Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 16, 1991
Purpose: To build our confidence in God's faithfulness.
I read somewhere that Paul Harvey is the most listened to radio broadcaster in the world. Almost everybody is familiar with the famous anecdotes he calls "The Rest of the Story." Like the one about a young Dutchman named Willem who wanted to be a pastor. In the spring of 1879, his passion brought him to the coal fields of southern Belgium, where his total selflessness captured the respect of the miners and their families. In a mine disaster, scores of villagers were injured and no one fought harder to save them than Willem.
After the rubble was cleared and the dead were buried and the sick were made well, the townspeople flocked to his services to hear him preach the Word of God. But when a church official visited his town, he found Willem living in a tiny hut, dressed in an old soldier's coat and trousers made of sacking. When he asked Willem what he had done with his salary, he told him that he'd given it to the miners. The church official said he looked more miserable than the people he was ministering to, and he dismissed him from the service of the church. Willem was devastated. The work he had lived for was ended and it was as though God had forgotten him.
Then one afternoon, he noticed an old miner bending beneath the enormous weight of a full sack of coal. He felt again the desperation of these people and realized that he always would. Fumbling through his pockets, he pulled out a tattered envelope, and a pencil, and began to sketch the weary figure that had moved him so. That first drawing was a crude one, but he tried again, and again. Beginning that day, he was to capture for the world the torment, triumph, and dignity of the people he had grown to love. If he had failed as a minister, there was now a new passion, a new purpose. The people he was not allowed to teach, he was able to touch through art. And in the process he immortalized them...and they him. Because the preacher who wasn't to be, became the artist the world would know...as Vincent Willem van Gogh. And now you know--the rest of the story (The Rest of the Story, p. 150).
Van Gogh's story reminds me of someone else who was rejected. I'm talking about the people of Israel. At least it looked as though they were rejected. God had promised them wonderful blessings through their Messiah, including forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. But when He came to them they refused to believe in Him. So what is God going to do? Cast away His people? Go back on His Word? Fail to keep His promises? It sure looks that way. But that's before we hear--the rest of the story.
So let's hear it. The Apostle Paul relates it to us in Romans 11. "Has God cast away His people?" he asks in verse 1. "Have they fallen beyond recovery?" he asks again in verse 11. And the same answer comes back both times--a resounding "NO!" And he goes on to give us the reasons for his answer. For one thing, there has always been a remnant according to grace, a small number who believed even in the darkest periods of unbelief (Romans 1-10). And for another thing, there have been some great benefits from Israel's unbelief--specifically salvation for the Gentiles, which will stir Israel to jealousy and ultimately bring them back to vital and vibrant faith in their Messiah (Romans 11-24).
All through this discussion Paul has been alluding to that possibility of Israel's future restoration.
"Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! ...For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? ...And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?" (Romans 11:12, 15, 23-24).
Now he wants to enlarge on that theme and show us that the possibility will become a definite reality. The rejected nation will be restored to a place of blessing and privilege as the people of God. And that's the rest of the story.
Israel Will Be Saved
God's Plan Requires It (Romans 11:25-26a)
Here's the plan. Romans 11:25-26a. "For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved."
The place of Israel in God's global scheme of things is a mystery. That doesn't mean "mysterious." It means something that we cannot figure out with our own natural human reasoning powers, but which must be revealed by God (refer to Colossians 1:26). And what is the mystery? That Israel's hardened unbelief has two very important characteristics. First, it is partial: "...hardening in part has happened to Israel." That's been the point of Paul's instruction about the remnant. God has always had a small group of believers, even when the vast majority have rejected Him.
But there is a second characteristic of Israel's unbelief. It is not only partial, but temporary--"...until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in," that is, until the full complement of Gentiles have been reached with the gospel. When the Body of Christ is complete and the last Gentile has trusted Christ as Savior, then God is going to turn again to His ancient people Israel.
God has a future for the nation Israel. Here it is, plainly stated in Romans 11:26a: "And so all Israel will be saved." Saved! Delivered from the guilt and condemnation of sin! Forgiven! Assured of eternal life! Restored to a position of blessing and privilege as the people of God! And it will happen to all Israel--not every individual Israelite without exception, but the nation as a whole. The nation Israel as a whole is going to turn to her Messiah and be saved. It may not look like it right now. But that's the end of the story.
Jesus taught much the same thing back in Luke 21:24b. "And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
There's that word until again. The times of the Gentiles will come to an end, and then God is going to turn again to His people Israel and deliver Jerusalem from Gentile domination. The Old Testament prophets taught the same thing. Read, for example, Hosea 3:4-5. "For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days."
The prophet predicts that there will be a long period of time when Israel is out of the place of blessing, but then she will be restored to God's favor--in the latter days. God still loves His people Israel. And even though at present the nation has rejected His Son and her Messiah, she will yet turn to Christ and be saved. God will yet fulfill His promises to her. Because when God makes a promise, He keeps it! We haven't yet seen the end of the story.
