It’s a wild world isn’t it? Who can even begin to understand the puzzles, peculiarities, and particularities of life and the wonders of creation? I often hear people say, “I just don’t understand?” Well, I don’t either, but that is one of the most intriguing things about this life isn’t it? We just don’t understand. There is so much that we don’t understand.
For most people, the phrase, “I just don’t understand,” is used when the tough times of life roll around. I would like to try and broaden our use of the phrase this morning. There is so much about life and the wonders of God’s creation that are so far beyond our understanding. Let me give you just a few things to ponder. Did you know?
* The Air Force’s F-117 fighter jet uses aerodynamics discovered during research into how bumblebees fly. Who would have ever thought you could learn so much from a bumblebee?
* Urine from male cape water buffaloes is so flammable that some tribes use it for lantern fuel. Maybe GM and Ford can create a water buffalo powered engine?
* There are about 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body.
* The acid in your stomach is strong enough to dissolve razor blades.
* We get a new stomach lining every three to four days. If we didn’t, the strong acids our stomachs use to digest food would also digest our stomachs.
* Your thigh bone is stronger than concrete.
* A cockroach can live for 9 days without its head. It only dies because it can’t eat.
* The earth turns on its axis one complete time per day. For this to happen it must turn at about 1000 miles per hour. If it weren’t for gravity we’d fly off of the face of the earth!
* The earth revolves around the sun one complete time per year. To complete the rotation the earth must move at approximately 66,000 miles per hour. Are you getting dizzy?
* A camel can drink about 200 liters of water in a day.
* Camels have two layers of thick eyelashes to protect their eyes from the sand and dust.
And who would have ever thought it? Isn’t God’s creativity and design truly incredible? These are just a sampling of some of the wonders, mysteries, and peculiarities of life and creation. Is it any wonder that we don’t understand?
In our Scripture for today we are going to take a look at another of the mysterious ways of our God. We’ve already gotten a taste of the perplexity felt by the people of Paul’s day as we’ve been studying Romans. They just didn’t understand what God was doing with the Jewish people. Paul doesn’t place the question on the lips of the people of Rome; he poses the question himself and then offers an answer. The question was, “Has God rejected His people?” Jew and Gentile alike were asking the question.
The Gospel was spreading like wildfire. In the midst of persecution and opposition, the Church was growing. The Jewish leaders were losing their influence and no matter how boldly they opposed the followers of Jesus, they would not be silent. Emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome in 49 A.D. The Romans took over control of Jerusalem in 63 A.D. and it remained under Roman control until the Roman military commander, Titus, destroyed the city in 70 A.D. Long before the fall of Jerusalem, God had sent His Son, Jesus, the Messiah, Savior of both Jew and Gentile, but the vast majority of Jews had rejected Him. To the naked eye it appeared that God was finished with His Chosen people. No wonder the people of Rome were wondering if God had washed His hands of the Jews. Paul puts the question that was rambling around in the heads of those in the church at Rome on paper when he writes in Romans 11:1,
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. (Romans 11:1 NIV)
Paul answered the question by using himself as an example. “I am an Israelite. There is nobody who is more of a Jew than I am. I’m a descendant of Abraham. I’m from the tribe of Benjamin.” When we come to our Scripture for today, Paul gives us an even better understanding of what God was, and continues to do among His Chosen people, the Jews. Let’s read together from Romans 11:11-16.
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! 13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. (Romans 11:11-16 NIV)
Is the situation of the Jews hopeless? That is at the root of the question that Paul is presenting. His answer is, “Absolutely not!” As a matter of fact, God has been working, even while the Jews continue to turn away, God has been and is working, and this is what He’s doing–salvation has been made available to you Gentiles. God has turned His attention our way for the time being.
This was not a new revelation. Jesus, while He was constantly being harassed by the Pharisees and Sadducees, spoke about the “Kingdom” being ripped from the Jews and given to the Gentiles. In Matthew 21:33f, Jesus told a parable. Read along with me.
33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. (Matthew 21:33-43 NIV) See also Matthew 22:1-15.
Jesus didn’t mention any particular group by name, but they knew who He was talking about. The reason I know that is because of the very next verse. Read along with me from Matthew 21:45.
