Sunday, March 25, 2012

Romans 11:15-29 – The Fullness of the Gentiles

That Israel has not been forever set aside is the theme of this chapter.

Israel which means "To have Power with God", so named from the grandson of Abraham who was Jacob, was chosen for a fourfold mission:

(1) To witness to the unity of God in the midst of universal idolatry (Deut. 6:4, with Isa, 43:10-12).

(2) To illustrate to the nations the blessedness of serving the true God (Deut. 33:26-29; I Chr. 17:20, 21; Psa. 144:15).

(3) To receive, preserve, and transmit the Scriptures (Deut. 4:5-8; Rom. l 3:1,2).

(4) To be the ethnic seed of the Messiah (Gen. 3:15; 12:3; 22:18; 28:10-14; 49:10; 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Mt. 1:1; Rom. 1:3).

I.     Three tragedies occurred in Israel: The nation fell (Rom. 11:11), was lost (Rom. 11:12, "diminished"), and was cast away (Rom.11:15). None of these words suggests a final judgment on Israel. But through Israel's fall, salvation came to the Gentiles. God promised that the Gentiles would be saved (Rom. 9:25-26) and He kept His promise. Will He not also keep His promise to the Jews?

v. 15 "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

There is a future for Israel. Paul calls it "their fullness" (Rom. 11:12) and their "receiving" (Rom. 11:15). Today, Israel is fallen spiritually, but when Christ returns, the nation will rise again. (See Jer. 31:35-37 where God links His promises to Israel to the sun, moon, and stars.)

II.    From looking at the future, Paul next looked to the past to show Israel's spiritual heritage, From the beginning, Israel was a special people, set apart by God. Paul use two illustrations to prove his argument that God was not finished with the Jews.

v.16 "For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches." 17 "And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakes of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

    1. The lump of dough (v.16a). (Numbers 15:17-21)        The first part of the dough was to be offered up to God as a symbol that the entire lump belonged to Him. The same idea was involved in the Feast of Firstfruits, when the priest offered a sheaf to the Lord as a token that the entire harvest was His (Lev. 23:9-14). The basic idea is that when God accepts the part He sanctifies the whole.                        

Applying this to the history of Israel, we understand Paul's argument. God accepted the founder of the nation, Abraham, and in so doing set apart his descendants as well. God also accepted the other patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, in spite of their sins and their failings. This means that God sanctifies the "rest of the lump"--the nation of Israel.

2. The olive tree (vv. 16b-24). This is a symbol of the nation of Israel (Jer. 11:16-17; Hosea 14:4-6).

    The roots of the tree support the tree; again, this was a symbol of the patriarchs who founded the nation. God made His covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He cannot deny them or change them. Thus, it is God's promise to Abraham that sustains Israel even today.

19 You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.

Paul warned the Gentiles that they were obligated to Israel, and therefore they dared not boast of their new spiritual position (Rom. 11:18-21). The Gentiles entered into God's plan because of faith, and not because of anything good they had done. Paul was discussing the Gentiles collectively, and not the individual experience of one believer or another.

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. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 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?

["Consider the goodness and severity of God". It is controversial to some that God is good, because they see only his severity; this is a common view of skeptics who see God as a genocidal monster in the Old Testament, and in the apocalyptic judgments. It is controversial to others that God is severe, because they see only the loving God of the gospels, and ignore his wrath which is revealed against those who refuse his goodness. For me the two together represent the true God, a God who is Holy must judge sin; and a loving God is good to those who receive his goodness. But key here is His absolute righteousness in judging sin even when it means that he had to pour His wrath against His own Sun, in order to show his love to us. It is still hard for me to comprehend a love that powerful.]

25 "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in." 26 "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 "For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins." 28 "As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes." 29 "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance."

1. God's timing (v. 25) What has happened to Israel is all a part of God's plan, and He knows what He is doing. The blinding (or hardening, Romans 11:7) of Israel as a nation is neither total nor final: it is partial and temporary. How long will it last? "Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" (Romans 11:25). Read Matthew 23:32-39; Luke 21:24; and Psalm110:1.

For all this discussion of Israel the key to understanding Romans 11 is this phrase in verse 25 "the fullness of the Gentiles". Modern day Israel has a population of 8 million, 75% of those are ethnic Jews, and 75% of the ethnic Jews or roughly 4.5 million, worship the God of Abraham according to the traditions of Judaism. Those numbers are repeated in the U.S and In Europe plus the Old Soviet Republics. So worldwide there are less than 14 million Jewish worshipers who practice Judaism in all of its forms. In two weeks on Easter Sunday some two billion people who claim Christianity in all of its forms will go to church and worship to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now I don't believe all two billion are really born again followers of Jesus; but even if only one third of those are really saved that's still 660 million real Christians, compared to 14 million Jews. So you see by the numbers that God's plan is so perfect in letting Israel be hardened so that we can be saved!

2. God's promise (v.26). The reference here is Isaiah 59:20-21; and you also should read Isaiah 60 to complete the picture. God has promised to save His people, and He will keep His promise. "All Israel shall be saved" does not mean that every Jew who has ever lived will be converted, but that every tribe of Israel, every son of Jacob is represented in this final wave of grace that will pour over the world when Christ returns. The 144,000 we talked about last week is numbered as twelve thousand from each tribe of Israel.

3. God's covenant (vv. 27-28).     God chose Israel in His grace and not because of any merit in her (Deut. 7:6-11; 9:1-6). If the nation was not chosen because of its goodness, can it be rejected because of its sin? "Election" means grace, not merit. The Jewish people are "enemies" to the believing Gentiles because of their hostile attitude toward the Gospel. But to God, the Jewish people are "beloved for the fathers' sakes." God will not break His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    4. God's nature (v29) "I am the Lord, I change not." (Mal. 3:6).

We must remember that God chose the Jews so that the Gentiles might be saved. "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed," was God's promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Israel failed to share the truth with the Gentiles. They thought that the Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved. But God declared both Jews and Gentiles to be lost and condemned. This meant that He could have mercy on all because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

We recently saw a 50 year old man, William McLemore, who felt the call of God to be a missionary some 30 years ago in Bible College, now respond to the call. That just a small contemporary example that the "Gifts and callings of God are without repentance"; God never turns away from those he has called.

There is a future for Israel. When Israel recovers from her "fall" and enters into her "fullness," the world will experience the riches of God's grace as never before.

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