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Are You In?

"And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory— 24 on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As He also says in Hosea: I will call Not My People, My People, and she who is Unloved, Beloved. 26 And it will be in the place where they were told, you are not My people,
there they will be called sons of the living God. 27 But Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: Though the number of Israel’s sons is like the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His sentence completely and decisively on the earth. 29 And just as Isaiah predicted:
If the Lord of Hosts had not left us offspring, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah."
30 What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. 31 But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. 32 Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written:
Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame."
Romans 9:23-33  

Good Morning Beloved,

Welcome to worship! We're so thankful you're here.

Its no secret, there has been steadily a decline in the culture of our society, our nation and our world.
In political and professional groups, grass roots groups, civic groups, churches and synagogues, philanthropic groups, there has been a steady erosion of community, people are feeling isolated and alone, unloved and unheard. Because, our sense of belonging is directly tied to our involvement in fellowship and community.

Authentic relationships, those which require us to make a personal investment, giving us a sense of belonging, have all but diminished. Morals, values, ethics, responsibility and accountability seem to have all come and gone. And as the result of this, our communities, our neighborhoods are filled with people who feel disconnected from one another, and a sense of hatred toward one another. Because it is far easier to hate those whom we perceive as different than us, those we have not taken the time to get to know.

Our world hungers for a sense of belonging, of community, yet it seems to elude our very grasp. As we look around, we find that our culture is based on merit. Specific groups thrive on created an "in" crowd that excludes the "out" crowd. We have  all experienced it to some degree. Perhaps, for some,  in high school. There were the jocks, those who excelled in sports, the socialites, those who were popular, the academic brains, those who did well academically, and there were people like me, who they called the loners, who excelled at being disliked by all of the other groups. Don't misunderstand, I excelled in many areas, which at times, only seem to create more disharmony between "me" and "them." Maybe, you remember what it was like in your own experiences. Very rarely did people cross the lines, that were so well defined. Leaving many of us, feeling like we don’t quite fit in.

In this world, we are taught to constantly "compare" ourselves to others. Our parents often compared us to our other siblings, other children, saying things like, "I wish you were more like...!" We constantly compare what we know about ourselves to that which we don’t know about each other. We compare our "inside" to other people’s "outside." We compare our possessions to our friends, co-workers and neighbors. We compare our social standing and status to those we feel are either inferior or superior to us.

Then, for those of us who have come to know Christ, we come to the Christian community, what the Bible calls the Body of Christ, the church. And, as the Church, we’re supposed to find a community that is based on God’s grace. However, sometimes within the church, what we find is simply a mirror image, of what we find in our non-Christian culture. We often find "cliques," "divisions, " "insiders," and outsiders just like the world. Yet I believe, if you would ask every Christian, they would agree that the church, the Christian community, is supposed to be a community of grace.

So, what does a community based on God’s grace look like? As I close my eyes, as I try to envision a community based on God’s grace, and I don’t see anything. What does a community based on grace look like?

Open with me your Bibles, to the book of Romans chapter 9.

If the good news of the New Testament is true, and we know it is, in its claims that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jewish people, then why do the majority of Jewish people still reject Jesus as their Messiah? Does Israel’s rejection of Jesus mean that God failed to keep His promises to Israel? Has the nation of Israel inadvertently derailed God’s plan with their refusal to believe in Jesus? Since many Jews rejected the Messiah, and the church became predominantly Gentile, is there hope for Israel?

In Romans 9, Paul rejects these conclusions as he grapples with these questions. In this chapter, the apostle Paul claims, that for now, the nation of Israel is on the back burner of God’s strategy for the world, and for the time being the Christian Church is front and center. However, God’s not done with Israel and we’ll talk more about that in the next several messages, but for now, the Christian Church is the object of mercy, God is using to further His purposes for the human race.

Paul goes on to ask, “Did God reject his people?” and answers this question, in chapter 11:1, when he says, "May it never be!" Paul then reminds us of Elijah, who believed that he was the only remaining faithful Israelite, but God told Elijah of seven thousand who had not bowed their knee to Baal. Paul says, in chapter 11:5, "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." The idea of a faithful remnant, of course, was present throughout Israel’s history, in chapter 11:7-10. Paul talks about God using the inclusion of Gentiles to make Israel jealous so that they might be restored to salvation, chapter 11:11-12. In chapter 11:25-26, Paul says, "a partial hardening has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved."

