This sermon on Romans 11 was preached at Progressing Pilgrims at NCC on June 22, 2018. You can listen to the audio here, or read the manuscript below.
Do y’all remember what we learned from Romans 9?
God has a purpose that has forever been. His purpose is his own glory. His purpose includes creating folks for salvation and creating folks for Hell. All those he makes to get his mercy are his people and are called the true Israel of God.
Then we looked at Romans 10. What did we see?
Nobody is or can ever be good enough for God. Your only hope is to cry out to King Jesus for salvation. Everyone who does that will be saved.
People call because they believe. They can only believe the gospel if they hear the gospel. They can only hear the gospel if someone preaches it to them. And Christians preach the gospel because they are sent to preach it as ambassadors of Jesus and members of local churches.
We came to the end of chapter 10 and read these verses, 16-21.
However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?”17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
18But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have;
“THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH,
AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD.”
19But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says,
“I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION,
BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER YOU.”
20And Isaiah is very bold and says,
“I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME,
I BECAME MANIFEST TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME.”
21But as for Israel He says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.”
Faith in the gospel comes when someone hears the gospel.
But not everybody who hears the gospel believes it.
Jesus himself came to the Jews, but they were disobedient and stubborn as donkeys. They rejected Christ and sent him to the Romans to be crucified.
When Paul, Jesus’ apostle, would go from city to city preaching, he’d first go to the Jewish meeting houses. He’d first preach to the Jews. But they were still disobedient and stubborn as donkeys.
Time and again, the nation of Israel rejected the Jewish King.
So, what did God do? He sent Paul to the Gentiles, to pagans who had not sought after God. And the Gentiles believed in the gospel.
Jews who’d had God’s covenants and his word for so long rejected him. Gentiles who didn’t look after God found him and were saved.
Romans 11, our chapter tonight, is looking at that truth about the Jews and Gentiles and asking this question: What now for the Jews? Are they all toast?
Because of the great sin of the Jewish people, is God done with his saving purpose for the Jews? Are all Jews damned to hell?
Look at Romans 11:1.
“I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?
May it never be!
For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”
He says, “Look at me! God hasn’t written off Jews! I’m a Jew and God has saved me.”
He says in verse 2, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.”
What does he mean?
Paul says that there are people whom God has not rejected, the foreknown.
What does it mean to be foreknown by God?
When some think of the word, “foreknowledge”, they think it means that God knows what’s going to happen before it happens. He looks down time and sees it all.
But that’s not what Paul means here. You can know that for at least 3 reasons.
First, that idea doesn’t make any sense in general.
God doesn’t look into the future and see stuff. God planned and created the future, with all of its details. Time is part of his creation. He doesn’t look through his creation and discover things. He creates his creation.
Second, that idea doesn’t make any sense of the verse.
God knows all facts about all people. And he rejects plenty of them. He knows all facts about all Jews, and he rejects plenty of them. If foreknowledge here just means God knows facts ahead of time, the verse becomes nonsense.
Third, that idea doesn’t make any sense of the context of Romans.
Context just means the stuff Paul says and means around this particular verse we’re looking at.
Context is always our biggest tool for good Bible reading.
Paul uses this word, “foreknowledge”, earlier in chapter 8.
Romans 8:29-30 reads, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
Look at verse 29. He doesn’t foreknow stuff about people. He foreknows people. It’s personal. And it isn’t about God’s knowledge of everything, because not everyone is foreknown. Everyone who is foreknown, according to Romans 8, goes to heaven.
Foreknowledge is personal. And it is the foundation of salvation. Those who are foreknown are predestined. Those who are predestined are called. Those who are called are justified. Those who are justified are glorified.
In Romans 9, we learned that God’s choosing purpose is the foundation of someone’s salvation. Salvation is built on the eternal, unchanging choosing of God.
He chooses people to be his own, and then predestines them for salvation.
This choosing is the foreknowledge of Romans 11:2. God has chosen people to be his own. He has chosen people to be known and loved by him forever.
And he won’t reject and damn any of them.
Look at verses 3-5.
Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.
In the days of the prophet Elijah, the nation of Israel was set against God. There was an evil king and queen. There were false priests and prophets. And the good guys were being hunted down like rabbits.
What did God do? Even though the nation was set against him, he kept for himself 7,000 Jews. And because they were kept by God, they stayed faithful to God.
So too in Paul’s day, though the nation had set itself against Christ, God had kept for himself a remnant of Jews. These Jews, foreknown by God, believed in Jesus and were saved.
