Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ethnicity and Discipleship

Over in Burma, Adoniram Judson was lying in a foul jail, ankles chained to a bamboo pole. A fellow prisoner, with a sneer on his face, said, “Dr. Judson, what about the prospect of the conversion of the heathen?” His instant reply was, “The prospects are just as bright as the promises of God.” Indeed God promised Abraham, himself called by God out of Babylon, “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The potential pool of disciples as followers of Jesus is universal.

Jesus went out of His way to enter heathen territory in order to seek and save the lost. He promised the Samaritan woman at the well living water which would flow from Himself into her as a constant stream of purification for sin; and that she might be a witness, as a disciple of the Saviour (John 4:14). Jesus gives water that supplies every want.

She willingly carried the water for Jesus to her village. Jesus’ Jewishness was transcended by her ready perception that this was the Messiah, the one sent of God (John 4:25). Since Jesus told her all that she had done, this was convincing evidence to her that He was the divinely anointed prophet, priest, and king. Her witness to the townspeople was so stirring that their interest was aroused to see Jesus for themselves; and their declaration was that He was “indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). This is simply astounding! They didn’t see in Him as a “wanna-be” Saviour, but “the Saviour of the world.” Whatever ethnic prejudices may have existed between Jews and Samaritans, they were all surmounted by the winsomeness of Jesus, and they became His disciples. Discipleship for Jesus transcends ethnicity.

Again, Jesus went on a mission venture to the Canaanite’ coast of Tyre and Sidon. There was someone there to be called as His disciple. This Syro-Phoenician woman was a pagan worshiper of Baal. Undoubtedly this had led to her daughter’s demon possession. A temple dedicated to Eshmun, a god of healing, was located three miles northwest of Sidon. Evidently all efforts of local exorcism had been of no avail. This mother’s love for her daughter must have agonized over this demonic bondage.

A mother’s love is irrepressible. Years ago, a young mother was making her way across the hills of South Wales, carrying her tiny baby in her arms, when she was overtaken by a blinding blizzard. She never reached her destination. When the blizzard subsided, her body was found beneath a mound of snow. They discovered that before her death, she had taken off all her outer clothing and wrapped it around her baby. When they unwrapped the child, to their great surprise, they found he was alive and well. She had molded her body over his and given her life for her child, proving the depths of her mother’s love. That’s God’s kind of love—a determined, self-sacrificing love.

If Jesus’ response to this mother’s request for healing seems harsh and unfeeling, it only appears so on the surface. For His object in testing the woman’s faith, was not only to strengthen and focus her perceptions of Him, but to teach the disciples that true Israelites are to be found among the heathen (Matt. 15:24). His mission and theirs must extend beyond the borders of homeland.

Did Jesus call this Canaanite woman a dog (Matt. 15:26)? He never said she was a dog! His little parable was just the opening that she needed to seize upon and take the sword from Jesus’ hand and press the argument on her behalf. Even whelps are entitled to the table scraps, and that would be sufficient from your hand to heal my daughter. In this she demonstrated that she was one of “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Her faith in Jesus prevailed. Jesus’ approving response to her was, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matt. 15:27).

Faith in God’s promise has always been tested. Abraham, Jacob, David, Esther, Daniel, Mary, and so many others, were subjected to intense trials that they might be purified of all dross and prepared for entrance into the kingdom. Had the disciples learned this valuable lesson from a Canaanite follower of Jesus, they would have been better prepared for the crucifixion of their Master. She exercised what God had given her,—unwavering faith,—in the “Lord, thou son of David” (Matt. 15:22). God had promised David, in His everlasting covenant, that he would never lack for a son to sit upon his throne; and she recognized in Jesus that rightful heir. By such kingly authority Jesus could exorcise the demons from her daughter, and He did.

In a book about broken relationships and broken hearts, there’s a story about the street venders in Hong Kong. Amid all the aggressive, high-pressure street vendors trying to sell anything and everything, a man sat silently beside his push-cart. When asked what he was selling, he replied, “I don’t sell anything. Instead, I buy things. I buy broken things. My joy comes in fixing what is broken.” [1] Jesus is among us as one who buys broken things to fix them. Jesus finds joy in healing and saving broken people.

The 1888 Message Study Committee finds joy in studying the “most precious message” that the Lord “in his great mercy sent” 120 years ago. It’s the message that heals all broken “things” that have to do with God’s work.

Paul E. Penno

[1] Terry Hershey, Beginning Again: Life After a Relationship Ends, pp. 10-11.


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