We are in the middle of a series called STAND. Last week, we began by talking about what you need to do to be able to STAND with God on your side.
The key truth we learned is that God stands by the actually INNOCENT. As sinners, if we want to be INNOCENT before God, you can’t stand before God on your WORKS. Because if you submit your “good” works as evidence, you also must submit your bad works.
It’s like a State Inspection. Your emissions may be under the limit. Your steering wheel may move smoothly. The exterior of the car might be shiny and red with a bright, Lightning McQueen style racing stripe. You might even have a nice, completely vacuumed, no cheerios on the carpet, interior.
But if you don’t have a tire on your passenger side rear wheel, you won’t pass the inspection.
If you submit your WORKS to God for inspection, he will inspect every single work you have ever done.
If he finds one sinful work…
…when he finds that sinful work,
…you will fail inspection.
Thankfully, God offers an alternative option for innocence.
Jesus died for you.
You are forgiven.
You pass inspection because of him.
When you stand in that truth of God’s grace, you are declared innocent.
Of course, that’s tough to do
You can’t see God’s grace.
As I look at my life, I only see my failures.
Failures as a son.
Failures as a husband.
Failures as a father.
Failures as a pastor.
Maybe you can relate.
How do we stay standing in grace when all we see is our own sinful yuck?
Today we’re discovering the answer as we dig into the Scriptural importance of faith. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. To Those Who No Longer Stand
We are looking at a Biblical case study on faith. The text is from Romans 11. The subject in the case study is the nation of Israel.
The nation of Israel was God’s people. In the Old Testament time, God knew he needed to send a Savior for the world. He also knew that the Savior needed to both:
(1) become human – meaning he’d have to come from a human family,
(2) have prophecies written about him – so that people could look back at those prophecies to confidently identify the Savior.
God chose to entrust these blessings to a man named Israel.
He gave Israel a family.
Israel’s family had twelve sons.
Those sons would come to have their own families.
Eventually Israel’s family grew so large that calling it a family seemed unfair.
It became a nation.
But God’s promises given remained with that nation.
From that nation would come a Savior.
Therefore, God would protect that nation so that the nation would survive, and God’s promise would remain alive.
Even if God had to do it through miraculous means.
He caused a sea of water to split into two walls so that Israel can escape its former captors.
He spoke to them from the top of a smoky, shaking, thundering mountain and gave them Ten Commandments to govern their interactions with each other.
He took thick, stone walls of the impenetrable fortress of Jericho and tumbled them to the ground that Israel might have land for their nation.
He empowered them to build a beautiful temple of gold, silver, jasper, acacia wood in order to spend time with God and remember his promises.
He sent them prophet after prophet painstakingly reminding them of God’s promises and giving them clues of the birth of the Savior.
All of this led up to Jesus.
Jesus fit the prophecies given to Israel.
Jesus was born in Israel.
Jesus was a part of Israel’s family.
Jesus did miracles for Israel.
And how did the nation of Israel respond?
They killed him.
On a cross.
At the time of the book of Romans, the good news of the Savior had gone beyond the borders of Israel to people that are not the nation of Israel.
In chapter 11, Paul asks an important, theological question:
“So I ask, ‘Did (the people of Israel) stumble in order to fall permanently?’ ” (11:11)
They really did wrong.
They been entrusted with the promises of God and when that promise came?
They murdered him.
When they looked at themselves now, they no longer saw God’s people…
But God’s murderers.
Is an innocent verdict impossible for them?
“Absolutely not! Rather, by their trespass, salvation came to the Gentiles to make the Israelites jealous.” (11:12)
I think of 3rd grade puppy love. If you’re a boy and you have a crush on the girl, what do you do in order to make her like you?
You throw spitballs at her.
Because nothing says, “Be mine forever,” like a wad of spit-soaked paper.
But if she doesn’t seem interested. Instead, she’s flirting with Aaron Samuels, the jock of the playground. Then, you need to make her jealous.
By spitting spitballs at another girl.
Hopefully she sees me.
She misses the wads of romance.
She comes back to flirting with me.
God loved the people of Israel.
The people of Israel rejected him, so God gave the message of the Savior to the other nations.
Principally, because he loved those other nations.
Additionally, to make Israel jealous and draw them back into his grace.
