Text:Revelation 7:9-12 — 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, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Opening: For several weeks, now, we have been working through a sermon series called “Hot Topics.” The goal is to provide believers with some Biblical answers to a few of the really difficult discussions taking place in our post-Christian culture. So far we’ve talked about the need to go to the Word in search of our answers with the belief that it speaks directly or by inference to every moral issue we face. We also looked at a portion of Jesus’ sermon on the mount where He warned against adopting critical and self-righteous attitudes when it comes to judging others. We’re to approach people in humility and only after a careful inspection of our own thoughts and attitudes. Then we talked about the Christian and government and what God expects of us in relation to it. Obviously this is vitally important given that America is as politically divided as anytime in its history. Then last week we talked about the sanctity of human life and specifically addressed euthanasia and abortion, both of which must be opposed because God prohibits murder (Genesis 20:13) and only He and governments have the right to take a human life, and the latter only for a just cause. Today, I want to continue in this series with a discussion on racism. We’ll look first at the problem of racism; then we’ll see what the Bible has to say about it; and, finally, how God wants Christians to treat all of our fellow human beings.
The Problem of Racism. Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. A June, 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that an overwhelming majority of blacks (88%) say the United States needs to continue making changes for blacks(and people of any other race) to have equal rights with whites. Unfortunately, 43% are very skeptical that these changes will ever occur. According to the same study, blacks are more likely than whites to say black people are treated less fairly in the workplace, when applying for a loan or home mortgage, in dealings with the police, in the courts, in stores and restaurants and when voting in elections. Blacks also cite that racial discrimination, lower quality schools and a lack of jobs are major reasons why they have it harder than whites. Some whites argue that it is not as bad as portrayed and probably have a point to make. The problem is that whites may be wearing blinders when it comes to racism because we have traditionally not the ones who are the objects of discrimination (though that may be changing in some circles).
The Bible on Racism. The Bible gives us no basis for discriminating against anyone based on their race. Instead, it views all human beings as worthy of honor and respect.
- We are all made in the image of God. This is why we all have equal value in His sight (Genesis 1:26-27 —God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them).It’s also why James, the half-brother of Jesus, issued a strong warning about the use of our tongues in speaking evil of others. Listen to his words — The tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so(James 3:8-10). Every human being that has ever walked on this earth is like God in some specific ways and that is what gives us inherent value.
- Adam named his wife Eve because she was to be the mother of all living(See Genesis 2:20). We all share the same parents and essentially the same genome sequence (which is the stuff that comprises a person’s DNA) with only a .1% difference in any two people. Acts 17:26tells us why—God made from one man every nation of mankind. This means that if we could do a search of our genealogy far enough back, we would all wind up at the same place…with Adam and Eve as our original ancestors. This is important because it tells us that no race is physically better than any other.
- The curse of Canaan. I want to talk about this because some people have shamefully used this passage to justify racial discrimination and the enslavement of people of African origin, with the claim that the result of this curse was dark-colored skin. The Bible mentions a story about Ham, one of the sons of Noah, who mocked his father and then treated him disrespectfully after the old man went on a drinking binge and then fell asleep while unclothed in his tent. Scripture says that Ham saw his father and then told his brothers. The implication is that he dishonored his father by failing to cover him up. Instead, it was Japheth and Shem who laid a garment upon him. When Noah awoke, he cursed Canaan, the father of the Canaanites. (Genesis 9:25-27 — Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant). In reading this text, some have taught that Canaan eventually settled in Africa and that God intended for all Africans to be enslaved because of the curse upon Canaan (a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers). There is, however, no basis in the Bible for this. In fact, the Canaanites never settled in Africa but in the land of Palestine. Later these tribes were destroyed or enslaved by the Jews when they conquered the Promised Land, which is what this passage was referring to all along.
- Interracial marriage in the Bible– Many Christians do not believe in interracial marriage. I once had a couple argue that point with me by citing that God didn’t want the Israelites to marry people from the Canaanite tribes because he didn’t want different races to mix. But the reason God told them not to marry outsiders was because He didn’t want His people to be influenced by their worship of false gods. When you look at Israel’s history, you see that some very prominent people married outside their race. Joseph married an Egyptian woman. Moses married an Ethiopian woman. Both likely had much darker skin by the way. Rahab, another Canaanite woman, and Ruth, who was a Moabite, also married Jewish husbands and are even included in the line of Christ as its recorded in Matthew 1:5. These marriages were acceptable to God because in each case, there was no attempt to mix two faiths. The partners who were not of Jewish descent chose to worship the God of the Jews which was God’s concern in all of this.
