Given as a devotional at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 8/12/01
"For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men" (Tit. 2:11, RSV).
Last week, we spoke at length of the great and glorious promises given to us by God through the Apostles and Prophets (II Pet. 1:4). Many people have yet to fully understand the wonderful promise which the angel brought to the shepherds at the time of Christ's birth. "But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people" (Luke 2:10, NIV). Notice that the good news of great joy was given, "to all the people." This proclamation is what the Apostle Paul called, "the unsearchable riches of Christ," the "mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things" (Eph. 3:8-9). He was sent to the Gentiles to bring the good news of God's salvation to those, who "were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12, RSV). This is a good definition of a Gentile by the way, which includes most of us here today. There were only two classes of people in bible times, the Jews, who had a covenant relationship with Yahweh because of His promise to Abraham to bless all nations through His seed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 17:4-8; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14-15), and the Gentiles, which included everyone else.
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, He said that the holy child she would conceive would, "be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk. 1: 32-33, RSV). This is the reason Jesus was sent first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (II Chron. 18:16; Jer. 50:17; Matt. 10:6; 15:24). He was the complete fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham, that in His seed, should all nations be blessed (Gen. 22:18; Gen. 26:4). Paul says of this promise, that God preached the Gospel to Abraham, who lived 2100 years before Christ was born! Listen to the verse: "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you" (Gal. 3:8, NIV). That the Gentiles, the unsaved, the lost, those far from the covenants of promise should be brought into right standing with God through Abraham's seed, is the Gospel! Paul does not leave us in doubt about who the seed is. It is the Christ (Gal. 3:16). The Good News is that the Gentiles, representing the rest of the world, everyone who is not a Jew, are ALSO heirs to the promise God made to Abraham. When the Jews rejected Christ, the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles by Paul, but make no mistake, the Jews have not lost out on the promises of God. Romans, Chapter 11, is the pennacle of Paul's presentation of the Gospel and so it deserves a careful examination.
We'll begin in Chapter 10, in order to get some background on the situation with Israel at the time Christ came. Paul quotes Moses' prophecy centuries beforehand, "I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry" (Deut. 32:21; Rom. 10:19). Then, He quotes Isaiah, who declared, "I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here am I, here am I," to a nation that did not call on my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices" (Isaiah 65:1,2; Rom. 10:20-21, RSV). Think about this for a moment. God made His promises to Abraham; He gave the law to his descendants, but they did not, could not keep the law. If you think that God was harsh with them in the Old Testament, as I used to believe, read it again. Over and over they rejected God, worshipped idols, sacrificing their own children by fire to these strange gods of the Canaanite peoples. Yahweh, the law giver, would certainly have had legal rights to wipe them off the face of the earth for their sins, but yet, Isaiah quotes God as saying, "I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices." This was grace, even under law.
Now, we get to Romans, Chapter 11, where the Apostle begins with the question most Jews were probably asking by then, "Did God cast off his people?" His answer is this: "God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God did not cast off his people which he foreknew" (Rom. 11:1-2). During Paul's day, it really did appear that all of Abraham's descendants, like sheep, had gone astray (Isa. 53:6; I Pet. 2:25), but Paul assures his readers that there was "a remnant chosen by grace," to be true to God (Rom. 11:5), and he says of them, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace" (Rom. 11:6, RSV). This must have sounded outrageous to his Jewish readers, for the law of Moses was built on man's works. Obedience to the law was demanded in order to obtain God's blessings (See Deut. 28, for a full list of blessings and curses).
Now comes the most amazing explanation of God's dealings with Israel. Follow Paul's reasoning here, because it is vital in understanding the Gospel of Christ. He says that what Israel sought, (favor with God) they did not find. Only the elect of God found favor with Him, but the rest were hardened (Rom. 11:7). It sounds unfair to us, that "the rest were hardened"; the next verse is worse still, "as it is written: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day" (Rom. 11:8, NIV. See also Isa. 6:9-10; Jer. 5:21; Matt. 13:14; Mk. 4:4; Lk. 8:10; Jn. 12:40; Acts 28:26). In showing how God hardened Pharaoh's heart, in order that His glory would be declared in all the earth (Rom. 9:17), Paul emphatically states, "So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills" (Rom. 9:18, RSV). Do you get the point here, that God is in charge, not man? He does what He does in our lives to bring us to the place where we lean not to our own understanding, but trust only in Him with all our hearts (Prov. 3:5).
Paul continues in Romans, Chapter 11, by showing that Israel's fall has brought salvation to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:11), and then asks, "For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15, NIV). He compares the nation of Israel to branches of an olive tree, which were cut off, and the Gentiles, he compares to wild olive branches, which God has grafted onto the trunk of the tree (Rom. 11:16-17). He concludes that God has the power to graft the natural branches back in again (Rom. 11:23). This reminds me of what Gabriel said to Mary when she asked how she should conceive since she had no husband. He replied to her, "For with God nothing will be impossible"" (Luke 1:37; Matt. 19:26).
