Summary: What are God’s plans for God’s people? Using personal history to interpret theology, Paul offers some surprizes.
Divine Rejects… NOT!
Twice in this chapter Paul says: “I ask then…” Both of these set the stage for a discussion about God’s patience and plans for his people. Here are the questions: “I ask then, has God rejected his people?” (That’s verse one). And, “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall?” (That’s verse eleven).
Who is Paul calling “his people?” Who are “they” that have stumbled?
A good exercise to help us understand this chapter is to circle every time the word “Israel” occurs here. Then go back and look at what he is saying about them. After that, circle every other reference to Israel in pronouns or other obvious references. Then go back and look at what he says about them in that light. Finally, go back a third time and underline any and all references to anyone other than Israel and do the same thing.
Now I realize that expecting everyone here to do this is beyond probability, so I’ve provided a handout to help. (On your handout I have references to Israel underlined and references to Gentiles in italics).
What I discovered is that there are three groups here. Two of them are from Israel. One is from the Gentiles. Take a minute to look at your handout.
1. There are some who are faithful among Israel, i.e. Paul, Elijah, the prophets, the 7000... the remnant.
2. Then there is the majority of Israel who are unfaithful, these bring trouble on the faithful.
3. Then there are those who have been brought in who are Gentiles.
He is specifically talking to Gentiles in this chapter (vs 13) about their relationship with Israel, both the faithful and unfaithful members of Israel. He distinguishes God’s plan for Israel and God’s plan for the Gentiles. He makes it clear that God wants everyone to be saved. He also makes it clear that God is using the saved to influence the unsaved to be saved. He says that God works to bring lost Israel back by making them jealous because he is showing mercy on the Gentiles. The goal of God is not to reject anyone, but to restore anyone who does not continue in unbelief.
What is weird here is that when the Gentiles are unfaithful, they pretty well leave you alone when you come to Christ and claim God’s salvation. On the other hand, when you make these claims among Jews, they get jealous and angry about it! Paul says, “That’s good!” Maybe they will be stirred to wake up and repent!
Paul’s personal experiences and his theology are fundamentally related.
When we go back to the book of Acts and look at his life, Romans 9-11 is his story. Paul was Saul of Tarsus, the zealous Pharisee of Israel who single handedly took on the job of destroying the Church after the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. He couldn’t stand the name of Jesus. To Saul, the Church was made up of blaspheming Jews who had forsaken Judaism and become followers of this false messiah. They must be stopped! He ravaged the Church. He was breathing out murderous threats against the Church right up to when he met Jesus. But amazingly, Saul’s hard hearted persecution against the Christians was actually the very fuel that fed the evangelistic machinery of the Church. It was when the leaders of Israel in Jerusalem rejected Jesus and began to persecute the Church that the boarders of the Church spread to Samaria and then even to the Gentile world. The hardening of Israel worked to save others! Those scattered Christians took the gospel with them! They shared it wherever they went. Some even began to share it with Gentiles! Gentiles! And guess what? The Gentiles believed and were baptized into Christ! God affirmed their actions by the Holy Spirit empowering them to perform signs and wonders among them. It all started by an act of God that got Peter to go to Cornelius’s house and tell this Gentile the gospel. Acts 10 records that story. An angel appears to Cornelius and the Holy Spirit through visions and direct inspiration, has to work to convince a reluctant Peter that this is from God. Read it. Peter did NOT want to go. He takes a few Jews with him as witnesses. As he enters the home of Cornelius he openly says to the group gathered at Cornelius house that it is illegal for him to step into their house, but God has told him not to call them unclean! Peter! That’s not the best way to win them to Christ. Peter asks why they sent for him and Cornelius tells Peter about the angel who told him to go get Peter who would tell them words by which they could be saved. Hint, hint! Peter starts preaching and while he is telling them about Jesus, lo and behold, God does an amazing thing! He sends the Holy Spirit on these Gentiles! Peter and the Jews with him are shocked! This wasn’t part of the plan! Wait a minute! God, these people are GENTILES!!!! God had to nudge them to do it or Peter never would have gone and Cornelius never would have become a Christian. When Peter went back to the Church in Jerusalem, he got in trouble over it! Read Acts 11! In Galatians 2:11-16 we find Peter is still having problems accepting Gentiles. Peter was not the man to send to win the Gentiles.