Sermon: Pentecost 11, 20 August 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Romans11:13-32

-I proposed last week that a person can hold a belief very sincerely,

-But be sincerely wrong.

-That was Paul’s summation of the condition of the Jews.

-They sincerely believed that if they kept the Law they would be right with God.

-Paul acknowledged how sincere,

-Even zealous they were for God,

-But because they thought that righteousness before God could be achieved by keeping the Law,

-They were sincerely wrong.

-It’s only through Jesus and faith in him and his righteousness that we’re declared right before God.

-Sincerity cannot save.

 

-I’m sure we can all agree that a person can be sincere and wrong.

-But what about being sincere and right?

-It’s easy to point to the pitfalls of being sincerely wrong,

-But what happens when you hold a position sincerely,

-And you are right in that sincerity?

-Just as our post-modern culture cannot bear someone challenging another persons beliefs,

-So that culture cannot bear claims of knowing a truth,

-And holding firmly and exclusively to it.

-That’s the point at which a tolerant culture becomes exceptionally intolerant.

 

-Throughout Romans,

-Paul has mounted an argument that the Jews had had great opportunities to know and follow God,

-But they repeatedly and consistently failed in their call as God’s people.

-Ch10 is an explication of that failure,

-Rather than trusting solely in the salvation offered to us through Jesus,

-They trusted in their own righteousness.

-This is the truth Paul will not budge on.

-He was sincerely right.

-So how does he approach this sincerity?

-Well if ch10 is a challenge to the sincerely wrong,

-Ch11 is a challenge to the sincerely right,

-And the demands of God’s grace.

 

-After what appears as a denunciation of the Jews failure to recognise Jesus,

-Ch11 opens with a question that might well have been on the readers mind;

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” Romans 11:1

-It’s a pity that those who have instigated pograms and prejudice against the Jews throughout history,

-Stopped reading at the end of Romans 10.

-Paul’s answer is an emphatic;

“By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Romans11:1-2

-Citing his own heritage Paul,

-Makes the point that Jews will continue to be saved because God has always kept a remnant for himself.

-If God had rejected Israel how is it that he,

-A Jew who had actively rejected Jesus and persecuted his church,

-Could have been saved by God and given the task of proclaiming the good news of Jesus?

-The book of Acts begins with stories of Jews becoming followers of Jesus.

-Before Jesus told his disciples to be witnesses to the ends of the earth,

-He preceded it by saying;

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,” Acts 1:8

-That was an expanding circle of Jewish populations.

-Judea and Samaria encompassed what was the old Promised Land of Israel.

-Whatever the failings of the Jews,

-God has not finished with them yet.

-And indeed,

-The apostle Peter had to be convinced to move outside his own ethnic circle,

-By a very confronting vision and a visit to a gentile centurion.

 

-And here is the crux of Paul’s argument and what will go on to be a warning.

-He reminds his readers of a depressed Elijah who believes he’s the lone believer in God,

-To which God replied;

-‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’

-And Paul concludes from that;

“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.” Romans 11:5-6

-Paul still clings to the firm and divine calling and election of God.

-Even though the Jews may be relying on their own righteousness,

-Paul acknowledges that in God’s grace there will come a turning to Jesus by the Jews.

 

-At the beginning of our reading this morning Paul gives us an insight into his hope for his own people and his missional strategy;

“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry 14 in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them.”

-This sounds a rather odd strategy to us,

-‘I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous.’

-But to understand how Paul conjoins his ministry to the Gentiles and to the Jews,

-You need to go back to his conversion in Acts 9.

-Saul the Pharisee,

-As he was then,

-Had received orders to go and hunt down the followers of Jesus wherever he could find them.

-On the road to Damascus,

-Jesus appears to him and says;

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Acts 9:4

-Struck blind by this encounter,

-Jesus sends him to Damascus where he’ll be met by a Christian named Ananias.

-Jesus gives a reluctant and protesting Ananias the message;

“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” Acts 9:15

-Paul is famously known as the apostle to the Gentiles,

-All of his letters are written to gentile churches,

-But did you hear to whom Jesus said he would proclaim his name?

