Summary: Unless we proclaim the gospel people are doomed to God’s judgement
We were in New York on holidays a couple of years ago and we stayed in the apartment of a Jewish woman. It was Jewish New Year the weekend we were there so she invited us to come to their passover meal to share it with them. Well, that night was one of the highlights of our trip as we took part in a celebration that Jews have been observing for nearly 4000 years. There’s such a wealth, such a richness of culture, and such a strength and resilience, among the Jewish people that you have to admire it. As a race they’ve suffered serious persecution numbers of times through history. They’ve been hated, killed, downtrodden, yet they continue on. There’s something about their cultural identity that can’t be defeated. So why is that? Why has the Jewish race survived when so many other ancient races from the same part of the world have disappeared or been absorbed by another race? Well, we’d want to say, I think, that much of the reason for their survival as a race has to do with the fact that God chose them as his special people. He called out Abraham to form a nation for himself, a nation who would serve as the prototype, if you like, for a new people who were devoted to God and to each other.
Yet, as Christians, we look back on the history of the Jewish people since the time of Christ and we see that they appear to have abandoned God’s plan as we understand it to have been revealed through his word, the Bible. And we ask, what’s happened to God’s call of Abraham? Did he not really mean it when he said that his promise was to Abraham’s descendants? Or has he now rejected the physical descendants in favour of those who are descendants by faith?
Of course this may not be a pressing issue for you unless you have friends who are Jews, but it was for Paul. He not only had friends who were Jews, he had family who were as well. He himself was a Jew. But the question for him was more than just a question about his friends. No it was much deeper than that. It was a question about whether God’s promises could be trusted. If God had rejected the Jews, did that mean that his promise had failed? And if that promise had failed then what of other promises he’d made? What about his promise to be with us always, to the end of the age? What about his promise to answer our prayers when we ask in faith, in his name? What about his promise to return, to take us to be with him forever?
You see this question, has God rejected the Jews, was a question that went to the heart of the trustworthiness of God. Can God be trusted to keep his promises? So Paul wrestles with this issue of the place of the Jews in God’s plan. What does it mean that they appear to have been rejected for their disobedience? Well, what we’ll discover as we go through this passage is that he takes a number of approaches to the answer those questions.
1 God hasn’t rejected Israel completely
The first thing he points out is that God hasn’t rejected Israel completely. In fact the core of the church at this time, particularly the apostles, are Jews. There are still a remnant of the nation who have remained faithful to God. And he points out that this has always been the case. Whenever Israel has fallen away, there have been those who remained faithful, a remnant who continued to obey God despite the evils their brothers and sisters took part in. And so it is now. There remains a remnant, chosen by grace.
But notice that grace is still the key. They’re chosen not because they remain faithful to the Jewish laws or religious system, but because God chooses to save them. They’re saved because they’ve responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2 Their stumbling is not the end.
He asks, "Have they stumbled so as to fall?" That is, fall beyond recovery. The answer is "No." Of course not. He’s already pointed out in the first few chapters that everyone is under the righteous condemnation of God. Everyone has stumbled but God’s grace is sufficient for the greatest sinner. So even Jews who have rejected Christ are still in a position to receive the grace of God. Now, of course, Paul is talking here from experience. He was one who had not only rejected Christ, but had set out to do his best to wipe out his followers. Do you remember what he’d been doing when he was converted on the road to Damascus by an encounter with the risen Christ? He’d been on his way to arrest the followers of Christ and throw them into prison. No-one worked harder to oppose the spread of the gospel than Paul. Yet he as a Jew received mercy when he encountered the grace of God.