Sunday, August 14, 2005

Romans 11:28-32 A sermon preached in Killinchy Parish Church on 14th August 2005

This morning I want to focus on the reading from Romans. This was just a very short part of an argument that Paul was making, about how God had treated the two groups of peoples – Jews and Gentiles – historically, at the present time, and in the future. The argument begins from Genesis 12, when God called Abram: ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’

This blessing would extend to all peoples through Abraham. All peoples would be blessed. Yet the Jews became very nationalistic, as their concept of nationhood expanded, and they referred to themselves as the chosen people. They forgot that other peoples would be blessed as well, to the extent that they thought that outsiders – Gentiles – who wanted to share in God’s blessing had to become Jews.

Paul himself even refers to this way of thinking, in that while the Jews had traditionally obeyed God, the Gentiles had disobeyed. Yet, with the gospel, the very fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham, when the early believers who were all Jews, took this message out, it was the Jews who refused to believe. Now, granted, there were some who did believe, but generally, they refused to believe. This was the case in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:42), and in Corinth (Acts 18:6) and in Ephesus (Acts 19:9). Paul had entered the synagogue, bringing the good news of Jesus, but the Jews had refused to believe, so he went instead to the Gentiles, who heard and accepted the message with great joy.

This is what Paul was referring to when he said ‘Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience’ – that is, the Jews had been disobedient in refusing to accept the message of the gospel, so the Gentiles benefited by receiving mercy – ‘so they too now have become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you’. In other words, the Jews, in seeing the Gentiles coming to receive the benefits and the blessings God provides, would be provoked to also accept the gospel.

But it is on the last verse of the reading that I want to focus on this morning, and to draw out three lessons. The first is that we are disobedient; the second is that God has bound us over to disobedience; and the third is that God then shows us his mercy.

Paul tells us that all men are disobedient. But what have we disobeyed? How have we become disobedient? Obedience is based on recognition that someone has the right to tell us what to do, and on the fact of hearing the command. So, say, for example, that you are driving home from church, and a policeman tells you that you aren’t allowed to go down a road because it is closed, then you must obey, because he has the authority to command you not to go down that road, and he has told you the command.

For the Jews, disobedience, in these terms, was failing to recognise God’s authority over them, failing to remember that he was their king. After all, they sought to have a king ruling over them, rather than have God’s rule (1 Samuel). And despite the commands of God being clearly pronounced to them through the Scriptures, and through the prophets that God sent, they refused to listen or obey. And then, when Jesus came, the Son of God, their Messiah, they refused to listen him, and crucified him. And when the gospel was proclaimed in the synagogue, they refused to listen.

And what of the Gentiles? Well, God had created them, and there was within each person that element of conscience, and the knowledge of right and wrong. But more than that, all peoples are descended from Noah, given that the earth was destroyed, and only Noah, his wife and his three sons and their wives were saved. Noah was a ‘preacher of righteousness’, so this message was lost among the Gentile descendants of Noah.

Yes for all of us, Jew or Gentile, the indictment is clear, the verdict is sure: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We have all of us gone our own way, and disobeyed the commands of God.

But we have also refused to recognise the right for God to rule over our lives. Each of us has sought to rule our own lives, and make our own choices, depending on what feels right for us. This selfishness is at the root of our problem. We have put God off the throne of our hearts and lives, and sit there ruling ourselves. [The centre of any sin is ‘I’: S-I-N ]

So we have gone our own way, we have decided that we know better than God, that we will rule our own lives.

And God has ‘bound all men over to disobedience’. We have wanted to go our own way, and God has said ‘fair enough’. He has let us go our own way. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, when the son wanted to go away with his inheritance, the father allowed him to. Now, the father knew exactly what sort of state he would end up in, but he let him go.

God does not force his way on anyone, and so, when we decide to go our own way, he allows us to. Yes, God is sovereign, but at the same time, we have an element of human responsibility, and so our choices are our own.

