Ever trip on something and embarrass yourself? (I know that I have!) We look around to see if anyone saw us, although sometimes the giggles from the crowd are enough to answer that question even before we look up. Maybe a kind passer-by helps pick our stuff (or us) up off the ground. Still, what if our error – in missing a step, or not seeing an obstacle – was at least mitigated a little bit by being used to help others? What if, by our stumbling, not only could we be helped back to our feet, but others would be notified of the risk (or the tripping hazard would be removed), so that others could avoid the same injury?
In the book of Romans, Paul talks about some challenges faced by others among his own Jewish people. While some of them had accepted Jesus as the Christ, whom they had looked forward to meeting, others (maybe even within the Christian church at Rome) seemed to be getting stuck on the idea of “law”, or being saved through a collection of rules.
The good news is that, even when some (or even most?) of the Israelite people stumbled, this was something that God could use in His plan. God had a purpose even when some people’s attachment to the wrong things led to them getting tripped up.
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!
Romans 11:11-12 NIV
I see two key points here. First, the Israelites who stumbled (apparently over trying to become righteous through works, rather than by faith, as Romans 9:30-33 says), still have a chance to recover. God did not somehow “ban” the Jewish people from salvation through grace. In fact, it sounds like even those who cling to the law (when Jesus offered them a better way) still have a chance to turn back from relying on the law to save them. They could still repent of their sins and be baptized (see Acts 2:36-41), along with other steps in the process of following Jesus that are listed elsewhere in the Bible. By accepting God’s grace, they could – and can – still receive what they are seeking (i.e., righteousness before God), despite previously trusting in the wrong thing to get them there.
The second point that I see in this passage is that salvation is available to the Gentiles. One benefit of this extension of God’s grace to non-Jewish people is the fact that those of us who aren’t of Jewish faith or descent can also be saved.
A side effect (albeit an intentional side effect) of salvation being offered to Gentiles, though, is that the Israelite people are further motivated to seek God in the proper way, even if it’s through their own envy for the blessings that they want, when they see Gentiles receiving those blessings without the law of Moses.
And, the result of this sequence of events is amazing for all kinds of people: The Gentiles can be saved (despite not being part of God’s chosen people, historically), and receive “riches” (see verse 12). And, when this makes the Israelite people envious because they wanted God’s blessings, then the opportunity for them to receive those blessings through God’s grace is pretty amazing. After all, these Israelites are from a nation who tasted the blessings of God, and who sought those blessings. How joyful it must be for a Jewish person to find salvation through the Messiah!
I think of the latter situation like this: Imagine being able to share some extra tickets to a really big event with a friend. Maybe this would be Super Bowl or World Series tickets, a VIP pass to a concert, or a trip to somewhere really exciting. If you give those tickets to someone who isn’t really into the team, band, or location, they might enjoy it, but they aren’t going to be as excited (and they might not get as much out of it) as someone who has been wanting to do that exact thing for decades.
In my mind, I think of Israelite people who find salvation by God’s grace through Jesus as being like the latter. For at least some of them, this is what they had been living for. Even though their path to righteousness through the law proved to not work out, discovering that there’s a better way that does offer a path to God is pretty amazing.
This doesn’t mean that Gentiles who follow Jesus aren’t blessed. Verse 12 refers to “riches for the Gentiles”, after all. However, I suspect that it’s an even greater joy for a member of God’s chosen people to receive Jesus, even as this doesn’t take anything away from Gentiles’ salvation! God is great enough to bless all of us, without His gifts to one person taking away from His ability to give gifts to anyone else.
So, if you’ve struggled to wrap your mind around salvation through faith, by grace, in Jesus Christ, don’t let that be a problem. Keep at it until you understand the truth about Jesus, and then observe how your struggle and your joy are both blessings: to yourself, and to others.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 20, 2022
- The Lookout, March 20, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.