Sermon preached September 25, 2022; Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Pastor
I want to warn you at the outset that this may be the most difficult part of Romans to wrap our heads around. Did you know that in 2 Peter 3:!6, the apostle Peter admits that sometimes Paul is hard to understand? I think he was talking about Romans 11!
This week I asked a question on Facebook to help me with this sermon. The question was, can you think of a movie, book, or play where the plot centered around one character pretending to be in love with another character in order to make a third character jealous.
The answers I got said as much about what a diverse group of friends I have as anything else.
I’ve got a couple of English major friends who immediately said things like “Much Ado About Nothing” by Shakespeare. Or Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Leo Tolstoy.
Then there were folks kind of in the middle who suggested movies like Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett pretends to be in love with Ashley Wilkes to make Rhett Butler jealous.
Finally, then there were some more current pop culture fans, who referenced Harry Potter, High School Musical, every Hallmark movie ever, and a line from Friends— WE WERE ON A BREAK!
My personal favorite was from my buddy who said “The Empire Strikes Back. But that got weird in a hurry, because you find out in the third movie that Luke and Leia are brother and sister.”
But the point of that little Facebook poll was to show that this is a plot point that runs all through the history of storytelling. From Wuthering Heights to High School Musical to Bob’s Burgers (thanks, Jordan Bailey)! A man falls in love with a woman and pursues her. The woman loses interest, or the man gets distracted So the man starts showing attention to another woman, or vice versa, hoping that his first true love will realize what she’s lost and come back to him.
Now, I bring this up this morning because believe it or not, this is also a plot point in the greatest love story in history. It’s central to God’s plan for the future of Israel, and it’s the reason we Gentiles have a relationship with God in the first place. It may sound weird, but stick with me, because it’s right here in Scripture.
We are calling this part three of the Israel Trilogy that makes up Romans 9-11. We saw in Romans 9 that God chose Israel from the very beginning to be the people from whom Jesus the Messiah would come.
Then, in chapter 10, Paul lays out what it means to put your trust in Jesus for salvation, and he says it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, everyone comes to a relationship with Jesus the same way.
So chapter 11 wraps up the Israel trilogy by answering the question, has God permanently rejected the Jews? Are they still God’s chosen people? And what is His plan for their restoration?
The answers are,
- No He hasn’t,
- yes they are,
- and God is going to use us—the Gentiles—to bring the Jews back to himself.
John MacArthur points out that we can know for sure that God isn’t done with Israel for the simple reason that all of His promises to her have not yet been fulfilled. “If God were through with His chosen nation, His Word would be false and His integrity discredited.” (MacArthur, 32).
if God had totally rejected Israel, that would mean that some of God’s promises had failed. And if there is a consistent message from Genesis to maps in the Bible, it is that God can be trusted.
So God has not ultimately rejected Israel. He has a plan for their redemption. And here’s the crazy part: we are part of that plan!
Now, get ready for the plot twist: God’s plan for the restoration of Israel is that He is going to make Israel jealous by offering grace and a relationship with Himself to the Gentiles.
You thought you were just coming to church to hear a sermon this morning, didn’t you? You had no idea that you were a character in the most epic 80’s date movie in the Universe!
Let’s see how this plays out. I want to take you first to a couple of verses in chapter 10 that we didn’t really talk about last week. Turn back to Romans 10. Paul has just laid out how to be saved: If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. That’s how its done. There’s not a different process for the Jews. The law can’t save you. Being a son of Abraham can’t save you. If a Jew puts his faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, they will be saved.
But in verse 16 of Romans 10, Paul acknowledges that they (Israel) “have not all obeyed the gospel. They’ve heard the gospel (verse 17), and they’ve understood the gospel (verse 19).
But they rejected the gospel because they rejected Christ.
There’s a scene in Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas have been preaching in the Jewish synagogue. This was Paul’s pattern. Everywhere he went, he went to the synagogue first. But in Acts 13:44, it says that the Jews [pay attention to the wording here] were “filled with jealousy when they saw the crowds.” And so in verse 46, Paul says,
“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’””
Acts 13:44-47 ESV
And from then on, Paul considered himself the apostle to the Gentiles. I think its fascinating that Acts 13 says the Jews became “jealous.” Because as Paul points out in Romans 10:19, this is exactly what God, through Moses, said would happen.
“But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.””
Romans 10:19 ESV
So, what Paul wrote about in Romans 10 was first prophesied by Moses waaay back in Deuteronomy 32:21. Before Israel had even settled into the Promised Land, Moses prophesied that there would come a day when God would provoke the Jews to jealousy by establishing a relationship with a foolish nation.
Side note: You want to know if America is talked about in Scripture? The answer is yes, Here we are. We are the foolish nation that God’s going to use to make the Jews jealous.
