Throughout Romans 9-11 we have followed Paul as he has explained God?s relationship with His Chosen People, the Jews. Paul had an intense love for his own people. After all, Paul was a Jew; a Jew who had embraced Jesus as his Lord and Savior, but he never abandoned his heritage as an Israelite, a Jew. Paul was more aware than anyone that his own people had rejected Jesus as the Messiah and that is why he wrote,
1 I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit– 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel? (Romans 9:1-4 NIV)
If it would have been possible, Paul would have given up his own relationship with Jesus and been cut off from Him for all eternity, if it would have opened the door for the Jews to come to Jesus. That is how much Paul loved his own people. That is an amazing statement isn?t it? Is there anyone in your life who is opposed to Jesus, that you love to that degree? Anyone who the Lord has so laid upon your heart that you ache for them to come to know Jesus? Don?t stop praying for them my friend. Don?t stop pouring your heart out before the Lord on their behalf. It?s not over. Let me say it again?it?s not over. God is at work and His work is far more effective than anything that we could ever do. Our thoughts and ways are so limited, so ordinary, but God?s ways are beyond our wildest comprehension. Our Scripture for today is a great illustration of this truth. Let?s read together from Romans 11:1-11.
1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, 8 as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.” 9 And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. 10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.” (Romans 11:1-10 NIV)
The verb, ????????,? from ???????? (apotheo) means, ?to thrust away, push away, repel, or reject.? The word is used to describe the rejection of God, and His will, by people, God?s rejection of His Chosen People because of their disobedience and sin, and the way in which people reject one another for various reasons. Let me give you just a few examples. In 2 Kings 17:13-15 we read about how God warned His people to turn from their evil ways, but instead of heeding God?s warning, the people rejected God?s counsel. Read along with me.
13 The LORD warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your fathers to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.” 14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the LORD their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the LORD had forbidden them to do. (2 Kings 17:13-15 NIV)
?They would not listen.? They rejected His decrees and covenants.? ?They followed worthless idols and became worthless.? ?They imitated the nations around them? instead of imitating God. As a result of this God rejected them. In 2 Kings 17:18-20 we read,
18 So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. 20 Therefore the LORD rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence. (2 Kings 17:18-20 NIV)
Let me give you just one more example. In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel recognized that Samuel wasn?t getting any younger and they decided they wanted a king to rule over them like all of the nations around them. The news troubled Samuel. He told them that a human king would take advantage of them. He would take their sons and daughters from them so that they might serve him. He would tax them and take the best of their flocks and fields. Samuel knew that God was Israel?s king, but the people wanted to be like the pagan nations that surrounded them.
God told Samuel to give them what they wanted. God provided a king for His people even though it was God?s desire to be their king. Samuel tells the people, in 1 Samuel 10:19.
19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, ‘No, set a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.” (1 Samuel 10:19 NIV)
?Rejection? is a tough experience isn?t it? God wanted more than anything to share in the most intimate relationship with His people, but they rejected Him. They wanted their way more than they wanted God. We read throughout the Hebrew Bible that during those times of rebellion God would reject His people, He would send them into bondage, He would raise up an enemy to discipline the Israelites, or He would allow them to have what they wanted, which in turn, would bring disaster upon them.
Paul reminds us today that God?s rejecting His people in times past, and even in Paul?s day, was not a forever deal. When God?s people would reject Him, it would be for a time, but it was never a final rejection. In the illustration I shared with you earlier, when Israel rejected God as their King in favor of a human king, God did not truly reject His people. Listen to Samuel?s words and you can better understand what I am talking about. Samuel says.
20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. (1 Samuel 12:20-22 NIV)
?For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people, because the Lord was pleased to make you His own.? Can you imagine? After all that Israel had done to turn away from God, even choosing a man, just like themselves, to rule over them, yet God would not reject His people. Can you understand why the love of God has overwhelmed me and all of those who truly understand His great and glorious love?
