Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bound over to disobedience so that all come to know God by his mercy

Read Romans 11

Next to the election and college football, it is the most talked about subject in 21st century America.  You guessed it—Jews and Gentiles. 

Workspaces, coffee shops, up and down the halls in the high school it is all that people are talking about, right?

I’m sure that in the next and thankfully final presidential debate the topic will surely occupy at least half of the time.  How is God dealing with the Jews and the Gentiles?

I will concede that Israel does come up in the news on a regular basis but the conversation about Jew and Gentile is mostly confined to Bible studies and sermons.  Can’t we just skip this chapter and get on to more relevant stuff?  This is 2016, almost 2017!

I would think that there were many Roman believers that initially lost interest or may have even been offended at this point.  Jew and Gentile were a Jewish perspective of the world.  Paul was writing to believers at the seat of power in that day’s empire.

There was Rome.  There were Roman colonies.  Everyone else was just a conquered nation.  Paul was writing to a people whose thinking was or at least had been that there was Rome and there was everyone else and everyone else didn’t matter so much.

In fact, to say Jew and Gentile might even be a little offensive to the Hebrew people as well.  These people were not really called Jews until Babylon and thereafter.  The Hebrew people taken from Jerusalem were second or third class citizens to the Babylonians.  Many of these people rose to high positons in Babylon and remained faithful to the one true God, but they were generally despised.

So what’s up with this Jew and Gentile stuff?  Why does it matter to me?

Jesus is Lord.  I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have professed with my mouth and believe in my heart.  I want to love one another.  Yes, I know that Jesus was born into this world as a Jew to parents who lived by the law.  Do I really need to know the whole Jewish kit and caboodle?  Let’s just take the New Testament and run with it.

I agree!  Let’s take the New Testament and run with it, but let’s do it fully equipped for every good work.  We who live in this age where we don’t read a Facebook post longer than a paragraph or watch a video if it takes more than 15 seconds to load need to understand that we are part of a very big story.

Some hear the word story and think fiction, but the story is just one way to communicate.  Only some stories are fiction.  Jesus used stories, many are called parables.  God has been telling a story since the creation of the world.
We are grafted in to His Story that he has told since he spoke everything into existence.  God created then God chose.  

Adam and Eve were not Hebrews.  They were people, creatures made in a divine image.  Out of this human race he chose a people to know more closely and through which to tell his story.

Israel was chosen by God to receive an identity as a special people—a treasured people if you will.  The men were chosen to receive a sign in the flesh.  The entire nation was chosen to receive God’s law.  Paul even called it a trust.  These same people were chosen to receive a land promised long ago to them.

And they were the people chosen to deliver the Savior of the world to the world.

For God so loved the Jews that he sent his one and only Son that whichever of his chosen people would believe in him….   Wait one minute!  That’s not the way the verse reads.

Why not?  Was Jesus not sent to the lost sheep of Israel?

Yes!  And he was sent to save all who would call upon his name and believe in him!

God’s desire is that none perish and all come to salvation in Christ Jesus.  This is a love story—the greatest love story if you will.  Now in this great love story there may be some tragedy, and hurt, and pain as we often find even in love stories authored by men, but God’s love and his salvation are extended to all.

We have been grafted into this tree.  We were a wild branch and now have been grafted into this tree and we find that it’s a good thing. 

But unlike an actual branch, we want to know where the goodness comes from.  We want to know where our life sustaining fullness comes from.  We want to know how deep the roots go.

We who do not have the human blood of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob want to know that we truly belong in God’s family.  We want to know that we are connected all the way to the roots.

Jesus said that he was the vine and we are the branches.  Without him we can do nothing.  Paul used an olive tree to illustrate our connection to God.

But to get His Story from one chosen people to the world, it would take a hardening of his own people and an atoning sacrifice of divine blood.

The Savior came from these chosen people but most would not know him.  They were drunk, in a stupor, blind to the salvation to the world.  Prophecy foretold this with words such as stumbling block and cornerstone.

