This the second part of a three-part series. Part one was Jesus is the culmination of the Jewish law found in the Old Testament. Part two today is Jesus is the root of salvation and next time, we’ll cover Jesus as the head of the church. This is Paul’s theology in a nutshell — it’s all about Jesus and in Romans 12, we’ll see how a life that is all about Jesus is expressed concretely and practically through his body, the church.
When I was attending seminary, it was quite a regular occurrence that professors would speak about some controversial topic such as — eschatology, the end times, are you a millenialist, a pre-millenialist, do you believe in the rapture — topics with no easy answer. And they would say so and so had this position and they would explain that side of the argument. And then they would say so and so had the opposite view and here is his reasoning. And so you got a clear sense of the debate and why there are opposing views and I was kind of waiting for the punch line, professor, what do YOU believe? But that punch line never came and I was left to decide on my own.
For a student, that had to be one of the most frustrating experiences. Church was paying big bucks for me to be in this lecture and I don’t have the brain power nor the time to sift through all the academic studies and theology textbooks so I expect that some expert (i.e. professor) would lay out all the possible positions and then tell me which one I need to believe for this, this and this reason. But I rarely got a candid answer from these professors and I was about to ask for a refund for the class.
I say this only to warn you that I am about to do the same thing to you this morning and this might be somewhat of a regular occurrence. But unlike a seminary class, when you give offering, you are offering to the Lord so there will be no refunds at the end of this sermon. Maybe if you are really frustrated, I can take you out for coffee, but that’s about it.
Romans 11 is one of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible to understand. At a high level, there is mention of a remnant of Jews who are saved while the majority of Jews in the nation of Israel is cut off, then Gentiles branches being grafted in followed by a warning, watch out because, if Israel can be cut off, then you might be next.
What does this mean specifically for the nation of Israel who were the chosen people of God from the Old Testament? And what does this mean in terms of salvation? More to the point, is salvation something that you can lose?
These are some of the issues surrounding this chapter. And normally, I would read a passage like this and say, forget it, let me move onto Romans 12. Romans 12 is much more clear cut, it’s more of a positive message, it’s not that hard to understand, it’s practical. Romans 11, can’t we just gloss over it?
What do I lose by not preaching on difficult passages like this? Well, I risk missing on what God might want to say. Because we believe that everything in Scripture is the inspired Word of God. Every passage, every verse in its proper context is the living and active, sharper than a double edge sword, Word of God. And whenever the Word goes out and it is preached, it does not return void. The Word of God has power to transform.
But passages like this are difficult. We typically want to read Scripture and we expect that within a minute or two, God will speak. Because we are always in a rush. We put God on a timer, God, I only have a few minutes to receive an insight so you better hurry up. And for a preacher, we want to get an immediate direction for a sermon so that we can begin preparing right away because one week is just not enough time. So by Tuesday or Wednesday on weeks when I have to preach that Sunday, if a sermon is not coming together, I begin to panic. But chapters like Romans 11 doesn’t allow for that. No immediate insight comes. It forces me to think through issues that don’t have an easy answer.
I had to do that for this chapter. I did all my study of this passage. Like I said earlier, there were proponents for two opposing views. Then, I had to continue to meditate on this passage and bring it before the Lord and ask him, Lord, I need you. Help me to understand this passage. Give me insight so that what needs to be emphasized would be brought to my attention. Let it not be my words, but may it be your words. Lord, you know exactly where we are as a church and as individuals. In that space that I am creating as I meditate on God’s Word, I give God room to speak. Concretely, this means like this past week, I start typing up my notes for the sermon and I don’t know exactly where it is going but I pray throughout, Lord, this is your sermon, lead us to understand this difficult passage in a way that you see fit.
And I explain this just to make the point that I think this is why teachers and preachers are often most blessed. Because we are forced to study the Word of God in a manner that goes beyond devotional reading and I pray that we can all learn how to do this. Reading the Bible devotionally is important, don’t get me wrong. But that kind of mindset makes it easy to gloss over hard passages. Passages that make us feel uncomfortable like God’s judgment or human depravity and our need to repent, we can easily turn the page. Or what we might consider boring like the details about the temple in Leviticus, we skip over. A passage like Romans 11, we can easily skim past, but we risk missing out on what God might want to say.
