Romans 9:25-29 “As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, ‘It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” they will be called “sons of the living God”.’ Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.’ It is just as Isaiah said previously: ‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah’”
Paul is giving us the big picture of God’s plan and daily work in the world. Of course there are also cameos . . . beautiful miniatures of me and you. Those are our individual pictures alone. They are a wonderful memento of what Jesus’ love for individuals has achieved in taking us to heaven. They are exquisite little pictures of our own new life in Christ. But that miniature only has weight and magnificence when you see your story as part of a much vaster picture. In other words, God has found a bride for his Son and that bride consists of a multitude of people more than any man can number. God is making a righteous creation, a new heavens and a new earth, a habitation for Christ’s bride, the men and women who have all repented and believed in his Son. Every one of them is going to be transformed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, because God loves his Son so much that he intends every part of the cosmos, and every human being in it, to reflect the holiness, wisdom and love of his Son. Everywhere God looks he will see the image of the second Adam and everything in the new creation will remind him of the one without whom nothing was made that was made, and the one who redeemed the universe from the curse of sin. God has told us men and women these facts in the Scriptures, but he has also made them known to the rulers and authorities of the heavenly realms. In other words, every angel knows that this is what God is doing now. Michael and Gabriel and the archangels are filled with wonder, love and praise at how God continues to work in one generation after another for ever and ever, to fill the new heavens and earth with the bride of Christ.
Paul is giving big answers to big questions in this chapter. For example, haven’t we thought it odd that God chose Abraham and his line, the Jewish race, and that for two thousand years he stuck with them? They were generally a rotten lot. One whole generation died in the wilderness before they even got to Canaan after leaving Egypt. Once they got there, during the hundreds of years of the rule of their judges, they behaved pathetically. They were intoxicated with the local idols. Then, under their kings they were no better; they continued to be totally defiant. The ten northern tribes of Israel were finally amputated from Judah and all of them soon disappeared. The two southern tribes of Judah were also exiled for seventy years in Babylon for their wickedness, but then brought back to Jerusalem for 500 years before Christ came. But when the Messiah did come they despised and crucified him, and then persecuted his followers.
So God turned away from the Jews and sent his preachers to evangelize the rest of the world taking the message that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who had died as the Lamb of God not for the sins of Jews alone but for the sins of the world. This message was embraced by millions of Gentiles. What was the reason that God dealt with Jews and Gentiles in this manner? The last 4,000 years of history have been bifurcated in this way, the first 2,000 God dealt basically with the Jews in Israel and the next 2,000 years until today he has been dealing with Gentiles all over the world – and us too in Wales. Paul is answering that question in the verses before us. What does he say about the peculiar, grievous history of the Old Testament? What does he say about our privileges as Gentiles? Paul says, “I shall now show you from the Scripture itself that this was God’s plan for Jew and Gentiles from the beginning, and this is what I plan to do. I will point out to you three or four verses from the prophets of the Old Testament to show you the mind of God.”
1. GOD ALWAYS PLANNED THIS PATTERN IN DEALING WITH THE WORLD; FIRST THE JEWS, AND THEN MAKING FAVOURED GENTILES HIS PEOPLE
Paul reminds us of what God said through his prophet Hosea in the opening chapter of his prophecy. “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” (v.25). God is talking about people who hitherto had been regarded by the worshippers of Jehovah – and not without encouragement from him – as aliens, and strangers, worshippers of Baal and idols of wood and stone and so not having any part whatsoever in their chosen company. Membership of the inner circle was restricted to true believers. Around the Temple there were different courts separated by walls and gates. Women were allowed in some courtyards but they could go no further. Uncircumcised Gentiles who had come to serve Jehovah were only allowed to enter specifically designated courts. They were banned from coming any nearer to the Temple. They were second class citizens. That is how it had been.
You see Israel’s hostility perfectly displayed in the life of a holy prophet called Jonah. God sent him off to preach Jehovah’s word of judgment to the huge Gentile city of Nineveh. But Jonah hated the Ninevites and all they had done to his people. He defied God and refused to preach to them. He headed the other way, but God laid hold of him and brought him irresistibly to the city of Nineveh. There God blessed his preaching so that there was a great awakening in Nineveh and all the city from the king to the beggars sleeping on the pavement all repented. God did not condemn them, and Jonah sulked! “I knew you would do that to those Gentile dogs,” he said to God, and God has to remonstrate with him. “Shouldn’t I show mercy to such a great city?” Jonah and his fellow countrymen despised the Gentiles. They didn’t belong to God’s people. The Jews believed God couldn’t love men who did such abominable actions as sacrifice their children to stone idols in stinking dark temples without his first changing the Gentiles.
