Alfred Place Baptist Church

11:28-32 ‘Tis Mercy all, Immense and Free

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Romans 11:28-32

These words are the conclusion and a summary of what Paul has been explaining to us so far, and I’m glad he’s done this. For example, you might just have had a momentary lapse of concentration and a little bit of mind-wandering at some key point, and if you don’t read the printed edition of the sermon then you are still confused. So one of the main themes of these three chapters of Romans, 9, 10, and 11, is what is going to happen to the Jews. They have crucified their Messiah, and they persecute their own fellow countrymen who put their trust in the Lord Jesus, so has God upped and gone, forsaking them? Is the church from Pentecost to be exclusively a Gentile church? What is God doing? How does Israel, the people of God, function in God’s plans now? Do Jews have to become Gentiles in order to be saved. In these verses before us Paul summarises what he’s been saying.

  1. ALWAYS THINK ABOUT THE JEWS IN TWO WAYS.

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs” (v.28). It is very simple. We are gospel people. Our hopes and our values and behaviour and our affections all revolve around the Lord Jesus Christ. When we watch T.V. or are involved in some cultural programme, or evaluate a man or a movement then we find ourselves asking ourselves or our friends how are things “as far as the gospel is concerned” (v.28). When legislation is being passed in parliament and new laws come on the statute books then our concern is what the effect will be as far as the gospel is concerned.

So as I said, one of the themes of these chapters is the Old Testament people of God, that is, the Jews, or Israel. How are they now as far as the gospel of the living sovereign God is concerned? And sadly we must conclude, “they are enemies” (v.28). God is opposed to them. God is at enmity towards this corrupt group which despise God for giving his beloved Son to save them. They hated the Lord Jesus so much that they gave him over to the Gentiles; they crucified the one we believe to be the Son of God. Then with some of them, if their children became followers of Jesus, they held a funeral service and they treated him or her as if he or she had died and they never mentioned his name or recognized him again. If they saw him on the street they’d look through him and walk on by. A Jewish husband might divorce his wife if she confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and was baptized. She would be thrown out of the house and not allowed to see her children again. Her husband became her implacable enemy. The overwhelming majority of the Jews were enemies of the gospel, and also of those who promoted it and loved it and came under its power. So God’s wrath was revealed from heaven against all of that wickedness.

Now that is one way we have to think not only of Jews but of all those people, Hindus, Muslims and Welsh atheists, who all fiercely oppose the gospel. There are millions in the world today who would react in the same way to their family and friends becoming Christians. Henceforth those who once loved them have  now become their enemies. The Lord Jesus warned his followers that men would revile them and persecute them and say all manner of evil against them once they bowed the knee to him and confessed him as Lord. They have become the enemy. Of course in other areas of life they are moral people; they are not interested in pornography or excess. They give to worthy causes and are upstanding members of society, good neighbours and hard-working men and women, but they are utterly opposed to the gospel. So they are enemies of God, and of God’s Son and of God’s messengers and of God’s church, and God is also at enmity against them. Is God your enemy? The God you ignore and lock out of your life? Better to have the closest member of your family your enemy than the living God.

But then Paul adds three words, “on your account” and what he means by that is what he has often said, that when Jewish Christians had been prevented speaking in synagogues, and every Jewish door had been slammed in their faces then they turned to the Gentiles. There is one prominent example of this in the New Testament. Luke, a former Jewish proselyte who became a Christian, turns to a Gentile whose name was Theophilus (the name means ‘a lover of God.’ He may be a real Gentile from Greece or a symbolic Gentile). You know how Luke greets him in the introductions to both his gospel and the book of Acts. He then proceeds to tell this Gentile the whole life and work of Jesus Christ and his people. This is a converted Jew telling a curious Gentile the gospel. That is what Luke longed to tell the Jews also but, alas, they were refusing to hear him. But Matthew in his gospel is deeply earnest in winning fellow Jews for Christ. His gospel targets them.

But in Luke’s two contributions to the New Testament, and also in all the other 25 New Testament books written by Jewish Christians, there has been a marvelous world-wide message of life from the dead for 2,000 years for the Gentiles. So when the Gideons place Bibles in students’ halls of residence, or give out to school children those nice red New Testaments they are giving out books authored by Jews. Most Jews have said “No, no, no” while many Gentiles are saying, “Yes, yes, yes.” Their enmity has meant that from the time of the apostles until today we Gentiles have wonderfully benefited from the Jewish witness to Jesus. There has been a stunningly glorious reception of the gospel all over the Gentile world, north, south, east and west.

