In the years following the death of Christ, news of the gospel quickly spread across the known world. Despite monumental efforts to stop it, the expansion of Christianity could not be deterred. Bewildered Jews were shocked, and in many cases appalled, by the rapid advancement of God’s word among the Gentiles. The acceptance of these new believers as siblings into the family of God was completely new and somewhat unsettling to many in Israel. The majority of Jews flatly refused to embrace Gentile Christians.
How was this new message reaching the Gentiles? How does it continue to spread today? Paul explained the sequential process as follows… God sends preachers, generally through the commissioning of His church, into all the world. These preachers proclaim the gospel message in the presence of a hearing audience. Of those who hear, some will believe the message and call upon the name of the Lord. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord (including Gentiles) shall be saved!
As the gospel progressed from nation to nation the Gentiles were experiencing a great increase in the number of believers. Meanwhile the Jews had, for the most part, missed the Messiah altogether. They had rejected His claim to be the Son of God, had conspired to put Him to death, and had sought to suppress the reality of His resurrection. In the face of such stubbornness, you might think that God would have washed His hands of the Jews once and for all - such an act certainly seems justified. But amazingly He didn’t do that. Instead, He continued to reach out to this ornery, stiff-necked people. Aren’t you glad He remains faithful even to those who act unfaithfully?
The truth is that among the masses of nonbelieving Jews, there were some individual Jews who had placed their faith in Christ and were truly saved. These redeemed people were few in number when compared to the entire nation, but they existed nonetheless. This small remnant of believing Jews included many who had been dispersed throughout the world and were the people through whom God would preserve His covenant promises to Israel. They are the topic of today‘s sermon.
I. A REMNANT WILL BE SPARED (Romans 11:1-5)
In the final verse of chapter 10 we read of Israel’s disobedience and obstinance toward God’s outstretched hand. Though they were the chosen nation of God, set apart to be the recipients of His specific revelation, by-and-large the Jews had rejected the LORD by chasing after idols and committing numerous other sins. Despite their adulterous behavior, Paul opens chapter 11 by assuring His readers that God has remained faithful to Israel, who are referred to as a “people He foreknew”.
Paul cites an Old Testament story found in 1 Kings 19 which illustrates his point. The great prophet Elijah has fled for safety from the murderous hand of Jezebel and is hiding in a wilderness cave. There he laments that all of the God-fearing prophets have been killed and that he alone is left. Perhaps you have felt this way before… that you were the only one who was standing up for the LORD or for what is right. In this moment, Elijah felt completely alone and worried openly that the children of Israel had been rejected by the LORD.
God corrected Elijah’s mistaken assumption by informing him that He had protected and preserved 7,000 men who had not bowed their knee to Baal, which is to say they had not succumb to the pressure of worshipping a false god. Like Elijah, these men had remained faithful in the face of severe persecution. God shielded this remnant of the Jews in order to preserve His people and perpetuate His covenant with them. Now centuries later, even as Paul writes to the Roman Christians, he assures them that while the nation of Israel may have despised Jesus and sought to destroy His followers, again the LORD was protecting and preserving a believing remnant of the Jews.
II. A REMNANT WILL BELIEVE (Romans 11:6-10)
God graciously chose the people of Israel to be His covenant people. This choice was not made on the basis of their own good works. As a matter of fact, nothing that the Jews did or could do merited their selection. God’s choice to reveal Himself to the world through Israel was made solely on the basis of His own sovereign will. He chose them collectively, or nationally, as it relates to the declaration of Himself. He did not choose them individually, or as distinct persons, as it relates to their own personal salvation. Through Israel God sought to make Himself known to all nations and people.
But most of the Jews rejected Him and were “hardened”. They became callous, hateful, and wicked. They grew increasingly hostile toward God and His people. As a result of their continual disregard for the LORD, He gave them a spirit of stupor having eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear. He gave them over to their own devices, allowing them to heap judgment upon themselves. But those who accepted God’s gracious choice by responding to Him in faith through Jesus Christ obtained the salvation for which all were seeking.
