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Romans 11 – Week Fourteen
– SPOILER ALERT! – NOT FOR YOUNG CHILDREN-
I was in a craft store earlier this week and they had bins full of these round discs that you can put on ornaments or other items and create a “Santacam”. The idea is that having one or more of these in your home allows Santa to keep an eye on children and their behavior to determine who goes on the naughty list and the nice list. How many of you were asked as a child whether you were on the naughty list or the nice list? Thinking back to those years, it seems as if my parents used that threat of the naughty and nice list quite frequently, especially during the month of December. As much as I looked forward to Christmas, I really looked forward to the day after Christmas because then I didn’t have to worry about being “so good” all of the time. I had two siblings growing up and I can recall my parents making comparisons between us as to who was currently on the nice list. If my brother or sister were considered to be on the “nice” list and I was on the “naughty” list, it would hurt my feelings and I’d try extra hard to make sure that not only was I on the nice list but that my name was on top! The curious thing to me though was that despite being told at times we were on the naughty list, we always got an abundance of gifts from Santa.
That concept of the naughty and nice list taught us that being good and behaving was the key to getting presents on Christmas morning. So we were mindful about doing our chores, cleaning our plates, and brushing our teeth without being told numerous times. And for most of us, this worked for a number of years until we discovered that our parents were, in fact, the white-bearded plump guy in the red suit. The criteria of being naughty or nice kind of went out of the window at that point, because the people who were in charge of giving the gifts found on Christmas morning loved us whether we were good or bad.
In fact, the way I discovered the truth about Santa came about when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Every Christmas was the same. We’d have tons of gifts under the tree presumably from Santa. My grandmother and my aunts and uncles would give us gifts. We would swap presents with our friends. But one year as I looked at the pile of presents, I was struck by the fact that my parents had never given us gifts at Christmas. I knew that they loved us so it was perplexing to me that they didn’t give us anything at all! I remember asking my mom and dad for a little meeting one Christmas afternoon ‘cause I thought they had some explaining to do. As I put the pieces of information together and realized who Santa really was, I began to understand that my parents were beyond generous and loving towards all three of us kids- regardless of whether we had been naughty or nice and that, in fact, they had given us a whole lot each year for Christmas. Their love for us compelled them to give even when we didn’t deserve it.
There’s been a running theme for the last few chapters of Romans. Paul is grieved by the fact that many of his fellow Jews have basically been so focused on being good and doing good and have fooled themselves into believing that this puts them on the nice list, so to speak. In doing so, however, they’ve rejected Jesus and salvation through Him. We’ve been talking about fulfilling our God-given purpose and allowing God to use us in order to accomplish His plan. Paul’s sorrow stems from the unbelief of the Israelites – God’s chosen people because they just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand. But in chapter 11, Paul is all about proving that, despite their rejection, God is not done with Israel and as a matter of fact, He used their rejection as part of His whole plan.
Romans 11:1-2 ICB “So I ask: Did God throw out his people? No! I myself am an Israelite. I am from the family of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God chose the Israelites to be his people before they were born. And God did not leave his people.”
Paul references his own conversion which was a big deal. In fact, in the book of Acts, Luke refers to the conversion three times. He describes Saul as being so stringent that he frightened the Jews because he sought out those who weren’t doing exactly what Saul thought needed to be done. He arrested people, punished them, and as you remember, did not object when people were killed for not fitting the mold that the Pharisees had created. Saul, like many of the Jews, had rejected the idea of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. He condemned those who followed Jesus. Saul made it his life mission to oppose and prevent the spread of Jesus’ followers. That’s what makes his conversion all the more significant. God used the persecuting and defiant Saul and turned him into the compassionate and self-sacrificing Paul which demonstrated God’s plan and purpose for Paul’s life. So after using himself as an example of God’s plan, Paul mentions Elijah.
Romans 11:2-8 ICB “Surely you know what the Scripture says about Elijah, how he prayed to God against the people of Israel. Elijah said, 3 “They have killed your prophets, and they have destroyed your altars. I am the only prophet left. And now they are trying to kill me, too.” 4 But what answer did God give Elijah? He said, “But I have left 7,000 people in Israel. Those 7,000 have never bowed down before Baal.” 5 It is the same now. There are a few people that God has chosen by his grace. 6 And if God chose them by grace, then it is not for the things they have done. If they could be made God’s people by what they did, then God’s gift of grace would not really be a gift.
