God’s shocking grace

In Romans 10:20, as Paul recounts the revelation of the gospel to the Israelites, he notes that Isaiah is “very bold” when he writes what he does in Isaiah 65:1ff.  The word “very bold” has the sense of words that are daring, astounding, and even shocking.  What God says through Isaiah is unanticipated and unexpected.  There was no reason for the reader to have suspected what God might say to Israel.

What is so shocking to the reader of Isaiah’s words?  There are at least three things that are shocking to the original readers and then to Paul.

Remember that Isaiah 65 follows the prayer of petition from the remnant of believing Israel in Isaiah 63-64.  That remnant is appealing to God for mercy (see Isaiah 64:8-12).  They are asking for God to restrain His hand of discipline and not be angry any longer at the sin of His people.  It is astounding and shocking that the covenant people of God came to a place where they were dependent on mercy.  God had promised to make them His eternal people and to be their eternal God.  How sinful their sin must have been to make them fearful of losing that position with Him.  That consideration is shocking.

The statement in Isaiah 65 is also shocking because God asserts that He is enfolding the Gentiles into His salvation plan, and He is doing that specifically to make Israel jealous and to make them repent.  This is not the first time God has promised to use Gentiles to provoke Israel to believe in God as their Savior; He said the same thing in Deuteronomy 32:21-22.  Those who were ignorant and not God’s people, God uses to draw His covenant people to Him.  That provocation is astounding and shocking.

But the shock Paul finds in Isaiah’s words is even greater than these two reasons for being astounding.  The greatest shock of all is the shock of the appearance and persistence of God’s grace.

It is shocking that God made the gospel available and revealed the gospel to sinners.  It is amazing and astounding and perplexing and magnificent and wondrous that God has declared the saving gospel of His grace to any sinner — Jew or Gentile.

And just to be clear, it is “good news” is declared (v. 16). Who declares that good news and from where does it come?  It is spoken by heralds (“preachers”), but the message does not originate with them.  The message is from God, who sends people to declare it (v. 15). Anyone who ever hears and responds to the message of the gospel is responding to a message that was given and sent by God.  God revealed His salvation plan to Paul, Isaiah, and every other believer in the Old or New Testaments — and us, too.

What makes this astounding is that God does not save sinners so that they can be with Him (as if He is lacking something and in need of fellowship with them). God does not take people to Heaven so that “Heaven becomes a better place.”  Heaven, when it was inhabited only by the Triune God before anything else existed, was perfect in every way. There was infinite fullness of satisfaction in the Godhead, there was loving fellowship between the three persons of the Trinity (they are where we learn to love), and there was nothing lacking in Heaven. God did not need anyone else to complete Him and did not look to anyone for additional satisfaction.

Not only do people not add anything inherently beneficial to Heaven when they arrive there, but every person that enters Heaven must be transformed so they can enter Heaven; if they would not be transformed, they not only not make Heaven better, they would make it worse and further, they could not enter Heaven without being transformed.

When that is considered, it is astounding that God has made good news available to us and that He has decreed that good news, and compelled us to believe and obey that good news.  It is shocking that He has declared the good news of Christ to any sinner — and to me in particular — for the purpose of bringing those sinners to Heaven to fellowship with Him.

This is the good news that He shockingly declares and keeps on declaring to those who do not deserve it and cannot achieve it on their own.  What Paul deems to be particularly bold and profound and shocking in Isaiah’s statement is not that Israel might be disciplined for her rebellion, because it’s only right for God to be just and punish sin.  What is most surprising is not that Gentiles would be saved along with Israel, for that had been promised as far back as Genesis 12:3 in the first revelation of the Abrahamic Covenant.  What is most shocking is that God is patiently and persistently opening wide His hands of salvation for people who have been rebellious against Him.

The fact that there is a gospel, that it has been revealed, and that it has been revealed to Israel, to Gentiles, to any man, and to you and me is shocking.  This revelation of salvation is shocking and only because of God’s shocking grace. You and I do not deserve the gospel; we deserve Hell, and He has made it known to us anyway — because He is a God of shocking grace.