Paul spent the first eight chapters of this letter explaining to the Jewish Christians that God has created a plan of salvation for the entire world, meaning that being a Jew has no bearing on whether or not a person can be saved. Simply put, everyone has equal access to salvation through Jesus. In this passage Paul is drawing on a familiar analogy of a tree that is used to describe the Kingdom of God. We first encountered this image in the prophet Isaiah when the prophet warned Israel that God was going to cut down the tree and grow a new shoot from the root of Jesse. Here Paul says that many branches have been cut off from the tree.
The majority of Christians in the Western world are of Gentile origin. Therefore, we are grafted branches. Having had the majority seat on the tree for two millennia, it is easy for us to take our position for granted.
Let’s take this point a little closer to home. Every one of us is on the tree by the grace of God. We tend to forget that God didn’t even have to grow the tree in the first place. By merit, all the branches deserve to be cut off and thrown into the fire. God is a holy God, His wrath is real, and His justice isn’t a joke. This is the “sternness” to which Paul referred in v. 22. Grace is unmerited favor. Did you catch that un-merited? That means we don’t deserve it. God gave it to us because He loves us. Yet, He will not be trifled with. May we never become complacent in our place on the tree, feeling superior to those that have been cut off, or, even worse, feeling that we somehow deserve to hang there. Grace has been described as eliciting an “attitude of gratitude” in its recipients. How appropriate for the passage today. Spend some time asking God to examine your heart and root out any attitudes of complacency or evidences of a “spoiled child” syndrome. Let us fall on our face in gratitude to the holy God who has granted us free access to His glorious hope.