Big Idea: God is Sovereign, despite Human Responsibility
Intro: Well morning friends, visitors and those watching on line. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue to think about what Paul means when he says in Romans 11:26 “All Israel will be saved.” We know Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. But (in the present time) not many Jews believe in Jesus. So, in Romans 9-11, Paul wrestles with the question what happened to the Jews and what does their future hold?
Well (in previous weeks) I explained that Romans 9-11 are some of the hardest chapters in the Bible – because Paul explains that God is in control of absolutely everything AND yet man is still responsible for the choices he makes. This is hard to understand.
To give you an example – we may think about the US ELECTION in 2 weeks-time. At one level the next President of the US will be determined by the people. They will all go to the polls on Tuesday 3rd of November, cast their vote and end up with the President they choose. But at a higher level God has already determined who the next President will be? This is what the Bible says (SLIDE 2: Dan.2:20-21; Rom.13:1).
Or we could think about CORONAVIRUS. On the one hand we can say MAN IS RESPONSIBLE for the spread of coronavirus. Scientists are pretty confident coronavirus came from the way wet-markets are run in China. The virus jumped (most probably from the butchering of bats) to human beings. Then because the World Health Organization failed to declare a pandemic and because Governments failed to close borders – the coronavirus spread around the world. So, we could say man is responsible for the spread of coronavirus. But God says, he is responsible for such things. (Slide 3; Jer.24:10; Ezek.14:10).
The fact that A) man is responsible for his actions and yet B) God is Sovereign in all things means that our attitudes and answers to certain questions in life needs to be very THOUGHTFUL.
Maybe Trump has been President for the last four years because that’s who the people elected. But maybe God gave us President Trump to remind us that only Jesus can really drain the swamp of politics and corruption. Perhaps, God is also using coronavirus to bring us all to our knees. Sure we can pray for a cure. But perhaps, it’s actually better from an eternal point of view – that coronavirus keeps man humble a bit longer. God gives grace to the humble not the proud. God comforts those who mourn with the truth of the gospel.
So today we continue to think about the Jews from both 1) a human perspective and 2) a divine Sovereignty PERSECTIVE. If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah why do so few Jews believe in him AND what does their future hold? My three-point sermon today follows this pattern (Slide 4).
Point 1: Did the Jews fail to hear the Gospel?
Show: Rom.10:16-18 (READ)
Explain: Well in Romans 9 – we focussed on God’s Sovereignty AND in Romans 10 – we really focus on man’s responsibility. TWO WEEKS AGO – Matt G explained that from a human perspective – the reason so few Jews are saved is A) they STUMBLED on Jesus. It was hard for them to accept a crucified messiah. What’s more, from a human perspective B) the Jews also rejected Jesus – because they thought they could get to heaven by obeying the laws of Moses. So instead of trusting in Jesus, they trusted in their good works for salvation.
Of course, if good works could really get us to heaven – God wouldn’t have sent Jesus to die for us. He would have just said “try harder.” NO, WE ALL NEED JESUS TO SAVE US. So Matt G explained that from a HUMAN PERSPECTIVE the reason why so few Jews trust in Jesus, is because they still think good works is enough to get to heaven.
Then (last week), Tomer also explained that Christian faith comes from hearing the message about Jesus. THE NORMAL WAY a person becomes a Christian is by hearing the good news about Jesus. (GOSPEL) In order to be saved we need to believe that Jesus died for our sins. We couldn’t save ourselves by good works. So, God sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin. When Jesus died on the cross he did the time for our crime. (Let me say you should thank Jesus for doing that for you). When we accept Jesus as our Saviour and believe in him as our Lord – God forgives us. This is the normal way people become Christians. So we should continue sharing the gospel with Jews.
But this then raises ANOTHER QUESTION. If faith comes from hearing the gospel message is the main reason why so few Jews are saved because they haven’t heard the gospel? This is the question Paul begins to answer at the end of Romans 10. Look with me again at verse 16 (READ – Rom.10:16-18).
