Holding on to Hope

Romans 11:11-24

November 2, 2008 | Brian Bill

Certain names will always be associated with the Chicago Bears: Papa Bear Halas, Gale Sayers, Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon, and Walter Payton.  And perhaps the greatest middle linebacker ever to play the game was Mike Singletary.  For 12 years he led the Chicago defense, prowling from sideline to sideline, calling the defensive signals, barking out orders, and then there were those incredible piercing eyes that could look right through you.  “Samurai Singletary” would lean forward, look straight ahead, and then focus his eyes on the quarterback. After his retirement he was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame.  No one doubts (not even a Green Bay Packers fan like me!) that he belongs there.  He is what a middle linebacker should be. 

Speaking of “Packer persecution,” when I came into my office on Thursday, I found this note under my door: “Dear Pastor Brian, you would not believe what happened!  A huge group of Bears broke into the church and saw your Packers cup – they couldn’t stand the sight of it so they trampled it to the ground.  We tried to stop them but it was no use…Okay so that’s not exactly what happened.  Actually [we] were messing around and it got knocked off a counter and broke into a bunch of pieces…I am so sorry!  If you could find it in your Packer-loving heart to forgive us that would be amazing…”  I’m leaving the names off but the two cup culprits are seniors in our high school ministry.

Anyway, where was I?  For a number of years Singletary served as a motivational speaker, traveling the country inspiring others to rise to new levels of excellence.  But he always dreamed of becoming a coach.  He eventually became linebackers coach and assistant head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, a once-proud franchise that has fallen on hard times.  It’s hard to remember the days of Joe Montana, Bill Walsh, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice.  Having won five Super Bowls, the 49ers today are a far cry from those championship teams. 

They are, in fact, one of the worst teams in the NFL.  That’s why two weeks ago the 49ers fired their head coach Mike Nolan and named Mike Singletary as the interim head coach.  Some people thought it was a big promotion because Singletary had never been a coordinator, much less a head coach.  But he proved his mettle in last Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. 

In his first head coaching game, he benched turnover prone quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan in the second quarter and then he took exception to Vernon Davis’ attitude and pulled him out of the game and sent him to the locker room in the fourth quarter.  In a post-game conference, Singletary explained: “I told him that he would do a better job for us right now taking a shower and coming back and watching the game than going out on the field…simple as that.”  Singletary called Davis’ actions “uncoachable” and said that he would rather play with a 10-man squad than have to deal with an apathetic 11-man squad.

Sending a player to the showers in the 4th quarter is a pretty gutsy move.  Let’s face it; even established coaches rarely do something like that.  Maybe Mike Singletary figures he’s got nothing to lose.  Perhaps he knows that he needed to do something to shake up and wake up his team.  But if you want to win, you’d better have the right guys out on the field.  And you might as well send the rest of the team to the showers.

It may surprise you to know that God feels the same way.  Sometimes he has to send people to the showers in order to get their attention.  It’s not enjoyable or easy to do, and it’s not fun at all if you’re the one who’s been pulled off the field.  But God always knows what he’s doing.  He never pulls us off the field without a good reason.

In a similar way, God sent Israel to the locker room not only because of their attitudes, but because of their actions.  He then put a new team on the field, called the Gentiles.  But He’s not done with Israel either.  By watching salvation from the sidelines, the hope is that Israel will see its error and want to get back in the game.

Last week we learned that failure is not final because we don’t see all that God is doing, grace is a gift not a reward and there are consequences to rejecting Christ.  The nation of Israel for the most part has rejected Christ but this failure is not final for them.  If last week the focus was on the grace of God, today we’re going to learn about the grafting of God.  Next week we’ll understand more about the guarantee of God and then we’ll finish up Romans 11 two weeks from today as we celebrate the glory of God.

Results of Rejection

Paul picks up the question he raised in Romans 11:1 in verse 11: “Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?”  We established last week that there’s a remnant of true believers but for the most part, Jewish people have not put their faith in Jesus.  Here he’s speaking of the ethnic Israelites and wondering if they have fallen so far that there is no hope of them getting back in the game.  For the tenth and last time in Romans Paul gives this very strong answer: “Not at all!”  Israel has not lost their privileged position before God forever – the promises of national blessing are still valid.  His rejection is not permanent.

This is just a sidebar but I’d like to make an important point.  Our understanding of God’s plan for Israel affects our eschatology, which is the doctrine of what will happen in the end-times.  We believe that God will fulfill His promises to Israel.  This also affects our theology – if God is through with Israel than what happens to all the promises?  How can we trust God’s faithfulness unless we believe He will keep His word?  

Paul then gives four results related to their present rejection of Jesus.