-‘To the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.’

-Paul had a twofold ministry that we sometimes forget,

-As we read of all the run ins Paul has with the Jews in most of the towns he visits.

 

-Now lets return to that thought of being sincerely right.

-I said last week that unlike our post-modern individualistic times,

-In Paul’s day you could hold and espouse a belief or proposition different to another person,

-Without the supposition that you hated or devalued them as persons.

-Remember Paul’s desire for his people to be saved,

-Recall his anguish over their disbelief.

-Paul sincerely believes the Jews are wrong,

-He sincerely believes he’s right and has the commission of the Lord Jesus to back that belief.

-So how does he view his Jewish compatriots,

-Compatriots who you might remember caused him to be imprisoned,

-Conspired to assassinate him,

-Had him whipped on five occasions,

-And attempted a stoning,

-People who clearly hated him?

“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” Romans 11:11-12

 

-Paul can see the divine plan working out.

-Israel’s rejection of Jesus meant that the apostles were pushed out to preach to the Gentiles.

-Paul refers to Israel’s rejection as a stumbling,

-Not a plummeting off a cliff into an abyss of eternal destruction.

-Their stumbling was part of God’s plan to reach out to the whole world,

-Just as he promised to Abraham all those centuries before;

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing 3. . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:2-3

-Their stumbling meant the riches of the good news of Jesus went out to the whole world,

-Not just Israel.

-And here’s where Paul returns again to the grace and mercy of God in salvation;

“For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” Romans 11:15

 

-Life from the dead.

-What does that sound like to you?

-Resurrection!

-The dead coming to life.

-All through Romans Paul has been stressing that point that we’re all dead in our sins.

-The Gentiles are dead because they turned to idols not the Creator.

-The Jews are dead because they clung to their own righteousness not Christ’s.

-The Gentiles came to life when they confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’,

-And believed God raised him from the dead.

-Even though they were outsiders,

-They were grafted onto an olive branch whose rich roots were the patriarchs,

-Adoption to sonship,

-The divine glory,

-The covenants,

-The receiving of the law,

-The temple worship and the promises.

-All the blessings Israel partook of,

-And yet were cut off from because of their rejection of Jesus.

-But God will bring them back.

 

-Just as the wild branch of the Gentiles was grafted in,

-So the dislodged branch of Israel can be regrafted back.

-And that’s Paul’s firm belief.

-When the Jews see how the Gentiles have responded they too will turn back to God.

-We know that’s taken a long time so far,

-But Paul is confident in God’s grace,

-His promises to his people,

-And the display of believing Gentiles,

-That this will create a stirring in the hearts of the Jews to believe in Jesus.

 

-But Paul also has a warning for his Gentile readers,

-A warning we who are confident in our faith should also heed.

-Continuing the horticultural metaphor Paul cautions;

“They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you.” Romans 11:20-21

-The problem with grace is that it’s totally undeserved.

-It’s totally dependant upon the giver not the recipient.

-Paul quotes God’s word to Job, in v35, to drive that point home;

“Who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” Romans 11:35

-Who can make any claim against God,

-What can we give to God that would compel him to give something back to us?

-It’s like the clay questioning the potter.

-Paul is warning against the conceit that can so easily come when a person knows they are in the right.

-Grace so easily can turn to desert.

-The Jews did it with the Law,

-Resting on their own righteousness.

-And that stumble caused them to be cut off from God’s grace.

-If the Gentile Christians start believing they’re better than the Jews because God has been gracious to them,

-Then they face the same danger.

 

-Paul concludes his argument with the reminder of God’s gracious character;

“Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” Romans 11:30-32

-It is easy when you are sincerely right to look down on those who are sincerely wrong.

-But that’s our old sinful nature breaking through.

-We’re saved by Jesus’ righteousness not our own.

-Yet Jew or Gentile,

-Both, Paul warns, can take our eyes off Jesus and forget the grace we’ve been given.

-Our calling is not to judge others for their wrong beliefs,

-But to extend the grace we have received in Jesus with love to those in need of his mercy.