Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Long Reach Of God - Romans 11:16-32

Image result for olive trees
Romans 11:16-21 "If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 


I can recall as a child the many games of kickball that my sister and I would play. We would occasionally kick the ball high in the air, resulting in it becoming lodged in a tree. We could call upon my dad to come out and helps us get the ball. He would take a long board or pole and tap the ball to get it down on the ground for us to resume our game. As a child, I marveled at how my dad could do such things, it seemed nothing was to distant or too difficult for him to reach. 

As we turn to Paul's analogy of the olive tree in Romans 11:16-32, we are introduced to His redemptive program to save all kinds of people out of the nations and Israel. Olive trees were valuable in Israel. They came to signify Israel and its land (Judges 9:8-9; 2 Kings 18:32; Psalm 52:8; Psalm 128:3; Isaiah 24:13; Jeremiah 11:16; Hosea 14:6; Zechariah 4:11-12). Jesus preached on a Mountain side known as the "Mount of Olives" due to its copious amount of these trees (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:3; Luke 9:29,37; 21:37). 

Olive leaves are first mentioned in Genesis 8:11 to refer to the dove that brought back an olive branch in its beak to Noah. The bringing of this olive branch signified that God's wrath was done. The ark of safety designed by God had protected Noah, his family and the animals. Henceforth olives would come to represent God's favor, redemption and grace. It is no wonder that the olive was cultivate for its uses in ceremonial anointing of priests, prophets kings; oil for lamps; baking and a host of other uses. 

Whenever olive trees became unfruitful, the people came to discover that by cutting off branches from wild olives trees and grafting them onto cultivated trees, the wild branches would help the cultivated tree become fruitful again. Once the sap from the cultivated tree worked its way through the branches, both branches and tree functioned together. It is this imagery and backdrop that Paul uses in conveying how God's redemptive program is working to redeem the distant and difficult to reach. Let's briefly consider what we find in Romans 11:16-32.

God can reach the most distant.   Rom 11:16-21

Let’s play a game of: “who am I”. In this game, I will mention a pre-conversion testimony from the Bible and see if you the reader can guess the identity of the person in question.

1).  I was a pagan that lived over half my life in a very secular city, committed to the darkness, until God found me. 

2). I was wanted for 1st degree murder and went into hiding, lived a double life, nearly forgotten, until God found me and changed my life. 

So who are these two mystery people? The first was Abraham, who originally a gentile, was called by God out of ancient Babylonia and then became circumcised. He became the patriarch of the Jewish nation (Joshua 24:2-3) Now what about the second mystery person?  If you guessed Moses, you were right. Moses was raised in Pharaoh's household. Though Jewish by birth he was raised to be Egyptian in thought. God would call him to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt  (Exodus 2:11-15; 3:1-6).

Now to put this on a personal level: Do you have a son, daughter, relative that is far away from God? As long as they have life within them, they are still prime candidates for being reached by God. If God can reach people who were seemingly distant like Abraham and Moses, He can reach anyone. God is reaching out to the nations. But now notice secondly....

God can reach the most difficult.   Rom 11:22-29

Let's try one more round of "who am I". 

1). I endorsed the sacrificial killing of my own son and became addicted to murder, detested God and engaged in the occult. I became a powerful man, and then was found out, locked in prison and hit rock-bottom. I should had died, but God found me. This first mystery person was none other than Manassah, a Jewish King, in 2 Chronicles 33.

2). I was a troubled soul, possessed by seven demons. The day was no different than night to me, then He called my name and turned my life around. Believe it or not, this is the testimony of Mary Magdalene, the first person to see Jesus post-resurrection.  (Mary, Lk 8:2).

3). I was most devoted to my religion, and yet made it my life’s purpose to wipe out Christianity. I was a cynical and skeptical. Then Jesus came to me and turned my life inside out. If you guest the Apostle Paul, you were right! (Acts 9). 

As we summarize Paul's point in these verses, we find it in Romans 11:22, 25-26  For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

When we look at Israel today, though some are converting to Jesus the Messiah, it seems that, by-and-large, there are very few Jewish people coming to the Lord. Yet scripture testifies again and again that God will save the multitude of Jewish people at the end of this age. Take for instance a glimpse of this truth in Revelation 7:4 "And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel." The consequence of this world-wide evangelistic effort during the Great Tribulation will be the conversion of many people. We read on in Revelation 7:9 "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands." In this prophetic vision captures only a small portion of Jewish people whom God will touch by His grace at the end of history. At the end of this tribulation period, Christ will return to earth and many more multitudes of the Jewish nation will become converted (see Romans 11:25-26). 

What do we glean from these verses?  The application is this: never judge ability to save a person tomorrow by seemingly impossible circumstances today. So now notice the closing thought of today's post...

God can reach you. Your response?  Rom 11:30-32 

In Romans 11:30-32, God reminds us through the pen of Paul that His calling to His people Israel as the chosen nation of his inheritance has not been revoked. God doesn't lie (Titus 1:2) nor break promises. It is then in Romans 11:32 we find two classes of people: believers and unbelievers. Those who by God's gracious call have responded versus those who have freely and knowing rejected God's well-meant-offer of forgiveness. This same sort of arrangement is found in Romans 5:18 "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men."

These verses are not speaking of some crass universalism in which all men will be saved. Instead, this refers to all those who willingly reject Christ of their own accord because they loved darkness rather than light (John 3:17; 3:36) and all of those who, because of God's grace calling them, freely respond to the Gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9). God's long reach extends to the most distant and difficult. If you but trust in Him who is reaching out to you, you too can be graved into that wondrous tree, that vine, the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 15).  

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