JESUS ON THE RUN FOR HIS LIFE
– Steve Jones, President of the Missionary Church
The first attempt on Jesus’ life took place in the middle of the night. Just that morning, the stately visitors who had been staying with them were to have left for home, but they came to breakfast that morning with strange news; a dream had changed their travel route. It seemed clear that there was unseen trouble coming, and they were to stay out of the middle of it. Wise men indeed!
By evening, those distinguished foreigners (who were in the habit of traveling by night and navigating by the stars) left for home on the eastern road out of Bethlehem, instead of on the northern road which passed through Jerusalem.
It had no doubt been a long day, and Mary would have fallen asleep with her baby near her in the Middle-Eastern way, when she was suddenly startled awake by someone standing over her bed.
Have you ever been awakened in the middle of the night by someone shaking you? Your heart pounds in your chest as adrenaline courses through your body to dilate your eyes for signs of danger in the dark and to rid your mind of the grogginess of sleep.
It was Joseph shaking Mary, whispering urgently in her ear that they were to leave immediately… that he had had a dream—an angel warning him to flee… to flee NOW … that Herod was about to launch the first assassination attempt on their innocent baby boy.
To understand the urgency of the warning, you need to know that Herod’s palace in Jerusalem was only 6 miles away from Bethlehem!
All Roman soldiers could easily march that distance in an hour! Even if they were fully loaded down with their 45-pound packs (unlikely for an attack of this sort), they could have made it from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in only 90 minutes. Of course, if the murderous soldiers were mounted on horseback, Joseph and Mary would have had less than 30 minutes before the soldiers arrived and blocked the roads into and out of Bethlehem!
“Get up, Joseph! This is an emergency! You need to be out of town and as far away as possible WITHIN THE HOUR because the king has decided to find and kill your baby boy! They are ON THEIR WAY!”
I have no doubt that the house flew into motion with loud whispers, the sound of running feet, and the gathering of whatever they could carry. Raw fear would have paralyzed them for a moment, and then energized them to amazing speed.
There was no time to pack. What do you take? What should you leave behind? What really matters?
Thus it was that Jesus and his family became homeless refugees in one terrible night and found themselves hurrying under cover of darkness toward the border of Egypt, out of Herod’s jurisdiction.
WAS JESUS REALLY A REFUGEE?
What exactly is a refugee? A refugee is anyone who flees across an international border to seek refuge from an imminent threat to life, usually because of political, ethnic, or religious persecution.
Did Jesus and his family fit the definition of refugees? Yes, Jesus qualified. On all counts!
I don’t know how close their escape from town coincided with the encirclement of the town by enemy soldiers. Could they hear behind them the first mothers’ screams, echoing through the canyons as they fled Bethlehem? I don’t know. But I know this: Jesus spent the most formative years of His young life sheltered in a foreign country among people who didn’t speak His language and didn’t care for His culture. And He stayed there in Egypt until the all-clear came to return home, fulfilling the ancient prophecy, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Matthew 2:15).
We live today in a time when 23 million people have had to flee for their lives, crossing international borders with nothing more (in most cases) than the clothes on their backs. Behind them are the thunderous pulsing of bombs dropping and the screaming approach of missiles and mortar-fire. Babies are tossed like rag-dolls when the explosions begin, and those who don’t make it out are buried in rubble.
Jesus our Savior tilted the chins and tousled the hair of children. He held them close, and He blessed them and returned them laughing to their mothers. Storm clouds of danger gathered in His eyes when He said, “Anyone who harms one of these little ones- it would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and to be thrown into the sea…” and then His voice faded before He could finish the sentence, but His meaning was clear: “Better to be thrown into the depths of the ocean than to end up facing Me at the judgment.”
So, Jesus, what should we do with these refugees, these families with their little children, fleeing death just like You did? I am not sure that I know everything that Jesus would say in answer to that question, but I know to the depth of my being that He wouldn’t say, “Ignore them, reject them, force them to return to certain death.”
So… what in the world should we do with this complex situation in which we find ourselves? How do we respond to the refugees? Because I guarantee you that when Jesus said, “The same way that you have treated the least of these is the way that you have treated Me,” refugees were on that list.
I AM CALLING ON THE PEOPLE AND CHURCHES OF THE MISSIONARY CHURCH TO DO THESE THINGS:
- CLEARLY ESTABLISH IN OUR MINDS WHO REFUGEES ARE AND WHO THEY ARE NOT.
Refugees are not the people who just come here because they feel like living in America. Those are a DIFFERENT category of people. THAT category of people may have come here legally by following our rules, or illegally by breaking into our country. We need to show the love of Christ to all of them also, each in their proper way; but in either case, they are NOT the refugees that I am speaking about right now!
Refugees (as I am using the term in this article) are ONLY those who have fled their homelands and been welcomed by our government because for them, to return to their homes would be to face death.
- CLEARLY UNDERSTAND THAT WE AS THE MISSIONARY CHURCH DO NOT HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF DECIDING HOW MANY REFUGEES OUR COUNTRY WILL WELCOME.
I assure you that the State Department is never going to call our churches or my office and ask for advice on how many refugees we should or should not welcome into our country. Those are political decisions that will be made by those in governmental authority over us; and while we all have a right to hold and express convictions on that subject (and to vote accordingly), I am not talking about what the policy of the United States government should be. I recognize that the government has been tasked with keeping all Americans safe from terrorist attacks, and I am grateful that they have that role. I pray that they would do it really, really well, so that not even one single terrorist posing as a refugee is able to get through the system and make it into our country to do us harm.
