Romans Lesson 111 - Castaway Nation?
Is God finished with the Jewish people? Has He forgotten about the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? The Apostle Paul gives us the profound answer to those questions in Romans chapter 11.
Frederick the Great was the king of Prussia – a territory which is now modern day Germany and Poland. Frederick ruled from 1740-1786. Frederick was heavily influenced by Voltaire, the French philosopher and atheist. As a result, he became skeptical of Christianity and of the reliability of the Bible. He said to his chaplain, “If your Bible is really true, it ought to be capable of very easy proof. If it is indeed from God, you should be able to demonstrate the fact simply, without complicated arguments. Give me proof for the inspiration of the Bible in one word.” One word to prove the reliability o the Bible?
If you were asked that, what one word would prove the reliability of scripture and, consequently, the reliability of God?
Love? Sin? Grace? Guilt? Conscience?
After a moment or two of thought, the chaplain thought of one world that all the world could see as remarkable proof that God was reliable and so was His word.
“Your Majesty,” he replied, “I can give you the proof you ask for in one word.”
Amazed, the king asked, “What is this magic word that carries such a weight of proof?”
The chaplain answered, “Israel.”
Frederick the Great responded only with silence.
Holman New Testament Commentary, Romans (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), p. 329
Let that sink in for a moment.
Israel . . . proof of the reliability of scripture and the author of scripture? Brilliant answer!
Think about it . . . what nation has lasted 4,000 years? We know when the nation began, why and by whom. We have detailed written records of her ancient and modern history; her language remains the same, her religion, her traditions, her homeland and her bloodline. They still follow the original documents that outlined her faith – the Torah – the Old Testament law.
Surely for a nation to exist after all these centuries, they must have been pampered and protected by the world, right?!
But that’s what makes their survival even more miraculous and Divinely overshadowed.
No nation has been so robbed, so deported, so murdered, so hated.
In 722 B.C. they are decimated by the Assyrians. In 586 B.C. the capital Jerusalem is destroyed by the Babylonians.
In 538-432 B.C. groups of exiles return like homing birds to rebuild Jerusalem.
In A.D. 70 the nation is destroyed, Jerusalem razed to the ground, the population flees.
For the next 1800 years they are scattered throughout Europe and Asia. Jerusalem and the homeland are the scene of hundreds of years of conflicts; it is ruled of and on by Turks, Muslims, and Western powers.
Then, in 1940 the Holocaust kills millions of these scattered Jews living in eastern Europe and Russia.
In 1948 the Zionist movement re-establishes Israel as a nation.
In 1967 they regain control of Jerusalem except for the Temple Mount.
And every day on the news we hear reports about what nation? Little Israel.
But even without the modern A.D. developments, the King of Prussia had to agree . . . Israel was a miraculous proof of God’s reliability in keeping His word.
Where are the Assyrians? Where are the Perrizites and the Hittites and the Amalekites and the Jebusites and all the other mosquito bites?
No other nation has survived 4,000 years of wars and destruction and deportation and genocide and persecution, the repeated destruction and rebuilding of the capital city.
Why has Israel survived?
Because God said they would . . . the reliability of the scripture and the reliability of God!
Through His prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel.”
In other words, until the universe is mapped and the center of the earth is explored, Israel will not cease to be a nation.
Every time you pick up a newspaper or turn on the television and look at another daily story about Israel . . . marvel!
That doesn’t mean that everything they do is right. In fact, they are, I believe, presently set aside under the discipline of God, throughout this church age, as we’ll study in the near future.
But until the universe is mapped and the center of the earth is explored, Israel will survive as a nation!
Additional introductory comments adapted from Holman, p. 331
But! Something’s happened and now they’ve gone to far. Surely now God will wipe them off the face of the earth
They didn’t just kill the prophets . . . they called for the death of The Prophet! They didn’t just reject the messengers, they rejected the Messiah!
Surely God’s had it up to here . . . He’s through with irreconcilable Israel.
That seems to be the way Paul is leaning in Romans chapter 10 and verse 21. But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
The question on everybody’s mind would be this one – since the Messiah was rejected by the nation Israel, is God finished with Israel?
And that’s the question that opens our study of Romans chapter 11. Notice Paul anticipates that question and so he clearly spells it out. 1. I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!
