2/9/01 10.45 a.m. Romans 11:11-24
A theological student once went to his pastor with the complaint that there were some passages in the Bible that he did not understand. The pastor, however, knew how to answer the complaint. "Young man," he said, "allow me to give you one word of advice: You must expect to let God know a few things that you do not understand."
We may sympathise with the student when we first look at today's reading.
This is the first in our new sermon series about God's master plan. We, and the children, will look at how God chooses, helps and leads his people.
Today's passage paints a picture of God's people in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the future.
First we need to understand something of how this fits into Paul's letter to the church at Rome. Paul had not planted the church himself and there were no urgent problems there that needed addressing. Therefore, this letter is more doctrinal and less personal and specific than some others.
Rome was the centre of the Roman Empire at this time with a population of about 800,000 made up of many races and religions, including Jews. In the first eight chapters Paul outlines the effects of sin and the salvation available for Jews and Gentiles. Chapters 9 to 11 deal with the Jewish rejection of their Messiah and God's future plans for them.
The comic actor Groucho Marx was Jewish and married to a Gentile. He once asked a friend, "How do I go about joining that posh beach club in Santa Monica?" "Don't try to get into that club," said the friend, uneasily, "They're -- well, anti-Semitic."
Groucho thought for a moment and then said, "My son is only half-Jewish. Do you think they'd let him go into the water up to his knees?" Groucho was exposing the absurdity of discrimination. Over the years there have been many wrong things said and done because of the Jews' rejection of Jesus. We need to reject anti-semitism without discarding God's plan to save everyone, Jew and Gentile. The only way that anyone can be saved is through a personal faith in Jesus who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one can come to the Father except through me", John 14:6.
I recently had a conversation with someone who clearly thought that they were a Christian because they lived their life according to certain principals. However, they confidently told me that they did not go to church. This is like someone telling you that they are a good football player but they don't play in a team ! When God calls people to follow him he also calls them to join his people. The two go together. Hebrews 10 addresses this : "23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,
How does joining God's people fit in with the Jews, in the Old Testament ? We can use Paul's illustration of an olive tree in verses 16-24 to do this. The process of grafting olive trees would have been familiar because it had been adopted by the Greeks and Romans by this time. Healthy wild olive trees would have been cut back, slits made in the freshly sawed branch ends and branches from a cultivated olive would be inserted into the slits and tied to the branches of the wild tree until the two grew together.
Paul adapts this in a way that would not happen in horticulture to illustrate his point. He refers to a cultivated root having branches cut off it, then having wild branches grafted in. He continues that some cultivated branches will be grafted back onto their original root. The fact that this would never happen in horticulture because it would be unfruitful shows that God's dealings with people is not what you might expect. Paul even uses the phrase in verse 24, "contrary to nature".
We will look at these three stages : The Cultivated Root; The Grafting of Wild Branches; and The Grafting Back of Cultivated Branches. These represent the Old Testament, the New Testament and the future.
The Cultivated Root;
The cultivated root refers to the history of the Jewish people until the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament period, if you like. Our sermon series is God's master plan how He chooses, helps and leads his people.
There is the choice of Abraham and his "seed" that in him the nations of the world will be blessed (Gen 12:1ff.; 22:17-18); and there is the choice of Israel (Exod 3:6-10; Deut 6:21-23). This nation was chosen by God as those to whom he could reveal himself and his will, and through whom he could exhibit and declare to the world his purposes and salvation ( Isa 43:10-12, 20, 21).
There was also the choice, from within the chosen people, of specific individuals : Moses was chosen to lead God's people out of the slavery of Egypt and to receive the law from God; after Israel's unfaithfulness in the wilderness Joshua was chosen to lead God's people into the promised land; Samuel was chosen as a boy to be a prophet and anointed David, God's choice to be King; Ezra and Nehemiah led a religious revival after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon; Daniel was chosen by God to become prime minister whilst a captive in Babylon and to live a life of integrity, as well as giving prophecies about the future; Hosea was called by God to marry an immoral woman to show that Israel had committed spiritual adultery against God.
The unfaithfulness of God's people is found throughout scripture. God delivered his people from the slavery of Egypt and they moaned and wishes they were back in Egypt. As He gave Moses the law they worshipped an idol. When the time came to move into the promised land they failed to trust God. This catalogue of unfaithfulness culminates in the rejection of Jesus, their Messiah. Their saviour, sent by God whom they failed to recognise. The good news of Jesus, whilst initially delivered to the Jews is for everyone.
We should not lose sight of the fact that Jesus was a Jew. Christianity is rooted in the Old Testament. If we want to know about God we must study the Old and New Testaments.
So we have just examined The Cultivated Root; we now move to...
The Grafting of Wild Branches;
This is the New testament period. After his resurrection, and immediately before his ascension Luke records this, in Acts 2 : 6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Luke showed in Acts how the church penetrated the world of his day in ever-widening circles (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth) until it reached Rome, the political and cultural centre of the world at that time.
