Israel in the Remembrance of God
April 17th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
ISRAEL IN THE REMEMBRANCE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-17-66 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the sermon at this holy and blessed hour entitled Israel In the Remembrance of God. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans:
I say then, Hath God cast away His people?
God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew.
Who are these people? When Paul says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1], who is that “Israel”? When Paul wrote again:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
Who are Israelites.
Who are those people that Paul refers to by the name of Israelites? “My prayer to God for Israel is, that they might by saved” [Romans 10:1]. Who are those people? Who is Israel?
To me it would be a simple, rudimentary, primary identification. To me it is. And the identification of Israel is a key to the interpretation of the whole Bible. If you say and define Israel as being one thing, then all of the things that follow after are of a certain nature. But if you identify Israel as another thing, then all of the Bible takes on a different color, and the things of interpretation that follow after are in an all together different world. It can almost be truthfully said that your identification of Israel is a keystone in the arch of biblical interpretation. Now I have just said that to me the identification is rudimentary. It’s childlike. It’s so simple. And yet I am in an almost inconsequential minority in the theological world.
For practically the whole theological world identifies Israel with the church. And all of the prophecies and all of the promises that pertain to Israel, they say God is not speaking of these people Israel, but God is speaking of His church. And all of the prophecies and all of the promises of God that the Lord made to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they say, these prophecies were not made in pertinency or in reference to these people, but they were made with reference and are pertinent to the church. Now are they correct? Is there no Israel in the mind of God? And is there no Israel in this Bible? And are these prophecies and these promises pertaining only to the church? And no longer does Israel exist as such in the mind and purpose of God? Is that correct?
There was only one passage in the Bible that troubled me. All of the rest, as I read I had perfect satisfaction in my heart; but there was one passage in the Bible that troubled me. And that is this: in Galatians 6:16 Paul writes, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” That troubled me, troubled me for a long time. Is this an instance where the word “Israel” refers to the church?
Well, as I studied, and pondered, and asked of God and did my utmost to find an answer, the way to interpret the Bible always is in its context. What is God saying? Not an isolated text, not a word pulled out and apart but what is God saying? What is He trying to reveal? Well, as I reviewed it all, the letter of Paul to the churches in Galatia concerned the Judaizing controversy. For when Paul began to deliver the message of the Son of God, he was violently opposed by Judaizers; those who believed that no man could be saved without works, saved by faith alone, but a man must superimpose upon his faith in Christ all of the Mosaic institutions and the Mosaic law [Galatians 3:1-3]. That’s Judaizing. And Paul’s letter to Galatia concerns that controversy.
And I came to the very definite conclusion that here, remembering what Paul is speaking of, he was talking about those Jewish people who had accepted the gospel of the grace of the Son of God without works [Galatians 3:2-3]. And in contradistinction to the Judaizers, he called these who believed in Jesus “the Israel of God” [Galatians 6:16]. Here they are, “the Israel of God”; the Israelites who had come to find, in faith alone in Jesus, the pardon of sin, the fulfillment of all of the messianic prophecies, “the Israel of God”; the Jewish people who had found in Jesus a Savior. So all of it came to me, all of it; all of it, without exception, there is no place in the Bible where the word Israel is used but that it refers to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And there is no place in the Bible where the word church is used but that it refers to the called out ekklesia, the elect assembly of God in this day and in this age of grace. And isn’t that an astonishing thing?
I cannot imagine that the church and this age of grace was hidden from the eyes of the old prophets and seers. They never saw it. That’s why Paul, in the third chapter of the Ephesian letter calls it a mustērion, a mystery, a secret hidden in the heart of the Almighty [Ephesians 3:3-4]. No writer in the Old Testament, none, no prophet, no sage or seer, as he looked ahead and spoke by the Spirit of Christ that was in him, no prophet ever saw the church or ever spake of the church. It was a mystery, a mustērion, Paul calls it, hidden in the heart of God and was not revealed until God made it known to the apostles [Ephesians 3:5]; that between the first and the second coming of Christ there was to be a period of time, an age of the Holy Spirit, an age of grace in which the gospel of the Son of God should be preached, and God should call out and form into a body Jew, Greek, Gentile, Scythian, barbarian, provincial, and of all of the families, and tongues, and peoples of the earth [Ephesians 3:6-11].
