13 I am speaking to you Gentiles. For as long as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I am going to speak highly of my ministry. 14 Perhaps I may make my own people jealous, and so save some of them. 15 For if their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, what does their acceptance mean other than the dead coming to life? 16 If the part offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole batch. And if the root is holy, so are the branches. 28 In regard to the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But, in regard to election, they are especially dear for the sake of the patriarchs, 29 because God’s gracious gifts and call are not regretted. 30 For just as you were once disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy due to their disobedience, 31 so also now they have become disobedient, so that by the mercy shown to you they may be shown mercy too. 32 For God imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may show mercy to all.Romans 11:13-15, 28-32
Two men were camping when they heard a growl, then some twigs breaking and bushes shaking. They didn’t want to look, but did anyway. Sure enough! A big bear was heading their way. One man began to quietly and quickly take off his hiking boots and put on his running shoes. Curious, his friend commented, “You can’t outrun a bear!” “I don’t plan to outrun the bear,” the man said as he finished tying his shoes, “I just have to outrun you!” If there is one thing that boosts our confidence is being a little faster or a little better than someone else. Remember in high school when so many other got cut and you made the team? Or when you finished in the top of your class? Or when you understand how appliances work and people come to you for advice? Or at work when you get the raise? But how did you feel when the associate got the promotion you thought you deserved? How does it feel when the other grandparents gifts bigger and better gives to the grandchildren than you did? How do you feel when the neighbor’s have their kids visiting all the time, and yours rarely visit? It’s hard not to get jealous!
Today St Paul talks about jealousy, especially when others have something we don’t have. But, Paul isn’t saying we have to avoid being joyful or avoid celebrating an achievement of our own or someone else. God doesn’t expect us to hang our heads when our team wins the softball game. It’s not as if you savor the victory you’re going to lose the next game. Go ahead and celebrate! Give high fives! Have an adult beverage! But, we do need to be ready for that day when we do lose. On that day, where will your confidence be? Here’s a little secret: The key to having joyful confidence when someone else does something even better, wins, get promoted or whatever is this: Make sure your joyful confidence is connected to something that is always #1! That is the point of Paul’s message today.
Let Your Confidence Be Connected to God Mercy!
In Romans 11 St Paul uses a special circumstance in that church to help them and us marvel at the mercy of God. Remember, Paul had not yet visited the church in Rome when he wrote this letter. But, he wanted to review some basics of Christian faith and encourage them as God’s people. The church in Rome included a large number of Jews and Gentiles—those who didn’t have Abraham’s blood in their veins. However, the Jews enjoyed a large influence in the church because of their history and leadership. This would mean some days of unhealthy competition with those who threaten, hurt, oppose or disagree with them.
Which team are you picking to win the championship in basketball, hockey or football this year? If you just checked out of this sermon because you don’t know or care about sports, then you would probably say, “Mavericks, Stars and Cowboys!” If you were informed and up-to-speed on all the latest developments of these teams then you’d pick a team in spite of your geographical position. In the OT times God picked the Jewish nation (those who were blood descendants from Abraham) to be his chosen people. They received first-class blessings from God like no other nation. Paul talked about his relatives in Romans 9, “my relatives ….. 4 those who are Israelites. Theirs are the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, came the Christ, who is God over all, eternally blessed. Amen.” (4,5).
Look at all the blessings God gave to the Jewish nation! God’s plan was to pick them, but not based on their performance. That’s a sound strategy for picking your favorite teams, but not for picking God’s people. Think about it! Why would God pick a group of people whose name, “Israel” comes from a man who wrestled with God, deceived his dad and stole from his brother? Why would God pick a people who he’d have to rescue from Egypt, deliver them across the Red Sea, provided daily mana, quail and water in the desert and they thanked God by grumbling????!!!! Even worse—they worshiped golden idols. If God was going to pick a nation based on performance, he wouldn’t have picked the Israelites at all in their unhealthy situations!
