HOW do Christians and Jews relate? After all we share 60% of our Scripture with the Jews (39 of 66 books), we believe that the God they worship is the same God that we worship. We know that Jesus was ethnically Jewish, AND not only that, we believe that Jesus was, in terms of human ancestry, directly descended from King David and the rightful King of Israel.

The issue of the Jews, and how God will deal with them has been a thorny one which has been contentious for centuries. The Christian attitude towards God’s covenant people is a mixed one. Throughout history, the Jews have been targeted at various times by Christians. In the Middle Ages, Jews were persecuted by Christians, and there were a number of massacres of Jews in Europe. For example Strasbourg 1349, Brussels 1370, Prague 1389, Barcelona 1391. From 1389 right through to the 20th century, there were a succession of pogroms in the Russian empire where Jews were persecuted, massacred and forced to flee. Then we have the more recent history of concentration camps and the attempted genocide of the Jewish people in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. If you have the stomach for it, you can actually go to places like Auschwitz, or you can see photographs of the environments the Nazis herded the Jews into the and the things they did to them. Photographs of living skeletons with hollow hopeless eyes. I can’t look at them, I find them too upsetting.

Chasing Jews out, discriminating against them, exiling them, torturing them and as we know, even killing them, are absolutely appalling things to do and, in human terms, unforgivable, abhorrent, and should be a real source of shame for us. Such actions are simply not Christian, they fly in the face of the ministry and life of Jesus and the word of God.

How exactly God sees the Jews, how that fits in with the Gospel, and by implication what the Christian’s relationship with the Jews should look like, is a subject which many Christians differ on. If God chose the Jews to be a witness to the world (which we believe), and they failed in that responsibility (which we also believe), if the Jews are God’s chosen people (which we believe), yet they played a major role in the death of Jesus, the very one sent from God to bring life to mankind (which we also believe), what does this mean? What can we learn from it?

There are a number of ways that Christians can see the Jews and the relationship between the Jews and the Christian faith. One is just to completely ignore the issue, which I don’t think is very sensible and certainly not Biblical.

Before I look at what Paul says in today’s passage from Romans 11 about the Jews, Here are the two main views:

  1. Pseudo Judaism. —and—
  2. Replacement theology.

Pseudo Judaism.

Some Christians believe we should become what I would describe as pseudo-Jews. That is, they say we should adopt Jewish laws and Jewish customs if we are to be FULLY God’s people. In Paul’s day, there was a section of Christian believers who believed that in order to be a ‘proper’ Christian, to REALLY follow Jesus effectively, we have to embrace Judaism and all that entails—including keeping the Jewish laws. Some male Gentile believers were actually getting circumcised. Paul writes Galatians, which in large part deals with this, and he feels very strongly about it. So, for example, he says this about circumcision,

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:7–12).

Even today, you will meet people who, whilst they won’t necessarily argue that men should be circumcised (though I’m sure if you look, you will find some who do), or that all the mosaic laws are binding on Christians, they would, nevertheless get as close to Jewish laws and customs as they can. They will follow the food laws. They will follow the Sabbath requirements to the letter and so on. So, for example, when I was in my first church, there was a small group of people who about once a month used our hall, and they were so enamoured with the Jews. They sat separately (men on one side, women on the other) in the manner of a synagogue, the women covered their heads when they met, they didn’t speak—only the men spoke and so on.

In order to be ‘fully Christian’, is it necessary to do this? I don’t believe so. All you have to do is read the full letter to the Galatians to see that this is a road we don’t need to go down.

Replacement Theology.

There are others who believe that God has given up the Jews, He is DONE with them, and that they have no further place in His plan of salvation for the world. They believe that Christians have REPLACED the Jews in God’s plan of salvation that we are the new ‘people of God’. Not surprisingly, this is known as replacement theology.

Implications of replacement theology are that

  1. The Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, that He no longer has specific future plans for the nation of Israel.
  2. Since the church is the replacement for Israel and that the many promises made to Israel in the Bible are fulfilled in the Christian church, not in Israel. The prophecies in Scripture concerning the blessing and restoration of Israel to the Promised Land are seen as spiritual and/or are transferred and seen as promises of God’s blessing for the church.

But …

That Israel and the church are different is clearly taught in the New Testament. Biblically speaking, the church is distinct from Israel, and the terms church and Israel are never to be confused or used interchangeably. We are taught from Scripture that the church is something entirely NEW, it is founded in the NEW Testament, and Christians are a NEW creation, we are not NOT simply a re-hash of the Jewish people.

If God is done with the Jews, if Israel has been condemned by God and there is no future for the Jewish nation, how do we explain the supernatural survival of the Jewish people despite the many attempts over the centuries to destroy them—many of which I spoke about at the start? If the promises of restoration of Israel is merely allegorical, how do we explain why and how Israel has managed to reappear as a nation state in the 20th century after 1,900 years without a land?

In today’s passage, I think there are some things we can learn about this subject which will help us to understand the Jewish people and their relationship to God, the gospel and us as Christians, I believe that there are lessons we can learn. We need to understand God’s relationship with the Jews because it affects our relationship with them, and, given God’s promise to Abraham which also , ‘whoever blesses you, I will bless’ (Genesis 12:3) directly affects how God blesses us.

So, let’s read what Paul says, and then reflect on it and I’ll share something of what I believe God is saying to us this morning.

What Paul says.

The Text: Romans 11v11–24.

Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as first-fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
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, 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 will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

Paul is following on from the passage we looked at last week, where he talked about the apostasy of Israel, and here he is telling them how important the Jews are. In fact he is telling them that it is BECAUSE of the Jews that they (the Gentiles) are saved. He says, “because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11), AND in return one of the consequences of their salvation will be to make the Jews envious, and by implication, bring them back to faith. In fact Paul says that in part his own ministry has this aim. He writes,“I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them”(Romans 11:14). He goes on to say, “And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23). It seems to me that the Jewish/Christian relationship is almost being described with symbiotic language.