I am also not trying to sway your vote this November in one way or another. I am not trying to make a political statement. I know that many people on all sides are trying to equate being a good Christian with the political and immigration policy of either the Democrat or the Republican party.
But this article is not about that. We are church leaders, not politicians; and we have been called by Jesus Christ Himself to play the role of His ambassadors, not the role of spokesmen or spokeswomen for a particular smaller kingdom. This article is about the role that the Lord’s CHURCH (and more specifically, the Missionary Church) has to play in the lives of refugees who arrive here in our communities. We need to understand OUR role and not neglect it, even as we pray for wisdom for those who hold the governmental role of keeping our country safe.
- INTENTIONALLY REACH OUT IN LOVE TO THE REFUGEES THAT ARE ALREADY AMONG US.
Find out where in our towns refugees live and where they have come from. This will not be easy for two reasons. First, the refugees who live near you will not want to be highly visible. They fear rejection and hatred, and so they do their best to “blend in and hide” while trying to figure out how to make it in our world. Second, we don’t really want to find them. Not really. Not naturally, by any means. It takes an anointing of agape from the indwelling Holy Spirit to motivate us to seek and to save that which is lost… in this case, lost people from other cultures who live somewhere nearby.
I would like to speak plainly to our churches and their leaders for a moment. All Christians can dodge the responsibility that the Lord lays on us as Christians by simply saying, “I don’t know of any refugees living near me.” But our Lord knows that if we are truly intent on obeying Him, we DO in fact have the cleverness and resources to find a way to help refugees SOMEHOW, SOMEWHERE. In Proverbs 24:12 the Holy Spirit says, “Don’t excuse yourself by saying, ‘Look, we didn’t know.’ For God understands all hearts, and He sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew. He will repay all people as their actions deserve.”
Want a couple of practical ways to start finding hidden refugees? Ask your school district what non-English speakers are in the community and where their neighborhoods are. Look for foreign grocery stores that sell food “from the old country.” Go into that grocery store, buy a couple of things, and strike up conversations with the proprietors. Explore the “ethnic food” restaurants, whether they are Chinese restaurants (our local Chinese restaurant is managed by Vietnamese people who fled to the United States years ago) or Indian cuisine or something else that you are not used to eating. Do it for Jesus, and ask the waiter, “What are the favorite dishes here that Americans like me usually order?” Then strike up a conversation! Also, look for store signs that you cannot read. That is obviously an indication that they are stores for non-English speaking people. Go in and buy something!
- LOVE AND WELCOME REFUGEES TO HELP DEPROGRAM THE BRAINWASHING (WARNINGS THAT WE WILL BE HATEFUL AND REJECTING) THEY MAY HAVE RECEIVED BEFORE THEY CAME HERE.
When refugees come here, they have a dread of what is happening to them. They are in a “strange country” thousands of miles from their own homes, and they are usually sick from a variety of our local germs that their bodies are not used to encountering. They can’t speak our language. We look like giants to them in many instances. We eat things they don’t eat and have ways they can’t understand; and they are frankly terrified. The stress that they face when they have to send their children to school is unbelievable.
And to make matters infinitely worse, many people from their old culture have given them dire warnings about all of the nightmarish things that they will face among us. Many cultures of the world see Americans as harsh, cruel, uncaring, and evil. Why should we as Christians allow them to continue in those misperceptions when we could ease their minds, invite them into our homes, explain things that they can’t understand, and demonstrate the love of Jesus to them?
If the enemy wants us to think that refugees are monsters with a hidden agenda and wants the refugees to think that we are haters who will never accept them, then we who follow Jesus should destroy both of those caricatures as systematically as we are able. That is part of loving people as Jesus loved us.
Finally, brothers and sisters, I would like to pull back the veil of my heart and share vulnerably with you for a moment. Anyone who knows anything about our political process knows that this is a volatile and dangerous time to even mention the subject of refugees. Several times as I have contemplated writing this article, the thoughts have come to me, “Why do this now? You are only inviting criticism and angry misunderstanding of your motives; and besides, what good will it do to write this? Most of our churches will decide that this subject is too controversial to act upon anyway. Do you really think that you can mobilize churches and individuals to begin ministering to refugees at a time like this?”
I knew that sounded like the voice of the enemy speaking to me, but still I wavered.
And then, a short while ago while visiting a seaside town, I ambled into a gift shop to look around. I had literally been talking to the Lord while in that gift shop about tackling the subject of refugees when my thoughts were interrupted by the sight of the statue which you see in the picture here… the statue of a homeless man with one hand outstretched, begging.
In that moment everything came together in my heart. I walked into the gift shop unsure of what to do, and walked out a few moments later sure of what we must do.
Why? Because the man’s outstretched hand was pierced. I grabbed the statue and angled it back to see the hooded face of the homeless man, and it was the face of Jesus. Then I saw the title of the piece of art… “Whatsoever you do for the least of these.” This may sound mystical to some, or coincidental to others, but I am convinced that the Spirit of God was confirming to me that He is calling us to love the refugees as if we are loving Jesus Himself.
And, Lord willing, we will do so until the day comes when He tells us that our homes in heaven are ready and that we are welcome to join HIM in that land where no one will ever be without a place of their own.
May the Lord Jesus grant you wisdom to know how to begin, courage to see it through, and joy in the journey.