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Riches for the World


*Selected Scriptures
August 13, 2017
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

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The sermon starts at 15:15 in the audio file.


Or, What is a Dispensationalist? (Part 3)


The series is going great so far. There have been numerous conversations provoked, and brothers are treating disagreeing brothers as brothers, even if one brother temporarily thinks the other brother is an idiot, which is as brothers do. It is good to drag our thinking through Bible verses, and also to put our thinking out in public for examination and sharpening. We are not snowflakes who need trigger warnings and safe spaces. We are living sacrifices of God who come to the Word for it to cut us up into acceptable pieces. We want to please God, and that means submitting our thoughts to His.

That’s is what the series is for, to put on the table what we believe God wants us to believe and do. As a church, we are a theological mutt, holding and practicing some things in tension because we think that’s what Scripture teaches even if that means we don’t conform neatly into one denominational branch. And, for what it’s worth, when I say that all the elders believe this, I’m not saying it to distance ourselves or draw a line in the sand across which everyone else must come in order to keep fellowship. The main reason I say it is to make myself feel better that I am not the only crazy one. I vividly recall a meeting the elders had some five years ago at Carl’s Jr. when we crossed the threshold, knowing that we were headed in a different direction than any of us had preciously traveled. This series is an attempt to explain why, and sure, it’d be great to persuade a throng to see these connections. We’re getting close to being done with the series, but the crescendo is still coming.

We’ve asked, What is a Kuyperian? A Kuyperian is a Christian who acknowledges God’s sovereignty over, and interest in, both spiritual and physical life. Christ is Lord who gives grace for salvation and who gives purpose for work. “Kuyperian” is just a tag for that way of looking at the world. For the last couple weeks we’ve been working on What is a Dispensationalist? Based on a certain approach to Bible reading, a Dispensationalist acknowledges similarities, overlap, and differences between the Church and the nation of Israel. We considered the New Covenant promises in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 last week, promises of new hearts to the household of Israel and also a return to the land of their fathers. I said that the New Testament itself does not allow us to read Gentiles into that promise in a way that makes the Jews irrelevant. That’s what I want to show this morning.

Before getting to that, though, I want to deal with a phrase that is approaching the level of misreading that “judge not” in Matthew 7 gets. The phrase is found a couple places in Paul’s letters, including Galatians 3:27-29.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27–29)

What is Paul’s concern here? It is how to be justified with God. By faith in Jesus we are part of God’s family. Everyone who is in Christ is Christ’s by faith, not according to nationality, economic status, or gender. And praise the Lord! Amen! Yet it is a category mistake to say that because everyone is saved the same way that they are the same in every way. Male and female are God-ordained, biological categories of sex that are not flattened by faith into androgyny. Both can believe. Slave and free are a different sort of category, a civil identification. It is a category that a man could cross, but not by default because of being “in Christ.” So also whether one is a Jew or a Greek depends on one’s parents. God can be your Father regardless of your father. But that doesn’t negate who your earthly father is and what belongs to you because of it. We are not gender, economic, or national egalitarians.

In Christ we have great things, great promises. As the Lord told Abram, all the families of the world would be blessed in him, and all of us who believe are receiving that blessing.

Paul wrote about this good news and these promises received by faith in the first half of his letter to the Romans. He demonstrated that Gentiles and Jews were guilty, that Christ’s work enabled Jews first and also Gentiles to be declared righteous in Christ.

What promises! There is no condemnation for those in Christ! His righteousness is credited to our account. Sin and the law no longer have dominion over us! We have peace with God and access to His throne of grace! All things work together for good to those He calls! All who are justified will be glorified! Be it physical suffering and death, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

These are astounding promises that depend on God, not us. All we do is receive them by faith and reckon them to be true. We are conquerors through Him who loved us, and it would be an obvious transition from the end of Romans 8:39 to Romans 12:1 – “therefore,” present our bodies as living sacrifices. The doctrine of the gospel of righteousness in chapters 1-8 leads to a life of righteousness in chapter 12 and following. But there are three chapters in between, chapters about Israel, election, a remnant, hardening, Gentiles, grafting, and it all ends in a doxology. Why? They are a vindication of God’s righteousness to fulfill His promises.

Let’s ask some questions in order see how the exposition leads to exaltation.

Why are these three chapters here in the epistle?

Answer: the reason Paul wrote Romas 9-11 is to vindicate God’s faithfulness to His word to Israel.

The gospel promises are fantastic. They are worth living for and dying for. But a thoughtful reader of Romans would necessarily wonder 1) Why have so many Jews rejected Jesus? and 2) Has God changes His mind about the promises to the Jews? Because if God’s previous promises are revoked or redefined, then how can we trust that the gospel promises won’t be?

These chapters are dealing with the accusation against God that His word failed (Romans 9:6). Paul said it did not fail. But what is that word about? It’s about Paul’s “kinsmen according to the flesh.”

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. (Romans 9:4–5)

Chapter 10 begins wth Paul’s desire for “them,” his national kinsmen, to be saved. Chapter 11 begins with the question: “Has God rejected His people?” And the answer is No, because Paul himself is a believing Israelite, not just that he is a believer.

The presence of these chapters assumes that certain promises to Israel have not yet been fulfilled. Does this mean that God has failed. No. The argument now continues about a future fulfillment of His word, not a redefined fulfillment.

How does Paul explain who Israel is?

Answer: Paul demonstrates God’s electing work among Israelites and distinguishes them from elect Gentiles.

In Romans 9:6, “it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” God chooses. He chose Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. Romans 9 is famously about God’s sovereignty in election.

