In his work, The End for Which God Created the World, Jonathan Edwards had an interesting take on what makes humans happy. He wrote, “God is their good. Their excellency and happiness is nothing but the emanation and expression of God’s glory.”1 In other words, Edwards was saying that because God wants the good and happiness of his people, he lets them see, know, and enjoy him, for he is their greatest good and his glory the source of their greatest happiness. Edwards, of course, didn’t come up with this realization on his own. In this very letter of Romans that we’ve been looking at for months now, Paul makes this point quite clear himself. Think, for example, back to Romans 9, as Paul argued for why God worked in certain ways, demonstrating his sovereign power in salvation. At one point he brought up the reality of God judging certain individuals even as he saved others, which he noted were “vessels of mercy.” And as he contemplated why God did this, he wrote that God endured with patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy” (9:23).
Now, contemplate that for a second. God loves and delights in his children, his “vessels of mercy,” as Paul calls them in Romans 9. In fact, according to Romans 8, he loves us so much that he did not spare his own Son in order to make us his children. He’s so committed to our good that he is working everything to that end. And, on top of that, he’s not going to let anything separate us from the love he has for us. That is glorious news. So, what does this God who loves us so deeply and is so devoted to our good do for us? Paul says that he has worked redemption throughout history in such a way as to make known to us “the riches of his glory.” He gives us the great gift of letting us see even more clearly his glory because, as Edwards notes, “God is [our] good . . . [our] happiness is nothing but the emanation and expression of God’s glory.”
My guess is that we don’t typically or naturally think that way. I don’t typically sit down with someone and say, “I love you so much and want your good so deeply that I’m going to spend the day letting you see my glory. I’ll tell you stories about my feats, let you witness all the skills I possess, and really just let you enjoy me.” We know that’s silly. We know that’s not really loving or good for that other person.
But there’s a reason that’s not good or loving that we can all recognize. It’s because of my very limited glory. An example using other realities will illustrate this. If I told you that I’ve set aside all day for you to enjoy a pencil I’m going to give you, you’d think it was punishment. And the reason you’d think it was punishment is because the glory of a pencil is so limited that it can’t bring you enjoyment for a whole day. It may not be able to bring you enjoyment for a second. But if I told you I set aside a whole day for you to enjoy the nicest car ever built, then even though it might not provide enjoyment for a whole day, it’d provide greater delight than a pencil. Still yet, if I told you that I’m providing you the opportunity to enjoy the Grand Canyon for a day, then you would begin to thank me, not think I’m silly. And even more, if I found a way for you to be able to safely explore the depths of the ocean, then you’d probably tell me that only one day of that hardly scratches the surface. You’d like more. So, what we’re seeing is that the greater the glory something possess the greater satisfaction it can bring to us.
Now consider God. What does he allow us to see and know and enjoy that would give us the utmost joy and satisfaction? A pencil, a car, the Grand Canyon, or even the entire ocean—because they are finite in glory—cannot be the answer. The finite nature of even the most glorious object in creation means it can only offer finite joy. Therefore, because God loves us so deeply, he offers us the enjoyment of himself—of his infinite glory and goodness. He lets us enjoy the display of his glory, marvel at the infinite perfection of his character, and delight in the infinite goodness of his ways. Anything less than letting us see, know, and enjoy him would not be as loving. That’s why Paul can write about God loving the vessels of his mercy so deeply that he displays to us his glory in his work of salvation, and it’s why Edwards can say that God is our good, the emanation and expression of his glory the source of our greatest happiness. God’s commitment to exalt his glory and the love he has for us are not at odds with one another but come together in perfect union.
And though that is a long introduction to this sermon, that reality is what we must grasp in order to understand Paul’s conclusion to our text this morning, as he writes, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen” (vv. 33-36).
What can cause Paul so much delight and joy that he bursts forth in praise and thanksgiving, even rejoicing that all things are from God, and through God, and for the sake and exaltation of God? What causes Paul that much joy and delight is considering who God is and getting a glimpse of the glory and majesty and ways of God at whose side are pleasures forevermore. Therefore, I want us to taste and see this morning the Lord’s goodness and love for us as he allows us to see his ways and displays for us his glory as we consider Romans 11:25-36.
Paul shows us God’s nature, ways, and glory by continuing to discuss the issue of God’s plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles in history. Therefore, I want to walk through Paul’s continued teaching, as he lays out God’s saving plan and work in verses 25-32, and then I want to bring up my one sermon point that I hope will help us see why Paul erupts in praise as he does in verses 33-36.
