Sermon on Romans 11:1-10
Text: I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah — how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, 8 as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that could not see
and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.”
9 And David says:
“May their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them.
10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.”
You go to the mailbox and find an envelope that is addressed to you. When you look at the shape of the envelope, you guess that it is an invitation. When you open it, you find that it is an invitation to a wedding and the reception that follows. Usually, included with the invitation is an RSVP card that you fill out that says whether or not you plan to attend. You can either accept or reject the invitation. This morning, we are going to talk about AN INVITATION THAT GOD EXTENDS TO ALL TO HIS HEAVENLY BANQUET. We see that 1. The Invitation Is Accepted By Grace. We also note that 2. The Invitation May Be Withdrawn.
In the two chapters of his epistle to the Romans preceding our text, Paul points out the fact that many of his countrymen had refused to believe in Jesus as the one who would come to save the world. As a result, the invitation went out to the Gentiles. In the beginning words of our text, Paul seems to be anticipating a question that would arise: “I ask then: Did God reject his people?” (Verse 1) Since so many had rejected Jesus, does that mean that God has rejected all of the Jewish people? He answers the question by saying, “By no means!” (Verse 1) Then, Paul enters two exhibits as proof.
First of all, Paul offers himself and his situation as Exhibit A. “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” (Verse 1) If in principle God ruled all of the Jews out of heaven, Paul himself would have been disqualified. Paul’s purpose in citing his example is to underscore the fact that believing Jews like himself were still among the elect chosen by God’s amazing grace. Paul says, as a matter of fact, “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (Verse 2) Paul knew that those whom God elected would be brought to faith, regardless of nationality.
Then, as Exhibit B, Paul brings to mind the prophet Elijah. God called Elijah to prophesy at a time that could well be considered an all-time low in Israel’s history. Ahab and Jezebel were the rulers in the land. They not only introduced the worship of Baal and Asherah into the land, but they promoted it. They tried to get rid of all of the believers. After the showdown on Mt. Carmel, Elijah thought for sure that the people would come streaming back to God. Instead, he received death threats and had to flee for his life. He felt so discouraged that he wanted to die. Elijah said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.” (Verse 3) He felt as if he was the only believer in the entire land. God came to him with this encouragement, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Verse 4) God was telling Elijah that his Word was still effective.
Paul sums this point up by saying, “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (Verse 5) Paul makes a comparison of the situation in Elijah’s day to the situation of his day. The elect alone received the blessings that God had promised to his people. God’s choice was purely out of his love and mercy. That invitation is still extended today.
Normally, when you send out an invitation, you send it to people who mean something to you. They are a relative or a friend. There is something about that person that makes you want to invite them to share this special day with you. It’s in regard to this that makes God’s invitation so special. Paul said, “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Verses 5&6) God didn’t make this invitation because of your nationality or because you could bring something special to the table. It isn’t because of anything that we had done. As a matter of fact, if we were going to go by that criterion, we could never hope to receive the invitation to his heavenly banquet. The reason for this is that we are sinners. We offend our God in so many ways each and every day. We become upset with people for something that they said, even if they weren’t trying to offend us, and hold it against them. We look at what others have and tell God that it isn’t fair that we don’t have the same. If God’s invitation were to rest upon our works or our worthiness, there is not a single person that would ever receive it. Instead, we would be barred forever from entering that eternal banquet. We would be thrown “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 22:13)
However, as Paul reminds us, “There is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Verses 5&6) God’s invitation comes from his grace, his undeserved love for us. It was his grace that moved Jesus to come to this world to be our Rescuer. He didn’t have to do this. He was under no obligation to us. Rather, he chose to love us so much that he was willing to do everything necessary so that we might be able to receive this invitation. It began with the perfect life that he lived on our behalf. He never returned evil with evil or insult with insult. He trusted that his heavenly Father would give him exactly what he needed when he needed it. In the greatest act of his grace, Jesus willingly suffered and died on the cross. He knew that the sins that we had committed had to be paid for, so he stepped into our place and suffered the punishment that we deserved. It was in his grace that Jesus rose from the dead to show us that the punishment of sin was complete and the invitation to God’s heavenly banquet was extended.
However, we would not be able to accept this invitation, if it were not for another act of God’s grace. We are, by nature, dead in our sins. We couldn’t reach out and accept this invitation. The grace of God has shown itself in your life when the Holy Spirit came into your heart and created faith. For many of us, that was the day that we were baptized. Through the washing of water, together with his almighty Word, we were brought to faith. Through the hand of faith, we are able to receive all of the blessings that Jesus has accomplished for us. The invitation is extended by God’s grace and it is accepted because of the grace of God.
This does not always mean that this gracious invitation will always be accepted. If you go back to the parable that Jesus told in our Gospel Lesson (Matthew 22:1-14), you see that when some got the invitation, they refused and went about their day-to-day business. Some of those who were invited even went so far as to seize the king’s servants, mistreat them, and kill them. As a result, the invitation was withdrawn and given to others. The same holds true with God’s gracious invitation to his heavenly banquet. There will be those who will reject it by thinking that they must do something in order to earn God’s favor. Yet, what Paul writes of some of his countrymen, also applies to them: “What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain.” (Verse 7) You cannot earn your way into heaven. Others become hostile to the gospel message. Obviously, they have no desire to accept this invitation.
Paul continues by saying, “The elect among them did [receive and accept God’s invitation], but the others were hardened.” (Verse 7) When people refuse to accept God’s grace, it eventually reaches the stage where they can no longer receive or accept it. Then, spiritual hardening sets in. God hardens the heart because of their unbelief. He did not harden their hearts from eternity to hinder them from ever believing. Still, God is not mocked. His judgment on proud rejecters of his Word is fearful to behold. If people will not have the light created by his Word, they will have the darkness which they have chosen as his doom on them. What an awesome ability that God has given to people to reject him. God will not drag people into heaven kicking and screaming. However, he will tell them, ‘You wanted to be without me during your lifetime. Now be without me for all eternity.’ There will come a time when that invitation will be withdrawn from some.
Yet, we do not know when that hardening takes place. It is not up to us to say that this person or that person has had their hearts hardened. As a result, we want to keep extending the gospel invitation to all people. It is our prayer that the grace of God will work on their hearts and that they will join us at the heavenly banquet, forever praising our God for all that he has done for us.
Normally, when we receive a wedding invitation, we are excited to attend. We want to be there to share in the joy of that couple on their wedding day. It would be a rare thing to try to find some excuse why we can’t attend. Our God has made a special invitation to each of you to join him at his heavenly wedding banquet. He has provided the clothes that you will wear to the banquet, the white robe of Christ’s righteousness that has been won for you. He gives you the means to attend the banquet in that he has created faith in your heart. Right now, we get little appetizers of the joy that is waiting for us in the blessings that God gives us. When we reach heaven, then we will be able to fully enjoy all of the blessings that are waiting for us. We know that this gracious invitation continues to be extended to others. It is our prayer that they, too, will heed this gracious invitation to God’s heavenly banquet. As the hymn writer reminds us:
There still is room! His house is not yet filled;
Not all the guests are there.
Oh, bring them in! Their hunger shall be stilled
With bread, yes, bread to spare.
Go, call them from the lanes and byways,
From winding roads and crowded highways.
There still is room! There still is room! (CW 565 v.1)
May God help us to be messengers that extend the invitation. Amen.
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