No Room Or Reason For Pride.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12:3-8 ESV

Paul has spent the entire letter up to this point defending man’s justification based on the grace and goodness of God, not human effort. Both Jews and Gentiles are made right with God the same way – through faith in Christ alone. It is not based on heritage, race, background, income, achievement or any other human means of measurement. God has said, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15 ESV). So Paul concludes, “then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16 ESV). No one deserves God’s mercy. If we deserved it, it would no longer be mercy, because by definition, mercy is a choice, not an obligation. When Paul speaks of the mercy of God, he means “the mercy and clemency of God in providing and offering to men salvation by Christ” (“Greek Lexicon :: G1656 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Dec, 2015. <http://www.blueletterbible.orghttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm>). God’s mercy is undeserved. In fact, rather than giving us what we deserve, which is the essence of mercy, He gives us what we do NOT deserve: Grace, in the form of salvation and justification made possible through faith in His Son. And that grace is the work of God, not man. And Paul emphasizes that without God’s mercy, no man would ever experience a right relationship with Him. “For these is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is the Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:12-13 ESV).

So there is no reason for anyone to think more highly of himself. The Gentiles were not to become prideful because God had taken away the message of salvation from the Jews and given it to them. The Jewish believers were not to boast in their heritage as descendants of Abraham. None of that mattered. Instead, each was to “think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3 ESV). Our place in the body of Christ is not based on the amount of faith we conjure up. It is not a competition and it not intended to be a comparison. We are in Christ because of the mercy and grace of God. We have been placed in the body of Christ by God, each “having gifts that differ according to the grace give to us” (Romans 12:6 ESV). Even our spiritual gifts have been given to us by God. We didn’t bring them with us. Spiritual gifts are not human abilities on steroids. They are supernatural enablements, provided by the Spirit of God. And they are intended for the building up of the body of Christ. Paul told the Ephesian believers that God “makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT).

Our gifts are given to us by the grace of God, and we are to use them humbly and selflessly. They are given to us by God, not to boost our egos or inflate our sense of self-worth, but to build up the body of Christ. In the church in Corinth, Paul had to deal with a misuse and misunderstanding of the spiritual gifts, where they had turned them into badges of honor. The various gifts had become divisive, with members of the church bragging over the particular gifts that they had. Paul had to sternly remind them, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). Every one of them had a spiritual gift “empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV). There was no reason to boast or brag. In fact, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20 ESV).

Our salvation is the work of God. Our right standing before God is the result of His mercy, not our merit. Our place in the body of Christ was determined by Him, not us. Our spiritual gift was given to us by His Spirit and intended for the building up of the body of Christ. There is nothing about our relationship with Christ or our place in His family for which we have a right to boast. We should use our gifts “according to the grace given to us.” A recognition of God’s grace should always motivate our actions and attitudes. Like the psalmist, we should daily remind ourselves, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3 ESV). Not because we deserved it. But because of His marvelous grace.

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Living Sacrifices.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2 ESV

Here Paul makes a transition, from talking about God’s relationship to the Jews in general, to the conduct of believers in particular. He has been addressing the issue of justification, being made right with God, based on the grace of God and not the efforts of man. Whether Jew or Gentile, every man or woman is justified before God by faith in Christ alone. Human effort has nothing to do with it. But Paul would not leave his readers with the false impression that behavior or actions are no longer a part of the equation. The salvation that God offers through the death of His Son should result in a dramatic change in the way we live. Paul has already addressed this on two different occasions.

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. – Romans 6:13 ESV

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. – Romans 6:19 ESV

When Paul uses the word, “therefore,” he is telling us, that in light of all that God has done, our response should reflect our deep gratitude. In chapter five, Paul told us, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5:1 NLT). Because of the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf, giving Himself as our sin substitute on the cross, we have been restored to a right relationship with God. And God is the one who made it all possible. He sent His Son. He sacrificed what was most precious to Him so that we could be given new life and a right relationship with Him. And as Paul stated in chapter eight, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1-2 NLT). We no longer live under the Damocles sword of sin’s condemnation. Eternal separation from God is no longer a threat for us. It is also no longer to be a motivation for right behavior. We don’t attempt to live righteously to earn favor with God. That is a thing of the past. We live righteously out of thankfulness for all that God has done for us, including giving us the capacity to live righteous lives by virtue of His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Our desire to live for God is no longer to be motivated by fear. It is not to be based on some kind of hope that what we do scores us enough points with God to make Him accept us. Our behavior in this lifetime is not about earning our way into God’s good graces, but about living according to the grace He has extended to us through the death of His Son. He has given us new life. He has and is transforming us into new creations. We are already His children, adopted into His family and heirs of all that is His. We don’t have to make God love us, He already does. The gift of His Son was the greatest expression of His love. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). So Paul urges us to present our bodies as “living sacrifices.” Our death is not required, because the payment for our sins has already been made in full. Our motivation for offering ourselves to God is the mercy of God. Unlike most sacrifices, where the one making the sacrifice is attempting to obtain mercy from God, we are offering ourselves because of the mercy we have already received from God. God has shown us mercy by delivering us from condemnation. Rather than giving us what we deserved, He showered us with His grace. And for that we should be eternally grateful.