Now, in order to follow the argument Paul is making, I will give you an outline of the points of Paul’s argument prior to making my sermon point. So, we’ll start by noting that:
God hardened Israel so that salvation would come to the Gentiles
This is a point we saw last week, but Paul notes it at the beginning of this text, so I’ll note it as well. God hardened Israel so that salvation would come to the Gentiles. Paul notes this in verse 25, writing, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” I won’t belabor this point, since it’s a refresher, but one reason that corporate ethnic Israel rejected the gospel—as part of God’s plan and design—was so that the gospel would be directed to the Gentiles, and they would be saved. Again, we saw that last week, but Paul also notes something more in that verse, doesn’t he?
Israel’s hardening was only partial and is temporary
Two words in verse 25 show us clearly that Israel’s hardening was only partial and temporary. One is the word “partial,” of course. Paul says, “A partial hardening has come upon Israel,” meaning that God’s plan never meant that no Israelites would hear the gospel and respond from Paul’s day to our own. Rather, God has always saved a remnant of Israelites, and he’ll continue to do so. Their hardening was always partial because a remnant in each generation will turn to Christ in faith and be saved.
But we also see that this hardening is temporary. The word that shows us this is the word “until.” Paul says that a partial hardening has come upon Israel, “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” That means that there’s coming a day when Israel—as a corporate, ethnic people—will no longer reject the gospel but will turn to Christ in faith and be saved, which brings us to the third point in Paul’s argument.
A massive number of Israelites will be saved at or immediately prior to the return of Christ
Let’s take this a piece at a time. First, why do I think that this text teaches that a massive number of Israelites are going to be saved at some future point? Well, the answer is because of verses 26-27, as Paul writes, “And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’; ‘and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’”
Now, when Paul says, “All Israel will be saved,” I think he means a massive number of ethnic Israelites. I think he is referring to ethnic Israelites because all through these three chapters (Romans 9-11), he’s used “Israel” to refer to ethnic, corporate Israel. Paul can use the term “Israel” in other contexts to refer to Gentile believers, but he doesn’t do so here. And since he’s clearly talking about ethnic Israel in verse 25 and verse 28, then it’s very likely that he’s referring to ethnic Israel in verse 26.
I also think he’s talking about a massive number of Israelites when he says, “All Israel” for two reasons. First, it’s got to be a massive number because he uses the term “all,” has already noted some Israelites being saved during this time of partial hardening, and spoke of their future “full inclusion” back in verse 12. Consequently, Paul is speaking of a future day when a lot of Israelites will be saved. But I don’t think he means literally every single Israelite because he uses the term “all” in other places not to mean all without exception when he speaks of all being saved. For example, in verse 32 he’s going to say that God has consigned all to disobedience that he might have mercy on all, but he doesn’t mean that every Jew and Gentile will be saved, but simply a number of Jews and Gentiles. I think he’s meaning the same thing here.
And the reason I say that a massive number of Israelites will be saved at or near the return of Christ is because Paul says that this partial hardening of Israel will remain until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (v. 25). That is, after God has saved all his people from among the Gentiles, then the partial hardening will be lifted and a massive number of Israelites will be saved. It seems to me then that this must mean that it’ll take place at or near the return of Christ. I say that for a few reasons. First of all, the text Paul quotes from in verses 26-27 comes from Isaiah 59, which pictures the Lord coming to his people (and thus suggests the second coming of Christ). Second, we just saw last week that Paul noted in verse 15 that Israel’s acceptance of the gospel would mean “life from the dead,” which I argued was most likely a reference to the resurrection that will take place at the return of Christ. And, finally, this partial hardening is lifted when the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” which means (it appears) that it will take place when God has saved all of the Gentiles he’s going to save.
