Given For the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO on 07/06/08.
"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
Jesus was born of the seed of God, the only Begotten of the Father; the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to show us the Father who loves us, who guards us jealously, brooding over the face of our deep until the time fully comes for Him to declare, "Let there be light"; and there is light, flooding our souls with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Jesus spoke in parables, because as Karl Barth put it, "The pure, non-ecclesiastical Gospel is proclaimed by no human mouth... Men are not competent, even if they are gifted with tongues of fire, to speak of God otherwise than in a parable..."
Likewise, without the Spirit, men are not competent to hear about God other than in parables. Jesus spoke to men and women living before the cross, those who had not yet received the Holy Spirit, and to them, He brought heaven to earth in His stories, His parables. Telling them that God loved them unconditionally would have meant little to people scorched by the Law for centuries. So, instead, He told them about the Prodigal Son, a very naughty boy, an ungrateful son, who left the Promised Land for the flesh pots of Egypt, until his fortune and pride were ruined and exhausted. Coming to himself at last, he arose from the pigpen and went home to his father. The picture of that father waiting for him at the gate always brings tears to my heart, as does his instruction to the servants to bring a robe for his son's back and a ring for his finger. "Kill the fatted calf," he ordered them, "for this my son was dead and is now alive, was lost and now is found" (Lk. 15:22-32).
Jesus also told the crowds the story of the lost sheep, how the shepherd left the ninety nine who were safe in the fold, and went out on the mountain dark to find the one who was lost, carrying it home on his shoulders, and saying to His friends, "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep." Lest they miss His meaning, Jesus added, "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (Lk. 15:3-7). All we like sheep have gone astray, but the Shepherd came to bring us home to our Father once more.
Under the Law, the only way to be restored to fellowship with God was to repent and bring sacrifices. Had God not brought the Apostle Paul onto the scene, this would have been the standard operating procedure still, and Christianity would have remained a minor cult among the Jews. As it was, Paul was sent to the Gentiles, to the unrighteous, the pagan, the sinner far from the promises of God given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He who had been a persecutor of the church, consenting to the imprisonment and death of God's children, was arrested, stopped dead in his tracks by the "light unapproachable" of God. Heading full speed toward Damascus, bent on the destruction of this Way he despised, Saul of Tarsus was protecting God's honor, he thought, supporting the Law, and wreaking havoc on anyone who didn't honor the tradition of the fathers.
Those who worry about whether or not they are doing God's will may want to read this story at least once a week and meditate on whether or not God has the means, the ability and the POWER to get His will done in the lives of men. Paul later wrote the Ephesians that God works "all things by the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11). There's little room for personal self congratulation in that statement. Romans, chapter 11, is the pinnacle of Paul's delineation of the Gospel of Christ, which "is the POWER of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live" (Rom. 1:16-17).
Jesus came to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel," to his own, who knew him not (Jn. 1:11). Both Jesus and Paul asserted that the reason they didn't know Him was because "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day" (Rom. 11:8; see also Isa. 6:9-10; 29:10 and Matt. 13:13-15). This was so, Paul explained, so that Isaiah's prophecy would be fulfilled: "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me" (Isa. 65:1; Rom. 10:20). The net result of this is, that the Gentiles who were not seeking God, were found by Him and Israel, who "pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works" (Rom. 9:30-32).
I saw decades ago that what Paul said of the Jews could be said as well of "the church," which is seeking righteousness through works rather than by faith. Karl Barth saw the same thing, and in fact, in his book, Epistle to the Romans (See Link at End), he uses "Israel" and "the church" interchangeably, calling it "the Church of Esau." What is the difference between this church and the one Paul wrote about so brilliantly? (The one Karl Barth calls "the Church of Jacob")? Paul described this church as "the remnant, chosen by grace" (Rom. 11:5). Harry Fox has often observed that God always works through a remnant, with the end result that the few, the elect who are chosen, are chosen precisely for the good of everyone else.
God chose Abraham out of all the pagans in Ur of the Chaldees, so that in his seed, would all nations be blessed. Christ was the fulfillment of that promise, which Paul called "the gospel" that "God preached to Abraham" (Gal. 3:8, 16). An example of this principle is Gideon's 300 soldiers to whom God gave the victory over the Midianites (Judges 7). There were 32,000 men who answered the call to fight, but God told Gideon that was too many. When Gideon said the fearful and trembling could leave, 22,000 packed up their spears and kit bags and went home. God said the 10,000 who remained were still too many, and showed him how to further reduce the number until there were only 300 remaining. These were the remnant, chosen by grace, who defeated Israel's enemy.
Today, into the hands of the remnant, the elect, God has placed the gospel of Christ, for the salvation of the whole world. Paul observed about this remnant chosen by grace, "if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened" (Rom. 11:6-7). Why would God harden the hearts of Israel, the remnant during their glory years? The answer, Paul said, is to show that true righteousness comes by faith and not by works. This is something that Israel (the church of Esau) missed in search of their own righteousness. Karl Barth observed about the remnant, the elect:
"This is the criterion of election: a criterion which should at least put men on their guard. For a man to assess his own position in the Kingdom of God is a risky proceeding. To discover oneself in the picture of the history of salvation and to compare oneself with others is exceedingly dangerous. Hazardous it is to know too certainly who and what we are. Better that we should leave it to God to know us. For it lies within His competence to decide whether what we are is true or whether it is not at the same time a lie and a delusion. The ground of election is faith, and the ground of rejection is unbelief. But who is a believer? and who an unbeliever? Belief and unbelief are established only in God. For us they are unobservable, incomprehensible and uncertain. Only the root is effective. And in regard to the root, what preeminence have the wild branches (the Gentiles) over the natural branches (Israel, the church) which have been cut off?"