So what does our “living sacrifice” look like? How are we to conduct ourselves in this world as a result of all that God has done for us? Paul gives us a negative and a positive aspect to our behavior. First of all we are NOT to be conformed to this world. The Greek word, syschēmatizō means “to conform one’s self (i.e. one’s mind and character) to another’s pattern, (fashion one’s self according to)” (Outline of Biblical Usage). We are not to pattern ourselves after the ways of this world. When Paul refers to the “world,” he is speaking of the mindset that is prevalent in our culture that seeks to exclude God from life. It is a man-centered way of thinking that diminishes God and deifies man. We make ourselves the center of the universe and live according to our own self-centered passions. We are not to live like this world. We have been separated by God from this world. As Jesus said, we are to live in it, but not be a part of it. We are to live separately and distinctly different lives. But how? Paul gives us a critical and non-negotiable requirement to pulling of this kind of life. It entails the “renewal” of our minds. We are to undergo a complete transformation in the way we act and think. Paul speaks of renewal, which is the Greek word, anakainōsis. It refers to “a renewal, renovation, complete change for the better” (Outline of Biblical Usage). It begins in our minds – how we think. We must constantly remind ourselves of all that God has done for us. We must repeatedly dwell on the fact that our transformation is as much the work of God as our salvation was. We must seek to eliminate our self-help mentality and lean on the assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is as we live with this constant dependency upon God and His transformation power that we will begin to see what His will for our lives is all about. And as Paul so succinctly puts it, “God’s will is for you to be holy…” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). That is His overarching objective for our lives. Nothing more. Nothing less. And as we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we are telling Him that we want what He wants. We desire to be used by Him however He sees fit – for our good and His glory.

The Wonderful Ways Of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:33-36 ESV

Paul sums up all he has said in the last three chapters regarding Israel’s rejection of God, their partial hardening and their ultimate restoration as God’s people with a statement about God. He marvels at God’s incomparable riches, wisdom and knowledge. He confesses that God’s ways and judgments are unsearchable and inscrutable. But what does all this mean? What is Paul really saying about God?

I think the New American Standard Version has a more accurate rendering of Paul’s opening line: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” The word, “riches” refers to abundance or fullness. Paul is saying that God is overflowing in wisdom and knowledge. “God’s ‘wisdom’ is His ability to arrange His plan so it results in good for both Jews and Gentiles and His own glory. His ‘knowledge’ testifies to His ability to construct such a plan” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes On Romans, 2009 Edition). We may not always understand what God is doing, but we can always trust that what He is doing is right and good. Paul goes on to say that God’s judgments are unsearchable. The word, “judgment” carries a judicial sense to it. It can mean “condemnation of wrong, the decision (whether severe or mild) which one passes on the faults of others” (Outline of Biblical Usage). We have no right to judge God for what He does, including His judgment of the sins of men or His choosing to show mercy to some who deserve His judgment. His “ways” or actions are beyond our comprehension. His thought processes are out of our realm of understanding. Isaiah confirmed this reality when he wrote, “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT).

Paul even uses the words of Isaiah to support his point. “Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him? Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice?” (Isaiah 40:13-14 NLT). In verse 35, Paul even pulls in the thoughts of Elihu, one of Job’s well-meaning friends. “If you are good, is this some great gift to him [God]? What could you possibly give him?” (Job 35:7 NLT). He also quotes the words of God given in response to Job’s questioning of His ways. “Who has given me anything that I need to pay back? Everything under heaven is mine” (Job 41:11 NLT).