As we often illustrate it, when the prophet looked ahead he saw the coming of Christ, and in Dr. Feinberg’s prayer, he saw Jesus as a suffering Servant, the Messiah by whose stripes we are healed [Isaiah 53:5]. He looked and he saw the coming Christ, the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world [John 1:29], the prophet saw that. And sometimes in the same breath that same prophet would describe the incomparable and celestial world dominion and glory of our Lord [Zechariah 9:9-17]. Two of those great mountain peaks of prophecy, Christ the Messiah coming to suffer for our sins [Isaiah 53:5], Christ the Messiah coming to be the Ruler and Pantokrator of the whole creation [Isaiah 40:10, 62:11]. And they also saw and prophesied of the conversion of the Gentiles [Isaiah 49:6]. But the prophet never saw the valley in between those two peaks. The first coming of our Lord to be a suffering Savior [Isaiah 53:1-12], and the second coming of our Lord to be Christ of the earth [Isaiah 40:10], and that valley in between he never saw. The age of grace in which we now live and the forming of the church––the body of Christ––the prophet never saw it. It was a mustērion, hid in the heart of God Paul says, discussing it in the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians [Ephesians 3:1-12].
All right, well and good; now what of Israel? This is the church, and we are in the body of our Lord, and this is the age of grace, and the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God [Mark 1:1]. But what about the Israelite and what of Paul’s question when he raised it, “I say, Hath God cast away His people?” [Romans 11:1]. What of these who belong to the household of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Is God done with them? Has God found Himself through with them? And are those prophecies and those promises that cover the pages of the Old Testament, are they to fall to the ground? Does God forget? Does He? He made those promises long time ago. Are they old, and used, and worn out, and is God weary of them? And will God forget them? And has God cast away His people? And Paul replies, “God forbid” [Romans 11:1]. How could God be God, and make a promise and not keep it? And Paul argues that point:
I would not, my brethren, that ye be without knowledge concerning this musterion, this musterion, this mystery . . . that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
And then shall all Israel be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
This is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for our sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.
For the gifts and calling of God are without changing, without repentance, without turning.
Or, as Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent, that He should change, that He should turn: hath God said, and shall He not do it? Hath God spoken, and shall He not make it good?” Every syllable of this Bible shall be fulfilled in God’s time and in God’s way. And every promise God has made He will faithfully keep.
So we are preaching this morning of Israel in the Remembrance of God. Hath God forgotten? Hath God cast them away? [Romans 11:1]. Are they no longer in the mind and purpose of the Almighty? Are there no future events in history that shall include Israel, God’s elect and chosen people? God’s remembrance of Israel.
Now we look in the Scriptures. The story of the Book of Exodus begins in a remembrance of God. “And it came to pass in the process of time, that the king of Egypt died,” [Exodus 2:23], that cruel monarch under whose surveillance Moses fled away when he killed that Egyptian taskmaster [Exodus 2:11-15]:
And the children of Israel sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried, and their cry came unto God . . .
And God heard their groaning, and God remembered, and God remembered the covenant He had made with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
And God looked upon the children of Israel.
I turn the page, in the sixth chapter when the Lord appears unto Moses and Moses is to stand before Pharaoh God said to Moses:
I am the Lord: I appeared unto Abraham, and unto Isaac, and unto Jacob…
And I have also established My covenant with them, to give them this land, this land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers.
And now I have heard their groaning . . . and I am sending thee to deliver My people Israel; for I will bring in to remembrance the covenant that I made with My people.
I turn the page. In the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Exodus, because of idolatry and their worshipping a golden calf [Exodus 32:8], the Lord said to Moses, “You stand aside and let My fury burn against these people, and out of thy loins will I raise Me up a nation that will do My will” [Exodus 32:9-10]. And Moses stood before the Lord and pled with the Lord and said:
O God, remember, remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Thy servants to whom Thou swearest by Thine own self, and said, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto thee and to thy seed for ever. Lord remember.
And the Lord remembered His covenant [Exodus 32:14].
I turn the page; in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, and Moses by the power and Spirit of God speaking to the people says:
In the day that you transgressed and you are scattered among the nations of the earth, I will not forget you.
Then will I remember My covenant and My covenant with Jacob, and with Isaac, and with Abraham, will I remember: and I will remember this land.
After all that, “When they be in the land of their enemies scattered abroad I will not cast them away.” What did I read over here in the Book of Romans? “I say, Hath God cast away His people?” [Romans 11:1]. How could He and be God? For He had just written here, “I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly… I will remember My covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God” [Leviticus 26:44]. And in the beautiful Psalm 105 the psalmist sings:
He hath remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.