We may wonder why it had to be this way but we must not doubt that God is the author of this story—of His Story.  He wrote it start to finish.

Branches stripped off of his chosen people so that wild branches might be grafted in—that’s how the hook to the story on the back of the book would read.

The transgression of the chosen made way for the salvation of the many might get you to read the first chapter.  This is the story of our great and mighty God working within his own creation.

Sometimes, we who are part of that creation and part of that story wonder, why did it have to be this way?    Did his chosen people really have to stumble for us to be brought into the favor of God?  These are some interesting plot twists.

C’mon God, you could have just started with everybody.  You could have made us right with you in the beginning.  You could have given the law to everyone.  If you would have given the law before the people made the Tower of Babel we wouldn’t even have to translate it.

Time and again it seems that we as the crown of God’s creation question God’s ways.  We want to know the why.  We want some answers.  What sort of answer do we get?

We get what Jesus told Peter as he prepared to wash his feet.  “You won’t understand this now, but later you will.”

Of course when Jesus gives Peter a little bit of the explanation, Peter wants an entire bath.  We have a hard time being satisfied with the part of the story that we are given.

We want the why and some answers and we get Isaiah.

God’s ways are higher than our ways.  His thoughts are higher…

Being a Gentile, I guess I can live with that as I am the beneficiary of the way the story went.   In His Story, God’s love and salvation has come to me. 

Don’t you wish that Paul had known—that he might have had foreknowledge—that one day there would be a United States?


Then he could have classified people as Jew, Gentile, and Americans.  Why should we get lumped in with the Gentiles? 

I may not quite understand His Story completely, but I am glad that God’s love was for the Gentiles and Americans, but it seems that God’s chosen people were just used and then kicked to the curb.  Bummer.

Paul reminds his readers in the 1st and 21st centuries that the story of God’s chosen people is still playing out.

When the number of Gentiles and Americans—I sure hope that I don’t bite my tongue while it’s stuck in my cheek—becomes complete, then God’s people will come to know the fullness of God that we know in Christ.  They are surely not left out.

Now if we who are like a wild branch grafted into a cultivated tree know the abundant love and life rooted in that cultivated tree, how much more will the original branches know that life and love and abundance when they are brought back in?

But it all seems to be a rather circuitous route.  What did God think he would accomplish by telling His Story this way?  It’s not like he couldn’t have hired a couple dozen studio consultants to polish this story of which we are now a part.  What did he accomplish by doing it this way?

That all would come to know God through his grace and mercy.  Hebrew, Gentile, and even American all have the same route to life, life abundant, and life eternal.

It is the grace, favor, and mercy that we know in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Hebrew people—Israel—would have and continue to have a special part in His Story but they would come to truly know their God as we know him, by his mercy and grace.

Paul ended this chapter with what many of your Bibles label a doxology.  Why would he do that?  It is not the end of the letter.  Why bring in this special insert of glory and praise now?

Perhaps it is because up to now he has intertwined so many things—knowing there is a God, sin, falling short, grace, salvation, discipleship, and being a part of His Story

If you grew up a Hebrew, this was always a part of the story that you knew.  As a Gentile coming into God’s family, this is what Paul Harvey used to call, the rest of the story.  As the apostle Paul continues, we will spend most of our time in the area of discipleship.

How are we to live in response to God’s fantastic mercy and grace?  We are going to get into some discipleship in the chapters to come.

For now, know that God continues to be directly involved in his creation working with both those he chose through Abraham’s lineage and those whom he has called out of the world by his Holy Spirit to follow Jesus and take his good news to the world.

Be thankful that the Author of all things has written us into His Story not as an extra but having very much a lead role in working out this wonderful gift that we know as our salvation so that we too may bring glory to God.

Living out our salvation to bring glory to God is our part of His Story.

Let’s finish as Paul did, with that doxology.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
 “Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever!

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