Dough and the roots: is there any hope when the next generation of ‘Israel’ don’t believe what the previous generation believed? Will grace be found by them?

This whole chapter we are reading is about one thing and that is the end salvation of the Jews.

“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 v 16)

Paul is convinced that in the end the fact that Israel is a chosen people (and within its history there are many examples of faithful men and women who walked with God within that covenant) they will be saved. Perhaps that is the thought behind the dough and the tree. If the holy covenant-keepers as part of the dough meant that eventually the whole will also be saved and if the holy roots mean that eventually the future generations of the branches of the tree will also be saved, then there is hope in 2022 and ahead. That could be what Paul is saying. At some point some future generation and who knows it could be in our lifetime will see Israel turning to Christ. This won’t be because of any historical claim, ‘we are the true people of God’ but it will be the same way as the Gentiles, ‘saved by faith in Jesus Christ’. The work of grace towards the Gentiles will have shown the way for the Jews. It is all by His grace.

So is it possible that this principle could work for our families whether Jewish or Gentile. Dare we believe that those members of our own ‘Israel’ who are the present generation will turn to Christ because within their heritage are faithful, saved members of God’s family? It could be so. We may dare to believe that the holy part of the dough and the roots of a family will eventually speak to the next generations of the grace of God.

No one is beyond hope

Having explained how within Israel some responded (the remnant) but others were hardened, Paul now asks whether this situation is permanent. “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. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring! I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”  (Romans 11 v 11-15).

We know that Israel’s rejection of the gospel has meant the Gentiles have received it. Paul started at the synagogue, when rejected he would go outside and start again with the non-Jews. But he knows this was part of God’s ultimate plan to reach the world with the gospel. He also can see how God hasn’t taken His eye off the hardened Jews (something that the Church could be guilty of). The way is still open for Israel. In fact Paul sees their return as being somewhat of a revival.

Without ignoring the Jewish hope that they turn to Christ and not wanting to read everything in a way that applies to ‘us’ it is comforting to know that no one seems irretrievably lost. Everyone can make a recovery. Many who have wayward loved ones are encouraged to know that God never gives up, that there is always hope and when they do return they come back in a greater measure.

Some of the most miserable people have a faith.

I shook his hand. He was a follower of Christ and in a Church position of leadership. But he also didn’t like me. He had told me on a previous occasion I wasn’t reading the correct original Bible. I tried to explain we don’t have the original but it fell on deaf ears. He told me that churches were singing the wrong songs I said I don’t think God minds what tune or words are used so long as it is worship. He told me there wasn’t enough evangelism taking place and I asked him how much he was doing. I shook his hand after a meeting he and I had attended. He gave me a cold stare with a limp handshake. It didn’t feel like we were on the same team. He seemed hardened and distanced from any joy, love or grace. We were Christian brothers but I wondered if we were of the same family! That’s a little of how Paul felt regarding his brothers.

Paul summarises regarding his ‘Israel’ who haven’t responded. They don’t understand grace because they are wrapped up in Law. They cannot accept salvation because they are working out their performance in order to be acceptable to God. Paul says, “ What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”(quoting Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10) And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.” (Romans 11 v 7-10)

Just because there is seeking taking place doesn’t mean there is finding. Seeking by your own efforts and religious fervour does not guarantee you find God. Leave grace out of the picture and there is no finding of relationship with God.

It seems possible that you can be so caught up in being chosen by God that you respond in ways that ruin that choosing.

Reflecting on my handshake I wonder what happened to this man that hardened his heart so. Why is he so judgmental on others? Why is he so right and others wrong? Where is grace? Where is God? Does this just creep up on you after years of religious trying-to-please God by efforts? Do you eventually become blinded to what God sees and what He wants to show you and deaf to what God hears and what He wants to say? Has your works-orientated religious approach to life brought about your own spiritual deadness to grace? Is this your living judgment? Do you end your days disappointed in others, angry, hurt and brooding over the behaviour of the Church?

Who wants to shake hands with such a person?

Don’t give up, lose hope, spiral into self-pity or even try make it happen, God hasn’t finished with seeing your loved one come to be His follower!

To those who refuse to accept the message of God’s salvation, what happens? Does God then reject them and walk away?

What do you do?

“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 v 1)

How do we respond to our ‘Israelites’ who do not accept the message? Does God give up on them? That’s the question Paul answers by simply stating he made it, he got there in the end, he accepted the message and he was as Jewish as they come! God doesn’t abandon people.

Paul is there leading the Church, within the covenant of the Church and at the centre of the Church. Look at him and you realise that God never gives up. He keeps on reaching and so must we. For ‘they’ do make it in the end. If Paul could make it then there is hope for the others.

