Rejecting Christ in a Rejected Land

Jesus was traveling with his core Image result for fire from heavendisciples to Jerusalem for the final time. As was his practice, he traveled through Samaria rather than avoiding it. Having to stay overnight in that region, he sent a couple of His disciples ahead to prepare a place for them to stay. As these two arrived at the village gates, a group of elders stopped them and began to question them. They wanted to know where they were going. They wanted to know why Galileans would be traveling in this part of Samaria. They wanted to know why they should show hospitality to these Jewish travelers.

The elders said, “Why should we show hospitality to you? You are traveling to your beautiful temple in Jerusalem, walking right by the mountain on which the ruins of our temple resides— destroyed by YOUR people generations ago. You treat us as unclean… worse than the Greeks that bring their sinful practices into your land, and the Romans that bring heavy taxes and all sorts of misery.  Would you welcome us into your own village? …Into your own house? Ridiculous! Push off.”

The two disciples were shocked. They have been treated with disrespect before. But these were Samaritans! It was like these Samaritans were considering themselves superior to them! Ridiculous indeed.

Returning to the group, they passed on to Jesus and the disciples what happened. James and John, the fiery and protective brothers, reacted the strongest.

James said, “Samaritans! Treating us like dogs?”

John chimed in. “Yes. And such a miserable village. Rejecting the Lord’s anointed… something should be done.”

Putting their heads together for a moment, they strode over to Jesus with determination and fire in their eyes.

“Lord,” they said. “Do you want us to call down fire to destroy this village?”

Amusement and anger danced across the face of Jesus. But He knew that His time was short and so this learning moment could not be lost.

Jesus called the others over and said to them, “James and John here want to bring down fire on this village. What do you think about this idea?”

The disciples looked at each other awkwardly. Some nodded but then stopped uncertain what was the appropriate response. Not waiting for a response, Jesus pushed forward.

“We have been rejected. Do they deserve death because of this? Should we hate them because they hate us?”

More uncertain looks but the disciples were starting to see where this was going.

Jesus continued. “But do they hate us? They don’t even know us. And we don’t know them. All they know is that our ancestors fought with their ancestors. I can assure you that our ancestors and their ancestors are done fighting. And we should stop fighting as well. So I have a better plan. Let’s go to a different village.”

Everyone nodded, even James and John. It was a much better plan.

<A somewhat speculative reflection on Luke 9:51-56>

 

Missions in Samaria Article

I wrote an article based on a series of four sermons I did back in 2012 that became four posts on this blog. If that was not enough, I am considering utilizing the article to develop a chapter of a book that looks at Acts 1:8, particularly structured on the four locations mentioned (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Ends of the Earth). If I do that, the goal would be practical for churches to think about missions from a local church perspective. Anyway, feel free to read the article, and tell me what you think. (If you are looking for a very deep article, this is not it, as might be determined by the complete lack of footnoting.)

https://www.academia.edu/s/632d893018/doing-missions-in-samaria-lessons-from-the-past-for-today?source=link

Project Samaria 3: The Potential in Samaria

Icon of the Pentecost
Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With Pentecost, the church age started, and the twelve disciples were now commissioned as apostles… going out into the world to share the good news of Christ. So what did they do?

 They stayed in Jerusalem. Not a bad idea at first. But they stayed in Jerusalem quite awhile. That wasn’t really good. They were designated to be apostles. The term apostle means that they are called out, or sent out, or act as ambassadors. They were not supposed to stay in Jerusalem or any church. They were supposed to reach out to new areas and new peoples.

 But finally, the people in Jerusalem began to reach out to neighboring towns and communities… because of St. Paul. Now at this time, he wasn’t yet a saint. And at this time Luke tends to call him Saul. According to Acts chapter 8, Saul went around Jerusalem house to house of Christians dragging them off to Jail. So Christians began to scatter and tell others about Christ. Persecution is NOT always bad. Suffering is NOT always bad. Let’s read Acts 8, starting in verse 4.

