We are made ‘Israel’ by our ‘Emmanuel.’
At The end of our service this morning, we will be singing the classic Advent & Christmas hymn: “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” This hymn was written somewhere between the 8th and 12th centuries by monks in Europe, and it has stood the test of time as a keepsake in European/American Christmas celebrations. Yet, this might seem odd if you look at the lyrics. ‘Emmanuel,’ ‘Israel,’ ‘Rod of Jesse,’ ‘Key of David,’ all these terms don’t sound like European expressions. These are Hebrew and Old Testament terms. How is it that we, European Gentiles, are using these terms? What do these terms mean to us? How did we and our ancestors get to the point where we are using Hebrew terms in our worship lives? And in the grand scope of things, if all these terms are Hebrew and Israelite in nature, how come we Gentiles have Old Testaments on our shelves at home to offer us comfort and hope? What does the story about Israel have to do with us? Today, as we survey the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 15, let us observe our theme and see the blessing these Old Testament terms have for us. Let us learn the comfort that the terms Key of David, Rod of Jesse, and Emmanuel bring for us. Let learn that we are made Israel—God’s People—by our Immanuel (God with us) Jesus Christ.
Shortly put, as you all are aware, we are made Israel—God’s beloved people—through the gracious and merciful birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Immanuel Jesus Christ. But it did not used to be this way. A hymnist once put it this way, “once you were an alien people, strangers to God’s heart of love.” This meant that it didn’t matter who you were or what you did or what your ancestors did to make you special. All people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All people, including us, were once in the bondage of sin. No one was originally unified with God. No one was God’s people by nature but were naturally opposed to Him because of sin. This means that both Jew and Gentile were originally estranged to God.
Yes, the people of Israel were originally estranged to God. It took God’s grace, His undeserved love and mercy, to pick them as His people of promise. And despite this act of love, what happened? Even though God chose them to be His people, there were several who denied His blessing, mocked Him, and even abandoned Him. They chose not to be united in Him, and so they worshipped the idols of their heathen Gentile neighbors. They were not united in God, but rather they were united in the evil pleasantries of this world. This wickedness continued from the Old Testament into the New where the Jews would even deny the incarnate Word, the Rod of Jesse, the Key of David. They would deny Jesus, their Messianic promise, and would unite themselves in their work-righteous ways, no longer being Israel anymore; and so, it is to this day.
And now, perhaps not as surprising to the ears, not only were the Jews by nature estranged from God, but the Gentiles as well. In both the Old and New Testament, Gentiles are frequently described as heathens who worship idols, practice fornication, and commit atrocities in the eyes of the Lord. And has that changed? Nowadays you will still see Gentiles who still aren’t united to the Lord. They are rather united to pagan things and hedonistic ideas. So then, whether Jew or Gentile, all people were once originally estranged from the Lord. We in our familiar Christmas Hymn, Gott ist die Liebe, sing in the English translation that we were once in bondage, sin, death, and darkness. We were once able to be lumped into the union of evil. Before Christ, we were with the unity of the wicked. And this unity of the wicked is despised by the Lord. This is all described in Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 3 "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” This Psalm later goes on by the Lord telling His Son that He will shatter the nations who are opposed to Him. And as we see in our Old Testament reading of Malachi, we see that He will destroy the unity of the wicked, namely those who aren’t Israel, that is, not the middle eastern country, but the Holy Christian Church.
And so, if this is the fate of the wicked, those outside of Israel, how do we become part of Israel—the Holy Christian Church? The way is simple: through Jesus Christ, our Immanuel, God with us. Jesus, the Rod of Jesse and Key of David, came to 1) fulfill the promises given to the Jews in the Old Testament and thus fulfill God’s Word, and 2) also give reason to the Gentiles to glorify God for His pure, undeserved mercy. Jesus became a servant, Immanuel, God with us in the flesh, so that both Jew and Gentile alike may be united with God. Christ came to serve us by obeying the Law of God, His moral demands made of all men, perfectly for us. He became a servant of the circumcision to show God’s truthfulness. Servant of the circumcision refers to Jesus being put under the Law. He had to fulfill the Law of God in order to unite us with God, and Jesus certainly did. He also came to serve us by dying on the cross in our place, taking away our heathen filth and making us fit to be part of Israel. In His keeping of the Law and in His sacrificial death, Jesus fulfilled 1) the promises given to the patriarchs. Paul uses the word patriarchs to refer to the Old Testament believers who first received the sweet Messianic blessings given to them by God. Abraham, Moses, David, and even the whole nation of Israel received these promises from the Lord. And so then, fulfilling the promises made to the Jews, the fact that Jesus was to be the Messiah for the chosen nation Israel was without a doubt. As we will sing later in the Nunc Dimitus, Simeon would refer to Jesus as the glory of the Lord’s chosen people, Israel. He was the focal point of their salvation. He was the one who would unite them with God. And also in fulfillment of point 2) showing mercy to the Gentiles, Simeon also referred to Jesus as the light to lead the Gentiles. Jesus wouldn’t only unite physical Israel with God, but