Romans 11:13-15, 17-24, 28-32 (NIV) 13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
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. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
My sister once sent me an e-mail containing the history of the OT in shortened format. I thought it was kind of funny. Here’s the first part of what it said:
“Holy Bible: the TL;DR version (too long; didn’t read)
God: All right, you two, don’t do the one thing. Other than that, have fun.
Adam and Eve: Okay.
God: What happened!?
Adam and Eve: We did the thing.
THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
God: You are my people, and you should not do the things.
People: We won’t do the things.
People: We did the things.
Jesus: I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live. Don’t do the things anymore.
Healed people: Okay! Thank you!
Other people: We’ve never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking.
Jesus: I have never done the things.
Other people: We’re going to put you on trial for doing the things.
Pilate: Did you do the things?
Pilate: He didn’t do the things.
Other People: kill him anyway.
(excerpt from The Entire Bible Explained In One Facebook Post. This Guy Nails it. Found on BrainJet.com)
While there are plenty of things missing from this synopsis, it’s a fairly accurate assessment of Israelite history. The Israelites, God’s own people, were so awful, that we can be led to wonder how they were ever God’s people in the first place. The same can be said of us. Today we get to see how we believers are blessed to be grafted into God’s own people.
The Jews had been God’s covenant people. This was especially evident in Genesis when God made a promise with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be with them and their children. It was made clear when the Israelites entered into a covenant with God saying they would follow his commands. God blessed the people of Israel and drove out all nations before them, keeping them free from sickness and pain as long as they continued to follow God and his commands. But they didn’t did they? They disobeyed him at every turn and pushed God out of their lives. They made idols and worshipped false gods. They even rejected God’s own Son, Jesus, and crucified them on the cross. Many of them at the time of Paul writing this letter to the Romans no longer trusted in God or accepted Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. They missed out on their opportunity and were broken off from God’s people.
Now, the Gentiles knew this. And that is why Paul wrote this letter to the Gentiles. Just to be clear, a Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. So most of us, if not all of us would be Gentiles today so Paul’s words apply straight to us today too. Paul first told the Gentiles they had been grafted into God’s people. He used the analogy of an olive tree for God’s people. Many of the Jews were like branches that had been broken off from the tree. But the Gentiles were like an wild olive shoot that had been grafted into a strong olive tree. The roots of the Word of God spoken by the prophets had nurtured them and given them faith in a Savior. Even though they were Gentiles, it was the Word of God that had been given to the Jews which had saved them also. I don’t know if you have ever seen an olive tree, but they are all twisting and curvy and looks like many pieces all twisted and morphed together. it’s not hard to imagine how it could accept even a branch from a separate tree into its own. And that’s just what God did. He accepted Gentiles into his people and even though they didn’t look as if they belonged, he brought them to him.
Let me give you a real life example. This will help illustrate the point and let you know a bit about me. In high school I wasn’t sure if I was a Christian. Honestly I don’t think I cared if there was a God or not. I was thinking if there was a God, he would have given me more talents or a sign or something. Anyway, Christians were telling me a whole bunch of things about Christianity that couldn’t all be true. So I decided to read the Bible cover to cover to show them what their own religion said. Well, God worked faith in me through the words that I read. And he grafted me into his people, though I certainly didn’t belong. And he’s done that for all of us, regardless of our backgrounds, or cultures. All who are believers have been grafted into God’s people. And it is sure as heck not cause we deserved it. Just like those Israelites, we don’t follow all of God’s commands. We do the things we’re commanded not to do. And there have got to be some days where God looks down at us and just goes “Guys...COME ON!” We were a wild branch and yet God was happy to graft us in. 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us God, “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Whether you are a believer or not yet. He wants you to be saved. And he grafts in all those who believe.
Despite this good news, Paul warned the Gentiles not to become arrogant in the faith. If so many Jews, the very people God had given his Word, and shown his miracles to, and had dwelled within them, could lose their faith, then so could the Gentiles. The Gentiles too could be like a branch broken off of the tree of life.
I gave you an example of my life and how blessed I am to be here today, but there’s an opposite side to it. I have a friend who we shall call Steve. He was a Christian. He knew that Jesus was his Savior and had lived and died for his sins. And he rejoiced in this. He included this message in school projects and brought people to youth groups and is probably part of the reason I’m here before you today. He no longer believes. Over time his faith was shattered by tragedy and heart break. And to this day, he hates everything to do with Christians or God.
We are no better. We could be just like that. Sometimes we act like the Jews who fell away. We go to church because it’s something we have to do, not something we get to do. We get distracted by traditions, instead of focusing on God’s Word. Or we are so blinded by the busyness of life that we slowly forget to give our souls what they need. We set ourselves on the path to become like Steve.
The true story about Steve shows how important it is to nourish our faith and the true story about me proves just how powerful God’s Word is. Just like a tree needs water and light, we need God’s Word and his sacraments. We need to constantly hear the message of Jesus. If you ever wonder why you seem to hear about Jesus every week. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. It’s always about Jesus. There is a reason for that. John 15:5 has Jesus telling us, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We need to be reminded that our faith and salvation come from him. We can’t become arrogant or complacent with our faith. We don’t want to lose it. We can’t afford to be cut off from God’s tree. And God assures us he will bless our efforts. Our text tells us God’s kindness will continue for us, provided that we continue on the path of kindness he has given to us.
There’s one more thing Paul told those Gentiles. “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.” You see the Gentiles were holding on to grace like it was all their own. Like they were some sort of evil villain who had just achieved what he had always dreamed. They flaunted it and kept is for themselves like some sort of trophy. “Ha, the Jews messed up and now God’s grace is all mine. Jesus died for my sins, mine!” They weren’t sharing the message that Jesus died for the sins of the world. Paul told them they should go and preach God’s news even to the Jews so that they might possess faith and once again have God’s mercy poured out upon them. Then they too would once again have life from the dead just as the Gentiles had.
We act like those Gentiles sometimes, don’t we? How often have you found yourselves telling only the people you like about Jesus? Or has the sin dwelling inside of you ever wished that only certain people would join the church? You know, the ones who aren’t weird or different from you. Do you wish that the young man who listens to screamo or rap music wouldn’t join your church? Do you wish the young lady with tattoos stretching across her entire face would opt to go somewhere else? Or maybe a bit closer to home would be do you wish the couple who won’t stop talking or the family that always brings their crying children to the service would just go away? Have you ever wondered if those people thought the same of you? Even in my short life, I’ve seen many churches who have treated their congregation as an exclusive club, permitting only certain people and hoping to spread the gospel only to the rich. But, I’ve seen just as many who preach the truth: God wants all of you here in his church, including you, even me. He wants people of all skin colors and backgrounds, talents and interests, even people of all music preferences to hear about Jesus and be grafted into his people, just as many of you have been. He desires every child, woman, and man to be saved and longs to have mercy on all of them. He even wants to welcome back those who once rejected God. He grafts all believers into his people and pours his blessings on all people. All this is possible through the amazing grace shown us in Jesus Christ. May it never grow old in our ears or the ears of the people we share it with. Amen.