A. I used to love listening to Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” radio broadcasts.
1. The short radio segments consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects with some key element of the story (usually the name of some well-known person) held back until the end.
2. Then the segment would end with the tag line “and now you know the rest of the story.”
B. In one of those “Rest of the Story” broadcasts, Harvey told about a young Dutchman named Willem who wanted to be a minister.
1. In the spring of 1879, Willem’s passion brought him to the coal fields of southern Belgium, where his total selflessness captured the respect of the miners and their families.
a. Then a mine disaster occurred, and scores of the villagers were injured, and no one fought harder to save them than Willem.
b. After the rubble was cleared, the dead were buried, and the sick were made well, the villagers flocked to Willem’s services to hear him preach God’s word.
2. Later, when a church official visited Willem’s village, he found Willem living in a tiny hut, dressed in tattered clothes.
a. When he asked Willem what he had done with his salary, Willem told him that he’d given it to the miners and their families.
b. The church official, thinking Willem had just misused the money, dismissed him from his church position.
c. Willem was devastated and believed that God had forgotten him.
3. Later one afternoon, Willem noticed an old miner bending beneath the enormous weight of a full sack of coal, and Willem felt desperation for this man and these hard workers.
a. Fumbling through his pockets, he pulled out a tattered envelop, and a pencil, and began to sketch the weary figure that had so moved him.
b. Beginning that day, Willem made it his mission to capture for the world the torment, triumph, and dignity of the people he had grown to love.
4. The people he was not allowed to teach, he was able to touch through his art.
a. And in the process, he immortalized them and they him.
b. The preacher who wasn’t to be, became the artist the world would know as Vincent Willem van Gogh.
c. And now you know the rest of the story.
C. Van Gogh’s story reminds me of someone else who was rejected and seemingly forgotten – I’m talking about the people of Israel.
1. God had given them many wonderful promises and blessings, but when the Messiah came to them, they refused to believe in Him.
2. Because of their rejection, God sent the gospel to the Gentiles, but what will He do with the Jews?
3. Will God cast away His people? Will God fail to keep His promises?
4. It sure looks that way, until we hear the rest of the story.
D. In our sermon last week from the first part of Romans chapter 11, we saw how Paul raised and answered two very important questions.
1. In verse 1, Paul asked: “Has God rejected his people?” and then in verse 11, he asked: “Have they stumbled so as to fall?” (in other words, “have they fallen beyond recovery?”)
2. Paul strongly and decisively answered both of those questions with: “Absolutely Not!”
3. Why not? Why is it that God has not rejected his people and that they are not beyond recovery?
4. Last week, we saw that two of Paul’s answers for “why not” are: first, because there is a remnant, and second, because there are blessings that have come from Israel’s rejection, namely the inclusion of the Gentiles.
5. I also pointed out last week, that all of the splendid theology that Paul presented had a very down-to-earth purpose, which was to keep the Gentile Christians from becoming conceited.
E. Today, as we look at the final section of Romans 11, Paul reveals one more reason why God has not rejected the Israelites and it is because of this mystery: “All Israel will be saved.”
1. While this emphasis on “mystery” may suggest that Paul is saying something entirely new here, this is not the case.
2. The meaning of the “salvation of all Israel” is simply the final stage in the sequences that has become familiar to us in Romans chapters 9 through 11: the Jewish rejection, led to the Gentile inclusion, which will lead to the Jewish inclusion again.
3. Israel, the rejected nation, will be restored to a place of blessing and privilege as the people of God and that is the rest of the story.
4. Let’s work through the remaining verses of the chapter to see what all of this means for them and for us.
F. Paul begins this last section with these words: 25 I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you will not be conceited: A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins. (Romans 11:25-27)
1. Reaching back to the illustration about the olive tree from the last section, we see that Paul is hopeful that Israel will be grafted back into the olive tree because a mystery has been revealed to him.
2. Mystery is a technical term that Paul often used in his letters and it refers to a truth that has been “hidden” from God’s people in the past but has now been disclosed in the gospel.
3. The place of Israel in God’s salvation scheme of things is a mystery, meaning that we can’t figure it out by our natural human reasoning powers, but that we need God to reveal it to us.
4. This mystery that God has revealed to Paul about Israel unfolds in three clauses:
a. Israel has experienced a hardening in part.
b. Until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
c. And so all Israel will be saved.
5. Although we may not be able to answer all the questions surrounding this mystery, there are several general things that are evident.
a. For one, the hardening of the Jews is in part, meaning it is partial – we have already seen how Paul talked of the remnant of the Jews who have turned to Jesus, so the hardening affects only part of Israel.
b. A second thing about the hardening has to do with the fact that it is temporary – it will come to an end after the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
c. What Paul means by the full number of the Gentiles is a mystery – are we talking about an exact number or more of a generality? No one but God can answer that question.
