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Watch 2022 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - Rights and Wrongs

John Bradshaw - Rights and Wrongs

John Bradshaw - Rights and Wrongs
John Bradshaw - Rights and Wrongs
TOPICS: Justice

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to give an unpopular message to Judah, which he did. Now, as a result, he was accused of treason, and there were calls that Jeremiah be executed. Jeremiah was imprisoned, placed in the bottom of a cistern from which the water had been drained. He was lowered down into the mud and the muck that had accumulated in the bottom of that cistern. Jeremiah 38, verse 6 says, "Jeremiah sank in the mud". He was left there to die. But a man named Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian, approached the king, Zedekiah, and interceded for Jeremiah, which was bold.

It could easily have cost Ebed-Melech his life. He said to the king, essentially, "What has been done to Jeremiah is not right, and he will die in that cistern". So the king gave order to get Jeremiah out of that filth. "Take...thirty men," Zedekiah said, and get Jeremiah out of there "before he dies". And they did. Jeremiah was doing the will of God, and he met with bitter opposition. He would have died in a dungeon unless somebody stepped forward to help. Ebed-Melech realized injustice was taking place, and that injustice wouldn't allow him to remain inactive. He realized something had to be done.

This is Selma, Alabama. In the 1960s, people came here from around the United States because, in the face of bitter injustice, something had to be done. What happened in Selma reminds us of what happened 2,000 years ago when Someone came to this earth to help. It was a very different America in the 1960s, and those differences were seen vividly in the South. In 1965, there were 12,000 African-Americans living here in Lowndes County. And in spite of a constitutional guarantee that American citizens had the right to vote, precious few of those 12,000 African-Americans were registered to do so.

Joanne Bland: We only had about 250 out of a possible 15,000 African-Americans on the roll, and it wasn't just that the African-Americans didn't go and try to register. They had to jump through hoops. You had a test before the literacy test, um, such as "How many jelly beans in a jar"? You know, "How many gallons of water in the Alabama River"? And there was no way you could pass these things. Even if you got that far, someone who was white had to come and say, "That's a good Negro. Let them register". Meaning that, "I can tell them how to vote, and they'll vote the way I want them to vote".

John Bradshaw: Understandably, African-Americans protested. About 30 miles from here in Marion, Alabama, late February of 1965, a 26-year-old Vietnam veteran named Jimmie Lee Jackson, after participating in a peaceful voting rights march, he and scores of others fled when the marchers were beaten by police. Then along with his mother and grandfather, he sought refuge inside Mack's Café. Jackson was shot, twice, by a policeman. He later died. It was in response to the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson that the now-famous march from Selma to Montgomery happened. Or rather, didn't happen. On that day, hundreds of people left the Brown Chapel AME Church, on what's now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, bound for Alabama's capital city. They made it 7/10th of a mile. They got to the bridge when...

Joanne Bland: I saw policemen lined all the way across all four lanes, when suddenly I hear gunshots and screams. I think they're killing the people down front. Before we could turn around, it was too late. They came in from both sides, the front and the back. And they were just beating people. You know what I remember the most? The screams. People were screaming and screaming and screaming. People everywhere bleeding, not moving, as if they were dead, and you couldn't stop to help them, or you'd be beaten too. The gunshots I heard? Nobody was shooting bullets on that bridge that day. They were the teargas canisters being shot into the crowd. Teargas burns your eyes, gets in your lungs. You can't breathe. You can't see. You panic. All the time you were running right back to the same people you were running from. It seemed like it lasted an eternity.

John Bradshaw: After the march to Montgomery ended in beatings and blood, Dr. King issued a call to clergymen to come to Selma and show their support for African-Americans in their fight for voting rights. The injustice of what was taking place in the American South was clear for everyone to see. There were people who came to Selma to help. Some of them paid a very high price. The death of one man in particular attracted the attention of the nation. I'll be right back.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. In response to the invitation issued by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ministers of the gospel came here to Selma from all around the country. Their presence alone was a help. They wanted to do what they could to show support for African-Americans who were dealing with injustice and oppression. The message was, "We care. There are people outside of this place who really do care about what's going on here". Although the tide was slowly turning in favor of civil rights, there was still an enormous amount that was wrong. Things could have seemed hopeless. The governor of Alabama at the time was George Wallace, famous for his cry...

George Wallace: And I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.

