God's Purpose in the Stumbling of Israel, Part 2 (Romans Sermon 85 of 120)
October 30, 2005 | Andrew Davis
God's Purpose for the World, Israel's Rejection of Jesus
Introduction: The Valley of Dry Bones
As we continue in our study in Romans, we're looking for the second week at Romans 11:11-16, and we're looking at the question of God's purpose in Israel's stumbling, God's purpose in Israel's rejection of Christ. And this morning, I'd like to take you in your mind's eye, by the Spirit and by the Word, to a valley. A valley of vision, through the Spirit. Perhaps it was most terrifying of all the visions that Ezekiel, the prophet, had when the Lord did the same for Him. Took him to a valley and set him in the midst of it, and as he moved through the valley, he saw that it was filled with dead men, the bones of dead men. And the bones were bleached and dry, there was no sign of life whatsoever, they were a slaughtered horde. They've been dead so long that the bones were so dry and bleached in the sun, that there seemed to be no hope whatsoever for their future.
And Ezekiel was asked a simple and direct question, "Son of man, can these bones live again?" Ezekiel perhaps felt the sense of both dread and hope at the question. He answered the only way he could, "O Sovereign Lord, you alone know." That's a good answer, don't you think? "Only you know whether these bones can live again." Then the Lord commanded him, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.'" And while Ezekiel obeyed and spoke the Word of the Lord to those dry bones, he heard a deep and mysterious rattling sound, as bone joined a bone.
I can't imagine what that sounded like. Terrifying and amazing, wonderful and dreadful at the same time. And there, after the bones were joined, lay a bunch of dead skeletons. But a moment later, the wind of the Lord blew on those skeletons, and tendons and flesh came upon them. And so they stood, fully formed, but still dead, there was no breath of life in them. Once more the Lord commanded the prophet Ezekiel, "Son of man, prophesy to the breath." And as Ezekiel spoke the Word of the Lord, the sound of the rushing wind came from the four directions of the compass, and breathed life into those dead corpses, and they came to life.
Now, what did this vision mean? Now, Ezekiel prophesied at a time when Israel's hopes seemed completely cut off, dead. The national future seemed bleak indeed. Because of their sins, the Lord had raised up Gentile armies, the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians, to evict the Jews from their promised land. Most of them were slaughtered, the few that remained were deported to a foreign land, to Babylon. For most people, this means the end of a national existence. And so, Israel's hopes seemed as dead as those dry bones. The vision ends in this way, Ezekiel 37:11-14, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel." "These bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone, we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them. I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land, then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and have done it,'" declares the Lord.
Now the lesson of the vision is the same as the lesson of redemptive history, when it comes to the Jews, and that is that the sovereign God has power to call things that are not as though they were, and has the power to give life to the dead. He can do that. He had the power to do it to Israel's hopes in the Valley of Dry Bones. And frankly, that's how the nation of Israel began, when a 100 year old wandering, desert dwelling Aramean named Abraham, had a miracle worked in his own seemingly dead and dry body. And so he was able to beget a son, Isaac, and thus the Jewish nation began. And Paul commented on this in Romans 4:17, speaking of the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were, that's how it began. How fitting then that Romans 11 says that's exactly how it will end as well.
For if you look at verse 15, in Romans 11, it says, "If their," the Jews, "If their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be, but life from the dead." And that's what we're talking about. The Alpha and the Omega of the Jewish nation is life from the dead, it is the power of God to call things that are not as though they were. That's the whole history. And that's the meaning of the vision of the dry bones.
I said to my kids I thought it was appropriate for Halloween, they said, "Don't mention it, please don't." But now I've mentioned it. What could be more powerful than skeletons that seem to have no life, coming together with a rattling sound, and bringing not death, but life? God has the power to transform anything, even death to life.
Now what is the context here in Romans 11? Well, the context is that Paul is deeply troubled and deeply disturbed by the problem of the Jews rejecting their own Messiah. And he's asking the question, "Does this mean that God's Word has failed, that God is not sovereign and powerful to bring forth these kinds of promises?" And he says, "It is not as though God's Word has failed." And then in Romans 9, he focuses on individual salvation, he talks about unconditional election, he talks about the fact that God has the power before the foundation of the world to choose those who are His, and that they will most certainly come to Him.
