The Apostle John says: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:10-12).
How is it possible that the Creator of the world comes as a stranger to His people? Why did they not receive Him? Are we ready to receive Christ when He comes knocking on the doors of our hearts?
In Matt 25:35, Jesus says: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink.” These are two good works which prove faith in Jesus and love of Him and, therefore, they are accepted, recorded and rewarded. But it is a distinct and memorable growth when it comes to, “I was a stranger, and you invited Me in.” A place to stay is a larger gift than refreshment at the door. It is good, believingly, to do anything for Christ, however small, but it is a much better thing to give entertainment to Jesus within our souls, admitting Him into our minds and hearts.
We have not come to the full of what our Lord has a right to expect of us until we have given from our stores to Him by benefiting His poor and aiding His cause—then we deliberately open the doors of our entire being to Him and install Him in our souls as an honored Guest! We must not be satisfied with giving Him cups of cold water, or morsels of bread, but we must “urge Him, saying, Stay with us” (Luke 24:29). Our hearts must be as a Bethany, where, like Mary, Martha and Lazarus, we give our Master a grand welcome! Or as the house of Obed-Edom where the Ark of the Lord may dwell in peace. Our prayer must be that of Abraham’s, “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by” (Gen 18:3).
The most important word of the text is stranger and its light casts a hue of strangeness over the whole passage. Here are three strange things. The first is, that the Lord Jesus should be a Stranger here below. Is it not a strange thing that, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him,” and yet He was a stranger in it? Yet is it not a whit more strange than true, for when He was born there was no room for Him in the inn? Inns had open doors for ordinary strangers, but not for Him, for He was a greater Stranger than any around Him. It was Bethlehem of David, the seat of the ancient family to which He belonged, but alas, He had become “a Stranger unto His brethren, and an alien unto His mother’s children” (Psalm 69:8)! And no door was opened unto Him.
Soon there was no safe room for Him in the village, itself, for Herod the king sought the young Child’s life and He must flee into Egypt, to be a Stranger in a strange land and worse than a stranger—an exile and a fugitive from the land where, by birthright, He was king! On His return and in His public appearing, there was still no room for Him among the mass of the people. He came to His own Israel—to whom Prophets had revealed Him and types had set Him forth—but they would have none of Him. “He was despised and rejected of men” (Isa 53:3). He was the Man “whom men abhorred,” whom they so much detested that they cried, “Away with Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Yes, the world so little knew Him that they must necessarily hang up the Lord of Glory on a Cross and put “the Holy One and the Just” to a felon’s death! Jew and Gentile alike conspired to prove how truly He was a stranger—the Jew said, “As for this man, we do not know where He is from” (John 9:29). And the Roman asked Him, “Where are You from?” (John 19:9).
Now, that Christ should be such a Stranger was, indeed, a sadly singular thing, and yet we need not wonder, for how should a wicked, selfish world know Jesus or receive Him? The Lord’s own had been forewarned of this in ancient type, for long before the Lord appeared in the flesh, He had shown Himself as a Stranger to the faithful. This is He of whom Jeremiah said, “O Hope of Israel, Its Savior in time of distress, Why are You like a stranger in the land or like a traveler who has pitched his tent for the night?” (Jer 14:8) Yet with this fair warning, it still remains sadly singular that, coming on an errand of mercy, our Lord should find so scant a welcome; should be so little known; so seldom recognized, so harshly entreated. Truly as Egypt made Israel to serve with rigor, so have we made this patient Stranger to serve with our sins and wearied Him with our iniquities.
Another strange thing is that we should be able to receive the Lord Jesus as a stranger. He has gone into Glory and will He always say of us, “I was a stranger, and you invited Me in”? Yes, He will say so, if we render to Him that spiritual hospitality of which He here speaks.
This can be done in several ways. We can receive Christ as a stranger when Believers are few and despised in any place. We may sojourn where worldliness abounds and religion is at a discount—and it may need some courage to swear our faith in Jesus. Then have we an opportunity of winning the approving word, “I was a stranger, and you took Me in.” There is a sure proof of love in receiving our Lord as a stranger.
