For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
People ask me if things like traveling and deadlines and writing and preaching wearies me, and I tell them that that is a healthy kind of tiredness and I don’t mind it at all, but one of the things that’s very exhausting is rejection. When there is alienation between yourself and another person then that eats into your peace and sleep. Rejection by another person is painful. Paul is talking here about the living God rejecting the Jews. He has already told them that it is not that God utterly and completely rejected them. In no way did God oppose every attempt to win Jews for Jesus. Thousands of the descendants of Abraham had been converted in the twenty year period from the resurrection of the Lord Jesus to the writing of this letter. God had given to every Jew who had heard the gospel and then repented and believed in his Son a new heart, the forgiveness of sins, the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus, adoption into his family, uniting each one to Christ. God had done this even to the very worst hypocrites and persecutors among the Jews, once they put all their hopes in the Redeemer, and so there was no evidence at all that God had totally abandoned them. Just as Paul had said in the opening verses of this chapter, “Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew” (Roms. 11:1&2).
So there is no absolute rejection, but from our verse we can see that there was a limited rejection. What is this “rejection” that Paul is talking about in our verse? God rejected their sacrifices of goats and pigeons and heifers, their seventh day Sabbath, their feasts, their circumcision, their ceremonial laws and civil laws, their judges, and kings, their priests and Levites. All that, and all that they stood for was over, never to return. Henceforth these things would bring no one nearer God. God rejected all of that outward preparatory paraphernalia since Christ his Son had come and accomplished redemption. The day of all those shadows of what was to come was ended; all that was finished. The Lord who came, whom they crucified, has risen from the dead and he had commissioned his servants to go now away from Jerusalem, out and out, through Judea and across its borders into Samaria, and then further and further into the nations of the world, and that he would be with them in this saving enterprise, in everything that they did. He would build his new covenant church within the kingdom of the darkness of this world. He would plant a congregation in Rome (which was governed by Emperor Nero), and these people would love the Saviour and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Paul tells us in our text that Jewish rejection of Christ had had this great positive result, that the unbelieving Gentile world was now being reconciled to God (v.15). You think of it like this; imagine a new Jewish convert named Benjamin. Ben is anxious that his family come to know Jesus the Messiah and Saviour and so he prays for them and speaks to them, but most of them tell him to stop talking like that. They’re angry with him, and offended. Then he goes to his Jewish friends, the boys he used to hang around with. “We don’t want to hear you talking about the liar and blasphemer Jesus!” they shout at him, and though there were one or two exceptions who did become Christians, most of his fellow-countrymen couldn’t bear to think that their chief priests had handed their Messiah over to the Gentiles to be crucified. What was Benjamin to do? He was rejected by the whole synagogue congregation, by his family, and by his friends, but he must tell men and women the good news of the Lord Jesus. So he turned to the Gentiles he knew and he found in many of them an interest and hunger for Christian truth. Through his ministry many of them found salvation. Benjamin’s discovery of an eagerness to hear about Jesus was typical of thousands of converted Jews. The Gentile world believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and were saved. So, Jewish rejection resulted in the reconciliation of the Gentile world to God. That is how we have come to know God. This New Testament, written overwhelmingly by Jews, was preached and gossiped to us and in this way we believed that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of the living God. God and the world have been reconciled through our Lord.
1. THROUGH JESUS CHRIST THE WORLD WAS RECONCILED TO GOD.
This is the special word that Paul uses, ‘reconciled.’ You know what that word means. It presupposes that there were two parties who once were in harmony, but now they have fallen out and they’re in a state of deep hostility. Consider that love for David that once was in Saul’s heart, and then the nasty change that took place, conceived in jealousy and manifest in hatred and thoughts of murder, so that Saul wanted David dead. He would have pinned him to the wall with a javelin. Young David himself was wholly blameless in that estranged relationship. They were unreconciled for the rest of their lives because Saul refused to be reconciled to David.