1. Salvation has now come to the Gentiles. 

We see this in the next phrase in verse 11: “Salvation has come to the Gentiles…”  It’s important to realize that while God started his plan of salvation with the Jewish people, it was always intended to spread to the Gentiles.  We see this way back in Genesis 12:3 when God spoke to Abraham: “…And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Isaiah 49:6 tells us that God’s people were to proclaim God’s message to all peoples: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Because Israel erred by rejecting Jesus, God turned to the Gentiles.  We see this clearly in the New Testament in a number of passages.  Let’s turn to the gospels first.  In Matthew 8:11-12 Jesus spoke these words to a people who felt they were so privileged that God would never reject them, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, [Gentiles] and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom [Jews] will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 21:43: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”  

The missionaries Paul and Barnabas focused on the Jews first but when they rejected the message they said in Acts 13:46: “We had to speak the word of God to you first.  Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”  Later, in Acts 18:6 this pattern is followed again: “But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads!  I am clear of my responsibility.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’”  In one of the last verses in the Book of Acts, Paul declares to those Jews who refused to listen: “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:28)

God used Israel’s rejection to bring riches to the Gentiles and this was part of His plan all along.  In Romans 11:12 and Romans 11:15 we see that if God used their failures to get the gospel to the Gentiles, He will use their faithfulness even more: “…How much greater riches will their fullness bring!  For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”  When a Jew becomes a believer in Jesus he or she becomes a “completed Jew.”  If you’ve ever met a “messianic Jew,” they are filled with passion for evangelism and are a power to be reckoned with.  C.S. Lewis puts it like this: “In a sense, the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world.  Everyone else is, from one point of view, a special case dealt with under emergency conditions.”  We got in, as it were through the back door, because Israel erred and was on the bench.  But the ones who really belong are the Jews who believe in Jesus.

2. This should make the Jews jealous. 

Check out the last phrase in verse 11: “…To make Israel envious.”  When the Jews looked at how the Gentiles were living the Jesus-life, it should have moved them to jealousy.   This is stated even more clearly in verses 13-14: “I am talking to you Gentiles.  Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.”  As we learned in the opening verses of Romans 9, Paul is broken up by the unbelief of the Israelites and will do anything possible to bring salvation to them.

Have you ever been jealous of what someone has?  When you see a Christ-follower really living for Christ, isn’t it motivational?  It’s convicting but hopefully also compelling.  I saw what my roommate Bruce had and I wanted it.  That’s because He was living it.

3. This should make Gentiles humble. 

Using two metaphors, Paul reminds us of the importance of not boasting or being arrogant (verses 18 and 20).  Specifically, we are not to boast arrogantly over our privileges or possessions as believers.

  • Piece of dough.  Look at verse 16: “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy…”  A Jewish person would understand this very well.  Paul is referring to the offerings and sacrifices in the tabernacle and the practice of setting aside the first of one’s increase to God.  Numbers 15:20-21 sheds light on this: “Present a cake from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor.  Throughout the generations to come you are to give this offering to the Lord from the first of your ground meal.”  For the firstfruits, a pile of dough was made up and it would be presented to God.  This first portion of the harvest was regarded both as an installment and as a pledge that the whole harvest belonged to God.  

This is carried on today when we give our tithes and offerings to the Lord – we’re giving a portion in acknowledgment that it all belongs to Him.  Proverbs 3:9: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

What is considered first contributes its character to what is related to it

Paul is arguing that if this chunk of dough was accepted as holy before God, the rest of the harvest would be as well.  Abraham is the firstfruit and was accepted — therefore his descendents will be too.  Here’s the point: What is considered first contributes its character to what is related to it.

  • Grafted branches. Normally, a really good branch was grafted into a stump that wasn’t so good; often it was a branch from a cultivated olive tree that was grafted into a wild tree.  Olive trees were very important to the economy of the Israelites.  They can live for hundreds of years and it was common for some branches to stop producing fruit.  When this would happen, branches from younger trees would be grafted in.  Sometimes shoots from a wild olive tree would be grafted into a domestic olive tree that was bearing little fruit in an attempt to strengthen or save the life of the tree.

But let me point out that this second illustration that Paul uses, according to verse 24, is “contrary to nature.”  In this metaphor, God flips it in verse 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.”  What God has done here is unnatural.  Rather than grafting good branches into a worthless stock, He has grafted worthless branches into a good stock.  In this picture, the branches that have been broken off are ethnic Jews who are not believers in Jesus and the wild olive shoots are the Gentiles who have been grafted in to God’s goodness.  Notice that only “some” are broken off – the remnant of true believers is not severed.  The olive root represents the promises and covenants given to Abraham.