4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

Philip was not one of the twelve disciples. He was not one of the original 12 apostles. He actually was a deacon at the church of Jerusalem. In Acts 6 there were 7 deacons assigned to help out in the church. Philip was one of them. Philip was different from the twelve disciples in that he was what we would call a Hellenized Jew. That is, he was Jewish by blood but Greek in many ways by culture. It is interesting that many of the great early missionaries and evangelists of the early church were people who were comfortable living in two different cultures. Philip had roots in Jewish culture and in Greek culture and appeared to be comfortable in sharing with people of other cultures.

So Philip leaves Jerusalem because of the persecution and goes to Samaria, and he begins sharing God’s love with the people of Samaria. And they responded! They wanted to follow Jesus!

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Here we get to an area of apparent contradictions in the Bible. The Samaritans received the Holy Spirit and did so linked to a miraculous gift… in this case speaking in foreign languages. Now this is not the only time where the receiving of the Holy Spirit was linked to a miraculous gift. In fact, four times in Acts, the receiving of the Holy Spirit was tied to a miraculous gift.

Another thing is that in this case there is a time difference between belief in Christ and the receipt of the Holy Spirit. This is the only case that we know of after Pentecost where this has happened. In fact, this is the challenge. When we go the Epistles, such as Ephesians and I Corinthians, Paul makes it very clear that all Christians have the Holy Spirit, but not all Christians have miraculous gifts.

Different groups choose different directions to deal with the contradiction. Some focus on the events of Acts over the aparent statement in the Epistles. Some focus the statements in the Epistles and view the unique events in Acts as non-normative. You can decide for yourself… you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you what to think. However, for myself, I believe the statements of Paul describes how God ordinarily works. We accept Christ by Faith and we immediately of one church and one Spirit. We don’t have to wait for something more to come along later. What is described in parts of Acts is God acting in an extraordinary way.

I consider this to be good exegesis (you may or may not agree) but it does have an added value that implies a functionalist or missiological purpose for events and record of the Book of Acts.  I believe that God was still trying to teach his disciples (and us) something very important.

  • The first miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit was to the Jews… the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost… in Acts chapter 2.
  • The second miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit was to the Samaritans, here in Acts 8.
  • The third miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit was to the Gentiles, in Acts 10.
  • The final miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit was to followers of John the Baptist who followed Christ in Acts 19. <The followers of John the Baptist could easily have been thought of by the early Christians as the one group that might “inclusively” be redeemed by Christ without following Christ>

    Each one was a sign. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (that is, the immersion of individuals into a new divine community of faith) is available to all people who place their faith in Christ… to Jews, to Samaritans, to Gentiles. In the New Testament the concept of baptism of the Holy Spirit is not something that happens to individuals. It happens to the church. The church is baptized of the Holy Spirit so when we in faith come to Christ, we are part of His church and share in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

 But why would the Holy Spirit delay in coming to the Samaritans when, as far as we know, He never delayed elsewhere after Pentecost? The Apostles were present at Pentecost. Peter was present in the house of Cornelius when Gentiles came to Christ. Paul was present when the followers of John the Baptist accepted Christ. But the apostles were not there when the Samaritans accepted Christ. God needed the apostles to see that the Samaritans were baptized by the same Holy Spirit into the same church the same way that the Jews were. But the apostles were not there when the Samaritans accepted Christ. Only Philip the Evangelist… a deacon of the church of Jerusalem was there. God needed them to see something not just hear about it. We are the same way sometimes. It is not good enough to hear about something amazing, or read about something amazing. We need to see it.

The question is, did it work? Did the apostles learn something that changed their attitude and actions. The answer is without a doubt, YES!! Look at verse 25

25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Peter and John stayed in Jerusalem for years without sharing the Gospel with Samaritans. When Peter and John went up to Samaria to see what Philip was doing, it appears that they went directly there without sharing the Gospel with Samaritans on the way. But once they saw that Samaritans were accepted by God in the same manner as Jews, it said that they stopped in many Samaritan villages along the way preaching the Good News.

