Main Idea: Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and He will accomplish all of His purposes and promises.
In January, I made it clear that I believe all will eventually be saved. And I invited you to question me on this. Don’t believe something just because I believe it. Search the Scriptures, study to show thyself approved, and hold onto the good. But since I preached that message, it’s been about 7 months, and I haven’t preached a full message on the topic again.
But there are actually so many verses in Scripture that point to God’s plan to save all, that I simply can’t avoid the topic. And as the Scripture addresses it, I wouldn’t be an honest preacher unless I addressed it as well. Today is one of those days. In fact, today’s sermon will address an even bigger topic that’s even more controversial among Christians, if that’s possible. It’s the problem of evil. If God is good, how can there be evil? But I think Paul would respond, if there weren’t any evil, how could we know the good?
[Picture of Jay and Lauren]
In July 2017, Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, both 29 years old, quit their jobs to take a bike trip around the world, and document their experiences.
Nine months into their trip, Austin wrote this on his blog:
“You watch the news and you read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place. People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil. People are ax murderers and monsters and worse.
I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own—it’s easier to dismiss an opinion as abhorrent than strive to understand it. Badness exists, sure, but even that’s quite rare. By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind. No greater revelation has come from our journey than this.” – Jay Austin
That’s what Jay Austin wrote as he biked around the world. Three months later, while biking near the Afghan border, Jay and Lauren will killed by ISIS terrorists for being, according to a video that was released by the terrorist, “disbelievers.”
Evil exists in the world. It’s not a make-believe concept, and it’s not only perpetuated by one group of people, whether ISIS, Democrats, Republicans, or even unbelievers. We’re all capable of evil, because we’re all sinners who have at some point hardened our hearts to God.
And God will tolerate evil in our hearts forever. So the question is, what will God do about it?
Romans 11, starting with verse 25.
I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you will not be conceited: A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
The Deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.
Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the patriarchs, since God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable. (Romans 11:25-29)
Father, help us to see and be in awe of who You are, and what You’re doing in history, and in our lives. Help us this morning to see Jesus. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
I remember talking with a Jewish man years ago about his faith, and it became clear to me pretty quickly that he didn’t really have faith. He was Jewish by tradition, through his family lineage, but not in any meaningfully spiritual sense. He still believed in God, but he didn’t fully accept the Old Testament as God’s word, and he even called into question just some of the plain historical events of the Jews recorded in his own Hebrew Bible.
He was Jewish through physical descent, but not through faith. Now, if you read the Old Testament, you actually see a lot of that. Several of the kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel were Jewish by birth, but clearly not by faith. They did not obey God or lead the people to obey God. And then, of course, the Israelite people themselves were exiled from the promised land that they had been given because they worshiped idols. Not all of God’s chosen people were trusting in God alone.
But you ought to have a nagging question as to why. Why would God allow this? The Jews are described in the Bible as God’s children. God decided, through no action of the Jews, to bless the Jews unconditionally, and to bless the world through them. So why would God allow some of the Jews to fall away from faith? And by doing that, did God take back His promise to them?
Paul addresses that in verse 25.
I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you will not be conceited: A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
In other words, God allowed some of the Jews to harden their hearts so that the fullness of the Gentiles, all of the Gentiles, could come in. Because God had previously chosen Abraham and his family to bless out of all the families in the world, it’s like God needed to make room for the Gentiles to also be part of God’s family. So to do that, God allowed a partial hardening to come upon Israel for a time. But then notice how Paul then quickly shifts to remind the Romans of God’s faithfulness to the Jews, writing in verse 26:
[that] in this way all Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:26a)
In other words, until the Gentiles came in, that’s the Romans, and that’s all of us, until we also received salvation from God, Israel itself was incomplete. It was never God’s intention to only save one family, but as He originally told Abraham, that through this one family, or specifically through Jesus, who was the Offspring of this one family, all the families of the earth would be blessed.
No matter who you are, and no matter how far you’ve felt from God, God’s desire and God’s plan is to show you mercy through Jesus.
Paul then quoted Isaiah 59:20-21 and Jeremiah 31:31-34, saying:
The Deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins. (Romans 11:26b-27)
And, of course, that’s Jesus. Jesus is the Deliverer who came to turn Jacob into Israel. To turn the faithless into people of faith. He came in fulfillment of the covenant that God had made with Abraham. God’s unconditional blessing of Israel is accomplished because Jesus died on the cross to take away their and our sins.