This leads to a slightly complex truth:
God gives grace to the seemingly UNDESERVING so that the “seemingly” DESERVING realize they’re UNDESERVING and yearn for his GRACE.
I remember participating in prison ministry while I was at the Seminary. I went into a state penitentiary with a member of the local church who was going to press the play button on the tape recorder to cue the music for Amazing Grace. (Do you remember tape players? In order to run such a task you needed to be efficient in pushing the play button.)
There was a side room where we held worship. After we had set up and nodded to the guards, they ushered in about 20 guys.
All in orange jumpsuits.
It was hard not to wonder:
I wonder what they did.
But I preached the sermon.
On forgiveness and grace.
As I preached, I got more “Amens” than I have in the rest of my preaching combined.
And they sang Amazing Grace with gusto and excitement.
And they shook our hands vigorously afterwards saying, “Thank you so much for this teaching of grace.”
I don’t know if they were the real audience that day.
As we drove home, the local church volunteer said to me,
“I envy those guys.
“They get grace.
“When I look at my life, I see blessings, church stuff, and volunteer opportunities where I push the button. Sometimes, I think ‘I’m pretty good,’ and it devalues the power grace.
But when these guys look around, they see constant reminders of their sin. Yet…they cling to grace.
“Pastor, that’s real faith.”
He was right.
The volunteer and I found a lot of our confidence in the things we saw ourselves doing.
All their confidence was in God’s invisible grace.
But is this faith real?
Again, look at Israel:
“Now if their trespass meant riches for the world, and their failure meant riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness mean!” (v.12)
Think about it:
If God’s grace is for the non-Jew who never read the Old Testament, never sang a Psalm, never set foot in the temple, and never memorized even one of the Ten Commandments…
Then, it’s also for the Jew who did all those things and still rejected God’s promise.
If God’s grace is for the Jew who had all God’s promises, rejected all his promises, and even murdered God’s own son…
Then, God’s grace is for you.
If you’ve FALLEN out of grace, belief in JESUS means you STAND in grace again.
No matter what you’ve done.
God’s grace is big enough.
That’s where we look.
Not over here at the big WRONGS we’ve done.
But over here at the BIG GRACE Jesus won.
II. To Those Who Do Stand by Faith
But what about those us who do believe in Jesus?
Who haven’t fallen away.
Who have done a really excellent job of never falling away…
The next section speaks to believers:
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you—a wild olive branch—were grafted in among them and share in the rich sap from the root of the olive tree, do not boast that you are better than the branches.” (v.17-18)
Grafting is a technique where a section of a stem with some leaf buds is attached to the stock of an existing tree. The wild shoot is cut in a way that it fits into a specific spot on the existing plant so that the transport vessels of both pieces line up. In this way, the grafted piece can continue to grow as it is fed nutrients and water by the stock plant.
In this illustration, Israel is a tree.
It was attached to the root of God’s grace.
But some rejected the Savior and were broken off.
Then, people who were not from the nation of Israel were then grated into their place.
They are a part of the tree.
Every much a part of God’s family.
But a weird phenomenon can happen with believers in God’s grace.
They can become convinced that it’s less about God’s grace.
…And more about their being AWESOME.
I have been attending worship over the pandemic. God wants me here ‘cause I’m so faithful.
I stayed at home over the pandemic. God wants me here ‘cause I’m so caring.
I voted this way in the election. God wants me here because I voted right.
Notice the “because.”
It’s no longer “Because I stand in Jesus’ grace.”
I believe I stand with God…because why wouldn’t God want to stand with me?
BOASTING can lead to faith in SELF.
I broke off a tree branch earlier this week.
I broke it off, because it was a branch that looked especially nice.
I thought it was a blessing to the tree.
But since I’ve broken it off, do you know what’s happened?
But the branch?
Remember that you are not supporting the root, but the root is supporting you. (v.18)
You need Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t need you.
You need grace.
Grace doesn’t need you to be grace.
“You will say: ‘Branches were broken off so that I am grafted in.’ That is true—but remember that they were broken off because of unbelief…Do not be conceited but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you.” (V.19-21)
The reason God removed the Jewish believers wasn’t because his grace wasn’t enough.
It’s because they didn’t believe his grace was enough.
They severed the connection.