Some years later, Peter spoke at the Jerusalem Council and summed things up. Acts 15: 6-11. The question was whether a non-Jew had to become a Jew… or at least act like a Jew to become a Christian. A good question. But Peter learned something from this event and the event with the Gentile Cornelius and his family.

6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Yes the Apostles learned their lesson, and because of that the Gospel of Christ has gone from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.

So why did I call this “The Potential in Samaria.” It’s pretty simple. The disciples of Jesus saw the problems of Samaria. God saw the potential of Samaria. Jesus set up the plan for Samaria, training His disciples so that they could not only see the potential, but be part of turning that potential into a reality.

Samaria Part 2: The Preparation for Samaria

Clearly, the disciples were not ready to reach out to Samaritans. Much like Jonah, they seemed more open to the thought of God destroying them than saving them.

Clearly, the attitude of the disciples needed to be changed first. It is hardly surprising that Jesus warned the disciples not to go off and work in Gentile or Samaritan villages. They needed to be prepared.

Jesus prepared them on a number of occasions. He made statements making it clear that His message and mission was to all people (Luke 4 for example). He used non-Jews in positive roles in his messages (such as “The Good Samaritan”) and even compared them favorably to Jews on a number of occasions. He even did miraculous acts for Gentiles, such as to the Gadarene demoniac, and the Samaritan leper.

 

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman Matthew 15:21-28

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 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.”

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.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

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.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

In this you can see three attitudes the Jesus showed.

  1. Not worthy of my time v. 23
  2. Not worthy of my attention v. 24
  3. Not worthy of my respect v. 26

Jesus was mimicking the disciples’ attitude. The disciples said to Jesus… Send her away… she is annoying us… she is bothering us. She is not worthy of our respect, not worthy of our attention, not worthy of our time.

But in the end, Jesus gave her all three. He gave her His time. He gave her His attention. He gave her His respect.

The question is, Did the disciples get the message? I believe they did. For one thing… 30 years after this event, Matthew remembered it and took time to tell us it. Not only did Matthew remember, but Peter did as well, because Mark recorded Peter’s version of this event as well.

Secondly, according to Matthew, right after this event Jesus took them to an area near the Sea of Galilee, but this was an area where the people were also Gentiles. We often talk about the feeding of the 5000, but we often ignore the feeding of the 4000. But for many of us, perhaps, the feeding of the 4000 is more important. The feeding of the 5000 was for the Jews. But the feeding of the 4000 was for the Gentiles.This event was the largest single event where Jesus shared the good news with Gentiles (non-Jews), and he did it right after helping the Canaanite woman. Continuing with Matthew 15:

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”

You will notice in this story…. the disciples did not tell Jesus to send those people away because they were bothersome. They did not suggest that the people were not worth their time, attention, and respect. The only thing negative was that they did not know how they could help in feeding them.

Understand that the feeding of the 5000 already occurred. You might say that they should have known what Jesus would do. But to be fair, Jesus did not feed every group that came to him. And the only other group that Jesus fed was made up of Jews. Perhaps the disciples were not ready to see that what Jesus did with the Jews, He desired to do, and could do, with the Gentiles.

34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.” 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children.

This showed Jesus working with Gentiles. Jews did not like Gentiles… but they had even bigger problems with Samaritans. Jesus gave another lesson.

A third passage was John 4. This is a long passage, you can read it yourself.

  • In the first passage, Jesus goes to a Gentile region and reaches out to a Canaanite, or Gentile woman.
  • In the second passage, Jesus goes to a Gentile region and reaches out to a group of Gentiles.
  • In this third passage, Jesus reaches out to a Samaritan woman, and then to an entire Samaritan village.

What do we see. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan Woman… in a caring manner. He did this when the disciples were not around. When they came back they were surprised to find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman. But this time they were getting smarter… They were thinking (in verse 27) “What is Jesus doing… why is he talking to her.” But they kept silent.

Jesus let them know that he was planting the seed of God’s work in this Samaritan village and giving the disciples the opportunity to join in God’s work by harvesting what was not planted. <Verse 37> It goes on to say that many Samaritans <Verses 38-42> The disciples were able to witness a great revival and even, in some small way, be a part of it.

