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The wild olive branch proclaiming the Word of Faith

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We are picking back up today where we left off last week at Romans 10 and verse 5. We need to get a bit of a head start, a little momentum if you will in order to climb the hill of understanding of what Paul is arguing here at chapter 10 and through chapter 11, which will be our goal today. Looking back in to chapter 9:6-29, Paul focused on two Old Testament themes to explain how the promises of God have always been to a “righteous Remnant” of people within ethnic Israel and inclusive of Gentiles. He spoke of the promises to Abraham being given on account of God’s divine choice or election and then citing Hosea and Isiah reinforced this thought. Paul emphasized that these promises were established on the premise of God’s sovereign choice and accomplished by the will and work of God. Summary: Theme 1, the promises were to a remnant. Theme 2, the choice of the remnant was God’s. This message was given by Paul to a Jewish audience much more familiar with the Old Testament than we are today. This is evident in the fact that Paul, who authored 13 of the 29 NT books or letters cites from the OT more frequently in Romans 9-11 than any other author anywhere in the NT. In fact, fully a third of all of Paul’s OT references from all 13 books, that’s nearly half of the NT, happen in just these three chapters. So, in Chapter 9:30 through 10:21, Paul is explaining something to the Jewish community in Rome. Last week we studied through 10:5 where we found that Jesus was the “end” of the Mosaic Law. That word end, telos in 10:4 expresses ideas both of termination, as in reaching your destination, and of completion or fulfillment. There is a famous argument for the existence of God, the teleological argument, that gets its name from this rood word, telos. It is sometimes referred to as the intelligent design argument because it considers the way everything works together with an apparent purpose; the universe is filled with things that have meaningful fit that accomplishes things rather than just random order such that when you think about the whole, there is this inescapable sense that things are working out according to the way they were designed to work out. That is what Paul is saying about the Law, it was given by God to show man they were sinners and that God is holy, and that it was not possible to fulfill the law for man, but God came as man and did accomplish all the law required. Then God, that is Jesus, paid the penalty for the transgressions He was not guilty of on our behalf. This is what the prophets had been pointing to, yet here beginning in chapter 10 and verse 5, we see that Paul is going to explain that the Jewish people as a whole had missed the point. We read: 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); Two things we should note here. First, as a Jew of that time we would recognize Paul is using 2 very traditional ways of speaking and teaching to a Jewish audience here. Speech-in-character and Hebrew pesher. The speech-in-character contrasts what Moses wrote regarding righteousness based on the law with what with what the righteousness based on faith has to say. According to Moses the person who does the commandments shall live by them, quoting Lev. 18:5. Paul has already argued repeatedly, vociferously, convincingly, polemically, conclusively, irrefutably, and whatever adverb you can think of that no-one has ever done this. Apart from Jesus himself, and for Jesus, the Law did bring life. The speech-in character for righteousness based on faith introduces the Hebrew pesher form. Pesher is a line-by-line rabbinic teaching method where the interpretation is explained after each line by the formulaic expression “that is” which we see in 10:6, 7, and 8. Paul is explaining quotations from Deut. 30: 12, 13, and 14 respectively and in doing he is taking them out of their original interpretation and making a New Testament application. That application is that it is no longer the word of the law, the Torah, that is very close to God’s people, but now that the Messiah has come it is the word of faith, the Gospel, that is close to God’s people. Incidentally, you and I do not have the freedom to do this with the OT Scripture, we must exegete, that is apply the original historical-grammatical meaning of a passage as would have been understood by the original hearer to ourselves today. Paul continues to explain why it is that the word of faith is so close to God’s people today: 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” First of all, let me explain one more bit of historical importance that matters when we try and understand what Paul is explaining here. At the time of writing, Rome held a very high view of their Caesar, so much so that he was considered to be a God. There was a common phrase Romans were expected to repeat in allegiance to their leader, Kaiser kyrios, which means Caesar is Lord. Think back to the rallies held in Nazi Germany where with outstretched scarlet swastika clad arms masses of people shouted out “Heil Hitler.” This is similar in idea. However, followers of Christ, understanding that kyrios is attributing to a man the character and title that can only be applied right to God Himself, Christians balked at this. There is a record from the 2nd century of an 86-year-old man, Polycarp who was serving as the bishop in Smyrna, that refused to utter the words and he was publicly executed for it. This was serious business to confess Christos kyrios. So, with that understanding, we have to recognize this is not a formula given by Paul to stand up and say some special words and voilà the vending machine god ejects a saved soul out the bottom of his celestial vending machine for you. Look again at the verses, notice Paull is talking about a belief or faith that is deep, deeper than ethnic division and more effective than mere words. They produce actions. The reformers spoke of three levels of deepening that happen when a person becomes justified or saved as we like to say today. First there was the noticia, that is the information of the good news of salvation. You had to know what it was that you were to believe. This then led to assensus, that is intellectual agreement with the truthfulness of the content of the noticia. This is what James in 2:19 referred to about the demons writing, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” But we are not called to shudder, we are called to repent from our sins, that is to turn from thinking our ways are correct and towards the ways of God. When we do that, God’s words of faith are right there behind us. No matter how far or deep or ugly our