And what ends up happening when we read the Bible selectively is you begin to piece together your own version of God. My God is always smiling, he is always happy with me whatever I do, he never lets tragedy hit good people, he is all about freedom, I can do whatever I want and in the end he blesses me. When we are not deliberate and intentional about letting the Word of God, no matter what passage, speak into our lives, then our view of God can get distorted. Furthermore, the Bible may say to do something very clearly, but instead of struggling with those verses, we can easily get ourselves off the hook by saying, that’s not my ministry, that’s not my calling, someone else will take care of that.
That is why I have nothing against yearly reading plans to cover the entire Bible or other reading schedules. But please balance this with other reading plans that force you to study the Bible more intentionally. There are many online sources and commentaries and sermons and podcasts so we can all study the Bible more systematically. Plan to master one book of the Bible this year so that you are equipped and ready to teach. This means you understand the outline, the main thesis, the flow of the author’s argument. Or take one Biblical truth, one principle and dwell on that for an extended period of time. Let it simmer in the back burner so that 6 months from now, you are not the same person because you have allowed that truth to master an area of your life.
And the difficult verses, don’t gloss over them. Research, ask questions, talk with other brothers and sisters. This takes discipline and we do this because we believe that when God speaks, he doesn’t simply affirm what we already know. He surprises us, he challenges us, he rocks our world at times. We ought not to gloss over hard passages, we ought not to pick and choose, we are not selective in our reading. No, God speaks and we listen. This is what submitting to the Word of God looks like.
That’s my introduction. Just a plug to say, let’s study the Word of God this year and give God the room to speak, whatever the passage may be.
The last time I preached, I spoke about how the Jews missed salvation because they had failed to recognize Jesus as the culmination of the law and had settled for a religion instead of a relationship.
Today, I want to talk about Jesus as the root of our salvation. Paul uses the branch and root metaphor in Romans 11:17-18.
Romans 11:17-18 – 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.
You have natural branches, the nation of Israel on a whole, who failed to recognize Jesus as the culmination of the law and they were cut off. And then you have wild branches, the Gentiles Christians who were grafted in. This is the makeup of the church at Rome. It is comprised of Jewish CHRISTIANS, so those who haven’t been cut off like most Jews, and you’ve got a Gentile Christian majorrity. And both groups have been grafted in. And these two groups were having a hard time getting along because their backgrounds were quite different. Jewish Christians on one side and Gentile Christians on the other.
But what Paul is underscoring is not how one branch is better than the rest. The point is all branches are connecting to the root. Verses 17-18 highlight the fact that the branches are connected to the nourishing sap from the olive root. Therefore, be humble. Don’t consider yourself superior to the other branches. Why? Well, it’s obvious, the root supports you, not the other way around. And of course, the root is Jesus Christ.
What’s significant about a Christmas tree? Christmas trees look all nice. They are decorated with ornaments and bright lights. But the most significant thing about a Christmas tree is that it is dead. Why is it dead? Obviously, because it has been cut off at the root.
Imagine if the branch at the top was bragging, look at me, that bright star ornament is hanging on me. The rest of you are hanging candy canes or small shiny balls, but I’m at the top and I have a star hanging off of me.
Who cares? The point is that the Christmas tree is dead because it has been cut off at the root. The root is the most important thing because that’s where life comes from. And Jesus is the root. We need to be connected to Jesus. We are too easily impressed with the ornaments of this world. How many degrees do you have? From what school? How much money do you make? What is your job title? What brand are you wearing? What talents do you have? Look at that person, he has natural leadership or charisma and I don’t have any of that.
Who cares? That’s what Paul would say. The Bible says none of that matters. It’s like one branch bragging about what ornament is hanging off of them when the branch is utterly dead because it has been cut off from the root, the source of life. For the Christian, the root supports us. That means Jesus is central. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. That’s the common Christian confession. We don’t take center stage. We don’t look down on others or play games about who is superior or more successful in life. The point is Jesus, he is the root of our salvation.