Come and Join Us!

Reading: Mark 7.24-37
This week the news media have been dominated with picture and stories of the fatal car crash in Paris which took the lives of Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed.

As the week progressed, the British public, overwhelmed with grief over the death of the "Queen of Hearts", were critical of the Queen and the royal family, accusing them of lacking in appropriate care and grief over Diana's death. They should have been in Buckingham Palace, London, not in Balmoral, Scotland. The royal flag should have been flying at half mast.

The royal family - especially Princes Harry and William - needed space for their own grief. Most families who have suffered bereavement should surely sympathise with that.

Personally, I am thankful not to have been born a royal - I have never really aspired to be Prime Minister either! Some may thrive on it, but there is a very costly down-side. It is a "goldfish bowl" kind of life. Every word and every move are analysed. They are under constant, relentless scrutiny - quite apart from all that is said about the paparazzi.

But then, I didn't have much choice in the matter - and neither did Elizabeth, Charles or Harry!

Welcome to the King's Family!

Jesus spoke a great deal about the Kingdom of God. Pilate put an inscription on his cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (Jn 19.19). In the book of Revelation he is described as "King of kings and Lord of lords" (17.14; 19.6).

Whether or not we believe Australia would be better as a republic, we need to acknowledge the Lord as King. He is the rightful Ruler over the world and the universe. Creation is his design. The Psalmist wrote:

The world and all that is in it belong to the LORD;
the earth and all who live on it are his. (24.1)

The Lord is the rightful Ruler. It came into being, and will only come to an end at his "say so".

He is the moral Ruler over the world. He is the standard of right and wrong and he will rightfully, justly and fairly judge all humankind on the basis of his revealed standards of right and wrong.

He is the source of Love. John wrote, "Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 Jn 4.7-8). We have talked a great deal about love, but have somehow detached it from God who is its source. The King of kings and Lord of lords isn't remote from us. He has come to us in his Son who died for our sins. He longs to express that redemptive love in personal and transforming fellowship with us. He says to us, "Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they will eat with me" (Rev. 3.20).

It is possible through marriage to become part of a human royal family. As Diana found out, the royal road isn't easy.

However, the Lord, the King of the universe, always meant us to be part of his family. His original intention was that, by birth into the human family, we would be born into his family as well. But original sin has side-tracked God's original intention. All of us are sinners and spiritually dead (Rom. 3.23; Eph. 2.1). By the kind grace of God made available at the great cost of the death of Jesus, Son of God, we can all become alive spiritually.

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life" (Jn 3.16).Those well-known words come at the end of Jesus' talk with Nicodemus. Jesus made it quite clear to that morally good man that he needed to come alive spiritually - he needed to be born again of the Spirit - if he was to see and enter the Kingdom of God (Jn 3.3,5).

All who repent of their sins and believe the good news of Jesus will be born again, born of the Spirit - and will receive a warm welcome into the royal family of God.

Reaching out in persistent faith

Jesus said that "I will never turn away anyone who comes to me" (Jn 6.37b) - anyone can come, all are welcome. We keep that in mind as we recall the meeting of Jesus with a Gentile woman recorded in Mark chapter 7.

Jesus had a heavy - and very personally and emotionally demanding - schedule. He needed space - time apart from the crowds. Tyre was about 65 kilometres north-west of Capernaum. It was Gentile territory - outside the normal borders of the Jewish people. He went there not to minister publicly to the people but to secure privacy, previously interrupted. Back in 6.31, we hear him say to his disciples, "Let us go off by ourselves to some place where we will be alone and you can rest for a while." But the crowds saw them leave and followed to hear him teach and to bring their sick for him to heal.

"He went into a house and did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not stay hidden" (7.24b). His presence is discovered by a woman with a demon-possessed daughter. She has evidently heard of Jesus. No media photographs in those days, but a Jewish Rabbi with twelve followers would be conspicuous enough in such Gentile territory. She begs Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

"Let us first feed the children. It isn't right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs" (v. 27).

On first reading, what Jesus says comes over to us harshly. The Jews referred to the Gentiles as "dogs" in a derogatory sense. But the diminutive form of the noun is used here - the "puppy" or "house dog", not a feral dog or farm animal. Jesus was telling the woman that his first priority in being there was to instruct his disciples. It is not appropriate to interrupt a family meal to give the dogs food from the table. So it was not appropriate for him to interrupt his ministry to his disciples to give his services to her, a Gentile.

The woman could see that the reference of Jesus wasn't derogatory. In fact, his answer encouraged her faith to persist in asking.

"Sir," she answered, "even the dogs under the table eat the children's leftovers!" Her point was that the dogs get some foor at the same time as the children and thus do not have to wait. There need be no interruption in his instructing the disciples for all she humbly requested was a crumb, a small benefit of his grace for her desperate need.

"Because of that answer, go back home, where you will find that the demon has gone out of your daughter!" Her answer had demonstrated humility and faith. The cure was already complete.

Listen to what Paul wrote in Phil. 3.5-8a: "I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as keeping the Jewish Law is concerned, I was a Pharisee, and I was so zealous that I persecuted the church. As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault. But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christís sake. Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."

Jesus' earthly ministry only lasted three-and-a-half years. By and large, his time had to be concentrated on the Jews. He had come for all people, but had to commit to his disciples and other believers the task of taking the gospel to the whole world. He only had time to fo to the people who were supposed to be ready and waiting for him - who, of all people, should have made a positive response to him but instead rejected and crucified him.

Paul, called by God to be apostle to the Gentiles, still offered the gospel first to the Jews wherever he went. They had been waiting for the Messiah and should be given the opportunity to hear and receive. He wrote to the Christians in Rome, "I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is Godís power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles" (Rom. 1.16).

The King of kings says, "Come and be part of my family." He loves us. He gave his life for us. He offers to forgive and welcome us. He wants to reach out in love to the people who are not yet part of his family. Have you come to him? Will you go for him?

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 6 September 1997
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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