Reflection on Israel’s Role

Image result for why israel matters

Welcome back to the study table, friends.  This week’s focus is the parting of ways of Jewish and Gentile believers, and yesterday we ended our session with a list of ways this has played out over the years.  The Jewish people (both believing and unbelieving) experienced great persecution through major world events such as the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Reformation and the Holocaust…all in the name of Christianity.

Is it any wonder, then, that a chasm in relationship occurred between Jews and Gentiles?

Over centuries, the split led to Judaism without the Messiah and Christianity without Jewish roots.  What a sad result.  However, what amazing wisdom God provided Paul in writing Romans 9-11, the blueprint for reconciliation.  I wonder if Paul knew how greatly it would be needed in the 20th and 21st centuries!

But, let’s turn our focus back to Israel for today, and let’s review some key points we have already talked about in this study:

  • Israel was chosen by God for a specific purpose.  Do you remember what it is?  To be the vehicle of world redemption.  Genesis 12:3c  (The blessing is salvation!)
  • God’s covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant, promising land and descendants.
  • Vultures will attack!  (If you don’t know what that’s all about, check out The Suffering Call.)  Spiritual battle rages over Israel.
  • God guarantees Israel’s survival!  God’s promise to Abraham was an everlasting promise.  Therefore, if God’s promise to Israel fails, God fails.  Impossible!

But now an interesting question: are God’s promises conditional or unconditional?  In our live class on Sunday morning, the best answer was: “It depends on which promise!”  Indeed, it does!  God put Abraham to sleep to make covenant with him.  Thus, God depended upon Abraham for nothing.  That is unconditional.

However, in other places, God’s promises are conditional.  While land and descendants are non-negotiable, Israel’s blessings are fully conditional!  Need to see it with your own eyes?  Read Deuteronomy 29:10-13, 26-28.  There, we find God drawing the Israelites into covenant with him (verses 10-13), yet making it very conditional upon their faithfulness to God (verses 26-28).

God often demonstrated it in Scripture, such as in Isaiah 11:11-12 where He talked about regathering His people a “second time” (meaning, there was also a first time)!  Twice He allowed Israel to go into captivity (to Babylon in the 6th century BC, to the 4 corners of the world in 70 AD), yet twice He brought them out!  (I have never found anything about a third exile and return.  Thus, if Israel is disobedient now, I believe God will do a new thing…He will save His people!)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 sums it up nicely as God lays out two options for His people: blessings or curses.  Life or death.  They may have either, and they get to choose by the way they honor God!

Tomorrow we’ll continue our focus on Israel as we talk about four Biblical principles concerning God’s dealing with Israel and the nations.  What does God have to say about choosing blessings or curses, life or death?  We’ll dive into it tomorrow, so check back then!

Life from the Dead!

Image result for why israel matters

You’re back…and I’m so excited for today’s lesson that I’m jumping right out of my skin!  If you’re new here and have no clue what I’m talking about, we’re in the midst of a Bible study called Why Israel Matters.  This week we are focusing on the Jewish roots of our Christian faith and yesterday we hit the meat of Romans 11.  We’ll conclude yesterday’s stream of thought, so go back and catch it if you missed it!

We left off in verses 11-16, establishing the idea that Israel’s loss was gain to the Gentiles.  Because of their transgression, salvation came to the Gentiles and reconciliation to the world.  But, God is not done with them!  For if their rejection meant salvation and reconciliation to the world, how much more will their fulfillment be?  It will be LIFE FROM THE DEAD!

So, let’s pick it up there.  Recall that God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) was that ALL families of the earth would be blessed.  We have established that the blessing is salvation.  It is intended for all…Jews and Gentiles!  By their transgression, the descendants of Abraham set themselves aside and, in Romans 11, Paul addresses them as “Israel,” not as Jews.  Keep that in mind, as we will come back to it!

The next passage in Romans (verses 17-24) is a stern warning to Gentiles.  So, let’s identify the elements Paul speaks of:

  • Broken off branches = unbelieving Israel
  • Wild olive branches = Gentiles
  • Olive tree = Israel
  • Root = Abraham and his descendants

Because wild olive branches (Gentiles) may be grafted into the olive tree, Paul is illustrating the manner in which we Gentiles attain salvation.  After all, John 4:22 tells us salvation is from the Jews, thus God must establish a way in which we can attain it.

