I've shared how the thief on the cross was not righteous by the law of Moses, yet found himself in heaven, as did the beggar named Lazarus who was also unrighteous.
In Matthew 8: 5-13 a Roman Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant, but when Jesus said He would go to his house, the man replied: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant will be healed."
The Lord responded that He had not seen such great faith in all of Israel. Then further commenting on non-Jewish believers such as the Centurion, He said: "Truly I say to you, many will come from the east and west (Gentile nations) and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the children of the kingdom (Jewish people) will be cast into outer darkness where they will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Cultural note: The phrase 'outer darkness' originally described someone kicked out of party. At night the house and area would be lit up with many oil lamps, and a person kicked out for bad behavior or not having been invited in the first place, was cast into 'outer' darkness - 'outer' meant outside beyond the edge where the lamps shone. They would in anger curse and spew hatred at being kicked out, thus the 'weeping and gnashing of teeth' phrase.
If you were Jewish you were taught the Gentiles like this Centurion don't have a place in God, yet this man clearly did; not by the law, but by his faith in Jesus.
Clearly it isn't obeying the Laws of Moses that make a person righteous, but their faith in the Lord.
In Matthew 15: 21-28 we are told Jesus traveled to the coastal Gentile towns of Tyre and Sidon. These were Phoenicians, translated in the OT English as 'Philistines' and transliterated to our day, 'Palestinians'. While there, a woman came to Jesus asking that He deliver and/or heal her daughter who was 'vexed' by a devil.
In verse 22 she calls Jesus 'Son of David', which is a (Jewish) term for Messiah. Not knowing if she was flattering Him by using the term, or if her faith was genuine, which requires revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Messiah, He spoke to her in a parable. If she understood the parable then it was clear she had been shown who He was by the Father, and if not, she heard a confusing story about bread and dogs and scraps of food.
"It isn't right to take the children's (Jews) bread (Jesus' ministry) and give it to the dogs (Gentiles)." "True Lord, but the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." "Oh woman! Great is your faith! Let it be unto you as you will." (And her daughter was healed from that very hour.)
The Samaritan woman
After Solomon died about 932BC, Israel split into 10 northern tribes, called 'Israel', and 2 southern tribes called 'Judah'. (It was a rebellion over high taxes Solomon's son and successor King Rehoboam, set)
The Kingdom of Judah (and Benjamin) also had faithful remnants from the other 10 tribes. Judah kept the temple in Jerusalem and the Levite priesthood as God prescribed, while Israel made Samaria their home and started their own brand of Judaism, keeping their own priesthood and their own law over the next 200 years.
In about 721BC we are told in II Kings 17, Assyria (Syria) conquered the 10 northern tribes of Israel (not Judah) and relocated the inhabitants. The records of Sargon II, king of Assyria at the time, say he deported 27,290 people and resettled them elsewhere in his kingdom, while importing foreigners into Samaria.
That meant over time the remaining Jewish people married these imported refugees, had children, losing the 'purity' of Jewish blood, causing the 'pure' Jews to hate the Samaritans, and that was the situation in Jesus' day.
In John 4 Jesus is in Samaria and meets the Samaritan woman at the well - who ends up becoming a believer and leading her whole town to the Lord. (John 4: 41-42)
Neither her own religion nor the law of Moses made her righteous, but her faith did.
In Luke 18: 18-23 we have the story of the 'rich young ruler'. When he came to Jesus he said: "Good master, what must I do to have eternal life?" Jesus responded with a question: "Why are you calling me good? There is no one good but God." Jesus' question was met with silence.
In other words Jesus was asking, "You call me good master, but there is no good master but God, so are you calling me God?" We don't know how long the pause was between v19 and v20, but clearly the young man did not respond. His silence must have been deafening.
So Jesus tried another way, telling him he knew the law, so obey that. The man said he did that, which was a bit of a trap for it revealed he kept the whole of the laws of Moses yet realized he did not have enteral life. Upon that admission, Jesus circled around to again tackle the question of who he believed Jesus was by telling him this: Sell all you have, you'll have riches in heaven, and come be my disciple." He went away sad, for he was very rich.
The young man failed both attempts by the Lord to discover who he believed Jesus to be. Clearly it wasn't the young man's religion that made him righteous, for he did all that yet still realized he didn't have eternal life. The issue Jesus raised was this: Who do you believe Jesus is?
We can comfort ourselves in the church tradition that the rich young ruler was a man named Barnabus, who later came to the Lord and became Paul's close friend and ministry companion. We don't know for sure, but I'd like to believe that tradition, and glad he answered the question all must answer: Who is Jesus?
Are there people in our lives who are very religious, yet don't have eternal life? Are there people in our life that outwardly are not 'religious', yet believe in Jesus (and their lives reflect a core moral and spiritual structure)? Who can know their heart but God?
We can see in the gospels that obeying the laws of Moses, whether Jew or Gentile, meant little concerning salvation, but only faith in Jesus. So what about the native in some far off land who has never heard of Jesus? Is there a way they might know Him, even if they've never heard of Him? That's for next week....
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