I am going to share a story today that very few people know. In fact, I made mention of this story last week around my mother, and she said I had not told her. Many of you may know that I have a doctorate. And I am actually in the process of doing the work to exchange one doctorate for another. Of course, having a doctorate means I also received a masters degree. And having a masters degree requires first getting a bachelors.
Now, I worked hard for the masters and the doctorate and, in fact, won the award related to GPA during my masters (doctoral work does not offer such an award). But my bachelor’s degree was a different story. I did not care about school. And that was before I got distracted dating a certain redhead during my third year of college.
Early on in college, I discovered computer games and later found some other video games that I liked. I spent an inordinate amount of time on such ventures and did not do so well in school.
For my last semester, I only needed 7 hours to graduate. Of course, it was my 10th semester (end of my 5th year), so I should have already graduated. So, my last semester should have been a breeze. But I had one problem. My overall GPA was not high enough for me to graduate. Now, you might think that the school had some ridiculously high standard, but that is not true. I only needed at 2.25 to graduate, but because of my lack of effort, and poor effort, in the previous semesters, I needed a strong finish.
It is not that I was dumb. I had professors recommend me to tutor other students in certain classes. But if those professors knew how I did in some of the other courses, well, they might have chosen someone else.
So, it was my last semester. I started with 13 hours, but I only needed 7, so I trusted I would not need my mother’s insurance and dropped from full-time status. I needed an A, a B+, and a C. The A, and B+ were in my major, and my GPA was good there, so I was not too worried. And I should not have any trouble getting a C, especially because the class was a freshman-level course, that I had not yet taken.
Why had I not taken the class? Well, it was at 7:30 am. Now, that would not be much of a challenge. But then, well, as Charles Emerson Winchester (from the tv show M*A*S*H) said about 5 o’clock, I said about 7:30 – a Braams only recognized one 7:30 each day, and this isn’t it!
So, I went to the first class. And I decided that I had enough information to make it to mid-term. I took the midterm, and did ok. I think I got a C. And the next time I showed up was for the final. Yes, I went to that class three times that semester. And I knew the book we were to read for the final and thought I would be ok. But to this day, I don’t think I passed. I don’t see how I could have – at least not on my own merit. I honestly believe that the professor knew that I was graduating and had mercy on me and gave me the C that I needed. I had taken one other course with the professor (my freshman or sophomore year), so he kind of knew me, but although I have no way of knowing, I am pretty sure I passed only because of grace.
Why do I tell that story?
Because I was seeking a degree, but I am reasonably certain that the only reason I graduated was because of grace. Again, I cannot be certain, but I believe that my efforts fell short of the requirements, except that a professor gave me grace and gave me what I did not earn on my own.
As we have seen throughout Romans, Paul is repeatedly trying to help the Jews to realize that what they are seeking could not be earned on merit. The only means of righteousness was by the grace of God. While my professor was certainly not God, that incident in my life has offered me a great insight into grace. You have heard that part of the story, but I will share more of it as I prepare to close this message.
As we transition to the text, let me clarify that the professor never promised me anything. That is a major difference between my story and the story of the Israelites/Jews, as recorded in the Bible. For a moment, let us consider that the professor had made a promise that he would make sure I graduated. Then, at the end of the semester, seeing that I had not completed the requirements of the syllabus, he decided that I could not. And to take that a step further, he allowed someone with a worse grade to pass his class and graduate. I would feel betrayed. Dejected. And even rejected.
Now, these details get us closer to the situation Paul described. But we still can’t make the analogy stick. See the promise made to the Jew of Paul’s day was made some 1500 years early to their ancestors. But in Paul’s day the people felt abandoned, betrayed, and rejected. After all, they were God’s chosen people and now the Gentiles – the GENTILES! – were being accepted by God.*
*I realize that each week I am talking about the same general argument. But I am just following Paul’s words. Paul was repeatedly mentioning this issue because of how stubborn he knew the people would be. And frankly, we are no different, and often need to hear the same message over and over again.
So, after Paul has once again criticized the Jews for their lack of faith and their lack of obedience (remember faith requires obedience), he anticipates their next question – Has God rejected us? And once again, Paul emphatically answers, “No!”
For the remainder of Romans 11, Paul provides some details and even a couple ideas to explain that statement. We will see two major components of his explanation next week, but today our focus is on the remnant.
A remnant is something that remains. When Susan and/or I come over to the church during the week, we often find remnants from the Long kids. Perhaps it is a ball or a toy figurine, but we make sure the other one sees it. It is something that the boys were doing that remains.
A remnant in the Bible is not a toy, it is a group of people. And the Bible is clear that even when all appears lost, or that God does not care, a remnant of people remains. In Romans 11, Paul provides two examples of this. First, he offers himself as evidence. Then, he reminds the reader of Elijah.
Remember, the question at hand is has God rejected His chosen people? To answer that, Paul tells his reader that He is an Israelite…a descendant of Abraham…from the tribe of Benjamin. You might recall that Paul previously indicated that he was a kinsman to the people of Israel (Romans 9.3). But here, Paul provides a little evidence. Many commentators debate why Paul provided three descriptors here, but I believe that it would be easy for anyone to claim a certain nationality (particularly because Paul had not yet been to Rome, 1.10). So, to clarify, Paul added Abraham, and then got specific to mention the tribe. You would have to at least no something of the history of the Israelites to get that specific. Furthermore, his Jewish name, Saul, would remind the people of the first king of Israel, who was also of the tribe of Benjamin.
