A sermon in Romans 11:13-15, 28-32, for Epiphany Sunday, January 3, 2021.
How many of you have ever watched the television show Pawn Stars? This History Channel show highlights a pawn shop in Las Vegas, NV. People bring in their possessions to either sell or pawn. Some bring in big ticket items. Rare books, collector cars, items of historical significance all bring in large sums of money for the owner. My favorite part is when people bring in normal everyday things to sell. They found a box full of old comics or toys from their childhood collecting dust in the attic. They no longer want it, so they bring it to get a few bucks. Little does the owner know how valuable their treasure is. They find out their collection is worth hundreds maybe even thousands of dollars. What they originally thought as trash destined for the dump turned out to be a great treasure worth lots of money.
We might not ever be able to sell something for thousands of dollars to some dealer or collector. Yet, we have things that we consider very dear to us. They are invaluable and no price could ever be enough for us to sell it. In fact, we all have this treasure. God gives it to us.
God’s Treasure Reveals Great Riches
- A treasure rejected by many.
- A treasure bringing great mercy.
The nation of Israel had an up and down history. Even a quick read through the Old Testament brought this to light. When the nation had strong leadership, they prospered. God’s Word would remain a high priority. The people valued their faith and delighted in God’s laws. When leadership was lacking though, the complete opposite happened. The people no longer followed God. They went their own way. They forgot about the goodness of God’s Word.
One consequence of this came to light in the spiritual life of Israel. For Israel trusted in their ancestry rather than God. They thought that just because of their lineage God would be kind to them and save them. God would never save them just because they were Jews. He saved them on account of faith by his grace.
However, many in Israel rejected God and his Word. They wanted to follow their ways. Did all Israel fall? No. Paul himself was a Jew who believed. Many others believed. Yet, Paul desired more to come to faith.
“I am speaking to you Gentiles. For as long as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I am going to speak highly of my ministry” (Romans 11:13). Paul worked mainly among the Gentiles. God called him as an apostle on the road to Damascus. This former persecutor would now take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
As Paul worked, the Holy Spirit worked overtime. In all the places Paul traveled the Gentiles ate up his message. The sweet message of the gospel brought joy and peace to many hearts. Through his preaching many Gentiles came to faith. Paul rejoiced. He saw with his own eyes how God’s message would not just be for one group or nationality. Paul served on the front lines of the Great Commission. Paul started the ripple effects of the gospel’s spread further and further from the nucleus of Jerusalem.
Paul’s work also brings another hope for him. “Perhaps I may make my own people jealous, and so save some of them” (Romans 11:14). Jealousy would not be the first thing we think of when it comes to the preaching of the gospel message. The gospel message chases jealousy out of the picture. The gospel produces contentment rather than jealousy. How could the gospel message ever bring jealousy? Why would Paul even wish for jealousy among the Jews?
Paul wanted the Jews to be spurred into action by his ministry. The Jews had to see the Gentiles coming to faith by the thousands. The Gentiles received the very same gospel message as the Jews had in their possession for years. However, the Gentiles were excited while the Jews became laissez-faire. The Gentiles appreciated the message of peace and forgiveness the gospel brought, while the Jews grew cold to the message.
Oh, if only this could rile them up! They would see what they once had. They had grown complacent with the gospel. They started to take it for granted. They had the gospel message for so long that they started to become blind to the unfading beauty of God’s Word. Paul wished that they would recognize the great treasure that was slowly slipping away.
“For if their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, what does their acceptance mean other than the dead coming to life” (Romans 11:15)? Paul knew not all the Jews would come to faith. He only desired some return to the gospel. This would mean life for those people. They would receive all the blessings of the gospel message. Paul wanted the Jews to see the great treasure God was holding in front of their eyes.
We see many people rejecting God’s message in the world. They exchange the truth of God’s Word for popular opinion. The world desires a message that does away with judgment only speaking about love for all. Their hearts harden against the truth of God’s Word. We might think we are standing safe compared to others. However, we need to listen to the warning as well.
We might never know what we have until it is gone. A great danger exists in becoming complacent with our blessings. We soon take things for granted. We hear about this happening all the time. A person takes their job for granted. They go through the motions with no joy. Soon their job performance suffers, perhaps leading to a job loss. A husband takes their wife for granted. They grow apart rather than together. They are content to do things separately rather than find joy in the oneness of marriage.
Do we ever take our faith for granted? Does that question cause offense? Some might be able to look at the confirmation pictures downstairs and see great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, siblings, and many other relatives on the wall. We think how we are life-long WELSers. Do we appreciate the wonderful blessings we have? Do we start to treat our baptism and confirmation only as golden tickets to get into heaven? Does our baptism and confirmation become more of a status symbol rather than God’s power working in us?
We can become like those Jews slowly rejecting the great treasure in our possession. We never know how good of a thing we have until it is gone. We need to take to heart the teaching from God’s Word and the lips of his servants. The treasure of the gospel message brings peace and forgiveness to our hearts. The message of our Lord will never leave us complacent, but it will strengthen our faith all our days. It brings life to those who believe.
The treasure of our faith is one we will never want to take for granted. Thousands and thousands of people reject God’s Word. May we not be one of them. For in that treasure we also see the joy of God’s mercy to us.
There is no difference. Paul wants this message to ring true to all people. Earlier in the book of Romans he explains how the law shows the sins of all people. It does not just point to one person or nationality. It does not just point to the faithful for their sins. The law reveals how all have sinned falling short of the glory of God.
We look at the law seeing our many faults. Our complaints about others. We do not want to see the plank bulging out of our own eye, but we are more than willing to pick out a tiny speck in our neighbor’s eye. We come to God with worries. We say we do not have enough. Our hands come empty before God, but all his blessings are right behind us just waiting to be seen. We deal with pain. We try to find healing powers in ourselves but fail to bring everything to God. The law most certainly points out all the things we have done wrong.
Paul wants everyone not to stand fearfully looking at the law, but he wants them to move to the wonderful news of the gospel. The gospel shows mercy for all the imprisoned. Where the Law left a person in despair, the Gospel brings peace. For our worries we find calm. For our pain we find relief in God’s promises. For our complaints we find forgiveness for our many misdeeds.
Paul said, “For God imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may show mercy to all” (Romans 11:32). God’s cry from the cross does not go out saying everything is partially finished. God’s cry does not say everything is finished for the Jews, sorry Gentiles. God cried out, “It is finished.”
No strings attached to his wonderful gift of mercy. God’s mercy extends to all people. The disobedient, you and I, find mercy in Jesus. This Epiphany reminds us that the Light has come for the world. Our sins have been covered by Jesus. Our imprisonment finds release in Christ alone.
What is our greatest treasure? We might have it prominently displayed in our house for all to see. We might even have a great treasure hiding somewhere in our house just waiting to be found. However, our Savior brought the greatest treasure to us. He grants us his great mercy. Although many people reject it, may we hold on to it all our days. God’s Treasure Reveals Great Riches. Amen.