There are times when we lose all hope that our loved ‘Israel’ will turn to God and accept the message. Paul knows this and says, “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11 v 2-6)

God comes to a man just like you and me, Elijah, who is feeling sorry for himself and angry with Israel because no one is listening to him. How many of us have felt like that? If God rejected permanently Israel then we would understand for look at what they have done towards the prophets and of course Jesus the Messiah. Elijah enters into a self-pity moment. He reminds Elijah and would remind us that He has not stopped working. He has reserved a remnant of true followers. Israel will survive. But it will not be because of anything they do but entirely of His grace. Basically God reserves an ‘Israel’ within an Israel, a group of true followers with nothing to do with their own efforts but all of His love and choosing. The reason? The work continues. The covenant of God continues. His heart for Israel continues.

And so as we copy Him with our rejecting-perhaps ‘Israel’ we:

  • Do not abandon anyone. It is surprising who makes it in the end, look at Paul.
  • Do not enter into self-pity when God hasn’t stopped working, look at Elijah.
  • Do not look at your own or their strength, it is all grace anyway, look at covenant Israel.

Why do the ones we love not accept the message and yet strangers do? What do we do about that?

All of Isaiah 53 was seen by the early Church as speaking of Jesus. So it is again understandable how Paul keep referring to the prophet. Continuing the impact of the gospel message he now says,

“But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”  (Romans 10 v 16-17)

Every Jew has heard of Jesus, that’s not the problem, they know but they have not accepted him. Isaiah was a failed preacher, no one listened to him all his life. He never got to speak at the conferences and do a book tour. Yet he is now the most famous Old Testament prophet and Paul uses him a lot regarding the Jews not receiving the message of Christ spoken to them.

Who are your ‘Israelites’? Your family? The people group your church are trying to reach? So do you stop ‘preaching’ to them? Not if you follow Isaiah’s approach. He simply continued. Not all will accept but some will!

Paul continues to use the Old Testament to say that Israel has and continues to have their chances to respond.

“But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (v18 quoting Psalm 19 v 4)

Have your ‘Israel’ heard? Yes! Not only from you but from many places. I spoke to one man at the door of the church yesterday. He knows and he believes in Jesus, he says the right words, but he has not yet confessed Jesus as Lord.

So what do we do? Paul says without taking your eye off your ‘Israel’ go to the whomsoever. “Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” (v19 quoting Deuteronomy 32:21) “And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (v20 quoting Isaiah 65:1)

Israel saw the message being accepted by other nations, the Gentiles of all people, to people in lesser privilege, to those who don’t look much to give or are ever close enough to be known as God’s children.

The key is for us to open our eyes to see what God sees and our ears to hear what he hears. The man I met at the door went away without Jesus as Lord of his life. However, there was another man, he didn’t have even 1% of what the man at the door had. This man had a disability, he was a man that many would walk past and he came to church for the first time and he made Jesus the Lord of his life. What do we do? We keep our eyes open to those who will accept without taking our eye off our ‘Israel’. Let us continue to have an open-handed stance reaching out to our ‘Israel’.  “But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (v21 quoting Isaiah 65:2).

Sunday small thought: We are all preachers

Today we will go to our churches and hear preachers preach good news. It is a beautiful thing to do.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10 v 14-15)

But we are all preachers in some form.

Wherever and whoever we are with we can speak the gospel. We can share good news stories of Jesus. We can be an attractive person. We can create an atmosphere of the presence of God by talking of Jesus and what He has done for you.

That’s it. That’s our calling as the Church. To be good news people.

May there be salvations today!

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!

Today all over the world everyone and anyone will be calling on Jesus and they will be finding forgiveness and cleansing; life transformation, purpose, hope and a future. Everyone!

As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10 v 11-13)

Remember this quotation from Joel in Peter’s Pentecost sermon? Set in the context of a salvation message, strange phenomena and the end of the world, Peter says, ‘everyone …’

Paul uses it in the context of salvation as well in the way of saying there is no difference, whomsoever, Jew or Gentile, ‘everyone …’ Every one and any one, whoever calls on the name of Jesus.

Wherever we are, whatever situation we are in and whoever we have become, call on Jesus who is the forgiver and you will be forgiven.
That is our message. No strings attached. No hoops to jump through. No rules to keep. Nothing of ourselves. All of Him.
Everyone.
Isn’t that amazing!
Every one.
All the people in your family, at your work place, in your town.
100%.
The world is a tough place. Many wake with terrible things to journey through today. But it is okay because every person can be rescued from this terror. Whatever they go through, disease, pain, death, they can be found, they will be saved. Some need saving from circumstances today that are brutal. Some need saving from others and some from themselves.
All of us need the Saviour for heaven but we also need the Saviour from earth.
Every person is included.
At any time, any place all they need to do is call.
“Jesus!”

