heights that correspond to the depth of concern he had sounded. God’s dealings with Jew and Gentile display a cross-section of His majesty in which His sovereign will (“from him”), His sovereign activity (“through him”) and His sovereign glory (“to him”) are richly displayed.
And the greatest display of God’s sovereign will, action, and glory are all found in the cross that Jesus hung on, for the forgiveness of all sinners, Jews and Gentiles alike, and the empty tomb that pronounced His victory, once and for all, over the curse of sin and death!
To Him be the glory forever and ever!