Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Scripture Speaks of the Stranger in Our Midst


When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” (rf. Lev. 19:33-34 NASB)

The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.” (rf. Ex. 12:49)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (rf. Eph. 2:13-19 ESV)

            One of the key issues of our day is that of immigration. Indeed, so great are the emotions involved in this topic that, because of the personalities and political parties included with the dispute, the subject of immigration has caused deep divisions within the American people. As with most concerns of this nature, truth and objectivity have become casualties of these pitched battles of policies that take place in the media. Sadly, as with the general population, the American church finds itself split as to its response to this difficult problem as well.
            Apart from discussing the legalities and politics involved, there are, indeed, theological and spiritual dynamics in play here that must be considered by everyone who considers himself/ herself a follower of Jesus Christ. First of all, there is obedience to the two pivotal commandments of God: You shall love the LORD your God and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (rf. Mt. 22:36-40). Note that the second of these is referenced in the Leviticus passage above. It is the basis of God’s commandment to be kind to and receive with open arms the “stranger” that is in our midst. “Strangers” in the Old Testament were non-Jews who had decided to take up residence within the land of Israel. God reminded His people to be compassionate to them because, in their own history as slaves in Egypt, they, too, were “strangers” in a foreign land. In showing such love toward our “neighbor”, we are, in fact, showing God the love He desires, which, in itself, is an act of true worship.
            However, as noted above in the second passage, according to the Lord, the Law that governed Israel was just as applicable to the “stranger” as it was to the children of Abraham. God is not a deity who upholds the double standard when it comes to justice. He shows “no partiality” (rf. Rom. 2:11 ESV). Therefore, the “stranger” or sojourner (lit.) in Israel had to be notified that he or she was responsible for upholding the same precepts that the Jews were required to live by while he or she chose to abide within the boundaries of Israel. If the “stranger” deliberately chose to sin against the Law, he or she suffered the same punishment as did God’s people for committing the same trespass.
            Secondly, especially as Americans, we must be reminded that, unless our heritage is directly from a Native American lineage, we are the products of immigration ourselves. Personally, I come from a stock that is a combination of Scottish, Irish, French, German, and English ancestry. Some of us came as derivatives from aristocracy, others as merchants and businessmen. Still, many came to these shores, poor when they departed from their homeland, poor when they arrived here. A good number had their required papers ready for presentation to the proper authorities. Others snuck onto our land in whatever way they could. All desired to find freedoms that had not yet possessed and a new life for themselves and their families. We, today, are the beneficiaries of their sacrificial and diligent efforts.
            By the same token, the work of Jesus on the cross did what we ourselves could not do—He made us who were hitherto “strangers” into “natives” by bringing us into His family by His blood. In His atoning for our sins, Jesus tore down the barrier that had previously prevented us from being able to enter into His land as free citizens. Not only by His actions was the “wall” removed for us, He welcomed us in and made us residents of His kingdom. It truly was an act of mercy and grace on His part. So, if we have experienced His salvation first-hand, then we know exactly what is like to have been moved from being an “alien” to a “citizen”, undeservedly I might add, by no means of our own, but solely by the grace and power of God Himself.

          Compassion and true justice are not incompatible nor are they enemies of one another, both having their origins in the heart and being of our Lord. God often challenges us in His Word to think on things much differently and deeper than the does the world around us. As He reminds us from Scripture, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (rf. Is. 55:9). However, when we do listen and abide in His Word to us, we will find that, not only do we please Him by our thoughts and actions, we will actually have a greater impact on the world around us by the true love we share and the way in which we glorify Him in doing it. These are just a few thoughts for us to “chew on” for our spiritual growth.

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