So where has our disobedience taken us? What is the result of our sinfulness? As Paul tells us elsewhere, those who sin are slaves to sin (Romans 6:16), and so we have ended up as prisoners and slaves of sin. We are imprisoned in sin. As the hymn writer put it:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night

Or as Psalm 107 puts it: ‘Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains’. Why? ‘for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.’ (Psalm 107:10,11) These people had rejected God’s authority, and rejected his commands, and ended up as prisoners, suffering in darkness.

Maybe you know that feeling of helplessness, and imprisonment. Maybe you have been locked in a prison of memories, of guilt and shame at the way you have lived your life, the choices you have made. Or maybe it was the consequences of your actions that have plagued you – those memories and hurts and pain just won’t go away.

And you think that God can’t possibly want anything to do with you – with such a great burden, or with these things holding you back – that you are bound to your disobedience, and locked in this prison.

Or maybe you have tried to prevent them, and have wanted to come to God, and to say ‘no more’ – but you always end up back in the same place, bound up with your sin – you just can’t leave it behind. Those sins won’t let you leave – they have a certain hold on you, keeping you in that prison of despair.

That prison of despair is an awful, horrible place. It is in darkness, and gloom. But the good news is that God does not leave you there. There is a way of escaping it. And the way of escape is the good news – the gospel, as our reading continues to tell us, in those last few words: ‘For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all’ (Rom 11:32). So that God may have mercy on them all! God wants to have mercy on you! As one writer put it: ‘God’s purpose was to shut up each of these divisions [that is, Jews and Gentiles] to the experience, first, of an unhumbled, condemned state without Christ, and then to the experience of his mercy in Christ’ (Wilson 1984:196)

So what is mercy? What does it look like, or how does it affect us? Mercy is ‘compassion for the miserable’ (Easton’s Bible Dictionary), and God’s mercy to us was when he looked at us in our miserable sinful, imprisoned state, and acted to relieve that situation. Our sins deserve judgement, all the more so, because God is holy, and just, and so condemns sin. He cannot abide sin. But, thanks to God, he is also perfect love, and sent his Son, Jesus, to die in our place, and to take the punishment due to us for our sin.

Jesus bore our sins, and took that punishment, in his death on the cross, and rose again, with the guarantee that our sins had been dealt with, and the offer of eternal life with God. God’s mercy is therefore when he does not give us what we deserve. We deserve separation from him; he has made the way open to himself. We deserve death; he gives us life. We deserve punishment; he gives us peace.

As Titus 3:5 tells us ‘when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy’. God saved us, because he is full of mercy. Remember the people we heard about earlier, in the prison because they had disobeyed God’s word? The Psalm continues: ‘Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains’ (Psalm 107:13,14).

Or as Wesley wrote in that great hymn that we thought of earlier:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed thee

This is all indeed a marvellous work of God, from start to finish. He sent Jesus into the world to bear our sins; and he now offers us this great mercy. If you identified yourself as being in that prison of sin and guilt earlier, then hear these words today: Jesus Christ offers you mercy, through what he has done for you.

He can break the chains of sin that hold you, and he can take you out of that prison. Your sins have been paid for, so you don’t have to struggle under the burden any more.

It used to be the case that in businesses and shops, there would be a nail, a spike, sitting on the desk, and when a bill was paid, it was put on the spike. It showed that the bill had been paid for – it was cancelled. In the same way, your sins have been paid for – they have been pierced by the nails that held Jesus – they are cancelled, because Jesus bore your sins in his body on the cross.

This is indeed the good news of the gospel, the blessing that all people everywhere can know, and this offer is open to you today. Why remain in prison any longer? When Jesus started his ministry, he gave his vision statement – his manifesto, as it were. And he quoted from the book of Isaiah, and said this: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18,19 quoting Isaiah 61:1,2).

Jesus has come to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and release the oppressed. Will you be free today? Will you come to know God’s mercy?

[PRAYER: Lord God, I thank you that you are merciful, and that you do not give me what I deserve. Thank you that Jesus came and took the punishment due to me for my sin. Because of Jesus’ death, forgive me all my sins, and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Grant that I would be free from my sin, and would be freed from all that holds me back. I thank you that you hear my prayer, and will answer it to your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

1 comment :

  1. Long intro! hehehe u told me that.
    Sure it was quicker when listening than reading.