History Repeats Itself

Based on:  Romans 10:18-11:6

Grace.  You will hear that word often in this sermon so let’s first make it clear what grace is.  The definition we use in catechism class is God’s undeserved love for sinners.  If we think about grace in human terms, we could call it grace when you make a mistake at work that costs the company thousands of dollars, but your boss still gives you a raise.  You didn’t deserve it, did you?  Here is another example.  If there is one person you hate most in this world or someone you always treat like dirt, grace is when that person saves your life by donating a kidney or by pushing you out of the way of an oncoming car.  Grace is a love you don’t deserve and the result of grace is getting something good when you deserve just the opposite.

God’s grace goes far beyond our human examples.  When we talk about God’s undeserved love for us, let us first recognize what we do deserve. God created everything.  Our lives and everything else we have come from him.  He tells us how to use those gifts.  But even though God has been good to us, how often do we follow his will for our lives?  Just take a look back on this past week in your life.  Was God and his Word a part of this your week?  Was he a part of the decisions you made throughout the week?  Or, were there times you would have been ashamed if you could see God looking over your shoulder?  My week has not been what it should have been, either.

What we owe God and what we give God are two different things.  For not living up to God’s standards we deserve to have God take away from us everything that brings any kind of happiness or pleasure.  We deserve only to suffer forever.  Think about the horror of that for a moment.  But God’s grace means that he does not give us what we deserve.  God sent his son to receive what we deserved – hell, and then he gave us what his son deserved – unending life and blessings.  It doesn’t sound fair, does it?  We get something far better than we deserve – that’s grace.  There is really nothing in this world like it.

The thing we want to consider today in connection with God’s grace is that throughout history people have rejected this gift of grace over and over again, and yet, God has continued to show his grace to undeserving people over and over again.

People throughout time have rejected God’s grace, but the apostle Paul talks about one example that is clear and tragic.  God had taken Abraham’s descendants and made them into a great nation.  By his grace, in a way that they did not deserve, God gave them his Word.  He told them about the coming Savior and God’s prophets wrote it down for them.  God gave them the temple worship with all its sacrifices and all of it was a picture pointing to Christ, each one was a sermon reminding them about the grace God was showing them.

Israel was so rich in spiritual blessings, but what did they do?  They rejected God’s grace.  Over and over again they turned away from God and they treated as worthless all those things God had done for them – just like so many do today.  In his grace God continued to call Israel back to himself.  They would remain faithful for a time and then again they would reject God and his grace.  

God said, "all day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people."  How long would you hold out your hands and wait for a little child to come and greet you?  If they were not willing to run into your arms would you stand there and encourage them for a a few seconds? A minute? Ten minutes? Wouldn’t you start to feel foolish?  “All day long” God held out his arms to welcome Israel back, but they would not.  There is God’s patient grace.

Eventually Israel’s stubborn rejection of God’s grace even lead to the rejection of the embodiment of God’s grace, their Savior, Jesus.  When a group of people continue to reject God’s grace two things usually happen.  God shows his grace to a different group of people, and he also preserves a remnant among the people who rejected him.

In rejecting God’s grace, the Israelites provided opportunities for the rest of the world to hear about God’s grace.  As Paul describes the rest of the world, they were people that the Jews would consider not to be a nation because they were not God’s chosen people.  There were people that did not have a God’s Word and so did not have the understanding of Old Testament scripture that the Jews had and yet these are the people to whom God went with his grace. They were not looking for God, but God came to them.  Again, that is grace.

But God did not give up on his people Israel.  He saved some for himself and Paul points to himself as one example.  Not all the Jews are lost.  Just like in the time of Elijah the prophet when Elijah thought all of Israel had forsaken the Lord, God came to him and told him that he had reserved 7000 for himself.  In his grace God preserved believers for himself even when many others rejected him.

Let’s remind ourselves again of this grace.  It is the love of God in rescuing us from our own sin.  Jesus gave his life for ours.  It is a gift we did not deserve.  We see the pattern again and again throughout history.  God in his grace brings this good news of salvation to people.  For a time the Gospel is cherished and appreciated, but after a while people reject God and his grace.  God moves on to another group of people who receive his grace with thankfulness but also in his grace he reserves for himself a remnant, a small, faithful group among those who rejected him.  

We can say that since others have rejected God’s grace, God in his grace has now brought the gospel to you.  You didn’t deserve it.  You didn’t ask for it.  You didn’t do anything to attract God’s attention as someone worthy of the gospel.  It was God’s gift.  It was grace.  Think about it.  Out the vast ocean of humanity, all the billions of people who live or have ever lived on this planet, every one of them equally deserving God’s wrath, God  chose you! Simply by his grace.

Not only that but he has surrounded you with spiritual blessings.  Look at how often you have opportunities to hear about the grace of God.  You can hear the gospel message in church, in bible class, on the internet, or on cable TV.  You can listen on the radio.  Devotion booklets are all around – we provide some for free in the narthex.  Bibles and other printed materials are cheap and easily available.  We have a Christian school to teach our children what God has done for them.  Our government allows us to preach and teach freely.  God’s grace is evident all around us.  He has drenched us with spiritual blessings.

It makes one wonder how long will we hold on to God’s grace?  Is the saying true that familiarity breeds contempt?  Look at Israel and don’t despise what God has given you.  Cherish God’s grace.  As your pastor and brother in Christ, I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities God gives you to come in contact with his grace – worship, bible class, and your own personal devotion.  Paul says to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  

For the times we think we are doing just fine in our faith we need to look at what happened to Israel and be afraid that that might happen to us.  For the times we are afraid that we will lose this precious gift that God has given us, remember that it was God’s grace that gave us a Savior, God’s grace that brought the good news to us, and God’s grace that will preserve us as a remnant enjoying God’s grace in a world that rejects God’s grace.

Amen.

 

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