He also talks about individual responsibility in the end of Chapter 9, and in Chapter 10, saying the Jews stumbled over the stumbling stone, they refused to believe in Christ because they were trying to establish their own righteousness. And they couldn't accept a simple Gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, where Jesus does the work, Jesus gets the glory, we get the salvation. They couldn't accept it, and so they stumbled over Christ.
II. Paul’s Question: Have They Stumbled In Order to Fall?
But now, in Chapter 11, Paul turns to the issue of the future of the whole nation. What is the future of the nation of Israel? What does God have planned for them as a whole? And we see the grace and mercy of God, even in the midst of a dismal situation there. We've seen already two of the graces in that God had not completely rejected all of the Jews. Paul himself was a Jew, and in every generation there would be a remnant preserved by God's grace, a remnant of Jews who would believe in Christ and trust in Him. Paul, a Jewish believer in Christ, was an example of that. So were all the first generation Jews that believed in Christ.
Secondly, we see the mercy and grace of God, in that He uses the transgression of the Jews to save Gentiles. That's what we saw last week. But God has that power to do it.
The third grace and mercy we're going to see is, this rejection of the Jews is not permanent, but at the end of the age, there will be a great in-gathering of Jews through faith in Christ. And that's what he gets at in the rest of this section.
III. God Has a Purpose in Israel’s Stumbling
Now, last week we saw that God has a purpose in Israel stumbling. Some of us stumble over the idea of God having a purpose in human sin, but God does have a purpose. We saw in the example of Joseph and his brothers, how they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. And God has that kind of power to intend and mean things that appear evil, and mean it for good.
We see that especially in the cross of Jesus Christ, don't we? The most wicked act in history, but it is my salvation, and yours too, if you trust in Christ. A wicked act, an act of sin. And what their motives were, we talked about last week, they will be judged for it and assessed. Each one of them, Pontius Pilate, and Judas, and Herod, and all of them. But for us, God meant it for good, that we might have eternal life and salvation.
IV. God’s Purpose for Gentiles
We also saw last week that God's purpose for the Gentiles in Israel's transgression was salvation. Look at Verse 11, it says, "Because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles." It says again in Verse 12, it speaks of riches for the world, it says also there as riches for the Gentiles. In verse 15, it says, their rejection, the Jews' rejection, is the reconciliation of the world.
So we have salvation for the Gentiles, riches for the world, riches for the Gentiles, reconciliation for the world. We saw all this last week. One of the good purposes of God in the rejection of the Jews, the transgression of the Jews, is that salvation has come to the Gentiles.
V. God’s Purpose for Jews
But what we're going to see now this week is that God also has a good purpose for the Jews in all of that. What is God's purpose for the Jews? Well, we see layers of purpose in verse 11. Look at Verse 11. "Again I asked, did they, the Jews, stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? May it never be, not at all," he says. "Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles." He doesn't stop there, "In order to make Israel envious." So God doesn't just stop with the salvation of the Gentiles, He goes beyond that and says the salvation of the Gentiles is going to have an effect on the Jews.
So God's purpose then, ultimate purpose for the Jews, in the salvation of Gentiles is the salvation of Jews, that's His ultimate purpose. God intends salvation for the Jews. Now, already we're talking about individual Jews, like Paul, who are saved. But Paul has a vision here of the future, he has a vision here of the future of the nation of Israel. And so he talks about the hopeful words and the hopeful intentions he has for the Jews. Look at verses 11-15, and see all the hope there is for the Jews. In Verse 11 he says, "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 fullness bring." Verse 13, "I am talking to you Gentiles, in as much as I am the Apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them."
Verse 15, "For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what would their acceptance be, but life from the dead." Now, in that section, Paul talks about the fullness of the Jews and of their acceptance. This is referring to their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is referring ultimately to salvation for a whole generation of Jews, the final generation of Jews. He speaks of the fullness of the Gentiles at the end of this chapter, he's speaking also the fullness of the Jews. The fullness of the Jews and the fullness of the Gentiles comes together at the end of the world. Well, how will this occur?
Salvation Through Jealousy
Paul says it's salvation through jealousy, salvation through envy. What an odd thing. Isn't it a strange thing the plans and purposes of God? We would never have come up with a salvation plan like this. God raising up a people, the Jews, making extraordinary promises to them saying they are His peculiar people, putting them under a conditional covenant, watching as they disobey that covenant again and again, ultimately bringing the Messiah, physically descended from the Jews, but they reject Him, and so God rejects them. Turns to the Gentiles, the Gentile saved in large numbers, the Jews become envious and jealous, they turn back to their Messiah and believe, and God gets the glory for all of it.