sin has gotten us to. There is no darkness so dark that it will not give way to even the smallest light. In fact, the darker it is, the more pronounced even a small light becomes. But we aren’t turning to a tiny fleck of flame, but towards the eternal light, the universal light, the creator of light Himself. We are called to what the reformers called fiducia, that is trusting personally in the person of Jesus and Him alone for our salvation. Let me illustrate, think of a child standing at the edge of a 3-meter diving board. That is roughly 9 feet, 10 and 7/64th inches above the water. You ask the child to jump and promise that you will be there, so they won’t get hurt. You can explain how you will make sure they don’t hit their head on the bottom of the pool, that you will lift them up out of the water if they get confused about which way is up or any number of other ways you will be there for them. This is noticia, the information. The child may agree that you are able to do these things, he may examine your CPR card, see that you’re a good swimmer, watch you dive several times off the board and understand that you can do the thing you have promised to do. This is assensus. The kid is still not jumping off of the board, but when she does finally repent and dives into the pool what is her reaction? She proclaims with excitement “I did it! I did it!” That heartfelt unstoppable exclamation of joy is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of the person who calls on the name of the Lord, who confesses with their mouth. It is not a work or a formula, but a response to an inward change in being that comes from having faith in Christ. Paul explains this in 14-15 writing: 14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” This preaching, the delivery of the good news, the fancy seminary word is kerygma, is not restricted to the agency of professional ministers, this is meant to be all who are saved. And by referring back to Isaiah, Paul is making it clear that this message has already gone out to all of those Jews Paul has in mind through prophecy. Sadly, though, he has to observe that Isaiah in 52:13-53:12 also prophesied: 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Here again Paul has adapted the OT message in Isaiah 53:1a to apply specifically to the word of Christ. Also note, this Greek term for word is not logos, it is rhema which usually means the words are spoken. They are delivered, transmitted, shared in a public way between people not static, subdued, present but not applied as in a book that is never opened, let alone read, or better yet shared. Even still Paul has to ask rhetorically: 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” Paul expects his Jewish audience to answer that they have not heard, but he points out the same reasoning he introduced the letter with by citing from Ps. 19:4 that the creation itself has revealed God to them. That leads to the next logical question: 19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” Maybe they heard and understood from creation, but maybe they didn’t get the assensus, that is the understanding part down. Again, the way Paul asks the question here he is anticipating a positive response. This is a technical Greek language format, but we do the same thing in English by adding the term “right,” or “didn’t you?” to the end of a question. For example, Dawn might ask me “You took the trash out to the curb last night, didn’t you?” And of course, the only correct answer is… But in this case to answer the question in verse 19 Paul points his Jewish audience all the way back to the Song of Moses found in Deut. 32:21 to show them that it is Moses who first understand that his people would not understand God’s redemptive program and that God would then use the Gentiles to stir up jealousy in them. And even though the Gentiles did not come seeking after God, God still purposed to find them, yet Israel would not change their hearts back towards God even when this occurred. It was always the belief element that was missing, never the hearing or the understanding. Paul cites Isaiah: 20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” 21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” So, If Israel the ethnic nation chosen by God refused to repent, failed to recognize their Messiah what does that mean for Israel, or the Gentiles for that matter if their salvation was intended to draw back Israel to God? Paul answers these questions in 11:1-32 beginning with: 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. 2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Paul makes a pretty good point here, much like he does when he argues in 1 Cor. 15:13-15 for the truth of the resurrection by pointing to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. Here he simply points to his own heritage and shows that God has no rejected His people. He gives more argumentation: 2b 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. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. Notice again in this account that Paul points to that he credits God’s sovereignty and choice to God’s graciousness towards people. That introduces a difficult pill for us to swallow, yet alone for those who felt like they were born into the promise of privilege because of their genial affiliation with Abraham. Paul defends this position in verses 7-10 by quoting from Moses, Isaiah, and David: 7 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.” (Deut. 29:4, Isa. 29:10) 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.” (Ps. 69:22-23) So, these three great witnesses testify against national Israel that they have failed to obtain God’s free gift of righteousness because of their spiritual stupor and blindness. And was this pointless or punitive by God Paul then asks: 11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! The reasoning Paul is making is that in some way, the lament Jesus had over Jerusalem after pronouncing seven woes on the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:37-39 really will work out for good as Paul earlier argued in chapter 8. Hear the words of Jesus: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Paul considers that this rejection of Jesus by Jerusalem had allowed for the planned inclusion of the Gentiles in large number into the rolls of the called and redeemed, but how should we as Gentiles respond to that? 