6. The biggest question about the meaning of this passage is the interpretation of what Paul means by “all Israel will be saved.”
a. The debate over this verse has resulted in many options, but three stand out as worthy of consideration.
b. Some scholars conclude that “all Israel” refers to the entire church – all spiritual Israel which includes Jews and Gentiles.
c. Some scholars conclude that “all Israel” refers to “spiritual” Israel, the elect Jews from within national Israel.
d. Other scholars conclude that “all Israel” refers to the totality of national Israel.
7. I, personally, have to reject the last of those interpretations, but I can see how “all Israel” could represent the whole “church” or could represent the Jewish portion of the church.
a. The point I see Paul making here is that there will be some kind of future revival among the Jewish people.
b. Regardless of how God plans to bring it about, the hardening will be lessened and many more Jewish people will believe in Jesus and be saved.
8. Paul backs up his predication of a significant future turning to Christ for salvation among Jews by citing Isaiah 59:20-21 along with a phrase from Isaiah 27:9.
a. Paul most likely identifies “the deliverer” in this text with Christ.
b. Isaiah predicted that the deliverer would come to Zion (Jerusalem), but Paul changed the wording saying that the deliverer would come from Zion (perhaps thinking of Jesus’ return from the heavenly Jerusalem).
c. One thing we know for sure, our deliverer takes our sins away! Praise God!
G. In the next verses, 28-32, Paul both provides further evidence for his claim that “all Israel will be saved” and reminds us once more of some of the basic arguments he has been making in chpts 9-11.
1. Paul wrote: 28 Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the patriarchs, 29 since God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable. 30 As you once disobeyed God but now have received mercy through their disobedience, 31 so they too have now disobeyed, resulting in mercy to you, so that they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:28-32)
2. In these verses, the “they” and “their” refers to the Israelites in general, and the “you” and “your” are the Gentile Christians.
3. Israel’s failure to accept the gospel has cut her off from God’s salvation, thus making her the enemy of God.
a. That hostility or enmity may be from Israel toward God, or from God toward Israel, and it may be best to understand it from both directions.
b. Nevertheless, as we have seen, the refusal of Israel to believe and God’s hardening of them, does not mean that God is done with them.
4. Paul reminds us that God loves Israel because of the patriarchs and that God’s gifts and call are irrevocable.
a. God and His love never change despite the response of the people whom God loves and has called.
b. God’s blessings and rewards are conditional, but not His love and call.
5. Paul is especially careful to emphasize the “equal treatment” that both Israel and the Gentiles receive.
a. The Gentiles had once been in disobedience, but now have received mercy.
b. The Israelites have fallen into disobedience, which resulted in the Gentiles receiving mercy, but that should lead to further mercy for the Israelites.
6. That equal treatment and equal footing is reinforced by the solemn conclusion of verse 32: For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may have mercy on all.
a. This imprisoning or handing people over to the consequences of their sins reminds us of Paul’s words back in chapter 1.
b. God has sentenced all people, both Jew and Gentile, to condemnation because of their sins.
c. God does this so that it might be clear to us that we are sinners whose only way of escape is through God’s mercy.
d. God’s ultimate desire is not condemnation, but salvation.
e. God wants to offer mercy to all who recognize their need for it.
H. So, as Paul comes to this conclusion, thinking about God’s calling of Israel, their rejection, the Gentiles’ inclusion, and Israel’s re-grafting in, he is propelled into a majestic doxology in which he assures us that God will be glorified.
1. Paul wrote: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? 35 And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
2. Paul begins by declaring that God’s ways are unsearchable and untraceable.
a. Paul isn’t praising the Lord because he has found answers to all the questions and solutions to all the problems.
b. Rather, Paul is declaring that God’s dealings with mankind generally, and with the nation Israel specifically, are beyond our comprehension.
c. We will never fully understand it in this life, but we can be assured that His knowledge is perfect and His ways are wise, and for that we can praise Him.
3. Next, Paul declares God’s greatness by asking three rhetorical questions to remind us how far above us are God’s thoughts and ways.
a. Paul uses a collection of short Old Testament quotes to form those questions.
b. The first one reinforces what he has already said about not being able to fathom the mind of God – “For who has known the mind of the LORD?”
c. The second one reminds us that God is so much greater than us that we have no right to give Him counsel – “Or who has been His counselor?”
1. I certainly need to remember that, because there have been occasions when I have tried to give God advice.
2. I’ve looked at a situation and told God exactly what He ought to do – how foolish is that?
d. The third quote assures us that we can never put God in our debt – “and who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid?”