Which covenant He made with Abraham and His oath unto Isaac;
And confirmed the same unto Jacob for an everlasting covenant:
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance.
God is not a man that He should forget. And God is not a man that He should lie. And God is not a man that He should promise and fail to fulfill it. God hath a purpose and a gracious one for His people Israel. And I am glad. Aren’t you?
Think of it, when our Lord lived in the days of His flesh, the Bible says His own brethren did not believe on Him. That is expressly pointed out in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John: “And the Lord’s own brethren,” those young men, those boys, those children with whom He grew up in the household of Mary, “His own brethren did not believe on Him” [John 7:5]. And apparently so abhorrent was the messianic claims of our Lord to His brethren, He was no Messiah to them. He was no Savior to them. He was no Son of God to them. And apparently so deep seeded was that antipathy to the messianic ministry of our Lord that when our Savior died on the cross He did not commit His mother Mary to James, or to Jude, or to Joseph, or to Simon. But the Lord committed His mother Mary to the beloved and sainted disciple John, who took her that hour to his own home, and kept her, and cared for her [John 19:25-27].
So the Lord is raised from the dead now [Matthew 28:1-7; John 20:1-18], and the time for His ascension and return to glory has come [Acts 1:9-10]. And His brethren are still in unbelief. My dear people, I cannot imagine a sadder, a more grievous thing that the Lord should be brought up in a household with brothers, and return to heaven, and they remain in rejection and in unbelief. Aren’t you glad that before the Lord returned to heaven He appeared personally to James the eldest son [1 Corinthians 15:7] and then apparently to the family?
For when the Book of Acts opens in the upper room, there gathered in prayer are the disciples, the apostles, with Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brethren [Acts 1:13-14]. Before the Lord returned to heaven, He personally appeared to His brethren and won them to the faith that saves. Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad? Nor could I think of anything that God Himself could do for His people more blessed and more precious than to win them back to Himself that they too might be saved. What greater blessing could God bestow upon His people than that they might be saved, that the prayer of the apostle Paul might be answered? “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1].
In the years gone by, in a little country church where I pastored, I went into another community to attend a funeral service of a man by the name of Will McKelvy. And this is the reason that I made that journey to attend the memorial service for Will McKelvy. In the years and the years before I came to be the pastor of that little church, there was a man, the senior Mr. McKelvy, a fine, noble man, and into that community came a young man by the name of Craig Davidson. And the senior Mr. McKelvy befriended the young man Craig Davidson and helped him begin his life, and his work, and his home. And in the course of time Craig Davidson succeeded greatly with those rich and fertile acres spread before him. And the senior Mr. McKelvy went back to glory, went up to heaven. His spirit returned to the Lord who gave it.
And in the after years, Craig Davidson was thinking about the kindness in the years gone by of the senior Mr. McKelvy to him as a young man. And then began to think, “What could I do to show my gratitude to the senior McKelvy who’s in heaven now, gone to be with the Lord? How could I show him my gratitude and that I remember his goodnesses for all these years?” And it came to his soul. Mr. McKelvy, the senior Mr. McKelvy, left a boy when he died, a young man at that time named Will, and the boy, not a Christian, prodigal and wayward, a young man not saved. And Craig Davidson said, “In remembrance of what Mr. McKelvy did for me I will win his boy to Jesus.”
The revival meeting came under that tabernacle, where I preached so much and so often as a boy, as a teenager in my first little pastorate. And upon an evening, Craig Davidson made the rounds of all the friends and neighbors and said, “Be sure and be present at the meeting tonight because Will McKelvy is going to be saved.” The people were there of course. After the preacher had done his sermon and given the appeal, why, the young Will McKelvy ran out of the tabernacle and out into the dark of the night. But Craig Davidson had asked of God, and the Lord had promised, and he had seized upon the promise of God. And he followed the young man out of the tabernacle, into the night, and talked to him, and prayed with him, and brought him back into the tabernacle, and down to the front. And there on their knees at the altar, there on their knees the young man came through and gave his heart to Jesus. And those old timers tell me there was shouting all over that place. All around the tabernacle and in the yard God came down their souls to greet. And mercy filled the glory seat. And for the years thereafter Will McKelvy became a noble man and a great Christian man. And that’s why I went to his funeral when he died.