John Bradshaw: It was Wallace who two years before stood in the doorway of the Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in an attempt to block the entry of two African-American students. The battle for equality, the battle for justice, the battle for civil rights was real, and it was necessary. Denying someone their basic civil rights based on their race, denying someone their constitutionally guaranteed civil rights on the basis of their race, indiscriminate killings sponsored by a system that steadfastly refused to bring the guilty to justice, this was raw racism. This was bitter hatred. And one man who decided that he had to do something about it was James Reeb. Reeb was a Unitarian minister working on low-income housing issues in Boston, Massachusetts. He was watching television in his home when he heard Dr. King invite gospel ministers to travel to Alabama. He left Boston that night. He felt that he had to help. The following evening Jim Reeb and two associates ate at a café right there, a café that admitted both black and white customers. After eating, they left to go and hear Dr. King speak at Brown Chapel. But they didn't make it very far. It was when they got to the corner, just up the street from where they had eaten, that they were approached by four men, four white men. Frances Bowden was there that night and witnessed the beating of James Reeb and his friends.

Frances Bowden: And they followed them around the building, and that's when they started hitting them. They went up behind him and hit him on the back of the head with a club. Then, once they knocked him down, they just kept hitting and kicking. Then the ambulance come and took him to Good Samaritan Hospital, and they sent him on to Birmingham. And, um, he died, I guess, the next day; I think it was the next day that he died.

John Bradshaw: The night that, uh, James Reeb died, it was clear that there was something big going on in Selma. People had come from around the country.

Frances Bowden: Oh yeah.

John Bradshaw: Did you or people like you have a sense that, boy, this could be trouble, or this could be a difficult time?

Frances Bowden: Yeah, we all knew it was going to be trouble. Sure did. Any time any bus come in and dropped off a bunch of them, there's always going to be trouble, always. Because they just, the ones that lived here were the worst trouble of all. They're going to start it and show you how big I am. So...but you didn't have to guess at that. You already knew it.

John Bradshaw: So when Reeb died, or was killed, really that wouldn't have been a big surprise that something like that could have happened here?

Frances Bowden: Nope, sure wouldn't. They expected more than that. They really did. They expected more to be killed than what was killed, because they all were toting guns. I mean, they go home every day and put the gun in their car or their truck, sure did, and bring it to town with them. I don't care if you going to the grocery store, you bring your gun.

John Bradshaw: Now, nobody was ever brought to justice. There was a trial; the three men were acquitted. Did other people around the town know that it was these men who'd done the crime?

Frances Bowden: They knew it was Doug, Stanley, and Elmer, but they didn't know who the fourth man was. I was the only one that knew the fourth man. But like I said, I stand there looking out the window at them, so.

John Bradshaw: If a number of people knew who at least three of the men were who committed the crime, explain to me what it was about the time where people were prepared to say nothing where they might have said something.

Frances Bowden: Well, they could have said something all the time, baby, but they wouldn't do it.

John Bradshaw: Yeah, why was that?

Frances Bowden: They stuck together. They stuck together. And that was a different race of people. What you got to what you deserved, you deserved it, or you wouldn't have got it. That's the way they felt. And I know that was the wrong way to feel, but I couldn't do nothing about it then. But I did about myself.

John Bradshaw: Would people around the town be more inclined to say something today than they were back then?

Frances Bowden: I think they would. I really do.

John Bradshaw: Three men come to Selma to help, and they're brutally attacked. They're punched and kicked and beaten with a club. James Reeb was taken to a local clinic before being transferred to a hospital in Montgomery, where he died two days later. Martin Luther King spoke at a memorial service for Reeb held at Brown Chapel. The four men who murdered him, right there, were never brought to justice. Ebed-Melech could have simply said nothing. He risked a lot when he spoke to King Zedekiah and interceded for a man that the ruling classes thought was a traitor. James Reeb risked a lot when he came to Selma. Of course, he couldn't possibly have known that this was going to cost him his life. Didn't know that the last time he would ever see his wife and his four children was that night he left Boston to come down here to Alabama.

James Reeb was simply committed to doing the right thing. And that commitment to doing what he believed was right ended with his life being viciously taken away here on Washington Street. The Bible calls Jesus "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world". That's Revelation 13, verse 8. So, did Jesus know ahead of time what He would be faced with when He came to this earth? Well, yes, He absolutely did. The prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus' ministry in great detail in the 8th century B.C. He wrote in the 53rd chapter of his book, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not". Jesus knew what He was walking into.

Isaiah goes on: "Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we [who] like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth". There's a time when people need to stand up, when people need to speak up.