God's people had failed to live distinctive lives according to his will and purpose to witness to the world about their faith. Therefore, God sent Jesus to show them how to live and to offer a way back to God through his death on the cross. But the Jews rejected Jesus. This is the "transgression" that Paul refers to in verses 11f ( of Romans 11 ). This resulted in "riches for the Gentiles", verse 12. It was all part of God's plan to make the gospel available to everyone. "For God so loved the world..." ( John 3:16 ).
By bringing Gentiles to faith God's people were now defined by belief through the work of His indwelling spirit, rather than by race or possession of 'The Law'.
This is how Peter could write, 1 Peter 2: 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
We know from Paul's words in verses 13f that he hoped that the reception of the gospel by Gentiles would provoke jealousy in his fellow Jews that would result in them coming to know Christ for themselves. This leads to our final point...
( The Cultivated Root; The Grafting of Wild Branches; )
The Grafting Back of Cultivated Branches.
This refers to the period from Pentecost until beyond today, when Jews have come and will come to trust in Jesus as their Messiah.
The prophet Elijah was running for his life when he had an encounter with God in the mouth of a cave on a mountain : 1 Kings 19: Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 14 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." 15 The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel - all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."
This illustrates what is known as 'Remnant Theology', the belief that there is a faithful core of God's people who will be true to him and survive his judgement. This is an encouragement to those who, like Elijah feel alone in their faith. It is also a warning to those who are complacent.
Talking about Jews who come to a living faith in Jesus Paul writes in verse 23, And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
I think that this passage is anticipating that some Jews will be saved, cf verse 14, in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them
This interpretation also coincides with remnant theology. Individual Jews are coming to faith in Jesus today.
Jack Guggenheim is an example, this is his story : Before I was even ten years old, my Jewish parents told me about the horrible way "Christians" have treated the Jewish people. One day I personally learned this cruel reality on my own. A classmate hit me in the face and sneered, "That's for you, dirty Jew!"
When I finally met a true Christian family, I was startled to see that they didn't fit my first impressions. On occasion, I joined them for supper, and I began to see what made them so different. They all bowed their heads and prayed to God, thanking Him for the food and asking Him for their every need. I don't remember a great deal of what this family told me about their Saviour, but one phrase followed me wherever I went: "The moment you recognize Jesus as your Messiah," they told me, "you will become a real Jew."
When World War II broke out, my father found a family in Switzerland with whom I would be safe. I observed in them the same close relationship with God as the other Christian family. "Jacques," they told me, "the moment you recognize Jesus as Messiah, you will become a real descendant of Abraham!"
One summer I attended a Christian youth camp with a friend. At first I found the Bible classes boring, but by the end of the camp I began to understand that this Jesus they were talking about concerned me, too.
As I grew into adulthood, my attention began to focus on the question, "How can I know God?" I headed full speed into esoteric and philosophical movements. Soon I had put all my energy into the Universalist religion. I began feeling oppressed and terrified. Finally, I started to hallucinate and had to be put into the hospital for treatment. Deep in my heart I knew that God had allowed this to happen to me so that I would have a chance to look back on my life and seek Him. I cried out to God, "Whoever you are, let me get better. If you rescue me from this, I will give you my life."
I had followed so many paths and listened to so many different people, I was terribly confused. Recent memories of "Christians" only added to my confusion: One man who claimed to know God's will had left his wife and was living with another woman; another man I knew was dishonest.
Finally I recalled those two Christian families of my childhood. These were the true Christians! These were the people I could trust! Soon God answered my prayer and I left the hospital. I began reading a Bible I found, but I was not able to understand it. One day I spotted a tent with a banner that said, "Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." The man who spoke at the meeting that evening answered many of my questions. I learned that God's forgiveness and His justice are not obtainable by good works, but by faith in the Messiah.
Nevertheless, it wasn't easy for me. I didn't know how I could openly admit that the pillars of my people, the great rabbis and the wise teachers, were mistaken concerning the Messiah. Just the thought of standing alone against those giants made me feel weak. Still, the numerous passages in the Old Testament that talk about Jesus could not be disputed. I was finally convinced, despite my fear of men, that Jesus was truly the Messiah. On that day, I committed my life to Him, and He became my Saviour. For the past 36 years, I have been sharing the great message of God's love and forgiveness with my family and friends.
William Blake 1757-1827, British Poet, Painter : That the Jews assumed a right exclusively to the benefits of God will be a lasting witness against them and the same will it be against Christians.
Verses 18-21 warn Christians against arrogantly boasting against the Jews. Paul is saying that the only way anyone can be put right with God is through faith in Jesus, which is a gift from God. Not earned or deserved. Christians are to 'continue in his kindness'. This reminds us that though faith and the power to live for God are gifts from Him, we need to apply ourselves to living for Him with all the strength that he supplies.
The example of the Jews' fall from grace is a warning to Christians. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
God is on control. He has saved us through his undeserved favour. We must respond in faith, obedience and perseverance.