In the Bible there is alienation between God and mankind, especially the Gentile nations of the world dominated as they were by darkness, superstition and cruelty. Kings offered their children up in sacrifice to placate their gods so that their fathers could overcome their enemies in battle or recover from their illnesses. William Carey went as a missionary to India to preach to them the gospel. He never returned from India. He remained there giving his life to India until he died, and while he loved the country passionately he entertained no romantic illusions. Dead bodies floated unnoticed down the Ganges. Thugs assassinated thousands in honour of their goddess, Kali. When a great prince in India died his scores of wives and concubines were slaughtered so that they could accompany him to the after-life. A widow was expected to be burnt on the funeral pyre consuming her husband’s corpse. The whole sub-continent lay under the power of the evil one, and God didn’t shrug in indifference. He wasn’t blasé and cool at all this wretchedness. He was alienated from all this horror and cruelty. Isn’t that wonderfully important, that the only God that exists is just and straight? He hates all such iniquity. God is the grieved party, offended by man’s conduct. From the very beginning of the fall of man God is like this, alienated by the sin of man. He drives Adam and Eve out from his presence, and refuses to let them return.
Now let’s suppose you have fallen out with a friend. Where, before, there had been co-operation and affection, Emails and texts and Facebook messages, there is now silence. You avoid one another so much that you might not be living on the same planet. But then, as time goes by, you are convicted of the folly of this grievous estrangement and you determine to change all this. You will do anything to restore the friendship you once had. If there is a letter to write you will write it. If there is a debt to be paid you will pay it. If foolish words were spoken you will apologize. If there is a document which needs to be sent to a number of other churches you will write it. If there is a confession to make you will make it. You will do anything to effect the reconciliation. It is only when the issue is defined and dealt with that there can be reconciliation. Without that there will be a patched up truce, and no peace. The root-cause of the trouble must be dealt with, and then there can be friendship restored.
Now in the Bible God is the One who has been offended. He is utterly innocent; he neither sins nor does he tempt people to sin. We have sinned against him, but it is he who sets out on the course of reconciliation. Sinful man couldn’t care less: he is still defiant, but God keeps loving us, and he sets into motion the whole machinery of reconciliation and what is more he does this in such a way that his character is uncompromised. He doesn’t become soft, or indifferent, or unjust when he achieves the reconciliation. He cannot be anything other than the everlasting Holy One, sin-hating and just. How can he reconcile rebellious gentiles to himself? It is through sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to this world and refusing to spare him from the judgment of the cross of Golgotha. There our Lord took responsibility for the root-cause of the alienation between God and ourselves. There were these uncountable huge raw offences, red and angry, pulsing with pain, like a unlanced boil the size of Everest, but Christ comes and because he loves us he embraces the stinking mass of it all. Every bit of it and not flinching from its evil. That is what he bears on Golgotha. The holy Jesus is made that sin. He takes it into the darkness of the anathema, into the bottomless pit and the lake of fire until it is all annihilated, so that the alienation has been totally dealt with in its every jot and tittle. It is as if the cause of the alienation no longer exists, and so God is truly one in spirit with us.
Paul speaks in our text of our world being a reconciled world through the gospel. He is speaking about the Gentile world. We favoured Gentiles all over the world who trust in the finished work of Christ are no longer estranged from God for our evil. What has happened to the cause of the alienation? It has been removed; it is all taken away as far as the east is from the west; it is completely gone, and so God is no longer very distant. How is this possible? It is because through the Lord Jesus Christ God has been brought near. Paul has written about the wonder of this in Romans chapter 5 and verse 10. “When we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” What a wonderful change has taken place in many favoured sinners all over the world, in Ethiopia, and Asia, and Philippi, and Rome. These men and women were once strangers but now they are God’s sons and they can run into his presence and look up at his smiling face and cry, “Abba Father!” They sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” The Jewish rejection of Jesus Christ has not resulted in death and despair for our cosmos, but in the Gentile world being reconciled to God now, and one day God will be reconciled to the whole new world and all the peace and love that will characterize it. You see the picture of this in the wonderful word painting of the new heavens and earth that the prophet Isaiah describes in the eleventh chapter of his prophecy and verses six through nine: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” And we have an earnest, a token that this will be so here, in the fact that Jewish rejection results in Christians turning in their thousands to take the gospel to the uttermost corners of the world and everywhere the world turns from its unbelief and is reconciled to God.