Some have objected to the possibility of grafting a wild olive branch onto a cultivated olive tree. But it is done on occasion and as a result two things happen.  First, the wild branch begins to produce good olives.  And second, the old tree is newly invigorated.  The Israelites would have understood this illustration on a deeper level because time and again in the Old Testament they themselves were referred to as an olive tree.  Here’s just one example from Jeremiah 11:16.  Note the connection to Romans 11 and this was written about 600 years earlier: “The Lord called you a thriving olive tree with fruit beautiful in form.  But with the roar of a mighty storm he will set it on fire, and its branches will be broken.”

In John 4:22 Jesus made a strong statement: “For salvation is from the Jews.”  Because Gentiles have been grafted in, verse 18 calls us to not boast over our position.  The word “boast” means to look down upon or despise.  We are supported by the root; the root can survive without us but the branches are absolutely dependent upon the root.  Remember that he is not speaking of individual believers because we can never be separated from God (Romans 8:35-39), but to the whole community.  

Verse 20 admonishes us to not be arrogant and verses 21-22 tell us why: “For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.  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.”  Do you know how you come to God determines what you think of Him?  If you come with humility and brokenness, you will find Him to be kind and loving, open-armed and ready to help you.  But if you come to Him with a complaining spirit, justifying your actions and attitudes, you will find God to be stern and as merciless as fire.

The same God who broke off the unbelieving Jews can punish proud churches today.  While an individual cannot lose their salvation I believe a church can lose its effectiveness and outreach.  All you need to do is read about the 7 churches in Revelation to see what happens when holiness is replaced with haughtiness.  Don’t lose sight of the fact that every single one of these churches eventually ceased to exist.

4. Hold on to hope for the Jewish people. 

God is not done yet.  He is not done with the Jew…or with you.  We see this in verses 23-24: “And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.  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!” This passage will lead us right into the passage for next week.  God is not finished yet.  It strikes me that whatever you’re struggling with today, it’s important to hold onto hope.  With the prison situation, hold onto hope.  With the economy, hold onto hope.  With your family situation, hold onto hope.  With that fractured friendship, hold onto hope.  With that person far from Christ, hold onto hope.  With that Jewish person you know who doesn’t yet believe in Jesus, hold onto hope.


Someone recently asked me about this church.  I told him that we preach and teach the Bible and seek to apply it to our lives.  We’re passionate about connecting people to Jesus and we’re committed to equipping people so that they can be growing and faithful followers.  As a way to take this sermon from the head to the feet, from the talk to the walk, here are some application points.

1. Avoid anti-Semitism. 

There is no place for a Christian to tell jokes about Jewish people or to participate in any kind of mistreatment of them.  When you hear someone criticizing them, speak on their behalf.  Just last week at Parkway West Middle School in Chesterfield, Missouri, four students face punishment for allegedly hitting Jewish classmates during what they called, “Hit a Jew Day.”  District spokesman Paul Tandy said, “There is a mix of sadness and outrage.  The concern is that a lot kids knew about it and they didn’t take action or say anything.”  I don’t know how to explain the intense hatred that many people have for the Jews, from Hitler’s holocaust down to what’s happening today.  But I do know that we as believers owe our heritage to them and are called to love them.  As Gentiles we should seek to understand the Jewish context of Christianity in order to better understand Scripture and our own salvation.  If not for Judaism, there would be no Christianity.  Without understanding the Old Testament, the New Testament won’t make much sense.  

2. Be thankful that salvation was extended to you. 

We of all people should be filled with thankful hearts for all God has done for us.  

3. Believe and receive so you can be saved. 

Paul’s passion as stated in verse 14 is to “save some of them.”  If you’re not sure or you know you’re not, it’s time to believe and receive so that you can be saved.  John 1:11-12 states that Jesus came to the Jews first but then He made the offer to all: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

4. Live in such a way that those who don’t know Jesus will be jealous when they watch your life. 

Our lives ought to create a genuine thirst in others

Let me phrase this in a question: Does how you live make others jealous for Jesus?  Our lives ought to create a genuine thirst in others.  Ray Stedman writes: “Christians ought to be so alive, so vital in our Christianity, so excited and so full of joy and love toward one another that every Jew we contact will say to himself, ‘How come they have it and we don’t?’”  Let’s face it – for the most part Christians as a whole have not lived in a manner in which non-Christians and especially Jews would envy, mainly because we are not always the best examples for Christ.

5. Get back in the game. 

Have you been on the sidelines just watching?  Some of you burned pretty bright a few years ago but now you’re spiritually stalled.  God is not through with the Jew…and He’s not through with you!

6. Trust in God’s sometimes roundabout purposes. 

God’s plan has always been to extend salvation to the Gentiles but he did it by sending the Israelites to the bench.  Sometimes things don’t make much sense to us but it’s in those times that we need to trust.  Claim the truth of Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?