At Emmanuel Faith Community Church we approach the Scriptures dispensationally. That word dispensationalism has fallen into some disrepute, and some people in our day seem to find great pleasure in maligning it, along with the Scofield Reference Bible that popularized it. They criticize us for chopping the Bible up into time periods. But time periods are not the basic issue in dispensationalism. They are only incidental. A dispensation is a stewardship, an administration. In the Old Testament, God administered His affairs on earth through the nation Israel. Today He works through the church of Jesus Christ. But the day is coming when He will turn again to Israel, restore her to a place of prominence, and use her to bring blessing to the world.
The basic issue in dispensationalism is God's future for the nation Israel. God has a plan for Israel as a nation. He made certain promises to her in the Old Testament that have not yet been fulfilled. Those promises are not to be spiritualized and understood allegorically as being fulfilled in the church. They are to be understood literally. They will be fulfilled literally, in the future, by the literal nation Israel. And it's pretty difficult to read Romans 11:25-26 and deny that (without a lot of twisting and turning and mental gymnastics). God's plan requires that all Israel be saved. That's the end of the story. But read on.
God's Word Declares It (Romans 11:26b-27)
Paul reaches back into several Old Testament passages to substantiate what he is saying. "The Deliverer will come out of Zion" (Romans 11:26b). Zion may refer to the heavenly Jerusalem. The Deliverer, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is pictured as coming from the presence of the Father. "And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob." Jacob is another name for Israel. When Christ returns He is going bring about the conversion of the great majority of the people of Israel and remove their sin.
Romans 11:27. "For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins."
That's a reference to Jeremiah 31 where God promises to make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31) in which He says, "For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). God hasn't done that yet. Some preachers say He isn't going to. The Scripture says He's a God of His Word. When He makes a promise, He keeps it. Not only does God's plan require it, and His Word declare it, but His faithfulness assures it.
God's Faithfulness Assures It (Romans 11:28-29)
Romans 11:28. "Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers."
It doesn't look very good right now. Jewish people in many cases are actually enemies of the gospel. Talk to the Jews for Jesus and they'll tell you how angry and antagonistic some Jewish people get when approached with the gospel. But God still loves them because of the covenant He made with Abraham. And that will never change.
Romans 11:29. "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."
The gifts of God are the great privileges the Jewish people have had, the kinds of things Paul mentioned back in Romans 9:4-5, like the covenants, the service of God, and the promises. The "calling of God" is His choice of Israel to be His special people, to stand in a special relation to Him, to carry out a special task and fulfill a special function in history (Cranfield, 284). Those things can never change. They are irrevocable.
It may appear as though God has failed to keep His promises, but we haven't seen the end of the story yet. In the end, all Israel will be saved. Because God is always faithful. He never goes back on His Word. His plan requires it, His Word declares it, His faithfulness assures it, and His mercy affirms it.
God's Mercy Affirms It (Romans 11:30-32)
Romans 11:30-31. "For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy."
Our God is a merciful God. In His mercy He used the disobedience of the Jews to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. And the very mercy He has shown to the Gentiles will someday be extended back to the Jews and they will be grafted back in to their own olive tree.
Romans 11:32. "For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all."
"Committed" means to lock up as in a prison. It is as though God chained the whole human race, Jew and Gentile, in a prison cell labeled "DISOBEDIENCE." That's where we are; the whole human race is there. And He does that so that it might be clear that they are all sinners who have broken His law, and their only way of escape is through His mercy.
It may look as though God has forgotten His people Israel, but He hasn't. He will restore them to a place of privilege and blessing. All Israel will be saved. Not because they deserve it, or have done anything to earn it, but because our God is a God of mercy. That's the end of the story. And when Paul thinks about it, his heart just wells up with praise and adoration to God. He concludes this section about Israel with a majestic doxology in which he assures us that God will be glorified.
God Will Be Glorified
Look at some of the marvelous things he mentions about our wonderful Lord.
God's Ways Are Inscrutable (Romans 11:33)
Romans 11:33. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!"
Paul isn't praising the Lord because he has found answers to all the questions and solutions to all the problems. God's dealings with mankind generally, and with the nation Israel specifically, are beyond our comprehension. We will never fully understand it in this life. But we can be assured that His knowledge is perfect and His ways are wise. And for that we can praise Him.
God's Greatness Is Unfathomable (Romans 11:34-35)
This is a collection of quotes from the Old Testament. The first one reinforces what he has already said about not being able to fathom the mind of the Creator. Romans 11:34a. "For who has known the mind of the LORD?"
The second one reminds us that God is so much greater than us that we have no right to give Him counsel. Romans 11:34b. "Or who has become His counselor?"
