Paul’s question presumes our knowledge of his ongoing epistolary argument: “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” (11:11). Did Israel in fact stumble, and if so how? Indeed, they did; indeed they have, as Paul describes in the ninth chapter, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:32-33). Pursuing the righteousness of God by works not faith, they stumbled over Christ. Or, as Paul puts it in the tenth chapter, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3-4).
And this must inform our evangelism. We cannot make someone believe, even those we love most, but we must be faithful to give the gift of the gospel, praying that the Giver of all good things will give the gift of faith. For, God is glorified through the salvation of his people, and through the gift of the gospel “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isa. 52:10). Amen.
Like a charge of victory, a rallying cry of the elect, Paul exclaims, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Nothing temporal nor spiritual, nothing today or forever, nothing in or out of time and space, no one or nothing can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ. It is a statement of truth both exhilarating and comforting, celebratory and assuring.
It is difficult then to fathom the love of God for us individually and personally before creation, before we were, before anyone was. But he did: God the Father “chose us in [God the Son] before the foundation of the world…In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:4-5). Before “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1), in love for “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). He really did love us first.
Where does this put us, those made in God’s image but fallen from grace, those saved not by works but by grace through God’s gift of faith? It puts us in a position not of self-exalting glory but of God-glorifying praise. As the Shorter Catechism beautifully states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (Q. 1). Yes, for this we were created in God’s image, and for this reason we were redeemed, to glorify him. So, let us rejoice in this: Though we all fall short of God’s glory, we are saved by his grace to glorify him forever!
We need it for salvation. We need it for forgiveness. We need it to live out this faith we have been given. We need it every day. Our flesh will point us back to law, remind us our failures, relish in our disobedience, shackle us to our efforts. The gospel of God’s grace points us to Christ, reminds us of his sufferings, shows us his perfect obedience, and empowers us to live for him. Our flesh may lie that we are condemned by the law, but the gospel truth is: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Indeed, salvation belongs to the Lord, for our Lord said, “just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Yet, unlike Jonah, the Lord Jesus regarded the Scriptures as the very breath of God, down to the iota and dot.
Israel was saved in the wilderness through the flowing, life-saving water from the rock. So, we are saved unto eternal life through the substitutionary, stricken, saving rock, our Lord Jesus Christ, the rock of our salvation.
While the pragmatist may think this redundant and unnecessary, this is a beautiful picture of victorious praise: Our victorious praise may vary in mode but never in substance. May we never tire of singing of our redemption in Christ. May we never grow weary of celebrating the glorious triumph of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Just as the Lord redeemed Israel from slavery and allowed them to witness the devastation of their enemy, so we have been redeemed in Christ from slavery to sin, and we witness the visible representation of our enemy of sin and death destroyed in the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are reminded that He fought the battle for us. We need only be silent.