Because God is in charge of all things, and has had the plan from before the foundation of the world, it is possible for Him to graft the natural olive branches back in. Listen to the words that follow: "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" (Rom. 11:25-27, NIV). Interestingly, God had said to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, "But Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting" (Isa. 45:17, NIV). This verse clearly puts a time limit on their disgrace. Paul is clear that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). Therefore, what He declared to Abraham shall stand.
To put it another way, if Israel were bound for hell because they did not accept Christ, then God's promise to Abraham was worthless. What good would it be to have descendants as numerous as the sand of the sea, and the stars of the heavens (Gen. 15:5; 17:17), if they were all to be lost eternally? That would make God out to be a liar, and guilty of the same behavior which He condemned them for. About that heinous practice, He said, "They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" (Jer. 32:35, RSV. See also Jer. 7:31; II Kings 23:10; II Chron. 28:3; II Chron. 33:6). Remember that God sent Nebuchadnezzar to carry them off to Babylon as punishment for their sins, which included sacrificing their children to the pagan gods Molech and Baal. To me, it is blasphemous to accuse our loving heavenly Father of doing the same thing to His own children. The bible teaches that God is the father of all (I Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6). If, as many Christians believe, He were to burn 99% of all His children in an everlasting hell, how would He be different than Molech or Baal? I submit to you that there would be no difference, and yet, we all know there is a difference. The pagan gods are darkness and God is light in whom is no darkness at all (Jas. 1:17). The Apostle John told us that "..God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17, RSV).
We learned last week that the devil is the author of sin, and Jesus appeared to destroy his work (I John 3:8). If Jesus' blood is not sufficient to redeem all men, then the bible is a lie and Satan will have won. And yet, this pagan doctrine of eternal damnation persists among Christian people. Many Christians lead me to believe that there are two powers in the Universe, God and Satan. That is utter nonsense. "The Lord our God is One Lord" (Deut. 6:4). All Israel knew that. It was the prime tenant of their faith. We know it as well, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5). Do you believe that all things are possible with God, or does something depend on us? If you think we have to do something to be saved, consider Saul of Tarsus. Did he have anything to do with his salvation, or was it all God? Do you believe that you can really love God if you think that He will send you to eternal torment for breaking the rules? You can fear a god like that, but love? I don't think so.
I'll share with you a moment in my youth when I understood with horror just what the hell fire and damnation preachers were saying. I grew up in a church which taught that everyone who didn't belong to that group was going to hell. Like it was yesterday, I recall a Sunday afternoon when my cousins had come over to play. I was the oldest of all the children, and I remember looking at my little blonde haired, blue eyed cousin, who was the cutest little kid, with a bright, happy smile and a sunny disposition. I realized with terror that if they were right, she would burn in hell for all eternity because she didn't belong to my church.
I know what the church SAYS the bible says about hell. I learned their proof texts and tried with all my heart to be persuaded, but you see, there are only a few scriptures that talk about hell, and those are mistranslations of the word "hell." Many more verses speak of the unconditional love of God the Father for His creation, and Peter declared that He is not willing that any should perish, but ALL should come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9). If it is not God's will that any should perish, then how can anyone end up in hell? There is something very wrong with what many churches teach. Chapters nine through eleven of Romans are the high water mark of the Gospel beloved by Paul and all the rest of us. Please read them again, and ask God to reveal the truth in the matter. After saying that God is the potter, who makes some vessels of honor and some of dishonor (Rom. 9:17-23), and showing that Israel, the natural olive branch will eventually be grafted back in, so that all Israel will be saved, Paul sums up his whole thesis in these verses addressed to us, the Gentiles: "Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now 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" (Rom. 11:30-32, NIV).
This echoes the beautiful verse we read last week: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:21,22, KJV). This verse states that in Adam, we all died. None of us had a thing to do with the sin condition we inherited. We were born under the power of sin (Rom. 3:9). Adam and Eve sinned against God, but Paul says that Adam's sin accrued to us. "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.." (Rom. 5:12, RSV). He does not leave us in despair, but concludes with this promise, "Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men" (Rom. 5:18, RSV). This is another way of saying that "God has consigned all to disobedience that He may have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32).
Make no mistake, dear ones. God's hand is not shortened that He cannot save (Isa. 59:1). In His time, and by His power, not seen or known by us, we have the promise that, "...at the name of Jesus EVERY knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10,11, RSV. See also Isa. 45:23; Rom 14:11). Everyone loves a happy ending, and this is the happiest ending ever written. Christ came so that "ALL FLESH shall see the glory of the Lord" (Isa. 40:5). That's every last one of us. How do I know? "For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." Now, THAT is Good News!
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850
"The Plan," Jan's poem
"Trying to become what we already are, Part I"
"The Primrose Path to Gehenna"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister, on 8/10/01
and last edited on 11/23/08.