According to recent statistics there are approximately 14 million Jews currently living on earth, and of these 350,000 are Messianic - meaning that they accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. This percentage is only 2.5%, which is a relatively small number. When we narrow the focus to include just the Holy Land, there are around 6 millions Jews living in Israel itself. Of these, only 20,000 or so accept Jesus as the Messiah. This percentage is less than half of one percent, a tiny fraction of the whole. These statistics reveal that, just as in the days of Elijah and as in the days of Paul, even now God has kept and is keeping for Himself a small remnant of believing Jews.
III. INCREASING THE SIZE OF THE REMNANT (Romans 11:11-16)
Though the majority of Jews had stumbled, they had not yet fallen down there was still reason for hope. The gospel was spreading well beyond Israel and many Gentiles were now being saved. Some of the Jews who had previously been averse to the message of Christ were now becoming jealous of these new believers. Their rejection of Jesus had led to a broad dispersion of His message to the rest of the world - kind of a silver lining on a dark cloud.
Paul states that he considered himself to be primarily an apostle of the Gentiles - an evangelist who carried the message of salvation to new places and to new people, in part because he was not welcomed by the Jews in Israel. Even still, he was himself a Jew and desired for more of his Jewish brethren to be saved. As he preached to the Gentiles and many came to faith, his hope was that more of his fellow Jews will become curious or perhaps envious and seek Christ also. Though jealousy is certainly not the best approach to motivate someone to come to Jesus, if it works then so be. Anything that leads someone to salvation can’t be all bad…
The first people to accept salvation by faith were Jewish - namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They represent the root from which the Gentile branches grew. They represent the first piece of dough, from which the lump was taken. Paul emphasized that salvation continued to be offered to the Jews, and that if some of were saved and the size of the believing remnant increased as a result of his Gentile-focused ministry it would be icing on the cake… a wonderful magnification of his efforts.
As Gentile Christians, many of us might wonder what the Jewish remnant has to do with us. Afterall, we are not Jewish and therefore will not be a part of this group. What benefit then, if any, do we derive from learning about them? Is there an underlying lesson that we can learn from God’s purposeful preservation of this remnant of believing Jews? There are 2 truths I would like to point out as it relates to Israel and the remnant.
The first truth is that God’s word never fails. He had established a covenant with Israel though the patriarch Abraham. This covenant was intended to last forever. In order for God to honor this promise, it was and continues to be necessary that He preserve a remnant of Jews through whom it can be fulfilled. Thus, the perpetual existence of a Jewish remnant sustains the covenant. It proves that God’s gracious choice of the Jews was not a mistake nor did His plan fail as a result of their disobedience. God doesn’t make mistakes, but He can fix those of us that do...
The second truth is that individuals are held accountable for their acceptance or rejection of God. The LORD chose the entire nation of Israel in accordance with His own sovereign will, yet not all of them would become recipients of His covenant promises. Rather, only a small remnant who submitted to Him through saving faith would receive these blessings. In a similar fashion, God has sovereignly chosen all of humanity to be recipients of the gospel message. Jesus died on the cross to secure the forgiveness of all sinners. Yet only those who respond in faith by choosing Jesus Christ will be saved. Thus, the remnant is to Israel what the redeemed are to the mankind. They are a subset of the God’s chosen whole, distinguished by their dependant faith in their Chooser.
Just as Paul sought to increase the number of Jewish believers by making them jealous of their Gentile counterparts, I would ask any and all non-Christians to consider what they are missing out on. Those of us who have accepted salvation through Jesus Christ have the promise of eternal life someday and the presence of an abundant life today. Lost person, wouldn’t you like to have these blessings too? If so, don’t be jealous that we have something you don’t… instead receive the gift of salvation for yourself and join us as a part of God’s redeemed remnant!