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. (Matthew 21:45 NIV)
Why would God do such a thing? The Jews are God’s Chosen people. Throughout the Hebrew Bible you can read about the special relationship the Jews had with God because of God’s choosing. Why would God choose to rip the Kingdom from their hands and make it available to those who formerly were not His Chosen people? That’s a great question and if you don’t understand “why” God chose the Jews then you can easily come to the conclusion that God just got ticked off and made an arbitrary decision one day. That would be the furthest thing from reality.
Let’s go back and take a look at God’s choosing of Abraham, the Father of the Jews. In Genesis 12:2-3 we read,
2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3 NIV)
Why did God choose Abraham? To bless him so that he could be a blessing. God said, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” “All peoples” includes all people! Not just Jews, but all people. There is a riveting Scripture, prophecy if you will, found in Isaiah 49:1-6 that drives home the purpose for which God chose the Jews. God says, “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” What’s really interesting is that the Jewish people see themselves as the “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah. It is pretty clear that Israel, as a people, is not the Suffering Servant. The One that God is referring to, the One who will accomplish these things, is His Messiah, Jesus. It is ironic that the Jews see themselves as the fulfillment of this Scripture because God says that this One that He is going to use will be a light to the Gentiles. Rather than being a light to the Gentiles, the Jews despised the Gentiles. They called Gentiles, “dogs,” they looked down upon the Gentile world, and they even prayed regularly and thanked God that He did not make them a Gentile. Let’s read the Scripture I have been referring to in Isaiah 49:5-6.
5 And now the LORD says– he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength– 6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:5-6 NIV)
Many years later Paul and Barnabas were in Pisidian Antioch spreading the Good News. You can read about it in Acts 13. As Paul was preaching about Jesus many of the Jews rose up in jealousy and began to talk noise to Paul and Barnabas. As soon as Paul heard their words, we read,
46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” (Acts 13:46-47 NIV)
Did that last phrase from Paul’s lips sound familiar to you? It is a quote from Isaiah 49:6. God’s intent from the very beginning was to bring His salvation to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The Jews were chosen to be His instrument, His vehicle if you will, to carry the Good News to the nations. Some individual Jews embraced God’s Messiah and joined the movement to make Jesus known to a lost world, but the vast majority of the Jews hardened their hearts to Jesus. Do you remember the verse we read back in Romans 10:21?
21 But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (Romans 10:21 NIV)
Now that we understand that God didn’t choose the Jews because He wanted them to be the “Big Man on Campus,” or to hold some privileged position like a blue-blood elitist member of society, we can move on. Let’s go back to our Scripture for today found in Romans 11:11-12.
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! (Romans 11:11-12 NIV)
God used the hardening of the Jews to the message of Jesus to carry that message of hope and salvation to the Gentiles. But, like an infomercial, “That’s not all!” God’s intent is to use the salvation and blessings that are now being lavished upon the Gentiles to make His Chosen people envious and draw them back to Himself. When Paul writes that “salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious,” he uses a very helpful word to help us understand what God is up to.
The Greek word for “envious” is the word, “parazeloo,” and it means, “to provoke to jealousy, rivalry, or emulation.” The usual translation of the word is “zeal.” Zeal can be either a positive of a negative thing. In a negative sense the word is used to describe jealousy felt by a husband or wife or by someone who is jealous of what another person has. In 2 Corinthians 11:2 we see that “zeal” or “jealousy” can have a godly expression. Paul is passionate about people coming to know Jesus and growing in their relationship with Him. He is worried that the Corinthians are losing their way and being deceived. He writes in 2 Corinthians 11:2.
2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. (2 Corinthians 11:2 NIV)
The word translated as “envious” can also mean “to provoke to emulation.” When we see the characteristics of Jesus shining brightly in someone’s life it makes us want Jesus to shine through our own lives with such radiance and clarity. We see an example of this in 2 Corinthians as well. Paul had been taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem. The church in Corinth had responded in such a way that Paul was bragging about them to the churches in Macedonia. In 2 Corinthians 9:1-2, Paul writes,
1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. (2 Corinthians 9:1-2 NIV)
Do you see what happened? The generosity of the people of Corinth had “stirred” the desires of the people in Macedonia. I can really relate to that can’t you? When I see someone who is so excited about giving of themselves it makes me want to give more. It makes me “envious,” not in a jealous way, but in a godly way. I want to be used by God in the same way.