But the Jews were also people who needed radical change; they needed to remember what God’s promise to Abraham and his seed was, that not only they but all the nations of the earth were going to be blessed by the coming of the Messiah. So God spoke through another prophet, Hosea, and God taught him a great lesson about God’s love for the sinning Gentiles. God did it in a special way, by allowing Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman who left him for other men, and yet by also planting in Hosea’s heart such an undying love for his unfaithful wife. “O how can I let you go?” he cried to her as she came back to him from frolics with other men. So Hosea learned God’s plan to Gentile sinners, that he would call men and women from Egypt, and Babylon, and Assyria, and Greece, and Rome, and Wales. He would say of these called ones that they were “my people” and “my loved ones.” These Gentiles through Jesus Christ would be embraced by God as Hosea embraced his sinning wife. We learn from Hosea of the Messiah who would come and he would love the whole church of repentant Jews and Gentiles. The Messiah would give himself for them all. Hosea’s prophecy shows us the whole commitment and jealousy of the Lord who loves his people, the Lord who goes to Calvary for his people, the Messiah who gave himself for her, took all her liability and debts and covered them all, who washed and cleansed her from her guilt and shame, and who made her his beautiful bride, who said to her ‘my loved one’, who gave her his own name ‘Christ-ian’, and made over his inheritance to her. He loved her with a love that was prodigal, and emotional, and passionate. God gave his own Son for her, and spared him not for her. Here we see God desperately in love with his people. Paul quotes God in Hosea’s prophecy saying, he would call these Gentiles ‘my loved ones’ who formerly were not his loved ones.
These people would no longer be lost and lonely, not wanted and not belonging to anyone. Henceforth they could sing, “Now I belong to Jesus; Jesus belongs to me; not for the years of time alone but for eternity.” Paul quotes God speaking in Hosea, “I will call them ‘my people.’ God will give them a sense of identity – we can say ‘an identity card’ or passport – a sense of belonging. You know how important that is, to know yourself and to know then the group to whom you belong. Do you know the famous story of a refugee from Iran named Mehran Karimi Nasseri. He studied in Bradford University but was never an English citizen. Then one day as he was traveling in Europe someone stole his briefcase with all his documents. No country would allow him entrance, and so from 1988 to 2006 he lived on a seat in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. He looked after himself, trimming his moustache, and keeping his clothes hanging in a travel bag on a trolley. Everyone in the airport knew him, and one of the desks would receive his mail. A Hollywood film was made about him called The Terminal starring Tom Hanks. Finally the wonderful day came when France gave him citizenship and a passport and he could leave the prison of the airport to live in Paris and come and go as he pleased. He was no longer a stateless, homeless alien.
That is what God in his grace does when he removes us from a kingdom of darkness in which we have been wandering about, not knowing who we were and where we were going, alienated from God. The French existentialist Camus wrote a powerful novel describing such a man. It is called L’Etranger, the outsider, or the stranger. We have been saved from that isolation. We are members of the kingdom of God’s dear Son. We are “no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephs. 2:19). This was God’s plan from the beginning, that the Gentiles believers as well as the Jewish believers would become God’s people loved by God. I know my identity; I know the people I belong to; I know I am in God’s kingdom.
2. GOD ALWAYS PLANNED THAT GENTILES WOULD ALSO BECOME SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.
Paul quotes Hosea again, saying, “‘It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” they will be called “sons of the living God”.’” (v.26). What is “the very place” where now they are called, “sons of the living God”? It is Aberystwyth. It is Wales. It is Europe. It is Babylon. It is Egypt. It is Rome. It is every place like Nineveh the natural home of Gentiles pagans and aliens, where now in such places those very people like ourselves are called, “sons of the living God.” And everywhere in the whole world today this title sounds forth “sons of God . . . the children of God.” What glory! Think of Prince Charles. Who is he? He is a citizen of the United Kingdom. Is that all he is? No. He is also the son of the monarch, and his inheritance one day is to possess all the rights and entitlements of the monarchy. So it is with us. Once the people who lived here on the shores of the Irish Sea were aliens and strangers from the kingdom of God. Now we believe the gospel, and now we are equally citizens of God’s kingdom with anyone else in the world who believes in Jesus Christ. God has called us to become his people. We are fellow citizens with all the saints of the household of God, but we are more than that. We are now called “sons of the living God.” What are the implications of that status?
