“No One is Rejected”
Pentecost 11, August 16, 2020
None Are Rejected
Text: Romans 11:1–2a, 13–15, 28–32
In recent times, there’s been a lot of discussion about race and race relations in this country. You all know why. I am not going to get into that here. There are people out there arguing that this is a systemically racist country and always has been. There are those who disagree with that while acknowledging there are still individuals who are racists.
Additionally, there has been an alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism, folks who hate people who are Jewish by race. Old prejudices have returned against those who by birth are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. One would think that events of the twentieth century, especially the Holocaust during World War II, would have finally cured every one of that. But in recent times, athletes, actors, and even elected representatives in the US Congress have spoken out against those who are Jews.
When Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans, it must have seemed to Gentile Christians (which means not Jewish) that the grace of God, previously available to the Jews, was no longer for them but was now only for the Gentiles. The number of Gentile Christians was growing. It was tempting to think that the Jews were no longer in God’s favor. (First Big Church Meeting) In Romans, Paul, a Jew and former Pharisee now called by God to be the “apostle to the Gentiles,” responded emphatically, “May it never be!” For God Rejects No One but Gives His Gifts to Everyone Who Believes in Him, Who Doesn’t Reject Him.
Although Israel was disobedient in the past, God’s plan for them remained. The history of Israel is in your Old Testament. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were chosen by God as His people, the people through whom the Messiah would come and bless all the nations of the world. The Hebrews longed to see the day that Jesus arrived. Though they were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, God gave His people Moses to lead them to the land God had promised. Along the way, they received God’s law and covenant that He would be with them and bless them with His presence if they worshiped Him as their God and kept His commands.
But they did not do what God told them to do! They did not worship Him. They did not keep God’s commandments. Shortly after being delivered from Pharaoh and witnessing the destruction of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea, Israel turned away from God and made an idol for themselves. Later, they grumbled against Moses and God. The camp was then attacked by snakes, and a bronze serpent was put up on a pole so that all who looked at it were saved. Then, when they reached the Promised Land, Israel doubted that God would help them defeat the pagan occupants and take possession. Once in the land, they desired a king rather than God. Eventually, they turned to false gods, whose followers they were supposed to have eliminated entirely in the promised land.
The prophets warned. God’s people continued to disobey. He used Gentile nations to conquer and destroy, to wake them up to their sins. The people didn’t listen. They were taken into captivity, and there they wondered how this could have happened to them. God could have easily let them sit in exile and rot, but He did not. After seventy years, it was time to return home. We talked about this about a month ago.
Although back in the land, the Jews appeared less and less to be God’s chosen people set apart for a higher purpose. Eventually, even the prophets spoke no more. Had God given up on His people? Had He cast them aside, even as they had rejected Him time after time throughout their history? Did God’s patience run out? Was His mercy withdrawn? No!
In the Old Testament Book of 1 Kings, we read how the prophet Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and then had them all killed. But afterward, he fled for his own life because the wicked queen Jezebel sought to kill him. Elijah went into hiding and spoke against Israel to God. He was convinced that he was the only faithful Israelite left, and he preferred just to die. But remember the surprising word God had for Elijah? He was not alone! Seven thousand remained who had not bent the knee in worship to Baal. Such faithfulness counts in God’s eyes. Although not a part of our reading today, Paul uses the example of Elijah in this chapter, beginning with the second half of verse 2, and shows God’s grace. There remained in Israel in Elijah’s day a remnant faithful to God.
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul is certain that God has not rejected Israel. After all, he (Paul) was a living example of God’s mercy. Remember, Paul was famous for how energetically he persecuted Christians. Paul knew that God had a plan of salvation for all humankind, and it included Jews like himself as well as Gentiles.
God’s grace is for all people. The Jews sinned by rejecting God’s grace and relying on making their own righteousness. (Saving themselves by their works.) By their works, they were unable to acquire God’s grace for themselves; it’s a free gift of God through Jesus Christ.
In our text, Paul tells the Gentile Christians not to make the same mistake as Israel. He cautions them about sinful pride in having received mercy (v 13). Just as the Jews looked down on the Gentiles, relying on their race and their works making them the special people of God, now the Gentiles also were not to look down on the Jews and consider them rejected.
At the beginning of the letter, Paul speaks right away about this. He points out that God’s plan to save all people was to happen through the Jews. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16). Paul seeks to show early on that there are no advantages because of race or nationality. “Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (3:9).
If you study history at all, you know that racism, prejudice, bigotry, these things have been around a long time. The Egyptians thought they were better than everyone else. The Romans. Colonial British. Nazis in Germany. White folks thinking they are better than black folks. Protestants thinking they are better than Catholics. And all of this is wrong.
God sees us all and made us all, equal. Since Adam and Eve sinned, everyone inherits that original sin and therefore we are all equally sinners. The Good News is that Jesus equally saves us. I’ve said this to you before and I say it here again: There is no place in the heart of a Christian for any sort of racism or prejudice. I am not better than anyone. You are not better than anyone. And no one out there is better than us. The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, loves us all equally and forgives us all equally, COMPLETELY, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The salvation of all people is in the cross of Jesus. On the cross, He became the sacrifice for the payment of sin. Through Jesus Christ, the Father was reuniting the world, EVERYONE, to Himself.
And Jesus rose! He appeared to the apostles, and to as many as five hundred of His followers. Then He ascended to the Father. And whoever believes in Him, WHOEVER has faith given by the Holy Spirit, has life in His name.
God’s gifts are for everyone. God works out His plan one way or another to show mercy to all. It’s that simple. It’s that awesome. Because that means Jesus died and rose for you.
In Jesus’ Name.