The People of God
Have you ever read your Old Testament and thought, “Wait…whatever happened to the Israelites?” Are they still God’s special people? This was a huge question in the early church too. Throughout the book of Romans, Paul is helping the Roman church to think through how the Gentiles (non-Jews) and Jews are supposed to relate to each other in the church. Romans 9 started a conversation that Paul wraps up in Romans 11. In Romans 9, Paul explained that God opening the door to non-Jews does not make him unfair or dishonest in his promises to the Jews. Romans 11 digs in further to this question and asks, “Did God just reject his people?” We know that’s not true, so what is going on? Paul explains with an illustration:
“[I]f some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,  do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.  Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. (Romans 11:17-20 ESV)
In case you aren’t up on your horticulture, grafting is taking a branch from one plant and attaching it to another. This isn’t some voodoo of modern science, it turns out people have been doing this for centuries. So Paul is saying that just like you can take a branch from one tree and attach it to another, if you are in Christ, you are attached to the family tree of God’s people. So, who is attached to God’s family tree? People who are born into a certain race or tribe? Well, being born into a family that loves God has it’s benefits, but it doesn’t make you right with God. There’s only one way to be attached to God’s family tree: faith in Christ.
The big idea of Romans 11 is that people in the Old Testament and the New Testament were able to come to God only by faith. The children of Abraham who believe were “natural” branches. We are “grafted” branches. The wonderful news, though, is that we are branches! We are apart of God’s tree through faith in Christ! Romans 11 tells us that this wonderful blessing of being attached to God’s tree is supposed to cause Israelites who do not believe to see how good it is to be attached and want if for themselves. In other words, God hasn’t given up on the Jews, he has just opened the door for the gentiles also.
This is the wonderful news of the Gospel. Jesus has made a way for all people to be apart of God’s tree through Christ. We want to celebrate the diversity of this unified tree.