What does God say about Immigration?


  American Poet Emma Lazarus submitted a short sonnet to be used in an auction for a fundraiser. It 
was called New Colossus, which reads,

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

In 1903, these words were placed on a bronze plaque that sits outside the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.” Would you agree with that statement? Would agree with that statement when it was written in 1883 as a sign of welcome for the rejected and homeless seeking refuge? Would you agree with that statement today, with over 11 million illegal immigrants?

            Immigration is confusing, complex and convoluted.  The only thing that appears certain about immigration is that there is no certainty. The response to the issue is as diverse as our American landscape. Opinions shift depending on one’s geography. From southern Florida to central California, the immigration issue has become particularly heated. Regardless of which side of the immigration fence one finds himself, it is clear that the system is not working. We all want change, but no one can agree on the change.

 How are we as Christians supposed to respond? How should we engage in this debate?  It is not my place to give my opinions on border policy and deportation and work permits, or the Dream Act. My concern as your pastor is that you look at this issue with biblical lenses. Does God have anything to say that should govern how we interact with the stranger and foreigner among us?  I believe that God has a word for how he expects his people to engage in this debate.  And I will say again my goal is not to give definite answers regarding this issue, but I hope that I will raise some questions on how we can be more faithful to Christ in our thinking and treatment of the stranger among us.

Circumcise the Heart

            We must begin with our relationship with God. Our main allegiance is primarily to God and only secondarily to the United States of America. Deuteronomy 10:12-16

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

God lays out a list of requirements for God’s people in verse 12 and 13: fear the Lord, walk in his ways, love him, serve the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and keep his commandments.  Many people when they encounter the Old Testament tend to think of it as one long lists of dos and don’ts, but this is a mistake. Notice the last three words of verse 13, “for your good.” The commands and rules that God gives his people are for our good.  They are to bless us and protect us. 

            And right after God gives his good rules to obey, he reminds his people of who is giving the commands. Verse 14, “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.” Everything in the entire universe belongs to the Lord. There is no one above the Lord. He could have anything in the Lord and verse 15, “Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” The Lord set his heart in love on the people of Israel not because they were desirably, righteous, strong, numerous, but simply by his grace. Deut 7:6-7 says,

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples.

God chose Israel freely by his grace. Israel did not have to earn God’s love, but only had to receive it. 

            God’s undeserved, gracious love extended to an unworthy people is the foundation and the motivation for our response to him.  It is only after the Lord reminds us of the free grace He has given us that he says, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” God gave Israel circumcision as a sign that they were his covenant people, but outward circumcision was an external sign of an internal change.  The Apostle Paul mentions this in Romans,

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

The Jews were never to trust in their works, but to rest in God’s grace and mercy.  Their works shows their belief. A true Jew is one who has a circumcised heart, who gladly submits to the Lord. This is Old Testament language for repentance and faith. The only response of a true Jew to the unmerited love of the Lord is repentance and belief.

            What does all this have to do with immigration? The Lord wants us to see how kind and gracious he has been to us when we did not deserve it. He wants us to work on our vertical relationship with Him before we can have the right horizontal relationship with our fellow man. We have to see His grace first. We need to see how He has loved us so profoundly when we did not deserve it. Like Israel, we were chosen by the unmerited favor of God. 

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

We have no reason to boast.  We were sinners deserving of eternal hell for our sins, but God sent his Son, Jesus, to die in our place paying for the full penalty of our sin. And he rose on the third day as the firstborn among many brothers so that now if anyone would circumcise their heart in repentance and faith, God would welcome you as one of his people.  It is all grace. It is all God’s amazing grace.

Serve the Stranger

            Caring for the immigrant is close to the heart of God. God delights to show special love to those who are oppressed and downtrodden.  The powerful and awesome God loves to show his kindness to the least of these, Verse 17-19,

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. Love the sojourner (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Sojourner here is referring to the foreigner or traveler or stranger; someone who is not in their home land.  The Lord delights to shower the least of these with his love. We have already seen how He has done this to his own people, why would He not do it to others?

            The reason we must care for the immigrant is because it mirrors the heart of God. There are political ramifications when we think about immigration, but there are also missional ramifications. God has told us to love and serve the stranger. We are called to help those in need.  Imagine I was with my three children at a park and one of my children slips off the playground equipment and twists his ankle.  I am going to turn my eyes away from my other children and focus on the one who is hurting.  My care for my hurt child in no way diminishes my love for my other two children, but one needs more special attention.  God loves all, but pays special attention to those who need it the most: strangers, widows and orphans.

          We have the opportunity to show the kindness and love of God to those who need it most. God does not qualify his love by only telling us to help a certain kind of sojourner. He simply says love.  Our love shows we have a circumcised heart. As our love shows we believe, our lack of love may reveal we don’t believe. Hear the words of Jesus speaking to those who do not love those in need,

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 25:41-46)

Jesus believes our care for the stranger is so important that it reveals if we truly believe.  I am not going to answer the how we can love the sojourner, but simply want to stress that we need to love the sojourner.