He would unite the Gentiles with God as well. We, Gentile people, can claim this blessed fact as our own as we scan the scriptures. And in doing so, if you take a look at our text, you’ll notice that Paul has laid out some scriptural proofs concerning the salvation of the Gentiles, and he does so from the Old Testament, connecting this Hebrew book to us for our comfort and showing us more and more that we are Israel through our Immanuel. Paul quotes each of the major divisions of the Old Testament. He first quotes king David in the history portion, 2 Samuel in particular, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name." David can sing to the Lord with the Gentiles, for David knows that his kingdom through his Great Descendant will be made much larger than it is, stretching beyond the borders of the Middle east. He knows that Immanuel will make it bigger. Paul then quotes from the Book of Moses in Deuteronomy, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people." Moses, at the very beginning of the story of Israel and at their very conception as the people of God, invites the Gentiles to sing in praise concerning the Lord’s mercy, for they too are part of God’s salvation plan. Thirdly, Paul quotes the song books, particularly the book of Psalms, “"Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him." Yet another exclamation of David as he through song invites his kingdom’s expansion through God’s grace given in Emmanuel. And finally, Paul quotes prophecy, particularly that of Isaiah, "The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope." Jesus, Emmanuel, would come from David’s line to rule the Gentiles and provide their hope. Jesus did come to be God with us and make us Israel. From these wonderful proofs from Old Testament Scripture, we see that the Gentiles are blessed by Immanuel and made part of Israel, His Church, His Kingdom.
And so, what does this mean for us 2023 Gentiles? What does Immanuel and Israel mean to us? It means that We can praise Him, Immanuel, because we have faith in Him who is the one in whom we hope. God is with us, living in us, reconciled to us through Christ’s work. We are His people, and His people have hope. The hope that we have in Him can be described as an expectation pertaining to matters spoken of in His promises, and this hope comes to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of our sermon text, Paul requests that God fill the Roman Christians with joy and peace, so that they may abound in this very hope. The Holy Spirit brings this about by showering God’s people with the means of grace. With the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, which is a blessed means of grace, the Holy Spirit gives us hope. With the word the Spirit fills us with all peace and joy. This Scriptural message surely does bring about joy. Happiness abounds when the Holy Spirit creates faith that clings to our Immanuel, Jesus. Solemnity thrives in our hearts when the Holy Spirit creates faith that clings to the Key of David and peace-bringer, Jesus. This peace and joy go along with the Spirit-given hope which is the expectancy of the promised result given to us by the work done by the suffering servant and eternal king Jesus. We are Israel because of God’s saving grace given to both Jew and Gentile in Christ Jesus. Because of this blessed love we now have hope in the promise of glory which shall be given to us when Christ returns to take us home, when Emmanuel comes to Thee, O Israel. We who were once an alien people have been united with God by Jesus. We have been washed clean, made Israel, and we await the call of our Emmanuel to take us home to Heaven where there will be no more tears. All of this is told in the Scriptures. We are saved and our faith clings to this promise, giving us much joy and peace. With this joyful and peaceful promise of salvation we stand united, hoping in the glorious promise that awaits us in heaven.
Until then, we are tied to this earth. While we are tied to this earth, what are we as Israel told to do? We are told to endure, and we are also told to welcome one another into Israel—God’s church. We as human beings find it incredibly easy to be resentful towards one another or irritated by one another’s words and actions. Frustration comes with any form of relationship, even relationships between Christians. And so, what a blessing it is to be reminded that Christ came to serve us. He patiently endured all the way through Calvary so that we may have hope in the everlasting life that awaits, looking to Heaven instead of what’s annoying us on earth. Until then, we are called by His grace to endure one another. We are called by His grace to forgive one another as Christ forgave you. We are called by His grace to admonish one another in love as Christ has done. And so, this is how Christ, our Immanuel, God with us living in us, maintains His people Israel until He comes. Through His grace in Word and Sacrament, He leads us by grace to return meanness with kindness. He leads us to admonish wrongdoing with care and love. He leads us to endure one another as He endured us. He leads us to encourage each other in faith and build each other up in love. He leads each of us to point one another through the gloom of this sinful world to the Hope we have as Israel: Christ’s gift of Heaven.
And so, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, I would like to tell you this. I can call you brothers and sisters in Christ because He is the one who has united you and me with God. He, our Immanuel, has made us Israel. We were once an alien people to God, but just as Jesus did with the Jewish patriarchs of the Old Testament, so He has reconciled us to God. He has united us with Him. In this blessed unity, brothers and sisters, let us run the race of endurance by encouraging one another every step of the way, so that when the end draws near, we, Israel, may receive that in which is coming to us: our Emmauel, our Key of David, our Rod of Jesse, our Dayspring from on high, our Advent deliverance from this gloomy world to the world of eternal joy and peace. Amen.