God Is Not Finished With Me Yet
Romans – A Gospel Shaped Life God Is Not Finished With Me Yet Romans 11:1-10 Pastor Pat Damiani January 6, 2019 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. A couple of years ago we left off in our study of the book of Romans right in the middle of chapter 8. So when we came back to our study almost 2 years later, it was really hard to pick up where we left off. So because I don’t want to make that same mistake again, we’re going to spend the next four weeks looking at Romans chapter 11 before we move on and spend much of our year in the gospel accounts of Jesus this year. That is because Romans chapters 9-11 make up one cohesive unit in Paul’s letter. Hopefully you’ll remember that the question that Paul is dealing with in this section is whether the fact that most of the Jews have rejected Jesus as the Messiah means that God’s plan for Israel has been thwarted. And Paul answers that question with an emphatic “no!”. In chapter 9, Paul makes the point that God’s plan has not been thwarted at all because Israel’s unbelief is part of God’s sovereign plan. And then in chapter 10, he focuses on the fact that Israel’s failure to put their faith in Jesus is a result of their own choices. So in those two chapters, we find the sometimes uneasy balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s ability to make choices. In chapter 11, Paul is going to deal with the question that flows logically from what he has written in chapters 9 and 10: Is God through with Israel? I don’t know about you, but on the surface at least, that question doesn’t seem to have a lot of relevance to me because, at least as far as I know, I’m not Jewish. What does the future of Israel have to do with how to have a good marriage, or how to raise my kids, or how to be wise in the handling of my finances, or how to be successful in my job, or how to deal with my health problems or other difficulties that I’m facing in life? First of all, while the Bible certainly does address all of those issues, that is not its primary purpose. The Bible, and our relationship with God is not mainly about us at all – it is about God. But even beyond that, there are a couple of very practical reasons that the answer to that question is actually very relevant to our lives. First, the underlying issue that Paul is going to deal with in this chapter is can God’s promises fail? Because if God’s promises for Israel can fail that means that all of God’s promises to us, including the promises in Romans 8 that God will work all things together for my good or that nothing can separate me from the love of Christ can fail, too. So the crucial underlying issue here is can I trust God to keep His promises? The second underlying question here is whether God is going to forsake me when I fail Him, which I will inevitably do. If God is through with Israel because of their rebellion and unbelief, then how can I possibly be sure that God won’t reject me like that, too? Before we read our passage this morning, I want to address one important issue that you have probably either already experienced in your walk with Jesus or you will in the future. There are some people who hold to what is known as “replacement theology” or supersessionism”. Although there are several different forms of this theology, its basic teaching is that the church has replaced, or superseded, Israel in God’s plan and that therefore the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament are now promises to the church. Unfortunately, especially when taken to an extreme, replacement theology has historically led to anti-Semitism and great persecution of the Jewish people. Near the end of his life even Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, wrote a work titled “On the Jews and Their Lies” in which he urged that synagogues and Jewish schools should be burned to the ground, Jewish people run out of their homes, their prayer books and Talmudic writings burned and the rabbis forbidden to preach or teach on penalty of death. I firmly believe the passage that we’ll read this morning, very clearly refutes any such teaching. [Read Romans 11:1-10] Here is the main idea that I want all of us to take away from this passage this morning: In order to firmly cement this truth in our minds, the first thing we must do this morning is to get a frim grasp on the idea that God has not rejected Israel. We need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is not finished with Israel yet. He has not pushed them aside in favor of the church. Because only once we are assured of that truth can we then extend it to our own lives and be assured that even when we mess up, God is not finished with us either. As Paul has done frequently in this section of his letter, he begins with a question. Like many of the other questions he has posed previously, the structure of the question in the underlying Greek implies that the answer to the question is “no”. So the question is really something more like “God hasn’t rejected His people, has He?” And Paul answers that question with the same phrase he has used frequently in this letter and in some of his other letters. The ESV consistently