In Romans 11, Paul says that salvation, God’s rich blessings are being showered on the Gentiles so that the Jews will become envious of what Jesus is doing through their lives and want to come to Jesus as well. What an incredible design! Who would have ever thought it?
The blessings that you and I are experiencing, the blessings of knowing Jesus, of having Jesus forgive us our sins, and then use us as ambassadors of this salvation message–how did this come about? Paul writes in verse 12,
12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! (Romans 11:12 NIV)
Through the transgressions, the turning away of the Jews, God’s glorious grace has been made available to you and me. Once the Jews’ eyes are opened to the Truth of God’s salvation found in Jesus, and they turn back to the Lord in faith, how much greater will the reality of what God is doing be for all of us!
In Romans 11:13-15, Paul continues his line of thought and stresses that he is the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul views his own ministry as a part of God’s plan in making the Jews envious. Paul’s great hope is that what God is doing through his own ministry to the Gentiles will arouse, it will stir up, the Jews, not in anger and hostility, but with a desire to embrace Jesus. Paul writes,
13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:13-15 NIV)
For the Apostle Paul, for you and me, for every follower of Jesus, our heart’s desire should be that God’s Chosen people will see Jesus so clearly through us that they desire to know Jesus as well. John MacArthur writes,
It should be the desire of every Christian to manifest the spiritual realities of a transformed life that would draw unbelieving Jews to belief in our Lord and their Messiah, a witness that would tap their divinely-inspired jealousy of Gentiles and be used to turn it to a divinely-desired faith in His Son. Unfortunately, the Christianity that Jews see in many professed, and even some genuine, Christians reflects little of the love and righteousness of Christ and of the salvation He brings. When they see Gentile Christians who are dishonest and immoral, and especially those who are anti-Semitic in the name of Christ (who was the supremely perfect Jew), they are deeply and understandably offended and repulsed. They are anything but jealous of such Gentiles, and they distance themselves still further from the Lord instead of drawing closer to Him. (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. 1994.)
What a powerful, but disturbing truth! The witness of the Church to the Jewish people has been anything but effective because so many Christians have taken the mindset that the Jews of Jesus’ day had towards Gentiles. Jews are the punch-lines of jokes, they have been labeled as “Christ-killers,” they’ve been looked down upon by society throughout the years. We must realize that the Jews are, not were, but are God’s Chosen people. We share a common history with the Jewish people and one great and glorious day we will all share, Jew and Gentile alike, in glorious worship around the throne of our Messiah! What a day that will be.
Before I get out of here this morning I need to stress one more thing. This mindset of allowing Jesus to shine through our lives in such a way that the Jewish people will become envious of how the Lord is working in our lives should not just be limited to the Jewish people. We should pray each and every day that others would see Jesus so clearly through our lives that they would be envious of what God is doing in our lives and want to know Him as well.
Did God use someone like that in your own life? Was there someone God placed in your life that you saw something different about them only to find out that the difference was Jesus? That is sure my story. I wanted what he had. He had peace even though there were storms in his life. He had purpose where I was trying to figure out a purpose for my life. He wasn’t driven by what others thought about him, but I sure was. He laughed and had fun, but not in the same way that my friends did. He was just different, but in a very attractive way to me. His explanation for what was different about him was a one word answer, Jesus.
This should also be the prayer for our church. We may not have all of the bells and whistles that some churches have, but if Jesus can so shine through our lives so that others see Him and not us, then you better believe that Britton Christian Church will attract people like a bear to honey. This should be our prayer.
It is my prayer that if you are here this morning and you do not know Jesus as Lord of your life that you see something different about us, something that is attractive to you. If that happens to be the case then you need to know that what you see is not our character or integrity or love or sincerity, but it the transforming power of our Savior at work in us. I pray that you will be so envious of what God is doing through the lives of those who know Jesus that you want to know Him as well.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 17, 2014