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As we continue our summer tour through Romans, we come now to the 9th chapter where Paul, once again, raises the example of Old Testament Israel to make his point. Paul summarizes the historical data of how God has treated the Israelites throughout their history. "They are the Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen."
By putting the historical example of Israel before us, Paul raises the question that he knows is lurking in the dark recesses of our mind. If God has so blessed Israel with this incredible r??sum?? of benefits and privileges, why isn't all of Israel saved? Or, to put the question in a more familiar way, why are some saved and not others?
This is not to say that there are no Israelites in heaven and this is not what Paul is saying here. The Old Testament is chock full of Israelites whom we will one day meet in heaven. Even the New Testament has a fine collection of Israelites, offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are already all settled into their eternal home in paradise, Paul himself being one.
But clearly, God blessed all of Israel with the blessings that Paul has documented. Why isn't all Israel saved? This is a question regarding the doctrine of Election and God's eternal Predestination. He opened the door for this in chapter 8 where he said, "those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Rom.8:29-30).
Now, in chapters 9, 10 and 11, he guides us in how we are to think about this most comforting and assuring Christian doctrine.
Before we get right to the direct answer which Paul gives to the question, "why not all Israel," there is something here that Paul wants us to see about ourselves that we dare not miss, and, that is critical to a right understanding of his answer.
There is something important that Paul wants us to understand about how we process a question like, "why isn't all Israel saved?" When we ask a question like, "why are some saved but not others" what are our first thoughts and where do they come from?
Paul knows the human mind very well. And he is not afraid to tell it like it is. Here in the 9th chapter, Paul outlines the way that we process these kinds of questions when we do so apart from the Word of God.
First, we question the reliability of God's Word. "Why not all?" "Why some and not others?" Our first thought is, "it must be because there is a problem with the Word of God." It must not be able to deliver what it promises to give. To this, Paul responds in verse 6 saying, "It is not as though the word of God has failed."
Second, we question God's justice. How could a loving God let people perish eternally? In verse 14, Paul asks the rhetorical question, "Is there injustice on God's part?" And answers, "by no means."
And third, we question God's judgment. "If God has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills," how can He find fault with anyone? In verse 19, Paul asks, "Why does He still find fault?" And if I may summarize his response, Paul says, "it'd be best to just shut up right now."
So, before we're ready to handle Paul's answer to our questions, we need to look into the mirror that Paul has so skillfully put before us.
What are we doing when we process these questions like this and come to conclusions like these? Aren't we blaming God? Isn't this our first move and natural response to point the finger at God and accuse Him of having a faulty Word or being unfair or too harsh?
In 1948, C.S. Lewis wrote a little essay entitled, "God In The Dock." The "Dock" is the stand in a courtroom where the accused sits for questioning by the prosecution. Lewis writes, "Ancient man approached God as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge and God is in the dock. Truly, man is a kind judge and if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God's acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock."
Isn't that just what we are doing when we process these questions as Paul accurately says that we do?
So, anytime we begin to consider the doctrine of Election, we must always begin with an attitude of repentance. Repent of blaming man's fall on God's faulty Word. Repent of trying to justify man's injustice to God by shifting the blame onto God. Repent of covering up our abuse of God's good and gracious gifts by accusing God of being overly harsh in His judgment against our sin.
The only way to ask these questions in the right spirit, is to ask them in sincere repentance and abject humility before God, with an upfront confession of faith on our lips that, "we believe that God's Word is infallible. We believe that God is just in all that He does. We believe that God is merciful and gracious, and abounding in steadfast love."
So, with that said, we're properly prepared to hear Paul answer to why not all Israel, and why some and not others. The short and sweet answer in verse 11 where he says, "in order that God's purpose of election might continue." Why aren't all Israelites true Israelites? Why aren't all the blood relatives of Abraham children of Abraham? Why aren't even twins from the same father and mother both called by God? "In order that God's purpose of election might continue."
Not because of proper lineage, proper blood-line, or good works. It is "in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works, but because of His call." It's all God and it all depends on God.
Are you okay with that? And if not, why not? Is it because you don't trust God to have not just the final say, but the only say in the most important matter of your life and the life of every other person on the face of the earth? I do think that if we have a problem with the doctrine of Election, it's because we have a problem trusting God. The sin of Adam has infected us all. Like fallen Adam, we're no longer so sure that God is good. We suspect that He might be unfair or too harsh. Election means that He has decided the matter before the world began, before we had any say in the matter, before we ever did good or bad. To the Ephesians, Paul writes, "He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world." (Ephesians 1:4). So, if this makes us nervous it's because we really don't trust that the blood of Jesus Christ alone is enough to satisfy the Father. We are afraid that He will want His pound of flesh from us too.
So, it's very important for us to know just what God's purpose of election is. And to this question, the Holy Scriptures are full of direct answers. And as long as we confine ourselves to God's Word, the Holy Bible, the only Word of God, we're on solid ground.
The short answer from the Old Testament comes through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel, who says, "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live." "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live." (Ezekiel 18:23,32). In the New Testament, it's Peter who gives the short answer saying that God does not "wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9).
God's purpose of election is not that some should be damned and others should be saved. Nowhere in all the scriptures do we find an ounce of evidence that all the descendants of Ishmael or of Esau were elected to damnation, just as it would be completely outside the Scriptures to say that all of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are saved.
Why else would Paul feel such great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart for his kinsmen according to the flesh because of their rejection of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of every gift and promise which God has bestowed upon them? If God elected some to damnation, why would Jesus express such great sorrow and unceasing anguish for Israel, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing."
No, what God makes clear from His Word is that "He so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life." God's Word makes it very clear that He desires that all would be saved. How could He act against His own will?
What God does not make clear in His Word, is how His purpose of election actually works. How is it that God's purpose of election is accomplished even though not all Israel is saved and even though some are saved and others are not? That is a question that God has not answered for us and therefore is beyond our knowing. In chapter 11, Paul will say "Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and inscrutable his ways!" (11:33).
But this much He does tell us. One day, we will see it all clearly. We will see Him as He is and all His works and all His ways will be made known to us. And when that day comes, every knee will bow and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and all His works and all His ways were good and right and salutary. But in the meantime, we live by faith. Trusting in the goodness, mercy and love of God.
Listen, I know that the ground we have covered this morning is some rough hiking. If it makes you feel any better, in His lectures on Romans, when Luther gets to the 9th chapter, he says, "For I myself would not read these things if the order of the lectionary and necessity did not compel me to do so. For this is very strong wine and the most complete meal." And then, even Luther says, "but I am a baby who needs milk, not solid food."
If this kind of strong wine and solid food upsets your stomach, take Luther's own advice. He says, "first, let him who is bothered by this, purge the eyes of his heart in his meditations on the wounds of Jesus Christ." "The wounds of Jesus Christ, the cleft of the rock, are sufficiently safe for us."
Moses wanted to see the face of God. To rephrase that just a bit, Moses wanted to know how God's purpose of election worked. But God said, No, you can't see that. So what did God do? He put Moses into the cleft in the rock and from there, Moses saw all the goodness of God pass by Him.
Luther calls the wounds of Christ, the cleft in the rock. There, from the wounds of Christ, you may know without a doubt that God is good and you are forgiven all of your sins. By those wounds, suffered for you, you may know that He has called you and baptized you into those wounds so that just as Christ died for you, you may rise with Him. Meditate on the wounds of Christ as He presses His body and blood into your hands and onto your lips, so that you may be perfectly satisfied to put your complete trust in Him who is the Christ, God over all, blessed forever. Amen.