Word for Today Archive

Pastoral Commentary for Romans 11
Author: Pastor Bob Nordlie

When I first began to cycle seriously about six years ago, I thought it was just a matter of hopping on my bike and riding farther than I had before. I learned quickly that there was a whole lot more to endurance cycling or bicycle racing. It begins with a modern, lightweight road bike, but that's only the beginning. There's clothing, cycling computers, helmets and shoes. Then you need to learn about training techniques like using a fluid trainer or riding intervals, then comes understanding cadence, riding in a peloton, forming an echelon, and on and on.

Most subjects go deeper than we think they do initially. There's a lot more to learn about most areas of expertise than a person can master in a few hours, days, months or even years. And of all possible subjects, that is more true of theology than any other.

In Romans 11:33 Paul writes: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" There are many, many things about God that we will never fully comprehend. There are ways of God's working that simply don't make any sense to us at all. There are mysteries in God's revelation that are too deep for us to fathom. This shouldn't surprise us.

The God who created light simply by speaking the photons into existence is more powerful than we could ever imagine. The God who wrote the information that defines life into the neucleus of every living cell is wiser than we could ever contemplate. And that's a good thing. I often tell people that I'm thankful to worship and serve a God who is incomprehensibly greater than me. If I could wrap my brain all the way around the God of the universe this would be a frightening universe indeed. Just imagine if the Sorvereign Lord of all Creation were so simple and straightforward that I could completely understand his wisdom and ways. Creation would be under the direction of One no smarter than I am. Now that's a frightening thought!

Pastoral Commentary for Romans 11
Author: Pastor Josh

When you can't see what God is doing, trust His heart.

Paul says in verse 33-34 of our reading,
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?"

What a profound statement. How have you done in "tracing out God's path"? If you're like me you can relate to Paul's words, "who has known the mind of the Lord?" Reflecting on our lives we likely agree that what God has in mind for us often couldn't be scripted ahead of time if we tried.

I've often found it helpful to walk forwards into the future, while facing backwards. While I might not know what God will do today or tomorrow or next week... if I can bring to mind how God has worked, that gives me insight into His heart and His character, giving me clarity in what He could be doing today.

More than "tracing out His path"... we are called to "trust God's heart." Proverbs 3:5-6 says: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

Today... more than trying "to trace"... trust God. As you trust, and His pathway is placed before you, walk with the certainly that while it might be a path different that expected, direction has been given. Next steps can be taken with an "egoless clarity", confidently knowing who has guided us.

Pastoral Commentary for Romans 11
Author: Pastor Zach

One evening last week, while Melody and I were having supper with a wonderful couple from our congregation, the wife offered to show me pictures of her trip to the Holy Land. "They'll probably bore you," she warned. I am happy to report, however, that she was sorely mistaken. Seeing her albums full of pictures of such famous biblical places like the Sea of Galilee, the Pool of Siloam, Cana, and even Jesus' empty garden tomb made my heart sing and my spirit soar. For there is something about seeing pictures from Israel and the very places where Jesus walked that makes the Bible come alive in a whole new way.

Most certainly, the Holy Land in general, and Israel specifically, holds a special and prime place in the history of God's people. And yet, in today's reading from Romans 11, Paul reminds us that one does not have to live in Israel or be related to Abraham to be a child of God. For "salvation has come to the Gentiles" (verse 11). Salvation is offered to all, not just to some.

Throughout Romans 11, Paul repeatedly affirms this fact that salvation has come for both Jews and Gentiles alike. Paul's words, however, have caused countless conflicts amongst theologians and laypeople alike. The crux of the controversy comes in verse 26, where Paul writes, "And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.'" The question of this verse is: What does Paul mean, exactly, when he writes, "And so all Israel will be saved"? And the interpretations are legion. Augustine believed this phrase meant Elijah and Enoch would one day return and covert the entire Jewish nation. Where Elijah and Enoch are to be found in this passage, I don't know. But nevertheless, this idea of a mass Jewish conversion to Christianity took hold and, by the Middle Ages, it became a fixed doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church.

Other theologians, however, have taken a different posture toward this verse. No less than Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Martin Luther, and John Calvin have asserted that "Israel" here refers not to an ethnic nation of Jews, but to the church of God, Jew and Gentile alike, saved by Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 6:15-16). As John Calvin writes in his Commentary on Romans: "Many understand this [passage to speak] of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God." Thus, when Paul writes, "All Israel will be saved," he means, "The true church of God, which is the new Israel, will be saved."

Although finally, as Paul himself says, the notion that "all Israel will be saved" remains a bit of a "mystery" (verse 25), I prefer the latter interpretation of this verse to the former. I won't get into the nuances of why I prefer the latter interpretation here, but suffice it to say that this interpretation carries with it a beautiful promise: That from Abraham to Moses to David to the prophets, God has never given up on his people. His desire is that "all will be saved" (cf. 1 Timothy 2:3-4), a desire that is reiterated here when, with great glee and celebration, Paul proclaims: "God will get his 'all.' If not in 'all' humanity, then at least in 'all Israel.' All Israel will be saved!"

What does this mean for us? Simply this: Israel's story is our story too. Abraham, Moses, David, as well as the prophets are our ancestors. We come from a rich and storied history of people of great faith and now, we get to add our stories to the history of Israel. For we, as believers in Christ, are part of "all Israel." And even when passages like this confuse theologians and divide scholars, we can rejoice in this marvelous promise: The Bible's story is our story. And this means that the Bible's God is our God. And our God has come to us in Christ with salvation. Thus, to encounter God and see Israel, you don't need a trip to the Holy Land, you just need to look in the mirror. For you are Israel too.

Read Today's Scripture and Commentary on the Concordia website.

2020-06-05 08:07:22