Racism is a problem in America.
Maybe you knew that.
Maybe you know that from watching video of the brutal killing of George Floyd.
Maybe you know that from scrolling through your friend’s comments on social media.
Maybe you know that from your own personal experiences with other people.
But even if you didn’t see the video, aren’t on social media, or have a personal experience, you ought to believe it to be a problem.
Because the Bible says so.
The Bible says that this world is sinful.
The Bible says that racism is one of those sins.
The Bible says that everyone in the world is sinful.
Therefore, racism will be a problem in this world.
Since Raleigh is a part of this world, it’s a problem in our community.
How do we do battle racism?
How does the church respond?
Today we’ll examine what the Early Church did to deal with racial tensions. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
At the beginning of Acts 21, it was revealed that Paul was on his way to Jerusalem even though he knew from the Holy Spirit that he would suffer as he went. Many tried to stop him. But Paul went anyways.
In the next verses, Paul and his companions finish the final leg to Jerusalem. Look at what Luke, Paul’s companion, writes:
After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples. (v.15-16)
As you see it on a map, Caesarea is very closed to Jerusalem. In fact, this is the last stop that Paul makes before he gets to Jerusalem. There he finds a guy named Mnason. He was living in Caesarea. Mnason gets to meet up with Paul’s companions.
Who are Paul’s companions?
Luke. A fellow Jew.
Timothy. A biracial son of a Jewish woman and a Greek man.
Aristarchus & Secundus from Thessalonica. Two men with very Roman names.
Gaius from the island city of Derbe.
Sopater from Berea in Macedonia.
Tychichus and Trophimus from Asia.
It’s a large group of people from different cultures, backgrounds, and nationalities.
And how does Mnason react to them?
“You probably want to go downtown. That’s where the people of your race hangout.”
“Ya’ll probably belong at that church over there.”
“Just a second…Hello, police, there are foreigners here and I don’t know what to do?”
He brought them into his home.
But it didn’t stop there. Luke writes this, “We arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly.” (v.18)
Think about this:
Jerusalem was filled with Jews.
That’s one very specific race of people.
One very specific culture.
Paul’s companions are from all over.
But look at how the Jewish believers welcome them:
No cold shoulder.
No lukewarm mistrust.
No hot anger that they dared get near them.
The Jewish believers welcomed them warmly.
With high fives.
With fist bumps.
And it continues -- The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. (v.19-20)
Paul told about his exploits.
He told about preaching in Thessalonica where a large number of Gentiles started a church. (Acts 17:4)
He told about the Gospel-loving Berean church which was filled with Bible believing Jews and Greeks. (Acts 17:14)
He told about his time in Athens preaching in front of a crowd of Greeks! (Acts 17:16-33)
He told about the people of Corinth, a culture completely different from that of the Jerusalem Jews, and how there was a church there now that believed exactly what they believed. (Acts 18)
He told about Acquila and Priscilla, non-Jews, who were Paul’s friends and coworkers in Gospel preaching.
He told about his stop in Troas, a non-Jewish stronghold, where a young man named Eutychus was raised from the dead.
Paul told all about his exploits in sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles.
And the Jews?
They didn’t take to social media to bad mouth the Gentiles.
They didn’t insist that the work in Jerusalem was more important.
They didn’t say, “We don’t care that much about mission work to the Gentiles. Because Paul, all mission work matters.”
They praised God!
Believers have a BOND that penetrates RACIAL differences.
Not to embarrass this duo. But in church we have one set of friends that always gives me hope.
One is a middle-aged, Middle Eastern man who moved from Iraq.
The other is a senior Caucasian woman from Michigan.
At first glance, they don’t seem to have a lot in common.
Every time I’ve called on one of them during COVID-19, that friend has pointed out how they just got done speaking with the other one.
They love each other.
Almost like a mother and son.
Consider this passage:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles…. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
We preach Christ crucified… to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:23-24)
Believers have a BOND that penetrates RACIAL differences.
There isn’t white baptism and black baptism. But baptism in Christ.
There isn’t a Caucasian Spirit and a Hispanic Spirit, but One Holy Spirit.
There isn’t one Savior for this group and another Savior for that group, but one Savior in Jesus.
The bond is JESUS who defeated RACISM on the cross!
Take note that the verb is written in the past tense.
Racism is a sin.
Vocal racism is a sin.
Quiet racism is a sin.
All racism is sin.
Jesus went to the cross to die for all sins.
One of those sins?
The sideways comments you said that ruined a friendship – Jesus died for that.
The insensitive meme that you posted online – Jesus died for that.
