The prepared text for today’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church is below. If you didn’t already figure out the reference, the linked video will tell you why the title (“Fallen and Can’t Get Up?”) sounds familiar…they did lots of variations on the same advertisement over the years. The sermon audio, which is even better than the prepared text, is at this link. I didn’t listen to it to see if you can hear the congregation, but they really enjoyed the message. Also, I didn’t add it to the message but I did see someone say recently that churches are often fixated on who they want to keep rather than who they want to reach. I’ll leave it to you to see how that relates to what Paul has to say in these verses for today. Next Sunday I’m planning to preach on Genesis 22, known as “The Sacrifice of Isaac.” I’ll only read Genesis 22:1-19, but the message is based on that whole chapter. I prepared that sermon a week ago, but it is becoming even more relevant because of current events. If you want to study the context of next Sunday’s passage in more depth before next Sunday, I’d suggest reading this article at this link.
I’m sure that at some point you’ve seen those terrible commercials that began running back in 1989 where the elderly woman, Mrs. Fletcher, pushes her medical alert pendant and says, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” They were just awful—like watching comedy that isn’t funny. They were so bad that the words became a recognized punchline in many comedy acts. But imagine that your best friend or your mother or grandmother has fallen and is unable to get up. We would hear their cry for help very differently. We would want someone to quickly come to the rescue. We would not want our loved one to be the punchline of someone’s jokes. It would be a tragedy and we would pray for a happy ending. Some kind of medical alert pendant might make the difference between life and death. The Jewish people were family to the Apostle Paul and he wanted to see them saved. Unfortunately, many had been pursuing righteousness by works of the law. Thus many stumbled over the gospel of righteousness by faith in Jesus. Paul anticipates that this might lead some Gentiles who received the gospel to wonder if Israel stumbled over Jesus in order that they might fall and be unable to get up. The question is a serious one. It has life and death consequences. Here’s how Paul poses and answers the question:
- Notice that because they stumbled salvation went to the Gentiles so as to make them jealous.
- Paul highlights his missionary efforts among the Gentiles in order to somehow make his fellow Jews jealous and thus save some of them. They did not stumble so that they would fall and not be able to get back up. Rather their sinful refusal to follow Jesus led the gospel to go to the Gentiles in order to somehow make the Jewish people jealous and thus save some of them. He argues from the lesser to the greater that if their sinful refusal to follow Jesus means the gospel goes to the world, then how much more will their full inclusion mean. If their rejection of the gospel means that God is being reconciled to people from many nations, how much more will their acceptance of the gospel mean – it will mean the resurrection of the dead. In other words, when all Israel believes in Jesus then it will be the end and Jesus will return. Paul’s purpose in this letter is to enlist the Christians in Rome to help him evangelize those that the Romans considered barbarians in Spain. Paul is encouraging such mission with the hope that some of his fellow Jews will become jealous and be saved and bring us closer to the arrival of the new heavens and earth.
- Even today, when we share the gospel with people who are very different from us that will lead people who are like us to become jealous and some will be saved. You may have neighbors and family members who are hardened to the truth and you are eager to see them saved. But when you tell them the gospel, they aren’t interested. They have heard the good news that God considers those who trust in Jesus to be righteous and yet they continue to believe other things like, “I’m a pretty good person, I’ll go to heaven.” Paul’s example suggests that we can share the gospel with people who are different from us in hopes that it will somehow make those friends and family jealous because they will want what those new Christians have. Yes you may find that many of those who are familiar with the faith of Abraham are nevertheless rejecting Jesus. So move on to share the good news with people who are not familiar with the faith of Abraham. They may be more receptive than those who have heard the old old story many times before. When you move on to share the gospel with those who haven’t heard it before, you aren’t giving up on your friends and family who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. You’re hoping that your friends and family will see what they are missing and want it themselves. (So Paul wants to make it clear that the Jewish people didn’t stumble so that they would fall and not get up, but rather through their sin the gospel has come to the Gentiles to make the Jewish people jealous. For…)
- They stumbled so that they could receive God’s mercy just as you might say we are all fallen and can’t get up without Jesus saving us.
- Paul tells the Christians in Rome, most of whom were Gentiles, that just as they had been sinners and received God’s mercy so too now the Jewish people were being disobedient to God so that they too might receive God’s mercy. Mercy is for the the ungodly. Indeed, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah in verse 26 where the context suggests God will rescue Israel from the ungodly among them, but the Apostle is saying that Israel is ungodly – thus the verse now means that God will save ungodly Israel. This letter to the Romans makes it abundantly clear that all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God. Thus God can show mercy to all those whom He wants to show mercy, through you, as you share the message of forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. The Jewish people who rejected Jesus didn’t stumble so that they would fall but so that they might receive mercy and forgiveness.
- Our God loves to show mercy to the ungodly. He shows mercy to those who believe in Jesus. If you do not believe in Jesus then you can be cut off like a branch on an olive tree. The olive tree often represents Israel in the Scriptures. Paul explains that many of the Jewish people were cut off from the tree because of their unbelief and wild shoots (i.e., Gentiles) were grafted onto the tree. The warning is that if you do not believe then you too can be cut off of the tree, but the good news for those cut off is that God can graft them back in again. Indeed, Paul tells us that it is more natural to have the natural branches representing the Jewish people grafted back in again then it is to have wild olive branches grafted onto their tree. But all of this is to say that God shows mercy to the ungodly and can take those who have stumbled and bring them back into the fold. And the more we share the good news with those who aren’t like us and thereby lead our friends or family members to be saved too, the closer we are to the return of Jesus when there will be no more suffering and pain and never again will we hear those wretched words, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” Praise God! Amen!