Salvation Is Something to Be Envious of! (Romans 11:11-21)

Posted: March 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

Tom Sawyer white washing the fence is one of those iconic scenes from American literature.  Even if you’ve never read Mark Twain’s famous novel, you can probably imagine the scene.  Tom has a problem.  He has to complete a task that is unpleasant.  His solution?  “Misery loves company.”  He tricks his friend into believing that whitewashing a fence is an enviable experience that he wants to share.

Isn’t that exactly what Satan’s been doing since the Garden of Eden?  It was there when he attempted and succeeded in making knowledge of sin and death something that Adam and Eve envied enough to partake of.  Day after day, he does no different with us – getting us to envy sinful actions and thoughts enough to join in the “fun.”

In our lesson today, the apostle Paul does the exact opposite.  With no deception, he holds out the beauty of forgiveness and life to a guilty and dying world in hopes of making them envious of these gifts of God to man.

You remember last week’s sermon, don’t you?  Ok – maybe not every detail, but you remember the general gist.  Son leaves home with his early inheritance, spends it foolishly hits, hits rock bottom, comes home repentant, and is thrown a party.

Had you been part of the crowd listening to Jesus telling this parable, you might have picked up the reason that Jesus told this parable.  He had just heard the religious leaders mutter under their breath, This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

You might have walked away, knowing that this parable was told to wake up these religious leaders from some delusions of spiritual grandeur.  In this parable, the Jews were the disgruntled older brother,  the one who needed to be called to repentence, while the lost-and-found brother were the social outcasts of Israel and the “heathen” nations that surrounded them.  In the end, Jesus’ point was that you didn’t have to be a “good Jew” to be welcomed into heaven; God’s grace was just as much for the heathen Gentile who repents as it was for those who were part of God’s specially chosen people.

Now, if you put the parable of the Prodigal Son immediately next to the verses before us this morning, you might notice that Paul has done a little loop-de-loop.  You see, when Paul looks at the parable of the Prodigal Son, it’s the Jews who are the Prodigal Sons – not the Gentiles.

You see, it was the Jews that needed to be won back to the fold, not the Gentiles.  Why?  Because they had fallen!  You know the tragic tale.  It was Abraham and his descendents whom God had hand-picked to bring about the salvation of the world.  It was Abraham and his descendents – the Jews! – who were supposed to be the prime recipients of God’s gospel blessings.

But they shoved it away.  They turned their back on it.  When God sent his Son, who would bring about the fulfillment of thousands of years of promises made to the Jews, the Jews rejected him; they bound him, mistreated him, condemned him to death, and made sure that death sentence was carried out.

It’s the kind of rejection that seems like it would be the last straw.  Paul even anticipates those questions: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?  It seems logical; after all, they should’ve known better!  They should have seen what was right in front of them.  They should have believed him when he revealed who he was, when he told them why he came.  If anyone should have been on the Savior’s side – it should have been the Jews!

But like the prodigal son who ran away from the open arms of grace, so the Jews crucified the King of kings and Creator of all that is.  They nailed to a tree the one who had come to be their Savior.  What hope could there be for them, right?

Paul uses the Jews as an example of pointing out just how God can take sinful actions and work good through them.  Their transgression – the crucifixion of the Lamb of God – means riches for the world.  What a wonderful reminder: that as we begin next week to walk with our Savior to Calvary’s cross during Holy Week, God was always in control.  The Jews might have felt like they had the upper hand, the devil might have seen victory on Good Friday – but God was using the sinful actions of everyone involved to bring about the blessing first promised after Satan’s first deception; God used the Jewish rejection, Pilate’s cowardice, Judas’ betrayal, every bit of it to bring about the salvation of the world!

That might seem shocking, but here’s the kicker: Salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.  Paul wasn’t speaking hypothetically; he was sharing what he was told and what he was seen.  You know the story of Paul’s conversion, how Jesus called him on the road to Damascus to be the missionary to the Gentiles.  Perhaps you might even recall one of his first stops as a missionary: desiring to share the Gospel with all, he proclaimed Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins to the local synagogue.  But when they rejected that message, Paul responded sharply: We had to speak the word of God to you first.  Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:45,46).

