Ah, Romans 11:
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs for ever.”
11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant towards the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: 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 banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counsellor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.
This is the visual aid/representation I used to help the group understand Romans 11 last evening. It only looks like a used kitchen towel cardboard tube mounted sloppily on an empty Kernel Brewery stout bottle, but is actually the cultivated olive tree of God’s people (cf Romans 11:24).
The paper represents the fourth dimension of time-space. As the cultivated olive tree travels through human history, our understanding of who exactly is on the olive tree is sharpened.
Previously, it seemed as if all ethnic Jews (the green and black jelly babies) were God’s people. But Paul has demonstrated decisively in Romans so far that neither heritage, circumcision, possession of the Law, or the keeping of it (well, not that any one kept it perfectly).
For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring… (Romans 9:8)
So some of the original branches of the cultivated olive tree are broken off (11:17,19) = no longer God’s people.
- Because of the Jews’ trespass (11:1) and the Jews’ disobedience (11:30), there was a partial hardening of Jews (11:25).
- Paul was sent instead as apostle to the Gentiles (11:13, cf. Acts 13:46, Acts 18:6).
- So Gentiles receive mercy (11:30) and salvation comes to them (11:11) – hooray us!
So some Gentiles (the ones who trusted that Jesus’ death would save them from the due penalty of their sins), the “wild olive shoots” (11:17) are grafted onto the original cultivate olive tree of God’s people.
- Some Jews see this and get jealous (11:11, 14) and do not continue in their unbelief (11:23).
- And so some Jews Jews receive mercy (11:31) and are saved (11:14).
- This is how God will get the full inclusion of all elect Jews (11:12) and the fullness of all elect Gentiles (11:25). So all Israel (being the totality of God’s people who have been elected by God and have had faith in Christ) will be saved (11:26).
Got to love how Paul breaks out in praise at these great truths. He praises the depths (the bottomless pit?!) of:
- God’s unsearchable judgements (11:33) – check out his decisions, check out the way he runs the world;
- God’s inscrutable ways (11:33) – if any one was still thinking that Christianity was something someone made up, they would be so wrong. Look at the process of salvation we just saw – mind blown!;
- no one can understand God’s infinitely great mind (11:34) – can we puny fallen humans suggest that we think it would be much better if he had done his salvation plan another way? No way, Jose;
- no one can demand that God does anything (11:35) – he owes nobody nothin’.
And if that wasn’t enough, Romans 11:36 sums it all up:
- “from him” – God is the source of all things;
- “through him” – he is the enabler and sustainer of all things
- “to him” – he is the goal of all things
To him be glory forever!
So who can be ashamed of the gospel (cf Romans 1:16)? No one! And instead of being embarrassed about all the issues we’d been wrestling with (predestination, the seeming priority of the Jews (“to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles”) etc), the right response is to turn to God in praise because this is truly a God we can worship – not the insipid sort that we can understand completely with our human minds and offer a few suggestions for improvement to.
And it isn’t as if he is incoherent and illogical and unreasonable but we should trust him anyway. Rather, he has shown enough proof of his righteousness (doing right in both justice and mercy) and trustworthiness and absolute control and power to make us trust him for the things we barely understand and for the things he has not revealed to us.