Again, we have the Lord’s own warrant for saying that if we show brotherly kindness to a poor saint we entertain the Lord, Himself. If we see Christians in need, or despised and ridiculed and we say, “You are my Brother in Christ. It matters not what garb you wear, the name of Christ is named on you and I suffer with you. I will relieve your needs and share your reproach,” then the glorious Lord, Himself, will say to us at the last, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, you have done it unto Me” (Matt 25:40).
Again, we may entertain the Stranger, Christ, by holding fast to His faithful Word when the doctrines taught by Himself and His Apostles are in ill repute. Nowadays the Truth which God has revealed seems of less account with men than their own thoughts and dreams! And they who still believe Christ’s faithful Word shall have it said of them, “I was a stranger and you took Me in.” If living fish swim against the stream, so do living Christians pursue Christ’s Truth against the set and current of the times, defying alike the ignorance and the culture of the age! It is the Believer’s honor, the chivalry of a Christian, to be the steadfast friend of the Truth of God when all other men have forsaken it. So, also, when Christ’s precepts are disregarded, His day forgotten and His worship neglected, we can come in, take up our cross and follow Him—and so receive Him as a stranger.
A third strange thing is the fact that Jesus will deign to dwell in our hearts. The King of Glory in a sinner’s bosom? This is a miracle of Divine Grace, yet the manner of it is simple enough. A humble, repenting faith opens the door and Jesus enters the heart at once. Love shuts the door with the hand of Penitence and holy Watchfulness keeps out intruders. Thus is the promise made good, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev 3:20). Meditation, contemplation, prayer, praise and daily obedience keep the house in order for the Lord!
The moment Christ is received into our hearts by faith, we are no more strangers and foreigners, but of the household of God, for the Lord adopts us and puts us among His children! It is a splendid act of Divine Grace, that He should take us, who were heirs of wrath, and make us heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ! Such honor have all the saints, even all that believe in His name.
There is more to follow—the designation of sons brings with it a birth into the actual condition of sons. The privilege brings with it the power; the name is backed up and warranted by the nature—for the Spirit of God enters into us, when Christ comes, and causes us to be born again. To be adopted without being born again would be a lame blessing, but when we are both adopted and regenerated then have we the fullness of sonship and the Grace is made perfect towards us. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And this mysterious birth, which comes with the reception of Christ, makes us free, not only in the kingdom of God, but in the house and the heart of God!
Don’t forget that when the Lord Jesus enters our hearts, there springs up between us and Him a living, loving, lasting union which seals our sonship—for as we become one with the Son, we must be sons, also. Jesus puts it, “My Father and your Father.” It is the Spirit of His Son in our hearts by which we cry, “Abba, Father.” “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” We are unto the Father even as Jesus is, as He says, “You have loved them as You have loved Me.” Thus in receiving Jesus, we receive, “the right to become the sons of God.”
Yet once more—the practical reception of Jesus into the life becomes a proof to ourselves and others that we are the sons of God, for it creates in us a likeness to God which is apparent and unquestionable. For look, although God the Father, is incomprehensible and Infinite, and His Glory is inconceivable in its splendor, yet this fact we know of Him, that in His bosom lies His Son, with whom He is always well-pleased. When we receive Jesus into our bosom, as one with us, and when our joy and delight are in Him, we do, in that matter, become like the Father. Having thus, with the Father, the same Object of love and delight, we are brought into fellowship with Him and begin to walk in the Light of God as He is in the Light.
When Christ is in us, we search out opportunities for bringing prodigals, strangers and outcasts to the great Father’s house. Our love goes out to all mankind and our hands are closed against none if it is so that we are made like God, as little children are like their father. Oh, sweet result of entertaining the Son of God by faith! He dwells in us and we gaze upon Him in holy fellowship so that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
“Love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). May we daily feel the power of Jesus within our hearts, transforming our whole character and making us to be more and more manifestly the children of God!
Let the song “Companions on the Journey” remind us that we are no longer stangers to each other but companions on the journey to our Father’s house.