So Paul’s answer to the Jewish question is that God has been and continues to be faithful to the covenant. "God’s unfolding plan is this: the acceptance of the gospel by the Gentiles will work to bring about the conversion of Israel."

When the Christian Church first began, it was exclusively Jewish. Jesus himself was a torah keeping, Sabbath observing, temple worshiping Jew. Jesus was more like a reformer within Judaism, than a revolutionary, who wanted to start a new religion, and it was only after the nation rejected Jesus that the Christian faith became distinct from Judaism. Jesus’ twelve apostles were also all devout Jews.

When the church began in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost every single Christian there was a Jewish Christian. Only reluctantly did the Jewish Christians begin to allow a few non-Jewish people to join them. But by the time Paul writes his letter to the Romans the Jewish Christians had become a minority, and non-Jewish people are flooding into the church. This was causing tension between the Jewish Christians and the non-Jewish Christians.

Paul finishes Romans 9 to remind both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians that the Christian Church is a community based on God’s grace. So let’s explore what that means, as we look at two characteristics of a community based on God’s grace.

All Kinds of People:

These final verses in Romans 9,  are dominated by quotations from the Jewish Bible, what we Christians call the Old Testament. This is because Paul has to pull out the big guns of the Jewish Bible here to prove that God’s community has always been intended to be a community based on grace. Even in the Old Testament, this was Israel’s calling: to embody God’s incredible grace.

Perhaps I need to define grace at this point, since that’s a word I’ve used a couple of times so far without definition. Grace essentially means gift, something that’s offered free of charge. Grace is something you can’t earn, you can’t merit, you can’t perform for or buy; something that can only be received as a free gift. Philip Yancey’s wonderful book "What’s So Amazing About Grace" says grace means no amount of sinning can make God love me less and no amount of goodness can make God love me more.

Paul wants to prove to us that God’s community in the Christian Church is characterized by God’s grace, not by merit, nationality, performance or importance. What Paul seeks to prove from the Old Testament here is two fold: First that God had predicted that Gentiles would flood into God’s community, and second that the Jewish people would become a remnant in God’s community.

To prove his first claim he quotes the book of Hosea in verses 24-26. Now verse 24, is obviously connected to verse 23, which mentions objects of God’s mercy. Paul’s saying that the objects of God’s mercy today are both Jewish people and non-Jewish people. Then he quotes two verses from the book of Hosea. Hosea is one of the minor prophets from the Jewish Bible. Hosea was a prophet you wouldn’t want involved in your church because Hosea’s wife was a prostitute. Hosea’s story is a painful one, a story filled with heartache and betrayal, as his painful marriage mirrors God’s relationship with ten unfaithful tribes from the nation of Israel.

Just like Hosea’s wife was breaking her marriage vows, the ten northern tribes of Israel were breaking their vows to God. By breaking their covenant vows, these ten tribes had become no different than the non-Jewish nations around them. Their unfaithfulness disqualified them from participation in the promises God had made to Israel. No longer were they God’s people, the object of God’s special affection, no longer were they children of the living God.

Yet even in the midst of their unfaithfulness, God looks forward to a time when he looks at these ten unfaithful tribes and once again calls them his people, his loved ones, his children. Although through their unfaithfulness they divorced themselves from God’s people, God predicts that one day they will once again be included among his people.

Paul views these two passages from Hosea as a paradigm for what God wants to do with all the nations. Paul says this isn’t just true of these ten unfaithful tribes who divorced themselves from God’s people, but it’s true for all the nations of the world. The day will come when God looks at people from all the other nations of the world--Egyptians and Americans, Canadians and Rwandans, Iranians and Iraqis and calls them his children. The day Hosea looked forward to began when the Christian church was born, and it continues even today as God calls people from all nations of the world to be part of his community of grace. Through the Christian community, God calls Americans and Armenians, Russians and Aborigines his children, his loved ones, sons of the living God.

So in Paul’s day as Gentiles from the Roman Empire flood the Christian community, Paul rejoices because he sees this as the beginning of the fulfillment of these promises God had given through Hosea.

But to prove that this community of grace will only have a small number of Jewish people, in verses 27-29 Paul turns to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was one of the major prophets from the Jewish Bible because his book is so long. Isaiah spoke God’s message to the two faithful tribes within the nation of Israel before and during the destruction of Jerusalem about 500 years before the birth of Jesus.

