Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 9, 1991
Purpose: To assure us that God has not let us down, and to encourage us to trust Him.
Have there been times in your Christian experience when you've been convinced that God has let you down? You did the best job you could raising your kids, and you believed God's promise that they would not depart from God's way (Proverbs 22:6). But they have. They're going their own way, and they're far from God. And you feel as though God has not kept His Word.
You've given faithfully and generously to God's work over the years. And you believed God promise that "in all things at all times" He would give "all that you need" (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV). Yet right now you're staring bankruptcy square in the face. And where's God in it all? It doesn't seem like He's kept His promise, does it?
You prayed diligently about changing jobs. You didn't want to make a mistake, and you really wanted to do the will of God. And you believed that God would answer your prayer for guidance. Jesus did promise: "...whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you" (John 16:23). So you made the change, and it hasn't worked out at all. It's been sheer misery. You feel like God has let you down.
And not the least of our concerns is our unsaved loved ones. God said He was not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And you've been praying for them faithfully. Yet today they seem to be as far from trusting Christ as Savior as they've ever been. Where is God? Does He keep His Word or doesn't He? Can we really trust Him?
Those are the kinds of questions going through the minds of many first century Christians, particularly when they thought about the Jewish nation. God had made some spectacular promises to the Jews--promises of salvation, promises of blessing, promises of spiritual leadership among the nations. But the nation Israel as a whole had rejected its Messiah, the only one in whom those blessings could be fulfilled. So what's going to happen to Israel? Is God going to cancel His promises to His people. Will He fail to keep His Word. Is He finished with them? Is He going to cast them off forever? Have they no more place in His scheme of things?
That's Paul's question in Romans 11:1--"I say then, has God cast away His people?" And we hear his answer--that characteristic strong negative of his, "Certainly not!" And he goes on to give us three reasons for his answer:
- There is a remnant according to grace (Romans 11:1-10)
- There are benefits from Israel's unbelief (Romans 11:11-24)
- There is a future for the entire nation (Romans 11:25-36)
This chapter is basically about Israel's future. To review: Chapter 9 was about her past, and the theme was election--God's sovereign choice. Chapter 10 was about her present, and the theme was rejection, her rejection of God's way of salvation and the responsibility she bears for her own poor choice. Chapter 11 is about her future, and the theme is restoration--restoration to the place of privilege and blessing.
Let's work our way through it and see why God's promises to Israel did not fail (the first two reasons in this message; number three next time). And along the way, we will also discover why His promises to us have not failed, in spite of how it looks.
There Is a Remnant According to Grace
You'll see that word remnant in verse 5. Everybody knows what a remnant is. A remnant of cloth is a small piece left over at the end of the bolt. And a remnant of people is a small remaining number. God has allowed His people to reject their Messiah, and at first sight it seems like the entire nation has turned their backs on Him. But God has kept His promise by saving a small remaining number, those Jews who have come to Him by faith. And Paul gives three examples:
Exhibit A: Paul Himself (Romans 11:1b)
Paul was a Jew. There was no question about that. He underscores it three ways, calling himself an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Jew who was receiving all of God's salvation blessings. God had not failed to keep His Word, you see. He was extending His salvation promises to Jews who responded in faith to His Son. And Paul was one of them.
Exhibit B: Elijah (Romans 11:2-4)
Romans 11:2-4. "God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 'LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life?' But what does the divine response say to him? 'I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.'"
Elijah was depressed because he thought he was the only one left who was faithful to the Lord. The devil loves it when God's people think they're the only ones left, that everybody else has defected to the enemy. When we think we're all alone, we usually keep quiet about our faith. But when we stand up and speak out for our Lord, it often encourages other believers to come out of the woodwork and join us. God always has a remnant of true believers. He had one in Paul's day, and He had one in Elijah's day, and He has one today.
Exhibit C: Saved Jews Today (Romans 11:5-6)
That's who Paul is referring to. Romans 11:5. "Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace."
There are lots of them around, some in our own church. Praise God for the Jews who have put their faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah. They are proof that God has not failed to keep His Word. He has not cast away His people. He has always had a remnant of true believers. And they are a monument to His grace. God does not save His remnant on the basis of their works, but on the basis of His own sovereign grace.