Would you have come up with a salvation plan like that? It's extraordinary, and it is deep it. Look what he says, in Verse 13 and 14, he says, "I am talking to you Gentiles, in as much as I am the Apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them." Paul says, "I magnify my ministry," "I make much of my ministry, I talk about it a lot. I am the Apostle to the Gentiles." Now, don't misunderstand Paul, what he's saying here. He doesn't make much of himself. He doesn't make much of how great a person he is. Not at all, he's very humble about his own sin. He talks about how he was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and a violent man, in 1 Timothy. He doesn't make much of himself. But he does make much of his ministry. Why? Why does he glorify his ministry? Because he wants his own people to be provoked to jealousy, so that they'll say, "Hey, I want some of that. I want to sit at that table, I want to feast with the Gentiles. I'm out, I'm excluded. I want to believe in Christ."
Case Study #1: Antioch
And so Paul's goal is to make the Jews jealous. How does this work? Well, there are a variety of case studies of this in the Book of Acts. First, in the city in Antioch, in Acts 13. There, Paul and Barnabas are ministering. They go as usual to the Jewish synagogue. They preach the Gospel boldly and clearly using the Old Testament to prove that Jesus is the Christ. At the end they give them a warning saying, "Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I'm going to do something in your days that you would never believe even if someone told you." He gives them a warning to believe in Christ. As Paul and Barnabas are leaving the synagogue, a number of the Jews come up and invite them to speak further on these things the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, the Word of God went out through all that city, and a week later just about everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, were there to hear the Word of the Lord.
It says there in Acts 13, "When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy." And now they're at the fork in the road, aren't they? Filled with jealousy and they can either believe in Christ and say, "I want to be part of that," or they can begin to persecute, and that's exactly what they did. They talked abusively against what Paul and Barnabas are saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly, "We had to speak the Word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles." That's Paul making much of his ministry to the Gentiles? Who is he talking to there? The Jews. He's saying, "We're going to go to the Gentiles, for this is what the Lord has commanded us, 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.'" When the Gentiles heard this, they were filled with joy and they honored the Word of the Lord, and all who were pointed to eternal life, believed.
So, what does Paul do? He tells the Jews who are becoming abusive, he says, "You reject the Word of God. Guess what we're going to do? We're going to turn to the Gentiles, your Gentile neighbors, and we're going to preach the Word of God." And huge numbers of the Gentiles were saved.
Case Study #2: Corinth
Second case is in Corinth, in Acts 18:6-8. The Jews began to oppose Paul and become abusive, so Paul shakes out his clothes in protest against them. He says, "Your blood be on your own heads. I am clear of my responsibility. From now on, I will go to the Gentiles." Is Paul really done with the Jews at this moment? He really isn't, he's onto Plan B. Plan A is, whenever he goes to a town, he goes to the Synagogue and openly and clearly reasons with them from the Scripture. But when they oppose, when they become abusive, he goes to plan B. He says, "I'm going to the Gentiles now, you watch and see what's going to happen." So he goes to the Gentiles.
Then Paul goes next door to the Synagogue, to the house of Titus Justus, a worshiper of God, a Gentile. He goes literally right next door and sets up shop there, and huge quantities of people come to the house of Titus Justus, and they believe in the Lord. And the Gentiles are saved, huge numbers of them. Crispus, the synagogue ruler, a Jew, and his entire household believed in the Lord and were added to the number, and when they heard him preach, Crispus, a large number of others were saved. You see what's happening? Paul goes and he sets up shop right next door to the Jewish Synagogue, makes much of his ministry as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and Crispus, the Synagogue ruler says, "I want to be involved. I want Christ."
Case Study #3: Antioch
Third case is at the very end of the Book of Acts, Paul and the Jewish leaders in Rome. Paul's there under house arrest, he's in chains for the Gospel. He wants his audience with Caesar, and he's going to get it. In the meantime, he's got some freedom to preach. The first thing he does is that he sends for the Jewish leaders. Usually he would go to the Synagogue, but he can't do it because he's under house arrest, so they come to him. He begins to explain the Gospel to them, and the same thing happens as always. Some of them were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves, and they began to leave after Paul had made this final statement, "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers, when he said through Isaiah, the prophet, 'Go to this people and say, "You'll be ever hearing but never understanding. You will be ever seeing, but never perceiving." For this people's heart has become callous, they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.'"