God broke them off.
God says be careful.
Because it’s easy to think grace isn’t enough.
It’s easy to believe there must be something to DO for yourself.
And when you think grace is ABOUT you and yourself.
It isn’t long before your faith is IN yourself
And faith in yourself instead of Jesus goes by another name.
Have you heard this?
If your faith is in YOURSELF, you will be CUT OFF.
Have you ever considered the lifespan of a cross?
At some point the cross was a tree. Alive and blooming. Green and vibrant.
It got cut down.
Cut from the by the local Roman cross building artisan.
Chopped into two large pieces.
Fastened together by some rope.
Large enough for three hefty nails to splinter its fibers.
A dead thing used for death.
With bloody remnants of past deaths all over it.
This dead wood death device truly encompasses what a sinful person apart from grace is.
And that’s where Jesus died.
He placed himself in our position.
He died with our sins of deathly boasting on his bad.
He died as a spiritually dead branch cut off from God’s family tree.
Three days later.
Three days later he did something that no other dead branch had ever done.
He came to life.
Because the Branch lives.
You live as his Branch.
“And you remain in place by faith.”
HE’s the trunk.
He holds you up.
He gives you nourishment, support, life, strength, and forgiveness.
By faith in Jesus, you STAND.
III. What Now?
So how do we keep our faith strong in Jesus? Two ideas from this Scripture: Take note of God’s kindness and his severity: severity on those who have fallen, but God’s kindness on you—if you remain in his kindness; otherwise, you also will be cut off. (v.22)
(1) Note God’s Sternness
Sometimes Sunday School lessons can be hard to tell.
I was reading to Daniela one of the Bible story books that we’ve received. (If you’re a pastor, you get a lot of Bible story books. It’s a good thing.)
I decided to read the story of Noah’s ark.
I get to do all of my animal noises.
But as I was reading this book, I realized something.
Part of the story was missing.
The part where God decided to destroy the hundreds of thousands of people who had hated God and rejected his warnings for 40 years, so eventually God drowned them.
How many times you seen that in a kids’ story on Noah’s ark?
It’s tough to talk about. I get it.
But what is God telling us here.
The hard parts of the Bible.
The God’s judgment parts of the Bible.
We shouldn’t avoid those.
We need to hear them.
They are deep, cutting reminders of what happens when you put faith in yourself.
Something humans are prone to do.
God gives us these warnings as a blessing to us.
Because he doesn’t want us to drown in a universal flood.
He wants us to live eternally with him.
Don’t skip those parts in your Bible readings.
Don’t ignore those parts with your kids.
Don’t go get coffee during those parts of the sermon.
Take note of God’s sternness. And then…
(2) Take Note of God’s Kindness
Because when you come to God in repentance.
When we come to God recognize our sinfulness.
When we come to God in our deadness…
God grants life.
He shows us how he has been gracious to others through the Gospel.
He grafts us back into that very Gospel.
We are nourished in grace again.’
When you don’t see God’s grace out the world.
When you just see a bunch of jerks out in the world.
Here is where you see God’s grace and gain confidence to stand.
Like the woman from Mark 7.
Her daughter was demon possessed.
She repeatedly hurt herself.
She wasn’t in her right mind.
She seemed constantly lost.
Watching your daughter lose herself to her demons…
Can you imagine the pain in this mom’s heart?
She had heard of Jesus.
But Jesus was Jewish.
Jesus was a leader in the Jewish community.
The Jewish community wasn’t her community.
She didn’t have their religion.
She had never been in the temple.
She didn’t share the blood of Abraham.
She didn’t look like Israel.
She didn’t belong there.
I’m sure the looks of others made her feel that way.
There was something about this Jesus.
She found Jesus, threw herself on the ground and immediately began to cry out,
“Lord! Jesus! Help! Help me! Help my daughter!”
Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
“I was promised to the children of Israel.”
“It isn’t right take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)
The woman heard him.
She processed his illustration.
“Lord, their little dogs under the table…
They get to eat the crumbs.
Give me a crumb of your power. My daughter will be saved.”
“Because of this statement, go! The demon has gone out of your daughter.” (Mark 7:29)
She went home.
And the demon had gone out of her daughter.
This is the power of Jesus.
And stand by faith in grace. Amen.