He goes on to amplify that. Romans 11:6a: "And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace." (The best manuscripts stop right there.)
That's a great verse to help us understand grace. Grace and works are mutually exclusive. Grace is something freely given to the undeserving. Works are something that earn us favor. If our hope of eternal salvation is resting on any work we have done, then we have not received it freely from God's gracious hand. And God's way is by grace!
Summary Statement (Romans 11:7-10)
Romans 11:7. "What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded."
God's promises are sure. He has kept His Word. Israel as a whole has been temporarily set aside, but individual Jews who believe in Christ are being saved. The elect remnant has obtained salvation. And those who persist in unbelief have been hardened. The next three verses are quotations from the Old Testament to substantiate the fact that the rest were hardened.
Romans 11:8-10. "Just as it is written: 'God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see, And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.' And David says: 'Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.'"
That's a scary thought. God actually hardens people. They don't refuse to believe because they are hardened; but rather they are hardened because they refuse to believe. They willfully and persistently reject God's grace, so He allows them to go their own way, and eventually confirms them in their unbelief. But remember, they made their own volitional choice. And it was their poor choice that made it look like God had not kept His promises. Yet God was at work all along, doing what He promised He would do, even when it looked like He was being unfaithful to His Word. He always is.
I can remember when I made the decision to leave Calvary Bible Church in Huntsville to come to Escondido. I was fasting and praying and reading the Word, and God promised me from the book of Isaiah that He was going to take care of that church after my departure (Isaiah 49:15-16). I have to be honest with you, for a number of years I had serious doubts about God's faithfulness. I kept getting reports about tension and conflict, people leaving the church, and carnal Christians giving the new pastor a hard time. Their poor choices made it look as though God was not keeping His promises. But I have to tell you, when I was back for the 25th anniversary a few months ago, I saw that God had been fulfilling His promises all along, even though I couldn't see it. He cannot fail. He will not let us down. He is always faithful to His Word.
So what is it that has you doubting Him? Friends who have disappointed you, and you cannot understand why God let it happen? Serious illness, just when you were ready to retire and start to enjoy life? A failing marriage, after you asked God to show you His choice for your life partner? Somebody's poor choices may make it look like God has let you down, but I can assure you, He is still at work, fulfilling His promises and keeping His Word. It's just as sure as the remnant He has always had according to His grace. He cannot fail, for He is God. Trust Him.
Let's look at the second reason Paul says God has not cast off His people, not failed to keep His Word. First, there is a remnant according to grace. Second, there are benefits from Israel's unbelief.
There Are Benefits from Israel's Unbelief
Paul begins this section with a question, just as he did the first one. Romans 11:11a. "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not!"
The idea is falling beyond recovery (as NIV translates it). It's the same basic question as the first one: Does Israel's unbelief mean that God has failed to keep His promises? And he answers the question with that same strong negative for the 10th and final time in this book--"Certainly not!" Why not? Well, for one thing, it's only a stumbling, a temporary setting aside, not a permanent fall. But for another, consider some of the good things God has done through their stumbling. For one thing, He has provided salvation for the Gentiles.
Salvation for Gentiles (Romans 11:11-15)
Romans 11:11b. "But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles."
When we read the book of Acts, we find that wherever Paul went he always presented the gospel to the Jews first. And only after they rejected it did he turn to the Gentiles. It was Israel's rejection of the message that brought the blessing of salvation to Gentiles.
Romans 11:12. "Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!"
Paul is alluding to something he will expand on in the last section (verses 25-36), that someday the nation Israel will trust Yeshua as her Messiah and the full number of Jews will be brought into the fold. He mentions it again in 11:15. "For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?"
What a wonderful day that will be! But meanwhile, their fall has resulted in the riches of eternal salvation and reconciliation with God for Gentiles.
Romans 11:13-14. "For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them."
This is the third time he has mentioned the salvation of Gentiles making the Jews jealous (refer to Romans 10:19; 11:11). Jealousy is a powerful motivator.