Notice Paul asks the question; “Did they (the Jews) not hear?” Given what Paul has just said – we might conclude; the Jews don’t believe in Jesus because they have not heard about Jesus. BUT LOOK AT PAUL’S ANSWER. He says in verse 18 “Of course, they did.” And then Paul quotes Psalm 19 which says; “their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Paul’s point is that all the Jews in his day have heard about Jesus. The Jews problem is not a lack of hearing. Paul is about to explain something else is going on.
Now Romans 9, 10 & 11 probably has more Old Testament quotes than any other three chapters in the New Testament. (I mean in the next four verses we have four Old Testament quotes). So how should we interpret Old Testament quotes? When the New Testament quotes the Old Testament scholars generally agree you don’t A) just listen to the one verse being quoted, you are meant B) to take on board the whole context from which the quote comes. This is a statement off John Piper’s Desiring God website (Slide 5). Here’s another statement from an evangelical theological journal (Slide 6). Just as A) Christians are taught not to quote Bible verses OUT OF CONTEXT, its generally agreed B) the apostles don’t quote the Old Testament OUT OF CONTEXT either. This means when we read an Old Testament quote – we need to take into account the whole context from which it comes. (You understand what I’m saying?). The apostles don’t just CHERRY PICK verses that support their argument. Rather they quote things in context…
Apply: So put your FINGER in Romans 10 (because we’ll come back to it). But turn with me to Psalm 19 – on page 787 (_______). Let’s just read the first few verses (READ). Psalm 19 explains that no human can truly say “I did not know God exists.” THAT’S A LIE. Every day the heavens declare God is REAL. Every day the skies (the sun, moon, stars, rainbows) proclaim God is good. So when Paul quotes Psalm 19, he is saying – just as no one in the world can say they haven’t heard about God, so no Jew can say they have not heard about Jesus Messiah.
Now this was almost definitely true in the first century. So many Jews believed in Jesus – it was just about impossible for an Orthodox Jew to say I’ve never heard about Jesus. But it may also be true to some extent today. I think there would be very few Jews (Orthodox, Reformed or even secular) – who could honestly say they have never heard about Jesus or his claims to be Messiah. Now whether they’ve heard or not – PAUL’S MAIN POINT is that the Jews problem is not a failure to hear the gospel. Something else is happening. So flip back to Romans 10…
Point 2: Did the Jews fail to understand the gospel? (Is that the problem).
Show: Rom.10:19 (READ)
Explain: Notice, Paul says “DID ISRAEL FAIL TO UNDERSTAND?” (Again, from a HUMAN PERSPECTIVE this make sense). The gospel is such good news it’s hard to explain why anyone would reject it. I mean, a complete pardon and a free pass to heaven – who in their right mind would reject Jesus? So, if the Jews have heard about Jesus, maybe they didn’t understand Jesus properly.
But Paul quotes an Old Testament passage to make it clear that UNDERSTANDING is not the problem either. So put your finger in Romans 10 (but turn with me to Deuteronomy 32 – page __________ (READ). Let’s start with Deut.32:21 which is the verse quoted (READ – 32:21). Now “THEY” means the Jews. God says the Jews made him JEALOUS and ANGRY because they worshiped other gods. AS CREATOR, GOD ALONE deserves our worship. So He gets jealous and angry when we give our love and attention to things that are not god. God says (because they have worshiped pretend gods) – “he will (READ) make the Jews envious (literally JEALOUS) of those who are not a people, I will make them ANGRY by a nation (or nations) that have no understanding.