Is God through with the nation? Does the nation and it’s blessing and covenants simply get a spiritual make-over and get applied to the church in some sort of spiritual manner?
Is there to be no literal throne in Jerusalem? Is there no literal restoration of the nation in their homeland?
All of these things are part of the covenant promises to Israel – and they will literally occur – because God said they would.
One author writes, “Contrary to what some sincere Christians maintain, God cannot be finished with the nation of Israel – for the obvious reason that all of His promises to her have not yet been fulfilled. If God were through with His chosen nation, His Word would be false and His integrity discredited. Among those who most strongly insist that God is through with the nation of Israel are those whose theology is commonly referred to as covenant theology, which is ironic because they cannot escape the implication that God is not faithful to fully honoring His covenants.”
John MacArthur Jr. Romans, Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1994), p. 92.
In other words, they are called covenant theologians, which is ironic because their interpretation views God as choosing not to literally honor his covenants!
Listen to what God said through David about His covenant promises to Israel. My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever . . . (Psalm 89:31-37)
Covenant theology teaches that Israel is morphed into the church. That circumcision is spiritualized into baptism . . . that the Old covenant feasts are spiritualized into the Lord’s supper.
Are there similarities? Yes. Are they covenant replacements? No.
Romans chapter 11 should forever turn us away from the presumption of those who would teach that God is “through with national Israel. – that is has no future as an elect nation. . .”
William R. Newell, Romans (Moody Press, 1938), p. 410
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, Paul gets a little riled up at the thought of it.
Look again at Romans 11:1. God has not rejected His people has He? The antecedent of “His people” is the previous paragraph – the nation Israel.
The word translated “rejected” is apotheo (apwqew) which means to cast aside, or to discard.
Paul is asking this, “God has not discarded the nation, has He?”
And Paul answers in verse 1, “May it never be!”
God forbid! That’s impossible!
Maybe you’re thinking, so what? What does that have to do with me? Well, if you’re asking that question, you’re obviously not Jewish.
The significance is this – if God doesn’t literally keep his word to his chosen nation, how can you know He’ll keep His word with you?
Are we not His chosen people too? If God has had it up to here with Israel and says, “That does it . . . that’s the last time you’ll sin against me . . . everything I covenanted I’d do, well, I just changed me mind . . . no land . . . no kingdom . . . no throne!”
Sort of like we do with our kids when we finally reach that point – “that does it . . . no dessert . . . no allowance . . . no telephone . . . no sleep over.”
I don’t know why those things came to mind!
Listen, if God ever takes back one little part of His covenant with Israel – we’re all in deep trouble, in more ways than we have time to count.
Ladies and Gentlemen, God cannot keep only some of His promises. God cannot be partially reliable.
My pick-up truck is partially reliable. I’m approaching 190,000 miles . . . two weeks ago a new challenge began. Every time I pulled up to a stop light, the needle on the temperature gauge would immediately begin to rise. I thumped the glass on the front panel . . . that’s my idea of auto repair – that’s all I can do. I waited 2 weeks to see if it would heal itself – it didn’t. I took it to my friend Greg at his shop and they fixed the problem.
I’m not expecting any promises from my truck. Every day is a risk of reliability.
The truth is, most everything in our lives are not entirely reliable. From computers to washing machines to cars to jobs to relationships . . . we are surrounded by unreliable things and unreliable promises.
But not God, right?!
If God is only partially trustworthy, we’re in trouble, right?
Listen, if God changes his mind about Israel’s homeland . . . maybe He’ll change His mind about your heaven!
So, is this a significant question or what?!
And I love Paul’s answer . . . may it never be!
There’s no way!
Now, Paul goes further and gives us two evidences that Israel is not a castaway nation.
Two Evidences that Israel is not a castaway nation.
1) The first piece of evidence is found in Paul’s Personal Testimony
Paul says, “God hasn’t cast Israel aside – look, He chose me!”
Notice verse 1b. For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.
In other words, if God decided to get rid of the Israelite after they rejected the Messiah, why would he choose an Israelite like me to be his Apostle?
It’s interesting to me that Paul points to himself as exhibit A.
And would you notice the three things he says about himself?
First he says, “I too am an Israelite.”