When I came home from college between my Junior and Senior year, I decided to break off with the girl I had been dating at home. It was a long-distance courtship during the school year: 850 miles. I had thought she was the girl God wanted me to marry, but I changed my mind...until my college roommate who was a childhood buddy asked her out. Then all of a sudden my interest was revived. My roommate wanting her made me see her in a new light. We were engaged before the summer was over, and married the next summer. And now you know who she is!
You see, God anticipates that when Jewish people look at Gentile Christians, they will see something that makes them view Christianity in a new light. It will make them jealous. They're going to see such perfect peace, such vibrant joy, such caring love for one another, such clear meaning and purpose in life, such freedom in the forgiveness of sins, and such confident assurance of eternity in heaven, that they will say, "How come they have that and we don't? That's what we need." And as a result, they will trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
That's the way it's supposed to work. Their unbelief brings salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn, makes them jealous and brings them to faith in Jesus Christ.
Does anybody get jealous when they look at your life? Can you think of anyone who has gotten jealous because of your relationship with Jesus? I'm afraid there is very little to get jealous about in the lives of some professing Christians. The average unbeliever, Jew or Gentile, looks at them and says, "If that's all Christianity can do for you, just keep it. I don't need it. I don't want it." But thank God for those believers who are alive and vibrant, whose lives attract the lost to the Savior.
There are some around, and some in our own church. I remember a couple who began to attend our church some years ago and came to know Christ. When I asked what it was that attracted them, the wife told me about working in an office in Rancho Bernardo with several people from our church. She didn't know they were from our church at the time. She noticed that those people were different. She kept looking at them and they had calmness and control when everyone else was going to pieces. And they had joy and peace when everybody else was getting depressed over things. She had to have what they had. And she found out what it was, and she came to our church, and she came to know Christ as her Savior from sin, as did her husband.. That's what God intended for the salvation of Gentiles to accomplish. It will work when we begin to live what we say we believe in everyday life.
There's a second reason for Israel's unbelief, and that is to teach us a lesson in faith.
A Lesson in Faith (Romans 11:16-21)
Paul begins the lesson with a reference to Old Testament sacrifices. Romans 11:16. "For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches."
In Old Testament times, an entire lump of dough was sanctified by offering a part of it to the Lord. Likewise, the entire harvest was sanctified by the offering a part of it to the Lord. It was called the "firstfruit." The firstfruit here represents Abraham; the "lump" is the whole nation Israel. The God who made Abraham holy can make his descendants holy too. The same truth is taught in that second illustration--the branches (the whole nation) share the same nature as the root (Abraham) from whom they come.
Not all the branches on the Abraham-tree are natural branches, however. They are not all descendants of Abraham. Something has happened to the tree.
Romans 11:17. "And if some of the branches were broken off, and you [Gentiles], being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, don't boast against the branches."
Now remember, the olive tree represents the place of blessing and privilege as the people of God, The root of the tree is the covenant God made with Abraham, which he received by faith. The branches that were broken off are the Jewish people as a whole who rejected God's way of salvation. The wild olive branches that were grafted in are the sum-total of Gentile believers whom God grafted into the place of blessing.
Gentile Christians might be tempted to feel a little proud about being grafted into the tree, and might start to possibly feel a little superior. But that wouldn't be too smart.
Romans 11:18. "But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you."
How utterly foolish for Gentile Christians to look down on Jews and adopt an anti-Semitic stance. Judaism is the foundation for the entire Christian faith, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the Jews. Rather than hate them, we ought to love them and seek to bring them to faith in their Messiah.
Don't boast against the natural branches, Paul says. But that pride keeps cropping up.
Romans 11:19. "You will say then, 'Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.'"
And that brings us to the lesson in faith.
Romans 11:20-21. "Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either."
God set the Jews aside because they refused to come to Him His way: by faith. These branches were broken off because they didn't believe. They insisted on offering Him their own human deeds--their good works instead of God's finished work. We Gentiles have been accepted because we believed, we put our faith in Christ. The minute we get proud, we are no longer exercising faith--because faith is humble dependence upon God (Cranfield, 415). We are putting our confidence in our own merits instead. Faith and pride cannot exist together. If you're proud, your confidence is in yourself rather than someone else.
