The apostle Paul painted a picture in Romans 11 of an olive tree. It was a very interesting-looking olive tree. Some branches had been cut away, and other branches – branches from trees that were growing wild – were grafted into the olive tree.
Over time, it seems, some of the branches that were cut off (perhaps all of them?) would be grafted back into the olive tree. As I picture this, the olive tree must have a lot of branches – some going this way, some going that way, some looking like traditional olive branches, some looking like branches from another kind of olive tree altogether.
It is a strange tree, indeed.
But it is one tree. And that is Paul’s point in Romans 11. The same God who chose Israel and promised a Messiah to that people is the same God who calls non-Israelites to himself through the Jewish Messiah. Jesus is the Savior for all. Paul already had written, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
The question Paul was answering in Romans 11 is about the future of Jews who reject Jesus as their Messiah. Paul wrote of the possibility that Jews who reject Jesus eventually will come to faith in him. Branches once cut off from the olive tree, “even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in.”
Paul added, “for God has the power to graft them in again.” All of this lies under the power of God. This is so much so that Paul kicked open the door to the idea that “all Israel will be saved.”
And so there is no place in the life of a Gentile Christian for looking down on Jews who do not believe in Jesus as their Messiah. But there is a place for humble recognition that Gentile Christians, by the skin of their teeth, have found the salvation God desires for his people who were chosen from ancient times. There is a place for gratitude on the part of Gentile Christians, as well as a big sigh of relief.
There also is a place for desire – a desire that Jesus would be recognized as the Messiah by the very people from whom he emerged. There is a place to stand against anti-Semitism. And there is a place to share the good news with those among the Jewish nation who have not yet accepted the gospel.
Some feel ill-equipped to do this last ministry ourselves. But we must remain open to the possibility God will equip us to do that very thing. And we must pray.
Somehow, Paul’s writing in Romans 11 feels like a prayer. All prayer is built on earnest desire. And we can feel Paul’s earnest desire for his kinsfolk. Even though Paul was specifically called to be an apostle to non-Jews, he desired that none of the Jews would be lost and that all would be saved.
And it feels as if Paul’s prayer always had been for his people, whom he loved dearly (and whom we know God loves dearly). Perhaps that’s the fundamental, base-line response for Gentile Christians: to pray for the Jews.
And to expect a miracle – because Paul’s writing in Romans 11, even more than a prayer, is a promise.