What about us? Let me suggest that we need to be prepared to reach the Samaritans… the people around us who are not like us:

  1. We need to learn that others are worthy of our attention
  2. We need to learn that others are worthy of our time
  3. We need to learn that others are worthy of our respect
  4. We need to learn to interact with others (talk, share, help)
  5. We need to see that God is already working with others
  6. We need to jump in and join God in what He has already started with others

Missions in Samaria

Acts 1:8 speaks of missions outreach beginning in Jerusalem and expanding to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Of course, this statement simply could be looked at as descriptive… what has actually happened in missions. Additionally, it could be looked at as thematic… providing the structure for the book of Acts. One can also look at this passage as prescriptive… providing a structure for missions. If the last of these was the case, one could say that missions exists as:

Samaritans, from a photo c. 1900 by the Palest...
Samaritan group ca 1900. Image via Wikipedia

-Jerusalem. Local or E-1 missions

-Judea and Samaria. Regional or E-2 missions

-Ends of the earth. International/cross-cultural or E-3 missions

If one looks at these places as describing different types of missions, it DOES affect how mission work is done. Some missionaries in the Philippines taught local people that Jerusalem was family, Judea/Samaria was neighbors, and ends of the earth is regional outreach. 30 years later, the churches planted by these missionaries still don’t see value in international missions.

But if we see Acts 1:8 as prescriptive, not merely descriptive or thematic, should one separate between Judea and Samaria? Both are regional. The obvious difference is that Judea was populated by people that the Apostles would be fairly comfortable with. Samaria, however, was populated with people who were not appreciated. The term Samaritan was used not only to describe people from Samaria, but also “bad” Jews. Jews disliked the Samaritans as a group but tended to deal with them by ignoring them.

Perhaps we look at Samaria as describing the people near us that we ignore. Perhaps they are ignored because we have stereotyped them. Maybe because we don’t appreciate their qualities. Maybe because we don’t understand them… or are made uncomfortable by them.

Often Christians are not good at recognizing their own Samaria. It’s logical. If Christians thought about them, they wouldn’t be Samaritans to them.

In Baguio City (where I live) a number of church leaders have told me that they wanted to reach out to the upper classes… the professionals in the community because they are ignored. While I might agree that Evangelical churches here have typically targeted the most responsive group, the working poor, the professional class clearly isn’t Samaria to them. If it was, churches would not be targeting them. Internationals are not the Samaria in Baguio. Many Internationals are specifically targeted by churches in outreach.

To me, there are two fairly obvious Samaritan groups in Baguio. One of them is the Muslim groups that have moved up to Baguio from Southern Philippines. I have heard a number of local Christians talk about how “the Muslims” are trying to take over Baguio. Having spoken to the head imam here in Baguio a few years back, it is true that they are training up dozens of young men with hopes that they will spread their faith in Northern Luzon. However, most of the Muslim families who have moved to Baguio have come to improve their economic status and to avoid the violence of Southern Philippines, not “take over” Baguio. When local Christians fear and distrust a group, they get ignored. Strangely, the few who do reach out to the Muslims in Baguio, often find them surprisingly responsive.

A second group that is often ignored by Christians in Baguio are the night entertainers (or “GROs”). These include, but are not limited to prostitutes. While some mission groups reach out to them, churches are quite uncomfortable with them, because of job, behavior, psychospiritual problems, and (often) appearance. It is hard for Christians to accept people without affirming their behavior. A third group are the desperately poor.  The desperately poor often provide a drain (financially) on a church so they are not sought out.

I am not picking on Christians in Baguio. Every church has its Samaria. I am blind to groups myself. I wouldn’t know who they are… or they would not be blind to me. American churches tend to be blind to illegal immigrants. They may talk about illegal immigrants in negative stereotypes, but what about reaching out to them to help them and integrate them into the church?

All Christians (definitely myself included) need to consider who and where is their Samaria.