So while their enmity has worked for our good, the unbelieving Jews yet remain enemies of God and of the Christian message. That is a simple fact, and that is one way we have to think about Jews who oppose the gospel, but it is only one attitude. There is also another assessment mentioned here; “but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs” (v.28). What a contrast. God is their enemy, but God is also one who loves them. They were also chosen by God, the special people of God, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with whom God made a covenant. To them God made a great promise that all the world would be blessed through one of the seed of Abraham, in other words, through Jesus the Christ. So God has not forsaken them, in fact they are the recipients of his love. He gives them daily bread; he sends the sunshine and rain on them. They prosper in their businesses, with money in the bank. They build bigger barns to hold their produce. He gives them long life and healing from various sicknesses. Then he shows his love to them in redeeming mercy in bringing a Christian preacher to their synagogue, or he puts the New Testament Scriptures in their hands, or he brings a new employee in the desk next to them in their university or school or office who is an evangelical Christian and God speaks to favoured Jews about the gospel. He does that because he loves them because of his promise to Abraham. God didn’t make such a promise to Plato, and he didn’t make such a promise to Pharaoh that one of their descendants would be a blessing to the world to the end of time, but the Lord did make that promise to Abraham and we are the beneficiaries of that today. People from that Jewish nation killed his Son, but God still shows them mercy because he has established their special relationship with him, many privileges but no racial guarantee of salvation.

In fact Paul wants to make sure that that fact doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. So here he says something very powerful indeed. He stops and looks at us and he says, “for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (v.29). What were his gifts to the Jews? He has mentioned them already in chapter 9 and verses four and five, “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen.” He looks back through their history. Abraham was living in Ur of the Chaldees 2000 years before Christ, and yet still, as Paul wrote these words to the Romans, those gifts of God to Paul’s fellow countrymen were there and had been preserved by God, even when those people had often behaved in as sub-Jehovahistic a way as it was possible for them to behave. God had said, “I will give to one in Abraham’s lineage a special child who would be born and a unique son who would be given.” At times the line from Abraham to Jesus seemed almost as thin as a spider’s thread. Off the nation went into Babylonian exile for seventy years and their city and temple in Jerusalem were razed to the ground. You’d think, “The line will surely be snapped. They will become Babylonized. They will intermarry and forget their language and history and traditions and religion. It is all over for them.” But God’s gift was irrevocable and he preserved the line through the attitude and activity of one Babylonian king named Cyrus, who sent Israel back to ruined Jerusalem to pick up the pieces again, not because Daniel had been an amazing holy man in Babylon, not for Daniel’s sake, no, but because God had promised that the Christ will one day come through the line of Abraham! And those gifts were irrevocable.

Paul also says that God’s call was also irrevocable. The summons of men are often temporary. A headhunter is persistent; he throws in the Mercedes as well and we cannot refuse to take his offer, but in a year the new firm terminates our employment. The football club offers £40 million pounds for a striker but soon he falls out of favour and spends most of the season sitting on the bench. But when God calls us to become one of his children his call is irrevocable; “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?” (Nu. 23:19). Who would have thought at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70 that over 19 centuries later they would still exist a self-conscious Jewish people, and a Jewish faith, and even a land where many Jews lived, that in areas of London and Manchester there would be thousands of Jews, and that New York would have more Jews than the number who live in Israel. They exist today at the will of God, and we in our congregation have been reminded of them every year as for a month a thousand of the Hassidic Jews have been coming to our town for a vacation. They owe their continued existence purely to the mercy of God. It is his sheer vertical sovereign goodness to them. God is still giving every generation an opportunity to turn from their unbelief and see in Jesus Christ the promised Messiah. He is willing to receive them and forgive them and take them to heaven. He is still saying to them what he first said to them at the time of Isaiah 700 years before Paul wrote this letter; “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isa. 1:18).

And isn’t every Christian mighty glad today 2,700 years later that such a promise is still true? God’s gospel word is irrevocable. Cleansing for the worst sinner! Scarlet sins and crimson sins utterly cleansed, whiter than a bride’s dress, blindingly white like sun shining on a new fall of snow; so bright it is impossible to look at it, and what was once there? A scarlet, crimson stain, deep-dyed and ugly. It is not there any longer. There is not a hint that it’s there now. God chooses not to remember it. Has he said that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life? Has grace abounded to the chief of sinners? Has he said that if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness? Yes he has, then those promises are irrevocable. Hold him to them. If God put a believer with mustard seed faith in hell after saying those words then he has more to lose than you. You may lose your life but God would lose his credibility.