So, with Paul as an example, God had not rejected all of his people. But, if you were not receptive to everything that Paul was saying, you might dismiss his claim as relevant. So, Paul returned to a significant story in the Old Testament to remind them of God’s words to Elijah. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah confidently stands before a group of false prophets as God ultimately reveals His power by consuming a sacrifice that the false god could not do. But then in 1 Kings 19, Elijah is on the run, fleeing for his life because Jezebel, the wicked queen, wants him dead. Elijah eventually ends up at Mount Horeb and has a personal encounter with God (the same mountain where Moses received the 10 Commandments).
On that mountain, you may recall, that God was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or in the fire; rather, God came to Elijah in a low whisper. In that conversation, Elijah complained that the people of Israel had forsaken the covenant, they had killed the prophets, and that seemingly all was lost, because Elijah was the only one left.
But that is the problem we have. We have such a myopic view of life. Our lives center around ourselves – our world – and not what God sees and/or is doing. God corrects Elijah, and after giving him a couple of tasks, God says that He has preserved a remnant in Israel – those who have not worshiped false gods, but have remained true to the one true God.
As a first-century Jew, or really any Jew since the time of Elijah, you could not refute the honor that Elijah had before God. After all, it was Elijah who did not die, but instead was whisked away in a chariot of fire. Now, Paul is not equating himself with Elijah as a prophet or in significance, but what Paul is showing is that God has promised a remnant and Elijah, the 7000 others in his day, and Paul, plus other Jews in the first century were a part of a remnant that God had preserved through grace.
Thus, although some may have thought that God rejected the Jewish people, Paul is clear that God has not rejected all Jews, but the Jews that rejected the notion of having faith in God, had put themselves aside. God has not rejected the remnant, and, in return, the remnant has not rejected God.
In verse 6, Paul repeats the mantra he has been stating throughout Romans – we are saved by grace. Notice here, however, that Paul does not compare grace with the law; rather, he compares grace with works. His wording here is similar to what he wrote in Ephesians about being saved by grace through faith, not by works. The distinction that we must note is that not only is it insufficient to try to keep the Law, it is actually impossible to do anything to earn the favor of God. Salvation is by grace alone.
Then, in verse 7, Paul says that Israel had failed to obtain what she had been seeking. She sought righteousness, but was looking for it in the wrong places. Israel attempted to work for righteousness, but had stumbled (9.33) and missed the righteousness that God offered through Jesus (10.4). God chose some to received it (e.g. Paul), but not through works. Rather, it was through faith in Jesus that Paul was made righteous, and it was through faith in Jesus, that the first-century Jew would be made righteous, and it is by faith in Jesus, that we can be made righteous as well.
Paul closes this portion by quoting from three passages in the Old Testament. I will say more about this in Wednesday’s daily video this week, but Paul includes content from all three parts of the Hebrew Bible – the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.
But the point I want to make here is the point Paul was making. God has not rejected His people (again, more on that next week!). By His grace, He has preserved a remnant. That was true in the Old Testament, it was true in Paul’s day, and it is true today. And the remnant, having experienced the grace of God, has a responsibility to share the message of grace with others.
At the beginning of this message, I shared about the class I may not have passed. But there’s more to the story. The day after that final exam, I loaded my vehicle as much as I could, and turned in everything I needed to submit for graduation. I checked the wall in the business building to check for my name to see if I was graduating, and it was not there. I left town, drove home, with the intention on driving back less than 48 hours later not knowing if I was going to be able to graduate. Worse than that, my mother, my stepfather, my uncle and aunt, and my almost fiancée were making the nearly three-hour drive as well – none of them knowing that the drive and the day may end up being a waste of time.
Well, thankfully it wasn’t a waste of time. Thankfully, I did graduate. But the importance of my graduation did not matter to me for nearly a decade. It was about eight years later that God called me to go to seminary for the sake of serving in vocational ministry. Some 20 years later, I now have two more degrees that would not have been possible if I had not graduated.
See the grace that a professor gave me allowed me to become so much more than I could have imagined on that day 28 years ago this month. I walked off of the campus that day saying I would never step foot in a classroom again, and now I can’t wait for each new semester to start so I can teach others in classrooms that may be more equipped with technology, but otherwise are similar to the rooms I had not use for some 30 years ago.
God had something for me. He preserved me. I was a part of His remnant, even though I did not know it at the time. I have no idea if that professor knew Jesus, but I will go to the grave believe that the professor of that course showed me grace. And now, I am one who is not only saved by grace, but has the opportunity and responsibility to share God’s message of grace with others. Of course, the grace I received from the professor pales in comparison to the grace God has given me. However, if I am right, and the professor did allow me to pass the class without having truly earning it, then that bit of grace has now been multiplied many times over. I know God can make a way, but I have to ask myself, what if I had not got my degree? If I hadn’t, the rest of what I do would not be possible.
What’s Next?: Besides salvation, how has God shown grace to you? Or perhaps, who has God used to show grace to you? Take time to consider His grace this week. Then, consider who might need to receive grace – even from you. Once you have a name, give that person the grace they need. Based upon my story, you never know how far that grace might extend.