It’s interesting . . . he doesn’t say, “I’m a Jew . . . or a Hebrew.”
Let me insert this here so you can appreciate Paul’s choice of words:
There are three names used for this people:
Hebrew – probably derived from Eber in Genesis 10:21
Jew – a name derived from Judah – the most prominent of the 12 tribes
Israelite – a name taken from Father Jacob – who was re-named Israel by God. This is the covenant name of the people, signifying their unique relationship with God.
Would you notice, by the way, Paul did not say, “God chose me and I am no longer an Israelite!”
This is the term Paul uses here. As if to say, “Listen, God hasn’t rejected His covenant with Israel . . . look at me . . . God did not reject me and I am an Israelite.”
Notice further in this verse, Paul goes on to say, “I am a descendant of Abraham (he was the father of the nation and the one to whom God delivered His covenant).
Look even further, Paul writes, I am of the tribe of Benjamin.
Paul was a direct descendant of Jacob’s son Benjamin. The only son born in the land of promise.
It’s as if Paul is reminding his readers, “Listen, there isn’t anybody more connected to the covenant than me:
- I was born into the covenant family – an Isarelite;
- I am related to the covenant founder – son of Abraham;
- And my descendants were born in the land of covenant promise – the tribe of Benjamin.
This is Paul’s personal testimony, “You can’t get any more Jewish than me . . . any more Hebrew than me . . . any more Israelite than me!”
“But God did not reject me . . . He saved me! And I was saved by grace.”
Now Paul delivers another piece evidence that God had not cast away the nation.
Not only is there evidence in a personal testimony, but secondly, there is:
2) The evidence of a Past Trial
Remember, Paul writes in verse 2, what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?
Notice the word, “against.” Elijah is praying against Israel. He’s tired of their disobedience and their idolatry. He’s tired of Ahab, the faithless King of Israel and Jezebel his wicked wife.
Listen to Elijah’s prayer, verse 3. “Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.”
Can you hear the pain in his voice? The frustration and weariness that went all the way to his bones.
He’s 90 miles from nowhere – alone in the wilderness – depressed, defeated, afraid.
Yes, he’s just come from Mount Carmel, where the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed his sacrifice.
Yes, the false prophets of Baal are humiliated and later executed.
Yes, the people have shouted until they were hoarse, “The Lord He is God, the Lord He is God.”
Yes, rain has fallen after three years, in answer to Elijah’s prayer.
But instead of a national revival, there is continued rebellion.
Jezebel doesn’t respond by saying, “Elijah, I knew you were right . . . I’m sorry, and I repent of my idolatry . . . listen, I want you to start a Bible study in the palace.”
Instead she puts out a contract on his head and promises him he’ll be dead by tomorrow night!
And Elijah runs for his life.
Paul takes his readers back to that moment when Elijah prays again, in effect, saying “Lord, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of Israel. I’m sick and tired of their idolatry and their unbelief. I’m the only one left that believes in You, Lord . . . You might as well start over again, and form a new nation.”
Notice verse 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.”
“I thought I was the only one.”
“No, you’re one of 7,000 other men who’ve refused to worship Baal.” Not to mention women and children.
“You have no idea Elijah, what I have kept by my grace – this remnant of believers which constitutes true Israel.”
Now Paul ties up all the evidence with this summary statement – notice verse 5. In the same way the, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
There’s that theme of his again . . . grace!
How Paul loved that truth.
In Romans 1:5 he wrote, “Through Him and for His name’s sake we received grace . . .”
In chapter 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace.”
In chapter 5:1. Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . having obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand.
In chapter 5:20. Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
And on and on and on.
This is all a matter of God’s grace.
- Israel was chosen and preserved by grace.
- Elijah was encouraged and re-commissioned by grace.
- The believer is still saved, not by works, but by the grace of God.
Before we close our study in this text, I want to draw out several reminders to take to heart.
First of all,
1) Don’t ever underestimate the power of your personal testimony!
What I find fascinating is that Paul could have said a lot of things to prove God had nor forsaken the nation.
Instead, he used his personal testimony as evidence of the grace of God.
When you share your faith with those around you, you won’t know all the answers, you just happen to know The Answer.
In fact, you need to remember a couple of things as you share your faith with others . . .
- People you witness to know more about their religion than you’ll ever know.