translates that phrase “By no means!” In Greek, that is the most forceful way he could answer the question. With that phrase, he is expressing the idea that the question itself is so absurd that it shouldn’t even be asked. And then to reinforce his answer, Paul gives… FOUR PROOFS THAT GOD HAS NOT REJECTED ISRAEL 1. Paul Paul first cites himself to prove that God is not done with Israel. Paul was in Israelite himself, a descendent of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. We know from what Paul reveals in Philippians 3 and what we read in Acts 22 that he was a Pharisee who had studied under the famous Jewish rabbi Gamaliel. So there was no doubt about his credentials as an Israelite. The implication here is that because God had not rejected Paul, then no one could claim that He had rejected the entire nation of Israel. But I think Paul is saying even more than that. He is pointing out that the way he was converted through faith in Jesus would be the same way that God will one day bring Israel as a people to Himself. We’ll see that more clearly as we get to the end of chapter 11. 2. God’s foreknowledge We came across the concept of foreknowledge earlier in Romans 8:29. Although we tend to think of foreknowledge as knowing something before it happens, the Biblical concept of foreknowledge is more than that. It doesn’t just mean to know something before it happens, but rather to determine it. Perhaps the best way to define foreknowledge is “a predetermination to love.” The underlying Greek word is a compound word consisting of the prefix “pro”, which means “prior” or “before” and the verb ginosko, which means “to know”. It is the same Greek verb which is often used to describe the intimate, physical relationship between a man and his wife. It’s the word Matthew used in the passage we read just a few weeks ago when he wrote that Joseph took Mary to be his wife, but “knew her not” until after Jesus was born. So the idea that Paul is conveying here is that God made a predetermination to love His own people and because God is always faithful to carry out His purposes, therefore it is not possible that God has rejected or pushed away Israel. That idea is clearly expressed in these words recorded by the prophet Amos: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; (Amos 3:2 ESV) However, as we’ve already seen in this section of Paul’s letter, not all Israel is the true Israel. As he will confirm once again with his next proof, Paul has consistently pointed out that only a portion, or a remnant, of those who are descended from Abraham are actually God’s children and heirs to His promises. 3. Elijah For those of you who may not be familiar with the story of Elijah that Paul cites here, let me give you a brief summary. Elijah was a prophet of God during some very dark times for Israel. A vile, wretched, evil woman named Jezebel had married Ahab, the king of Israel and become the queen of Israel at the same time she was also a priestess of the pagan god Baal. After God used Elijah to defeat the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, Jezebel became furious and vowed to kill Elijah. Elijah fled to a cave near Mount Horeb, where he begged God to take his life because he thought he was the only faithful Israelite left. But God revealed to Elijah that there was still a remnant of 7,000 people in Israel that had not rejected God and worshiped Baal. That was certainly a very small percentage of the entire Israelite people, but it was nonetheless a significant enough remnant to carry on God’s work. And in Paul’s day, there was still a remnant of Israel who remained faithful to God by putting their faith in Jesus. When Jesus came to the earth, Israel as a people and especially the religious leaders rejected Jesus. But all along there had still been a remnant who followed Him. It began with Simeon and Anna who recognized Jesus as the Messiah in the temple only weeks after he had been born. There was John the Baptist and the apostles, who were all Jews. There were the 3,000 Jews who put their faith in Jesus on the day of Pentecost and thousands more in the days that followed. While those numbers were small in comparison to the number of Gentiles in the church by the time Paul wrote this letter, the fact that there was still a remnant of faithful Jews proved that God was still not done with Israel yet. Paul is careful to once again point out that this remnant was chosen not on the basis of works, but on the basis of grace. Before the foundation of the world God had predetermined to love a remnant of Israelites as part of His plan to preserve His godly seed and to fulfill His promise to bless Israel and to bless all the nations of the world through the Messiah who would come from among them. He chose that remnant, not based on anything that they did, but only as a result of His grace. He saved them not because they chose Him, but because He chose them and they responded to God’s grace in faith. 