i] We Gentiles have the privileges of access to our Father. That’s the glory about membership of any human family, that the child has the right of coming to its father. Its father may be enormously important; of course he may be a pauper, but he may be President Obama; he may be a slave; but he may be Bill Gates. There may be a chasm in status and influence and wealth between the father and the son, but still the child has the right of access to talk to its father. He has his father’s private telephone number and he knows that he can call his father at any time. I’m not unconscious of the great ethical force of that, that it is our responsibility as fathers to be accessible and available to our own children. That is the way it should be.
Time and again in the New Testament that is one of the foremost emphases to be found when the Bible discusses a believer’s privileges: “Being justified by faith we have peace with God:” and furthermore, “We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” We Gentile believers have the right to go to God and say, “Abba, Father . . .” We have the comfort and certainty of knowing that we have a Mediator with God, a great High Priest and by him we can go with boldness to the throne of God. We may feel the need for the contemporary church to be exalting and magnifying the name of God because, as is commonly said, “Our God is too small.” So we’ll tell people earnestly, “He is our Father in heaven. Our Father is so glorious. Angels hide their eyes at the sight of our Father. Our Father is a consuming fire. Our Father is light and in him is no darkness at all. Our Father is holy, holy, holy. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of our Father.” Yet, having said all that, we have peace with this Father. God bids all of us welcome, from an apostle to the smallest Christian child. The chief of sinners who has trusted in the blood of Christ is welcome. God tells us to come with boldness to him. Welcome! Come and say, “Dear Father . . . loving Father . . . Abba Father.” Come with the expression of your sins. Come you “sons of the living God” with your deepest longings to your Father.
ii] We Gentiles have the privilege of provision from our Father. Again it is something that is part of the definition of parenthood, that the parent provides for his children, and that he provides according to his own resources. Now that great fact is built into the Lord’s prayer. “Our Father . . .” and what is the first petition, the great sign of a son’s dependence on his heavenly Father? We go and we say to him. “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask God for that because our Father provides for the needs of his children. The great definitive word on this theme was written by Paul at the very conclusion of his letter to the Philippians; “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phils. 4:19). “All you need . . .” how mind-blowing . . . how breathtaking that is. “All you need . . .” God will supply it. Not all your desires, not all your imagined ones, but your needs, as God himself will judge. That is why the church father Augustine prayed to God in those marvelous terms, “Lord, give what thou dost command; then command what thou wilt.” In other words, you can send me on any mission . . . you can ask me to bear any burden . . . you can command me to climb any mountain . . . you can set before me any river to ford . . . you can bring any temptation into my life . . . you can ask me to endure any pain, provided that you give me the grace you’re asking me to display; just as long as you supply all my needs for what lies ahead.
God has said that he will supply all our needs, and not only that but that he will do this “according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” So here again is the apostle with his mighty intellect, and his artillery of words, and his ability to stretch language to the very limit of its resources, and he’s done this again here. How glorious will be God’s provision of our needs? Unimaginably glorious. It will cover all our needs, and it will do so according to the riches of God. In other words, it will reflect not our expectations, nor our deservings, not even the stringency and urgency of our situation, but what we receive is going to reflect the resources of God, but Paul goes beyond that. It is going to reflect the glorious resources of God, those reservoirs of glory that angels can survey in all their infinite fulness in heaven. Then the apostle goes even beyond that. You think, “Well, he can’t go beyond that,” but he does. Paul says, “The riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” There is that astonishing price that Christ paid, and I am saying that our heavenly Father will meet the needs of all his children not only according to the intrinsic glory of Christ in his person, but according to the incalculable value of the price that Christ paid for the salvation of the church. Our Father will so meet our needs that in doing that he will be discharging his debt to his Son, the one who bore our sins and rendered his Father such tremendous service.
iii] We Gentile believers enjoy the privilege of our Father’s chastisement. I may put it more broadly. God the Father has assumed responsibility for the education of his children. Here is the syllabus, the Bible. Here is God’s clear object in our education, that he will conform us to the image of his Son. Now that is God’s great aim in all the lessons he is going to teach us, and teach us he will. He has made up his mind. He will teach his children in the preaching of the word. He will teach us in the great lessons of providence. He will teach us in temptation and trial. He will teach us by correction and chastisement.