So those who oppose him are his enemies, but they are also loved by him. God is angry with the wicked every day as he sees all the terrible pain and iniquity that the wicked cause. God does not shrug at the cruelty; he reveals his enmity to those who are his enemies, but to the very same people he is good. He sincerely does not want them to perish. He sends them the gospel and he promises them pardon and mercy if they repent and cry mightily to him, and he is particularly good to the Jews because he still sees them as the descendants of Abraham with a certain status even today.

We have to remember always that both those attitudes of God prevail today to sinful men and women made in his likeness. You are aware of a little Baptist church in the USA whose pastor and members attend the funerals of soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan and they bring with them their placards and shouts that warn them of how God is angry with them, and that God is also angry with homosexual activities and so on. Now that might well be true, but at the same time God loves those very same people being damned by that Christian group, and that is something they are ignoring. Hasn’t God been good to them throughout their lives? Again you might remember when Barack Obama was first running for president of the USA reporters discovered where he was in church membership in a large black congregation in Chicago. Its eloquent, powerful preacher was very aware of the injustices black Americans had suffered, and he was also unsympathetic with the war in the Middle East that American was engaged in. In one of his sermons that was telecast throughout the Chicago area he ranted, “God bless American? No. God damn America,” or “God curse America,” something like that, and there was an uproar, and Barack Obama had to withdraw his membership from that church because of those unbalanced, sub-Christian words. They were far too extreme.

Here are professing Christian men who fail because they have absolutized one theme, the righteousness of God and his wrath revealed towards sinners. But in our day the axe is not being laid into the root of the tree. Or we can say that the axe fell on Christ and thus his grace pardons those who trust in him. These are days of God’s waiting and longsuffering. The goodness of God to those who despise his gospel results eventually in his bringing men to repentance. Unbelievers must know what the word of God says, that he is at enmity against you because of your contempt for him and his Son, but that he also loves you and is good to you giving you Christian friends and years in which you can repent and turn to him. Please be aware of this, that your coolness towards God’s Son is provocative, that at the present time you are on a broad road that leads to destruction and you must leave it, but because God loves you he has brought you today to read these words and he wants you to lay them to your heart and repent and ask God to save you and make you a God-lover and a God-server through Jesus Christ.

2. WHENEVER YOU THINK OF JEWS CONSIDER THE MERCY OF GOD.

Hear Paul’s words; “Just as you [Gentiles] who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their [the Jews’] disobedience, so they too[the Jews]  have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you [Gentiles].” (vv.30&31). Do you see what he is saying? ‘Look Gentiles, there was a time when you were all disobedient. You didn’t know Christ, you didn’t know the gospel, you didn’t embrace it.  For a couple of thousand years my people Israel believed in me, while all through that time you were worshipping trees and the moon and crocodiles and making human sacrifices. You slobbered in your immorality and disobedience. Now what a change! In God’s mercy, he used the disobedience of Israel to show mercy to you. The Jews said, “No way. No Messiah. No Jesus,” so then the light fell on you. The gospel came to you Gentiles through Jewish written Scriptures, but not in word only, but in power and with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. By and large, Israel rejected her Messiah, but the Jews who’d been converted turned to you Gentiles and spoke to you. Some of the Jews wrote gospels commending Christ to people like Theophilus, and as a result Gentiles turned in their millions to the living God. In that tragedy for the Jews God was at work showing mercy to the Gentiles, to the ends of the earth.

But God has more planned; he’s not forsaken the Jews. Yes, Israel is now largely unbelieving, the Jews are now disobedient, but through the dynamic mercy that lives and seeks and finds and pardons sinners God is working through you Gentiles so that many Jews are hearing the gospel from you. There are now Jews everywhere who are reading the New Testament, and they are meeting Christians speaking of the wonderful goodness and grace of God that they’ve received, and God blesses that witness again and again, and mercy is coming to favoured members of his ancient people all over the world. Do you see what’s happened? Jewish disobedience once led to you Gentiles receiving mercy. Paul says, “I a Jew, have written this long letter which is the word of God, to you Gentiles in Rome. You in turn, powered by the wonderful mercy you’ve received, are taking the gospel back to the Jews and some of them believe your words and cry to the living God so that they also receive mercy. Some of you are Gentile slaves working in rich Jewish houses and your masters and mistresses are hearing of the gospel through you.”

