Radiate, Part 7: Crossing Borders (Mark 7:24-37; Matthew 15:22-28)

Christians have never been called to be obnoxious or hostile in society. We’ve been called to be a people of hope, filled with a sweetness of spirit and a gentleness of demeanor (Phil 4:5). As it says in Titus 2:10: we are to “make the teachings of Christ our Savior attractive.” Or, to put it another way, the church of Jesus Christ was never meant to be a cranky little subculture, but a dynamic and joy-filled counterculture—one in which the surprising grace and spontaneous love of God is made known to our neighbors in real and tangible ways. Yes, we gather with like-minded believers to worship God and hear his truth, but then we leave our comfort zones and enter into the world of others to be a blessing to them. To do that means that we have to cross some borders—just like Jesus did. Many borders are geographical in nature, but others are racial, cultural, educational, or social. Crossing them can be difficult.

There’s no greater example of Jesus crossing borders than in Mark 7. It’s the only time the Gospels record for us that Jesus left the nation of Israel as an adult. (He was taken to Egypt as newborn to escape the sword of Herod.) In this passage, Jesus goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon, which is northwest of the Sea of Galilee. This is Gentile territory—outside the covenant land—and Jesus goes there on purpose. Still, it’s one of the strangest and most difficult texts in the New Testament. The parallel passage in Matthew 15:22-28 is even more bizarre. It’s the story of the Canaanite woman, whose daughter Jesus sets free from demonic oppression. But before he does so, he engages this woman in a conversation that surprises us. Not only does Jesus come across as cold, dismissive, gruff, and seemingly unconcerned, he likens the poor woman to a puppy! What’s going on here?

Jesus doesn’t usually act like this, and when he does, we want to know why. We almost feel the need to apologize for what he says. We don’t mind when Jesus is rude to the religious leaders of the first century, but when he seems indifferent to the plight of a desperate mother, believers get nervous. In fact, this is one of the stories that convinced the famous atheist Bertrand Russell that Jesus was not a kind and moral person like everyone thinks he is. Was Russell right? Quite the opposite. In the end, Jesus demonstrates that the grace of God cannot be contained within the borders of men. He wants to heal and cleanse all kinds of people so that they are whole and fit to be in God’s presence. But he has to expose prejudice before he can redeem it. And when he does, his border crossings give his followers a larger vision—a vision that assures us that Jesus is genuinely concerned about—and displays great sensitivity toward—those who need his touch. The lesson for believers today is clear: Jesus crossed all kinds of borders with his grace, and he wants his followers to do the same.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Two Hebrew Words for Forgiveness

There are two main words in the Old Testament for “forgiveness,” and they’re usually translated in the semantic range or cluster of “pardon” / “pardoned” / “forgive” / “forgiveness” / “forgiven” / “forgiving.” Together they form a mega-them in the Hebrew Bible. The two words are nāśā and sālǎḥ.

The first word is transliterated nāśā.

The word nāśā (accent on the second syllable, with the vowel sounding like the word “ah’”) means “the taking away, forgiveness or pardon of sin, iniquity, and transgression.” So characteristic is this action of taking away sin that it is listed as one of God’s attributes (e.g., Exod 34:7; Num 14:18, Mic 7:18).

Sin can be forgiven and forgotten by God because it is “taken up and carried away.” In Exodus 32:32, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, 1 Samuel 15:25, Job 7:21, and Micah 7:18, nāśā means “take away guilt, iniquity, transgression, etc.” (i.e., “forgive” or “pardon”). Micah 7:18-19 contains these wonderful words: 

Who is a God like you, 
who pardons [nāśā] sin and forgives the transgression 
of the remnant of his inheritance? 
You do not stay angry forever 
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us; 
you will tread our sins underfoot 
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

This passage reveals that no angel or human has a character so willing to pardon wickedness done against himself or others as God does. Micah 7:18 says that God delights in showing mercy. This means he enjoys doing it. He does not pardon our sins in a begrudging way. Verse 19 here shows how far God removes our sins from us. He figuratively hurls them into the depths of the sea.

The second word is transliterated sālǎḥ.

The word sālǎḥ (accent on the second syllable, same vowel sound as nāśā, hard “ch” ending as in “Bach”) is used of God’s offer of pardon and forgiveness to the sinner. Never does this word in any of its forms refer to people forgiving each other (e.g., Exod 34:9; Num 14:19-20; 2 Kgs 5:18, 24:4; Ps 25:11; Isa 55:7; Jer 5:1, 7, 33:8, 50:20; Lam 3:42). It is exclusively a divine action.

Sālǎḥ removes guilt associated with a moral sin or wrongdoing connected to a ritual or vow. Isaiah 55:7 reveals that God calls individuals to turn from their known sinful ways and thoughts to him so that their sins may be pardoned: 

Let the wicked forsake his way 
and the evil man his thoughts. 
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, 
and to our God, for he will freely pardon [sālǎḥ].

And now let us add a New Testament (Greek) word to the mix:

The Greek word is transliterated Iēsous.

Iēsous (ee-YAY-soos) is a proper noun that comes into English as “Jesus,” which is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua,” meaning “the Lord saves.” Matthew 1:21 says: 

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus [Iēsous], because he will save his people from their sins.

According to the New Testament, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, the Creator and Savior of the world, the founder of Christianity, and the sinless exemplar of the nature and ways of God. Since the name was common in his lifetime, he was usually referred to in a more specific way, such as “Jesus of Nazareth” (e.g., John 1:26).

“Christ,” which means “the anointed one,” is a title acknowledging that Jesus was the expected Messiah of Israel. In the Gospels, Jesus is usually identified as “the Christ” (e.g., Matt 16:16). After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:38, he was usually referred to as “Jesus Christ.” This composite name joins the historic figure with the messianic role that prophetic expectation and early Christianity knew he possessed.

In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman in the presence of Simon the Pharisee, a religious leader in first-century Israel. The scene is provocative and scandalous for its day, but the encounter ends like this in vv. 48-49: 

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

That’s the right question to ask. Jesus Christ is the embodied forgiveness of God. He is nāśā and sālǎḥ in the flesh.

Image Credit: centrostudismmaddalena.