Everyone

It is simple. It is all of Him and His incredible generosity.

We over complicate most things.

Before we read the next verses, a reminder: God’s righteousness is the act by which God declares sinners righteous in His sight.

“Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10 v 5-10)

It is simple. Gloriously simple!

It isn’t the righteousness of the Law of Moses where you have to do and achieve things.

It isn’t like you have to anywhere, a pilgrimage to the scene of the incarnation or that of the ascension.

It is so much simpler.

In fact it is ‘incredibly generous’ (Message of v12)

God’s righteousness comes as we call out to Him and trust Him.

This morning I can declare Jesus Lord of my life, I can believe in the power of His resurrection, I can do that.

This morning I can declare that though I don’t understand the bends and turns of life, Jesus does, because He is Lord. I can speak the Lordship of Jesus over every area of my life. No other master, no other controlling powers, I am free within His masterful, powerful presence, He is Lord of my life. This morning I can believe that there is nothing He cannot do in my life. He holds the power of resurrection. Not only for my life at my last breath but in the breath that I breathe today! If you wake with clouds of disappointment over you; if you wake with searing pain in your heart and you don’t know how you will get through this one day; pull back the curtains, He is here, Jesus, the power to live, who has found you, saved you, is saving you and will save you, He will never lose you, reject you, turn away from you, it is indeed incredible generosity from a God who loves us!

It is simple.

We all have ‘a righteousness of our own’.

If ‘God’s righteousness’ is the act by which He declares sinners righteous in His sight then what is ‘our righteousness’?

Yesterday I was moved hearing a Pastor tell me what he said to a same-sex couple with a child who have started attending his church. After telling them that as a church they hold and promote a different standard to what they are practising he said, “However, if anyone in this church condemns you, then tell me first, because whoever does will be out of the door, not you.” In what is an explosive subject for many I thought this was the heart of a shepherd. But it reflected a Pastor’s desire to keep God’s righteousness at the centre of the church and without compromise making sure ‘our righteousness’ doesn’t impede the benefits of that.

We all have a righteousness of our own. Paul looks at his own family, the Jews, he longs for their salvation but he knows their righteousness is preventing them.

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10 v 1-4)

This is what ‘our righteousness’ does:

  • It says the benefits of being good/righteous in God’s sight is just for us, within the ‘club’ or the ‘tribe’, it cannot be shared outside of this.
  • It blinds us to the fact that God works in places and with people we cannot believe He would and neither would we want Him to if He did.
  • It pushes against Christ being at the end of every sentence and sentencing. Every standard – Christ; every commandment – Christ; every consequence – Christ; every judgment – Christ; it seeks to remove the finished work of Christ.
  • It is overly concerned with work, practice, demonstrations, effort and showmanship.
  • It is the battle with the old v the new. It can be found in both camps because it is the battle itself. The old hangs onto the law/standards and gives guarantees on those performances and the new says it is a better day now and looks disparagingly on the old. But Paul shows us how to hold both not in tension but harmony. For example, his use of Old Testament Scripture throughout the letter reveals that he hasn’t torn it up at all. How would we understand sin without Genesis? Or redemption without the wrath of Exodus? Or the cross without the Atonement of Leviticus? Or the covenant without Deuteronomy? We need both!

The church and ourselves must keep God’s righteousness central to everything and not let ours creep in.

Jesus the cornerstone

Here it is. Here is where Paul has been leading to. Some of the Jews who were more focused on their own efforts of achieving righteousness (the law) have missed the blessings of the Messiah whereas the Gentiles who had no place to stand before God after hearing the gospel message responded to the offer of righteousness.

There is a key place in all our lives. Some say the capstone, the place above the door. Some say the cornerstone, the first stone in a building. Whatever it is, it is of huge importance.

“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 9 v 30-33)

Again Paul quotes from Isaiah, in 2 places:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic” (Isaiah 28:16)

“He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.” (Isaiah 8:14)

Perhaps only 15 years after Paul wrote this letter the Romans entered the city of Jerusalem, flattened it and then led the religious leaders bound in chains into foreign nations. They came under God’s judgment. The stone had fallen on them just as Paul had said, and Jesus also (Matthew 21:42).

It is far better to make Jesus the cornerstone of your life.

What Isaiah says poses such a challenging question to our churches and the people within them! Is Jesus occupying the place of huge importance? Is he in the decision making part? If he is not Lord then you may stumble over him and worst still you may be crushed by Him. Churches have closed because they rejected the Living Stone.