God is not someone we should question. While His ways of doing things may seem odd to us or even distasteful, they are always right, just and good. There is always a method and a meaning to what may appear to us at times as His madness. He doesn’t need our advice. He isn’t in need of our counsel. He doesn’t owe us anything, including His mercy. God does not have to redeem anyone. He is not obligated to extend saving grace to any man or woman. That He does so at all should blow us away. It should leave us in awe of His incredible love, patience, and faithfulness. When Paul wrote, “For God has consigned all to disobedience” (Romans 11:32 ESV), he was saying that God was justly passing sentence on all men for their sin and rebellion against Him– “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Every single human being has been guilty of disobedience or “obstinate opposition to the divine will” (Outline of Biblical Usage). And that includes both the Jews and the Gentiles. But God has decided to show mercy to both the Jews and the Gentiles. Because they deserved it? No. But as Paul wrote, God shows “mercy on whomever he will, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18 ESV). His mercy and compassion have nothing to do with human will or self-effort (Romans 9:16), but are the sole prerogative of God. Which is why Paul concludes, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory.”

Salvation is a gift of God. It is based solely on the mercy of God. It has nothing to do with anything inherently good in the one who receives it. None of us deserve God’s mercy. What He chooses to do in regards to sinful mankind is completely up to Him. As God, He is free to do whatever He deems to be just and good. And all that He does, He does for His own glory. His actions always reveal His character in such a way that He is lifted up. Whenever He acts, He expresses His judgment and He does so in a perfectly just and righteous manner. When He punishes, He never does so unjustly. It is always deserved. When He shows mercy, it is never at the expense of His justice. In other words, it is never unjust or unfair. When God pardons the sins of men who believe in His Son, He doesn’t just turn His back on their sins and act as if they never happened. That would be unjust and unrighteous. Their sins deserve punishment. The crime requires sentencing and a payment of the penalty due. So God took care of the penalty with the death of His Son. He paid the price for our sins by sending His Son to die in our place. How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways! How wonderful are the ways of God!

God’s Marvelous Mercy.

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. – Romans 11:28-32 ESV

This is a fascinating and difficult passage. It presents us with a somewhat confusing picture of God’s grace that could easily leave us accusing Him of injustice. For the time being, the Jews are experiencing “a partial hardening” until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11: 25 ESV). While Israel had been seeking righteousness, a right relationship with God, they had been going about it the wrong way, by attempting to keep the law in their own human strength. And when the true path to righteousness was revealed, Jesus Christ, they rejected Him. So, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day” (Romans 11:8 ESV). But God did not cause their hardening or spiritual callousness. He simply allowed their hearts to go where they were naturally bent to go. He did not intervene. He did not extend mercy. And if we conclude that God’s treatment of the Jews was  unfair or unjust, we misunderstand mercy. Mercy is not required by God. By definition, mercy is a gift, not a requirement. Justice is required. Mercy is non-justice. In other words, when God determines to extend mercy to anyone, He is choosing NOT to enact justice, or to give them what they truly deserve. We see over and over again in Scripture God extending mercy to the people of Israel. Repeatedly, they turned their backs on Him and proved unfaithful as His people. As a result, they deserved His justice, His righteous, holy sentence of just punishment. But instead, God graciously chose to show them mercy, His undeserved kindness, goodness, favor and compassion. And to do so is God’s prerogative. “For God said to Moses, ‘I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose’” (Romans 9:15 NLT). When God shows mercy, we have no cause to complain or to cry foul. What should amaze us is that God, in His patience and love, chooses to show anyone mercy. Because mercy is never deserved. It is never earned. Paul has made it clear that all men deserve God’s justice: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). So if God chooses to extend His mercy to some, can we accuse Him of injustice? Paul would say, “No!”

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” – Romans 9:14-16 ESV

Which brings us back to our passage. As it pertained to the gospel, the good news regarding salvation through Christ, the Jews were essentially enemies of God, Paul contends. Their rejection of the Jesus as their Messiah had opened the door for the gospel to be preached to the Gentiles. But when it comes to God’s sovereign election or choosing of the nation of Israel, they are still beloved in His eyes. At this point, it would appear that Paul is now talking about the future state of Israel as a nation or a people. It would not appear that he is referring to individual Jews or individual Gentiles in these verses. At one time in history, the Gentile nations had been apart from God. They were separated from Him because of their sin. Paul puts it this way: “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT). But Paul says that something changed all that. “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 NLT). Notice that he addresses them as a whole, as Gentiles. This does not mean that ALL Gentiles have come to faith in Christ, but that the Gentile nations have now been shown the mercy of God.

