“Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share in God’s mercy. For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.”
Romans 11:30-32 NLT
A rebel is someone who opposes an authority, such as the government, or an employer, or even a parent or guardian. The act of rebellion manifests itself in various ways, ranging from being mildly awkward in response to an instruction, through to armed resistance. It could be exposed through written reports via newspapers or social media outlets such as Twitter. During this past weekend there was the celebration of the coronation of King Charles III in the UK. He was installed as the monarch of these islands in a ceremony enjoyed by most of the inhabitants, but there was a vocal minority intent on causing disruption in their rebellion against the new King. Sometimes rebellion can be justified, perhaps if it is against an unjust power, but much of the civil rebellion manifesting in the UK at the moment is by a small number of people promoting their own particular ideologies, which aren’t shared by the majority of the citizens of this land.
But we see rebellion particularly when it comes to people’s relationship God, if they even have one. Most people will deny that He even exists, or that, if He does, He is of no relevance to them. The Old Testament is full of accounts of the rebellion of the Israelites towards God. For example, Psalm 78:7-8, “So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. Then they will not be like their ancestors— stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God”. The rest of this Psalm details God’s response to a rebellious generation. Sober reading.
Paul said that because of the rebellion of His people, God instead showed mercy to the Gentiles. Jesus Himself warned His generation about the consequences of refusing God. We read in the Wicked Farmers’ parable Jesus’s conclusion, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit” (Matthew 21:43). Rebellion is the wrong fruit. God is looking for the fruit of obedience.
But what did Paul mean when he said that God “imprisoned everyone in disobedience”? The Message translates this as, “ … In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.” Perhaps those people who have experienced the depths of sin, revelling in disobedience towards God, are transformed by God’s love when they discover His grace and mercy. I used to know a drug addict, who plumbed the depths of a life style of depravity, but who became a great evangelist after God lifted him out of his pit. In the story of a woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears at the home of a Pharisee called Simon, Jesus made this observation, “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (Luke 7:47).
God will not stop anyone from rebelling against Him. He will still be gracious enough to maintain the systems the rebels depend upon for their existence, such as the basics of life – air to breathe, and so on. But God will withdraw His mercy from them, and He will hand them over to the consequences of their rebellious choices. In that state the rebels can continue, in apparent blissful ignorance of what will happen to them one day. Jesus was horrified about the prospects for those who rejected God and His grace. Perhaps we should be as well, making sure that we ourselves are not counted amongst the rebels, and exposing those around us to God’s grace and mercy.
Dear Father God. Your love and grace knows no limits. We thank You for all You have done, and will do, for us. Amen.