Let us pray: Dear Savior, how easy it is for us to mouth the truth that You love us and forgive us, but how hard it is embrace that truth by living in true repentance. Lord, today work in each of us a humbleness of heart and a deep-seated obedience to all of Your words of truth so that Your forgiveness may be an ongoing reality in each of our lives. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, IN WHOM GOD HAS CHOSEN US TO BE HIS CHILDREN
TEXT: Romans 11: 13-15, 28-32
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
As a traditional Lutheran, I’m sick of bad public relations. I’m sick of being lumped together with the liberal, anti-Bible crowd that wants to call themselves: “Lutheran” but aren’t. I’m also sick of seeing and hearing something called: “Gospel reductionism” appear in the press. (For those of you that don’t know what that is, let me inform you. Gospel reductionism is the teaching that the only thing really important in the Bible is the truth that God loves us. To these folks, nothing else in the Bible really matters. And so any commandments that are hard to keep, any commands of God that may irk someone are tossed aside as irrelevant—including the concepts of hell and judgment because they are not so warm and fuzzy as: “God loves you.”)
This past Tuesday, the “Boston Globe” had a front page article entitled: “N.E. bishop at center of Lutherans’ gay debate.” In it they interviewed bishop Margaret Payne of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is heading up a task force in this the largest and most liberal of all Lutheran denominations. What set me off was not that the task force condones their church “blessing” same-sex marriages unofficially—so as not to upset the rank and file in the pew too much.—That I’ve expected and known of for years. No, what upset me is this quote: “But she said she has come to believe that mainline Protestant denominations have become elements of broader cultural struggle in America. ‘This is not just about sexuality, but is a factor in an ideological war,’ she said.” My friends, that is not theology. Like most liberals she has adopted a gospel reductionistic approach. To her Lutheranism is all about feelings and emotions and leaves out: “Thus says the Lord.” To her a sermon should be a call to social action instead of a call to repentance and humble faith. To those who love to mouth the words: “God is love” and basically ignore the rest of Scripture by not talking about all sins and God’s anger over sin culminating in eternal fires of hell, I say: “What has God saved you from?” Why did He give His life for yours? Why did He die on a cross for you?” Is salvation simply about escapism from stress, junk food, and people like me who still believe that sin is real?”
Well, all this is really nothing new. People of every generation have taken God’s grace and all its richness for granted. And in our lesson, St. Paul warns us about it. So,
DON’T TAKE GOD’S GRACE FOR GRANTED!
In Romans chapter 11 St. Paul discusses an amazing truth that is often misunderstood by many well-intentioned Christians. He discusses our eternal election to faith and heaven which comes through Jesus Christ alone. And he uses his own race, the people of Israel as an example. Early in his life Paul was zealously against Christ and very pro Jewishness. That is, he had adopted the prevailing view that the Jews as a race were the chosen people of God and nothing could ever change that. But then, after his conversion, Paul came to understand the Old Testament correctly. That is, he came to grasp the truth that God’s chosen people, called: Israel, were not simply an ethnic race, but instead those who had faith in their future Messiah. For example, recall Elijah of last week pouting about how the Jews of his time had forsaken God and he was the only believer left. What did God tell him?—“There are 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal,” or to false gods. Then Paul also traces what made Abraham and his descendants into God’s children. In every case, it was faith in the promise of the Messiah. So, race has nothing to do with being a recipient of God’s grace, but the gift of faith does. And how does the gift of faith come to us? Well, in eternity God looked far ahead into time and in Christ He decided to give you, personally, that gift. You didn’t earn it, you didn’t deserve it. No, Christ did that for you. And because of that amazing fact, you are now to live in humbleness, repentance, and obedience to His Word. In short, you can and are to live in faith, just as did the heroes of old, the patriarchs. Humbleness because you didn’t deserve it. Repentance because your flesh chaffs against the whole concept of personal sin. And obedience because God knows what is right and wrong better than you or society does.
The Jews of Paul’s time basically mouthed the phrase: “God is love” but they rejected how that love comes in and through Jesus Christ. And so, God sent messengers to the Gentiles so that they could receive it. “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people (the Jews) to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
Amazing words! Through the despised Gentiles Paul still wants to save those who sought to kill him. He wants God’s light of grace to so shine through despised Romans that his own race will grow envious of their faith and seek the Lord Christ before it is too late. And if that were to happen, God would be glorified all the more.
“As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account, but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gift and his call are irrevocable. 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.”
Paul isn’t saying that all Jews were elected to salvation in Christ. What he is saying is that some of them, like him, were. And we dare not turn our backs on them. Instead, we need to let our light shine by not taking God’s grace for granted, but by preaching repentance and faith in Christ alone. Israel is not a race, it is a spiritual community. You and I are the children of Israel, the chosen ones of God through Christ. We make up a part of that community, the Holy Christian Church. And the only way to get through to wrong-headed people is to live and preach and teach both sin and grace. Unlike bishop Payne, We need to take all of the Bible seriously and not pick and choose what parts are politically and socially correct and what are not. Yes, we need to bear that cross.
“For God has bound all men over to disobedience (that occurred after Adam and Eve turned their backs on God) so that he may have mercy on them all.” Yes, God wants all to be saved. He died for all. He rose from the dead for all. But unless we take sin, disobedience to Him, seriously and confront people with it, they will not appreciate His gift of love in Christ and will not be saved. So, instead of wringing our hands over those who mock much of the Bible, instead of growing lethargic over the fact that we were raised in a God fearing church—“Ho-hum Christianity”, instead of taking God’s grace for granted, let us be as urgent as Paul in confronting lost, clueless souls with the full power, the full majesty and the full comfort of God’s Word.—We’re saved from eternal destruction by faith in Christ alone. Amen