Romans 11:30 “Just as you (the Gentiles) who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their (the Jews) disobedience…”
Heart disease has been called “the silent killer.” The first symptom some people ever experience is death. They have no chest pains, no nausea, no shortness of breath. The disease quietly progresses until one day its victim has a massive heart attack and dies.
Sin and unbelief can also act like silent killers. People think they are getting along because they make enough money, they have a reasonably happy family life, they are having a lot of fun. Sometimes they have masked the pain themselves behind hard drinking, drug abuse, promiscuous sex, or some other distraction.
Still, the wages of sin is death. The soul that sins is the one that will die. Whether we recognize the symptoms of sin in earthly misery or not, the disease is still there, still progressing, still robbing us of our lives.
God’s response to our condition is described in different ways in Scripture. In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul talks about God’s mercy. Mercy is the term that tells us God looks at our misery, and it genuinely moves him to compassion.
What led Paul to write about God’s mercy? For the last three chapters he had been discussing the mystery of God’s election. God chose Israel as his chosen people. With few exceptions, he revealed his grace and mercy exclusively to them for a millennium and a half. He acted in their history. He delivered them from their enemies. He revealed himself to them in his word and gave them the promise of the Savior.
During that time the Gentile peoples, anyone who wasn’t a Jew, were more or less ignorant of God’s mercy. They didn’t have it.
Instead, they lived disobedient to God, disobedient in the sense that they lived as unbelievers. There was no repentance, no admissions of guilt, often not even a realization that they were guilty of doing something wrong. Even when they did good things, they weren’t trying to do what God says. It was only a coincidence that their actions and God’s will happened to line up with each other.
As a result, there was no end to the misery they suffered, whether they recognized it or not. Paul was writing to Romans. In the city of Rome at this time as much as one-third of the population were slaves. By far the majority of the free citizens lived in slum-like conditions. The average life-expectancy was only about 25 years.
But even worse was the complete absence of hope their pagan religion provided after their short lives. There was no real heaven to look forward to, no God who loved you, no certainty of even mildly better conditions in the life to come.
For those who became Christians, that began to change. “You who were at one time disobedient have now received mercy…” God had compassion on them. The slaves didn’t all go free, at least not yet. The standard of living didn’t suddenly rise, and people didn’t start living longer all at once.
But through Paul and other missionaries, the Lord brought them the gospel, and the gospel brought them hope. Their after-life was no longer a terrifying uncertainty. There was a God who loved them so much that he became one of them. He suffered with them in this world. He died as a young man on a cross to give them an after-life they could count on, a heaven worth living in forever, a new world of unending pleasure in the presence of God and his love. Now they could live life knowing they were loved, without the constant fear of guilt and judgment. Suddenly, they were in possession of God’s mercy, something they didn’t have and didn’t know before.
In one way or another, this also the story of how you and I came to know God’s mercy. Most of us are Gentiles. Maybe your parents shared the gospel with you, and the line of believing families in your family tree traces back through your grandparents, and great grandparents, and as far back in history as anyone can research or remember. But at some point in the past, it was the spread of the gospel to your ancient Gentile ancestors that set in motion the chain of events that led to your contact with God’s mercy today.
Or maybe it is some more recent twists and turns in life that God used to make his mercy part of your faith and life. God is still in the process of showing it to those who didn’t have it before. May we all be certain it is ours.