So this sets the stage for Romans 11, where God lays out his plan for restoring Israel. Let’s pick up with the beginning of Romans 11. Let’s look at the first couple of verses. Verses 1-2:
Has God rejected his people? Paul’s answer is a Greek phrase me genoito, which means, “May it never be.” The most polite way we would say it today is “heck, no.” God’s rejection of Israel is not total. There has always been, and always will be, a completed remnant.
Exhibit A is Paul himself. Paul was the greatest missionary of the Christian faith, yet he never considered himself as a Christian. Every time he describes himself, it is as a Jew. Here. Philippians 3. Acts 22:3. Paul always thought of himself as a Jew. And his message is pretty straightforward: If God didn’t reject me, then there is hope for my people.
Exhibit B is Elijah. Look at the rest of verse 2, and into the next verses:
…Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Paul is reminding his readers of the story of Elijah from the book of 1 Kings. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah has just single-handedly faced down the 450 prophets of Baal, but when Jezebel puts a bounty on Elijah’s head, Elijah has a little bit of a pity party and cries out to God, “Lord they have killed your prophets and demolished your altars, and I’m the only one left.” And God’s response is, “No, you’re not. I kept for myself 7000 men who didn’t bow the knee to Baal.”
So the point is, God ALWAYS preserves a remnant. Verse 5:
So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
The point of all this is that God’s rejection of Israel is not total. No matter how bad things get, there will always be a remnant of faithful Jews. But don’t miss verse 5. They are chosen by grace, not because of their righteous deeds. God didn’t do a reality show called “Israel’s Got Goodness” and pick the winners. The remnant is chosen by grace. That’s an object lesson for the rest of us.
There is a believing remnant of Jews today—Jews who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. The most common term for this group is Messianic Jews, although you may hear the phrase “completed Jews” from time to time.
But when we say remnant, we mean REMNANT. It is a tiny amount. If you go to Israel today, there are around 20,000 Messianic Jews in the country. That was as of 2012, so it may be higher now. 20,000 Messianic Jews in Israel. Which sounds great, but keep in mind that represents .0003% of the total number of Jews in Israel.
There are actually ten times as many Arab Christians in Jordan as there are Jewish Christians in Israel. Worldwide, there are about 300,000 Messianic Jews, compared to about 10-15 million Arab Christians.
This is stunning. Are you starting to feel Paul’s heartache from chapter 9, where he says he has “unceasing anguish” for his kinsmen?
If you go to Israel with me is, there is an almost 100% chance that our tour guide will not be a believer. Both times I’ve gone, our guide hasn’t even been a religiously observant Jew, much less a believer.
Here are these incredibly intelligent guides who have gone through a rigorous training process to be certified as a guide. They know the scriptures backwards and forwards. They can tell us all about the life of Jesus and what happened here and what happened there.
But they aren’t believers themselves. How is that possible? I remember Janice Thayer saying to me, “How can they be around this truth all day, every day, and yet not believe in Jesus?”
And here is the answer in Romans 11:7-8
“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 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.””
Romans 11:7-8 ESV
There is a current blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of Jews today. And according to verse 8, God is the one who blinded them.
It’s been that way since Jesus Himself was on the earth. In Luke 19, right after the triumphal entry, Jesus stopped at a place where He could see the whole city laid out in front of Him. And verse 41 says He wept over it:
“saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.””
Luke 19:42-44 ESV
Sure enough, less than forty years later, the Romans came in and destroyed that city. They lost their temple. They lost their national identity for 2,000 years. They lost their land.
And Jesus said that the way of peace “was hidden from their eyes.” Who did the hiding? God did. God’s plan all along was that Jesus would be the cornerstone that the Jews would stumble over. John 1 said that Jesus came to his own, and his own did not receive Him.
Why? Why would God do that? Why would God give His chosen people a “spirit of stupor and hardened hearts?”
Paul gives the answer in the next section. Read with me, beginning in verse 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. 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!”
Romans 11:11-12 ESV
Here’s Paul’s second “me genoito”: Did God make Israel stumble in order that they would fall— meaning, fall completely, and be totally rejected. And Paul says, Absolutely not. Israel stumbled in order that salvation could come to the Gentiles.
And why did salvation come to the Gentiles? Here it is: to make Israel jealous.
I know this bakes your brain a little— it did mine. But Paul says it three times: Once in Romans 10:19, once here in 11:11, and once more in verse 14, where Paul says, “I magnify my ministry among the Gentiles in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.”
That’s the part we play in the greatest love story in the history of the Universe. Our job is to make the Jews jealous.
Listen. Our job is to live lives that are characterized by grace and freedom in Christ. Lives where, when we sing songs like “Jesus Paid it All— all to Him I owe,” we really mean it. Where we realize at the very core of our being that our own righteousness isn’t what makes us right with God.
The gospels say it over and over: I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
If the Son of Man sets you free, you are truly free (John 8:36).
Paul says it over and over: “Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14)
It was for freedom that Christ set you free (Galatians 5:1)
I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatias 2:20).
God’s plan is that His chosen people, the Jews, will one day look at us and say, “What is with these Christians?” They are joyful, all the time. They are secure in their relationship with God. They get along with each other. They are completely at peace.
