Friday, November 27, 2015

This Week's Reflection: Israel-God's Elect or God's Reject?

Jer 33:14-16 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The Lord is our righteousness.'

Whatever may be our view of modern-day Israel, we must remember that Yahweh is a covenantal God of Israel who never forgets promises He made to Israel. He keeps his promises--even if it would take a thousand years to bring the promises to pass. In Jeremiah 33:14-16, we have a specific promise made to Israel that in the "those days" He would cause a Righteous Branch (Christ) to spring up and execute justice and righteousness "in the land." In other words, the staging area for this prophecy would be the physical land of Judah (Judea) and Jerusalem: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" (Matt 2:1-2). This prophecy of the Advent of the Righteous Branch is marked not by one but by two appearances: first time "to spring up for David" at his incarnation and the second time at His return in glory and power to "execute justice and righteousness." And these two appearances take place "in the land" now occupied by modern Israel.

From start to finish, the promise of the Righteous Branch has been a promise to Judah (Jews). Jesus himself was a Jew, a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah. It was only because the Jews rejected this Righteous Branch (Christ) that the gospel is now made available to Gentiles: "Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame'" (Luke 14:21-22). Israel was the elect of God and the Gospel was intended for them first: "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Rom. 1:16). The Jews were God's elect and Gentiles were God's reject. But when the Jews rejected God's promised gift of salvation as God's elect, this salvation was given to the Gentile "rejects"--but for a "time-limited offer" only.

Jesus calls this time-period the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24) and Paul refers to it too: "Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: 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" (Rom. 11:25). God has not rejected Israel, though for this time-limited period of the Gentiles, there is a temporary hardening in Israel until all Gentile rejects have been given the opportunity to become part of God's elect (amazing grace!)--"I have other sheep (Gentiles) that are not of this fold (Israel). I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16).

Some theologians teach the Church has replaced Israel as God's elect.  And they have become conceited and contemptuous of Israel and look upon them as God's reject. But they are the original branches, from which springs up the Righteous Branch: "And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree?" (Rom 11:23-24). God did not uproot the original olive tree (Israel) to plant a new olive tree (Church). Israel as the natural branches will be re-grafted back into their own olive tree. The Church as grafted branches takes its life and nutrition from the original olive tree which is Israel.

When Jesus came in the first Advent, he focused his ministry on Israel in the land of Judah and Jerusalem, In fact, he forbade his disciples to preach among the Gentiles but only to the house of Israel: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 10:5-6). And when the Canaanite woman came to Jesus asking him to heal her demonized daughter, Jesus' words to her reveals the priority of his mission: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 15:24). Jesus was Israel's Messiah first and foremost. The Gentiles do not have such promise, but the Jews did receive a promise in Jeremiah 33:14-16. God's promise through Jeremiah is for Israel.

So even as we look back on Jesus' first Advent this coming Christmas season, let's not forget the real intent of this first Advent--it is for Israel and we are beneficiaries of the Righteous Branch because Israel rejected their Messiah. But now that Israel is back in their homeland, the staging area for the Second Advent is in place and ready.

Father, deliver us from our own myopic vision and enlarge our hearts towards the natural branches, of whom Jesus is the Righteous Branch. Amen.

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