170903 Romans 11:13-15, 28-32

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 September 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Romans 11:13-15, 28-32
Theme: Amazing Mercy, How Sweet The Sound

"That really spoke to me." On more than one occasion a member has said something to that effect to me on the way out of church. Usually it is a reference to something in the sermon that made the person feel like the pastor was talking directly to him/her. Maybe it was an illustration or a life application or the sermon text itself, but the message proclaimed from the pulpit that day was exactly what the person needed to hear.

As we come to the end of our sermon series based on Scripture lessons from Paul's letter to the Romans, I hope that the same thought crossed your mind more than once this summer. I hope that God's Word spoke to you through the inspired pen of Paul. And I pray that these ancient truths will remain relevant for God's people for generations to come. For example...

When Paul wrote: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law (3:28), he wasn't speaking exclusively to the Christian church in Rome. He was addressing Christians in Oconomowoc too. He wants us to understand that there was and is and always will be one way to heaven, and it has nothing to do with human performance. Faith in Jesus is the way. Trusting in Jesus is the only way, and every other path leads to a dead end.

When Paul wrote: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (7:24, 25), he wasn't just talking about his own life. He was speaking to and about our lives too! We have been diagnosed with the same wretched condition...and we have been given the same divine cure. Thanks be to God!

And when Paul wrote that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (8:38, 39), God's promise didn't come with an expiration date. Even though thousands of years and thousands of miles separate us from those words, we have the same conviction that nothing can separate us from our Savior's love.

I can't say for sure if it will happen again this morning. I don't know if you will feel like this sermon is speaking directly to you. But I do know that Paul is speaking to you because he says so in the opening words of our text. He wrote: "I am talking to you Gentiles" (13). These words are aimed specifically at non-Jews, at Gentiles believers like you and me. And as the apostle speaks to us, that Word will lead us to respond. We will respond with joy and thanksgiving, with a deep appreciation for the gospel, and perhaps with an exclamation like this...

AMAZING MERCY, HOW SWEET THE SOUND

Paul has verbally snapped his fingers to get our attention. He has said, "Hey, you Gentile believers out there, this message is for you." So what is it? What is so important? What words of spiritual wisdom does Paul want to share with us? This is how he begins: "Inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles I make much of (literally "glorify") my ministry" (13).

Paul wasn't suggesting that he was a big deal as much as the work the Lord had given him to do was a big deal. In a flash of light, in what could be described as a divine intervention, Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and changed his life forever (Acts 9). The Lord called this man who had traveled far and wide to round up and arrest followers of Jesus to now carry the name of Jesus to places and people who had never heard the gospel before.

And only a brief scan of the book of Acts reveals that Paul pursued his ministry with a passion that would put most pastors to shame. So what motivated him? Why was he willing to endure pain and punishment? Why was he willing to risk everything, including his life, to carry the gospel to the Gentiles?

There are the obvious reasons: 1) God told him to; and 2) because Paul knew that Jesus is the only way to heaven he wanted to share the saving message with as many people as possible. But in our text Paul mentions another, perhaps not so obvious reason, for his missionary zeal, "in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them" (14).

Paul had the heart of a missionary, and it made his heart break whenever he thought about his brothers and sisters, his own flesh and blood. For the most part, the Jewish people had rejected Jesus, but Paul had not written them off. Paul had not given up hope. And he hoped that when his Jewish brothers and sisters observed the Gentile Christians and the many blessings they enjoyed as believers, they would take notice. They might even become jealous, or at least curious. And that curiosity would give Paul the opportunity to tell them what (or who) was missing in their lives.

That's a brief summary of the first part of today's text, but you might have noticed that there is a gap (twelve verses) between these verses and the rest. Those intervening verses are important for a couple reasons: they help us understand what follows, and they uncover a potential problem that was/ is unique to Gentile Christians.

The Gentile Christians had seen the heights from which their Jewish neighbors had fallen. They had so many advantages. They had been on the receiving end of so many blessings. But instead of trusting in God they put their trust in other things: in their pure bloodlines, in their favored status as God's chosen people, in their ability to earn their own piece of eternal glory.