Now, you could argue, that the Lord will complete his saving work among the Gentiles, and then he’ll focus his work on Israel for a long time, but that would mean that Israel’s salvation would mean something negative for the Gentiles (i.e. no more of them being saved). But remember Paul’s logic from 11:12, 15? He has argued that if Israel’s rejection of the gospel meant that salvation came to the Gentiles, then Israel’s acceptance of the gospel would mean “much more” (v. 12). Consequently, it just can’t be the case, according to that logic, that God is going to save all the Gentiles he’s going to save, and then he’ll spend a good while saving Jews and not Gentiles, for that wouldn’t be good for Gentiles. Instead, I think Paul is saying right at the return of Christ or just immediately prior to it, a massive number of Israelites are going to have their eyes open and believe. Then, at that moment (or in that moment), Christ will return, all will be raised, and we’ll be with the Lord forever. That’s what Paul is arguing is God’s saving plan, according to verses 25-27. But let’s continue the argument. Next, we can add:
The reason God is going to save a massive number of Israelites is because of his love for and gracious promises to the patriarchs
In verses 28-29 Paul gives a bit of a summary of what he has argued so far. He says of Israel, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake.” That is referencing of course their rejection of the gospel and how this opened the door for the gospel to go to Gentiles so that they might be saved, as Paul noted earlier, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” “But,” Paul adds, “as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” That is, when God called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and said that he was going to bless their descendants and have them as his own people, that obviously wasn’t a promise limited to Israelites. We Gentiles who believe are sons of Abraham and children of God as well. But it did include Israelites, and God is faithful to that promise. So, for the sake of the promises he made to the patriarchs and his love for them, God is going to save a massive number of Israelites at or immediately prior to the return of Christ. And that brings us to the next point of Paul’s argument.
God’s saving plan involved Jews and Gentiles walking in disobedience and then receiving mercy
Paul actually notes that they kind of took turns in this. He writes in verses 30-31, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.” In other words, God had a plan. For years—throughout the OT and all the way up to Paul’s mission—Gentiles walked in disobedience before God. Now, yes, there were some Gentiles who were saved. We can think of Rahab, Ruth, and others, but these were the exception. By and large, Gentiles were a people characterized by disobedience to God and bearing his wrath all the way up to Paul’s missionary journeys. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says in verse 32, “Just as you were at one time disobedient to God.” He’s referring to that entire time.
However, once the Jews largely rejected the gospel and God directed gospel proclamation to the Gentiles, they began receiving mercy, coming to faith in large numbers. And that has continued for the past 2,000 years. People are coming to Christ is great numbers, and most of them are Gentiles. Disobedience has given way to mercy.
And, Paul notes, Israel has followed and will follow that same path. They are right now walking in disobedience. By and large they’re rejecting the gospel. But they too will one day be shown mercy. The only prerequisite to them knowing mercy was God showing mercy to the Gentiles, and now that’s happened. That’s why Paul says, “by the mercy shown you they also may now receive mercy.” Everything necessary for them to be shown mercy has happened, and at any moment the Lord could save them in massive numbers, and one day he will.
So, for each people, Gentiles and Jews, God’s plan involved them walking in disobedience for a time and then being shown mercy. But why? Why was that God’s plan? Well, the answer to this question is the main sermon point I want us to see this morning. It is this:
The Lord has designed salvation history in such a way as to magnify his grace and mercy
That is what Paul is getting at when he says in verse 32, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” In other words, God wanted it to be clear to everyone that salvation is totally and utterly a work of grace and mercy. If Gentiles had never walked in disobedience, we might think they deserved or somehow merited salvation. But God let them walk in disobedience so that it might be clear that we don’t deserve salvation; it is an act of mercy.
And with Jews, if they had accepted the gospel in large numbers from Pentecost on, we might think that this is their right to be saved, something they deserve. But God would have none of that. So his saving plan involved having them walking in disobedience for a time so that when he saved them, it might be clear that their salvation is a work of mercy.
But why? Why would God order salvation history in such a way that his mercy is magnified? The answer is because the most loving thing he can do for those whom he loves is to let them see the full array of his glory. And if we only saw his justice, we would miss one aspect of his glory that we desperately need to see, and contemplate, and delight in—his mercy.
What then happens as we contemplate his mercy? What happens as we consider his wisdom in working salvation this way? What happens when we consider the goodness of God toward his people, ensuring that we would know his mercy? What happens, if we’ll allow ourselves to meditate on and contemplate God’s mercy, love, goodness, and wisdom, is that we’ll get a clearer glimpse of how glorious he is and erupt in praise that may well sound a bit like this: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (vv. 33-36).
So, here’s what I want us to do in terms of application today. I want us to spend time before the Lord, saying, “Father, you’ve loved me enough to redeem me through sending your Son to live, die, and be raised for me. And you love me enough that you give me glimpses of your glory to delight in—both now and in eternity. So, help me to see more clearly your mercy, wisdom, goodness, and love, and move my heart to know you more deeply, understand your ways more clearly, and love and worship you more earnestly, for this is my greatest good. Amen.” And just spend time today (and each day) before our wise, loving, and merciful God, who gives himself to us. And let’s thank him for the gift of himself even now, as we come to the table. Amen.