Now this second group of people are GENTILES. They are people who are NOT “technically” God’s people. God is saying to the Jews A) just as you keep giving your love and attention to objects that are not really God, B) so I’m going to give my love and attention to people who are NOT really my people. Basically God says “I’m going to treat you Jews, the same way you keep treating me. Then you’re going to be JEALOUS of the love I give to the Gentiles and you’re going to be ANGERED by the special favour given to the Gentiles.” (We all tend to get jealous and angry when we think we’re missing out). Now this JEALOUSY is going to be a big point in Romans 11. Paul is going to build on this. This is Paul’s key to everything…
But remember the immediate question is – did the Jews fail to understand the gospel? Well look again at the end of verse 21 – God says “I will make them angry by a nation (or peoples) who have no understanding.” Please notice Paul asks a question about “understanding” and then he quotes a passage about “understanding”. According to verse 21 how much “UNDERSTANDING” was necessary for the Gentiles to become God’s people? (PAUSE) That’s right zero. So “understanding” is not an includer or a precluder. Rather Deuteronomy 32 tells us that God shows special favour to the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous.
Apply: Now is making the Jews jealous a PERMANENT punishment for their sin or does it have a redeeming purpose? Remember, with Old Testament quotes – we need to take in the larger context of the passage. This is simply good practice. So what does Deuteronomy 32 actually say? Well, Deuteronomy 32 begins by explaining that God saved the Jews from Egypt and made them His people. Then it goes on (in verse 16-17ff) to explain – but they kept worshiping other gods. So, (verse 21) God says; He is going to go after other people, just as they go after other gods. But what does this ultimately mean for the Jews.
Well look at verse 20 (READ). Notice THE IMPLIED QUESTION; what will the Jews END be? It’s a very similar question to Romans 9-11? Again look at verse 29 (READ). Notice again the implied question – what will the Jews END be?
After God turns to the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous – what is their ultimate fate. (PAUSE). Well, lets read the end of Deuteronomy 32:34-43 (READ). As you can see – sometime after the Jews become jealous of the Gentiles, God will vindicate them and His anger towards them will relent. In fact, the last verse says (that in the end) God will do something to make atonement for the LAND and the PEOPLE. (This is some time after God has aroused the Jews jealousy). Now we know from ROMANS 3 that it is only by the blood of Jesus that our sins can be atoned. So this can’t be a new work of atonement. But perhaps the atonement won by Christ at the cross is at first A) (generally) applied to Gentiles which then B) arouses the Jews jealousy and C) ultimately draws them back to Jesus before he returns.
What we see is that A) Romans 9-11 and Deuteronomy 32 follow A VERY SIMILAR TRAJECTORY when we look at the passages in context. Also B) if Deuteronomy 32 is used to INTERPRET Romans 9-11 and Romans 9-11 somehow EXPLAINS Deuteronomy 32 then arousing the Jews jealousy is ultimately REDEMPTIVE, not punitive. Finally, C) if reading Old Testament quotes in context (is correct in principle) then Deuteronomy 32 backs up the idea that when Paul says “All Israel will be saved” he means in some large scale, national way that includes the land. By arousing the Jews jealousy God intends to draw them en-masse back to Himself when their strength is gone.
But Paul is still not finished. He wants us to see God has NOT given up on the Jews as a nation.
Point 3: The Jews failure does not change God’s Purpose
Show: Rom.10:20-21 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul has now explained that THE REASON so few Jews believe is that God has intentionally turned His attention to the Gentiles (partially as punishment for their wilful sinfulness) but ultimately to arouse the Jews jealousy and draw them back to Himself (en masse). But Paul wants to make clear that A) God’s turning to the Gentiles does not mean B) He has given up on the Jews as a nation. Verse 21 “Concerning Israel” God says “All day long – I have held out my hands to the Jews.” (Please notice this is talking about Israel the nation, not Israelites as individuals). THE IDEA is that God has been holding out His hands to the Jews as a people and continues to hold out His hands (beckoning them to come home).
The question is 1) do we have the SAME ATTITUDE as God to the Jews. 2) DO WE CONTINUE TO HOLD OUT OUR HANDS to the Jews beckoning them to return to the blood of their Messiah? 3) And do we also realize that we Christians have something that ordinary Jews are secretly jealous. We may worship the same God. (The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament). But we have the SHALOM PEACE of God – that they lack without Jesus. We have King Jesus’ words AND they only have the shadow in Moses. We have the precious blood of Jesus to atone for our sins. They don’t even have the blood of sheep and goats to soothe their conscience anymore, because they have no temple. We have the Holy Spirit with us. We have the hope of heaven in us. And our prayers do not fall on deaf ears because Jesus always lives to intercede for us. And secretly the Jews are jealous of what we have in Jesus.