7 So this is what has happened: The people of Israel tried to be right with God. But they did not succeed. But the ones God chose did become right with him. The others became hard and refused to listen to God. 8 As it is written in the Scriptures:
“God gave the people a dull mind so they could not understand.” (Isaiah 29:10)
“God closed their eyes so they could not see,
and God closed their ears so they could not hear.
This continues until today.” (Deuteronomy 29:4)
Paul is using Elijah’s experience to remind the Romans that these 7,000 Israelites were saved by grace and not by their good works. Israel, prior to Jesus, had been so concerned with pleasing God by being good and doing all of the right things in order to earn a spot on the “nice list”. But Elijah and the other 7,000 realized that accepting the righteousness provided by Jesus and placing our trust in Him was the key to receiving the blessings. (Kind of like telling children that as long as they believe in Santa, he’ll continue bringing them gifts.) That 7,000 represented a very small percentage of the Jewish population at that time. So Paul is pointing out that if God had purposefully saved those 7,000 Jews, what happened to the rest of them?
God gave them a dull mind, blinded them, caused them to be deaf. Much like we discussed a few weeks ago when God purposefully hardened Pharaoh’s heart which made the whole story of Exodus a lot more than just a simple transaction between two men. God intentionally clouded their thinking, seeing, and hearing so that they could not understand.
Paul goes on to quote David in verses 9 & 10. “9 And David says,
“Let those people be caught and trapped at their own feasts.
Let them fall and be punished.
10 Let their eyes be closed so that they cannot see.
And let them be troubled forever.” Romans 11:9-10 ERV
When he says let them be caught and trapped at their own feasts, he’s suggesting that their blessings turn into burdens and judgments. “This is what happened to Israel: Their spiritual blessings should have led them to Christ, but instead they became a snare that kept them from Christ. Their very religious practices and observances became substitutions for the real experience of salvation. Sad to say, this same mistake is made today when people depend on religious rituals and practices instead of trusting in the Christ who is pictured in these activities.” – Warren W. Wiersbe[i]
Paul can certainly relate to that as well as some people today. They live their lives, not in a relationship with God but trying to do all of the right and good things assuming that is what it’s all about; that’s all God wants. By living their lives in this manner, they miss out. They’re not understanding the gifts that God is offering not because they’re being good, but He offers to those who accept Him and love Him.
Paul goes on and references the Gentiles and identifies their role in God’s plan. Romans 11: 11 ERV “So I ask: When the Jews fell, did that fall destroy them? No! But their mistake brought salvation to those who are not Jews. The purpose of this was to make the Jews jealous. 12 Their mistake brought rich blessings to the world. And what they lost brought rich blessings to the non-Jewish people. So surely the world will get much richer blessings when enough Jews become the kind of people God wants.”
You see, that rivalry that parents often use among their kids to get them to behave has been in play for thousands of years. When the Jews failed to accept Jesus, God invited the Gentiles to believe. And Paul tells us that the purpose of all of this happening was to make the Jews jealous. Because the Jews disregarded Jesus, many throughout the world were blessed. The fall of the Jewish nation was tragic but God used that rejection to reach the Gentiles and He never abandoned His original purpose nor did He have to go to Plan B. With God, there is no Plan B because He is sovereign. There was meant to be division and separation and it was always going to be Jesus that tore the veil not just between us and God but also between Jews and Gentiles.
Ephesians 2: 14 ERV “Christ is the reason we are now at peace. He made us Jews and you who are not Jews one people. We were separated by a wall of hate that stood between us, but Christ broke down that wall. By giving his own body, 15 Christ ended the law with its many commands and rules. His purpose was to make the two groups become one in him. By doing this he would make peace. 16 Through the cross Christ ended the hate between the two groups. And after they became one body, he wanted to bring them both back to God. He did this with his death on the cross. 17 Christ came and brought the message of peace to you non-Jews who were far away from God. And he brought that message of peace to those who were near to God. 18 Yes, through Christ we all have the right to come to the Father in one Spirit.
19 So now you non-Jewish people are not visitors or strangers, but you are citizens together with God’s holy people. You belong to God’s family.”
Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast in which a king is throwing a huge banquet for his son’s wedding. Many were invited but they chose not to accept the invitation and show up. Servants were sent out to gather the guests, but still, no one came. In fact, some of them not only didn’t show up but they also killed the servants who came to deliver the message. With tables full of food and drink, the king sent out his servants once again to invite anyone they saw, regardless of whether they were good or bad, naughty, or nice. All the seats were filled. The king enters, surveys the crowd, and spots a man not properly dressed. The king orders the man out of the event and demands that he be tied up and shipped off to hell. This parable is reflective of God being the king, the Jews being the first invited guests who didn’t attend, the prophets such as John the Baptist who were the murdered servants delivering the message, and of course, the Gentiles being the people off of the streets who took advantage of the last-minute invitation. The man who wasn’t dressed properly and was assigned to hell represents those who clothe themselves in self-righteousness rather than the righteousness provided by Jesus Christ. Jesus told this parable to illustrate the undeniable importance of not only accepting His invitation but also accepting His righteousness.
God had a plan all along. Part of that plan was hardening the hearts of Israelites, blinding them and deafening them not for eternity but only “until the time comes for God’s plan for Israel to be fulfilled.”[ii]
God hasn’t abandoned Israel. He hasn’t given up on them. There is a future with them because God will never break His promise with them. Jeremiah 31: 35-37 TLB 35 “The Lord who gives us sunlight in the daytime and the moon and stars to light the night, and who stirs the sea to make the roaring waves—his name is Lord Almighty—says this: 36 I am as likely to reject my people Israel as I am to do away with these laws of nature! 37 Not until the heavens can be measured and the foundations of the earth explored, will I consider casting them away forever for their sins!”
Do the Jewish people deserve that kind of commitment and dedication? They were handpicked by God to be His chosen people. He delivered them, He provided for them. He gave them guidance. He gave them His presence. And then He gave them His most beloved Son and they turned their noses up and walked away failing to accept the greatest and most undeserved gift. It’s hard for us to understand; however, it’s comforting to know that God hasn’t given up on them. He still has them in His plan even though they’ve rejected Him. Some of you may have turned your back on Him and think that there’s no way He’d welcome you back. He will! You’re still part of His plan! You may be like Paul and grieve over the salvation of others and you don’t understand their hardened heart. But God understands and their stone-cold heart may just very well be part of His strategy in their life. We don’t know the mind and thoughts of God!
Romans 11: 25 ICB “I want you to understand this secret truth, brothers. This truth will help you understand that you do not know everything. The truth is this: Part of Israel has been made stubborn. But that will change when many non-Jews have come to God. 26 And that is how all Israel will be saved. It is written in the Scriptures:
“The Savior will come from Jerusalem;
he will take away all evil from the family of Jacob.
27 And I will make this agreement with those people
when I take away their sins.” Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9
28 The Jews refuse to accept the Good News, so they are God’s enemies. This has happened to help you non-Jews. But the Jews are still God’s chosen people, and God loves them very much. He loves them because of the promises he made to their ancestors. 29 God never changes his mind about the people he calls and the things he gives them. 30 At one time you refused to obey God. But now you have received mercy, because those people refused to obey. 31 And now the Jews refuse to obey, because God showed mercy to you. But this happened so that they also can receive mercy from God. 32 All people have refused to obey God. God has given them all over to their stubborn ways, so that God can show mercy to all.
33 Yes, God’s riches are very great! God’s wisdom and knowledge have no end! No one can explain the things God decides. No one can understand God’s ways. 34 As the Scripture says,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Who has been able to give the Lord advice?” Isaiah 40:13
35 “No one has ever given God anything
that he must pay back.” Job 41:11
36 Yes, God made all things. And everything continues through God and for God. To God be the glory forever! Amen.”
This chapter has little to do with Jews or Gentiles. Instead, the roles of the Jews and Gentiles simply magnify God’s goodness, His mercy, His grace. It also helps us to see that despite when things seem to go wrong, God’s plan still moves forward. This chapter enables us to see that God is so loving that He doesn’t discard us but still uses us, even though some reject Him, and even when some are naughty and some are nice.
[i] Be Right, Warren W. Wiersbe
[ii] Be Right, Warren W. Wiersbe