A couple of days ago we went over some of the things we owe the Jewish people. Of course Paul was only talking about the spiritual blessings God has given us through them: The Scriptures, the foreshadowing pictures we have of our Savior, and our Savior himself. He’s given us one big reason why God has shifted his focus from Israel to the Gentiles, namely in order to provoke the Jews to jealousy and bring them back to himself.
This is a huge principle that overlays today’s passage, and we need to get it thoroughly ingrained into our heads: God will accomplish his purposes one way or another. He sent his Son to his own people, and they (for the most part) rejected him. The Good News was presented first to them, and although there was a huge influx on Pentecost, for the most part Israel didn’t respond positively. The religious leaders especially were the main enemies of the Message, at least in the first few years of the Church.
And so we see the transition in the book of Acts from Israel to the universal Church. Please keep in mind that this was not “Plan B” as far as God was concerned. He knew all of this in eternity past and everything has its part in his plan. But as far as humanity is concerned, he gave Israel their chance to “get on board” with the New Covenant, and the vast majority of them refused it.
That’s the main point here. If I don’t willingly participate in God’s plan, then God’s plan will still go forward. Paul, like O.T. writers before him, compared Israel to an olive tree. It was the “natural” tree: God first revealed himself to them like he did to no other people. Israel as a nation was “cut off” and the Gentiles—continuing the horticultural image—were grafted in as a “wild” branch.
So what lessons does Paul want us to grasp from this?
First, there’s no room for pride for us as Gentiles. We’re the “Johnny Come Lately’s” as far as his plan is concerned. Jews knew about God (and several had a personal relationship with him) for thousands of years before we were grafted in. And what happens if we (as a people group) stop listening to God? We can be cut off too.
Let’s be clear here. The Scriptures are clear that you can’t lose your personal salvation. Remember, the whole context here is about God’s dealings with groups of people, not individuals. A person could be faithful in ancient Israel and have a great personal relationship with the Lord while most of the surrounding group was turning against him wholesale. And the converse could be true: You might be in the midst of a group of believers and not be saved. The Lord's dealings with nations and other big groups are not always under the same “rules” as his dealings with an individual.
But God can shift his blessings from one huge group to another, especially if the first group isn't doing what it’s supposed to be doing. I think you might guess where I’m going with this, since I’ve talked about it before. America has an incredible spiritual heritage, and I have a theory (open to disproof, of course), that his blessing and usage is shifting away from the American Church to the Church in Asia, such as in Korea.
The good news is the second thing Paul wants us to know. There’s hope, both for national Israel and for the Church in America. This “cutting off” by no means has to be permanent. If a group turns back to doing things God’s way, he can “graft” them back in.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to pray for the Church in my country right now.
Father God, like the old song says, please send revival, and let it begin with me. Yes, I’m begging.