Theme: God’s realm reaches out to outsiders
From the set readings (Revised Common Lectionary) used by many denominations, for Sunday August 16. Read, reflect and prepare before your worship service.
And also read: Psalm 67
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 — God calls all kinds of people to worship Him
Those who were excluded will now be able to know the joy of the Lord
1 This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for My salvation is close at hand and My righteousness will soon be revealed.
“Maintain justice” — summarising the focus of chapters 1-39.
“Do what is right” — Isaiah is not suggesting salvation by righteous works, but rather calling people to live the way the Lord has revealed as ‘right’, in anticipation of the salvation to be revealed. Obedience is a response to the promise of deliverance to come.
6 “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to My covenant —
“Foreigners” — now are not to be rejected: a milestone prophetic statement.
“Who bind themselves to the Lord” — the true people of God are those who honour a covenant relationship with Him.
7 “…these I will bring to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
“House of prayer for all nations” — a radical change. This verse is quoted in Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46.
• For further study, read 1 Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 2:2-3; 25:6-8; Mark 11:17 (combining it with Jer. 7:11
8 The Sovereign LORD declares — He who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”
“The exiles of Israel” — those dispersed in the Assyrian and Babylonian deportations. They would be joined by “still others” in this new, inclusive move of God.
SUMMARY Live right and relate to others honestly and fairly — because God is on the move. He is about to reveal Himself in a new way, and we must up our game to be ready for Him. That is the message of verse 1, which is itself a fair summary of the whole early part of Isaiah. The passage goes on to make a big, and to some upsetting, announcement. Outsiders are to be admitted to the club! Those who were banned for bad behaviour will be invited back, and those who didn’t qualify for membership will now be admitted.
APPLICATION This story unfolds through Jesus’ teaching in the gospel and Paul’s in his letter to Rome. We become comfortable with our understanding in life of who belongs, and who does not — in a variety of situations. But these are man-made conventions. God takes a more generous view. Here, Isaiah states His intention to bring salvation to all of His creation. Even the temple, the exclusive focus of worship for God’s chosen people, has a bigger destiny (in the sense of representing worship). It will be a house of prayer for all nations, all types of people. This is a reminder of our need to see the “new thing” God is doing, announced in Isaiah 43:19. This remains a challenge to man’s inflexibility, right up to the present-day church and how it keeps the message while adapting the means, to reach outsiders for Jesus.
QUESTION Is the worshipping community we belong to a house of prayer and praise for all kinds of people — or are we “birds of a feather”? What does God want?
Matthew 15:10-28 — Words of faith prove a Gentile woman undefiled
Jesus’ first call is to the Jews but He is moved by an outsider believing in Him
10-11 Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
“What goes into someone’s mouth” — Jesus does not here go as far as declaring all foods clean, Mark 7:19, but to the ceremonial-obsessed Jews His words were revolutionary and upsetting.
“What comes out of the mouth” — His Pharisee hearers over-emphasised external ritual obedience, and they overlooked the importance of internal values of character and kindness.
12 Then the disciples came to Him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13-14 He replied, “Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
“Blind guides” — the offended hearers, whose failure to address their hypocrisy would result in their end-time destruction.
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Parable” — more like a short analogy, in verse 9.
16-18 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.
“Don’t you see” — they couldn’t imagine that Jesus would treat so casually the laws about clean and unclean and “what enters the mouth”, Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14:4-21, cf Acts 10:13-16.
19-20 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
“Out of the heart come evil thoughts” — and the expressions of them, leading to truly evil actions that directly contravene the Ten Commandments. Jesus taught that the human heart is corrupt (Jer. 17:9-10) but also that His followers are “pure in heart”, Matt. 5:8. Asking Jesus into our lives gives us a new heart.
• For comparison read Mark 7:18-23.
21-22 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
“Tyre and Sidon” — leading cities of Phoenicia, deep inside Gentile territory .
“Canaanite woman” — former Canaanites displaced by the Israelite conquest centuries before had moved north to Phoenicia. Matthew is making the point that she is pagan, Gentile, and descended from Israel’s most notorious enemies — an outsider.
“Lord, Son of David” — although a Gentile, she recognised who Jesus was, and she knows that blessings were extended to Gentiles through Abraham, verse 27, Genesis 12:3.
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So His disciples came to Him and urged Him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
“Did not answer” — not dismissive (like the disciples), but beginning to test her faith.
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
“I was sent… to the lost sheep of Israel” — especially those who had been abused by their spiritual leaders, Matthew 10:5-6. However, with a little probing, Jesus seems to invite her disagreement.