"Therefore, I want you to know," says Paul to the Jews, "That God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen." What is Paul doing there? But what he says here in Romans 11, he makes much of his ministry in the hope to arouse some of them to jealousy, and save some of them. And you might say, "What is this whole jealousy theme? Why would God use jealousy to save people's souls?" Well, they said he was going to do this back in the Song of Moses, back in Deuteronomy 32, which we studied last week. The Song of Moses was taught to the Jews right before they entered the promised land, right before they crossed the promised land, Moses taught them a song. Telling them their pre-history, everything they were about to do before they did any of it. And because it was a song, they would remember it. He said, "The song will testify about you, and frankly, against you, for generations to come."
Now this is what the Song of Moses said, this is before any of it happened. Deuteronomy 32:16-21. "They made Him jealous with their foreign gods. And they angered Him with their detestable idols. They sacrifice to demons which are not God, gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared gods your fathers did not fear. You deserted the rock who fathered you, you forgot the God who gave you birth. The Lord saw this and rejected them, because He was angered by His sons and daughters. 'I will hide My face from them,' He said, 'and see what their end will be. For they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful. [Listen to this] They made Me jealous by what is no God, and they angered Me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people. I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding."
Strategy. The Jews enter the promised land surrounded by pagan worship, the Jews are led astray by pagan gods, they forsake God, they make God jealous and envious, because the relationship's somewhat like a marriage. And so God says, "Since you do this, I will make you envious by those who are not a people. I'll make you envious by the Gentiles." Well, how does He do this? The first thing He does is, He does it militarily. He blesses the Gentile armies who come and invade His people. This happens in the Book of Judges, it happens all through Israel's history. Ultimately, it happens when the Assyrians deport the northern tribes of Israel, and then a 100 some odd years later when the Babylonians deport the rest. God blesses the Gentiles militarily.
Habakkuk struggles with this, he can't understand why God would bless such a godless people. He's just saying what He's doing what He said He would do. He is blessing the Gentiles as they come in and militarily defeat the Jews in their own promised land, and take control. It's what Jesus called the 'times of the Gentiles'. And during the times of the Gentiles, the Gentiles are in charge in the promised land. The Gentiles are ruling over the Jews, and so God makes them jealous militarily. But secondly, through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, when Gentiles in large numbers hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and believe. In huge numbers, and that's been going on for 2,000 years, all over the world, in every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, almost everyone. Gentiles are hearing the Gospel, they're responding, they're believing. There's a streaming of the nations, Isaiah 2, to Zion spiritually. They're believing in a Jewish Messiah, they're being grafted into a Jewish olive tree, they're believing in large numbers in Jesus Christ.
And as a result of that, Paul says, the Jews get jealous, they're left out, they're on the outside, they're not feasting at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the Gentiles are. The Gentiles are getting the gifts of the Spirit, they're seeing miracles done, they're seeing the evidence of God, but they are left out. God is not blessing the Jews, He's blessing the Gentiles, and as a result, they're starting to get jealous. And isn't it a beautiful thing how God redeems jealousy? Isn't it a beautiful thing how God uses jealousy? The Jews making God jealous leads to their own condemnation, but God uses jealousy to lead ultimately to their salvation. Look what it says in verse 12 The ultimate end of this is life from the dead. But if their transgression it says, "means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring?" And then again in verse 15, "If their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be, but life from the dead." The ultimate end for the Jews is life from the dead.
Now, I believe this means spiritual resurrection, as in Ezekiel. I'm talking about bones that come to life spiritually. We were all dead in our transgressions and sins. When you hear the Gospel and believe, you are resurrected and raised to life spiritually. But I think it also means literal, physical resurrection, that the tombs will be opened. The Jews and Gentiles who believed in Christ will come forth. It will be life from the dead when the Jews at last believe. Now, when will this happen? Well, it'll happen at the end of the world, because what else is left to happen after that? The fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Look at verse 25-27. "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited. Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The deliverer will come from Zion, he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.' And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins." So there's a mystery here, when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then the fullness of the Jews will come and join them. And at that point, it will be the end, it will be life from the dead, it will be like resurrection from the dead.