The same will be true for the nation of Israel. While they are currently experiencing a hardness of heart and a spiritual callousness toward God and His offer of salvation through His Son, the day is coming when God will show them mercy just as He has done for the Gentiles. “For just as you [the Gentiles] were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their [the Jews] disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy” (Romans 11:30 ESV). In other words, Paul wants us to understand that this is not a case of Gentiles replacing Jews as God’s favored people. This is about God extending mercy to those to whom He sovereignly chooses. God’s mercy knows no prejudice. He is an equal-opportunity mercy provider. “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32 ESV). Again, this does not mean that all will be saved, but that all share a common state of disobedience and alienation from God, and if He does not choose to show mercy, none will be saved – either Jew or Gentile.

Israel’s rejection of the Messiah did not put them beyond God’s mercy. His inclusion of the Gentiles was not a sign of His exclusion of the Jews. It is a matter of timing. Right now, during the period of the Gentiles, His focus is on bringing the full number of those from among the Gentiles to faith in His Son. Then He will turn His attention to the nation of Israel. Yes, this is all hard for us to understand. It is difficult to comprehend why God does things the way He does. But Paul will clarify that for us in the closing verses of this chapter.

God Is Ready, Willing and Able.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 ESV

Paul has been establishing the fact that God is not yet done with Israel. While the majority of Jews have rejected Jesus as their Messiah, a remnant have been shown mercy by God and placed their faith in His Son as their Savior. Paul was living proof of that reality and there were other believing Jews in the church in Rome. And the Gentile believers have much to grateful for to the Hebrew nation. It was through the Jews that their Savior had come. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham and born into the line of King David – all in keeping with the promises made to both men. And while those Jews who refused to accept Jesus as their Savior were “broken off because of their unbelief” (Romans 11:20 ESV) and the Gentiles were grafted in, that does not mean that God is through with them. If He is able to take Gentiles and graciously and mercifully graft them into the root of Abraham, can He not do so with the Jews? Paul asks the very same question. “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23 ESV).

The key word here is belief. It is faith in Christ that is necessary for anyone, whether Jew or Gentile to be grafted into the root of Abraham. Paul told the Galatian church, “The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith” (Galatians 3:7-9 NLT). He went on to clarify, “Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14 NLT). It is through faith, our belief in the saving power of Jesus Christ that we inherit the promises made to Abraham. We become part of God’s family through belief in His Son. And the same thing will be true for God’s chosen people, the Jews. But Paul indicates that a “partial hardening has come upon Israel” (Romans 11:25 ESV). The term Paul used is an interesting one. It is pōrōsis and it means “obtrusiveness of mental discernment, dulled perception” (Outline of Biblical Usage). The root word from which it comes means “to grow hard, callous, become dull, lose the power of understanding.” For the time being, the Jews, individually and collectively, are experiencing a callousness to the gospel message. This was all part of God’s divine plan. As Paul wrote earlier, “their rejection means the reconciliation of the world” (Romans 11:15 ESV). It was their rejection of Christ that led to the gospel being taken to the rest of the nations of the world. But Paul indicates that there will be a point at which “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25 ESV). Thomas L. Constable explains what this phrase means:

When all the Gentiles whom God has chosen for salvation during the present age of Jewish rejection (setting aside) have experienced salvation, God will precipitate a revival of faith among the Jews. Even though some Jews trust Christ now, God is not presently working through them as Israel as He will in the future (i.e., in the Millennium), after multitudes of them turn to faith in Christ. He is now working through the church. – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Romans, 2009 Edition.

Quoting from Isaiah 59, Paul writes, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27 ESV). God is going to do a work among the Jewish people. But it will not take place until He has completed His work among the Gentiles. There is a day coming when the number of Gentiles or non-Jews to be saved will be complete. Not ALL Gentiles will be saved. There is a limited number of those who will place their faith in Christ, and when that number has been reached, God’s work among the Gentiles will have been fulfilled. He will then turn His attention to the Jews. But when Paul says that “all Israel will be saved,” he most certainly does not mean that every single Israelite who has ever lived will become a believer in Jesus Christ. As not all Gentiles will come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, neither will all Jews. But when compared to the relatively small believing remnant of Jews that currently exists, the number that will come to faith in the future will be large. The prophet Zechariah predicted that future day when God will do a mighty work among the people of Israel. God promised His people that on that day, “I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died” (Zechariah 12:10 NLT). Zechariah continued to write the words of the Lord, promising, “On that day a fountain will be opened for the dynasty of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and impurity” (Zechariah 13:1 NLT). The prophet went on to say, “‘Two-thirds of the people in the land will be cut off and die,’ says the Lord.But one-third will be left in the land. I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “These are my people,” and they will say, “The Lord is our God”’” (Zechariah 13:8-9 NLT).