4. Scripture In verse 7, Paul reaffirms a point he made earlier: Although Israel as a nation had failed to obtain what they were seeking – righteousness based on obeying the Law – there was a remnant that had attained righteousness as a result of God extending His grace to them. But the rest of the Israelites had become hardened. As we saw earlier when we looked at the illustration of Pharaoh in Romans 9, that hardening is the result of a continual process of willfully rejecting God. And Paul quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures to show that this is nothing new. It is what God had intended all along. It is interesting here that Paul quotes from all three sections of the Old Testament: • The Law. He quotes the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 29:4 • The Prophets. He quotes the words of Isaiah from Isiah 29:10 • The Writings. He quotes the words of David from Psalm 69:22-23, from a well-known Messianic Psalm. Paul is using the Scripture to prove the point he has been making in this entire section that runs from chapter 9 through chapter 11. God is not surprised that all but a small remnant of Israel has rejected the gospel and Jesus. In fact, it fits right into the prophetic plan that was revealed by Moses and Isaiah and David, among others. Paul’s point here is actually pretty clear – God has certainly not rejected or forsaken or replaced Israel. As we will see as we continue here in Romans 11 and as we see in a multitude of prophecies throughout the Old Testament that clearly pertain to Israel as a people, God’s is not finished with Israel and He will ultimately fulfill every single promise He has made to them. Even if we didn’t have Paul’s letter to confirm that idea, the very fact that Israel even exists as a nation and as a people today is pretty good evidence that God isn’t finished with them. Think about it. How has this tiny remnant survived as a people from ancient times when all their contemporaries, most of them much larger and more powerful, no long exist as a distinct people? The only thing that can explain that is that God still has a plan for Israel. I think we’ve done a pretty thorough job of accomplishing our first task – to prove that God has not rejected Israel and that He is not finished with them yet. But how about the last part of our main idea? How does knowing that God has not rejected Israel give me the assurance that God isn’t finished with me yet? Let me share with you two very practical things that we can all do to be able to take this idea that God is not finished with Israel and make it relevant to us by developing in each of our lives the confidence that God is not finished with me yet. HOW TO BE CONFIDENT THAT GOD IS NOT FINISHED WITH ME YET 1. Live based on what I know, not on what I feel Even after all that Paul wrote to the Roman Jews in his letter, there still weren’t very many of them who put their faith in Jesus. And I think one of the main reasons for that is that their own human traditions and what they thought they knew about God were so ingrained that even the truth that Paul was teaching them was not enough to overcome that. So they were living based on what they felt, even when that was not the truth. And if we’re not careful, we can live according to what we feel and what we think we know, too. There are obviously many ways we can do that, but this morning I want to focus on the one that is most relevant to today’s passage. We can feel like a lot of the Jews felt about Israel and think that because of something we’ve done, or something we didn’t do that we should have – some sin or rebellion against God – that somehow means that God is now done with us and can’t use us any longer. But, as we’ve seen this morning, that wasn’t true for Israel and it’s not true for us either. So let’s go back to the two questions we posed at the beginning of the message and answer them based on what we have learned this morning from the Bible: Question #1: Can I trust God to keep His promises? Answer: God always keeps His promises While there are some conditional promises in the Bible, I’m talking here primarily about the promises in Romans 8 – the promise that God will cause all things to work together for our good and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. If God did not break His promises to Israel because of their rebellion and disobedience, then we can know that He can and will keep those promises to us. Question #2: Will God forsake me when I fail Him? Answer: If I could “undo” God’s grace, then it wouldn’t be grace If you have put your faith in Jesus, then, by definition, you are God’s “chosen” and God has extended His grace to you because in His complete sovereignty, He predetermined to love you. You did nothing to earn or deserve that and therefore there is nothing you can do to cause God to forsake you and take away or undo His grace. If that were the case, then it really wouldn’t be grace, would it? 2. Be a channel not a bucket One of the main reasons that most Israelites had rejected Jesus is because they misunderstood what it meant to be God’s chosen people. Every good Jew was familiar with the promise that God had made to Abraham back in Genesis 12: And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2–3 ESV) The problem is that they only focused on the part where God promised to make them into a great nation and to bless them. And so they viewed