Although the nation of Israel was huge in Isaiah’s generation, he observes that only a remnant--only a small number--would truly be saved. Even though the nation was filled with circumcised, temple worshiping, bacon abstaining Jewish people, the vast majority of these people didn’t truly know God. They were nominal, much like many people today, who identify themselves by the title of "Christian," but who have about as much of a relationship with Jesus Christ as they do a pet rattlesnake.

The second quote from Isaiah reminds us that even the remnant in Israel that is saved isn’t saved because they deserve it. If salvation was based on merit or worthiness, then Israel would’ve been destroyed just like Sodom and Gomorrah had been back in the Old Testament book of Genesis. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of the moral cancer that had taken root in these cities. Yet Israel had done everything Sodom and Gomorrah had done, and even worse. Only because of God’s grace would there be a remnant in Israel.

From these four quotes of from the Jewish Bible we find the first characteristic of a community based on God’s grace. A community based on God’s grace is composed of All Kinds of  People.

And this, is where Israel struggled. It’s often where the Christian community as a whole, even today struggle as well. The Jewish Christians back then assumed that God’s community would only have "religious" people in it. I'm sure many of you know what I mean by that; people like them, people who were Bible believing, family values affirming, church going, law abiding, conservative, religious people. The kind of people you’d feel okay about sending your daughter on a date with. Of course, the Jewish people knew there would be the occasional irreligious outsiders among them.

In Israel’s history, there had always been a few "oddball" outsiders, people like Rahab the prostitute, like Ruth the Moabite, and so on. But they were always a small group, a remnant, from the nations, and so long as they were a small group you could tolerate them. If you didn’t want your kids to be around Rahab, you could easily avoid her. If you didn’t want to see Ruth the Moabite, you could simply go to first service at the temple and avoid her.

But all of the sudden, good, religious, reverent people had become the minority in the church in Rome. They had been invaded by Roman barbarians: Greek speaking, Sabbath breaking, pork eating, irreverent, pagan, irreligious people who were suddenly all excited about Jesus! They could no longer protect their children from seeing "those people", because now, these were the very people coming to their church, celebrating the Lord’s supper with them, and serving Jesus side by side with them. Perhaps some even wanted to teach their kids in Sunday school!

How often we forget that the church is supposed to be composed of all kinds of people. Good people and bad people, fun people and negative people, friendly people and hostile people, well people and sick people. A community of people composed of people just like me isn’t really a community; it’s a mutual admiration society. Whenever the church forgets first characteristic, I believe, that it ceases  to be true Christian Church.

Think of it another way, anyone remember back in the late 1960s and early 1970's, when hippies first started discovering Jesus Christ. They walked into the local churches, shoe-less, smelly, and long-haired, yet, they were very excited about Jesus. And, the majority of churches responded by saying, "You’re welcome to be here, if, you become like us.

Burn your music records, get a haircut, buy some shoes, take a shower, get a job, and you’re more than welcome to join us. "We are all about grace here after all!" Right?

However, there was one remarkable pastor, a man by the name of Chuck Smith, who didn’t do that. Pastor Chuck Smith, didn’t demand that the hippies become like him, or anyone else. And, a new fellowship Church was born, as a Bible study back in 1971. That’s where the saying, "Come as you are," back in the 1970s came to be. Back then, we truly believed, that the community  of God, was to be composed of "all kinds of people."

Beloved, I ask you the question: Do we still believe this today?

Now that we have all gotten jobs, we've had kids, bought an SUV or minivan, and become middle class, do we still believe that God's Church, is supposed to have all kinds of people?

Before you answer, I'd like to ask you another question: Who are the equivalent of the hippies today?

Is it the tattooed, body pierced, broken people, the ones struggling to find hope and meaning in a society that views them as slackers and consumers?

Are we willing to welcome them, as Christ did or tell them, "You’re welcome here so long as you "fit in," and become just like us. Cover your tattoos, remove your piercings, dress... well, differently, and you’re welcome to join us. After all, we’re all about grace here!

And if a community based on God’s grace is composed of all different kinds of people, what's the "Entry Requirement."

Now, I already know, what some of you are thinking, "But Pastor Brian. We have to have standards! We just can't let anyone be part of our church!"

We have got to have some kind of standard for membership. After all, some churches have thought this first characteristic means dropping all membership requirements. I know of one particular church in which you can become a member, even if you’re practically an atheist. Some churches in our community advertise themselves as "welcoming and affirming."