Could you think of a finer thing––that a man could be done in remembrance of the mercies of days past––than to win his son to Jesus? This is exactly what God shall do for the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God shall remember their faithfulness. And God shall bring to mind the covenant that He made with those patriarchs. And God shall bring to mind all of the sacrifices and the laying down of life of these people that we might have the Word of God, “By whom, according to the flesh, Christ came into the world who is God over all blessed for ever, amen” [Romans 9:5]. God shall remember those people. And the Lord shall appear to them personally before the consummation of the age, before the denouement of time, before the end of the world, before history has finished. As the Lord appeared to His brethren before He returned to glory, so the Lord Christ will appear to His brethren. And the prophets have said it and promised it. Zechariah says:
And the Lord will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.
And in that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem . . .
And in that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.
And he continues,
And in that day, His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem . . .
And the Lord God shall come with all of His saints . . .
And it shall come to pass that an evening it will be light . . .
And it shall be in that day that the Lord shall be King over all the earth . . .
[Zechariah 14:6, 9]
And in that day there shall be upon the bells on the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar.
Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: when the Lord shall appear to His brethren, and show them His scars.
[from Zechariah 14: 20, 21]
And they shall mourn and be in bitterness for their past sins and rejections. And they shall turn and accept their Messiah. And there shall be a holiness in this earth. And even the pots and the pans in the kitchen will be as holy, holy as the golden instruments before the altar [Zechariah 14:21]. Think of it, think of it. What God hath yet purposed for His people? And aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad? God hath not forgotten, nor hath God cast away His people [Romans 11:2]. In rejection and unbelief now, but someday in repentance, in mourning, in contrition, accepting Messiah whom they crucified [Romans 11:26-29]. Think of it. Think of it.
And my brethren, that is the explanation of this strange word of the apostle Paul in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul says:
I delivered unto you the gospel, how He died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He was raised again according to the Scriptures.
And then He appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve:
And then to the five hundred brethren . . . and then to James His brother, then to the apostles.
And last of all He was seen of me also—hosperei to ektromete.
[1 Corinthians 15:3-8]
What an amazing phrase! “After He appeared to the apostles, and then to the five hundred brethren, and then to James His brother, and after that He was seen of me also hōsperei to ektrōmati [1 Corinthians 15:8]. Hōsperei, “as it were”; to ektrōmati, “in an abortion,” in an abortion. We took the Greek word “bodily” into our English language; “trauma,” “trauma,” a trauma is a wound that has been done by outward violence, like an abortion, ektrōmati.
Well, what does he mean? “He appeared unto me before I was supposed to be born, “in an abortion,” as it were, hosperei. He appeared unto me in a trauma, in a wrenching, in a forcing before the time” [1 Corinthians 15:8]. What does he mean by that? Why, it is simple. An abortion, before he was supposed to have been born; for there is a time in the purpose of God, in the promise of God, there is a time when the Lord shall appear to His people as He appeared to His brethren. At the consummation of the age there is a time promised of God, when the Lord will appear to His people. But He appeared to the apostle Paul ektrōma—before that time—as it were, “an abortion” [1 Corinthians 15:8]. Paul, being an Israelite, was saved [Acts 9:3-18]; and the Lord appeared to him before that ultimate and consummating hour when He will appear to His brethren. So he says, “And last of all, He was seen of me also, as of one born before the time, ektrōma [1 Corinthians 15:8].
Oh, the mercies of God, and the goodnesses of God, and the remembrance of God! And the Lord shall not forget these who in their life’s blood wrote these holy words, who gave to us according to the flesh our Christ and Savior, and who through the years have known so much of sorrow, and persecution, and indescribable heartache. God will remember them. And isn’t that an assurance to your own heart?
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His glorious Word!
Every promise He will keep, He will not forget.
And the soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
He’ll never, no never desert to its foes.
[from “How Firm A Foundation,” John Rippon]
And the covenant keeping God who remembers the children of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob is the covenant keeping God who will also remember us. God will not forget the least of His saints who look in faith unto Him. It’s a great message. It’s a great promise. It’s a great gospel.
We must sing our song now. And as we sing it, in this balcony round, clear to that utmost and last seat, and in the throng on this lower floor, “Pastor, today I give my heart in trust to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13] and here I come, here I am.” Down one of these stairwells on either side of the balcony, at the front and back, and in this main floor, down here to the front, when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. “Today, pastor, I give my heart to God. I give you my hand.” A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; a couple, or one somebody you, while we sing this song, come on the first note of the first stanza, make it now. Come, come, while we stand and while we sing.