Lesson 39

The Epistle to the Romans

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

11:16 If the first fruit is holy, so is the lump. If the root is holy, so are the branches. 11:17 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 root of the richness of the olive tree; 11:18 donít boast over the branches. But if you boast, it is not you who bear the root, but the root you. 11:19 You will say then, "Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in." 11:20 True; by their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Donít be conceited, but fear; 11:21 for if God didnít spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 11:22 See then the goodness and severity of God. Toward those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 11:23 They also, if they donít continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 11:24 For if you were cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more will these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?  

Today's Lesson 

The Old Testament prophets had often referred to the nation of Israel as an olive tree that God had planted in the promise land. God planted them by the river and cultivated them as an inheritance. Paul uses this same image in writing to Gentile believers. Only Paul puts a new twist on an old idea.


Paul likens the acceptance of the Gentiles into the body of Christ as Gods "grafting" them into the tree of Israel. God began redeeming a people for Himself a long time ago. The root that God planted is holy and productive. Over time, God prunes branches that fail to live up to His criteria. The tree flourishes and grows.


When the time is right, God accepts the Gentiles and it is as though He has grafted a branch from a wild olive tree into the cultivated tree. Farmers do this on occasion to increase the vitality and resistance to disease of certain trees. My grandfather used to graft branches from wild plum trees into his plum trees on occasion and I can still remember being shown where one branch was grafted into a tree. When I read this passage I still think of that moment as a young boy looking in wonder as a branch that had been cut out of one tree was attached to another and the complete confidence that my grandfather had that the new branch would flourish in its place.


Paul writes that you Gentiles are like that grafted branch. The root nourishes you and gives you life. Without the root the severed branch would whither and die. The engrafted branch cannot feel superiority over the root because it is the root that supports the branch. Moreover, if God has broken off the natural branches to make room for the wild, he can certainly graft the natural branches back on if He chooses.


Paul writes that this is a demonstration of the goodness and the severity of God. God is good to the elect that have been grafted in. God is severe to those that have been cut off because of unbelief. We don't like to see both sides of God. We prefer one or the other. Some people have a grudge against God and only think of the harsh and judgmental side of God. Others want to paint God as an indulgent big brother that is all sweetness and smiles.


But God never presents Himself in one-dimensional terms. God is love, but God is the judge of the world. Even Jesus Christ is presented as a complex, multifaceted individual. There are some things that He said that still perplex us. And that is as it should be. We will never fully comprehend the infinite in this life. We cannot domesticate God until He is easy for us to understand and He is cute and cuddly. God is a wild torrent of power that runs free in the universe. We will never tame Him or capture Him with our understanding.


Are you prepared for a God that cannot be controlled or manipulated? Can you accept a God that demonstrates both goodness and severity?


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