You know that feeling where you just can’t help but hum along with a song? It’s so catchy or heartfelt or attached to something you know? It’s all kinds of music does it, of course, but let’s stick with hymns. “Amazing Grace” is like that, isn’t it? Beautiful hymn, well known. It’s probably within the American spirit somehow. And if we lit it up on the organ, you’d join right in – with probably a bit of emotional warble and maybe a tear. You know what’s funny about “Amazing Grace”, I think? Now don’t throw anything at me… it doesn’t actually say a lot. Listen…
Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.
I mean, it says things, beautiful things. But, for instance, not anywhere in that beautiful hymn is the name of Jesus. Nor does it actually explain what grace is… Now that’s okay – Christians sing this hymn in a worship context and they know the definition of grace, what it means. But it’s not a doctrinal treatise. It’s an expression of Christian faith and feeling. Paul’s got some summary statements in our section for this morning. And, while it doesn’t run the course of all doctrine, it is a theological wonder; a doctrinal discourse end to end; a hard section in some ways. But an expression of Christian faith recognizing that God’s work is all amazing grace.
It’s sweet sounds come from Paul’s argument about Israel in chapters 9-11 of Romans. Last week Pastor Free shared with us Paul’s zeal and love and desire that his own countrymen – Israelites – be saved. And in between there and here at the end of chapter 11, he’s crossed through some deep waters. Things like this:
- in ch.9 Paul said that, even with Israel of old, salvation was always by trusting in the promise and never by human bloodline… (9:6-13) Paul even said, “Not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel.” (9:6) That is, they ran after their own works and so were not really God’s people, Israel, no matter their bloodline…
- more – not does salvation come byour own systems of righteousness or works… In ch.9, this is the case of things: many of the Jews, ran after their own good works and “stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”” You and I know, they didn’t receive God’s salvation in Jesus Christ promised…
- and that, because people002 will often refuse God’s promised salvation, God may finally harden some in unbelief as judgment – and this happened to many in Israel… (chs. 9-10)
- and that the good898833news of this salvation in the promise of Jesus’ righteousness had gone out to all kinds of people outside of Israel. We call them Gentiles. We are they…
Which is how you get to Paul addressing Gentiles in v.13 with this nuance of the amazing grace of God. Paul says, “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles (which Paul definitely was – all over the Mediterranean – arguably that was his whole ministry), I make much of my ministry (or literally, I take pride in it or glorify it) in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” Paul’s purpose and God’s intent, by preaching the gospel to non-Jewish people was to reach back to those Jews who had disbelieved God’s promise. As Paul said in vv.11-12, some Jews fell into unbelief – this was their choice – but it’s not some irrevocable judgment – in fact, because they sinned, “salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”
Perhaps it is like when a parent shows their stubborn child what joys of playing outside she’ll miss out on if she doesn’t clean her room as requested. And so she looks longingly out at her brothers riding bikes and wishes she could be there and is moved, hopefully, to action… So here: that unbelieving Jews be moved to belief by seeing the joys of salvation and God’s good gifts given and enjoyed by those Israel would never have expected – this was God’s design and Paul’s ministry purpose.
What could we say for ourselves here? I would have to admit, I don’t really even think of a Gentile/Jewish aspect of my faith – I’m a Christian, right? But perhaps I think too lightly of the grace of my God… That this one part of his plan as Paul has described it is amazing! God designs to be always reaching out to his first people, those Israelite people, unbelieving Jews, by his saving gospel going to people like me. That when I have faith, God is at work in greater ways than just that I believe… It happened through Paul and others in the early New Testament church; and many Jews in this way were saved. Through people like you and me he provokes in order to save. What unbounded and consistent, merciful and long-suffering a love that is! Shouldn’t I say, “Amazing grace!”