In the famous chapter twelve of the letter to the Hebrews the writer tells us that we have had fathers of our flesh – an earthly father for every member of the congregation – and some of them chastened their children according to their pleasure. Some of you were abused; you were beaten when the mood took the father. It was arbitrary; they felt like it; they were short-tempered men; they were sometimes under the influence of drink; they chastised us for the pleasure and power it gave them. It was all their whim! Wicked men! Not God our Father! “But he for our good.” There are times in our lives when God stands in the way, like the angel standing before Balaam as he rides on defiantly on the back of his donkey. He is resisted by the Lord. There are times when God stops us in our tracks as he stopped young Arthur Pink. Pink’s father saw his young son drawn into spiritualism and returning home late at night from séances. His father was deeply concerned about him and resisted his son, and so one night waited up until his son returned home. He appeared in the hallway and he said to Arthur Pink these words very gravely; “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is death.” It was an arrow in Pink’s heart and he went to his room and did not leave it for a day or more as he brought his rebellion and his dalliance in spiritualism to the holy God and turned in repentance to the Lord. The father of Pink was like our heavenly Father. There are the great words in the book of Revelation; “As many as I love I reprove and chasten.”
iv] We Gentile believers enjoy the privilege of brotherly recognition. To every one of the Lord’s people we must say, “My brother! My sister!” There was an incident in the life of the Russian writer Tolstoy during a time of famine. Tolstoy met a beggar who stretched out an empty hand for money. The author reached into his pocket for money to find that he had none at all. Tolstoy was embarrassed that he had raised the beggar’s hope by putting his hand in his pocket and he blurted out, “Please don’t be angry with me brother, I don’t have any money at all.” The beggar said, “Oh you’ve given me something; you’ve called me ‘brother.’”
Christians address one another in the New Testament as ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ Paul says to the church in Rome, “I beseech you therefore brethren . . .” Let me remind you something absolutely fundamental, so obvious we forget about it. Peter’s four mighty, brief exhortations, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king” (I Pet. 2:17). And again, “all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (I Pet. 3:8). How simple and yet think of the effect in a local church of every brother taking that seriously. Again the writer to the Hebrews says, “Keep on loving each other as brothers” (Hebs. 13:1). Paul expostulates with the Christians in Corinth because they were taking one another to court! Paul is shocked, “But brother goes to law with brother” (I Cors. 6:6). How different the congregation in Thessalonica. Paul can say to them, “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (I Thess. 4:9). So the Scriptures consider Christians to be a family. We are family; my brother and my sister and me. We are identifiable, a separate family entity with a cohesion and with commonalities. So these are the privileges of those called the children of the living God.
3. GOD HAD ALWAYS PLANNED THAT IT WOULD BE A REMNANT WHO WOULD BE SAVED.
Paul now turns to another prophet, the great evangelical prophet Isaiah and he quotes him from chapter ten and verses 22 and 23; here the prophet is preaching to us, “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” What is Paul saying? It is this, that there was no built-in, copper bottomed-guarantee that every single descendant of Abraham would all be safe for eternity. The number of the patriarch’s descendants would indeed be great, millions of them, like the sands of the seashore, but the number amongst them who had actually repented of their sins and were trusting in the Lord and following him day by day was a tiny number, a remnant. Elijah the prophet thought that there was no one left in the land but himself, and he had to be told that there were many more, 7,000 people, the remnant, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. During Jeremiah’s time it seemed he was the only one who had the courage to speak God’s word and resist the apostate kings of Judah. Only a remnant saved. The remainder who defied God and the prophets whom he sent to speak to them “Turn ye, turn ye! Why will ye die? I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Turn and live! Turn and live!” But they refused and they did not escape because they neglected so great salvation.