25 The woman came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Children’s bread… to the dogs” — but of course the children would frequently give their bread to a treasured pet. The phrase about the kynarion, lap dog, comes across all wrong in English, but it was an endearment, not a racial slur. Jesus ministered to Gentiles on many other occasions.
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
“Yes it is, Lord” — the quick-witted response which reveals the faith Jesus is looking for. The point she makes is, for Him to meet a Gentile’s need does not mean the Jews are deprived.
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
“You have great faith” — and she had shown the humility, v.25, which opens the door for faith.
“Her daughter was healed at that moment” — although God’s plan was to meet the spiritual need by bringing salvation first to His chosen people, then through them to the Gentiles, Jesus is recorded as responding to all who call on Him in true faith.
• For comparison see the story of the centurion, Matthew 8:5-13.
SUMMARY Both the short parable saying and the story about the Canaanite woman seeking deliverance for her daughter revolve around food. What we eat is not of itself defiling, except according to the legalism of the Pharisees; but what comes out of the mouth, the spoken overflow of the heart, often is. Then food as a picture of God’s life-giving provision comes up again — should it be for the insiders of the family first, or shared more widely? Jesus made it clear that He came first and foremost for His own. However, whenever He found genuine faith, He didn’t judge or quibble.
APPLICATION Jesus challenges first the exclusivity of the Pharisees and their narrow understanding of the law. Then we see him confront the ethnic exclusivity of the disciples when they wanted to dismiss the Gentile woman and her need. Both stories emphasise the kingdom priority of character and concern for others.
QUESTION What lessons have we learned from Christians who came from the Caribbean and found racial discrimination and cultural alienation in UK churches?
Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 — Paul exemplifies a Jew who is saved
The inclusion of Gentile believers is not a rejection of God’s chosen people
1 I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
“I am an Israelite” — there has always been a faithful remnant among Jewish people, Romans 9:27-29. Part of the proof is Paul himself, a Benjamite Jew — chosen by God to become a believer and also apostle.
2 God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah — how he appealed to God against Israel.
“God did not reject His people” — in Samuel’s time the people rejected God as king and chose a human king. In Elijah’s time there was such apostasy it seemed Israel was finished, but God had preserved a remnant. In Paul’s time the people rejected Jesus as Messiah, but many Jews believed in Jesus and were saved.
• For further study, see 1 Samuel 12:22; 1 Kings 19:14-18; John 19:15.
29 For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.
“Irrevocable” — the opposite of “repent”. God does not change His mind about His call, especially when it has been expressed in a unilateral covenant with Abraham. His call and His gifts for Christians today are similarly enduring.
30-31 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.
“Everyone” — both groups under discussion, Jews and Gentiles, have been through a time of disobedience, so that they might receive and recognise God’s mercy. This is not an argument for universal salvation.
SUMMARY The insider/outsider theme develops further with Paul’s teaching in his letter to the ethnically divided church in Rome. Both have come to experience God’s mercy. God’s acceptance of Gentiles is not a rejection of those who were historically His people. Many Jews believed in Jesus and were saved and changed – including Paul himself, a Jew with excellent Benjamite credentials, now chosen by God to be His envoy.
APPLICATION Sometimes we can be too complacent as insiders to recognise that we have missed a turning and become detached. This has happened in many spiritual renewals over the centuries, where the fiercest critics have been the unrenewed establishment. Paul, writing to the church in Rome, bore scars from beatings and stonings by Jews who were angered by the Good News of Jesus that he brought to them. But God’s gifts and God’s call are determined in heaven and are not set aside by human whim or prejudice. Opposition to God’s kingdom will not stop its advance.
QUESTION What sort of people is God choosing now? Why do we expect them to be people like us?
PRAYER Lord God, we are so grateful that when we were far from Your kingdom, You revealed Yourself to us.
In our twists and turns of disobedience You pursued us with love.
We were outsiders but You called us in.
We were foreigners, outside Your covenant,
yet You called us, showed us Your love, gave us Your Son Jesus;
You helped us to choose Him as our Saviour and make Him our Lord,
and You showed us that we were included.
Thank You for giving us the joy of knowing You —
together with all others, of any tribe, race or culture,
who love You and are part of Your House of Prayer. Amen.
Also to read for Sunday, August 16 — Psalm 67
1-2 May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make His face shine on us — so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise You.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise You, God; may all the peoples praise You.
6 The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.
7 May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear Him.
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