Wild olive trees do not bear fruit!  Thus, only when we are grafted into the cultured olive tree do we attain salvation and produce fruit.  However, broken branches (unbelieving Israel) may also be grafted back into the olive tree.  (Salvation is available to both Jews and Gentiles.)  It is as if Paul said, “So, Gentiles, don’t be arrogant!  You do not support the root…the root supports you.”  Because we have salvation, we must not lord it over those through whom salvation has come.

Then, Paul talks about another mystery!  Romans 11:25-27 identifies the mystery as the hardening that happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.  At that point, all Israel will be saved!  National salvation will come and a worldwide revival as never seen before will take place.  The transgression and sin that once set the descendants of Abraham aside will be removed and Jews and Gentiles will be one as Paul described in Galatians 3:28.

Now, back to verse 15 where we are told Israel’s acceptance will be LIFE FROM THE DEAD.  Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the spiritual state of all people without salvation: dead in trespasses and sin, forever doomed and dominated by the devil.  Beginning in verse 11 of Romans, Paul addressed Israel, rather than the Jewish people.  As “national” Israel set herself aside by transgression, God did not give up on “national” Israel!  In fact, He had “life from the dead” on His mind for all mankind, but illustrated it through His chosen people.

Ezekiel 37 clearly describes Israel as a valley of dry bones, which come back to life.  We know that, after suffering through many attempts at annihilation (including the Holocaust), the land of Israel was re-born on May 14, 1948.  The fulfillment of Ezekiel 37 began, and Israel demonstrated “life from the dead” on that day!

However, that was only a physical rebirth.  God’s promise to Abraham was one of salvation!  While a remnant of Jewish people have gained spiritual rebirth, the nation of Israel still lives in spiritual death.  But Romans 11:26 speaks of a day when ALL Israel will be saved!  God is not done yet…and we have a part to play.  It is our responsibility to move them to jealousy so that God will fulfill His plan.

It is no wonder Paul ends chapter 11 in the manner he does, and we’ll end this week’s study likewise.  But before we do, just know that the study launches into more exciting things as we look at what the Bible tells us lies ahead!  Stick with us!

Now, for Paul’s closing words:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?  Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Has God Rejected His People? May it Never Be!

Image result for why israel matters

Study friends, we’re headed down the homestretch for this week’s lesson…but it may take us two days to get there!  Romans 11 is rich in content and that’s where we’ll hang out to finish our thoughts about the Jewish roots of Christianity.  I hope this key point is resonating with you right now: we need the Jewish people and they need us!

So, open your Bible to Romans 11, while I remind you how Paul ended chapter 10:

But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
~Romans 10:21

So, though God gave the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Jewish people through Abraham and his descendants, are the Jews in or out?  That seems to be the question, and if we stop reading at chapter 10, we are left with the impression God is fed up and put off by them.  But suddenly, opening chapter 11, Paul makes a definitive statement to the contrary!

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!
~Romans 11:1

He then spends the first 6 verses, using himself and Elijah as examples, to say, “Hey…listen up, you Gentiles!  God has saved a remnant of Abraham’s physical descendants who have not bowed the knee to Baal (false gods).  Also, let me remind you that it is grace, not works, that brought us here.”

Yet, by and large, the Jewish people (outside that remnant) did not attain what they desired.  Take a moment to read verses 7-16.  (No, really…stop and read it before going on!  I want you to hear it straight from God’s Word!)

Did you notice?  He now speaks about Israel, not the Jewish people.  Attention is turned to national (ethnic) Israel, and he says:

  • What they are seeking, they do not find.
  • But those who were chosen (those who received by faith) obtained it!  That’s the remnant (and believing Gentiles).
  • The others were hardened (given a spirit of stupor, eyes that see not and ears that hear not).

Then, verses 11-16 get really juicy!  Paul states that, though they may have stumbled over the Stumbling Stone (Jesus), they have not fallen (left without hope)!  In other words: God is not done with them yet!

Meanwhile, notice what resulted from their stumble:

  • By their transgression salvation came to the Gentiles!
  • The door was open for us so that we might move them to jealousy.
  • Their transgression means riches for the world and for the Gentiles.  (God’s promise to Abraham was that through him ALL the families of the earth would be blessed!)
  • If the Gentiles gain such riches, HOW MUCH MORE will be their fulfillment when they recognize and receive the Messiah!