Because most of the Jews had rejected Jesus, because many of the Jews had decided that they didn't need Jesus, God sent Paul to the Gentiles. And through his preaching and teaching and reaching out, many Gentiles believed. They were no longer strangers and aliens, but through faith they became full-fledged members of God's family.

These new Christians should have fallen down on their knees and thanked the Lord for this miraculous gift, but instead they were in danger of repeating history. They were starting to look down on Jewish people the same way the Jews used to look down on them. At the risk of putting words in their mouth, their flawed thinking went something like this: "Those people had their chance. They made their choice. And let's be realistic Paul, there is no way they are ever coming back."

So what if a little old man with a long gray beard and a yarmulke walked into the sanctuary this morning? What would you say to him? What would you be thinking about him? Does he know where he is? Maybe he is lost, or maybe he is confused. But one thing is clear; he doesn't belong here.

I will admit that an orthodox Jew walking into a Lutheran church in western Waukesha County is an unlikely scenario, so let's change it. Let's say that the person who walks into church is covered in tattoos or has enough piercings to set off a metal director or is wearing a t-shirt with a great big rainbow on it. Would anything be different? Would your attitude change? Would you be uncomfortable? Would you still be thinking that this individual doesn't belong?

Shame on us when we look down on other people because deep down you and I are no better than anyone else. Shame on us when we think that someone is so far gone that God's powerful Word cannot bring them back. Shame on us if we ever entertain the idea that we think we know what kind of people belong in heaven.

If I just described you, if Paul's words of warning nailed you, if you are feeling the weight of this "Gentile guilt," I have some good news for you. If God wasn't willing to give up on his chosen people, he isn't about to give up on you. There is a way out. There is a way up. In these words from Romans Paul offers hope to all people, and that hope can be summarized in a single word: mercy.

It's about time we talked about the elephant on the screen, right? How many of you are willing to admit that the sermon theme has been bothering you? Maybe you checked your bulletin to see if I made a mistake. Maybe you were thinking to yourself, "Pastor, we sang the hymn in church last weekend. It's not "Amazing Mercy—How Sweet the Sound." I think you meant to say "Amazing Grace."

Grace and mercy are related concepts, but they are not identical. Grace is a gift from God. Grace is simply defined as God's undeserved love. When we talk about grace, we are talking about God giving us what we don't deserve. Mercy is more about compassion. Mercy is what motivates God to forgive. And if grace is God giving sinners what they don't deserve, we can think of mercy as God not giving guilty sinners what they do deserve.

Paul emphasizes the mercy of God in Romans 11. In fact, he uses the word four times in the span of three verses. Speaking to Gentile Christians, Paul reminds us: "Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you" (30, 31).

If anyone should understand mercy, if anyone should appreciate mercy, it should be us. Because we know where we came from. Because we know where we belong. Because we know that we have done nothing to deserve a place at God's table. And yet here we are. And what is even better, what is even more amazing, the most beautiful truth of all is that God in his mercy has made room for even more.

"For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (32). At the end of this discussion, all of this talk about Jews and Gentiles doesn't matter. As different as we are, we are really the same. We have all been disobedient. We are all sinful. We are all guilty. And there is nothing we can do or say to change that.

We can't do anything, but God can, and he did. He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Instead of meting out punishment, he has shown mercy. Instead of making us suffer, he suffered and died in our place. And today your living Savior comes to you and says: "Don't beat yourself up. Don't dwell on all your past mistakes. Remember that the God you serve is a merciful God. And if my Word says that I will show mercy to all people (which it very clearly does), there is no doubt that I will have mercy on you."

This is a message of hope for a world full of hurting sinners. This message speaks to every person here today. This message is found only in the Bible. This is the life-giving, life-changing message God calls you to share. With your neighbor. With your co-worker. In the high school classroom. In the college dorm room. In the hospital waiting room. With people who may be cynical or skeptical. With people you meet for the first time and with friends you have known your entire lives. God's mercy in Christ is a message for all. Amazing, isn't it? Amen.

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