Getting to Know God Meditations: 19. God of Inclusion (2)
Acts 8:27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,”
Recap: We have started to consider what, to some, may appear a strange verse in one of Isaiah’s prophecies: Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” (Isa 56:3) and we noted that although the Law initially excluded any person not part of ‘God’s people’ or any ‘damaged person’ from entering into close encounters with God for the sake of ceremonial purity, it did not mean that such people were excluded from God’s love. The prophecy had gone on to say that any such person whose heart was for God was accepted by God.
I went on to suggest that it doesn’t matter what our background is, what our history is, even what we feel about ourselves, as long as our heart is for God, He is for us. It doesn’t matter what colour you have, what culture you come from, how you view yourself in this world today, God sees your heart for Him and like the case of the prodigal son we mentioned two studies back, God is there with arms open wide to welcome you. Now the reason I have carried on this theme into a second study, is that I wanted to remind us of the various incidents in both Old and New Testaments that bear witness to what we have been saying so far.
Rahab: Rahab was a prostitute who lived in Jericho (Josh 2:1) when Israel first entered the Land. Joshua sent spies into the land who went into Jericho and were hidden by Rahab, it is clear from the story (read it in Josh 2:1-24). This same Rahab, Matthew shows in in his genealogy in Mt 1 eventually married Salmon and was the mother of Boaz who married Ruth, another foreigner, whose son was Obed whose son was Jesse whose son was the famous king David (see Matt 1:5,6). Both Rahab and Ruth were two aliens, foreigners whose hearts were knit to God’s and became part of Israel and part of the Messianic family tree! Not merely included but part of God’s greater purpose. It is interesting that in that genealogy in Matthew, a Gospel written with a clear Jewish male emphasis, almost with a bias if you like, in a male dominated culture, Matthew includes four women (see Mt 1:3,5,6) all who come from dubious circumstances. It is almost as if God was saying, no one is excluded from my love, from my plans, if they knit their heart to me.
Naaman: Naaman was a Syrian army general, an enemy of Israel who used to plunder Israel, but Naaman caught leprosy and in the desperation of the situation went to Israel to seek out the prophet Elisha to be healed (see 2 Kings 5). He was healed and afterward he goes to Elisha with the testimony, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” (5:15) and he leaves making commitment noises and is clearly accepted by Elisha. An amazing story when you think about it! An enemy of Israel who God graciously heals!
Jesus: When we come to the Gospels we find Jesus crossing the boundaries of Jewish propriety:
– meeting and dining with tax-collectors (corrupt traitors to Judaism, working for the Romans and making money for themselves) (Mt 9:10, Lk 19:1-10)
– meeting and dining with so-called ‘sinners’ (the low life of society) (Mt 11:19)
– interacting with a dubious Samaritan woman (Jews didn’t talk with Samaritans and a Jewish man would not talk publicly with a woman (Jn 4:4-30),
– he blessed Romans, and their servants (the foreign enemy) (Mt 8:5-13)
– he touched and healed lepers (the great ‘unclean’) (Mt 8:1-4)
Thus we see Jesus, the Son of God, the image or expression of God, crossing boundaries others would not cross, moral/social boundaries, boundaries with foreigners and enemies, boundaries of health and hygiene – all to reach the lost and basically to say, ‘God loves you!’ None who come to him are excluded, pushed away or rejected.
The Ethiopian Eunuch: Everything about this story surrounding our starter verse, is remarkable. Listen to the description of this man: “And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27 ESV) First, he was an Ethiopian, an African, a foreigner to Israel; second he was a eunuch. We’ve been there – excluded by the Law of Moses, yet loved by God according to Isaiah; third, he was a high official, a dignitary, distinctly different from working class Jesus; fourth, he came to Jerusalem to worship, he was a seeker of the God of Israel. But what about the exclusion bit? Well the Temple was run by Sadducees, a pretty liberal lot, and they weren’t going to turn away a high dignitary from another nation. Before the story finishes (see Acts 8:26-40) the man becomes a believer and is even baptized before he goes on his way. Yet again, the God who does not exclude ‘foreigners’ and ‘eunuchs’. This story seems tailor-made for Isa 56!
And Us? Before we finish this study we have to ask the question: how do we feel about ourselves and God? First, ourselves. Do we write ourselves off because we are ashamed of our background, ashamed of our personal history, ashamed of our failures, ashamed of how we view ourselves, all things perhaps that go against the usual tide of Christian acceptance? Don’t we realize that God accepts all of us, whatever all these things are? God seeks to draw me closer to Himself despite my failures, despite my inadequacies and all He looks for is a heart that yearns for Him. The rest is inconsequential.
Second, others. Do we write others off for these same reasons – their background, their history, their failures, their quirky personalities? Have we forgotten that God is a God of redemption and that means not only that we were redeemed when we turned to Christ but that He is constantly working throughout our lives to redeem us, save us from our messes, get us into a good place where our hearts are open to Him for Him to bring all His goodness and blessing into our lives. Us and all those around us! Whoever they are!
Recap: These two studies have shown us the God who includes the outcasts. We have seen it in
- Isaiah’s words in chapter 56
- the experience of a variety of people in both Old and New Testaments
- the expression of God’s love and acceptance in Jesus.
The world may have outcasts but the kingdom of God doesn’t. All it needs is a heart seeking after God and that’s it – included! The door is opened and the saving work of Christ on the Cross applied. Beginning of story! Amen? Amen!