No, their confidence in God came from a whole different reason. “30 For just as you were once disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy due to their disobedience, 31 so also now they have become disobedient, so that by the mercy shown to you they may be shown mercy too. 32 For God imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may show mercy to all.” Did you catch that? God wanted not just the Israelites, but all people to be saved from their sins. The best way to do that was to highlight his grace and forgiveness. So, Israel’s escape from Egypt would be front page news. God wiping out the heathen people in Canaan sandwiches Israel right in the middle of world powers and politics. Many foreigners would rub elbows with God’s grace and forgiveness active in the life of the Jewish people. All of Gods laws (moral, ceremonial, civil) made Israel stand out. It was all about God’s mercy to choose the Jewish nation as the launching pad for his mercy to be shared with the world!
God’s plan of mercy worked—when the fulness of time had come and Jesus was born! But, sadly, the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected him. They thought they were the nation God chose because of their own goodness and “better than thou” performance. They rejected Jesus and got rid of his irritating preaching and teaching by murdering him on a cross. But, miracle of miracles, God turned the greatest terror the world has ever known into the greatest triumph! “their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world.” The Book of Acts records an example of this happening. “5 When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was entirely devoted to preaching the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when they opposed Paul and slandered him, he shook out his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on, I will go to the Gentiles!” 7 He left that place and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:5-8). This was bad news for the Jews but great news for the Gentiles! The Gentiles did nothing to receive the Gospel of Jesus from Paul’s mouth, but God’s mercy was in full swing to the world!
God’s message for us today is strong and clear. Listen: “13 I am speaking to you Gentiles. For as long as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I am going to speak highly of my ministry. 14 Perhaps I may make my own people jealous, and so save some of them.” Paul wanted to save his own Jewish people who had shoved God’s mercy back into his face. So, Paul brough God’s mercy to other people in the hopes that his own people would see the joy they had in the gospel and become jealous and once again turn an ear toward the Good News of Jesus. That same message is for you and me! If anyone shoves God’s mercy back into his face, he will take his mercy to someone else and it’s nobody’s fault but their own.
But, I know you’re like me. I know the temptation for opposition is there to say, “That will never happen here!” The Jews said that, too! But God knows what’s going through your mind when you get privileges that someone else doesn’t get and you think, “God, I thank you I’m not bad like they are!” Do you really think your gold-star performance has made you more worthy of God’s mercy? God knows what’s going on in your mind when you don’t find the need to pray for God’s help because, “you’re so skilled at taking care of the problem yourself. In the meantime God can help the weak ones who need his mercy.” God knows what’s going on in your mind when you see two teenagers at a street corner with baggy pants and basketball jerseys on and you think they are less upright or moral than you. Opposition to Jesus’ grace and mercy can take many other forms other than crucifixion, brothers and sisters. Don’t let your blood be on your own head so God takes his mercy elsewhere. Let Jesus’ forgiving blood flow in a fountain of forgiving mercy to you, restore you and make your strong to love others.
Oh, the Jews as a nation had given up on God, but God had not given up on them. “16 If the part offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole batch. And if the root is holy, so are the branches. 28 In regard to the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But, in regard to election, they are especially dear for the sake of the patriarchs, 29 because God’s gracious gifts and call are not regretted.” Yes, the Jews were enemies of the gospel and the results saw the gospel being taken to the Gentiles. But, God still has his elect. God still calls all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The promises of God spoken to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still held true when Paul wrote this letter. They still hold true for all of us today—including all Jewish people. It is all about faith in God’s mercy!
God has not chosen us based on our better behavior. God has chosen you because of his mercy for Jesus’ sake. We don’t want it any other way! Otherwise doubts will come and lead us to despair when our behavior isn’t perfect. Our Confidence is in God’s Mercy for Jesus’ sake! Paul uses these words, “, 31 so also now they have become disobedient, so that by the mercy shown to you they may be shown mercy too. 32 For God imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may show mercy to all.” Yes, God uses his law to show everyone their sins and need for a Savior, then he comes with his mercy to proclaim Jesus our Savior and our Redeemer!
I doubt you’ll ever need running shoes while you’re on vacation to outrun your friend. Yes, we want to be a little faster in sports and be a little smarter to get scholarships for school. Being better makes a difference for some things. But when I comes to God’s mercy there is no “better,” but only “the best!” We will have plenty of days when we “lose.” That is the time to Let your Confidence be Connected to God’s Mercy who gives you the “best” in Jesus Christ. Amen!