And when Gentiles stop approaching God by faith, they will no longer be branches in God's olive tree. Now, that doesn't teach us that we can lose our salvation. It has nothing to do with that. This chapter is about the nation Israel and the sum total of Gentile believers. All he's saying is that God will turn away from the Gentiles if they refuse to approach Him by faith, as the nation Israel has done.
Romans 11:22. "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off."
You see, if we come to God as needy repentant sinners, He responds to us with open arms and we experience His goodness. If, on the other hand, we try to make ourselves look good in His sight, offering Him our good works, implying that we deserve His favor, we experience His severity--separation from His olive tree, from the place of privilege and blessing.
But the converse is also true. Romans 11:23: "And they [the nation Israel] also, if they do not continue in unbelief"--that's the negative way of saying it, in other words: if they put their faith in the Messiah--they "will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again."
We must reckon with the possibility that the Jews can be restored to the place of privilege and blessing. How will it happen when it happens? By faith. If they do not continue in unbelief, they'll be restored.
Romans 11:24: "For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?"
And in fact, they will be, as we shall see in the rest of the story (in verses 25-36). We can count on it, because God is a God of His Word. He keeps His promises. He will do all that He says He will do even if it doesn't look like He's doing it right now.
You may be going through some deep waters today, and wondering if God is even there. "Is He really there? Does He know what's going on in my life?"
Maybe you've lost your job; some in our congregation have. It's tough finding another one, isn't it? Things are tough right now. Or maybe you've lost the very dearest person in life to you. Maybe you've discovered that your parents let you down. It's all been coming back--some of the ways they failed you--and you're asking yourself, "How could God be faithful when He allowed that to happen in my life?"
Let me assure you, He is there. And He knows what you are experiencing. He cares deeply, and He hurts with you. There are reasons He's allowed things to happen in your life. And eventually He will let you see some of the good things He has been doing even while it looked like He was letting you down. You may not understand it now, but there will be evident benefits from even those awful things that you've experienced.
Trust Him. Keep on trusting Him. Rest in Him. Do His will. Obey His Word. Keep on obeying. Remain faithful to Him. You will find the benefits to be immense. He can bring joy to your life even through those trials. Trust Him.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
I really can't close the message without going back to verse 6 for a moment. How have you been endeavoring to make yourself acceptable to God? Have you been one of the overwhelming majority who think that if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, God's going to let them into His heaven? That isn't the way it is. It can't be part by grace and part by works. Not even part by works. For otherwise, grace is not grace. That's what God says in His Word.
Romans 11:6. "And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace."
So will you come God's way? Acknowledge that His gift of eternal life is not something you can earn by any good work--any good work, religious or otherwise--but that it is received by faith from His hand of grace. Freely given by a gracious God. Received when we respond to Him in faith. Acknowledge our need. Believe that Jesus died in our place and paid for our sin, and receive His gift of eternal life. Will you receive Him?
Let's bow together prayerfully in His presence. While we are in an attitude of prayerfulness at the conclusion of this message, let me ask you if you are certain that you have put your faith in Christ alone for your eternal salvation. Not in Christ plus some other good things that you've tried to do, but Christ alone, who died in your place and paid for your sin that you might be forgiven. And receive from God the gift of eternal life.
Will you acknowledge your need of Him? Your sinfulness that separates you from Him? Will you express to Him your faith, your belief that Jesus died in your place and paid for your sin? Now will you receive Him as your Savior? Just in the quiet of your own heart, right where you are sitting right now, I'm going to ask you to pray. Not out loud, just pray in your heart.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus died in my place and paid for my sin. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and save me now."
Lord, I pray for those who either knew they weren't saved, or didn't know whether they were or weren't. I pray, Lord, that in these moments, they may respond to Your invitation and put their faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice at Calvary--which was sufficient payment for their sins--and be born anew. Lord, I pray that they'll have grace to respond to You right now. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 22: The Rest of the Story