Then, Paul nails it in verse 15:

For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Stop and meditate on that verse for a moment.

God promised salvation to both Jews and Gentiles in an everlasting covenant!  He also promised that it would be through Abraham and his descendants that the entire world would be blessed with salvation.

Once the Jewish people rejected it, they set themselves aside as “national” Israel and God proceeded with His plan for Gentiles.  It is not that God gave up on them.  It is that God has now called us to demonstrate the blessing that came through Abraham!

Thus, their rejection meant life…eternal life…for us.  Yet, they have remained in the state Paul described in Ephesians 2:1-3: dead in their trespasses and sin.  So, if their rejection means life for us, what will their acceptance be but LIFE FROM THE DEAD!

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow, so you’ll have to come back for “the rest of the story!”  Also, bear in mind that Paul’s message to the Gentiles is to avoid being arrogant.  Yes indeed, Israel’s loss was our gain, and our call is to move them to jealousy.  But he will put us in our place tomorrow!

It all comes together in a glorious crescendo in our next lesson, so don’t miss it!  See you then!

Faith Brings Salvation!

Image result for why israel matters

What glorious truths are found in Romans 9-11!  It’s like a treasure hunt, and the golden nuggets are invaluable!  I hope you are enjoying this week’s study as we examine the Jewish roots of our Christian faith.  We’re headed into Romans 10 today, but if you missed the previous two posts, I recommend you back up and catch them so that you get the fullness of today’s lesson.

Paul opens Chapter 10 driving home the idea that righteousness and salvation are attained by faith alone, not by works.  Then, he cuts straight to the chase in verses 9-10:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

That’s as plain and simple as it gets!  In fact, if you are following this study (or you simply stumbled upon this post) and you have tried to gain God’s acceptance through anything but simple faith, it is not a coincident that you are here!  He is speaking to you this very moment!  Our Lord longs for relationship with you and you can do nothing to earn it.  Salvation truly is simple: confess and believe!  (Click here for more guidance about how to be saved.)

Salvation is the same for everyone…Jews or Gentiles.  Paul goes on to explain that in verses 12-13 of Romans:

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

However, verses 14-21 allude to the difficulty of the Jewish people in understanding and trusting in faith alone.  To call upon God, they must believe.  To believe, they must they must hear.  To hear, there must be a preacher. Preachers must be sent.

Well, throughout history, God sent “preachers.”  They were called prophets in the Old Testament!  Men such as Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah and others foretold of Christ the Messiah who would come to the Jews.  The preachers came…and the Jewish people heard.  Yet, they did not simply believe by faith.  Instead, they tried to keep the law of Moses.

Verse 15 talks about the beautiful feet of those who bring good news (the Gospel).  The Gospel is all about faith and nothing more.  I want beautiful feet, how about you?  I want to share the good news with others (including Jews).  May we all yearn for beautiful feet!

Allow me to divert for a moment.  Sadly, there are very large Christian organizations (such as Christians United for Israel [John Hagee, who denies Jesus as Messiah] and International Fellowship of Christians and Jews [Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein]) who wholeheartedly love Israel and care for the Jewish people, but WILL NOT “preach the Gospel” to them.  (I’m not suggesting obnoxious “in your face” evangelism that is unnecessarily offensive, but about intentionally taking the opportunities God gives to share the love of Christ both in word and deed.)  How sad that the very key thing Paul teaches about regarding Jewish-Christian relations is not innocently overlooked, but intentionally set aside.  (You can find out about Jewish-related ministries and their sometimes veiled objectives here.)

Romans 10:19 compels us to be a nation (people group) willing to show the love of Messiah, in order to make the Jewish people jealous.  Let’s practice what God’s Word commands!

We’re headed for Romans 11 tomorrow, and it gets REALLY good at that point!  So, here’s your homework: go read that chapter, then join us here again tomorrow as we launch into that chapter!

UPDATE: Friends, I just watched a video that corresponds so closely with our study this week about Christian-Jewish relations.  Tune into an interview with Eitan Shishkoff, an American-born “hippie Jew,” who now lives and ministers in Israel.  He has incredible insight into Jewish-Christian relations.  Catch the interview at the 1:19:50 mark here:

Christ Revealed – Episode 9

(Christ Revealed is a 9-part documentary, with a single episode released each day.  This was Day 9, and I believe the video is available only until 6:00pm Pacific time today.)