“The Particularity of God’s Mercy for All” (Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32)

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 14, 2011

“The Particularity of God’s Mercy for All” (Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32)

The question of Jews and Gentiles is not a big deal for us today. Most all of us here are Gentiles, I think, that is, non-Jews. The Christian church around the world is almost entirely made up of people who are not ethnically Jewish. For that matter, the world itself–there are just not that many Jews to go around. So the question of Jews and Gentiles is not at the forefront of our consciousness, and naturally so. We do not normally think in those terms.

However, the question of Jews and Gentiles was a very big deal back in the first century, at the time of Jesus and in the early church. For that matter, throughout the whole Bible, Old Testament and New, the question of Gentiles and Jews, in the perspective of God’s plan, plays a very big role, bigger than we might realize.

And so our readings today–all of them, in fact, Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel–touch on this question of the place of both Jews and Gentiles within God’s plan for the ages. It’s a big-picture type of question. But it also gets down to the specifics. And while these readings today may not seem immediately relevant to our situation, I think we’ll be able to see in them points that are very relevant to our lives today and to the world around us. We will gather these thoughts under our theme for this morning, “The Particularity of God’s Mercy for All.”

Jews and Gentiles: First of all, what do we mean by those terms? Well, Jews are those people who are descended from the line of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, his sons became the twelve tribes of Israel, and if you are descended physically from that line you are an Israelite, a Hebrew, a Jew. Gentiles are everybody else in the world, all those nationalities not descended from Jacob, from Israel. Jewish is thus an ethnic identity.

It was also tied to religion. The two were tied together, the ethnic and the religious identity of the Jews. The religion was the religion of Yahweh, the Lord, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Lord God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him, that he would make a great nation of him and that they would be his chosen people.

But this is where the nation of Israel lost sight of their calling, their purpose, as God’s chosen people. They came to think that God’s favor, God’s salvation, was only meant for them. That they were somehow more deserving of God’s favor than were the other nations. Not so. There was nothing about them, per se, in and of themselves, that made them greater or more deserving. “How odd of God to choose the Jews,” one writer put it. It was not because they were bigger or more powerful as a nation. No, they were relatively weak and small, as nations go. It was not because they were more virtuous or godly. No, they often grumbled and complained and disobeyed God. No, Israel was God’s chosen people purely because of God’s unmerited grace and blessing. So it is also for us as church.

And God chose the Jews for a purpose greater than themselves. This is what they forgot, even though it was right there in the original covenant with Abraham, when the Lord said: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” You see, Israel was blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God’s plan all along was to bring salvation to all the nations of the earth through Israel, not to limit salvation only to Israel. This theme runs through the whole of the Old Testament. You heard it in the reading from Isaiah, about the foreigners whom the Lord would bring to his holy mountain, for, he says, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” You heard it in the psalm for the day: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,” the psalmist writes. Why? “That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” The Lord’s blessing on Israel was meant serve as a witness to the other nations of the earth.

The Lord did richly bless the nation of Israel, and it was so that Israel in turn would bring a blessing to the world: Paul got at this in the Epistle reading two weeks ago, Romans 9. He writes: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”

There it is! The fulfillment of how Israel would bring a blessing to the world, namely, through the Christ! The Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, would come as a son of Israel, a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed. Jesus the Christ is the fulfillment of God’s plan for the ages, to bring salvation and blessing to all peoples everywhere. He is the King of the Jews, by whose stripes we and all sinners are healed. Jesus is the Suffering Servant, Israel reduced to one, paying for the sins of both Israel and the world, by his death on the cross. There is salvation in no one else, and yet, at the same time, in him and through faith in him, there is salvation for all, for Jew and Gentile alike.

Do you see what God was doing by choosing Israel to be his people? God was choosing the particular to achieve the universal. Let me repeat that: God was choosing the particular to achieve the universal. God chose a particular people, the Jews, the people of Israel, in order to achieve a universal result, namely, the salvation of all peoples everywhere. Through the Jewish Messiah, God wins salvation for Gentile sinners too. For sinners like you and me. In Christ you have the forgiveness of sins by his blood shed on your behalf. In Christ you have everlasting life by being joined to his resurrection, in Holy Baptism.

God works through the particular to do the universal. He’s still doing that today. It is only through the specific, particular gospel of Jesus Christ that salvation is freely offered to all men everywhere, no matter their ethnicity, language, or culture. “There is salvation in no one else,” the Bible says, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

This comes as a shocking rebuke to our world today, where we are told that all roads lead to heaven, that all religions are equally valid—that, in fact, you don’t need any religion at all, since you don’t have any sins that need to be forgiven, by a God who probably doesn’t exist anyway. That’s what the world is telling you. But the world could not be more wrong.

And the gospel of Jesus Christ could not be more right. It is exclusive, yes. There is no other way. But it is also totally inclusive. It is meant for everyone. This is God’s one great big plan for the ages, for the salvation of all his creatures, and it comes through a very particular person, Jesus Christ, preached and proclaimed through a very particular gospel, with very specific content. God does the universal through the particular.

What he does is to show mercy on us all. All of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, we all are sinners. We all have disobeyed God, not listened to his voice and done what he commands. None of us is righteous, no, not one. But once we’ve got that established–that we’re not gaining God’s favor by virtue of our virtue or goodness–now we’re ready to give up on our own righteousness and get what we need from God as a gift, a free gift, purely by grace and undeserved. That’s what Paul says in our Epistle for today, isn’t it? Romans 11: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”

And that, my friends, is the bottom line for our message today: that God may have mercy on all. Whether you are one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, or, like the Canaanite woman, you are a lowly dog who sits up and begs at the master’s table–either way, God wants to have mercy on you. His mercy comes in a very specific package, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.

Yes, God is having mercy on you today. He is assuring you that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, that you have nothing to fear, that the judgment for your disobedience has already been paid, that your righteousness before God’s throne is already secure–it’s Christ’s own righteousness, and there is nothing better. There is mercy for you today! Right now your life may be full of misery: heartache, sickness, loneliness, approaching death, woes of all sorts. But that misery will be more than matched by God’s mercy. You have health and wholeness, new life and eternal life, joy now and joy forever–all guaranteed to you as a gift of God’s grace in the gospel of Christ.

Truly, God does the universal–and the eternal–through the particular. In Christ, the one Savior for all mankind, there is “The Particularity of God’s Mercy for All.”

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Published in: on August 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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