For several days I’ve been considering writing a post about the refugee crisis that is currently gripping Europe (I call it a ‘refugee’ crisis, not a ‘migrant’ crisis as the press have been referring to it as, because the difference is significant!) However, having just seen a horrifying photograph of the corpse of a tiny Syrian child washed up on a Mediterranean beach, I’ve decided I need to write!
Thing is…I honestly don’t know what to say.
There are so many voices speaking into the situation right now – from those pleading for mercy to those screaming ‘bolt the gates’. I must confess that I was tempted to launch into an undignified rant about how our nation is selfish, mean and has lost it’s gospel heart. But I don’t want to merely be another voice amidst the cacophony of conflicting opinions. Neither do I want my words to wasted. Rather, I want to bring bigger and better words to bear than my own. I want to hear what God has to say about what’s going on.
I want to let the Bible speak.
Now, this is by no means a comprehensive study on what Scripture has to say about refugees, but it should be a good start. So here goes:
1. God is a refuge for refugees
God is described numerous in the Old Testament as a ‘Refuge’
“for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”
– Psalm 61 v 3
“Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge.”
– Psalm 143 v 9
This means that God is a safe place to run to when danger is all around. God Himself is the ultimate safe haven, the epitome of sanctuary. Therefore it comes as little surprise in Deuteronomy 10 when God expresses His heart as one of compassionate justice and gracious provision towards the poor and the wanderer:
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”
– v 17-18
In the verse that follows God is clear what that should mean for His people, and why:
“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
– v 19
In other words…
2. God wants His people to offer refuge to refugees
In Deuteronomy chapter 24 Moses unpacks further what it means for God’s redeemed people to act compassionately towards the disadvantaged and displaced:
“but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
– v 18-20
Justice for the refugee was literally etched into Jewish law and the teaching of the Old Testament boiled down to this: be gracious because you have received grace! Little wonder then that merciful hospitality is a concept that righteous Job clearly grasped as he was able to state with integrity that:
“the sojourner has not lodged in the street;
I have opened my doors to the traveler”
– Job 31 v 32
I wonder if we could say the same in the UK right now?
3. Jesus came as a refugee
As we step into the New Testament, it’s worth stating this simple, but oft over-looked point – Jesus Christ was himself a refugee! When the Son of God was a tiny baby his parents had to flee to Egypt to protect Him from the murderous schemes of a tyrannical ruler:
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
– Matthew 2 v 13-15
As we see images on our screens of desperate parents clutching their little ones as they strive to reach safety and security in foreign lands, may we be struck again that this was the path our Saviour had to take. He truly is a Great High Priest who can sympathise with all our sorrows and weaknesses!
4. We ourselves were once aliens and strangers
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul reminds us that, like the Israelites of the Old Testament, we too we were aliens and strangers. Not in the physical or social sense, but in spiritual sense. However, mercifully we have received redemption, refuge and citizenship by God’s grace to us in Christ:
“remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”
– v 12-13 + 19
Peter further explained this in 1 Peter 2 v 9-10:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Thank God for His staggering mercy and grace! We really do need to keep this in mind as we consider the status of the suffering Syrians and other refugees as they flee to our shores.
5. We still are sojourners and exiles
I find it fascinating that following those verses lauding God’s mercy to us in saving us and making us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation etc. that Peter would then write these words:
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
– 1 Peter 2 v 11-12
Peter is reminding us that we were desperate sojourners…saved by grace from the tyranny of sin…but we are not home yet! Our citizenship is heaven and so we are not to get too comfortable here in this world. We are still sojourners, no longer in spiritual peril, but pilgrims on a divine journey to a better land. We must travel light and travel well as we seek to live lives that refract the glorious light of the gospel into a dark and desperate world.
5. Hospitality should be a big deal for the church
Hospitality is at the heart of the Christian gospel which is essentially the story of a great and generous King who opens His heart, His home and His table to His enemies. By grace The Father rescues, restores, adopts and delights in us, granting us a share in His Son’s inheritance and says “what’s mine is yours!” Understanding the radical nature of God’s hospitality towards us is crucial if we are to understand…and obey…the teachings of the New Testament:
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
– Romans 12 v 12-13
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”
– 1 Peter 4 v 8-10
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
– Hebrews 3 v 1-3
The communion table reminds us of God’s divine hospitality towards those in need of grace.
Whatever the response of our government and the people of the UK to the refugee crisis, I want to state resolutely and unapologetically that the response of the church in the UK must be one of compassionate action. Closed borders and hard-line politics speak of closed minds and hard hearts. We must allow the crisis that is unfolding before our eyes right now to cause us to examine our own hearts as God’s people. We must pray fervently, petition politicians, give to charities and, whenever possible, offer a warm welcome, sincere friendship and gracious hospitality to those refugees who make it to our shores.
AND we must be willing to foot the bill.
This commends Christ to a watching, weary world.
6. We will be judged according to our hospitality
I’m going to close out this post with the words of Jesus:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
– Matthew 25 v 31-46