God is ready, willing and able to redeem Israel. He is not yet done with His chosen people. He has not fully rejected them. He is simply waiting until the full number of Gentiles have come to faith in His Son, then He will turn His attention to the Jews. His plan is perfect. His timeline is right on schedule. We don’t know when these things will take place, but we are to trust that they will, because our God is faithful, just, righteous, powerful, and fully capable of completing what He has started and fulfilling all that He has promised – to us and to Israel.

Our Faithful God.

 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. – Romans 11:16-24 ESV

Dough. Firstfruits. Olive trees. Roots. Broken branches. What is Paul’s point in all of this? What is he trying to tell us? We must remember that he has been talking about the current and future fate of Israel. God had chosen them as His special possession. But they had rejected Jesus as their Messiah. As a result, they were passed over by God and His message of salvation was taken to the Gentiles. And yet, God had chosen for some Jews to believe in Jesus as their Messiah and form a remnant, a sort of firstfruits or offering that would consecrate or make holy the rest of the nation. Paul was using a reference to the command of God given to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the land of promise. He told them, “When you arrive in the land where I am taking you, and you eat the crops that grow there, you must set some aside as a sacred offering to the Lord. Present a cake from the first of the flour you grind, and set it aside as a sacred offering, as you do with the first grain from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come, you are to present a sacred offering to the Lord each year from the first of your ground flour” (Numbers 15:18-21 NLT). In his commentary on Romans, Donald Grey Barnhouse explains:

In order to understand this we must first realize that throughout the Old Testament the word “holy” has a special meaning. In the Old Testament “holy” means “separated from profane uses, consecrated to God.” In the use of the allusion as found in our text, Paul is saying that if the whole nation of Israel was originally set apart for God by the call of Abraham and the giving of the covenant promises to him, then the individuals of the race of Abraham also have a special relationship to God. This does not mean that they are personally holy, for some of them are even accursed; but it does mean that the members of the ancient race have been chosen by God and they will be brought to fulfill His purposes. – Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans

The nation of Israel was holy to God. He had set them apart, not because of anything they had done or deserved, but simply out of His sovereign will. Moses had made this perfectly clear to them. “For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT). And in Paul’s day, because God was bringing some Jews to faith, they were evidence of God’s continuing favor upon the nation of Israel. He had not completely abandoned them. In fact, Paul goes on to stress the non-debatable necessity of the nation of Israel in the grand scheme of God.

He switches analogies and begins to talk about trees, root and branches. He specifically refers to the olive tree, which was representative of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament (Hosea 14:4-6; Jeremiah 11:16-17). The root to which Paul refers most likely represents Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. He had been hand-picked by God and ordained to be the father of the nation of Israel and the means by which God would bless the nations of the world. From Abraham, the root, came the trunk and the branches of Israel. And because Abraham was holy and set apart for God, so was the rest of the tree. But some of the branches of that tree had been broken off by God. And the branches from “wild” or uncultivated olive trees were grafted in. Gentiles were made a part of the family of God, not because they deserved it, but out of the mercy and kindness of God. And Paul reminds the Gentiles, “remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:18 ESV). Our faith as believing Gentiles is dependent upon the promises of God made to Abraham. We are not better or superior than the Jews. And we are not to look down our noses in pride at unbelieving Jews. In fact, Paul would have us see our position as one with them. He told the believers in Ephesus, “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family” (Ephesians 2:19 NLT).

God is not done with Israel. He has not abandoned them. If He can graft in to the root of Abraham branches from “wild” olive trees, He can certainly graft back in those branches that have broken off. In fact, Paul states, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23 ESV). God’s promises to Israel still stand and He will fulfill them all – in His time and according to His perfect will. God’s unwavering faithfulness to Israel should encourage us. It is a reminder of just how loving, faithful and trustworthy our God really is. What He says, He will do. What He promises, He will ensure takes place. His decision to take the gospel to the Gentiles was not a plan B. It was not done because the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah. It was all part of God’s overall, sovereign and perfect plan A. Everything is working according to that plan. He is blessing all the nations of the earth through the offspring of Abraham, and one day He is going to bless the nation of Israel by sending His Son again and setting up His Kingdom on earth in Jerusalem and reestablishing His chosen people to their rightful place.

