Strangers in a Strange Land

We’re all sojourners on this side of eternity.

Have you ever felt out of place? As if you don’t fit in and would rather be at home? That’s how many people feel when stepping into our churches for the first time. It can be like visiting a distant land where men and women are speaking a strange language and practicing foreign customs never seen before.

We want to show hospitality as churches, and care for visitors. How can we do this well? A good place to start is to see how God treats outsiders. The Hebrew word ger, for “sojourner,” shows up 92 times in the Old Testament and is also often translated as “immigrant,” “alien,” “foreigner,” or “stranger.” Throughout the biblical story, God shows special care and concern for these outsiders.

 

God’s Nomadic People

God calls His people to care for foreigners; this is true, important, and frequently discussed. But a foundational theme that’s often underemphasized is how often in the biblical story God’s people are foreigners.

“He packs up the camels and heads out west, a wanderer who eventually settles in Canaan and sets up housekeeping as a resident alien.”

Abraham is called by God to leave his country and emigrate to a new land (Gen. 12:10; Gen. 20:1; Gen. 23:4). So he packs up the camels and heads out west, a wanderer who eventually settles in Canaan and sets up housekeeping as a resident alien. And he’s not alone. The patriarchs were relatively rootless: Jacob, Judah, and Joseph’s stories were all shaped by migration. By the end of Genesis, the only plot of Promised Land owned by God’s people was a grave for Sarah, Abraham’s wife (Gen. 23:2-20). This little macabre outpost was more than a tomb: It was a colony in the midst of the country that would eventually become their kingdom.

Israel knew what it was like to be mistreated by hostile host countries during their wandering years. So it comes as no surprise that when the nation finally inherited the land, resident sojourners received special legal protection. God’s people knew firsthand what it was like to be in their shoes. In fact, Israel still understood herself to be a “resident alien” (ger) residing on ground that ultimately belonged to God (Lev. 19:33-34).

In the New Testament, this theme continues. The church sojourns as strangers on earth, with our true citizenship in heaven (1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:11). Strangers and pilgrims in this passing age, we are—like the patriarchs of old—characterized by a nomadic existence while awaiting the promised inheritance of land beneath our feet (Heb. 11:9-16). God’s coming kingdom will bring heaven to earth: He will tear down the institutions of our exile and replace them with our new home in the holy city, where we’ll dwell with Him forever (Rev. 21-22).

 

Caring for Strangers

So God’s people often are sojourners, and we are also called to care for the strangers in our midst. When Israel was given the law at Mount Sinai, foreigners received special attention and legal protection (Ex. 22:21; Ex. 23:9). This was important because immigrants lacked extended family and social networks, both of which were significant for survival in the ancient world.

As Christ has welcomed us into His home with the Father, we are to welcome, embrace, and care for the outsiders in our midst.

One of the reasons for this legislation, God reminded His people, was that they’d once been in the same predicament themselves: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Ex. 22:21 NIV). Israel was not to repeat Egypt’s mistakes, which is why God commanded them to love foreigners as themselves (Lev. 19:34). Nearby countries had laws that protected widows and orphans, but Israel was unique in caring for outsiders as well.

The gleaning laws are a poignant example of this decree. “When you reap the harvest of your land,” Israel was told, “you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien” (Ex. 23:22). This was like leaving money around the edges of your house for poor people to come pick up. They still had to work for it, gathering the food they would take home to put on the table. But if you were a foreigner, it was like a social safety net against unemployment and starvation.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ followers are also called to care for foreigners and help strangers by practicing “hospitality.” The word here is philoxenos, which literally means “loving strangers” (1 Peter 4:9; Rom. 12:13). As Christ has welcomed us into His home with the Father, we as His church are to welcome, embrace, and care for the outsiders in our midst. And when you love the stranger, you may find yourself surprised at who they actually turn out to be. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2 NIV). Jesus Himself says that whether we know it or not, when we love the vulnerable outsider, we’re actually caring for Him (Matt. 25:31-46).