- The parable of the Good Samaritan. Though the New Testament mentions racial strife between Samaritans and Jews (John 4:9 – For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans), this story portrays a Samaritan man as the example of doing what is right. Remember that this is about a person (the Samaritan) who showed kindness and love for a Jew who was beaten and left for dead along the side of the road (See Luke 10:30-37). Jesus commended the man for loving his neighbor when a priest and Levite passed him by without offering any kind of help.
- The apostle Paul on racial relationships(Galatians 3:28 — There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus). This is the apostle’s way of saying that there is no room for discrimination of any kind in the body of Christ. Because Jesus makes us one, any attempt to divide by showing prejudice against a people on the basis of race, status (free or slave) or gender is sinful.
The Believer and Racism. So, if the Bible teaches that people of all races matter supremely to God and should matter as much to each of us, then how should that impact how we live?
- We should consider others as better than ourselves(Philippians 2:3 — Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves). Humility is not thinking worse of yourself than you ought. It is having a realistic view of yourself in light of who God is. God is great and we are not. So it shouldn’t be that hard to consider others as better than ourselves.
- We should be careful not to show partiality to some people over others(James 2:1 — My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory). When we treat people unfairly, when we assume the worst about persons and peoples, when we favor one group over another, we do not reflect the God of justice nor do we honor the Christ who came to save all men.
- We should remember that we’re one in Christ and will live forever with others from every tribe, people and language in heaven. Separating people groups was something God did as a result of a curse He issued to the people living in Babel (See Genesis 11:7-9).He dispersed the people because they had created a man-centered world where their primary goal was to make a name for themselves. Contrast that with Pentecost where Godbrought people from all nations together by the Holy Spirit to declare His mighty works—not ours(Acts 2:5-6, 11— Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Verse 11) …we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God).
- We should never hate another person(1 John 3:15 — Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him).Sadly, we can hate without realizing we hate. Hatred does not always manifest itself as uncontrolled rage, and it does not always, because of God’s restraining mercy, translate into physical murder. But hatred is murder of the heart, because hatred looks at someone else or some other group and thinks, “I wish you weren’t around. You are what’s wrong with this world, and the world would be better without people like you.” That’s hateand itsounds an awful lot like murder.
Conclusion: When it comes to racism, we’ve made some progress! Listen to this:
- In 1942, just 32% of whites agreed that whites and blacks should attend the same schools; in 1995, when the question was last asked, 96% of whites agreed.
- In 1944, only 45% of whites agreed that blacks should have “as good a chance as white people to get any kind of job,” but by 1972 almost all whites agreed with this statement on equal opportunity (97%).
- In 1958, 63% of Americans said they would never vote for a black presidential candidate. In 2008 and again in 2012, voters elected President Barack Obama—an African American to the highest office in the land.
- Sociologists have long viewed multiracial marriage as the benchmark for the ultimate stage of assimilation of a particular group into society. Guess what? A 1958 Gallup poll found that only 4% approved of black/white marriages. In fact, it was illegal in 16 states in until 1967. Today, 87% of Americans recognize the legitimacy of mixed-race marriages.
- In 1960, of all marriages by blacks, only 1.7% were black/white. Today it’s 12% and rising.
- Says, Orlando Patterson, a liberal African American Harvard University sociologist. “America is now the least racist white majority society in the world. It has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any other society, white or black, offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society including all of those in Africa.” Thank God that we’re making some improvements, but, of course, we want to do all we can to eliminate it completely because the Bible says, “Do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith” – Galatians 6:10.
After racial slurs were scrawled outside black students’ doors at the US Air Force Academy’s preparatory school, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveriagathered all 4,000 cadets in a hall. Speaking to a crowd of some 5,500 people that included faculty, coaches, airstrip personnel, and senior officers and staff of the 10th Air Base Wing that includes the academy, Silveria urged them to share his sense of outrage. “This kind of behavior has no place at the prep school,” he said, “it has no place at USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force. You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being.” While acknowledging that the academy isn’t a perfect institution, Silveria said it would be naive and unjust not to speak about racism. Toward the end of his address, he said: “Just in case you’re unclear on where I stand on this topic, I’m going to leave you my most important thought today: If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race, or different color skin, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.” To make sure his message was received, Silveria told cadets to get out their phones and record it. Citing the need for the group to have moral courage and protect their institution’s values, he then repeated his message: “If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out.”Here’s a question for you as we conclude: What do you think Jesus would say if He were speaking to all of America this morning about racism? I think I know. He would say that we should honor and respect everyone and that no person is better or worse for the color of their skin or the race of origin. There is simply no place for racism in the kingdom of heaven.