Sunday, July 12, 2015

“God’s Chosen People”

In the beginning there was one garden, one person, and one God. With all that oneness going on, things were pretty smooth. But pretty soon there were two people, and that’s where communication began breaking down. Some have labeled Eve as evil and blamed the first woman for the downfall of man. Yet I’m not convinced that the original sin was Eve’s bite of that forbidden fruit. Rather, I think it was Adam’s failure to communicate with his wife that led to her susceptibility to the serpent’s scheme. Adam and Eve already lacked unity in their marriage before the tempter offered the apple. As their distrust of one another turned into full-blown rebellion, they were cursed and cast out of Eden. Among other curses suffered by all creation, Eve was told, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you (Genesis 3:16b)[i].”

Feminists and chauvinists have been arguing about this fraction of a verse for thousands of years. Some contend that husband-rule is God-ordained. Others say that, contrary to ever being part of God’s plan, division in marriage will naturally result in one partner with unfulfilled intimacy needs, while the other exercises manipulation and power. The natural outgrowth of the Fall is that Adam said, “It wasn’t me that sinned—you took the first bite. Thus, you, woman, are spiritually beneath me and I’m God’s chosen one in this marriage.” Men—God’s chosen people!

Then, from the day that the nations were divided at Babel, one or the other has most likely felt it was God’s chosen people. Religion professor and author Joseph Campbell says, “Every people is a chosen people in its own mind. And it is rather amusing that their name for themselves usually means mankind.” For example, the Sioux call themselves “The Lakota.” In their language, “Lakota” means “people.” That means that they can say, “We’re people and the others aren’t really people.” So in their own minds, they are the chosen people. Most people groups do this—they view themselves as the insiders and everyone else as the outsiders.

The Lakota were not the only people who did this. Abraham became the Father of God’s Chosen People, whose entire history was marked by the way they distanced themselves from the nations around them. Paul told this story to the congregation at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.[ii] When they asked him to speak, he began with God leading the Israelites out of Egypt. He talked about Moses and Samuel and David and how God had called them to be His Chosen People. But then he introduced Jesus as the Messiah. Suddenly, Israel was not chosen to be God’s favorite people anymore—just the vehicle through which Jesus came to bless the world.

Then, Paul really ticked them off when he told them that the Good News wasn’t just for the descendents of Abraham, the inheritors of Moses’ law: “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).” Paul made them angry when He told them that forgiveness came not through them being good and obeying the Law, or by the ritual sacrifices that they thought made them clean. Wholeness and holiness didn’t come through separating themselves from “sinners.” Forgiveness and freedom come through faith in Jesus—and anybody can have faith.

Jesus modeled God’s love for us. Jesus healed those that the religious leaders called “unclean.” He associated with “sinners” like tax collectors and prostitutes. He welcomed the outcast. He cared for Samaritans and Romans and others that pious people would never dream of condescending to know. Jesus’ disciples continued their Master’s practice of reaching from Jerusalem and Judea, into Samaria, into the uttermost parts of the world. An Ethiopian Eunuch and a Roman centurion were among the early converts who were “outsiders.” It astounded Jewish Christians that the Holy Spirit could come upon Gentiles. This is the message the Paul preached that got him into so much trouble in Pisidian Antioch: that God does not discriminate, that we can all be God’s Chosen People through faith in Jesus Christ.

When the religious leaders heard this message, they rejected it, indignant that Paul would challenge Israel’s special place of favor in God’s eyes. But Paul insisted that God doesn’t play favorites. As a result of this rejection, Paul and Barnabas announced, “We are turning to the Gentiles (v. 46).” From that time onward, Paul became a missionary to Gentiles. This is the deciding moment where Christianity became predominantly a Gentile faith, no longer a subset of Judaism.

When Paul said that he was turning to the Gentiles, he was really saying, “I’m turning to the outsiders, the outcasts, the marginalized.” This is the declaration that every Christian needs to make. We must realize that anyone who believes and receives Christ can be a Chosen Person of God—no matter their sin and no matter their background. I pray that the church today will shed its phariseeism and be more like Jesus who said, “I was a stranger, and you invited me in…Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me (Matthew 25:35-40).” To be truly Christian means to follow the word of our Lord, who commanded us, “I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth (Acts 13:47).”

[i] All scriptures are taken from the NASB.

[ii] Acts 13:13-52.

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