Over the years, I have come to believe, that’s a church code for, "You can join our church. We won’t tell you that adultery is wrong, sexual immorality is wrong, and we will never teach offensive Bible passages, that might cause you or anyone else to be "uncomfortable" and we will never tell you that Jesus calls you to a life of sexual purity. We'll certainly never impose the out dated, intolerant, no longer relevant commands of God upon you. Just come, be part of our community!"

Now, while, I will affirm All are welcome, I must preface that statement, with we will teach the entire Word of God, and there will be sermons, that will make you, and others, even those who are not like you, uncomfortable. Why? Because it's the Word of God. I am not qualified to determine, what is or is not "relevant." Because, though Jesus Christ loves you, accepts you and meets you where you are, He never intended to leave you as you are.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come."
II Corinthians 5:17

That’s not what I’m talking about. After all, there has to be a standard and membership commitment people who join our church make a commitment to. So the issue I'm speaking about is not having any standards. A community based on God’s grace does not mean having no standards, or requirements or guidelines for membership, but it does however, mean allowing God to define the terms and basis for membership.

What’s the requirement for membership in a community based on God’s grace? Paul answers that in verses 30-33. Still Paul is comparing the nation of Israel who have mostly rejected Jesus with this massive number of non-Jewish people who have come to faith in Jesus and joined the Church.

It’s not as clear in the English, but the Greek, the apostle Paul uses, it’s clear that Paul’s using a word describing a race in these verses. The words "pursue" and "obtain" in verse 30 and the word "attain" in verse 31 were all athletic terms used to describe a foot race.

The apostle Paul, who loved athletics, and he used athletic imagery frequently in his letters. To "pursue" means to run in such a way as to "pursue" the finish line. To "obtain" or "attain" means to cross the finish line of the race. In this word imagery, Israel has entered the race. Israel’s gone through the preparation and necessary training to be a contender in this race. The Gentiles however never even sent in their registration, they never trained, they never entered the race.

The finish line in this race is "righteousness," which is a religious term that simply means, "in right standing with God." Righteousness is a reconciled relationship with God, a relationship of intimacy and love where the things that once separated us from God, have been done away with. Righteousness is knowing God personally.

And, although Israel had entered the race and the Gentiles didn’t, when the end of the race comes, the Gentiles are crossing the finish line, and the nation of Israel stumbled, falling down on the track half way through the race. It’s the upset of the century, as the favorite to win the race doesn’t even finish, and a late entry contender who never even trained crosses the finish line in victory.

So, what happened? Paul tells us that Israel tried to run the race by pursuing the Jewish law, the ten commandments, "as if it were by works" chapter 9:32. Now it’s very important to understand what Paul is and is not saying here. Paul is not faulting Israel for pursuing the law, but he’s faulting them instead for pursuing the law on the basis of works instead of on the basis of faith. God’s law isn’t the problem; it was Israel’s distortion of God’s law that became the problem.

Instead of seeing the ten commandments as an instrument God would use to kindle faith, the vast majority of Jewish people saw the law as a means of earning acceptance before God by keeping the law. The law was given to kindle faith, but in Paul’s day it had become a self-improvement program to earn your way to God, a kind of performance stairway to heaven. We’ll see in the next chapter, that the Jewish people who pursued the law by faith were brought to Jesus because Jesus himself is the goal of the law in chapter 10:4.

Gentiles, however, did not have this problem, because they didn’t have the ten commandments to stumble over. It was easier for them to understand that a right relationship with God came as a result of faith, a result of heartfelt trust in God to create a right relationship. Therefore, they were able to cross over the finish line.

As Israel ran the race, they stumbled over a "stumbling stone." That "stumbling stone" is Jesus himself, the one who fulfills the law, supersedes the law, the one who shows us the right way to understand God’s law. This was also predicted by the Jewish prophet Isaiah, that God would lay a stone in the city of Jerusalem that would cause His people to stumble. Yet those who trust in this one God would never be put to shame.

So here we find the entrance requirement to a community based on God’s grace. A community based on God’s grace receives people on the basis of faith alone.

Beloved, no one can earn the right to be part of a community based on grace. If it’s based on grace, it’s not based on merit, or goodness, or worthiness, or race. If it’s based on grace, no one deserves to be a part of it, because it’s not about deserving. When the nation of Israel saw the ten commandments as a way to earn merit before God, that short-circuited the purpose of the law, which was to lead them to Jesus.