But note that “Israel” is still within Israel. That is, those chosen to receive the promises of Israel are still physical, ethnic descendants of Jacob. Paul does not say that true Israel are the elect whoever they are. At the end of chapter 9 Paul maintains the distinction: “he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (v.24). Gentiles “attained” righteousness (v.30), they were not “my people” but now are called “sons of the living God” (v.26). Israel did not succeed in reaching the law (v.31).

But nowhere does it say that Gentile believers are now Jews or the “new” Jews or the “true” Jews, though it does say that God has redeemed them. There are two categories: spiritual calling and national calling. National election does not equal spiritual election, but that doesn’t mean that national election means nothing in any way.

Why does Paul continue to care about Israel’s rejection of Christ?

Answer: Paul continues his argument about Israel because their rejection is part of God’s long plan, not a change to the plan.

If the answer to God’s faithfulness is that He always meant “Israel” to be the elect believers of any nationality, then 1) Would the Jews themselves swallow that interpretation? and, more significantly, 2) Why are chapters 10 and 11 still necessary? Paul maintains both that elect Jews and Gentiles are part of God’s people and that the Jews are still God’s elect nation. There is sharing and there is distinction.

There is something different about Israel’s rejection of Christ. It’s different because they should have known better. They had God’s law and should not have been ignorant of the righteousness that comes from Him. When the gospel was proclaimed they should have recognized the Lord. He is the “Lord of all,” so anyone who calls on Him will be saved (Romans 10:12). But the fact that Jews did not call on Him stands out because they had the Scripture already.

Their rejection is also different because it was foretold in the Scripture. The Lord revealed in Deuteronomy (32:21) and in Isaiah (65:1; 29:10) and through David (Psalm 69:22-23) that they would reject:

as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”
(Romans 11:8–10)

They are a disobedient nation (Romans 10:21) by plan. There are others, from other nations, who received.

Which gets back to, “I ask then, has God rejected his people?” (Romans 11:1) If “Israel” meant all believers, the church, then this question is nonsensical. To ask the question at all requires a distinction between Jews and Gentiles.

Why does the “remnant” matter if there is only one identification of the people of God?

Answer: A remnant matters because the nation of Israel still matters.

Paul was the first example of how God has not rejected His people entirely. “I myself am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1). He was an Israel-Israelite. A Gentile-Israelite is not a thing.

Then Paul shows the principle at work during Elijah’s days. Elijah thought that he was alone, but the Lord said that He had kept 7,000 for himself (11:2-5). “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (11:6). This is, again, a remnant of believing Jews. Gentiles believe, but they are not in the “remnant.”

There is currently an elect remnant, identifiable by their faith in Jesus among the physical offspring of Israel.

What is the point of “the fulness of the Gentiles” coming in?

Answer: This phrase in Romans 11:25 only makes sense if there is a distinction between Gentiles and Jews.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)

The distinction is not worship of a different God, a different definition of righteousness, or a different means of receiving it. Salvation is by faith for all. Chapter 11 describes how Gentiles are grafted into God’s people (11:17-24), in one way. But Gentile ingrafting does not eliminate God’s purpose for Israel, a purpose that still remains, a promise that hasn’t been fulfilled yet. We’re grafted in and still called “wild” (11:24). There is a remnant now, most are rejecting. We know that the fulness of the Gentiles has not come in because all Israel has not been saved yet.

God is faithful to His promises and will include Israel again, and it will be a “full inclusion” (11:12). Israel will accept Christ (11:15). Natural branches—Israel, not wild branch Gentiles—will be “grafted back into their own olive tree” (11:24).

This is the “covenant,” to banish ungodliness from Jacob (a.k.a., Israel), to take away their sins (Romans 11:26-27, quoting Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9). The New Covenant to the household of Israel, to ethnic Israel, to the nation of Israel, will be completely fulfilled in the future.

For now, God planned for Israel to reject Jesus, but the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). God planned for Israel to “stumble” (11:11), to “trespass” (11:11), and He planned that “for a time,” a time we are in, to extend salvation and riches of the world (11:12). But that is not the end! God planned their disobedience to show us mercy and He planned to show us mercy to keep expanding until “all Israel will be saved” before the new heavens and the new earth. That is, a generation of Israelites will see what we have and God will use that to grant them repentance and faith as a nation. This is what makes a Dispensationalist.

Conclusion

This is not primarily about U.S. (or any other non-Israel government’s) foreign policy. This is not about military support or financial support. It certainly does not allow for anti-Semitism. Their current disobedience is no more a hindrance to God’s mercy than our past disobedience (Romans 11:28-31).

Romans 9-11 exist to bolster our confidence in the gospel. Not one word of God’s promises fails. These chapters do have much encouragement for Gentiles. We are in God’s plan, part of His people, those who “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” (11:17). But don’t argue for what the Gentiles get to have, if you are unable to explain why the Jews will get what God promised them. This “dispensation” is less of a parenthesis and more of an extension and a springboard to the final chapter of history.

We are now ready to see what a Kuyperian Dispensationalist is next Lord’s day.

What it should cause us to do now is to sharpen our exclamation points! Who would have planned this?! How can hardening lead to softening?! How can distinctions be both dismantled and defended?! By the wisdom and grace to the glory of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)


Charge

Usually I charge you, the saints, to go and obey with God’s blessing. Today, as those strengthened by the Word and sacrament, I charge you to avoid something. Beloved, do not presume to tell God what He “needs to know.” Do not make yourself His counselor. Do not think that you know better than Him. He is writing a great story and is not looking for muses or editors, but instead for living sacrifices.

Benediction:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36, ESV)