Godly Jealousy.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. – Romans 11:11-16 ESV

At one time, the Jewish people had been the apple of God’s eye, His chosen possession and the sole recipients of His favor. He even sovereignly ordained for His Son and their Messiah to be born as one of them, a descendant of Abraham and David. But when Jesus came, His own rejected Him. “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12 NLT). As Paul has already illustrated with his own life, there had been a small remnant of Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. But the vast majority of Jews had chosen to reject Him, refusing to acknowledge Him as having been sent by God and unwilling to admit their need for a Savior to rescue them from their sins.

We see this scenario illustrated by Jesus Himself in His parable about the two sons. In Luke 15, Jesus told the story of a rich man who had two sons. One day, the younger of the two brothers came to his father and demanded his inheritance. Graciously, his father gave the son what he asked for and, immediately, the younger son “packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living” (Luke 15:13 NLT). In time, he found himself living in abject poverty, attempting to make ends meet with his job feeding pigs. But ultimately, the young man came to his senses and recognized the gravity of what he had done. “…he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant”’” (Luke 15:17-19 NLT). Upon his return home, he received an unexpected welcome. His father ran to him with open arms, embraced him and welcomed back with joy. His return was met with joy, love and forgiveness from his father. The father responded, “We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found’” (Luke 15:23-24 NLT).  There was no anger. No recriminations. No retribution.

But the reception he received from his brother was quite different. He responded in jealousy and anger. He refused to join in the festivities, and when his father begged him to come and celebrate alongside them, the older son angrily responded, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” (Luke 15:29-30 NLT). His response revealed his self-righteous attitude and his jealousy at seeing his rebellious younger brother treated with forgiveness and mercy. His father assured him, “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” (Luke 15:31-32 NLT).

In Jesus’ story, we do not see what happens to the older brother. We know he represents the Jewish people who were determined to place their hope in their own self-righteousness. They saw themselves as sinless and therefore, in no need of a Savior. The only response the older brother had was jealousy and indignation. The same kind of response Paul refers to in his letter to the Romans. In this case, Paul is saying that the rejection of Jesus by the Jews was necessary for God to take the gospel to the Gentiles. “They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves” (Romans 11:11 NLT). For generations, the Jews had lived with the idea that they were God’s chosen people, blessed because they were descendants of Abraham. They belonged to God and He belonged to them. They viewed themselves as privileged and protected because of their unique relationship with God. But when Jesus came, He called them to repent. Repent of what? That word in the Greek is metanoeō and it means “to change one’s mind.” Jesus was demanding that they change their minds regarding God and how they viewed Him. They had long lost their fear of God and an awe for His holiness. Jesus was also calling them to change their minds about their view of sin and their own self-righteousness. They saw themselves as in no need of a Savior because they thought they were perfectly right with God just like they were. Jesus said of them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT).

So when the “healthy” Jews rejected Jesus, crucifying Him on the cross, God sent His message of redemption to the Gentiles. And, as Paul has shared, some Jews embraced the good news of Jesus Christ as well. But the real objective behind God’s embracing of repentant Gentiles was to bring His people to the point of  jealousy – godly jealousy. Even Paul said that in his ministry to the Gentiles, he had an ulterior motive – “in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them” (Romans 11:14 ESV). Paul will go on in this chapter to explain how the God-produced jealousy among His chosen people will  turn out in the end. As usual, God has a plan. He has a purpose behind all that He does. His efforts are never in vain. Which led Paul to say, “ Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT).

A Spirit of Stupor.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them;  let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” – Romans 11:7-10 ESV

Blind eyes and deaf ears. According to Paul, that was the current status of the majority of Jews – “down to this very day.” They were unable to see Jesus for who He really way – their long-awaited Messiah. They were incapable of hearing and comprehending the message of the gospel. As Paul had already stated, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32 ESV). Rather than having seen Jesus, the Son of God, as their Messiah and Savior, they rejected Him. He had not met their preconceptions regarding the coming Messiah. He hadn’t look like what they were expecting. He hadn’t done the things they were hoping the Messiah would do. They had been expecting a conquering king, not a suffering servant. They had been intrigued by the miracles of Jesus, but His message of repentance left them disappointed and disillusioned.

