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God Prunes and Crafts
Summer Quarter: Toward a New Creation
Unit 3: Life on God’s Terms
Sunday school lesson for the week of August 21, 2016
By Rev. V.L. Daughtery, Jr.
Lesson Scripture: Romans 11:11-36
Background Scripture: Romans 11:11-36
During the Passover meal in an orthodox Jewish home, an empty chair will be placed at the table. It is for the prophet Elijah. In the ritual, the youngest child will be sent to open the front door. The task is to see if Elijah is coming. A report then is made by the child. In Jewish theology, Elijah will appear to the Jews to herald the coming of the Messiah. Writers of Scripture thought that Elijah did visit the Jews and was neither recognized nor accepted.
John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness in his demeanor, diet, and message had the appearance of Elijah. He baptized and proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Added to this distinction was God’s voice giving affirmation (Mark 1:1-11).
Elijah with Moses, the lawgiver, appeared in conversation with Jesus on the Mountain of Transfiguration. There can be no doubt that Jesus is the Messiah when God claimed him during this meeting as the Son of God (Mark 9:1-12).
Jews heard of these exciting events. In Paul’s preaching the Jews were told that the Messiah had been present in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Response of many Jews was opposition, rejection, and even persecution (Acts 9:1-9). It is then that the Gentiles became open to the gospel that was refused by the Jews.
Read aloud Romans 11:11-36
The Jews are God’s chosen people. Yet, they have hardened their hearts. Paul, a Jew, felt deeply wounded by such denial. The apostle declared that there is among the Jews a smaller faithful group. This remnant has embraced and will in the future, fully accept Jesus as the Messiah (I Kings 19:10-14). The members of this remnant have, as individuals, given their allegiance to Jesus the Christ. This remnant, by choice, is the authentic Jews. Paul believed that there will be a future time when Gentiles and Jews will together believe in Jesus.
Will God end his covenant relationship with the Jews because of their denial of Jesus? “Certainly not!” replied Paul. God uses failure and rejection in his plans. In all things, for those who love him, God can use for good all that takes place. God even used the rejection of Jesus by the Jews to make salvation available to the Gentiles. Ultimately, the Jews, in jealousy, will recognize the marvelous results of the gift given to the Gentiles. Such an observation will move the Jews to accept what they have rejected. The results of Jews and Gentiles coming together will enrich the world and complete the process of salvation.
Paul believed God intentionally had allowed the Jews to stumble by their rejection of Jesus. To stumble does not amputate their relationship to God. The Jews were made jealous by God offering to the Gentiles what God’s covenant people have refused (Acts 18:6). When, finally, the Jews come to believe in Jesus, it will be like a resurrection for them. The Jews, by place and position, once more will be the blessed people of God.
Paul selected two simple illustrations to support his premise that Jews will not be completely rejected. First, he used dough. All food eaten by Jews had to be made sacred to God (Numbers 15:19-20). A portion of dough prepared for baking had a very small portion offered to God. Thus all the dough was declared blessed and sacred. The entire nation of Israel had, by covenant, been consecrated to God. Some in that nation had embraced belief in Jesus. The remaining Jews must, however, like all the dough, be considered holy.
The second illustration Paul used was a tree, branches, and roots. The apostle was not a horticulturist. Usually wild branches are not grafted onto cultivated stock, but here the opposite is done. The olive tree, the nation’s branches, is the symbol for the people of God. The Messiah is the route through which the tree gets its life, stability, and the ability to have life (v. 18). The Jews, the natural branches, were not spared (v. 21). The Gentiles, though contrary to nature, were grafted onto the tree by God (v. 24). Gentiles are never to forget their debt to the root. The debt of this grafting into Judaism carries the obligation to present Christ to the Jews. Real branches were pruned because of unbelief. Grafted branches also can be pruned. When Jews finally embrace Jesus, they, too, will be grafted in once more. The day will come when there are no grafted branches on the olive tree and no branches to be pruned. They all will be as one.
There is a relationship between the Jews and the salvation of the Gentiles. All of Israel will have hardened hearts toward Jesus the Christ until the full number of the Gentiles has been saved. Hardened hearts, Paul believed, were caused by God. This condition, however, is not permanent. It will be lifted because God never fails to keep his promises. Jewish rejection of Jesus is serving a primary purpose in the salvation of the Gentiles.
In these verses is the conclusion to all the issues in Paul’s struggle. Paul felt assured of Israel’s salvation. He used a quotation from Isaiah (Isaiah 59:21). God had used the rejection by the Jews to demonstrate that he makes use of all things to accomplish his will. God never recalls a promise. He will not break his promises to the Jews.
Understanding God’s gift of grace through Jesus challenges human understanding. God’s plan for saving Jews and Gentiles is an astounding fact. There can be only one adequate response. Paul did that by giving glory to God forever with an affirming doxology.
Reflections for discussion of Romans 11:11-36
Rev. V.L. Daughtery, Jr. is a retired South Georgia pastor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Should there be efforts by Christians to evangelize Jews?
- What witness would a Christian share with a Jewish friend or neighbor?