The Lord carried out his sentence on earth with speed and a finality, but always the remnant was saved. Some poor people are kept in prison for years before they are brought to trial and sentenced justly. It is not so with God. You find in the Bible that the rebel angels are dealt with immediately – but the remnant of obedient angels was saved. Then there was the speed with which judgment rained down on Sodom and Gomorra but the remnant of righteous Lot and his family was saved. The hundreds of soldiers sent to arrest Elisha were dealt with pronto. The sin of Ananias and Saphira was dealt with in a few hours, but always the remnant is saved. The barren fig tree was smitten the day it was discovered by Jesus. It would not be wise for us to magnify the value of speedy judgments inordinately because we are fallible men who need to discover all the facts and circumstances before coming to the truth, but every factor is already known to God, as well as the possible eventualities of our futures. So God acts justly and fairly and righteously, but with speed and finality. Not one of the remnant will be lost. Not one will go to hell for whom hell is not a just and fair condemnation. Aren’t you glad of that? Aren’t you glad that the Judge of all the earth always does right? God is going to save all the remnant, the weakest and youngest and least holy of all who trust in him amongst the remnant will be saved. The one talent man amongst the remnant will be saved. That is stated so clearly in verse 27. Only the remnant OF Jews and Gentiles who will be saved, yes, but all the remnant!
4. GOD ASSURES US GENTILES THAT HE WILL LEAVE US DESCENDANTS.
This quotation of from Isaiah comes from the ninth verse of the opening chapter, “It is just as Isaiah said previously: ‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah’” the only difference is that Paul paraphrases Isaiah’s word ‘remnant’ for the word ‘descendants’ or ‘seed.’ The meaning is the same; this seed are those who get the covenant promise. Why are we believers today? What is the only explanation of the fact that while many in our families are in darkness we have been translated into the kingdom of God’s marvelous light? Who did this? Are we solely responsible for our deliverance? Did we make our dead hearts live? Did we open our blind eyes and give ourselves light? Did we make ourselves new creations? Did we remove our stony hearts and give ourselves new hearts of flesh? Did we cleanse our hearts from all their guilt and shame? Did we make atonement for our sins? Were we the ones who claimed our place to sit in the midst of the throne of God in the heavenlies? Is that why we are there? We named it and claimed it? Were some of those things our doings? No. None of them. Were any of those things our doings? No, not one. God did all of that. Unless the Lord Almighty had done this then we would have been lost in hell. God made the difference. God determined a seed would serve him. God decided that there would be a remnant. God chose that not all of us would be lost. It was God who made the difference. It was his grace, his salvation, the finished work of his Son, the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He made all the difference.
If he had not done it what would we have been like? The prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul are one in their conclusion, all of us “would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah” (v.29). O fellow citizens of the increasing Sodom that we live in, do you realize you are living under the bursting clouds of God’s judgment? Do you see the threat that hangs over you for your lives of wickedness? You have defied God and despised his word. You know that men and women do not choose homosexuality because they have been genetically programmed to do so. What is the impression that the Prime Minister is making at the present time in driving through a bill permitting the so-called ‘marriages’ of two men or the ‘marriages’ of two women? The impression he gives is that no one would actually choose to be homosexual if it could be helped. “They can’t help being gay” – that is what children and the whole populace are being told. What are the facts? That many men and women have been in relationships with members of the opposite sex for years, married and living together, parenting numbers of children and seemed perfectly upright and faithful. Then in later life have they come out to claim that all along they were gay. Why did they ‘come out’ and make that claim? Because to them homosexual activity was a thrilling and fabulous alternative to boring living and sleeping with their spouses. The sexual excitement of taking forbidden fruit is the reason a man or woman will leave their husbands or wives for relationships with people of their own sex. It is no mystery. It needs no deep psychological or genetic explanation.
We are all in Sodom but many of our sins are far worse than homosexual activity. Sodom is full of unbelief, and pride, and violence, and theft, and lust of all kinds, and materialism. The clouds of fire and brimstone are full to bursting over us and there is absolutely no escape if we have not listened to the messengers of God that have told us to flee for our lives. If we run indoors from the streets the fires will burn down our homes around us. If we flee to the cellars the burning house will fall in on us. A well is no refuge. A cave is no bolt hole. There is no escape if we remain in Sodom because we have neglected so great salvation. The only deliverance is in what a God of pity does, that before the wrath begins we have fled to him for refuge. We have left behind our sins. We have turned from them, never to sin those sins again, and we have found a place of safety in the wounded side of Christ. We must cry, “Oh, take me in, and deliver me, and save me from the fires that fall on the unrepentant and godless. Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly before the damnation I deserve becomes my eternal portion. Hide me O my Saviour hide till the storms of judgment are past. Save me from Sodom. Put me amongst your people, no longer a stranger. Make me a citizen of heaven. Join me to your family and make me an heir of God and joint heir with Christ. Save me through Jesus Christ your Son. Pray that prayer, and never stop it until you know God has heard you.
20th January 2013 GEOFF THOMAS