Paul tells us in Romans that because of Israel's rejection of the Messiah, God has brought salvation to the Gentiles. But the story does not end there. Believers are invited and expected to play a role in Israel's restoration. How? Paul says that God's blessings have come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous and to draw them back to Him.
Click below to listen to the study from Romans 11:13-24.
Paul also says that he is making the most of his ministry in order that some Jews might become envious of the relationship we believers enjoy with God and that "some might be saved."
It's interesting to consider that God wanted to reach the world through Israel, but following their rejection, he now plans to reach Israel through His grace upon the world.
Paul uses an illustration of on olive tree to support this point. He says that natural branches can be broken off of the cultivated tree, while wild branches can be "grafted in" to enjoy the nourishment of the root.
It's important to remember that Christian faith has a rich and beautiful heritage rooted in the Hebrew faith. Paul has already discussed how believers are adopted into the promise made to Abraham (Romans 9:7) and in Galatians 3:29 he emphasizes that if we are in Christ, we are members of the faith family of Abraham.
We are not to become arrogant or think that we are any better than Israel, because it’s purely by God’s grace that we have been included (or grafted into) what God has been doing for generations through Israel.
But why would some branches be broken off?
Paul says in verse 20 that branches are broken off because of unbelief. John 15 says the Father removes branches that don't bear fruit.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. - John 15:1-2
Isaiah 5 speaks of how God views Israel as his vineyard. He did everything to prepare the land and plant the choicest vines, but He never got the good grapes he was expecting, so he tore down the protective fences.
So what's the secret to bearing good fruit? How do we ensure that we are healthy and productive so we are not cut away?
We cannot bear fruit by ourselves unless we remain connected to Jesus. If we try to manufacture fruit on our own, we will never bear good fruit. It's Jesus who produces fruit through us. Without him, we will wither and cannot produce anything. (John 15:4-5)
Olive trees don’t try to make olives, and grape vines don’t worry about make grapes. They just remain rooted in solid ground, draw up water and reach for the Sun. When all those things are in place, voila! Fruit happens.
As we remain rooted in solid doctrine, draw up the living water and reach for the Son, we will also bear much fruit.
So where's the hope for Israel? How does this fit into Paul's encouragement to the gentile church about their role in Israel's restoration?
God gives us a portrait of this in the story of Ruth where a gentile woman who puts her faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. She identifies herself with the people of Israel through the relationship with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who had lost her faith and became hopeless and bitter.
When they return to Bethlehem, Ruth (the gentile bride) gets married to Boaz (who is a kinsman of Naomi and a type of Jesus). He redeems the women and restores their inheritance and Naomi is no longer bitter.
In Ruth we see a portrait of faith leading bitter Israel back to redemption.
Are we living in a way that would make unbelievers envious? Would they want what we have? Do we recognize the value in what we have received so that we magnify the ministry Jesus is doing through us to make others desire Him as well?
Remember that we are connected to something bigger. God has grafted us into a root system that runs deep. He's done this so that we will be nourished, but also that we will invigorate the old tree with new fruit. Fruit that comes through faith, not works. Our job is not to bear fruit. It just happens naturally when we remain connected to the True Vine.