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God's Greater Israel - The Church

August 17, 2020 Pastor: Rev. George Fyler

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Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32 – God’s Greater Israel, the Church

Pentecost 11 – Propers 15 A - Christ Lutheran, Cleveland, Ohio - 8/19/2020

             God’s newly reconstituted Israel is present in and around Jesus Christ to include both Jew and Gentile, not by ethnic association but by faith and water (baptism) and blood (atonement and Eucharist).

            St. Paul explains how God has created an even greater people than ethnic Israel with the creation of a new Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles.  The Apostle introduced this idea in Romans 9:6, and also in Galatians 6:16.  Here in chapter 11 of Romans, Paul attempts to clear up some confusion regarding the identity of God’s greater Israel, the Church.

            The Jews — ethnic Israel — believe they were God’s true people since they had received, “…the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, the promises, and the patriarchs” (Romans 9:4).  In the grand scheme of God’s design, the problems of the world would be addressed in and through Israel and, specifically, through Israel would come God’s king, the Messiah.  It was no wonder the Jews were recognized as God’s privileged people.  But Jewish thinking wrongly considered this privileged ethnic status constituted salvation itself.  That is what Paul corrects in Romans 11.

            There is a distinction, he says, between those who are ethnically Jewish, or “Israel,” but have rejected Jesus as the Christ of God and those, from any nation (Gentiles), who are not ethnically Jewish or “Israel’s” lineage, but trust and have been baptized into God’s Messiah as the once-crucified and now resurrected Lord.  It is the latter who spiritually and truly constitute Israel.  There is a new criterion for what makes an Israelite, a son of God, namely faith in Christ Jesus, not ethnic heritage.

            The ideas of ethnic or geo-political Israel, such as those who descended from Jacob and had its borders defined by David and Solomon, ceased to exist after the Assyrian invasion of 722 BC which literally obliterated the northern ten tribes of Israel, leaving only Judah and Benjamin.  The great promises of God, especially through the major prophets, was to reconstitute Israel, to bring her out of exile.  Indeed, like the Assyrian scenario, the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC carried a significant population of Judah and Benjamin into exile.  In this instance, God illustrates how He will, through His chosen Messiah, reconstitute Israel from the Gentiles.  In other words, Israel will emerge from among the Gentiles.

            This is exactly what happened when the Messiah arrived.  Embodying the history and future of Israel, He assembles twelve disciples, like the twelve tribes around Himself.  St. Luke moves God’s plan forward by highlighting the Apostle to the Gentiles — St. Paul.  Henceforth, God’s newly reconstituted Israel occurs in and around Jesus to include both Jew and Gentile, not by ethnic association but by faith and water (baptism) and blood (atonement and Eucharist).  In this way, God reclaims His lordship over the world, the entire world of humanity.

            Jesus upbraided the leaders of ethnic Israel in Matthew 21 when He said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore, I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.  And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”  When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived Jesus was speaking about them and they were highly offended.

            Jesus could not have been clearer.  Rejecting His defining and consummate messiahship or, as He puts it, rejecting the “cornerstone,” leaves persons with no recourse for pardon.  All such persons will be excluded from the Kingdom of God.  Neither religious Jew nor ethnic “Israelite” could make an appeal.  Justification comes by way of faith in Messiah’s life, atonement, and resurrection.

            Immediately another question arises: If the Jewish people, Israel, rejected God and His promises in Christ, does this mean the Word of God has failed (Romans 9:6a)?  Does this mean God has rejected His people (Romans 11:1)?  Paul anticipates these questions.  His response is both self-referential (Christ redeemed me) and points to God’s remnant.  Paul reminds the Romans, he is an Israelite (Romans 11:1), yet also one who has not stumbled over Christ, the cornerstone.  On the contrary, he trusts in Christ because God has granted him light and faith, in the same fashion as the Gentiles.  This is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to placard the Son of God as the only Savior of humanity.

            Paul also marshals forth the witness of the Hebrew prophets of the OT and others recorded in Israel’s history preserved as a remnant; a witness of continuity that salvation is of the Jews and God has kept His promises to address the problems of the world in and through Israel. With Jesus as the King of Israel, God has kept His word in Jesus the Messiah.

            Into this life of sin and death, the Lord of life came to end the tyranny of Satan through His own death and resurrection.  He comes into our midst today to hear the cries and prayers of His children and to have mercy on us.  He instructs us to repent of trying to figure Him out or trying to climb into His hiddenness and wisdom.  Instead He welcomes us to cling to Him like the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 15).  He comes to us in our Tyres and Sidons, our Clevelands and Washingtons where He brings His grace and mercies.

            Therefore, we cling to Him in the water of Holy Baptism knowing that this is no plain water, but water combined with His Word and promise.  Here the Lord of life is expelling the demons that oppress us that we might receive faith and life.  Then when it seems as if He does not hear, does not care, and does not help, I know I am baptized!   I am a child of God and my Heavenly Father will not forsake me.

            Therefore, we cling to Him in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion, knowing that this is no plain food — no mere crumbs that fall from our Master’s table!  Because this is the Lord of life feeding us who hunger and thirst for righteousness with His own Body and Blood and giving us forgiveness of our sins and eternal salvation.  That when it seems as  if He does not hear, or care, and does not help, instead of opening my mouth with complaints and doubts, I open it to receive Him who gave everything for me on Calvary’s Cross.

            Thus, we cling to Him in His Word of forgiveness knowing that these are no plain words, but the Lord of life giving us exactly what we need — forgiveness of our sins.  The forgiveness that heals our doubts and unbelief.  The forgiveness that restores our worship and sonship.  The forgiveness that teaches us that Jesus does hear, does care, and does want to have mercy upon us,  That He desires to exclude none from His grace and mercy but draw all to Himself – to expel the demons that torment and oppress us, setting us free and giving us His life.  The life we had at the beginning — the life that will never end.

            This is the life and faith your savior desires for you.  A faith which is not easy, but which is strong to endure the trial and troubles of this life.  Not just some of the time but all the time.  Not according to your wisdom but according to His.

            When you find yourself in the place of the Canaanite woman, do not speak in defense of yourself — for mercy is undeserved.  Do not stand up for yourself — for God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4).  Do not listen to the lying voice of the devil who wants you to doubt.  Instead pray your “Lord, have mercy on me,” and know that He will.  And if it means struggle and difficulty for a time, then thanks by to God!  He loves you enough to give you what you need and not give you what you do not need, and He is wise enough to know the difference.

In the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

AMEN.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.