If you wait to be an expert on world religions, you’ll never engage anybody with the gospel.
- People you talk to may know less about God than you can imagine
Especially today . . . when you talk to an American about God, there’s no telling what they understand about who He is.
You may have to start at the beginning.
- People you talk to struggle more with their sin than they want to admit
I was at the mall, some time ago, waiting on some of my kids. I was sitting on a half wall that was used as a planter and also made a nice seat. A man was standing nearby – I recognized his distinguished features and I asked him what part of India was he from? We struck up a conversation. I asked him about his religion . . . it was obvious he was well studied and passionate about his belief. There was no way I could ever answer him, point by point, I just didn’t know that much about it. I was desperate for some penetrating question for this philosopher to chew on . . . that would cut through his smiling stubbornness that any claim of one path to God was ludicrous. Nothing was coming to me. Until at last I asked him, not really knowing what his answer would be, “Do you have peace that your sins have been forgiven.” His whole countenance changed. He suddenly became transparent and hung his head and said no. I was able to say, “I have peace that mine are forgiven . . . and let me tell you how.”
Don’t ever think it’s a sign of ignorance to share your testimony with anyone. If the brilliant Apostle could do it over and over again throughout his letters, so can you.
What your unbelieving friends and co-workers and family and neighbors need, more than anything perhaps, is not only the demonstration of your faith through holy living, but a declaration of your faith, through your own personal testimony.
Start with that!
Don’t ever underestimate the power of your personal testimony!
2) Secondly, don’t ever underestimate the insight from your past trials!
Like Elijah, we determine whether or not God is doing something, based on what we can see, rather than what God has said.
We tend to let our experience cloud God’s promise.
Elijah’s problems began when he focused on Jezebel instead of Jehovah.
Are you in the middle of a trial right now? Do you remember the last one? What did you learn? Maybe the last trial was intended to help you through this trial . . . don’t forget the insight God provided.
Write it down . . . keep it handy . . . like David who kept Goliath’s armor . . . go back and look at it from time to time and remember the grace of God in your life.
Which leads me to this one last reminder:
3) Don’t ever underestimate the power of God’s grace.
If Israel wasn’t beyond the reach of God’s grace, no one is.
Not you . . . not anyone!
Did Israel deserve God’s grace? No.
Did Paul, the hunter of Christians deserve grace? No.
Did you or I deserve the light of God’s grace? No.
None of us deserve it . . . if we did, as Paul wrote in verse 6, then grace would not be grace!
Grace is undeserved favor . . . and only the undeserving get it!
There was a mother who knew her son would have a hard life . . . following his father’s pagan footsteps . . . she was frail, but a believer. She depended on the grace of God and she knew her son would deeply need it too. So she spent time teaching her little boy Bible verses which he memorized, as well as hymns which she taught him to sing. She prayed that God would save her son.
She died when Johnny was only 7 years old. He was sent to a boarding school, which he ran away from and then lied about his age, so he could join the Navy. He ran as far away from His mother’s God, His mother’s Bible and His mother’s hymns as he could. He eventually ran from the navy, into a deeper life of sin.
On the night of October 9, 1748, John was jolted awake by a brutal storm that had descended so swiftly, the crew was unprepared. All that night and into the following day, he was convinced he was going to die at sea; he remembered his mother and her tears in prayer . . . they hymns she taught him and the verses of Christ’s death and resurrection. He cried out for salvation.
John eventually prepared for ministry and became well known throughout his homeland of Great Britain. He also added his own original hymns to the collection . . . his most famous one was entitled, “Faith’s Review and Expectation.”
One verse that was dropped out over time reads,
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below, shall be forever mine.
Story adapted from Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul (Thomas Nelson, 2003), p. 79
In other words, God will keep His word! To Israel . . . and to you!
No matter what circumstances seem to say . . . no matter how dark and stormy the night. God will keep His word . . . He will never retract from you His covenant of grace.
That hymn I mentioned a moment ago has become perhaps the most well know hymn in all the world.
It’s title, “Faith’s Review and Expectation” was later changed to fit the theme of each stanza. The new title was, Amazing Grace.
John Newton considered it his personal testimony, put to music.
So did the Apostle Paul before him . . . and so should you and me.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
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