God once worked amongst the defiant Jews in his strange judgment. So the first Jewish Christians brushed the dust off their feet and they moved on, and God led them to the Gentiles and God showed mercy to them in giving them understanding of his word. They heard the New Testament message; they read it and they believed it. It was for them life from the dead. So God loved them. You understand that Paul cannot be talking of the Jews who’ll be alive just before the end of the world. He is talking about what he was witnessing everywhere at that very time. Listen to these words and see that; the Jews “too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you” (v.31). Not in latter day glory – though may Israel experience it then too; may it be so – but now, when Paul was writing, and now, when I am preaching. We are praying for the people of Israel to turn to Jesus Christ now.

So Paul is showing us this amazingly intricate, surprising plan of God. And the response should be that we cry, “Hallelujah, what a Saviour” Paul wants you to admire the extraordinary wisdom of God’s plan of redemption. We could never have made that up. We would never have accomplished it.  We’d never have planned the coming of the kingdom of God to Jews and Gentile in that particular way. We’d have focused on one people and had a society promoting their need. Only God could have created such a plan and achieved it so successfully. We see here God’s goal for one people, for the Jew and Gentile together. We see that what happens to the Jews then impacts the Gentiles, and what happens to the Gentiles then impacts the Jews, and that both rejection as well as reception work for the salvation of Jew and Gentile. So how does this passage end?

  1. ‘TIS MERCY ALL IMMENSE AND FREE.

For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (v.32). What do we see here?

i] The plight of man;God has bound all men over to disobedience.” You know the great pessimistic evaluation of man in the Bible, that Jew and Gentile alike have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that there is none righteous, no not one, that every single man and woman, those with the law and those without it, are disobedient. Ever since our first parents God’s dealings with men and women have been like this. “Eat as much fruit as you want from every single tree in the garden . . . except just one,” God said to Adam and Eve. That was the test. That was the structure of their probation, but they disobeyed, and none of the great leaders of the Old Testament or the New were much better. They gave God a mixed obedience. God says, “No other gods but me,” and we disobey. God says, “Don’t make any idols and worship them,” and we disobey. God says. “Don’t take my name in vain,” and we do take it in vain. God says we should keep a day special for him and we don’t. We are all disobedient. God tells us to honour our father and our mother, not to be violent, not to be sexually permissive, not to lie, or steal or covet – and we all disobey! God sums it up, “Love me wholeheartedly and love your neighbour as yourself” and we disobey.

We can impress people, even some people who are our family, with a show of obedience to God, but we can’t fool the God who has bound all men over to disobedience. He has hemmed in mankind and imprisoned us our rebel race. God has done it. He has shut up the whole human race in a prison for the disobedient. Praise God that your state is far worse than you had imagined. You recognize your life is in a mess, but God has brought you low. Your troubles are not because of your genes and your heredity. They are not because of your abusive parents. They are not because of your poor education or your dyslexia. They are not because of your failed marriage or your poverty. God has taken the action; he has bound you over into tasting the wages of sin in your hopelessness, fast bound in sin and nature’s night. So if the living God has done it then there is hope for you because our god is the Father of mercy and the Father of our Saviour Jesus. If God has locked the door of Prison Disobedience on you, then he can also unlock the door of Prison Disobedience. Once we defied him he could have immediately cast us into the lake of fire, or thrown us into the bottomless pit, but he didn’t. He kept us secure and alive in a place from which no human has ever escaped without God rescuing him. It is a place as impregnable as Alcatraz was. That’s where the people of Aberystwyth are living just now because of their disobedience. God has bound them over to that place, and the irony is this that all around us Aberystwyth sinners are walking about, and saying how free they are, so much freer than those pathetic religious suckers who can’t do what they can freely do. Yet all the time they are chained to a life of disobeying God. They can’t love him, and they can’t glorify him, and they can’t enjoy him. They can’t fulfil their chief end in life. They can only disobey him. God has bound all men over to disobedience. That is the plight of man. But don’t despair . . .

ii] The mercy of God. So wherein lies our hope? It is in the mercy of God. That’s the note Paul wants us to rest in, “so that God may have mercy on them all.” Have you noticed that this is the fourth place in two sentences where this word ‘mercy’ is found? “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (vv.31&32). Mercy is what we fall back on when we have no other arguments, when our lawyer’s last words have been spoken, and the jury has considered its verdict and found us guilty, and the judge is about to pass sentence. We have nothing at all to say, we are without one plea, and all we can do is to cast ourselves on the mercy of the judge. Then to our wonder he doesn’t lift the left hand of justice, but the right hand of mercy.

