A Chosen People - Chosen By God
Jesus Lets us Know if we are Wise, we Will Enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Chosen By God by R.C. Sproul
What's up With Being Chosen?
Many unbelievers and Christians alike sometimes wonder why the Jewish people are considered so special. They are God’s chosen people after all.
This opening paragraph in fact is an offense to some people groups in the Islamic-Arabic world, as their religion creates hostility with Jews and Christians alike.
We can compound this with the constant Biblical debate among Christians about whether we as believers were chosen by God, or if we chose Him. This in the western world can be almost as controversial as the first debate mentioned.
So why is this such a big deal? Why would God choose Israel? And does He also choose us?
I’m going to try to unpack this for you, as I see this as an enormous blessing. I hope this is a blessing to you all my friends.
A little background before we start. Many people are familiar with Abraham of the Bible (called Father Abraham, and known as Abram before God changed his name). God is often referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
God begins choosing a people for Himself, by making a covenant with Abraham. For those who are not familiar with a covenant it is like a contract or agreement – some are conditional and some are unilateral, meaning that the unilateral kind depend only on God’s performance and not on anything that mankind has to do. Since God’s character is perfect in every way, He always fulfills his covenants.
God makes a great covenant with Abraham, starting out in Genesis chapter 12. Prior to this, in chapter 11, we learn that Abraham (then Abram) was from “Ur of the Caldees” near the city of Babylon. Babylon, ever since Genesis 11, has been recognized as the ultimate wicked city – representing the total depravity of mankind in the world. Anywhere near this city would hardly be a place we would expect God to choose a people to glorify Himself and bless the world with.
However, in chapter 12 He starts doing just that. God declares that through Abraham all families of the earth shall be blessed.
God also promises Abraham the land of Canaan; which later becomes known as Israel after God takes His people into the Promised Land to conquer it. This will become important too. God promises this land to His people forever.
The reason this is so contentious to the average Muslim that you may encounter is that they believe that the land is theirs by right. We will get into this soon, but rest assured that the land of Israel is indeed the Holy Land. This is the most coveted piece of real estate in the entire world. And more is tied up into it than natural resources, architecture, or even human sentiment. This is a land that over the past 4,000 years thousands and thousands have died for!
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What Makes Israel so Special?
There is much misconception and confusion regarding the land of Israel Biblically, and even today. Many do not understand the Jewish heritage of the land. And many more do not understand the prophetic significance of this land to Jews and Christians – as well as to the Muslim people.
God had a plan to redeem this particular land, at the center of the ancient world. He had a plan to place a chosen people group in this land. And His plan was for this people to be holy (or set apart for God’s purpose) and to be His testimony to the rest of the world about His goodness, mercy, graciousness and love. This was a people that God would use to demonstrate His power and glory.
In chapter 15 of Genesis (Gen. 15:13-18) we realize that God was very explicit to Abraham that He was not going to immediately give he and his offspring this land, but rather, God had a plan that had to come to fruition well after Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph had passed away. In fact, this plan only starts coming together later in Genesis, during the lives of Jacob and Joseph. God removes His people from Canaan purposefully and sends them to the land of Egypt for 400 years – to become slaves (Exo. 1:11; 14)!
God’s plan here is nothing short of amazing. The sins of Jacob and his sons, which we would see as tragic (and they were), were used by God to place Joseph (Abraham’s great-grandson) in the country of Egypt. Jacob’s favoritism towards his son became so overt and unbearable to his other sons, that they hated Joseph with an intense jealousy and sold him to slave traders!
To fast forward, God uses Joseph to ultimately become second-in-command in Egypt and to facilitate the only food surplus (Gen. 41:53-57) in a severe famine that affected all surrounding lands, including the Promised Land that Jacob (Abraham’s grandson) and the rest of his family (God’s chosen people) were living in. God used Joseph to draw His people out of Canaan, into Egypt, and to provide for them.
Over the course of the next 400 years His people are enslaved and treated brutally and cruelly by the Egyptians. They are hated and treated with disgust by the Egyptians. Eventually God raises up Moses to lead His chosen people out.
Moses may get to see the end of the enslavement of God’s people, but he did not get to see the Promised Land during his lifetime. After his death Joshua was the one God finally chose to send into Canaan (Israel) to reclaim His land for His chosen people. God chose to wait until “the iniquity of the Amorites” was full before He would lead His people in to conquer them.
This is where the story becomes profound and we learn about a Holy Land, and more importantly a holy people.
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God uses the slavery of His people to develop character in them. They are humbled, hard-working and hearty. The fact that they have been made to be a persecuted people would make God’s blessing of them all-the-more dramatic as He freed them from slavery and delivered them from Egypt during the Exodus (Exo. 7:17-14:28).
Why do I bring you all of this history you may ask?
It is important to understand the promises, because they are very significant to the New Testament Christian believer. It’s important to understand the Jews and how significant they have been in the history of this earth and God’s redemptive plan for mankind. And it is important to realize the jealousy, animosity and outright hatred that this favor lavished on His people has inspired within many – most notably in our age the Arabic Muslim people.
