For a time I will be writing blog entries that will appear in both “mikenowandthen” and “biblenowandthen.” I have two reasons for this. First, I want to show that biblical Christians have have public views on ethics and politics which are not to be dismissed as being “merely religious.” It is becoming more common in our day for the views of Christians to be denigrated simply because they are held by Christians. That is an irrational view which I hope to counter.
The second reason is my conviction that of all our basic social, cultural, political and economic institutions, it is only our churches, synagogues, and mosques that can show us solid hope for the future. I write as a Christian, one whose life for more than half a century has been devoted to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to the Bible — Old Testament and New — as the Word of God. When I speak of the three great religions bringing hope to America, I by no means am suggesting that I will set aside my commitment to Jesus Christ.
Today I want to look at Isaiah 56:1-8. God’s expectation of his people is that they will maintain justice and do what is right. At that point in time, doing what is right included honoring the Sabbath. The Lord is calling on his people to make sure the Temple remains a house of prayer for all people — Jew or Gentile — who will honor it. The Lord promises that he who gathers “the outcasts of Israel” will “gather others to them besides those already gathered.
Does this remind you, as it does me, of the passage in John 10 about the Good Shepherd, as I observed in the prior posting?
There are two important things to notice here. First, God wants to gather all people to himself, not just Jews. That is, the movement of his Spirit is towards inclusion. He is not just passively accepting others but actively gathering them. And he does so without calling on them to become Jews.
Second, just as important, this is not an unconditional gathering. Though the Lord wants everyone included, only those who honor the Sabbath can be gathered. There is never a time when the Lord says any and all are to be included, even those who hate him and rebel against him. This means that the principle of inclusion is not indiscriminate.
The difficult question for Christians as they contemplate the idea of inclusion is, Does honoring God in the sense suggested in Isaiah 56 have to include honoring Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, son of God?
There is no easy answer for this, of course, but here’s the point that I find persuasive. if our standards are so high that we will include only those committed to Jesus Christ, we are in fact excluding all non-Christians.
When I was a pastor in Fargo, ND, I invited Robert, a local Jewish lawyer, to teach with me a four-week course entitled “What Jews and Christians Have in Common.” I greatly enjoyed the partnership with the lawyer and came away from the experience with a very deep respect for his love of God. He sought always to honor our Creator, to be a faithful Son of Abraham, and to dwell carefully and extensively in Scripture, the same Bible where I too spend a great deal of time and energy learning about the character of my Lord.
If Robert loves God so much, why doesn’t he accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior? I don’t know but that doesn’t bother me, since I really can’t even tell you in very clear terms why I first came to love Jesus. I just know that Jesus grabbed my heart and changed my life. It is not to my credit that I am a Christian, nor is it — so far as I know – to my friend’s discredit that he is a Jew.
More than that, because of Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-12, I am aware that my Jewish friend is something like a host to me. As a Gentile, I am grafted onto the tree of Judaism because of the Lord’s inclusive Spirit.. I am, in effect, Robert’s adopted brother. Instead of feeling superior, it is appropriate for me to feel thankful for the privilege of being associated with him.
AS a bit of a footnote, Martin Luther in his later years tended to rant and rail against the Jews. He did not intend to be what we now call anti-Semitic. He just was frustrated that Jews could hear the Gospel and not agree with and accept it. Because of the sometimes ferocious way Luther expressed himself, generations of Germans felt free to denigrate Jews. Luther’s demand that they become Christians led him to exclude them even from the circle of courtesy. . .and we know where that led.