There’s a racial problem in the United States right now, connected with the history of racial slavery that ended 150 years ago. It’s also connected with the political strategy used today of creating divisions between citizens so they won’t work together for their common good. Thus people today are categorized and classified by the color of their skin or by the national origin of their family, even if that was generations past. The ridiculous reasoning is set forth that because of ingrained racism, our institutions should adopt racist policies. Passions are inflamed against institutions or leaders who don’t toe the line and observe racial preferences. Children are raised to believe that racial categories describe real distinctions, and some are taught to expect the preferences given their own race. And now, some are advocating that those who choose a homosexual lifestyle should likewise be privileged as a race.
This problem with race in America clouds our understanding of what Paul describes in our text. He’s writing about the nation of Israel, the people of the Jews. He’s been following this line since chapter 9, and here he begins to reveal God’s plan for them. But understand this: Jews are simply human beings like all of us. Their only distinction is that God made them a special nation thousands of years ago for the purpose of fulfilling His promise to Adam and Eve: that the Savior should come into the world. Everything special about the Jews relates to Jesus Christ, but many of them deny that He is their Savior. So God has a plan.
You have a role in God’s plan for the Jews. You should receive God’s grace, so that salvation may come to all.
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 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.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written:
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”
And David says:
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.”
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
The last three weeks we’ve heard how Paul wrestled with the fact that a large number of his own fellow Jews did not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They regard the Gospel as something new and contrary to their faith, when in reality it’s the fulfillment of their faith and even their identity as a nation. Remember that Paul is still “Saul,” his Jewish name. Paul never really stopped being Saul. In other words, he never stepped away from his Jewish faith.
There could be a misunderstanding that before his conversion, Paul was a Jew, but afterward renounced his Jewish roots. That’s not true at all. If anything, he became more fully Jewish after his conversion, because then he truly understood the Scriptures and recognized that they are about Jesus, the Messiah. He wasn’t the only Jew to reach this understanding, but many did not.
Today those known as “Jews” identify themselves not so much by the beliefs they hold, but by the fact that they are descended from the nation of Israel and they are not Christians. In other words, the division between Saul/Paul and the unbelieving Jews of that time continues today. Some Jewish people today have come to faith in Christ, but many have not. Most Christians are not ethnic Jews.
About 75 years ago, something terrible happened to the Jewish people of Europe, when a secular, atheistic regime tried to exterminate them like animals. The perpetrators caused even greater damage by using the Christian religion as a pretext for their wickedness.
But why were Jews in Europe instead of Israel? Because 1,945 years ago their Temple had been destroyed by Roman armies under a general named Titus, and many of them lost the privilege of living in their homeland. This repeated a similar event 2,737 years ago, when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian empire, and most of its citizens were relocated throughout the world, never to return. In both cases, the Jews in question had somehow left the faith of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had forgotten the point of Moses’ Law, and failed to recognize their Lord Christ. Instead, about 40 years before the Roman army came, they had crucified the Lord of Glory.
The stubborn resistance of some Jews to the Gospel of Christ led Paul to address an important question in our text: Does this mean that God has cast away His people? Paul denies it in the strongest way, and the proof is that he himself is also a Jew.
Paul goes on to use the example of Elijah the prophet. In that Northern Kingdom of Israel, under a foreign-born queen who promoted the false god Baal, Elijah believed he was the only true prophet of God left, and the whole nation had turned against Him. Even then, God revealed that seven thousand in Israel had not fallen for Baal, and he sent Elijah back to work to speak the truth among the Israelites who did not believe. In the same way, God knows the Jews who belong to Him today. In Paul’s words: “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
This gives us a better understanding of how to regard our Jewish friends and neighbors. Maybe some of them deny their Messiah, but there is a remnant. Now, you know that among our Gentile (non-Jewish) friends and neighbors, most of them don’t know the truth about Jesus, and of those who do, many don’t believe it. This sad truth may extend into your own household. I can’t tell — maybe into your own heart!
But God has reserved a remnant. If it seems that His true Church is so small and weak in the world, that’s by design. They will always be a remnant, until the day comes when our Lord is revealed and every knee will bow before Him. There will always be a remnant, because God’s election of grace is at work. He has chosen you for salvation: to hear His Word as you are hearing it now, to believe it, to take comfort in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, to resist the temptations of the world by remaining steadfast in the Word and in faith, and finally to enter eternal life.
If the world seems dreadfully hostile toward God and His Word, that’s because it is. This world is destined for destruction, but there is a remnant. And if there is a remnant in the world, then there is surely a remnant among the children of Israel. We dare not conclude that anyone we know has been forsaken by God, because Jesus was forsaken in their place, so that they could receive His place with the Father.
And you? When the cross presses sorely upon you; when the world pulls you into the sin that your flesh so eagerly embraces; when you think that all must be lost, because you have squandered your heavenly Father’s inheritance, what then? The devil would lead you to despair of God’s mercy, but still there is the example of Elijah. You can still repent, because everything always depends on God’s grace.
Yes, you deserve that God should cast you away. But just as He holds open the possibility of repentance for Jewish people, so He holds open the same possibility for you. In fact, He invites you and draws you back to His Word to forgive, to heal, and to encourage you like Elijah as part of the remnant.
God knew it would happen this way. Paul wrote, “What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” It frustrated Paul and Elijah that their fellow Israelites refused to believe the truth. Today there are also Gentiles who mock it and write vehemently against it. Christians think, “How can they not see? How can they not understand?” But this is what God knew would happen. Even the Israel as a whole has failed, so that only an elect remnant will succeed. Meanwhile, though God reaches out with the truth, many will resist the Holy Spirit and reject the salvation that God has actually provided for them. In Acts 13(:48), it says, “Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”
Paul writes in our text, “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” So God’s will, His serious desire, is that all Jews and Gentiles should believe the Gospel and be saved. Those who will not are running against His will. But Paul would have us remember the possibility that our unbelieving neighbors will repent and believe. We will even get to rejoice in the resurrection with Jewish brothers.
So you see, God has a plan not only for you, but for the world. He’s given you forgiveness, and a part in His plan when it comes to your unbelieving neighbors. He wants you to receive His gracious forgiveness, so that the same may be provided to all.
Soli Deo Gloria