Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 28 2013 - Romans 11:13-36 – The riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God

In Romans 9-11 Paul has been surveying God’s great plan of salvation that spans human history and embraces both Jew and Gentile. This is the story that stretches from Adam through Abraham and Israel in the Old Testament to find its focus at last in Jesus the Christ. This is the story that is now being played out in the world through the ministry of Paul and the other apostles. In the latter part of chapter 11 Paul focuses particularly on his own experience as an apostle to the Gentiles.

Previously, the Gentiles lacked faith in God and had no part in his covenant promises. But when Jesus the long promised Messiah appeared, the Jews rejected him; they became faithless and disobedient. None of this took God by surprise; it formed part of God’s purpose so that the Gospel message of Christ crucified might be preached to the Gentiles.

Luke records something of how this happened in the Book of Acts. Paul travelled from city to city searching out the Jewish synagogues and preaching in them concerning Jesus Christ. When the Jews rejected his message he turned his back on the synagogue and proclaimed the message to Gentiles (see Acts 13:45-49; 18:5-7; 28:27-29). Through Paul’s preaching, Gentiles who were once faithless and disobedient received mercy from God and, as they came to faith, were incorporated into God’s covenant people.

And what God has done for the Gentiles, says Paul, he can do also for disobedient Israel. They are faithless now, just as the Gentiles were previously; they also, through the mercy of God, will be drawn to Christ in faith and numbered again among his covenant people, now defined in Christ. They can be grafted back into the olive tree. Then God’s saving purpose will be complete for he will have redeemed for himself a people from every nation and people-group. The promise to Abraham will at last be fulfilled that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 13:3b).

In all of this, Paul is not outlining a defined programme, from which we can draw out detailed predictions concerning the future. Rather he is laying down a clear principle: all people, whether Jew or Gentile, have been faithless; the only way for anyone to be reckoned as part of God’s family is through the mercy of God and through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the one message of the Gospel that applies equally to Jew and to Gentile.

Paul concludes this argument with a wonderful doxology:

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 counsellor?”
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory for ever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

We can do no better than to echo Paul’s “Amen”.

Father God, we stand amazed at your wisdom and knowledge: the wisdom that wove the fabric of the universe and filled it with your glory; the wisdom that planned our salvation; the paradoxical wisdom that sent your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die upon a cross; the wisdom that raised him from the dead and gave him the name that is above every other name; your wisdom at work in the world by your Spirit; the wisdom that works all things together for the good of those who love you. We thank you that your saving plan has embraced us and lifted us from the dust of death to sit with Christ in heavenly places. Fill us with your wisdom and so work in us and through us that many more may be embraced by your love and join us in astonished worship.

Peter Misselbrook