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 suffering terribly from demon-possession.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
What kind of person belongs in a church? Does a mother with a noisy kid… or two or three or four belong? What about someone wearing jeans and a t-shirt? How about someone covered in tattoos… or a person with a dozen piercings in their ears and nose?
This past Sunday at Living Shepherd we saw Jesus and his unaware teacher’s aid (the Canaanite woman) teach us a very important lesson about who belongs in the church. Jesus showed us that the church is for EVERYONE. Case and point, this Canaanite woman.
This woman was not a descendant of Abraham. Her people were not God’s chosen people. She knew it—everyone there that day knew it. The question is, why does any of that matter?
To really get at the heart of that question you have to consider what it would have been like to be a descendant of Abraham—one of God’s chosen people. From as early as you can remember, your father and mother have shared the promises God has made to Abraham and your people. You’ve been told how Abraham and his wife had a child in their old age—just as God promised. You know that God promised Abraham this child would be the first of many descendants—a great nation as numerous as the stars in the sky—a nation you belong to. You also know that God promised to give this nation a land to call their own—another promise kept—a land you call home. The only promise remaining is the promise that all nations on earth would be blessed through one of Abraham’s descendants—one of your relatives!—the promised Anointed One—the Messiah—the Christ!
So—as you wait for the God who keeps his promises to keep this final promise—to send your Messianic relative—how does it feel to be a chosen one? How does it make you feel to know that you will be related to your God’s promised Savior? Do you think you may have forgotten that all important detail found in the fourth promise made to Abraham? Have you forgotten that all nations would be blessed through this Messianic relative, and not just your nation?
Can you see how easy it would be to let that temptation become your world view? Can you see how easy it would be to let that worldview impact the way you looked at “outsiders” like this Canaanite woman.
As far as so many Israelites were concerned, this woman’s place was under the table. She was no different than the family dog. But that, sin-stained reality did not prevent her from devouring the “crumbs” that fell from the table of the “chosen” ones living around her. We’re not told how this woman came to know the promises God made to Abraham, but it’s clear she knew. And not only did she know about these promises, she knew that fourth promise was for her! She believed that the God who not only made promises but kept them would keep this promise too. Our gracious God had given her the gift of faith!
And that is the only thing that defines your membership in the church or anyone else’s. So if you want to answer that question, “What kind of person belongs in the church?” you’ll realize the answer begins and ends with faith in Jesus—something God wants for all people. And so everything else that might have seemed to you like a barrier to belonging in the church—well, you start to realize those things don’t really matter. The church IS for everyone.
The church is for people with tattoos… people who dye their hair… people who wear suits, and people who wear ripped jeans. The church is for people who speak English, or Spanish, or Mandarin, or Chewa. The church is for people with white skin, or yellow skin, or red skin, or brown skin… The church is for teens struggling with depression… the church is for young adults who struggle with pornography… The church is for recovering addicts… and current addicts… the church is for women who’ve had an abortion… and the men who encouraged them to do it… the church is for the unwed mother and the lonely widow. The church is for your next door neighbor and your college roommate… for your best friend and your worst enemy.
The church is for you. The church is for me. The church is for everyone. Because, you see, the church is not some museum for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners… a triage tent set up in the spiritual battlefield of this life. It’s where bruised and battered and broken sinners like you and me can gather together to worship the Savior. To express our trust in the Savior who meets us here. To hear his Word and taste his forgiveness. To have our wounds dressed by the great Physician of our souls… and to have our sorrows shared by our brothers and sisters who know our failures and our brokenness and still love us anyways… because they have a Savior that loves them unconditionally too… a Savior whose anguish and death on a cross paid for an eternity of hell for every last one of us… a Savior who spilled his blood to blot out every last lust and lie of our hearts… and who walked out of a grave alive as the guarantee that we will too.
Jesus did this for you and made sure you heard about it—even as you’re hearing about it right now. And he made sure you not only heard it but that you believed it—he made sure your heart was turned from death to life—from unbelief to faith. And he did it so you could be a part of HIS Church. Don’t ever forget how much you are loved. Don’t forget how far Jesus was willing to go to keep you safe forever. And don’t forget that because of Jesus you have a place in the church—because of Jesus you belong.
Blessings on the rest of your week!