The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Grafted
13th Sunday after Pentecost
September 3, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Grafted
Dear friends in Christ,
My brother-in-law who lives in California has a fruit tree in his yard. This should not be amazing news. Many people throughout the country have fruit tress in their yard. But this fruit tree is a little different than others. It produces lemons. It produces oranges. And it produces one other type of fruit, maybe plums or peaches, I can't remember. Three different fruits from one tree. It is amazing! I know that farmers can do this with many types of plants. They graft the branch of one tree onto the trunk of another. The roots and trunk supply the nutrients to the branches, whether the branches are the same kind of tree or not. Grafting produces interesting and amazing results for agriculture.
Last week, Paul took us to his roots in Judaism and we rejoiced in those whom God used to bring us to faith through the gospel. Instead of considering the roots of the tree, today we look up to the branches of that tree. Paul uses the example of an olive tree that has wild olive branches grafted into it. He gives a warning to these wild branches, to us. He also tells us that the wild branches serve as witnesses for the natural branches that were broken off the tree. We continue with the Christian Faith, One Word at a Time with the word, Grafted.
Romans 11:13–32, selected verses (NIV84)
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of 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 is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 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 boast over those 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 be afraid. 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 on your account; 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 all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
The Warning for the Wild Branches
The Lord had called Paul to faith and then called him to be his chosen instrument to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul's primary mission was to go to the Gentiles. So, naturally, when he entered a new town he would go to the Jewish synagogue. You are sure to find non-Jews at the Jewish synagogue, right? No. Paul wanted to save his own people by telling them of Christ too. But after he preached Christ crucified and risen to the Jews he would go to the Gentiles of the town. Sometimes the Jews would not give him a choice because they forced him out of the synagogue. Sometimes they drove him from the town completely. So, by many of the Jews rejecting Jesus, Paul ended up taking the gospel to many more Gentiles.
Paul tells us today that the rejection of the Jews is like a natural branch being broken off of an olive tree. Last week Paul told us how God had prepared his people for the Savior to come through the laws, temple worship and promises. They were the natural branches on the cultivated olive tree of the Lord. But their rejection of Christ broke them from the Lord. And in a strange way, their rejection made room for many Gentiles to be grafted into God's tree. Paul told the Gentiles about Jesus. The Gentiles repented of their sins, trusted in Jesus for forgiveness and by faith were grafted into God's tree.
We are those who have been grafted into this tree by faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit through Paul gave the Gentile believers then and gives us today a stern warning. “If God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” We cannot let arrogance or pride grow in us, as if we who believe are somehow better than those who do not believe in Jesus. God did not break off the unbelieving Jews because the Gentiles were better. This is not like a profession sports team. In that case, a player is cut from the team to make room for a better player. Not with God. The only difference between a branch that is cut off and one that is grafted in is faith in Jesus.
God does not look at people's potential like a baseball scout and graft those into his tree that have the best chance of serving him later. He does not give faith to those who do good things. He does not give faith to those who have good intentions. The Gentiles were in danger of thinking that they were given faith in Jesus because they somehow deserved it more than the Jews. Maybe they simply thought they rejected the gospel less than the Jews and God had an easier time converting them.
When you look at an unbeliever who has really made a mess of their lives, watch out for this kind of thinking. “I know why God did not give them faith. They are a drunk, a criminal, an adulterer...have you heard how they talk? God made a good decision to not graft them into his life giving tree.” Paul warns us that thinking like this is dangerous to our own faith. For, when we think that God chose us for any reason that is in us, we no longer have faith alone in Jesus. Instead, we have faith in ourselves, in our own goodness.
This is a battle to fight every day against our arrogant sinful nature. Humble yourself before the Lord in repentance and trust that Jesus has washed you clean by his own blood. Christ alone keeps you grafted into God's tree. Connected with God through faith in Christ, we want to regularly receive good nutrients to keep our connection to Christ strong. We hear and read the Bible because the Bible is all about Jesus. We receive Communion because we receive Jesus' body and Jesus' blood in Communion for our forgiveness. We encourage one another with the message of Jesus' love, his compassion, and his resurrection for comfort, joy and peace. Take the focus off of ourselves and put it on Jesus.
The Witness of the Wild Branches
Paul still wanted his fellow Jews to believe in Jesus and be grafted back into the cultivated olive tree. He has a strange way of trying to accomplish this.
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of 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 is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
Paul is attempting a little reverse psychology on the Jews. He wants them to believe and so he does the one thing that will make them most upset. He goes to the Gentiles. He tells the Gentiles that Jesus died for them, that through faith in Jesus they will have eternal life, that the Jewish Messiah also saves Gentiles. This really upset some of the Jewish leaders when Jesus did something similar. Jesus preached in his hometown of Nazareth and the people did not believe that he was the Savior promised in Isaiah. So Jesus told them about Elijah going to help the widow of Zarephath and Elisha healing Naaman the Syrian. These great prophets were sent to help non Jews. This so upset the Jews in Nazareth that they tried and failed to throw Jesus off a cliff. Now Paul is doing the same thing. He is making the Jews mad and hopefully envious of the Gentiles. His hope is that some of the Jews will see the blessings of faith in Jesus among the Gentiles and also come to faith in Jesus. Because, as Paul says:
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; 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.
The Lord has not changed his mind. He still wants all Jews and all Gentiles to be saved. He wants those who are now grafted into his tree by faith in Jesus to remain in faith. He wants those who have not yet been grafted in, to hear the gospel and believe. And he wants those who have broken off to be again grafted into the tree. As long as someone lives, there is time to repent. How can we work like Paul to make others envious of us so that they listen to and believe the good news of Christ?
We are not going to point to our successful life like some television prosperity preacher who shows off his wealth as proof of his godly life. Be like me and you too can have wealth and earthly prosperity. Yes, those false preachers make people envy them and follow them...away from faith in Christ. We want people to see our Savior. We want them to see the peace we have that surpasses all understanding, the way we handle tragedy with trust in Jesus and the way we handle earthly success with humility and thanks to God. We want them to see us as we really are, not perfect, but forgiven. We want them to envy the confidence we have in Jesus that all things will work out for us eternally, that we will live in heaven forever. We want them to see the fruits of our faith each day.
Like my brother-in-law's tree, the fruits we produce will all be a little different. The way we show the love of Jesus to others will vary because we are all different. However, everyone with faith in Jesus has been grafted into God's tree. We get all our strength and all our life from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May he who grafted us into his tree, keep us in the one, true faith and use us as his witnesses.
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