If we took his comments, which echo and enhance Paul's, to heart, we would never judge anyone for anything, because only God knows the hearts of men and only He understands what part each of us has to play in the magnificent opus our Father envisioned for His creation. His plan was formulated before the foundation of the world, before sin and corruption ruined the landscape, and before the fruit of the "poisoned tree" was used as an attempt to restore us to our pristine relationship with God from the beginning. Christ IS the Tree of Life, the healing of the nations, the healing of the sin sick soul of man, and the restoration of all men to God their Father.
A few weeks back, we looked at J. Louis Martyn's article, "From Paul to Flannery O'Connor." Money, the Kingdom, and Bifocal Vision, Healing, Part XII (See Link at End). Some of you asked for a copy of the entire article, which I gladly e-mailed you, and the offer still stands. For those who didn't see it, I want to include the essence of Flannery O'Connor's short story entitled "Revelation" because it is a parable of what Paul is speaking of in Romans, chapters nine through eleven. In the story, Mrs. Turpin is an obese, Southern woman, who looks down her nose at blacks and other "low lifes." She would describe herself as a Christian of "a good disposition." The opening scene takes place in a doctor's office waiting room, where Mrs. Turpin is holding forth with her sweeping generalities about how she sees herself in relationship to God and others. A young woman, a college student has been listening to the older woman, and when she had enough of it, she throws the text book she had been trying to study at Mrs. Turpin, shouting, "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog!" As she physically assaults Mrs. Turpin, chaos follows in the doctor's office. This began Mrs. Turpin's revelation, for it happens that Mrs. Turpin and her husband Claud raise hogs. She's very proud of her religious activities and cannot understand how she can clearly be saved, but bound for hell at the same time, nor how she could be herself and a wart hog as well.
As it happens, she and her husband refer to the pig pen where their hogs live, as a "hog parlour." When she went home, still pondering what the girl may have meant, she gazed at the hogs in their parlour. As she was hosing them down, she was transformed by God's grace, understanding at last what the crucifixion had accomplished for everyone. She saw herself as she really was, a self-righteous old thing, glorying in her own goodness and works, ignoring what God had done for her. As she stood there staring at the hogs, she had a vision, which I'll include here because it illustrates the theme of the entire book of Romans:
"She saw a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had lawyers been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered her hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.
"At length she got down and turned off the faucet and made her slow way on the darkening path to the house. In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting 'hallelujah'." End Quote.
Harry Fox shared Martyn's excellent article with a group which often met at our home, over 30 years ago now, and Mrs. Turpin's pig parlour has stuck with me because it is a metaphor, a parable for the principal of election. It also is the perfect example of Jesus' statement that the first (Mrs. Turpin and other self righteous folks) shall be last, and the last (the unwashed masses of humanity) shall be first. If we think we belong in the first group, we probably belong in the last.
"To know God means to stand in awe of Him and to be still in the presence of Him that dwelleth in light unapproachable. And so we are brought back again and again to stand before the hidden depth of his Riches, His Possibility, His Life, and His Glory! ...How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! How then is it possible for us to speak of election and rejection? There is but one answer to our perpetual and inevitable questions. God would not be God were His election not unsearchable and His rejection not past tracing out, were the writing of His hand not altogether hidden, and did He not proclaim Himself in this hiddenness to be the God of victory, WHO HAS MERCY, AND WILL HAVE MERCY UPON ALL" (Karl Barth). End quote.
That God consigned all men to disobedience in order to have mercy upon all; that all men are righteous only by GRACE through FAITH, SAVED by His blood, and CALLED by His sovereign election, these are the sweeping themes of the Letter to the Romans. How impoverished would we be had God not raised up Paul to speak to us, the unredeemed, the world, the heathen, for we were "dead in trespasses and sin" (Eph. 2:1); we were "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." Praise be to God, we have been brought near in our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:12-13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen."
Father, thank You for revealing the divine possibility in Christ, for bridging the abyss separating God and man; for seating us with Him in heavenly places, and for declaring us to be in Him, the righteousness of God. We worship and adore You, who dwell in light unapproachable, our Father who has brought us into the Light to fellowship with You. Amen. Jan Antonsson
To Be Continued.....
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)
Healing, or Stealing God's Glory?
Risky Business, Healing, Part II
The Royal Priesthood, Healing, Part III
Rest in the GIFT, Healing, Part IV
Restoring the Glory Land, Part V
Organizing the Church, Part VI
Victory Through Helplessness,Healing, Part VII
What Does Faith Have to do With It? Healing, Part VIII
The Death of Death, Healing, Part IX
The Death He Died, Healing, Part X
Freed From Sin, Healing Part XI
Money, the Kingdom, and Bifocal Vision, Healing, Part XII
Flesh, Spirit, & the New Man, Healing, Part XIII
The Church, the Gospel, and God's Will, Healing, Part XIV
The End of the Law, Healing, Part XV
What Shall We do? Healing, Part XVII
The Tyranny of the Vegetable Eaters, Healing, Part XVIII
The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This writing was uploaded to the web 06/25/08,
By Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/19/08.