Messiah Lutheran Church :: Why Some and Not Others?

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Dear Friends in Christ,

            There are little people who made a big difference who are mentioned in the Bible.  There was the servant of Naaman who told him to put aside his arrogance and go wash in theJordanto be healed from his leprosy.  There were the run-of-the-mill shepherds who were among the first to know that Jesus was born and became the world’s first New Testament missionaries.  Yes, indeed, there were little people that God used in a big way.

            There were also big people who were failures too.  Pharaoh saw the miracles of God but chose to fight the Lord instead of embracing him.  There was King Saul, the first king ofIsrael.  As reluctant as he was to be king, his arrogance led him to think that he fight the Lord and not come out on the losing side.  There was Solomon.  The skies were so blue above him and he showed so much promise.  He was given wisdom like no other man. He was given wealth like no other.  He led the people of God. He wrote books of the Bible.  Yet his testosterone levels were out of this world.  He made so many bad choices with women that he led down the path that led him away from the Lord who had blessed him.  There was Judas.  He was with Jesus from the beginning.  Only a handful of men had the title of apostle.  He saw Jesus; he was touched Jesus; he was taught by Jesus. He had all kinds of blessings, but he fumbled the blessings away and even betrayed Jesus.  Worst of all, when he realized what he did, he rejected the Savior who came to forgive by declaring himself unforgiveable.    

            We know people.  Perhaps sons and daughters, parents or spouses, brothers and sisters who were raised by Godly parents and yet saving faith seems non-existent.  Why?  “Why some? Why not others?”   

            Imagine a patient dying from a disease that it totally curable with a vaccine, but the person refuses to take the vaccine.  Fatally foolish, no doubt!  Yet if you read Romans 9-11 the apostle laments that very point.  His fellow Jews were doing exactly that when they refused to follow Jesus.  God set aside the Jewish nation to deliver the vaccine everyone needs and is totally effective against sin and death and the devil, but they rejected the vaccine, Jesus Christ. As Jesus agonizingly trudged through the streets of Jerusalemto Calvary’s holy mountain, the Bible says, “A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

            Jesus warned of a great tragedy that was down the road. Jesus predicted that a terrifying judgment would take place.  Children playing in the streets would come to a cruel end.  They would be starved and tortured and killed.  And it happened - forty years later.  Why?  Because Jerusalemgot their way!  They wanted Jesus dead.  As John says at the beginning of his Gospel, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”  His own people rejected him.

            So Paul asks (and answers) a question, “Did God reject his people?” Did God give up on his people?  Paul asks the question but he also gives the answer, “By no means!”  God didn’t give up on his people; his people gave up on God. 

He points to himself as a good example.  God didn’t give up on him.  “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.”  He didn’t reject me, Paul says, even though I gave him every reason to do so. 

Paul grew up and appreciated his religious heritage.  He loved the worship, the sacrifices and the holy days.  He even had a cracker jack teacher.  His name was Gamaliel.  To have him as a teacher was like going to Yale or Harvard.  But like Yale and Harvard, Gamaliel didn’t teach him anything about Jesus the one and only Savior of the world.   

            You know the story of Paul.  He thought he was doing God a favor by rounding up the followers of Christ and sending them to them to heaven on his timetable.  When Paul journeyed fromJerusalemtoDamascusto do his evil work, Paul found something he was not looking for. He found the grace of God.  He wasn’t looking for it, but the Lord gave it to him.  He came to know he was very wrong but that Jesus, the one he was persecuting made him right with the Lord. Paul was saved from his own fanaticism.  Deserved?  Not by a long shot!  Why?  Because God is a God of grace!  Why some?  God’s grace!

            The example of Paul isn’t the only example.  He points to another example – the 7000 that stayed faithful that Elijah didn’t know about.  The apostle refreshes our memory, “Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”?  Remember the 450 prophets of Baal and the challenge whether the Lord or Baal was the true God.  Once and for all (at least that’s what Elijah thought) they were going to settle who God really was.  The Lord made it clear he is the one and only God when he destroyed the altar of sacrifice by sending fire from heaven.  But instead of convincing King Ahab and Jezebel, they put a hit out on Elijah. Elijah had to flee. 