1. Sometimes we have the mistaken idea that we can give God so much, or do so much for Him, that He will have to do what we want Him to do.
2. It just doesn't work that way! It is impossible for us to put Him under obligation.
3. Nothing we do for God can ever compare to what He’s done for us.
4. Paul concludes with a final expression of praise that affirms God’s supremacy as the source, sustainer and the goal of all things – “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen!”
a. All things are “of Him” - He is their source, their maker.
b. All things are “through Him” - He upholds, sustains, rules and directs them – whether they be the forces of nature, the energy of the atom, the nation Israel, the Gentile nations of the world, the supernatural powers of the spiritual realm, and everything else.
c. And all things are “to Him” - He is the reason for their existence and they will ultimately serve His ends.
d. And all things will bring immense glory to Him for ever and ever, even though right now we may not understand how, and that’s the rest of the story.
I. Let me conclude by offering a few points for us to ponder and to apply to our lives.
J. First of all, I want to make an important clarification about Israel.
1. While I believe that Paul was teaching that there was going to be a future turning toward Jesus of many Jews, I do not believe that Paul was pointing toward any kind of geographic or political future for Israel.
2. What Paul predicts in chapter 11 has to do with a spiritual revivification of the Jewish people.
3. Paul says nothing here, or anywhere else in his writings, about a return to Israel or Palestine or about its political reconstitution.
4. Paul’s focus is on spiritual salvation.
K. Second, I want to remind us that Paul’s overriding concern in this section was to stifle Gentile pride.
1. In our day, as in Paul’s, the church is largely a Gentile institution.
2. Unfortunately, our natural tendency as humans is to prefer people like us and to think of ourselves as superior to people who are different from us.
3. That natural tendency, coupled with ideas about Jewish responsibility for Christ’s death, or a replacement theology that says Gentiles have replaced Jews in God’s plan, have led some people to a derogatory and even hostile attitude toward Jewish Christians and Jews in general.
4. Anti-Semitism continues to be a powerful and evil force in the world – and we see the results of this in acts of terrorism against Jewish people and Jewish places of worship.
5. Let me say it as emphatically as I can: There is no room for any such hostility in the church, where Jew and Gentile have been reconciled together in Christ into one spiritual family.
6. We must be ready to welcome Jewish Christians into our worship and to honor them as representatives of that “root” from which we all are spiritually nourished.
7. At the same time, however, a respect for Jewish people does not require undue deference to Israel as a national and political entity.
8. And most importantly, we must remember that God calls us to love all people and to welcome people from all nations, ethnicities and descents into the church.
9. In the church, we are to be one in Christ, and there is no place for prejudice or pride.
L. Third, I want to remind us that there is only one way to be saved and it is through Jesus.
1. Universalism has a long history in the church reaching back to the 3rd century when the theologian Origen taught it, and it has been sporadically advocated ever since.
2. Universalism has many different ideas and directions, but basically says things like: “all people will be saved because God’s love demands it,” or “all paths to God are equally effective.”
3. The pluralism of our day and the prevailing voices of tolerance preached everywhere in our culture can subtly break down our conviction about the exclusivity of the gospel, but we must not allow that to happen.
4. When Paul concluded here in Romans 11 that “all Israel will be saved,” he wasn’t suggesting that there would be salvation for Israel apart from Christ.
5. Many people think it is anti-Semitic to insist that Christ is the only means of salvation, but it is simply the truth – Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6)
6. Paul in no way was trying to suggest that Israel is afforded a “special way” to be saved apart from Christ.
7. Paul has spent most of Romans describing his gospel, through which salvation is offered to both Jew and Gentile in Christ.
8. But the heart of that gospel is Christ and His death on the cross for all human beings.
9. No one can be saved apart from the good news and apart from faith in Christ.
10. If we accord the Jews a special way of their own, it will be difficult to refrain from doing the same for Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and so forth.
11. Many people today have no problem with such pluralism, but God does and so should we.
M. Finally, I want to remind us of the greatness of God.
1. In the end, it’s all about God – He is the perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator.
2. All things are from Him and through Him and to Him, and He is worthy of glory and honor.
3. If we ever think that God has forgotten us or mistreated us, just remember His faithful love.
4. And if we ever think that we have wandered too far from God to repent and return – just remember that God’s special chosen people rejected God, but God has never given up on them.
5. Let’s praise God for His amazing plan of redemption, and let’s bow in humility before Him, calling upon the grace God richly offers in Christ, so we can experience the rest of the story.
6. And now you know the rest of the story!
Romans, The NIV Application Commentary, by Douglas Moo
The Rest of the Story, Sermon by Dr. Richard Strauss