Paul describes the redemption of the Gentiles with these characteristics …

  1. It came about because of the transgression, stumbling and rejection of the Jews (Romans 11:11,15).
  2. Our salvation grafts us into the root of Judaism (Romans 11:17), as Jesus said in John 4:22 “salvation is from the Jews”.
  3. It is this root which supports us, not the other way around (Romans 11:18).
  4. Our grafting into the root may be a cause of envy for the Jews (Romans 11:11), lead them back to faith (Romans 11:14), and be a form of assurance to the Jews that God can graft them back in if they do come back to faith (Romans 11:23, 24).

On that last point, although I personally don’t believe we should become pseudo-Jewish, BUT I want to suggest that we should be aware that HOW we relate to the Jewish people, HOW we treat them, and how they see us and our attitude towards God and His word will profoundly impact their view of the Gospel and, by implication, their very salvation.

From these verses, I want first to consider a number of horticultural comments Paul makes.

  1. Gentile believers are described by Paul as a ‘wild shoot’ which has been grafted in ‘among the others’, i.e. the Jews (v17). We are spiritually ‘joined’ to Israel, or at the very least to it’s root.
  2. Because we are grafted into that root,
    1. we share in the ‘nourishing sap’ from it. That which should nourish the Jews, also nourishes us (v17,19).
    2. It is the holiness of this root to which we are grafted which makes us holy “if the root is holy, so are the branches” (v16)
  3. IF we don’t continue in this root, we will be cut off from it. Paul says, “Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either” (v21). The Jews were cut off by unbelief, and if they “do not persist”in it, they will be grafted back in (v23). We stand by faith, so if we abandon it, we will be cut off (v21,22).
  4. However, IF the Jews can be grafted back in, after a period of unbelief, is it possible that we, too, would have the hope of restoration.

What does is mean to be grafted into the vine?, HOW, exactly can we understand that the root supports us, and what can we learn from the breaking off (or pruning) of those who do not believe?

I want to read three passages in the gospels which also pick up on horticultural imagery, and speak to the point Paul is making.

Mark 4:1–20 Parable of the sower. I’ll just read Mark 4:1–12 because the remainder of the passage is Jesus’ explanation. Which we will reference and draw on:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Luke 6:43–45.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

John 15:1–8.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

  1. Mark 4:1–20 Parable of the sower. Lack of root leaves the plant vulnerable “because there was no root the plant withered” (Mark 4:7). Where are your roots? When they are in Jesus and not in the things of the world, our faith can withstand the worries and troubles of this life.
  2. Luke 6:43–45. The fruit is determined by the tree (or vine), not the other way around. If we want to bear the fruit of faith, we must make sure our heart is full of the things of God.
  3. John 15:1–17. Jesus is the vine, we are to be in the vine, then we will bear the fruit of the vine, which will reveal that we are disciples of Jesus.
    1. John 15:2,6, fruitless branches are pruned, and then thrown on the fire.
    2. John 15:3, fruitful branches are pruned, to make them more fruitful.
    3. John 15:4, fruitfulness is only possible if the branch remains on the vine.

We are told by Paul that the vine from which Israel has been broken off is the vine to which we are grafted. John 15 as we have just seen records Jesus describing himself as the ‘true vine’. This accords with Jesus’ own words that he has come for the lost sheep of Israel in Matthew 15:24, and Paul’s own assertion in Romans 1:16, that the Gospel brings salvation first for the Jew, then for the Gentile, that there will be trouble and peace for everyone who does evil, first for the Jew and then for the Gentile (Romans 2:9), AND glory honour and peace will come first to the Jew and then to the gentile (Romans 2:10).

So, Jesus is the vine from which our righteousness flows, and it was rejected by Israel. Consequently Gentiles are grafted in. This really reminds me of the parable of the wedding banquet which we can find in Matthew 22:2–14 and Luke 14:15–23. I’ll read the Luke version:

one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.
(Luke 14:15–23)

This is a parabolic illustration of what Paul is saying to the Gentiles here. Israel (the guests) had been invited (the Old Covenant), they got so engrossed in their own thing that when the invitation ‘now is the time’ came (Jesus and the Gospel), they refused. The gospel was

The thing I find most challenging about what Paul says here are in his final words in this section, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). This seems to me to fly in the face of verses which appear to imply that our salvation is so secure there is NO WAY we can lose it.

I want to make a couple of comments here.

  1. I believe Jesus’s promise that, if we are truly His sheep, then no-one can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28,29).
  2. I believe Ephesians when it tells us, that having believed, we are ‘sealed’ with the Holy Spirit who is a deposit ‘guaranteeing’ our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13,14).

The Jews, who had been broken off, Paul says, WILL be grafted back into the vine if they do not continue in unbelief (or to put it another way, if they believe), the Gentiles were grafted into the vine by faith, “they were broken of by unbelief and you stand by faith” (Romans 11:20). So, given that the only unforgivable sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit’s role is to bring us to faith (no one says Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit), unbelief results in being broken off from the vine, and faith brings us to a place of being grafted in.

Want to remain in the vine? Stay in faith. The saddest thing as a pastor I see is when people who previously seemed to be so committed to God, turn their back on the truth, turn their back on God and walk away from Him. My most pressing burden is that we as individual Christians (AND collectively as a church) don’t fall into that trap.

So, the most important thing we can do for one another is watch each other’s back, to help carry one another’s burdens when we struggle, to encourage one another when we are down, and, yes, to challenge one another when we fall short of what it means to live like a Christian.

Can we do that?