I have been studying Romans 9-11 recently for a preaching series on Israel. It’s wonderful to look at this section of Paul’s letter. Have you come across this phenomenon? Everyone is talking about how good something is? They tell you that you really ought to watch it, or read it, or taste it? And something in you just thinks: ought to, I’m missing out, am I? And the very energy that is coming toward you, probably for good, somehow loses its way, and you feel extremely disinclined to engage.
I got that for quite some time with The Chosen, the crowd-funded, app-based drama based on Jesus’ life. I still haven’t watched all the episodes yet, but having seen a few of them, I know enough to regard them very highly. They are like a lectio divina, an imaginative reading of the gospels, giving you a possible context for the Lord’s dealing with people: giving you a sense of awe at the completely different way he went about helping people. Making the events of the gospels seem fresh, and dynamic. How he wins Peter over, how he rescues Mary. How he intrigues Nicodemus from early on.
So I guess there is the danger, with an institution like the letter of Paul to the Romans, that we lose the sheer awe and power of the original thought process, of the context of what Paul was writing, and we look at fragments of reflections of what Paul wrote, in comments of others, in modern treatments of it. I’ve always been a believer in immersing yourself in the text, whether it be a Shakespeare play, a poem, or indeed Holy Writ (where it is the most important of all to sit at the feet of Jesus, to still our hearts, and to listen).
But Paul’s letter, and in particular Romans 9-11, does have a lot of twists and turns. I’ve been using Logos Bible Software, and a workflow called the Michael Heiser method, to study each designated section. I did look at all three chapters as an overview first. It is a very rich section of thought, and it contains a number of different ideas, including Israel as a remnant, how the gospel actually gets preached, Paul’s personal burden towards his fellow Israelites, and this metaphor of the cultivated olive tree as a picture of the people of God.
While this brief blog post is not the place to lay out in full an interpretation of the passage (and I will admit that I am using various companions, from Douglas Moo’s excellent commentary which I don’t own on Logos, by the way, also to Martyn Lloyd Jones’s commentaries, and other Bible reference works too – Stephen Runge’s commentary on Romans with its diagrams is quite suggestive): while it’s not the place to do that, something is starting to emerge in my spirit as a sense of the corporate people of God at this time, which includes Jew and Gentile, which points to the incredible glory of God, and which gestures at the consummation of a more amazing and stupendous plan to rescue humankind than we have even realised.
We might think that we understand (if, that is, we have some knowledge of the New Testament and have expressed belief in our heart, and confession with our mouth, as Romans 10:13 of course puts it) how God has saved us in Jesus. Perhaps in a way, for example, that the disciples certainly didn’t get it when he was arrested, when Peter denied him, when the couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus mournfully recounted the loss of the Messiah to that shadowy companion figure.
But is it possible that we don’t yet really get it at all? That there is such an in gathering yet to arrive, after the gospel has come to all the world, where ‘all Israel will be saved’, that redeems and makes good all the promises that God has made? It scarcely seems possible in this secular age. We need to keep holding on, and praying, and getting God’s heart and His plans.
My plans change all the time. But God knew what He was about from the very start, and like a master artist, a genius craftsman, he has taken the raw materials of His creation and there will be something beautiful to marvel at. To Him be the glory forever.