VI. God’s Purpose for His Own Glory
Now, that is God's purpose for the Gentiles, salvation. That is God's purpose ultimately for the Jews, salvation. But what is His overarching purpose in all of this? It is that God alone will get the glory for salvation, that God alone will be praised when people from both Jew and Gentile alike are saved by mercy. God does all of this that He would get the glory, and He alone. Look at verses 30-32. "Just as you Gentiles who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience," verse 31, "So they now too have become disobedient, in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience, so that He may have mercy on them all."
God has sovereignly orchestrated history in such a way, that the Gentiles have a long history of wickedness in pagan idolatry, in selfish empire building for their own glory, in making of themselves idols, or making for themselves idols. That Gentiles have a long history, so that when we are saved out of that, we cannot boast in our national origin, we are humbled we are saved by mercy. And individually, each one of us knows we have sinned greatly, we have broken the laws of God, we are fully aware that we do not deserve salvation. So that when we stand in Heaven clothed in a righteousness that we didn't earn, when we stand in Heaven forgiven of all of our sins, when we get to see God in the face, when we get to live forever and ever in the new Jerusalem, the home of righteousness it's called, when we live there, not one of us will be boasting about ourselves. For God has bound us Gentiles over to disobedience, so that He may have mercy on us and we know we are saved by mercy alone.
Well, He's done the same thing now with the Jews. He's bound them into 2,000 years of rejecting Christ, 2,000 years of national blindness, 2,000 years of stumbling at Christ, so that when He takes away the blindness, they will not boast about being Jewish, they will boast in Christ, and in Christ alone. It is a salvation plan that is designed for one thing, to humble human pride and to give God the glory while saving us from our sins. And in the end, God will be glorified.
For myself, I think by then I'm going to be tired of talking about myself. Tired of talking about anything to do with me. I know what my history is. And I think each one of you is gonna be tired of talking about yourselves too. You want a better topic, one that will last for eternity, one that's worth talking about for thousands and thousands of millennia. And it isn't going to be you, and it isn't going to be me. What is worth talking about for all that time? Is it not the glory of God in saving sinners like us? In the end that is God's purpose.
What application can we take from this passage? Well, first and foremost, and we're going to talk about this more God willing in the future, but don't despise in any way the Jewish people in their lostness. Don't look down on them. We'll talk more about this in the future, but what I want to say is instead, can we not reach out to them with the Gospel? Can we not in some way, whatever way Paul means here, make them envious that they're not included right now? How do you do that? Well, first, get to know some Jewish people, reach out to them, with friendship, build some relationships with them. If you don't know any, then pray that God would give you some that you can reach out to.
And second of all, don't say, "My goal is to make you jealous of me. I'd really like to make you jealous." Don't do that. God has called on us to be wise, don't do that. Rather say, "Isn't it an incredible thing that sins can be forgiven? Isn't it a marvelous thing that we don't fear death, but we can look forward to something even better? Isn't it a marvelous thing that after we die, we'll get to sit at a table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven?" Matthew Chapter 8. We get to do that, isn't that wonderful? Using Jewish languages you're saying, "We get to feast with the patriarchs. Isn't it a wonderful thing that we get to know Isaiah who talked about Christ, and predicted His sufferings and the glories that would follow? Isn't it a marvelous thing that that animal sacrificial system has been fulfilled in Jesus, and we don't have to offer animals anymore, but rather it's all been completed, and our sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ?"
You're drawing them in, making them thirsty, just like Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well, saying, "Don't you want some of this? Don't you want to be included? Isn't it a marvelous thing that the spirit can come into some dry bones and make us come to life? Isn't it a marvelous thing that God has a salvation plan for every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, all around the world?" So in this way, make them envious of the spiritual blessings of the Gospel.
Second of all, never doubt that God has power, be confident in God, have power to make even the most dreadful thing, even the most dreadful thing come for His glory. God can use something terrible like the murder of Jesus, and like the transgression of the Jews, to do glorious things. He says, "If God can do that," he uses a logic here, "If God can do all this good thing because the Jews have sinned, how much more glory will come when He turns them around?" You see what God can do? God can take even the most wretched things in your life, even other people's sins against you, even your own sins, and He can work in the midst of all of that for His glory, and for His grace, and for His mercy. Nothing derails the plan of God. Isn't that marvelous? So, give Him thanks and praise and be confident in this God.
And finally, simply learn the lesson of Romans 11, and say, "Not to us, not to us, but to Your name alone be the glory. Thank you God, thank you for saving me." Close with me in prayer.