2. WHAT BLESSEDNESS WILL COME FROM THE JEWS ACCEPTING CHRIST!
You see Paul’s argument can’t you? If the Jewish rejection of Christ has resulted in widespread evangelism of the Gentiles by the few Jews who do profess Jesus to be the Son of the living God then what will happen when Jews accept him? What is the very opposite of rejecting someone, refusing to have him as your pastor, or your teacher, or even your friend? It is to accept him in all his offices, embracing him as the gifts he possesses and his vocation demands that you should. Think of a marriage ceremony; when I am leading the service I say to the man if he will accept this woman to be his lawful wedded wife. I don’t ask him if he will accept facts about her but take her as his wife. Not that he embraces such facts as her name being Blodwen Pugh, and that she weighs 150 lbs, and is 5 feet and 8 inches, and she lives on a farm near Tregaron, and has a thousand pounds in her bank account, and speaks Welsh, and works in a building society, and drives a Nissan. I don’t ask if he accepts those facts about her. I want to know if he accepts her alone into his life as his wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death alone parts them.
Then when I turn to her and ask her to take the man’s right hand I don’t ask her if she accepts facts about him, that his name is Gareth Davies, and that he weighs 190 lbs, and is five feet and 11 inches, and he is a lorry driver for the Milk Marketing Board, and he has 1200 pounds in a Building Society, and he speaks Welsh, and drives a Land Rover. I am not very interested in knowing that she accepts those facts about Gareth as being true. I want to know if she accepts him alone into her life as her husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, to love, cherish and obey, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health till death alone parts them. Are they accepting all that the other person is at this present time? They might never change, and they are not accepting the other in the hope of making them something else. They are accepting that person, as husband or wife, to become one flesh with them until God separates them in death.
Imagine a wedding service when I ask the bride whether she accepts this man as her husband, and she pauses for what seems an age, and then she answers, “I accept his credit cards, and his farm, and his possessions, but don’t expect me to accept his dirty washing, or share his bed, or bear his children.” Then I wouldn’t say, “Then I pronounce you man and wife.” There is no way that that can be a real marriage. She is accepting certain things about him. She is accepting his money and his possessions and his protection, but she is not accepting him, and that is a doomed marriage, because true marriage is accepting this one man as your husband to love, honour and obey him, and plighting your troth, that is, making a covenant promise in the presence of witnesses that it is so.
And so it is when you accept Jesus Christ. You accept all that he is. You don’t pick and mix things you like about our Lord, and omit others you’re unhappy with. You may not say that while you do like his stress on love, that you don’t like his emphasis on hell. You love the way he received all kinds of people, but you don’t accept his claim that no one comes to God except through him, that that you find to be too exclusive. You love the old rugged cross but you don’t like the way Jesus spoke to the Pharisees. When you are before God the Son then you may not respond in judgment on him. He is standing in judgment on you; you may not lord it over him. You submit to Jesus Christ the Lord.
I am saying to you that if you don’t accept the Jesus of history, the Jesus described in the Bible, as your Lord and God then you cannot possess and do not have the benefits of his great work of reconciliation. He is the one who lays down the terms and conditions of his accepting you, the rebel! You have to lay down your weapons, and cease your self-justification and submit all you are and all you have to him for ever. Jesus Christ is one person, and receiving him is not a matter of receiving the bits you judge to be acceptable. He is one prophet and priest and king; he is perfect God and perfect man, two natures in one person, and what God has joined together you may not put asunder. If you take the benefits and blessings of Christ as your Saviour, like forgiveness, propitiation and reconciliation, then you must also accept the responsibilities of serving the Lord Jesus too. They are the two sides of a fifty pound note. God will not come near to you by his Holy Spirit and join you to Christ as your Saviour from sin if you have no intention of serving him as your Lord. God is not happy if you are celebrating the birth of Christ at Christmas, and the death and resurrection of Christ at Easter, while your heart and life is rejecting his office of Lord and King seated at the right hand of God.
So Paul is asking what will happen when Jews accept Jehovah Jesus into their hearts and understandings, when the whole of Christ is received by the whole of every repenting, believing Jew and he is saved. What happened when the Jew Saul of Tarsus accepted the Christ he had met on the road to Damascus as the Lord shone brighter than the midday sun? What happened when Peter repented of his denying Christ and obeyed Jesus’ commission to feed Christ’ lambs and sheep? The answer is found in the Acts of the Apostles, a great awakening across the Mediterranean basin, a great revival of religion with thousands and thousands saved. Then those Jews who had received the gospel of Jesus Christ – Matthew, Mark, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude and the author of Hebrews – all began to write their gospels and letters and their 27 books were inspired by God the Holy Spirit. They were exactly what God wanted them to write. Those writings of these Jews were alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. Great structures, empires and theocracies, began to tumble and fall as these writings began to spread through all the churches and through all the world and finally were translated into hundreds of languages and preached through the earth’s five continents. That is what happened when these favoured Jews repented of their sins and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. The impact of that simple action has had repercussion for the whole world for the next two thousand years. It is the New Testament written by Jews who have accepted Christ and his gospel that has resulted in life from the dead for the whole world.