themselves as a bucket that was to be filled up with God’s blessings that were merely for their own benefit. But they had forgotten about or ignored the rest of what God said to Abraham. They had lost sight of the fact that God wanted to bless them so that they could be a conduit, or a channel, through which God would pass on His blessings to all the nations of the earth. As a result, they became a very proud people who considered themselves to be superior to all the other nations of the earth. And that is largely why they were not willing to humble themselves and submit their lives to a Jewish Savior who was largely being embraced by the Gentiles. I think that is largely the point Paul is making in verse 9 when he quotes from Palm 69 about how the table of the Jews has become a trap and a snare. As we talked about last week when we observed the Lord’s table, the table represents a place of fellowship and a place to experience God’s blessings. And for the Jews that fellowship that excluded the Gentiles just reinforced their thinking that God’s blessings were just for them and not to be passed on to the Gentiles, too. While it is easy for us to sit here this morning and fault the Israelites for being so self-centered, we can easily fall into the same trap. It’s pretty easy to spot some of the more blatant abuses. Movements like the prosperity gospel or the “name it and claim it” theology are obviously primarily focused on God’s promises and blessings for me. But one of the dangers of those movements, other than the fact that they tend to twist Scripture, is that when those promises fail to come to fruition the way that people think they should, it becomes very easy to conclude that God is done with them or doesn’t love them anymore. But for most of us the tendency to be a bucket rather than a channel is much more subtle. This week I went to Amazon and typed in the words “God’s promises” and over 4,000 results popped up just in the book section. Several of those books were a collection of 365 promises – one for each day of the year. And there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with any of those books or with being encouraged by the promises of God every day. But the problem occurs when we begin to appropriate those promises personally without any thought of how we might enable others to experience those same promises. Another way we can be a bucket rather than a channel is with our material possessions. When God prospers us financially most of us would consider that to be a blessing, right? But when God blesses us like that, He usually doesn’t do that just for our own good. He wants us to take and pass that blessing on to others. Paul wrote about that in his second letter to the church in Corinth: He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10–11 ESV) Paul is clear here that it is God who supplies our material resources. And when He does that in abundance, it is so that we can be generous with others. When we get our eyes of just ourselves and we begin to focus on how we can be a blessing to others, it’s pretty hard to start thinking that God might be done with me. Back in the 1980’s I had one of these buttons that were made popular by a well-known ministry: [Show PBPGINFWMY button] While I am not necessarily a proponent of everything that particular ministry advocated, I’m not sure that it wouldn’t be helpful for all of us to wear a button like that today to remind us of what we’ve learned today. Please Be Patient God Is Not Finished With Me Yet As we begin this new year, I want to encourage all of us to take some concrete steps each week to help us apply what we’re learning. So I’m going to provide a place in your sermon outline each week for you to write down three things at the end of the message: What did I learn about God today? What I learn about myself today? What do I need to do in response to what I’ve learned? I’m going to do this each week because I know that we are most likely to actually make changes in our lives when we consider them carefully and put them into writing. The act of writing something down helps us to remember it and act on it. I recognize that not everyone is going to have something to write down in response to all three of those questions every week. That’s okay. Just write down what God is impressing on your heart. I also know that it’s very possible that some of you will need some more time to think about and pray over the message before you will know what you need to write down. So I encourage you to take your sermon outline home with you and fill it out during the week. Discussion Questions for Bible Roundtable 1. Have you ever heard the term “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” before? What do you think of that idea in light of today’s passage? 2. What are some specific promises that God has made to Israel, and not to the church, that will be fulfilled in the future? 3. Have you ever felt like Elijah? How did you deal with those feelings? 4. Why is it important to live based on what I know (from the Bible) rather than what I feel? How do I do that practically? 5. How do I overcome the tendency to be a bucket rather than a channel for God’s blessings?