It’s through Jesus that the fullness of the Gentiles comes into God’s family. It’s through Jesus that God restores even the part of Israel who hardened their hearts. And it’s through Jesus that all of God’s promises are fulfilled.
So, you see, God doesn’t neglect to fulfill His promises. He doesn’t take back His promises. His promises never turn out to be empty, but are always even better than we originally thought. Even when it seems like all hope is lost, God still loves His chosen people, and all people, who have turned away from Him. Verse 28.
Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the patriarchs, since God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28-29)
For now, it sure seems like we have a lot of enemies on the earth. Terrorists, whether foreign or domestic, instill fear in the lives of so many. Unbelievers often accuse and persecute Christians all over the world. And even many professing Christian believers often seem to be working against what God has called us to do. And Paul even names hardhearted Israel as our enemies in regards to the gospel, since they worship the same God as us, yet have not yet trusted in Jesus, who is God in the flesh, the Savior that they have always longed for.
And yet, even while they’re enemies, they’re loved. Because God doesn’t take back His promises. His gifts and calling are irrevocable. Even while they’re enemies, they’re loved.
Kind of sounds like us, doesn’t it? Romans 5:8 says:
God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
God loves us because God is love. God loves His enemies because God is love. He doesn’t love us because we suddenly God our acts together, or because we started following Him. It was even before we started following Him that He loved us. That goes for us, it goes for the Jews, and it goes for everyone who hasn’t yet come to believe in Jesus.
As you once disobeyed God but now have received mercy through their disobedience, so they too have now disobeyed, resulting in mercy to you, so that they also may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:30-32)
This is one of the most perplexing, terrifying, exhilarating truths in all of the Bible and truly in all of life because it actually answers the question of evil. Every religion and every thinking person ought to struggle with the question of evil: why is there so much evil in the world?
Paul is saying here that God allowed evil, disobedience, that which is contrary to His character, and He imprisoned us all in our disobedience so that He could forgive all of our evil, showing us His mercy. In other words, we first had to be lost in order to be found, and we first had to know evil so that we would come to know God, who is good.
It’s like Adam and Eve, although they were originally made very good, didn’t yet understand that God is good. They didn’t understand that God was the source of their goodness, so they sought to make themselves good by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was wrong, and disobedient to God, and yet, God’s plan from the very beginning, even before they ate the fruit, was to send His Son as a sacrifice for us, so that we would be made good, and truly know Him who is good, who is Jesus.
I’ve been asked by just a few of you how I can believe that God will ultimately save all people. This is why. This is the plan of God. Verse 32 is so incredibly clear.
For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)
This is one of many verses that Peter Hiett, a pastor in Colorado, calls “Bible Verses Banned By Bible-Believing Believers.” We say we believe the Bible, and yet we often don’t believe the straight-forward reading of many verses in the Bible. Verses such as 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says:
For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
And John 12:32, in which Jesus said:
As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
And speaking of Jesus, in 1 John 2:2 it says:
He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
We also read in Psalm 66:4:
The whole earth will worship you and sing praise to you. They will sing praise to your name. (Psalm 66:4)
And one of my favorites, Titus 2:11, which says:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. (Titus 2:11)
And there are so many more. If it were just one or two, I would caution you against building an entire doctrine on just a verse or two, but this is the testimony of Scripture: that God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may have mercy on all.
Can I understand it? No. I don’t understand every aspect of this doctrine. I don’t understand how it fits neatly with every other doctrine. But I am called to believe it and praise God for it, which is what Paul then does in the form of a song. Verse 33.
Oh, the depth of the riches
and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments
and untraceable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
And who has ever given to God,
that he should be repaid?
For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
To Him, God, are all things. God didn’t make some things for Himself and then just discard other things as if they were a waste. No. He has a purpose for all things, to show His mercy to all people, and in the end, He will unite all things in Himself so that to Him alone be the glory forever. Amen.
So, in summary, there is real evil in each of our hearts, but Jesus conquered our evil through His death on the cross. And there will be no evil that God will not overcome. God will soften every hard heart. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and He will accomplish all of His purposes and promises.
But that means that you will worship God. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The only question is when. Will you place your faith in Jesus today, trusting in His mercy and goodness?
Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009. He and his wife, Abby, have four children. Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)