Race and the Gospel: A Savior for All.

When Morgan Godwyn came to the American Colonies as a young minister in the mid-1600s, he came with a desire to convert African slaves to Christ. Unfortunately, his efforts were met with resistance from white slave owners, most of whom claimed to be followers of Christ themselves. Godwyn noted in his journal the typical response of these so-called Christians: “What, such as they? What, those black dogs be made Christians? What, shall they be like us?”

In my opinion, one of the saddest and most abhorrent blights upon the church of Jesus Christ has been the presence of racial bigotry among those who claim to be followers of Christ. As I stood to preach from Mark 7:24-37 yesterday, I told our people that racial bigotry has no place in the church of Jesus Christ. In this text, Jesus demonstrated God’s love for all people as he ministers to two Gentiles.

In the Jewish mindset of Jesus’ day, there were only two races of people on earth: there were Jews and everyone else. It made no difference the color of your skin, or your country of origin; if you were not an ethnic Jew you were a Gentile. Further, I believe it’s fair to say that many Jews were racially biased against the Gentiles. Much like the prophet Jonah, some could never conceive of God pouring out his love and forgiveness upon Gentiles, simply because they were Gentiles.

But such beliefs by first-century Jews were based on misunderstandings of, or ignorance of, Scripture. For instance, when Jesus encounters the Gentile woman in Tyre—located in Lebanon—she seems to know how the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah in this case) foretold of a time when God’s salvation would be poured out upon the Gentiles (Mark 7:24-30): “The deserts shall rejoice…the glory of Lebanon…will see the glory of the LORD, the majesty  of our God” (Isaiah 35:2).

In other words, she seems to understand from Scripture what many Jews of Jesus’ day did not: God’s salvation offered to the Jews was also intended for Gentiles. The bottom line: all people are welcome in the kingdom of God, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic background, or their country of origin.

Like many Jews before, many self-proclaimed Christians have justified racial prejudice based on gross misunderstandings of, or simple ignorance of, Scripture. Some, for instance, have claimed that God forbids interracial marriage based on poor exegetical conclusions from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah (and other Old Testament texts). Not only are such conclusions based on faulty exegesis, they also show complete disregard for God’s character, and demonstrate ignorance of Scripture. Three examples should suffice.

First, Moses—perhaps the greatest Old Testament figure—was married to a “Cushite.” Cush was south of Ethiopia, where the people were known for their dark-colored skin. Interestingly, in Numbers 12:1-10, when Moses’ sister speaks against Moses’ interracial marriage, God strikes her with leprosy! Secondly, Joseph, the man God used to protect the human ancestry of Christ, married an Egyptian (Gen. 41). Third, there is the supreme example of Jesus Christ himself, whose human genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17) includes both Gentiles and Jews and at least one interracial marriage between Ruth (Gentile) and Boaz (Jew). Obviously, God has no problem with interracial marriage.

I say all of that to say this: racial bigotry has no place in the the life of those who claim to be Christians. Racial prejudice is an affront to God’s character and an affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you harbor any ounce of racial bigotry in your life, you should seek God’s forgiveness and repent, lest God judge you as he did Moses’ sister.

 

 

 

 

 

Tragic Unbelief and the Offense of Jesus (Mark 6:1-6)

“And they took offense at him.” Mark 6:3

In Mark 6, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, presumably invited to speak in the synagogue. What should have been a time to celebrate the return of a hometown hero ends in tragedy. Mark communicates the tragedy of it all in verse five, saying:

5And he could do no mighty work there,…” 

It wasn’t that Jesus couldn’t do a mighty work. Rather, he wouldn’t do a mighty work. Why? Because the people did not believe. They rejected Jesus in unbelief, and in turn, Jesus rejected them by removing divine blessing. The story is conveyed with a profound sense of sadness. The truth is, the episode in Nazareth illustrates a larger spiritual truth. When people express unbelief in Jesus, Jesus rejects them, and that is always profoundly tragic.

Notice how the people’s rejection began. They were offended by Jesus (6:3). How or why they were offended is unclear. Maybe they were thinking, “He’s from Nazareth, too. He’s no better than us!” Or perhaps they were offended by something Jesus claimed in his message. Elsewhere, Jesus made claims of deity when he claimed to be “the Son of Man” and “the Lord of the Sabbath” (cf. Mark 2:12; 27-28). Both times he created quite a stir! Whatever the case, the people took offense at Jesus.

Their offense mirrors the way modern people take offense at Jesus and his gospel. By its very nature, the gospel is offensive to humans (Gal. 5:11). The gospel says all are inherently sinful, rebellious, and deserving of God’s wrath (Rom. 2; John 3:18). All of this is offensive to the sensibilities of modern men and women, who deny their sinful state and their need of salvation. The fact is, most modern people believe they are basically good and God must accept them as they are. Such perceptions, I believe, distort reality.

Here’s what I mean by that. As humans, we can’t comprehend God’s complete holiness, righteousness, and perfection.  At the same time, we tend to overlook that the very best of us fall well short of God’s perfection (Rom. 3:23). If you are honest with yourself, you must admit this.  What modern man fails to understand, then, is that we are offensive to a holy God. Our sin is what’s truly offensive in this world. Isaiah captures this principle when he writes:

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6

I’m aware of how depressing this must sound—and it truly is. Thankfully, there is good news. Because God is a God of love, he has made a way of salvation for all men and women, regardless of how great—offensive—our sin may be.

Let me give you an illustration. As a father, I’ve changed my share of diapers. Here’s one thing I’ve learned: the older a child gets, the more offensive the diapers become. And I do mean offensive. It’s so bad, sometimes my wife and I look at each other and say, “It’s your turn! He’s your child.” The dirty diaper of a three-year-old can be down-right offensive. But because I love my child, and because cleanliness is important to me, I overcome the offense of the diaper and clean my child.

In the same way, God is willing to overcome the offense of our sin, and he is willing to cleanse us when we come to him by faith, recognizing our need for forgiveness and believing in the person and works of Christ.

“If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Jesus was without honor in his hometown because the people rejected him in unbelief. You must not make the same mistake. To reject Jesus is nothing less than tragic—a tragedy that endures for eternity.  But on the other hand, to receive Jesus by faith is to receive divine blessings for all eternity.