God has graciously chosen them.
And God is still saving Jews. He’s doing it the same way he is saving Gentiles.
He’s doing it by grace. His chosen, foreknown people, Jew and Gentile, do not deserve his salvation. But by grace he gives them faith in Jesus, who died and rose again. And by grace he keeps them.
6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
10 “Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”
There are two groups of people in the world. The Chosen and the Hardened.
The hardened are the vessels of wrath from Romans 9, prepared beforehand for destruction. God gives them a spirit of stupor, like drunkards. Their eyes don’t work right. They don’t see Christ. Their ears don’t work right. They don’t hear the gospel that’s preached to them. They are slaves to sin, but will always try to save themselves by their own good works.
The chosen know that they can never save themselves. So, they look to Jesus. They see him as Savior and King and worthy of trust and devotion. They believe the gospel and are saved.
In verses 11-16, Paul tells us what the strategy is for getting Jews saved. It’s a jealousy ministry.
11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! 13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
Here’s Paul’s Jew saving strategy. It’s how he as an apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles is going to magnify his ministry by getting his own Jewish countrymen in on the salvation action.
The gospel of the crucified and risen King Jesus is preached to the Jews. The Jews sin by rejecting it. So, the dust is wiped off the preacher’s feet and he goes to the Gentiles, Scotsmen and English and Frenchmen like us. Gentiles hear the gospel, believe the gospel, call on the name of the Lord and are saved. The remnant of Jews who are chosen by God for salvation see what is happening with Gentiles, get jealous, and themselves repent and believe the good news.
Rejection, salvation, jealousy, salvation. Jews and Gentiles saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Paul wants jealousy from Jews, and humility from Gentiles.
Look at verses 17-24.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
These verses make up one long illustration with a basic point. Paul talks about an olive tree, a root, branches, grafting cutting. Why should these verses result in our humility?
We are Gentiles. And it’s less “natural”, it makes less sense historically, for us to be sitting in this room as Christians than if we were all Jews sitting in this room trusting Jesus.
Again, the Jews have a much longer, and more glorious history with God than any Gentile does.
But Paul says that the key to our salvation is not our history, it’s not our good works, it’s only faith in Jesus. We are united to Jesus through faith. And Jesus is our life. Jew and Gentile are cut off by disbelief and die under the condemnation of God. Jew and Gentile are grafted into Christ and have life by grace alone through faith alone.
No Christian has any room for pride for being a Christian. God did the grafting. He made you a Christian if you’re a Christian. He gave you faith. He joined you to Christ, your life.
So, if you’re a Christian, are you taking credit for any of the good things God has done or is doing your life?
Don’t steal from God. We bring sin. God brings all the goods.
We can only be humbly grateful.
Look at verses 25-31.
25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.
Where is history going? How will things turn out?
At the end of it all, all the elect will have been saved by the God who elected them. Many in the world are hardened and will be condemned forever. But all Israel, all the elect, will enjoy the salvation of God.
We can know this for certain because…
God doesn’t break his promises.
That’s why Paul says, “they’re beloved for the sake of the fathers.”
God doesn’t take back gifts he’s given.
God’s call to salvation cannot be denied even by the worst of sinners.
And the Deliverer of God’s chosen people has come.
Jesus has established the new covenant, the covenant of grace. He died on the cross and rose again. He has taken away the sin of his people. The debt is paid.
His righteousness is given. All God’s people, Jew and Gentile, will be saved.
With verse 32, Paul sums up chapter 11, and sums up what he has argued already in chapters 1-3.
32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
If God had chosen his people before time, why would he shut them all up in disobedience?
That he might show all his people the riches of his mercy.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No one is good. All deserve the wrath of God. All deserve to be cut off and burned in hell.
But all God’s people will be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. Jesus died in our place as our substitute. He died for our sin. He took God’s wrath against us on himself. So, we who repent and believe are forgiven. So, we who repent and believe have eternal life. So, we who repent and believe are sons of the Living God.
God never rejects those he has chosen to be his people. He will never damn those he’s chosen to save.
God saves all his elect in a way we wouldn’t expect.
Chosen Gentiles hear and believe God’s gospel because the Jews reject it.
Chosen Jews hear and believe God’s gospel because they get jealous of Gentiles, and so come to their senses.
And so, we can’t be proud at all. Our salvation is about the glory of the Great God. And we can only thank and praise him, the God of grace.
Look at the last verses in Romans 11.