Hardening, Softening (Romans 11.25-32)

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I have made a pilgrimage to Israel several times. First-time Christian pilgrims inevitably come away with an epiphany and two questions. The epiphany: Jesus was here! He walked and talked then where we can walk and talk today. The questions: Why didn’t the Jews believe in him then? And, by extension, why don’t they believe in him now? Those are very good questions, and Romans 9-11 is Paul’s very good answer. 

Over the past several weeks, I have walked you verse by verse through Paul’s argument about the unbelief of his fellow Jews. In Romans 11.25-32, Paul weaves the complex strands of that argument into a conclusion. Here’s what he writes: 

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:  

"The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins."    

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. 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. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. 

The first strand of Paul’s argument is expressed in the word hardening. “Israel has experienced a hardening.” Jews in Jesus’ day rejected Christ because, for whatever reason, they hardened their hearts against him. Of course, this is not a uniquely Jewish failing by any means. All of us—Jew or Gentile—have hardened our hearts against God. That’s why he sent his Son into the world to save us. Our hearts may be hard toward God, but his heart toward us is not. 

And Israel’s unbelief had good results for us Gentiles. That’s the second strand of Paul’s argument: The good news of salvation began to spread among the Gentiles because of Jewish unbelief. In God’s way of doing things—and he never wastes even bad experiences—our belief in Christ is possible because of Jewish unbelief. You and I are part of “the full number of the Gentiles” Paul wrote about.  

But God is still not done with Israel. That’s the third strand: “All Israel will be saved.” Paul prophetically foresaw a day when modern-day Jews would come to Christ in droves. You see, God doesn’t give up on his prodigal children. “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” What are those gifts? What is that call? To “have mercy on them all.” 

Is your heart hard toward God? Then soften it up. Only a soft heart can receive God’s grace.

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