I need to remember that. There have been occasions when I have tried to give God advice. I've looked at a situation and told Him exactly what He ought to do. How foolish! He is the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6), and He knows far more than His clients.
The third quote assures us that we can never put God in our debt. Romans 11:35. "Or who has first given to Him, And it shall be repaid to him?"
Sometimes we have the idea that we can give God so much, or do so much for Him, that He will have to do what we want Him to do. No, it doesn't work that way. There isn't anything we can give Him or do for Him that begins to measure up to what He has given us and done for us. It is impossible for us to put Him under obligation. He is so much greater than us that we don't even come close to measuring up. Nothing compares to what He's done for us.
And that leads us to the final expression of praise.
God's Glory Is Immeasurable (Romans 11:36)
Romans 11:36. "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen."
All things are "of Him." He is their source, their maker. All things are "through Him." He upholds, sustains, rules and directs them--the forces of nature, the energy of the atom, the nation Israel, the Gentile nations of the world, the supernatural powers of the spiritual realm, and everything else.
And all things are "to Him." He is the reason for their existence and they will ultimately serve His ends--all things without exception will serve His ends. And they will bring immense glory to Him for ever and ever, even though right now we may not understand how. As you know, that's the rest of the story.
A Word to Christians
There's are some great lessons for us personally and individually in this discourse on Israel's future and their restoration. Maybe you've been thinking that God has forgotten you. Things haven't turned out as you planned. Maybe you've been disappointed in some relationship, rejected by someone dear to you, or maybe frustrated at every turn. As the world measures success, you haven't made it. You've been a failure at everything you've put your hand to. Let me assure you, God has not forgotten you. You haven't yet seen the rest of the story. God isn't finished with you yet. He has some good things ahead for you.
And if you as a believer have wandered far from God--you've turned your back on Him and you've been living in sin--and you know you need to be restored to His fellowship, this passage should provide the encouragement you need to get back into the place of blessing. Just as God's love for Israel is an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3), so He loves you with an everlasting love. And He is willing to restore you to His fellowship if you are willing. You've never been out of the family if you've truly trusted Christ as your Savior, but you've sure been out of His fellowship. And yet, He wants to restore you. He wants you to confess your sin to Him and come back into His fellowship.
There's an old story about a mother whose son left home for a life of selfishness and sinfulness. He wandered for years, but finally his heart softened to the things of the Lord and he longed to see his mother again. So he wrote her a letter: "Mother, I want to come back. I want you to forgive me and love me. But I'm afraid to ask you, because I'm so ashamed of myself. Next Tuesday I'll be on the afternoon train that goes by our house. If you will take me back, please hang a sheet out on the clothesline."
On Tuesday afternoon the son's heart was anxious as the train approached the little cottage. He looked eagerly from the window of the coach. Tears came to his eyes when he saw his mother's clothesline. It was hung with sheets from one end to the other. She had put out every sheet she owned (SP, 156).
God is that ready and willing to restore you. His sheets are out. His arms are extended. Won't you acknowledge your sinfulness and your waywardness? Confess that sin to God, surrender your will to Him, and purpose to obey His Word. Won't you live the Christian life consistently according to His Word? Won't you come home? The rest of your story can be a joyful one.
It won't be free from problems--God never promises that in this life--but truly joyful and truly honoring to the Lord.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
If you've never trusted Christ as Savior, God is just as willing to receive you. It doesn't matter what you've done to this point. God's grace is enough to cover it. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary is enough to pay for it. In fact, it did.
You see, He is the satisfaction for our sins, and not for our sins only, but the sins of the whole world. He died for your sins. He paid the debt you owed. Will you acknowledge your sinfulness and put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? That's the way home.
Let's bow our heads prayerfully and reverently in His presence right now. Let's bow before God.
Do you know that you're a child of God? That you have His life communicated to you by His Son? You see, the Scripture says that as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name. Are you part of the family? Have you acknowledged your sinfulness and your need of a Savior? Confess that Jesus Christ is the only one who can forgive your sins and give you eternal life. Believe in Him. That's what makes you part of the family of God. That's what brings you home.
If you've never made that decision, we invite you to do it right now. Settle it in prayer, will you? Just in the quiet of your own heart.
"God, I admit my sin to you and my need of a Savior. And I put my faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior from sin right now. Come into my heart and save me, dear Lord."
He'll do it. That's His promise.
If you've been drifting far from Him, and you know you made that decision sometime in the past but you've been drifting, won't you come home? Avail yourself of that wondrous promise in 1 John 1:9, and confess your sins, "and He is faithful and righteous to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness." Then will you yield your life afresh to Him to do His will?
Lord, I pray that believers who are far from you would come home today, and be restored to a faithful, fruitful, joyful life of obedience and fellowship with You. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 23: Will You Do Me a Favor?