We must remember that Paul has been pointing out the futility of pursuing a right relationship with God through an attempt to keep the law. Paul has said that the Jewish people had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. In other words, they wanted to do the right thing, but they were going about it in the wrong way, in ignorance. “For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3 ESV). They had refused to place their faith in Jesus, God’s chosen means for providing righteousness for all men, including the Jews. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4 ESV). With the coming of Christ, the misconception that men could be made right with God through human effort was put to an end. And there had been some Jews who had heard this message of salvation through Christ and had accepted it. Which is why Paul states, “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7 ESV). There was a believing remnant among the Jews who had embraced the gospel message and Paul was among them. But there were many who were hardened. Paul used the Greek word pōroō to refer to the condition of the majority of the Jews in his day. That word means “to grow hard, callous, become dull, lose the power of understanding” (Outline of Biblical Usage). While many had heard the message of the gospel, only a relative handful had believed. The rest had made a conscious decision to reject it and were left in a state of spiritual stupor “which renders their souls torpid so insensible that they are not affected at all by the offer made them of salvation through the Messiah” (Outline of Biblical Usage).

Paul was very familiar with this condition, because he ran into it virtually every place he went on his missionary journeys. One of his first objectives upon arriving in a new town was to make his way to the local synagogue, where he would share the gospel with his fellow Jews. “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17:1-3 ESV). But the reception Paul usually received was less-than-welcoming. “But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.  And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,  and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus’” (Acts 17:5-7 ESV). While Paul was ministering in Lystra, a group of Jews arrived and “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town” (Acts 14:19-20 NLT). Paul was well-acquainted with the hardened condition of the Jewish hearts to whom he attempted to share the gospel. He had experienced first-hand just how hardened and opposed to the message of salvation they could be.

And this condition was not new for the Jews. There had been many times in their history where their hearts had been hardened. God had offered them messages of repentance before and watched as they rejected His messengers and their message. The prophets of God had repeatedly called the people of God to repentance, offering them salvation if only they would return to Him. But they had refused. They had turned down God’s offer of restoration and redemption. And they had continued to do so all the way up to the days of Jesus. It was He who said to the religious leaders, “you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city” (Matthew 23:31-34 NLT). Jesus went on to say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:37-39 NLT).

Paul, like Jesus, had a heart for the people of Israel. He wanted to see them saved. He longed to see them repent and return to the Lord. But he knew that there was going to be a period of time when their hearts were hardened and many, if not most, would reject God’s offer of salvation. But he didn’t stop sharing. He didn’t refrain from telling every Jew he met the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul had no idea just how big or small God’s believing remnant was. He refused to worry about that. Instead, he continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel, boldly, unapologetically, and fearlessly. He knew that the Jews could only be awakened from their spiritual stupor by the Spirit of God. He simply shared and left the rest up to God.

God’s Amazing Grace.

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For 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. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 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 11:1-6 ESV

Is God done with Israel? Has their rejection of His Son as their Messiah put them on His permanent “naughty” list and denied them of any opportunity to be restored to a right relationship with Him? Paul would say confidently and emphatically, “No!” And he used himself as living proof. If God was done with Israel, Paul would never have come to know Christ as His Savior. And Paul goes on to argue that he and the other believing Jews in his audience were not the last of their kind. He used the story of the prophet, Elijah to drive home his point. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and, as a result, come under the wrath of the wicked queen, Jezebel. She put a bounty on his head and Elijah was forced to run for his life. When God confronted Elijah and asked him what he was doing, Elijah responded: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 ESV). Two times in the narrative, Elijah and God had this conversation. Then God informed him, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18 ESV). In other words, God knew something Elijah didn’t know. He was not the last man standing. He was not alone. There were others who, like Elijah, had refused to abandon God.  

And Paul’s conclusion was, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5 ESV). While the majority of Israel had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, there were some who had chosen to not only recognize Him, but accept Him as their Savior. And Paul couldn’t help but reemphasize that their salvation was the result of grace, not works. The very existence of this faithful remnant in Paul’s day was proof that God had not abandoned His people. He was not done with them yet. And Paul will go on in this chapter to explain what God has planned for His people in the future. Chapters 9-11 go hand in hand. In chapter nine, Paul revealed God’s past grace in dealing with Israel by His sovereign selection of them as His people. In chapter ten, Paul dealt with the present reality of Israel’s refusal to respond to God’s provision of grace as revealed through His Son’s death. And finally, in chapter eleven, Paul outlined God’s future plans for Israel.