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? Paul seems to be thinking of some future mass conversion of the majority of Israel, not yet happened. He demonstrates this small to large idea: 16 If the dough offered as first-fruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And he warns us, as Gentile believers not to assume on our new-found position as heirs in Christ as if we have somehow done something better or been more deserving than ethnic Israel. There will be no “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” attitude in heaven. Paul is moderately more eloquent than that and uses the following warning to caution against the attitude: 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Paul makes the point that if God graciously chose for us according to the council of His will, then we should respond to that with graciousness also. The spirit of haughtiness will be rejected by God, and it is His prerogative to do so. How should we see this? 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. 25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Paul want us to keep in the center of our minds that awareness that we are members of Christ’s body and as such are recipients of an attitude of kindness from God. This deserves a reciprocal response from us, note that God is not required by us to respond in kind, WE are. This attitude of kindness is still extended out to that part of Israel that was not a part of the remnant that believed at the time Paul wrote Romans. This is dependent not on their keeping the Law, but on belief because God has the power to “graft them in” just as he did with us the Gentiles. And second, we should not be wise or haughty in our own eyes on account of God having chosen us to glorify Himself. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; 27 “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” This major conversion of ethnic Jews to recognize their Messiah, our Lord Jesus is still in the future. The expression “all Israel” here does not indicate that Jewish people will somehow be saved apart from believing in Christ as the Messiah, who gave Himself up as the propitiation of the wrath of the Father in order to pay the just penalty of sin for those who will believe. Neither does it indicate that there is some hope for those who have died outside of this saving faith merely because they belong to a certain ethnic group. The point is that in the past Got has restored His remnant to Himself by bringing up nations to enslave them, exile them, conquer them. This time when God sent the to the woods to fetch their proverbial olive branch, when they brought it back, instead of swatting them with it he loved the wild olive branch, grafted it into Himself by grace through faith in order that His covenant people would be jealous, turn from their sin in faith, and be restored to the Kingdom that is so very close to them. Look at Isaiah 59:20, it reads “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD. Remember in Romans 9:33 where God said he was going to lay in Zion a stone of stumbling, well here in 11:27 that stone comes out from Zion, not to Zion, in order to redeem the Jews who will have faith after the fulness of the Gentiles have been grafted into the root. This is why Paul still holds out hope for his people, the Jews writing 28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. This is truly greater than we can comprehend. You’re telling me Paul, that somehow God ordained that some would disbelieve that Jesus was the Messiah in order that we might be grafted into the Kingdom, and that this inclusion on our part would actually work out to bring back the people who did not believe who you were in the first place? And all of this was done so that you could show how glorious and sovereign you are above all of creation? And that somehow God has stitched together every political movement, every selfish desire of the heart of man, every compassionate act of mercy, every natural disaster and fruitful harvest season in such a way that humankind is responsible for their actions and yet you God get the glory? How are we supposed to respond to a God who has planned to bring salvation to all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike, with no distinction in the way they are brought into the Kingdom, or amount of glory we bring to You once in that Kingdom? Paul answers that with this closing doxology, and it is insightful for us. I don’t know about you, but when I am met with divinity it often challenges my feelings of pride, will, and self-sufficiency. I might cry out in my heart just a little bit that it isn’t fair, or it isn’t what I would have done. It is no wonder that Paul reflects the words of Isaiah as he is recalling the greatness of God in chapter 40:13 and Job when he is hearing from God about how magnificent, awesome, and great is our God in 41:11, Hear the words of praise from Paul: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. OK, let’s review quickly what we have heard from Paul and see what the application is for us. The first application is that now that Jesus has fulfilled the Law, it is no longer the Law which is very near to us, but the word of faith. That is as soon as we repent and trust in Christ, he is faithful to meet us right where we are. There is no amount of growing or cleaning ourselves up that needs to happen before Jesus is willing to testify to the Father that He died upon the cross for us. But that testimony from Jesus is not merely lip service, it was expensive, and likewise our testimony of having faith in Christ cannot be spurious if it is to be meaningful to God. It is not merely intellectual knowledge of the facts, nor agreement with them. Our testament of Christos kyrios, Jesus is Lord, must be motivated from a real faith, a faith that produces Godly fruit. If you are not a believer today, right here in this room, God has promised He is not far from you. If you will turn to Him, He has promised to be faithful to be right there waiting for you with open arms. The second application is that we know the principle mission we have been given as believers is to share our faith, share how God has changed you, what it means to have faith. This expression and subsequent conversions will bring more people to the face of God, and in so doing, the covenant community of God, the Israelites will have less and less excuse for their hard-heartedness as they grow in jealousy of the blessing God has for the ingrafted ethnic Gentiles who share with all the rights privileges and responsibilities thereunto appertaining. We are to be missional people. At some point, unknown to us how this will work out, but nonetheless faithful that it will, the hearts of many Jewish people will be softened from that jealousy and they too, with graciously given faith in Christ as their Messiah, will repent and join back with God’s Kingdom. The third application is that because all of this was foreordained to glorify God, so we too should recognize this magnificence and give praise and glory to God.
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