Isaiah wrote in Isaiah chapter 59, the next chapter, and said this: "None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity". He wrote, "And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter". It's hard to imagine God didn't have 1965 in mind when He inspired the writing of those words. More often than not, justice never came in cases like these. In fact, it's more accurate to say that justice was very rarely served. Four little girls were killed in the bombing of a church 60 miles from here, and no one was prosecuted for 12 years.

One of the murderers wouldn't be prosecuted for nearly four decades. The man who killed Jimmie Lee Jackson wasn't convicted until 45 years later, and then served just six months in prison. This was a decades-long, carefully orchestrated campaign of domestic terror waged openly, a campaign in which justice only made brief appearances. That's also true in the plan of salvation. The cross on which Jesus died was a carefully designed instrument of torture. It was engineered to cause maximum pain and suffering. And yet because of the cross, the tide would turn, not only in Selma, not only in the United States, not only for African-Americans, but for the world. I'll have more in just a moment.

In the year 2000, Selma, Alabama, elected its first black mayor. Within 12 months, a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest was erected in downtown Selma, before being relocated here at Selma's Old Live Oak Cemetery. The timing and symbolism cannot sensibly be thought of as a coincidence. Forrest was a general in the Civil War. Many historians hold him responsible for the massacre of almost 300 black soldiers at Fort Pillow during the Civil War. He then became the first grand wizard of the newly formed Ku Klux Klan. In fact, Edmund Pettus, after whom the bridge was named, was a grand dragon in the same terror organization.

James Reeb was, in all honesty, only a minor actor in this national drama. He wasn't Rosa Parks, he wasn't Martin Luther King Jr., he wasn't John Lewis, he wasn't James Farmer, but he did what he could. There are only ever so many luminaries, as well as leaders. Movements need people who are motivated to help in whatever way they can. Sometimes it means walking instead of riding the bus. Thousands did that. Sometimes it means participating in a march. Sometimes it means coming to Selma to show your support. James Reeb did that. History saw to it that his small deed was transformed into a great deal more.

Jesus came to this earth because He knew it was in desperate need. Truth had fallen in the streets. The leaders of the church at the time had a warped conception of the character of God, and people both then and now needed to see what God was really like. In order to represent God to the world, Jesus would have to come to the world, live as a nonconformist, find Himself on the wrong side of public opinion, and ultimately give His life in a brutal, painful way. But if He hadn't done that, what then? Can you imagine this world if God had simply allowed evil to run its course? Can you imagine evil unrestrained?

I really don't think you can. I don't think anyone can. The civil rights movement wasn't just about Dr. King or Rosa Parks, all leaders and no followers. And modern Christianity isn't just about Jesus. Here's what I mean. All Jesus and no followers, and what do you have then? Jesus said to His disciples, "You are the light of the world". "You are the salt of the earth". God said through Isaiah, "You are my witnesses". When Moses came back from being with God on the mountain, his face glowed. God is looking for someone to glow because they've been in His presence, so other people can see Jesus in that person and be drawn to the God who's at work in that life.

Missionaries have been sharing the gospel and paying with their lives for millennia. And while you don't have to go to another continent or to a remote island in order to be a missionary, God is asking every one of His children to be a missionary to someone somewhere. The world is drowning in sin. God is being crowded out of society. What does that society look like if someone doesn't do something to help? There's someone in your circle of influence who needs to hear the gospel. There's someone you're going to bump into who needs to know something about the love of God. Society today commonly depicts God as aloof, as out of touch, judgmental, irrelevant. Well, He's not. But unless people see evidence of that in the life of someone, they might never believe otherwise.

Ebed-Melech was moved to do something, and he saved the life of the prophet. James Reeb was moved to do something, and five months after his death, the Voting Rights Act was passed. Now, I'm not saying the Voting Rights Act was passed simply because of James Reeb. A lot of things happened, especially here in Selma. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached here; he was jailed here. The Bloody Sunday march took place right there on the Edmund Pettus Bridge behind me. But it was what happened here in Selma, Alabama, that moved the government of this country to act, to finally act.

Something you do or say or demonstrate in your life can be used by God to move someone to surrender their life to Jesus. Of course, you want to be careful in how you represent Jesus, be careful in the method that you employ, but make sure you do represent Jesus, because the world is looking for a demonstration of what Jesus is really like, of what God can do in a person's life. According to the book of Revelation, before this thing is over, the world is going to be lit up with a manifestation of the character of God in God's people. If you'll let it be so, then that will happen in you.
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