They began to think they had a divine right to be part of God’s community. They forgot it was by grace, and began to think it was by race. They set up artificial barriers to define who was in and who was out, to provide a clear line of separation between God’s people and those outside God’s people. This is how they stumbled over Jesus, the stone that makes men stumble, because He embodies God’s grace.

Jesus offered people a place at His table based on faith in him alone. Faith isn’t just another work, just another attempt to earn our way to God. Faith by its very nature admits that there’s nothing I can offer, I have nothing worthy to give, there is no way that I can merit a relationship with God.

Faith is the empty hand that admits it has nothing to offer. The empty hand of faith is no longer clinging to merits and works, it had released its hold on the religious attempts to earn our way to God. The empty hand of faith simply receives the free gift. This is why, at the finish line of the race, the finish line of a right relationship with God, that most religious people stumbled and fell, yet the most irreligious, those who were unlikely to cross, were able to reach the finish line.

In Closing....

Beloved, I realize that may bring about more than a few questions for some of you, such as who then can be a part of God’s community of grace? And, do we demand that people must "clean up their act" first, they must become like us, and scrub and sanitize their lives, they must become "squeaky clean," free of all failures and struggle? Do we put people through a morality test to see how ethical they are? Do we set the standard, the requirements?

Or do we receive them on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ alone? Do we receive them by their confession that Jesus loves them, has died for them, and saves them? Do we believe that faith in Jesus is enough to change their lives, and trust Christ to clean up their lives, to empower them to become like Jesus?

The right answer is the only answer, for me. Only the Good News of Jesus Christ can truly and genuinely transform the human heart, therefore change lives!  Only Jesus Christ, can accomplish what every form therapy, type social action, mandate or written new law, rehabilitation and recovery groups, and every other human solution, that you or I can conjure up, is powerless to do what the message of Jesus Christ can do.

Beloved, isn't that what the apostle Paul told us back in Romans 1:17? "For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith."

That the message is the power of God in action for the salvation of everyone who has faith in it?

I would like to encourage all of you to think about this when we  extend the offer to come to the Lord's Table, the communion table. To consider all kinds of people, of all sizes and shapes, colors, social and economic statuses, because not one of us deserving a place at the table, we are however, unworthy to sit in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. To come to His table.

Beloved, apart from grace, none of us worthy, none of us with a right or claim, a leg to stand on. Yet we are invited, to come by grace, not because of what we’ve done, but because who we know. Because of what Jesus has done, not only for us but for "them" too!

So, today I ask you, what does a community based on God’s grace look like?

In some respects, it is beyond even our greatest imagination. Because we’ve never seen a community of Christians that truly and fully understands this. We can all see glimmers and glimpses in the book of Revelation, with that immense crowd of people from every language, every tribe, every nationality, all worshiping God.

When we offer the invitation to salvation, when we have a baptism, I am reminded of the calling to embody grace, His grace. The standard of grace that allowed each of us to be here today.

What I believe, is we do not ask, "What political party are you?" We do not ask, "Have you cleaned up your life?" We do not ask, "Are you married or single?" We do not ask, "What's your sexual orientation?" We do not say, "You seem like a nice enough person, however, you do have some tattoos, so we are unable to receive you here." We don’t say, "You had an abortion, so you’re not welcome here." We don’t say, "You were once promiscuous, so you're going to have to prove yourself first."

What do we ask? "Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Do you believe in your heart that Jesus is the Son of  God? Do you believe that on the third day, God raised Him from the grave?"

I believe there is nothing more we need to ask, because that one confession is enough. The confession of faith in Christ alone.

May God help us be a people and church that embodies the very grace that has called us, the same grace that called His church into existence.

So before we each go our separate ways today,  I leave you with a question to consider,
"What does a community of God's grace look like?"

Because, when I imagine a community based on God's grace, I see a community that includes all kinds of people, a community that wants to live as Christ calls us to live, a group of Christians that wants to embodies His "Amazing Grace." God's amazing grace.

And, beloved if we fail, we exclude, we hurt, not only each other, but ourselves, because we form "in groups" and "out groups."

Has not Christ been patient with us all? Does He not remind us, that if not for His grace, that you and I, have no place here, in His church?

And, does He not remind us that no sin has made Him love us less and no act of works will make Him love us more.

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

Now and forever, in Jesus' name

Copyright © 2019-2020 All Rights Reserved

The Brian Monzon Ministries



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