            When he arrived at his refuge, the mountainof God– Sinai, Elijah was disenchanted and let his feelings to be known. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” “And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Elijah and people of God, the Lord knows the heart of man.  He sees into the heart of man.  He touches the heart of man.  The Lord reserved 7000 others.  The Lord’s work!  God’s grace! Why some?  God’s grace!  God reserved the 7,000.

            Paul continues here, “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”  Why do people have faith?  Why do people love Jesus?  Why some?  God’s grace!  God’s undeserved love!   

            There are all kinds of definitions for grace.  Last time I checked the dictionary there were over twenty. When we speak of Jesus and his grace, grace refers to his love which is so undeserved because we have such sinful hearts and lives.  It is a love that existed before the foundation of the world when he chose us to be his own; his grace will exist undiminished into eternity even after the world crumbles.  Grace brought Jesus from his throne in heaven so that he could take our place bearing our sins in his own body to bring us to God.  His grace is so much more than a nice smile and pat on the back. God’s grace makes no demands; it is absolutely free. If there were condition on God’s grace, Paul says, “Grace would no longer be grace.”  Grace – that’s why some!

            Why not others?  First of all, it is important to understand that Jesus did not die for a chosen few.  Let’s go back to the cross - no, let’s go back to the three crosses.  Jesus was in the center, probably because he was the celebrity.  We don’t know the crimes that the other two committed, but we do know they were serious enough to pay with their lives.  There they were; one on his right and one on his left.  Both were equally bad; both saw with their eyes and heard with their ears.  One repented, the other did not. One cried out, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” the other spit out curses at Jesus.  One died and went to heaven, the other is in hell regretting that he rejected.  One was saved by God’s grace, the other lost by his own bad choice.  Why the one?  God’s grace!  Why not the other?  He rejected.

            That’s what happens when the word is taught in a Bible class or preached in a sermon.  Some get excited and fall on their knees and sorrow over sin but believe that God has provided a way out – through Christ.  Others want to know when this is all going to be over. For them there are more important things and more desired things to do.  Sinful and perverse people, as we are, retain an awesome power to resist the grace of God. We call that original sin.  That’s the only power we have. The Bible says our old self with which we are all born is hostile to God in Romans 8: 7.

            St. Paulsays something interesting about Israelthat ought to serve as a warning, What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened.”  Israel sought to get to heaven, but Paul pointed that they did it on their terms rather than relying on God’s grace.  

It is always interesting to watch people when there is work to be done.  People only reluctantly volunteer to lead.  I am convinced that is because they know what is going to happen.  As people are gathered to help the leader, the volunteers, who had the same opportunity to lead, start telling how things should be done.  People are control freaks even when they aren’t leading.  My way is better. Israelwas like that.  They wanted to get to heaven but they wanted control in how it happened.  Not by relying on Christ but by relying on themselves.   

It’s easy to say that I am saved by grace.  It rolls off the lips fairly easily.  It rolls off our lips, but stop to think what it means.  I had absolutely nothing to qualify for being saved.  I am as bad as the next person. God did it all.  It is a gift.  Why some?  God’s grace?  Why not others?  Rejection of God’s grace!

            The last verses utter a warning that all need to heed.  These verses address all who are tempted to push the Lord away and put him on the back burner.  Paul quotes some Old Testament Scripture, from Deuteronomy, Psalms and Isaiah. “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.” And David says:  “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.  May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”

Continual rejection leads to a hardness of the heart. Remember what happened to Pharaoh.  God sent plagues onEgypt.  There was the plagued of blood, of frogs, of gnats of flies and of the livestock where the livestock died. Pharaoh still wouldn’t let God’s people go. On the following plague, the plague of boils, it was no longer Pharaoh who hardened his heart but the Lord. This was a severe judgment that Pharaoh started and God finished.  God brings an end to his patience.  If this is a concern and you wonder if you have gone too far, take heart, you haven’t done it.

Yet these words ought to serve as a warning.  While God wants all to be saved, after all be sent Jesus to be the Savior of all, sinful people have the power to reject.  There are all kinds of symptoms that serve as warning signs. The greatest symptom is when you find it easy to skip the royal banquet offered weekly to listen and study his Word and feast at this meal of forgiveness and life.

Why some?  God’s grace found here in his word and sacrament.  Why not others?  By following the ways of the sinful heart!

           

 

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