God not only promised Abraham would have many descendants, a Holy Land, and would be a blessing to all nations. He also made sure that Abraham knew that Isaac, the child he had with his wife Sarah, was the child that this blessing would come through. God made sure that Abraham knew that Isaac and his descendants would have all rights to this land, and that they would be the ones that He chose as His people, and would bless the land through.
Abraham’s first son through his wife’s handmaid, Ishmael, would normally have been expected to receive the inheritance. However, while God loved Ishmael dearly, he was not the son of the promise. And Ishmael did not carry the covenant with God. He had no rights to the land. He and his people would be outsiders not only to this property, but also to God’s covenant.
Ishmael, as you may have guessed, is the ancient ancestor of the Arabic people groups we have today. They mistakenly believe that Ishmael received the promise. We will see that this is not true (Gen. 21:12).
God wanted to use the Jewish people (Hebrews or Israelites) to show the world His character and greatness. To bring a people from slavery to conquest in such dramatic fashion demonstrated God’s ultimate power and sovereignty over the earth and its events.
God gave the Jewish people laws that reflect His values (Exo. 20:3-17). He gave them the Ten Commandments to show the world, through His chosen people the Jews that He desired to be loved, honored and obeyed before, above and beyond anything or anyone else (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 10:37-39; 22:37; 1 John 2:15-16). God requires that He be our number one priority.
As a result of this love for Him, love for our fellow man will flow. This is the spirit of Commandments five through ten.
God expounded on his Law to the Jews in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, where He had Moses give a series of laws designed to keep the Jewish people distinct and to keep their worship pure.
God separated worship of Himself by not allowing prostitution and sexual rites, by requiring His people to worship Him in Spirit and without any graven representations or images (idols), by commanding that His name be kept holy as well as His Sabbath that they were to observe weekly.
God required of His people to sacrifice of the finest of their herds to atone for sins (as a temporary foreshadowing of Jesus Christ). He set a number of other laws and customs that would keep His people holy, distinct, and to point towards the ultimate fulfillment of His Law in Jesus Christ.
Through Israel God Chooses All People
This to me is where God’s plan gets both interesting and exciting! This is where His chosen people start to be used for the purpose they were given. This is the point of all of the background I have been giving so far.
God was using the Jewish people, to draw ALL PEOPLE to Himself. Now brothers and sisters, please allow me to split hairs with you for a second before I proceed. His invitation to faith was given to all people. However this invitation required a response of faith from those it was given to. So while He used the Jews to bring people to Himself, many would reject Him and would be condemned in their own sins.
Nevertheless, we see that even in the Old Testament God had a heart for all of His Creation, for all mankind (Ex. 12:48-49), and He enshrined that in His Law (Nu. 15:14-16) and His word (1Ki. 8:40-43). God even reached out in compassion to some of the most wicked people there were in the book of Jonah (Jon. 1:2; 3:2; 3:5-10), the Assyrians. Jesus later says that the Ninevites as well as the Queen of the South will rise up on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 12:41-42). This means that the Ninevites, wicked gentiles that they were, were saved into eternal life in heaven!
If God had not demonstrated favor on the Hebrews (Jews), bringing them up out of Egypt is miraculous fashion, the wicked Egyptians and other foreigners would not have had any inclination to fear or desire salvation from God. They would not have been aware of His greatness or their own sinfulness.
If God had not dealt with Egypt so spectacularly and declared His intent to reclaim the Promised Land for His people, Rahab (Jos.1:8-13; 6:17; 6:22-25; Heb.11:31) and her family (ancestors of Jesus) would not have repented and put their faith in the Lord.
If God had not created a people to worship Him in truth (though they erred frequently) in the Kingdom of Israel, and given to Solomon greater wisdom than any other, the Queen of the South would not have been saved!
And because of His graciousness and love, Ruth was also saved and was an ancestor of Jesus much like Rahab. Ruth was a Moabitess – a despised idolatrous Gentile to the Jews of the time. God loved Ruth though, and she became one of His people.
We see that God had chosen Israel because His plan for the salvation of many required Him to keep a people separated and holy. We see that though He chose Israel for salvation that He freely offered that same salvation to anyone who would respond in faith and put their trust in Him – Jew or Gentile.
Now over the course of several centuries the stage was set for Jesus to enter. God had given a foreshadowing of the need for a sacrifice to atone for sins. He had promised a Savior. He had promised a blessing to all nations. And He desired reconciliation with all mankind for eternity.
God had displayed his might through the building up of the nation of Israel as well as His subsequent judgments and blessings on the nation. He brought in empires to unify the entire Middle East and Mediterranean area with one language, and to make travel easier over great distances.
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The stage was set for the greatest story of all time to be told. Jesus, the Christ of God from Nazareth, would be born according to prophecy in miraculous fashion. Jesus while fully God and perfect, would live the life of a man to fulfill God’s law. The standard of moral perfection required to live in fellowship with God could only be accomplished by God Himself.
Jesus came during a time when the Pharisees had perverted the Law. He came during a time when the Roman Empire was oppressing the people and corrupting their souls. And Jesus came during a time when the people were desperate and hungry for righteousness and for God Himself.
