This is a tricky pericope as the gaps in the text selected for this week require bridging the Apostle’s argument. Still, the picture should be clear: Saint Paul will talk about how God has created an even greater people than ethnic Israel with the creation of a new Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. The Apostle introduced this idea in Romans 9:6, but also in Galatians 6:16. Here in chapter 11 of Romans, Paul attempts to clear up some confusion regarding the identity of God’s greater Israel, the Church.
Consider how on the one hand, the Jews, ethnic Israel, believe they were God’s true people since they had received, “…the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, the promises, and the patriarchs” (Romans 9:4). In the grand scheme of God’s design, the problems of the world would be addressed in and through Israel and, specifically, through Israel would come God’s king, the Messiah. It was no wonder the Jews were, for millennia, God’s privileged people. But their thinking became one in which this privileged ethnic status constituted salvation itself. That is what Paul addresses next.
There is a distinction, he says, between those who are ethnically Jewish, or “Israel,” but have rejected Jesus as the Christ of God and those, from any nation (Gentiles), who are not ethnically Jewish or “Israel’s” lineage, but trust and have been baptized into God’s Messiah as the once-crucified and now resurrected Lord. It is the latter who spiritually and truly constitute Israel. There is a new criterion for what makes an Israelite, a son of God, namely faith in Christ Jesus, not ethnic heritage.
There is a new criterion for what makes an Israelite, a son of God, namely faith in Christ Jesus, not ethnic heritage.
I have put “Israel” in quotes because the ideas of ethnic or geo-political Israel, such as those who descended from Jacob and had its borders defined by David and Solomon, ceased to exist after the Assyrian invasion of 722 BC which literally obliterated the northern ten tribes of Israel, leaving only Judah and Benjamin. Part of the great promises of God, especially through the major prophets, was to reconstitute Israel, to bring her out of exile. Indeed, like the Assyrian scenario, the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC carried a notable portion of Judah and Benjamin into exile. In this instance, God illustrates how He will, through His chosen Messiah, reconstitute Israel from the Gentiles. In other words, Israel will emerge from among the Gentiles.
This is exactly what happened when the Messiah arrived. Embodying the history and future of Israel, He assembles twelve disciples, like the twelve tribes around Himself. Then one is lost, Judas (do not lose the significance of the play on names), only to be replace by the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. God’s newly reconstituted Israel occurs in and around Jesus to include both Jew and Gentile, not by ethnic association but by faith and water (baptism) and blood (atonement and Eucharist). In this way, God reclaims His lordship over the world, the entire world of humanity.
When explaining this, Paul posits a most curious phase about measuring a “second time” before cutting. What could he mean? The answer harkens back to Jesus upbraiding the leaders of ethnic Israel in Matthew 21:42-45:
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore, I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived He was speaking about them.
Jesus could not have been clearer. Rejecting His defining and consummate messiahship or, as He puts it, rejecting the “cornerstone,” leaves persons with no recourse for pardon. All such persons will be excluded from the Kingdom of God. Neither religious Jew nor ethnic “Israelite” could make an appeal. Justification comes by way of faith in Messiah’s life, atonement, and resurrection.
Justification comes by way of faith in Messiah’s life, atonement, and resurrection.
Immediately another question arises: If the Jewish people, Israel, rejected God and His promises in Christ, does this mean the Word of God has failed (Romans 9:6a)? Does this mean God has rejected His people (Romans 11:1)? Paul anticipates these questions. His response is both self-referential (Christ redeemed me) and pointing to God’s remnant. Paul, he reminds the Romans, is an Israelite (Romans 11:1), yet also one who has not stumbled over Christ, the cornerstone. On the contrary, he trusts in Christ because God has granted him light and faith, in the same fashion as the Gentiles. This is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to placard the Son of God as the only Savior of humanity.
Paul also marshals forth the witness of the Hebrew prophets of the Bible and others recorded in Israel’s history preserved as a remnant; a witness of continuity that salvation is of the Jews and God has kept His promises to address the problems of the world in and through Israel. Jesus is the King of Israel. God has kept His word in Jesus the Messiah.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15.
God’s Greater Story-Check out this wonderful sermon series on Romans 6-14 by our own David Schmitt.