I don’t think we have to only think of Jews, though. We could think generally. How often aren’t we tempted to forget that God provokes in order to save? And instead to focus on the loved one or the friend we know who has walked away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ… the neighbor who has consistently, over and over, turned away our arguments about Christ and our entreaties to trust in God’s love in Christ… And maybe despaired they will never believe, perhaps doubted that God’s Word works… How often don’t we need to remember that God’s grace is always at work – it is older than history and deeper than the oceans and beyond our understanding – and he reaches out through us and through others to provoke some to turn back again. And more than just thinking of those ones out there, how often don’t we focus on ourselves and forget to think like Paul about our daily lives in the only appropriately high and lofty way and say, “I make much of my life; I take pride in my daily work; I glorify my ministry,” so that this saving work might happen in all kinds of people?
In fact, though it seems the opposite, where God is at work the expectation is for something amazing: v. 15, “If [the Jews’] rejection is the reconciliation of the world (if their turning away brought the gospel to the whole globe), what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” Or, won’t it be an amazing and miraculous thing when God’s work is done – astounding but glorious like life from the dead?
And that is consistently the theme – where God is at work, it is amazing grace. In fact, we could say, “It’s not about me.” Which is essentially the reminder Paul gives the Gentiles. Our section skips over it, but our Sunday theme came from the verses right in the middle of ours where Paul reminded the Gentiles not to be proud. He didn’t want them to think, “Hey, those Israelites were knocked out so God could make a place on the tree for me…” Paul says, “No, you were grafted into the cultivated olive tree of God’s church, not because you were great but because God has great designs. Designs that include wild olive branches like you and maybe branches that have fallen off before that he’ll graft back on too.”
God’s amazing grace works like that. Look at v.28-31. Isn’t it true? If you were a Gentile Christian in Paul’s day, those Jews who didn’t believe were like enemies of the gospel. At the same time, they were part of God’s gracious and long-suffering love he had been showing to their race for a long time. In v.29, Paul’s basically saying, “God doesn’t regret that he puts out gifts and makes his call of the gospel. He doesn’t revoke that gracious call even to Israelites who turned away.” In fact, through people like Paul and others, he keeps giving gifts and graciously calling so that they will turn back in faith to God. God knows his elect from whatever nation they are. Jew or Gentile, they will be his by the preaching of his Word and the receiving of faith. If you wanted to say it very generally – about those Jews in Paul’s day or other people around us today – the disobedient, the unbelievers are in a position to “receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.”
Or, we could say, the equation of salvation is always and ever the same. Do you remember Paul’s words way back in Romans 3? He said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Which you and I need to remember when we look at the enemy forces in the world. When we see those who stridently hate the gospel, we aren’t to assume that we’re better. We’re to see that they are what we once were or what we by nature were – objects of wrath, sinners short of glory. And our glory now, as Paul said, is to minister the mercy of God we ourselves have received. That “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” This is God’s mercy that you know – not how God received your own superior goodness, but graciously forgave all your wickedness and called you holy in Christ’s name. His gracious declaration of “not guilty” falls over all, none deserving, people who are “bound over to disobedience” or stuck in their own sins. And why? “So that, by faith in his Son, [God] may have mercy on them all.”
In our world now, this one fraught with division and difficulties, God’s mercy is on display in you. Through you and me he shows the bankruptcy of sin that we’re all in but the grace of God his people have received, the riches he freely gives. And his working is amazing, his undeserved love profound. As Paul said in vv.25-26, though many Israelites were hardened in unbelief, many will come to faith again by way of Gentile believers. “And so all Israel will be saved.” That is, all God’s elect from among the Jews, along with those from among everybody else, as believers in Jesus Christ, by reliance on his righteousness and his work, they will be saved. This is the amazing grace of God that is at work in the world though you cannot always see it. This is God’s grace applied to people we thought otherwise unretrievable through us who were once exactly the same. And, as Pastor Free will tell it next week, this amazing grace is a beautiful song, hard not to hum along with when we hear it. In fact, it draws us to sing the greatest of praise. Amen.