Again, in Psalm 94:14, God?s people are suffering under the heavy hand of God who has disciplined them because of their wayward hearts. Yet, the Psalmist writes,
14 For the LORD will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. (Psalm 94:14 NIV)
God chose the Israelites to be His own people. It was not the Israelite?s obedience that led God to choose them; it was His choice to lavish them with His love. Just as it was not Israel?s obedience that led God to choose them, neither will their disobedience cause God to totally reject His Chosen people. Let?s take a look at verses 1-5 of our Scripture for today.
1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. (Romans 11:1-5 NIV)
Paul, in demonstrating to his listeners that God has not rejected the Jews, uses himself as the best ?test case? possible. If God was finished with His Chosen people then why would God choose the Apostle Paul to be the primary spokesperson for the Gospel? Paul identifies himself as ?an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, and from the tribe of Benjamin.? You can?t get more Jewish than the Apostle Paul and yet Paul was chosen by God, hand-picked to be God?s point man for the spread of the Good News about Jesus.
God certainly didn?t choose Paul because of his ?Christ-like? demeanor and love for all of God?s people. Have you forgotten the state of Paul?s heart when God chose him? Turn with me to Acts 8:1-3 and let?s read together. While you are turning to our Scripture, let me give you a little background. A great persecution had broken out against God?s people and a man named, Saul, who would later be known as Paul, was the ringleader of the persecutors. A tragic occurrence happened when Stephen, one of Jesus? followers was stoned to death because of his vocal passion for the Lord. When Stephen was executed we read.
1And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8:1-3 NIV)
Saul was right there, applauding the execution of Stephen, yet in the wink of an eye, Saul would be confronted by Jesus, who would change his name to Paul and use him to write more books of the New Testament than any other author. Jesus would use Paul to spread the Gospel in an unprecedented manner. Jesus would so change Paul that his hatred for Jesus and His followers would be transformed into a love that was so strong that he was willing to forsake, if possible, his relationship to Jesus so that others might know him.
After Paul uses himself as an example of how God wasn?t through with the Jews, he turns his attention to the time of Elijah. Elijah was a prophet of God who stood up to King Ahab and his wicked wife, Queen Jezebel. The king and queen had allowed pagan worship to all but wipe out the worship of Almighty God. There were false pagan priests and pagan prophets everywhere. Elijah had had enough. He called for a showdown on Mt. Carmel between himself and the false prophets. When everyone gathered on Mt. Carmel, Elijah addressed the people. In 1 Kings 18:21-22 we read,
21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. 22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. (1 Kings 18:21-22 NIV)
450 against 1? That doesn?t sound like a fair fight. Elijah didn?t think it was fair either because he knew the truth written in Romans 8 even before it was written: ??If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 NIV)
Elijah, or I should say, God, won! Hands down. No contest. It was a walkover, a run rule, the false prophets threw in the towel and the people fell on their faces and cried out, ?The Lord?He is God! The Lord?He is God!? Elijah must have thought that things were looking up until he heard that Queen Jezebel was after him. Elijah faced off with 450 false prophets of Baal, but he ran for his life when he heard that Jezebel was after him. When he finally stopped running, Elijah sat down and the Lord came to Elijah. Listen in on their conversation.
9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:9-10 NIV)
Elijah didn?t say that the surrounding nations had broken down God?s altars and killed God?s prophets?he says that the Israelites had done these detestable things. He goes on to say, ?I am the only one left.? ?In a nation called to worship and serve You, O Lord, I am the only one left!? It?s a lonely feeling when we believe we are the only one isn?t it? Walking down the hall at school with not a friend in sight, not one to come to mind, being alone is overwhelming. Finding out from the doctor that there is bad news and not having a soul to lean upon?the bad news seems even worse. Taking a stand for the Lord and knowing that there are others who claim to be followers of Jesus in the crowd, yet not a word is spoken, no support is found. Lonely, depressing, feeling isolated and hopeless?being alone is dreadful. That is just what Elijah felt and yet God said,
18 “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18 NIV)
Get up Elijah! God?s working in ways and in places that you can?t even imagine! You can?t see what He sees. You can?t understand what?s happening like God understands what?s happening. Just get up and do what God has called you to do and leave the rest to Him. He?s working and you are not alone.