Look at them! They’ve been set free from addiction! Their marriages are stable. They aren’t obsessed with trying to get ahead in the workplace. They love their families!
I want some of that!
Christian, are you living the kind of life in Christ that will make someone else jealous of what you have? Are you so obviously different from everyone around you that an unbelieving world says, “Whatever they’ve got, I want it too!”
Because that’s why God grafted us into His family in the first place.
In the next part of Romans 11, Paul goes into an extended analogy of how we non-Jews have been grafted into God’s family tree. It can be hard for us to understand, because most of us aren’t farmers, and we don’t live in a part of the world with a lot of olive trees.
But in verse 17, Paul starts talking about an olive tree as the symbol of God’s family. He says,
“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, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.”
Romans 11:18-20 ESV
Have you ever seen an olive tree? This picture is of some of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some of them are over 2000 years old. Olives have always been a commercial mainstay in the Mediterranean world, it was a commercial mainstay. Even today, when you go to Israel, you’ll see olive trees in production everywhere.
Did you know that olive trees can live for hundreds of years? And though the tree, the root, can live on and on, what happens is individual branches can stop producing olives. So you know what they do when those branches stop producing? Cut them off. They lop them off. And they take branches from younger trees, off the younger trees, bore a hole in the old trunk of the old tree, and graft in a young olive branch so that the older trunks can be restored to productivity.
That’s the analogy. And it’s a plain analogy. The old productive branches, the Israelites, were broken off. That’s the blindness that happened. And then branches from a wild olive tree– that’s us, Gentiles– were grafted in. It means we get our sap, our energy, our nourishment from the covenant promises God gave to Israel.
We are tapped into the root of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the others, not as a replacement of Israel, but as a witness to Israel.
All for the purpose of wooing God’s people back to Himself, by making the Jews jealous of what we have in Christ. Listen, don’t get hung up in the word “jealous.” (your translation might read ‘envious’) The brilliant theologian John Stott put it this way:
Envy is ‘the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another’, and whether envy is good or evil depends on the nature of the something desired and on whether one has the right to its possession. If that something is in itself evil, or if it belongs to somebody else and we have no right to it, then the envy is sinful. But if the something desired is in itself good, a blessing from God, which he means all his people to enjoy, then to ‘covet’ it and to ‘envy’ those who have it is not at all unworthy. This kind of desire is right in itself, and to arouse it can be a realistic motive in ministry.
God desires for all his people to experience all His blessings. I will say it again: The very best witness we can be to an unbelieving world in general and to the Jews in particular is to be the most loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, and self-controlled people in the world. That’s the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5:22. And that fruit is to be so much on display in our lives that the people around us will say, “How can I get that in my life? I want that! I am jealous for that!”
And the Jews especially will say, “You get all that from our Scriptures? You experience that because you’ve put all your trust in a Jewish rabbi? Whoa. I want some of that.
And at some point in the future, God’s going to open the eyes of His people, Israel, and they will put their trust in Jesus as their Messiah.
Look how Paul describes it in verses 25-26:
25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:[d] 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,
God has allowed “a partial hardening” to come upon Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” If you are reading from the NIV, it says, “the full number of the Gentiles.” The New Living Translation says “the complete number.” What does that mean?
It means that God has a number in mind—how many non Jews are going to respond to the gospel. There is a set number—the fulness of the Gentiles.
There is going to come a time, and I believe it’s going to come soon, when the last Gentile will be saved. The last person is going to walk the aisle. The last person is going to bow their head and surrender their lives to Jesus. It might happen in Vacation Bible School. It might happen at a men’s Bible study. It might happen under a tree in Honduras or a street corner in Chennai India.
But at some point, the last Gentile will be saved. And if you’re a premillenialist, you believe that at that point, the trumpet will sound, and the rapture of the church will take place.
Others say that the church will remain on the earth, and will have an integral part to play in the salvation of the Jews. I don’t know. What I do know is that according to verse 25,
And at that point, God will lift the blindness from the Jews, and those who are alive at the time will open their hearts to the gospel, and according to verse 25, all Israel will be saved.
So let me just say to any of you non-Jewish people out there who have resisted the Gospel this long. You might be the last Gentile saved before that happens. Could be. So do us all a favor. Give your life to Christ, like, now. Let’s get this show on the road.
Because on that day, (look at the rest of verse 26)
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.”
Salvation will come to the Jews in the same way it came to us. The deliverer will come from Zion—that’s Jesus. He will take away their sins. They will trust in Jesus as their Savior.
Listen—this is a heavy chapter. It is hard to understand. The apostle Peter himself said, in 2 Peter 3:16 that some things in Paul’s letters are hard to understand.
But look how Paul ends this section. He ends with this beautiful doxology!
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
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 forever. Amen.
We don’t have to understand in order to worship. And God’s plan of salvation—for both Jews and Gentiles! Is worthy of worship.