3. FOR THE JEWS THIS ACCEPTANCE WAS LIFE FROM THE DEAD.
“What will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (v.15). In other words, what will be the effect of Jews actually accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour? Nothing less than life from the dead for a dying world! Life from the dead for the people of Rome who hear and accept the gospel from the lips and lives of converted Jews. It was reckoned that a tenth of the population of Rome consisted of Jewish people. So in Rome life from the dead for all who accepted Christ, but not in Rome alone but to the uttermost ends of the earth there will be new life – the eternal life of heaven replacing their death in trespasses and sins. This was for everyone who believes the testimony of converted Jews – life from the dead. Many of these Jews had formerly been grumbling, “Our chief priests got it right when they condemned that blasphemer and handed him over to be crucified. And think of it, that on the third day his followers crept in during the night and stole his body and claimed that he was risen from the dead. What wickedness!” How different it was when Saul of Tarsus and the other Jews accepted Jehovah Jesus as their Messiah, the Son of the living God and their Saviour. What motivation to be abounding in the work of the Lord, to tell the world of this reality. Their new message to the world was, “Think of it! Because Jesus Christ loved us he gave himself for us. That is why God permitted his Son to die the death of the cross. We also died there to the guilt and condemnation of sin in him, and we also rose in him. The mighty grace of God has brought us from death to life through Jesus Christ. This is now our status and our experience along with every Gentile who trusts in Christ. We have been raised up to newness of life. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Turn to him! Why should you die? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and live!” That message became life from the dead for Gentiles all over the world right until today.
What a challenge for us is this description of the Christian life as “life from the dead.” In our own lives since accepting Christ can those who know us say of the change in us, “It is life from the dead”? Is it resurrected life? Is it transfigured life? Has any elevation taken place in our lives? Is there any difference in point of behaviour since we have accepted the Lord of glory as our Lord? Is our life, in the broadest terms, risen and transformed? Is there elevatedness, majesty, purity and power? If there is transformation, is it transformation of these dimensions; a transformation comparable to that effected in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave? Is there anything in our lives, not in point of feelings, not in point of gift, but in point of Christian conduct, in point of Christian love and in point of Christian purity that would tell men, that our lives had been touched by the power that made the world, that our lives had been touched by the power that raised our Lord from the dead? Is there transformation? Are our lives different to what our unregenerate lives were? Are our lives different to the lives of those who still constitute the mass, the unregenerate world? And is the transformation such as to argue that in us today there is working the Almightiness of the Lord God? As we face the temptations of this life, does the way that we emerge declare that we have faced them and overcome them, by the power of an Omnipotent Creator? And as we undergo whatever this life may hold for us of suffering, do we have a courage and a patience that would argue that the Lord has held us up with his own strength, and made over to us the resources of his own power? And as we face the obligations of our own Christian position, as we ask the Lord for a knowledge of his will and we identify his will and we endeavour to do his will, do we do it so effectively, that it might be known that we do it not in our own strength, but by the power of him who raised the Lord from the dead?
It is one of the great and urgent questions for our day: what is the life, what is the bearing of the Christian Church? Is it life from the dead? Are we burning and shining lights? Are we the salt of the earth? Are we indeed shining in the midst of a crooked and a perverse nation? And do our lives bear testimony, not only to the sincerity of our theological convictions, but to the reality and the nearness and the relevance of the power that we proclaim? Our own lives, are they new? Are they different? Are they transformed, transfigured? Are they elevated, pure and noble? Are they patient and courageous? Are our lives all these things according to this measure and this standard? Life from the dead? Is it transformation according to the resurrection of our Redeemer? If I have this transformation then what is the source of it? What has transformed me? Paul says this: “When I accepted into my life the Lord Jesus Christ I became different. I became alive and the old hateful Saul of Tarsus died. It was life from the dead. How and why? Because I am with Christ. I am united to, engrafted into, and a member of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. In me there is his presence. In me there is his Spirit. In me there is the power of a risen Saviour.” And that is not the privilege of some elite but of the mere Christian. It is not the privilege of the eminent believer, but there is no child of God in the world, there is no man or woman born again, but he or she has this peculiar position, stands in this special place, stands there almost physically, stands in union with a risen and a living Lord. That is why their lives are new, because they face the sufferings of the present time with him, because they face the wiles of the devil with him; because they face their obligations with him. They cry, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me”.