 

A Welcoming Messiah

Jesus practiced what He preached; we see this theme clearly in His life and ministry. Foreigners arrived from far-off lands to celebrate His birth, a sign of the promised messianic king whose rule would be for all nations (Matt. 2:1-12; Isa. 60:3). The Savior hung out with a Samaritan woman, cast a demon out of a Canaanite daughter, and healed a royal official’s son and a group of lepers (Matt. 15:21-28; Luke 17:11-21; John 4:1-26; John 4:46-54).

Through Jesus’ atoning death, He opened up the abundance of God to all of us foreigners far and wide.

While Jesus came “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16 NIV), through His atoning death, He opened up the abundance of God to all of us foreigners far and wide. God’s original promise to Abraham, to bless all nations through his descendants (Gen. 12:2; Gen. 18:18; Gen. 22:18), is fulfilled in Christ. Hence, it is fitting that a Gentile soldier was the herald who first proclaimed, in a posture of praise, the death of Christ (Luke 23:47).

The Savior’s death broke down the dividing wall that kept Gentiles separate from His people (Eph. 2:14-18). And now, through the power of His resurrection, Jesus welcomes all who will come, offering citizenship in His mighty kingdom to any who kneel before Him. So as His followers, we should—with open arms—welcome into our lives those outside the faith and church. It’s true, sometimes your pagan neighbors, agnostic coworkers, and friends from other religions may act in ways that seem bizarre, may come from backgrounds that surprise you, and may say strange things that sound like an interstellar language. You might be tempted to avoid or distance yourself and treat them as if they’re from another planet. But when that happens, it’s helpful to remember this enduring truth: God loves strangers. And if we love God, we should too.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

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WhatHappensToMyNotes

10 Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.

1 Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.

4 I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight."

2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

3 Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying,

4 I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight."

5 The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him,

6 Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead."

7 So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.

8 And he spoke with them, saying, If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me,

9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site."

10 Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying,

11 No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead."

12 And Abraham bowed before the people of the land.

13 He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there."

14 Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him,

15 My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead."

16 Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard.

17 So Ephron's field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over

18 to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.

20 So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.

33 When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.

34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.

17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;

10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.

12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.

13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.

15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.

16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

21 You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

9 You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.

34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.

22 But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.

13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

31 But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.

32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;

33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 Then the King will say to those on His right, `Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;

36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'

37 Then the righteous will answer Him, `Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?

38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?

39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'

40 The King will answer and say to them, `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.'

41 Then He will also say to those on His left, `Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;

42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;

43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'

44 Then they themselves also will answer, `Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'

45 Then He will answer them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'

46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,

2 Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

5 They said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

6 AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'"

7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him."

9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

3 Nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.

21 Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.

22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."

23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us."

24 But He answered and said, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, Lord, help me!"

26 And He answered and said, It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."

27 But she said, Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

28 Then Jesus said to her, O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.

11 While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee.

12 As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him;

13 and they raised their voices, saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

14 When He saw them, He said to them, Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they were going, they were cleansed.

15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice,

16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan.

17 Then Jesus answered and said, Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine--where are they?

18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?"

19 And He said to him, Stand up and go; your faith has made you well."

20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed;

21 nor will they say, `Look, here it is! ' or, `There it is! ' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst."

1 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John

2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were),

3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee.

4 And He had to pass through Samaria.

5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph;

6 and Jacob's well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, Give Me a drink."

8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.

9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered and said to her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, `Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."

11 She said to Him, Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?

12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?"

13 Jesus answered and said to her, Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again;

14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."

15 The woman said to Him, Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw."

16 He said to her, Go, call your husband and come here."

17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband." Jesus said to her, You have correctly said, `I have no husband';

18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly."

19 The woman said to Him, Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.

20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."

21 Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

25 The woman said to Him, I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us."

26 Jesus said to her, I who speak to you am He. "

46 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum.

47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.

48 So Jesus said to him, Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe."

49 The royal official said to Him, Sir, come down before my child dies."

50 Jesus said to him, Go; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.

51 As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living.

52 So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."

53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, Your son lives"; and he himself believed and his whole household.

54 This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;

18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?

18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."

47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, Certainly this man was innocent."

14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,

15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,

16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR;

18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

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