Jesus gathered disciples to Himself that He would later make apostles. He taught them and many others during the three years of his ministry here on earth. Jesus performed miracles. And He took our sin upon Himself, became our sin even, and was put to death on a cross for our sins (1 Pe. 2:21-24).
Jesus then showed His ultimate power over sin and death by rising from the dead physically and showing Himself to His disciples (1 Cor. 15:1-8; 20-28). He authenticated His ministry so that all, from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9) would be able to put their ultimate faith and trust in Jesus. We can put all of our hopes for eternity securely on Him with great confidence. And then Jesus finally fulfilled the promise to be the blessing for all nations that was expected.
Jesus gave the Great Commission to His disciples (Mark 16:15), telling them to go and preach His word. He commanded them to make disciples from other countries and people groups and to share His Gospel with all – the Jews first and then the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16).
This offer of salvation is given freely (Rom. 6:23). Even though all who do not have Jesus Christ are completely depraved and dead in their sins, He enables them to faith, and then it is up to each man, woman and child as to whether or not they will choose to respond to Him in faith or to reject Him. If someone rejects Jesus consistently, God will allow them to be completely given over to a depraved mind.
However, God’s desire (2 Pe. 3:9) is that nobody will perish in their sins. God loves the world so much He gave His only son (John 3:16-19) for us, that while we were sinners He came and died for us (Rom. 5:8). And the only thing needed to receive forgiveness (Eph. 2:8-9) from God is to recognize Him as Lord and Savior – and to believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. If we do this, we humble ourselves, recognize our need for God, and devote our life to Him.
This is available to all. And it is not a matter of our worthiness or good works. It doesn’t matter if we think we are basically a “good person” or not. God’s standard of absolute moral perfection in deed and mind was achieved in Jesus, thankfully. All that matters is that we put our faith and hope on Him.
This matters because it has eternal consequences for all. It matters because we are still a chosen people by God, as Christians, with a purpose to live a holy life devoted to God in order to spread His good news (the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ) to the world.
This also matters because God’s choice is an offense to many. For many cults the fact that we can’t “earn” our own way to God or choose our own path to reach Him is distasteful. For many who are condemned the fact that we people do not have the authority to decide the standards for salvation is an offense to their pride – and the fact that none of us would ever meet that standard on our own.
For many the Gospel is offensive because it offers love, forgiveness and acceptance to people who have done nothing at all that would merit or deserve it (grace). God offers this because we are His created people in His image that He chose to offer salvation to since the foundation of the world. So “bad people” who have committed crimes or who we think are jerks have the same opportunity for forgiveness as you or I.
For anyone who thinks they are morally superior to the rest of the world, it is offensive to think of these evil criminals as being loved by God and able to live in heaven. This means that even a killer, a thief or a rapist can receive forgiveness and salvation in heaven with God if they are willing to humble themselves, put their faith in Christ and seek His mercy.
Among the other reasons listed here, the Gospel is offensive particularly to those in the Jewish and Muslim worlds. The Gospel is offensive to the Jew because they realize that they are not the only chosen people of God, and that their national heritage alone has never guaranteed their salvation. The Jewish and Gentile people are on equal footing before God, morally and spiritually speaking (Rom. 10:9-12). It’s faith in Christ that separates the saved from the unsaved.
The major offense to the Muslims is that they are not the rightful inhabitants or possessors of the land that became known as Israel. It’s offensive to them that salvation came through the Jewish people, whom they have a deep-seated cultural hatred for. And they are particularly offended by Jesus Christ being the Son of God who will return on the last day to judge all, including their supposed prophet Mohammed.
Despite the fact that the Gospel universally offends to proud and the unbelieving, Jesus Christ has died for all. He offers forgiveness, salvation, and abundant life to those who would otherwise be condemned to eternity in hell. That’s good news! That’s great news!
It’s so easy to accept so long as we’re willing to be humble. We are required to do nothing but respond in faith, that’s it. That’s all we need to accept the gift He has chosen to offer us, and the eventual perfection of His people in heaven that He has chosen to ultimately bless us with.
And it’s equally as simple to be used by God to offer His salvation to everyone. If we are willing to be honest, bold and courageous, we can offer His salvation in the way He chose for people to receive it.
I am talking of course about sharing God’s word, the Bible. The Bible lets us know that people’s faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the preaching of the word of God (Romans 10:17; 9-12).
We know that His word is salvation (Rom. 1:16) to those who would otherwise be condemned. We know the great power of His word (1 Cor. 1:18). We know it is eternal (Mat. 24:35). And we know it never returns to God void (Is. 55:11).
That is amazing to think about. God chose us from before He created the world to be offered salvation by faith, and He chose to make us like Him (1 Pe. 1:2; 2 Thes. 2:13; Rom. 8:29) through that faith. He chose a method for us to receive that faith by. And He is faithful (1 Jo. 1:9) to keep His promises.
I pray this series has been a blessing to you. I pray you accept Christ if you haven’t already and become part of God’s family. And I pray that you’ll be compelled to share His word with someone you know.