We are told today by so many that there is a crisis of power and credibility in the Christian Church, that there is a lack of force and spiritual energy. But does the believer lack potential? Does the church, even as she is today, suffer from a poverty or an inadequacy of resources? Where is the church? Where does the believer stand? He is alive in Christ. He stands in Christ. He stands with Christ. He lives, stands, moves, and has his being in the power of Christ. It is not that there is no power. But there is certainly a failure to appropriate the power that we have, to realise that we are in the Lord, that we are with the Lord. It is not charismata, not gifts, not miracles, that we need. We have the word of God, and the indwelling Spirit, and Christ is present in our meetings. What we need is to realise the position of the ordinary Christian believer as the man who is in Christ. To realise that, as is the position of all the Christian Church, we are alive in him, not because our faith is great, but because our faith is real. And the most backward believer, the youngest child in Christian experience, where does he stand, but in Christ? There is nothing wrong with the divine resources, nothing wrong with our individual resources. We are in the Lord, and Paul’s whole emphasis here is this: “If even Jewish rejection of Jesus Christ was used by God to bring reconciliation to the world, then what will Jewish acceptance of Christ mean when God uses that? It will mean life from the dead for the whole world.” So the Jew Paul went to Philippi and it was life from the dead for the Philippian jailer and for Lydia. Paul went to Athens and it was life from the dead for Dionysius and Damaris and a number of others. Paul went to Corinth and it was life from the dead for the sexually immoral and the greedy and the idolaters and slanderers and the drunkards and the swindlers who all accepted Jesus Christ into their lives. So what of us? Aren’t we expected to live like men and women risen from the dead because God has quickened us who were dead in trespasses and sins?
The great thrust of all Paul’s teaching and conduct is this – be what you are. He says in Romans, “Reckon yourselves dead to sin” (Rom. 6. 11). It is not only that they are dead, but they are to reckon themselves dead. They are to keep on saying to themselves, “I died to sin”. They are to keep on saying to themselves, “I have risen with Christ”. And I am not sure but sometimes we put our humility in the wrong place. We are not ashamed of our status, or of our station, or our position; and it is time for us to realise what is our real dignity, to realise what is our potential in the Lord. There is nothing wrong with our power if we would reckon ourselves possessed of the power, if we would work out what the Lord has wrought within us. We are transformed people, transformed by the re-creative power of Almighty God. And we are transformed because we are in Christ. Are we living according to this kind of teaching? Are we living new, elevated lives? Are we living powerfully? Living in Christ? Living by the resources, living out of the power of the God who is our refuge? Our Redeemer is strong! There is not only his love and pity and compassion and longsuffering. There is not only his meekness – all of which graces we receive to live the Christian life, but we need his power. Finally, my brethren, be strong, and be strong in the Lord, and strong in the power of his might. The Lord expects me to live according to what he has done in me. He has raised me up in Christ. I am a partaker of that power that resurrected Christ; it is in me. Those are the resources that he has made available to me.
What encouragement is here! We live in a culture which overwhelmingly rejects Jesus Christ, and yet many of us have been converted during these years of religious apathy. God and ourselves have been reconciled to one another in an age of overwhelming indifference to Christ. Some of the people who taught us Christianity were wobbly and unclear concerning the gospel, and yet we were reconciled to God through them. Then I ask what will it be in the future? Aren’t many Christians clear in accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour into their lives and speaking to others the whole counsel of God, and preaching the full gospel of Jesus as prophet, priest and king, Son of Man and Son of God, then in the future will it not be life from the dead for those who also hear us and accept this Christ? They will not have to unlearn errors, and repent of behaviour that is sub-Christian. They will hear the truth from those who have accepted the Christ of the Bible, and so they in turn will preach him, and it will be new life, life from the dead to all who also accept him even in our moribund civilization.
23 June 2013 GEOFF THOMAS