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To faithfully respond to a specific issue (like undocumented workers in America), we need to take a step back and see a bigger picture of God’s work as revealed in God’s Word. While the issue of undocumented workers touches on several topics (political, legal, economic, etc.), at its heart, talking about undocumented workers is about how we engage with the ‘other’ or with ‘them’. When we say ‘them,’ we essentially refer to those that aren’t ‘us,’ and ‘us’ can be defined in a myriad of ways. ‘Us’ can be a political group, a gendered group, an occupational group, or any specific identity that unites people together.  With the issue of undocumented workers, ‘we’ (Americans) often must deal with the ‘them’ (Mexicans, Canadians, Egyptians, etc.). A biblical framework provides insight and guidance to help God’s people (us) respond to individuals from other places (them).

Creation

As with most stories, a good place to start is at the beginning. In the book of Genesis, God begins His story with humanity and places them in the newly created Heavens and the Earth. This is first ‘us’, and there is no ‘them’. It’s just us with God. There is no other group to contend with; there is no rivalry to push against; there is no worry about outsiders coming in, and there is no ‘us’ against ‘them’. In this creation, God creates humanity in His image and likeness to be His representatives who co-rule and serve with Him (Genesis 1 & 2).

Fall

But the story of origins is marred by the Fall of Adam in Even and their rebellion against God’s good design. In taking the fruit, they declare their desire not to be an image of God but their desire to be God. And in doing so, they plunge all of humanity into the disastrous effects of sin, death, and destruction.

This Fall is seen in stark reality at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Their desire to build a “tower with its top in the heavens” is a bold and defiant rebellion against the glory of God and evidenced their insurgence in a desire to “make a name for ourselves”. When God “comes down” and sees their sinful motivations and behavior, He “confused their language” and “dispersed them from there over the face of the earth”. God comes down, and through language, divides.

This division of ‘us’ against ‘them’ started in the Garden (Gen. 3) and has continued throughout the story of the Bible. The Old Testament is a continuation of ‘us’ against ‘them’ and humans’ broken attempts to restore themselves to God and each other through Judges, Kings, and Prophets. But time and time again, humanity’s failed attempts only worsen our hopeless situation, all the while pointing out that we need salvation from someone else…someone outside of ‘us’.

Cross

The coming of God in human form is the ultimate good news of someone on the inside (us) coming to save those on the outside (them). The holy triune God of the universe was in perpetual joy and perfect fellowship, while we who had broken our fellowship with God through our sins were constantly in rebellion and deserved to be perpetually cast out of Eden. But God doesn’t give up on His creation. God is with us (Immanuel) and, in doing so, takes on our sin, our punishment, and our curse on Himself on the tree. And in three days, He defeats death and ascends to His Father to eternally advocate and mediate for us who have believed in His name.

While we rightfully understand that the Cross is the means to our personal salvation, God’s Word also declares the Cross of Christ is the means of bringing ‘others’ back to God AND that other things were accomplished at the Cross. Consider this statement as witnessed by the Apostle John: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain, AND WITH YOUR BLOOD you purchased for God people from every tribe and language and people and nations.” (Revelation 5:9, emphasis added). As the Apostle John receives this vision of what was to come, part of the vision is a look back at what has already happened, namely at the Cross. The statement “and with your blood” directly references the death of Jesus on the Cross. A declaration is made that one of the reasons Jesus died on the Cross was to bring to Himself a multicultural group of people from every tribe, language, people, and nations that will bring Him greater glory like the multiple instruments all harmonizing in a grand symphony. While we can joyfully see the triumph of our salvation that is secured through the death of Jesus on the Cross, we can also see how the death of Jesus secured a diverse group of people that bring glory to the Lamb.

Redemption

The work of Jesus on the Cross is the payment of our sins that secures our personal salvation back to Him and is the foundation by which people from every tribe, language, people, and nation can come back to Him.

As Jesus ascended into Heaven, He promised that we would not be alone and that He would send the Holy Spirit as our comforter and helper (John 14:26).

The help and comfort the Holy Spirit brings is wonderfully seen as the disciples gather in Jerusalem on Pentecost: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it lifted the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4). The filling of the Holy Spirit allows people from various nations and ethnicities to all “hear, each of us in his own native language” (v. 8) and conclude that “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (v. 11).

In Genesis 11 we see the sinful desires of humanity to “make a name for themselves” and the response of judgment from God: God comes down, and through language, divides. But in Acts 2, after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, we see the plan of redemption and “the mighty works of God” unfolding through the Holy Spirit: God comes down, and through language, unites!

Don’t miss these truths! The mirroring of these ideas from Genesis 11 and Acts 2 is seen in ‘God coming down,’ the use of ‘language,’ and the result in either judgment or redemption.  God desires to bring those that are on the outside into his family. What humans have corrupted through our sin (Gen. 3), God redeems through His Son (Rev. 5). And what judgment comes through sinful pride (Gen. 11), God will restore through multiethnic unity (Acts 2).

Glory

But the story doesn’t end there. While we labor in the strength that He provides to see His will done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), we know that our greatest hope is found when the King returns and sets all things right again: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

It’s interesting to note that when the Apostle John relates his vision of what is to come as we gather to worship the Lamb, he doesn’t just say, “many people gathered before the throne and before the Lamb”. He echoes the same statement used just a few chapters before; “you purchased for God people from every tribe and language and people and nations” (Revelation 5:9). It’s like John wants to go out of his way to describe the scene in glory as a multicultural and ethnically diverse community gathers to bring glory to the Lamb.

According to this verse, ethnic differences that are a reality here and now will be a reality for God’s people in glory.  If you are an Asian in this life, you’ll be an Asian in glory. If you’re a person of color in this life, you’ll be a person of color in glory. If you’re an Indigenous person in this life, you’ll be an Indigenous person in glory. God doesn’t remove our ethnic and cultural realities when we get to glory. In fact, they are essential to bringing the greatest glory to the Lamb! An ethnically diverse community brings greater glory to God, since it shows the universe how the tremendous cost of Jesus’ blood (Rev. 5:9) is the only means to true racial reconciliation and multiethnic harmony. As the Sunday School song goes, “Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the children of the world”!

Ben Mathew

Ben Mathew (Ph.D.) is the Chair of the Behavioral & Health Sciences Department at Emmaus Bible College, and in private practice as a therapist in Dubuque, Iowa.

One Comment

  • Gordon Moulden says:

    “God comes down, and through language, unites!”

    And Paul points this out to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    A tragedy of the church is that we have so many single-language and single ethnic group fellowships and not enough “all one in Christ Jesus” fellowships. And that is symbolic of the fall: it began by dividing a husband a wife, then two brothers, and then nations. Coming on the heels of Christ’s last words recorded in Acts “you shall be My witnesses . . . .” Acts 2 confirms the message: the Great Commission is universal, and the church is a universal body.

    Thank you for this; looking forward to Part Three!

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