They may not be able to ADMIT IT. But I think we need to think carefully about this biblical truth when it comes to Jewish evangelism. When I’m feeling jealous or angry – I know I am completely unreasonable and irrational and (just shut-up).
So how do we overcome this jealousy and anger in our presentation of Jesus? How do we come alongside Jewish people in sharing the Messiah with them? I think there is much careful thought that needs to be done here. The Apostle Paul says elsewhere that he becomes all things to all people that he may win them for Christ. And perhaps there are some accommodations we can make towards Jewish people. Is it ok if they still want to worship on the Sabbath, or eat kosher or keep the Day of Atonement? OF COURSE, WE ALWAYS NEED TO WATCH OUT for legalism and “works righteousness” creeping into the church. But are there still accommodations that we could make so that it was easier for Jews to come to Jesus.
Well as Paul FINISHES Romans 10 he quotes Isaiah 65:1-2. Verse 20; comes from Isaiah 65:1. Look at it (verse 20); “I was found by a people who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” Paul gives this A GENTILE application. He says remember none of you are Christians because you A) sought God OR even because B) you asked about God. The only reason any of us are Christians is because God’s Spirit graciously revealed Jesus to us. We aren’t better than the Jews.
Although Jesus says (SLIDE 7) “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Mt.11:28); Jesus also says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (Jn.6:44). So verse 20 reminds us that salvation is all of Gods grace AND verse 21 reminds us that God hasn’t given up on the Jewish nation. So, if salvation is all of grace and God is still holding out His hands to the Jews what should we expect for them?
Well like I said earlier we are meant to take Old Testament quotes in context. So, if God is gracious and God is still holding out His hands to the Jews – how is that going to end according to Isaiah 65 & 66?
Well, you can turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 65 (page __________) or look on the screen. Isaiah 65 begins also talking about the Jews failure to honor God. But it talks about God saving a remnant of Jews nonetheless (Slide 9; Isa.65:8; 13). So like Romans 9 – a remnant is saved.
But Isaiah 65 ends (like a proverbial TV ad from DANOZ DIRECT) saying but wait there’s more. It finishes by saying (SLIDE 10 – ISA.65:17-18). Now I know many Christians believe this is a picture of the new Jerusalem in heaven. But others point out – if this is heaven, why are people still dying? Although many Christians believe this is heaven – in the history of the church many Christians have believed this is a picture of the period of time when Jesus brings salvation to the Jews in Jerusalem.
What’s more, in context Isaiah 65 rolls into Isaiah 66 – where the focus remains on the future of the Jews. How is this all going to end for the Jews (Slide 10; READ). Interestingly, some scholars have noted that on 14th May 1948 the country of Israel was born in a day. Now whether this is prophecy and fulfilment (I’ll let you ponder). But the point of Isaiah 65 and Isaiah 66 (which Paul quotes in Romans 10) is that God finishes what he starts. God doesn’t bring a child to the mouth of the womb, simply to leave them there or then commit infanticide. No! God finishes what he starts and in context the child is the Jewish people.
Apply: Friends, I do not HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS about the end of time and/or how God is going to bring salvation to the Jews (in small detail). But a plain reading of Scripture and looking at biblical quotes like Deuteronomy 32 and Isaiah 65 in context lead me to believe that God has some unfinished business with the Jews (that he intends to finish). But that is not bad news. That is good news. That gives me great comfort. For some days – I am as disobedient and obstinate as the most disobedient Jew that has ever lived – and yet I trust God will not let go of me. Somehow and in some amazing, miraculous way – God is going to bring all Christians (both Gentile and Jew) – safely into the new creation. God will finish what he starts and for that I say Amen & Amen.