13th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Dear friends in Christ, remember what its like? It isn’t much fun is it? Perhaps a little nervous, a little scared, a little uncertain, a little uneasy. Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? Maybe it was starting a new job. You don’t really know what you’re supposed to be doing, you don’t know where everything is at, you don’t know most of the other workers, you don’t know the social environment, there’s a lot you don’t know! Perhaps it was going to a new school. Again, you don’t know very many other students, you don’t know the teachers, you don’t know what to expect. It can make you uneasy, make you nervous, perhaps scared. Maybe you even remember when you walked through the doors of this church for the first time. Remember what it was like? You probably didn’t know too many people…maybe didn’t really know what to expect…perhaps wondered, “Will I be welcomed?” “Am I going to be embarrassed? I hate being embarrassed!” We’ve all been in situations that we’ve felt uncomfortable and didn’t really have a sense of belonging, haven’t we? There’s just something about feeling at home, feeling welcomed, knowing what to expect, and feeling comfortable that we just like, isn’t there?
Now imagine yourself living in the times of the OT. You’re a Gentile. Not a born Israelite, not a descendant from Abraham. But by the grace of God He’s led you to know the truth. He’s led you to know the one and only true God, the God of Israel, the God of the Bible. But it was a little different from today- today you can take a class and become a full member of our church with full rights the same as all of the other members. In OT times it was a little different. Back then if you were a gentile, not only did you have to follow all of the rules, laws and regulations of the Israelite people but you were also not allowed to have full rights as blood descendants from Abraham. For example, even in Jesus’ time there was a “court of Gentiles” in the temple. They could go into the temple and hear God’s Word but were not allowed to go to some of the main parts of the temple.
Well, the natural question is, “Why?” Why did God command this separateness between Jews and Gentiles? God’s purpose was to work through that Jewish nation and through its unique character and its separateness from all other nations on earth in order to be this beacon of light to draw all people outside of Israel to Israel and the one and only true God. You see, God wanted His selected people to be different, to reflect God’s holy character, to keep the 10 commandments in order to draw people to the Israelite nation. God didn’t want the Israelites to be influenced at all by the godless nations around them. But there was a problem. The nation of Israel did not keep its side of the covenant. Instead of following God’s law they did everything they could in order to blend in with the heathen nations around them. They wanted to have a king like everyone else; they followed false gods and idols like other nations.
But where sinful people fail, God does not fail. God continued to faithfully call out to His faithless people. God continued to send prophets like Isaiah to do this. Isaiah preached good sermons with both law and gospel. You’ll notice in the book some of the most pointed law and some of the most beautiful gospel passages. Today we have some beautiful words in front of us. God’s talking about Gentile people, foreigners. Just think, if you were a Gentile in the OT it may have been easy for you to feel like you didn’t really belong- that you weren’t part of God’s family.
So the question is, “Who really is true Israel, who belongs to the children of God?” Is it those who carry the bloodline of Abraham and pass that on to succeeding generations? Is it those who have an outward connection to the nation of Israel? No. It’s not genealogy, but character that marks the children of God. Who are the children of God? Who have always been the children of God both from Adam and Eve until today? It has always been those who trust in the promised Savior, Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ. It’s those who have an active Christian faith and display that faith with a Christian life. God says, “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” You see, it’s not an outward connection but a relationship that makes someone a child of God, one of God’s people. And today it’s not the mere fact that your name is recorded in some church record book as being a member that makes you God’s child. Rather it’s having that relationship with God. It’s having as your very own God’s salvation and His perfect righteousness that makes you want to maintain justice and do the right thing. It is after knowing all that God has done to deliver you that you can’t help but want what God wants, hate what God hates, and love what God loves.
Who are God’s people? Is it simply those who can trace their lineage to Abraham? Who belongs? Who is part of God’s family? We look at the Old Testament and it’s all about one people- the nation of Israel. Think about the people in Jesus’ day. The nation of Israel had all of the advantages- they had the Old Testament writings, they had the prophets, it was through them that the Savior would be born. Yet they didn’t get it. Look in our Gospel. Was the Canaanite woman excluded? Cut off from God’s people? Hardly. It was she who knew God’s Word and God’s love better than the majority of the Israelites. It was she who knew God’s Word like what is spoken in Isaiah. “And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord”- foreign people who trust in God for their salvation and rely on Him alone are part of God’s family. And this trust, this faith in God is evidenced by what they do “to serve Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him.” Everything they do is not for themselves it’s for God. And “all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant.” God wants His people to regularly set aside time to reset their compasses. To realize that time is God’s gift to us and we aren’t the center of the universe, God is.
And what benefits do these foreigners enjoy? “These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer”- not only would they be permitted in God’s house, He Himself would conduct them there. And “Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” They would have the privilege of having their sins atoned for – that’s what the burnt offerings symbolized and they would have the awesome gift of prayer- instant access to God!
God makes it absolutely clear that there is no one whom He has cut off from his people, no repentant sinner that doesn’t belong in God’s kingdom. Unfortunately there are many who shut themselves out of God’s people, they reject the promises that God holds out to them. They don’t believe in God and lose out on the greatest blessing of all- eternal life in God’s house. But, until they reach the end of their time of grace, the end of their life here on earth- even those people are on God’s radar screen… and also on ours. Every person living, no matter who they are, if God gives us opportunity, He wants us to share His message with them. No matter who they are or what nationality they are, or what they’ve done to us. What a horrible thing if we, because of some petty little problem, some squabble, some disagreement…we refuse to tell someone the truth. No matter who it is, friend or enemy, if they are walking backwards toward a cliff with a mile drop off- you’re going to warn them!
God wants us to share the message of salvation with everyone- even our enemies. Imagine it. You for whatever reason had the opportunity to sit down 1 on 1 with a person responsible for some horrible crime. Would you use that opportunity to share the law and gospel? To tell them their sins have earned them eternal death, but God so loved the WORLD that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life? And they are part of the “world”? Well, it’s certainly a hard pill to swallow. And each of us would have to admit we would really struggle.
But just think about it. There was One who was hated by many people, treated as if He’d done a heinous crime, but the fact is He hadn’t, although He did nothing wrong many people made themselves His enemies. In their rage and bitterness they had him put to death in the most humiliating manner. Nailed to a cross like the worst criminal. How horrible! But it was that very same person, dying on that cross, who spoke the words, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” It was Jesus whose very death was paying for the sins not just of his friends, but also of his enemies. It was Jesus who on that cross took all of your sins including all of the times you’ve hesitated to forgive or been unwilling to tell someone about Him, it was Jesus who highlighted ALL of your sins and pushed the “delete” button, they’re gone forever! It was Jesus who opened the doors of His Church wide making it possible that ALL may through faith enter His Church- no matter race, gender, culture, color of skin, background, or severity of sins. And just think about it…you are one of those gentiles, one of those foreigners our text speaks about, and it’s for you whom God has flung wide open His arms and embraced. In God’s Church you don’t have to wonder, “Do I belong?” God’s answer to you is in Jesus your Savior, you belong here, you are a member of God’s household, you are an eternal child of God your Father. What an awesome, gracious, loving God we have! Amen.