The judgment you made of another person because of what shade their skin is? Jesus died for that.
And when he died.
That sin died.
Your racism died.
In Christ, you are forgiven.
In Christ, you get to start fresh.
In Christ, you are called to fight against racism.
II. What Now?
To get to our very applicable what now, I need to finish the rest of the story.
The Jews got done with their impromptu worship service praising God for his work among the Gentiles, when the mature-in-faith Jewish leaders spoke to the mature-in-faith Gentile pastor. They said: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.” (v.20-21)
A key truth about the Gospel is that forgiveness in Jesus is free.
A complementary truth is that one doesn’t need to follow certain cultural traditions in order to get to heaven.
Even though the message about Jesus came from the Jewish people (Jesus was Jewish), Paul correctly had been teaching the non-Jewish people that their faith in Jesus did not require them to follow Jewish customs in order to be saved.
But apparently, some of the “less mature in faith” Jewish believers had heard about what Paul was doing and incorrectly came to the conclusion that Paul was telling all of the Jews he came across to give up their Jewish customs completely.
Gossip led to them wrongly interpreting Paul’s actions.
And this was long before Twitter.
So…the leaders of the Jewish church had a suggestion for Paul, the leader of many Gentile churches:
There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. (v.23-24)
The vow that the leaders are referencing is a Nazarite vow.
The Nazarite vow was an Old Testament Jewish custom, but not for the faint of heart.
It was a Jewish tradition on steroids.
Those participating had to:
Abstain from all alcohol.
Refrain from cutting their hair.
Not to become ritually impure by coming into contact of any graves – even their own family members.
After a long period of time, the one who made the vow would mikveh, which is like a fancy, religious bathtub, then they’d shave their head and make three offerings: a lamb, a ewe, and a ram in addition to a basket of unleavened bread, a portion of their grain, and a drink offering.
The Jewish leaders are telling Paul,
Do you know what would calm the concerns of your Jewish brothers?
Even though you don’t have to…
Even though it isn’t required by God…
Even though you haven’t done anything wrong.
Pay for their expenses.
Pay for the mikveh visit for 4 men.
Pay for 4 lambs.
Pay for 4 ewes.
Pay for 4 rams.
Pay for all the grain.
Pay for the haircut.
Pay for it all – and they’ll see that you don’t hate their traditions.
That you love them too.
So, what does Paul do?
The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. (v.26)
(1) Listen to Believing Family of Another Race
That’s what Paul did.
He could have said: “This doesn’t apply to me.”
He could have said: “This is their problem.”
He could have said, “I’m going to go back to taking care of myself.”
Because that’s not what Jesus did to him.
And it wasn’t what Jesus would do to them.
God calls us to do the same thing.
Now, I’m a white guy.
I’m going to speak as a white guy.
I haven’t experienced all the challenges people of color in America face.
The only way I’m going to find out?
I need to listen when my Asian brothers tell me about the harmful stereotypes they’ve encountered.
I need to listen when my Hispanic friends tell me about the prejudice they face.
I need to listen when my black brothers and sisters tell me that they feel like their lives don’t matter.
That last one is very serious.
Because their lives do matter.
They matter so much Jesus died for them.
What can I do?
Stop trying to defend myself.
Stop getting on angry Facebook rants.
(2) Act on Behalf of Your Christian Family of Another Race
Again, that’s what Paul did.
He took money of out his own pocket.
He took time of out of his own day.
He took appointments out of his own schedule in order to act on behalf of his Jewish brothers.
It’s the same right now.
Reach out to your Christian brothers and sisters of another race.
Tell them that you love them.
Tell them that you want to understand – then listen to what they’re saying.
Speak up when someone tells a racist joke.
Speak up when someone is acting in a prejudiced manner towards that other person.
Speak up when someone is causing your brother in Christ to feel afraid, endangered, or unvalued because of the color of their skin.
Seek out friendships outside of your race.
Seek out friendships for your children outside of your race.
Pray that God would work to drive out racism in this world.
With the absolute confidence that one day it will happen.
TRUTH: Jesus Promises an END to racism.
Revelation is the last book of the Bible.
It describes the last place we believers will end up –
A place called heaven.
Listen to this passage about heaven:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9)
Do you see it?
People from all over the world.
People from all different cultures.
People of all different races.
Not one racist comment.
Not one racist thought.
Not one racist action.
They’re too busy giving glory to the one who defeated racism.
They’re too busy enjoying the glory of heaven.
They’re too busy being united in Jesus.
May God drive out racism from our hearts and our united as a community. Amen.