In verse 5, Paul says that just as in the days of Elijah, when God preserved a ?remnant? among those who had turned away to worthless things, so even now, ?there is a remnant chosen by grace.? Read Romans 11:5 with me.
5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. (Romans 11:5 NIV)
Paul uses a very important word that we need to understand when he brings up the ?remnant.? The Greek noun, ???????? (leimma) refers to a ?remnant,” or “what is left over,” or “what remains,” or “surplus.” The idea of the remnant came to prominence during the times of the prophets, even though you can easily see the concept at work throughout history. When God?s judgment would come upon His people, God would preserve a number of folks. When God would scatter His people because of their sin, He would bring back the remnant to reestablish the nation. When God?s people would turn away from Him, God would preserve a small number of folks who remained faithful to Him?like in the time of Elijah. Let me show you what I?m talking about. In Isaiah 1:7-9 we see how God preserved the survivors.
7 Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. 8 The Daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a field of melons, like a city under siege. 9 Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah. (Isaiah 1:7-9 NIV)
Jeremiah was called, ?the weeping prophet,? because his message was stern and the people were unwilling to hear and repent. As a result, God?s judgment came, but it would not last forever. In Jeremiah 31:7-8 we read,
7 This is what the LORD says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ 8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. (Jeremiah 31:7-8 NIV)
I want you to notice something about the passage we just looked at. Who was it that would survive the attack of the enemy? Who would survive the exile into a foreign land and one day return home? Would it be the strong who would survive? Would it be the most intelligent? The most resilient? The financially affluent? God says that He will bring back the ?blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor.? Aren?t these the least likely to survive such an ordeal? Of course they are the least likely and that is exactly my point. These were preserved by God. They were empowered by God, they were led by God, they were carried by God. In Romans 11:5, Paul says that there is a ?remnant chosen by grace.?
The Jews of Paul?s day had rejected Jesus as a whole, and yet there were those faithful Jews who had turned to Jesus and not away from Him. Have you forgotten what John wrote?
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (John 11:45-46 NIV)
The mission to the Jews was largely unsuccessful as we have seen in our study of Romans, and yet there were those Jews, the remnant if you will, who heard the Gospel and turned to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Luke tells us in Acts 17:11-12 about even more Jews who believed. He writes,
11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:11-12 NIV)
This takes me back to the beginning of our study. It?s not over. Not by any means is it over my friend. Because of their rejection of Jesus and their absolute hatred of Jesus? followers you would think that God was done with the Jews, that He had given up any hope of His Chosen people ever turning to Jesus. You might be led to believe that God had decided to not waste His time with the Jews, but you would be absolutely wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has always been working. He is the Lord of history and His will is sure to be accomplished, not only in the lives of the Jews, but in your life and mine as well.
You may have a loved one or friend that is defiant towards anything that has to do with God. They?ve dug in their heels. You try to talk to them about Jesus and the difference He has made in your life, but they mock you, they get angry, they hold nothing back in letting you know they think you are a fool for believing as you do. All evidence might lead you to believe that they will never come to know Jesus?they will never love Him the way you love Him. Don?t you believe it for a minute. If God is not through with His obstinate and disobedient people then neither is He through with those you know who are obstinate and disobedient. Keep praying and pouring your heart out before God on their behalf.
There may be someone here this morning who is not nearly as vocal in your defiance of God as those I’ve just described, but you would have to admit that you have an ?authority issue.? You just don?t want anyone telling you how to live your life. You like Jesus for what He did, how He cared for people, and the way that He was His own ?man,? but even as you admire Him you don?t want Him dictating how you live your life. You want to be your own man. My friend, you are just as defiant as the vocal opponent of Jesus. As a matter of fact, you are worse off because you praise Him with your lips, but your heart is far from Him. I want to invite you this morning to lay down your defiance and fall into His arms of grace. He has called you to be His own. Won?t you invite Him into your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 30, 2009