The picture Paul paints is one of God’s grace. While the people of Israel never deserved God’s favor, He showered them with it nonetheless. Over the centuries, they proved to be unfaithful and disobedient time and time again, but God never fully abandoned them. Even after sending them into exile for their rebellion, He graciously and mercifully restored them to the land. He kept a remnant alive and placed them back in Jerusalem so that He might one day fulfill His promise to bring forth a descendant of David and place Him on the throne of Israel. There are future plans concerning Israel that have yet to be fulfilled. At the present time, they are experiencing a temporary state of rejection or by God. But as Paul will explain later in this same chapter, that will one day change. Their rejection of Christ as their Messiah opened up the door for the gospel to be shared with non-Jews, “those who are not a nation” (Romans 10:19 ESV). God made the good news regarding salvation in Jesus available to “those who did not seek me” (Romans 10:20 ESV).

And those of us who have discovered the grace of God made possible through the death of Christ have much to be grateful for. We were totally undeserving of God’s favor, and yet He provided a way for us to be made right with Him. Paul emphasized this incredible reality to the believers in Ephesus when he wrote, “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT).

Paul told the believers in the city of Colossae, “you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21-22 NLT). As Gentiles or non-Jews, we have much to be grateful for. And we must never forget that if God had not chosen Abraham and given him Isaac as his son, if He had not chosen Jacob over Esau, if He had not chosen David over Saul, and if He had not chosen to send His Son through the nation of Israel – we would not be here. God is good and God is gracious. He is sovereign over all. He knows what He is doing and He is not yet done with Israel. Their rejection of Him has not caused Him to reject them, because He is faithful, loving and true. He will accomplish all that He has promised for them. In His time and according to His plan.

Despised and Rejected.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” – Romans 10:19-21 ESV

So did the Jews never hear to good news regarding Jesus Christ? Was their failure to accept Him as Messiah because they had not heard? Paul would answer those questions with a resounding and confident, “No!” The Jews were without excuse. Quoting from Psalm 19, he holds them accountable to the same standard he established in the opening chapter of his letter. The psalmist wrote,“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4 ESV). Nature itself declares God’s glory. “For what can be known about God is plain to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world…so they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV). Israel was doubly guilty, because they had God’s general revelation of Himself in nature AND they had the privilege of His special revelation, spoken through His prophets and declaring the coming of the Messiah. But when Jesus came, they rejected Him.

So, if they had heard about the coming Messiah through the prophets, was their rejection of Him as case of misunderstanding? Again, Paul is emphatic in his answer. He declares that they fully understood and he uses the Old Testament Scriptures to prove it. Quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, Paul writes, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” The context in the book of Deuteronomy is that God had become fed up with Israel’s repeated unfaithfulness. He said, “They have made me jealous with that is no god, they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21 ESV). Paul takes this Old Testament prophetic passage and applies it the current circumstances of his day. Centuries after Moses wrote the words found in Deuteronomy, the people of Israel were still worshiping false gods. Their view of God was skewed and based on their own faulty perceptions. They put more faith in their own abilities to keep the law than they did in God’s ability to save them. They rejected Jesus as Savior because they didn’t think they needed one. They worshiped the law more than they did the law-Giver. They worshiped the temple more than the One who supposedly occupied it. So Paul says, God took the good news regarding His Son to another nation. He made it available to the Gentiles. God opened the doors to a people who at one time were not a people.

“for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy’” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NLT).

And quoting the words of God found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, Paul writes, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name” (Isaiah 65:1 NLT). God had warned Israel that this day was coming. Their stubbornness and rebellion were going to one day result in their rejection by God and His blessing of the Gentiles. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul emphasizes how foolish all this appeared. God was taking His message of salvation to a people who had no relationship with Him. Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28 NLT).

The rejection of Jesus by His own people did not surprise God. It did not catch Him off guard. This had been His plan from the very beginning. It was in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, that through him and his “offspring” all the nations of the earth would be blessed. It was through Christ, the descendant of Abraham, that God had chosen to bless the nations of the world by offering salvation from sin and death – “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14 ESV).

As a result, the Church represents a new nation and a new people, made up of individuals from all walks of life and every conceivable ethnic background. As Paul told the believers in Galatia:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:26-29 NLT

Paul wraps up this chapter with another quote from the book of Isaiah. “All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemes” (Isaiah 65:2 NLT). The rejection of Jesus by His own people was part of God’s divine plan. But as Paul will clarify in the very next chapter, God is not done with Israel. He has not abandoned them. He has not given up on them. He will faithfully fulfill His promises to them.