That was always Paul’s hope – not just that God would use him to bring Gentiles to faith, but that through him reaching out to Gentiles, God might call more Jews back to himself.  I make much of my ministry, he says, in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 

Because, the truth is – outwardly Jews and Gentiles might be different.  They may have different skin tones, different languages, different facial features, different hair color, you name it.  But deep down – I mean, really deep down, at the “heart” of it all – Jews and Gentiles of all nations are the same.  Dead in sin and unbelief; doomed to hell because of their status as God’s enemies.

But that’s why God sent Jesus, isn’t it?  As we heard last week, God sent Jesus so that Jesus could be our Brother and Substitute, so that through his perfection and his death our everlasting forgiveness might be won for us!

So what a wonderful thing, that God might lead us to see Jesus as that Savior we need!  Because that’s how God brought us in, isn’t it?  Through faith, which lays hold of Jesus’ sacrifice, God has kneaded us into the batch of dough, he has grafted us to the root.

Through faith, which lays hold of Jesus’ sacrifice and perfection – what he is what we have been made!  If part of the dough is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.  Because Jesus never once sinned, we who trust him as our Savior, are declared perfect in God’s eyes.  Because Jesus is holy, God gives us the verdict, Not Guilty, too!

Isn’t that something that people should be envious of?  Is that the way you feel about the gift of salvation you’ve been given – that it’s the most prized treasure of all, and that others should be jealous that you have it and they don’t?

Or has the gift of forgiveness become something that you tend to take for granted?  Paul warns us to not make that same mistake: 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 be afraid.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 

If you find yourself taking for granted the gift given to you through Jesus – saying something like It doesn’t matter what I do, Jesus has forgiven me already, anyway! – then be afraid.  If you find yourself thinking that God somehow owes you something because you believe in him, remember that is the mistake that the Jews made.  They felt that God owed them a special place in his kingdom because they were “Abraham’s children.”  Whether Jew or Gentile, the result is always the same: the unbeliever is snipped off the root, separated from the batch of dough. God will not spare anyone who rejects him.

If destruction is the other option, isn’t salvation – escaping the eternal destruction of hell – something that people should be envious of?!  It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  If we have the greatest gift that humanity has ever been offered – everlasting life with our God, our Savior, our Creator – why aren’t people more envious of it?

If you talk to the “cool” pastors – you know, the ones who wear skinny jeans and cool button down shirts, who give sermons while drinking lattes and have a rock band behind them – they might tell you the reason is because we don’t make this gift “appealing” enough.  That you need to make the Christian faith appealing by modernizing it.  That if Christianity becomes more 21st century, then we’ll need to add pews to our churches because they’ll be so so full each and every week!

I don’t think they’re right, in many cases, anyway.  Yet, I do think that part of their message might be alright – because they say the same thing that Paul does.  In essence, maybe the world isn’t envious of our gift, because they don’t always know what that gift is!  Maybe they aren’t jealous of us, because they don’t see what makes us different from them.

See, that’s Paul’s encouragement: make the unbeliever envious of what you have (forgiveness through the blood of Jesus) by making your blessings known!  It’s something we teach our children from early on: this little gospel light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.  Hide it under a bushel – NO! – I’m gonna let it shine, we teach them to sing, don’t we?

And the end goal is this: that their envy leads them to learn more about Christ; that as they learn more about Christ, they come to know what he has done for them; that when they realize the gracious gift Jesus has for them, they too are brought in to the lump of dough and grafted on to the root!

And what a cool thing that would be, right?  That as we hold out the Gospel as something we value beyond all else, more are added to our number?  That as we present our Savior Jesus as the gift of gifts, the treasure beyond all treasures, that lump of dough grows.

What’s your hope, my friends?  That you’re born, live, come to faith and die in that faith?  Or that as you live out your faith, others become so jealous of what you have that they seek it out, too – so that through you, God grows the family of believers and welcomes home more and more prodigal sons?

I’m confident that you want more than to just be a good Christian; I’m confident that you want God to use you to grow his kingdom.  So, let’s start today.  Let’s start holding out our faith for others to see – praying that they grow envious of its blessings so that they might be grafted onto the root, just as we were! Amen.

  1. Jill Crosby says:

    I like the “make The Gospel Appealing” angle, and would really like to hear this one done live. Can you be in Shakopee this Sunday?

  2. […] Salvation Is Something to Be Envious of! (Romans 11:11-21) ( […]

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