Strive for Justice

            God cares about love, but he also cares about justice.  It was very common for widows and orphans to be mistreated because they had no power. The powerless are those who need people to stand up for them and fight on their behalf (like we looked at last week with abortion). And yet, I believe we can extend this principle in striving for justice in the enforcement of our country laws. Ecclesiastes 8:11, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11) When laws are not enforced, the people will be emboldened to continue to break the law.

 The flesh of man will do what it is allowed to do. If the police allow a person to go 5 miles over the speed limit, they will travel 5 miles over the speed limit. If an employer is allowed to hire and pay workers under the table, then they probably will hire and pay workers under the table. Scripture is clear that as Christians we should obey the laws of the state. Paul writes in Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Christians should submit to the governing authorities because God has placed those authorities over us. We know from 1 Peter 2:14 that God designed governments “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”

We submit to the laws of the land because we believe in the sovereign hand of God.  We trust that God has the power to set up kings and to remove them (Daniel 2:20). We believe that God has the power of kings and presidents.  We should strive for laws that promote justice and peace and elect officials who strive to enforce those laws. Is it ok to break the law if you have a really good reason to break the law? If someone was starving would it be wrong from them to steal a loaf of bread?  Yes it would be wrong for God says, “Thou shall not steal (Ex. 20:15). You may steal the bread and face the consequence for breaking the law, but having a good reason is never justification for breaking the law.

Beloved, there may be laws that are passed in our country that restrict pastors from preaching the gospel. Since I am bound to God’s law first, I will choose to knowingly break that law and submit myself to the governing authorities. If I am fined, I pay the fine. Remember the goal of the Christian is to be faithful to Christ. We must trust him. When we circumcise our hearts we are called to no longer be stubborn. We no longer have the right to follow our own way, but to be faithful to Christ. As a church, we have to help each other think through how we can be faithful to Christ.

I remember reading of a church that had a member who was an illegal immigrant. He was lying to his employer of his status. The elders of the church met with the man and convinced him that he had to share his status with his employer because it was a sin to lie.  God’s children are called to walk in the truth.  The man was hesitant because he was afraid he was going to lose his job.  The man eventually confessed to his employer, lost his job and was deported. At first, the man was upset with the church for encouraging him to confess, but after several months in his home country he wrote back to the church thanking them for encouraging him to be faithful to Christ.  He realized after being home that God wanted him in his home country to reach his family and friends with the gospel. Striving for justice is a matter of Christian discipleship.

Every situation may be different, but we are not in control of human history.  God is sovereign. He is in control. He places his people exactly where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there.  We are not all knowing. We see with human eyes, God sees for eternity.  There are many things that do not appear fair from a human perspective, but God’s justice is right and will be proven true in eternity. We do not have ability to say what is going to happen to people’s lives if they are deported, or how our economy is going suffer or the impact that amnesty will have on our social security system.  We can make logical assumptions based on the evidence, but ultimately only God knows. Yet we do know that God values justice so we have to enforce the laws on record or work to change the laws if we consider them unjust in the eyes of God. 

Share in their Story

            The story of the immigrant is the story of America. The only “native” Americans were the Indians who were here before there even were colonies and states. And yet the story of the immigrant is also the story of God’s people.

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. (Deuteronomy 10:19-22)

The history of God’s people is a history of a people looking for their homeland.  Our forefathers were sojourners in Egypt waiting for God to set them free to enter their homeland. Even the verse before our text this morning says, “And the LORD said to me, ‘Arise, go on your journey at the head of the people, so that they may go in and possess the land, which I swore to their fathers to give them.’ (Deuteronomy 10:11) God has promised us a land, but our land is not on this earth. We are citizens of the heavenly city.  We are sojourners and exiles waiting for God to call us home. 

            What to do to solve the immigration problem in our country may be complex. But it is not complex how we treat the immigrant; we love them. It is not complex how we view our laws. We strive for justice by enforcing our laws and working to pass laws that are keeping with God’s law.  We of all people should be able to relate to those who are not in their homeland, for our allegiance is primarily not to any nation, but to the Lord our God, the great, the mighty and the awesome God and to our Savior who has purchased it with his blood.  Beloved, one day let us hear those words from our King, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, strangers, my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

            We must view our lives with dual citizenship.  We primary citizenship is in heaven, and yet we are still called to live responsibly as citizens of the United States of America.  We have the responsibility to think thoughtful about how we engage in the immigration debate holding those twin truths of God’s love and God’s justice together.  God loves the sojourner, thus so should we!! And God loves justice, thus so should we!! We live for God’s glory to be seen in our land and over the whole earth. We must avoid harmful characterizations and prayerfully consider how we can be faithful citizens of our Lord Christ while we strive for God’s glory to be manifested on our shores. 
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