Paul knew himself to be the personal object of God’s mercy. He said to Timothy, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy” (I Tim.1:12&13). That is the reason for the change. It pleased God to show him mercy. A man said to Thomas Hooker on his death bed, “Sir you are going to receive the reward of your labours.” Hooker said back to him, “Brother, I am going to receive mercy!” The problem with a number of you is that you have never come to this point, that you realise you need mercy from God. People can ask what is the difference between God’s grace and God’s mercy. I suppose one way of answering that is to say that grace is especially associated with men in their guilt and sin, but mercy is usually associated with men in their misery. The divine mercies we receive –justification, full pardon, adoption, a new heart, a clean record, union with Christ – they are far greater than all our miseries. Who can measure the misery of sin? True, but who can measure the mercy of God? ‘Mercy all, immense and free,’ sings Wesley. “Mercy on them all,” Paul says in the last words of our text. In other words, mercy on all kinds of men, on both Jews and Gentiles, on all kinds of sinners, the only sinner who cannot receive the mercy of God is the one who rejects it, who sees no need for God’s mercy, who thinks that asking for it is too humiliating.

That is not the attitude of the troubled soul. “A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing,” he says. He knows that there is no mercy too great for God to give to him. If God showed mercy to those who crucified his own Son then however foul his crimes had been and however many his sins there is still mercy for him. Think for a moment of the sum total of all the mercies of the kindest and most loving fathers in the world to every one of their children. Make a pile of the mercies of Welsh fathers to their children, and add to that pile all the mercies of English fathers, and fathers from Ireland and Scotland to their children. Then add to that pile the mercies of fathers from Europe and Asia and Africa and the Americas and Australia and New Zealand and the islands of the seas. What a vat mountain of the mercies of fathers to the children today, but then add all the mercies of all the fathers throughout history. What a mountain! It goes up and up and up, but compare all that mountain of mercy to the mercy of our God. That is like comparing a molehill to Everest. And all of that mercy come to us from nowhere but within God himself; they are all from his heart and love and patience and kindness. He devised it; he accomplished it and he applies it. Divine mercy!

All that mercy required by the death of Jesus Christ and the full atonement he made, and the total and complete clearance he has made for every one of our sins. What would you think of a vast dam being erected and all the turbines connected to it, and all the pipes to take the water to the needy deserts and cities – but the sluice gates never opened and the turbines never turned. That would be like Golgotha and redemption accomplished but redemption never applied. The shedding of the blood of God the Son must be applied, and that is the mercy of God on and to us. You see those little prepositions in our text? Mercy on and mercy to us. The guilt and shame of sinners has been dealt with by the Lamb of God on Calvary and its benefits reach us through the mercy of God homing in on us and coming to us. The result is that their sins are all covered. They are all forgiven. They have all been punished in the Lamb of God, so why should God show us anything but mercy? You never have to drag mercy out of a reluctant Father. He is no miser in giving mercy because he is the God of mercies. There is no mercy too great for God to give, and there is no mercy too little for us to seek from him. It is mercy without measure. We have no more right to mercy that a serial killer has to walk free. We have all been men and women of great sins – we cannot imagine the sum of them, but we have seen and believed in a God of great mercies. As a result we have today the most valuable gift in the world, a washed conscience, one that can believe what God says, a sensitive conscience, a sound conscience, and a quiet conscience. Through the mercy of God it is as if we have never sinned. Mercy has forgiven us all. They are mercies new each morning and they are prolonged through each day. Every day with every breath I suck in new mercies.

The Jews crucified their Messiah and yet they received mercy. The Gentiles spent thousands of years in foul and heinous wickednesses and yet they received mercy. God used these Jews to reach the Gentiles with the gospel, and he used the Gentiles to reach the Jews, and though all had disobeyed in many different ways all received mercy who acknowledged to God that they must have it or perish in their sins.

And isn’t it extraordinary that all these have sought and found mercy and also many sitting in church, all except you. That you are the one person here who feels you don’t possess the mercy of God, but let me encourage you. The day of mercy has not past. In fact this delay in seeking God’s mercy might be working for your good, as the word and Spirit increasingly shows you your real state. There was one green apple hanging on my grandfather’s apple tree. Just one, and I as a boy of four plucked it, but it was hard and bitter. I was impatient, and I had never plucked a fruit. You have been saying no, waiting and waiting and I am saying to you today that I think you are ripe for mercy. That is why God has enabled you to read these words. It is time, I say, for you to take it as God is offering it to you today. Please do not become obsessed with the mercies of God, whether you have them or not. Please be magnificently obsessed with the Lord of mercy whether he has you in the grip of his kind and loving hands. They are stretched out to you now. Fall into them. Anyone can fall. You can fall, and he will catch you.

28th July 2013    GEOFF THOMAS