John Bradshaw - Jesus and Racism
Hey, thanks for stopping by. I've got a question for you: Why did Jesus have racist friends? Now, He did. He had tons of them. Why was that? Why did Jesus have so many racist friends? In this episode we're gonna find out why. We're gonna find out what it has to do with us today and how knowing that can absolutely change your life. This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. "I can't breathe". "Black lives matter". "No justice, no peace". Racism has become a big, global issue in recent times. But, of course, racism isn't a new issue. We're going to look together at some of what the Bible says about racism. We'll see that God has plenty to say on the subject. In fact, there's a well-known Bible story that speaks directly to the subject of racism.
Now, it's usually told to make another point altogether, but we'll look at it, and we'll see what God wants us to see. The deaths of African-Americans during interactions with law enforcement officials have shone a bright light on the much larger and wider problem of racism. In the United States, racism goes back a long way, as do protests about racism. In the early 1990s, Los Angeles erupted in riots after the acquittal of four white police officers who'd been caught on film beating a black motorist named Rodney King. But of course, we can go back much further than that. The discussion about racism is much larger than incidents involving law enforcement officials.
Jim Crow laws were local and state statutes that enshrined racist practices in law, and they existed in the United States all the way up to the 1960s. African-Americans were prevented from voting, from staying at or eating in certain establishments. There were separate drinking fountains, separate waiting rooms, separate dining rooms, and so much more. Even churches practiced that kind of discrimination. Rosa Parks took a stand against racism when she refused to stand and give up her seat on a segregated bus. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan have flourished in the United States. Simply a racist terror group, trafficking in fear, injury, and death.
Now, we must be careful not to think that racism is only confined to black-white issues. Immigrants from Ireland, Poland, and Italy were frequently the targets of bitter racism in America. Racist episodes concerning Jews continue to occur. The treatment of Native Americans was monumentally racist. The Trail of Tears was just one example of this: the forced removal of thousands of Indians, who were taken off their ancestral homelands in the Southeast and marched almost a thousand miles to Oklahoma. Slavery stands out as the national sin for the United States, the high-water mark for hate and racism. The vast majority of the racial problems in the United States today stem back to the sin of slavery, which existed in this country for hundreds of years until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
In the grand scheme of things, that's not very long ago. But let's look a little more broadly. Slavery existed in Great Britain for hundreds of years, up until the 12th century. And Britain was deeply involved in the international slave trade from around 1640 to 1807. Around 3 million slaves were trafficked by Britain. While exact numbers aren't easy to find, it's generally believed that between almost 400,000 and 600,000 Africans were enslaved in the United States. Brazil had slavery for hundreds of years before the practice was ended in 1888. By then, it's said that close to 5 million people had been enslaved in Brazil, by far the greatest number of slaves that came to the Americas.
The German Nazi government endeavored to eliminate an entire race of people. Millions perished. Australia's handling of its aboriginal peoples was, for many years, shockingly racist. But what's less often mentioned is that the Australian government had an official White Australia policy that didn't come to an end until 1973. It aimed to do just what it sounds like it would do: keep non-whites from emigrating to Australia. Slavery was practiced by native New Zealanders before white settlers arrived, who confiscated native lands and themselves practiced various forms of discrimination. In Fiji, there have been such tensions between native Fijians and immigrants from India that political coups were staged in an attempt to counter Indian influence. And, of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Look back even further. Slavery existed during the time of the Roman Empire. Passages of the Bible reflect that slavery was common during Bible times. And racism continues today. Search for a definition of racism online and you'll find something like this: "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized".
Now, in Jesus' day, there was a lot of racism, and it was deep, and it was bitter. Jesus was surrounded by racists during His time on earth. There was deep racial hatred in His country and in His community. Some of His closest friends, those in His inner circle, were deeply racist. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the 12 disciples of Jesus could easily have been called the 12 racists. There was an entire people group that they loathed. Now, my guess is that someone's going to say that this was merely religious discrimination, but it was much more than that. Let's look at this together. We'll start in Luke 9, and this is verse 51: "Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him".
Jesus was traveling from Galilee, where He'd been born and raised, to Jerusalem. He would die on the cross in about six months. Jews traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem would often go the long way around. They'd travel east and then go south towards Jerusalem on the far side of the Jordan River. It was a lot of extra traveling, but that way they would avoid the Samaritans, who they hated. The Samaritans may have been descendants of the 10 northern tribes which went into captivity around 722 B.C. They claimed to worship the true God. But there'd always been animosity between the Samaritans and the Jews. The Samaritans had built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. So when James and John arrive in a Samaritan village, you might not expect things to go well. They didn't. I'll show you that in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. We're talking about Jesus and racism. Jesus was traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem. If He was going to travel by the direct route, He'd have to travel through the heart of Samaria, and the Jews and Samaritans were sworn enemies. He sent James and John up ahead to prepare things. Luke 9:53, "But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, 'Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?'"
Now, it's worth taking our time to make sure we really get this. There was James, and John, who wrote the Gospel of John; First, Second, and Third John; and the book of Revelation. He's described in the Bible as the disciple Jesus loved. And these two, two of the three closest to Jesus, ask Jesus if He wants them to call fire down from heaven and burn up everyone in the Samaritan village. No wonder James and John were called "the Sons of Thunder". The Samaritans didn't want Jesus and His followers around simply because they were Jews and they were going to worship in Jerusalem. This was sectarian hatred, like Northern Ireland during the Troubles or like rival street gangs in a major city. "Let's burn them up"! Now, think about that. But Jesus "turned and rebuked them, and said, 'You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them.' And they went to another village". "You know not what manner of spirit you are of".
The spirit that promotes hatred based on race is the spirit of the devil. Jesus was clear. And we're going to see this get even clearer. In Luke 10, the very next chapter, Jesus shares a parable, saying in verse 30, "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, him, and departed, leaving him half dead". Both a priest and a Levite passed the man by and failed to help him, refused to help him. He was Jewish. The priest and the Levite wouldn't even help one of their own. But then, Jesus said, "a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him".
Now, this was a big deal: a Samaritan helping a Jew, going so far as to say, "Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you". Jesus was impressing on His followers: Accept all people. Everyone is your neighbor. In some of His very last words to His disciples, after His death, in fact, Jesus said, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth". Notice that? Take the gospel to Jerusalem, and all Judea, and Samaria. No nationalistic distinctions. Racism in their hearts would have made it impossible for them to share salvation with people different to themselves. When it came time to share the gospel with the world, well, the disciples were going to have a major impediment. That impediment was racism.
So Jesus gave a spectacular vision for the singular purpose of rooting racism out of the hearts of His followers. It seems that most people miss the real meaning of this teaching. It's very often misinterpreted. So let's look at this. It's crystal clear, and it's the racism-killer. The men Jesus left to lead the Christian church were racist. That group included Peter, and Peter was a tough nut to crack. You'll remember that Peter once cut a man's ear off. Now, you might say, "He was simply a product of his generation". You might say that his attitudes were simply environmental. Now, you can make any excuse you want, but the fact is Peter was a racist.
Now, that was normal in that society, and it was culturally acceptable. But it wasn't acceptable to God. Let's look at how God got through to Peter and to the rest of the early church to convince them that racism should not be a part of their modus operandi. We'll look in Acts 10 at a passage of the Bible that is often misinterpreted. "There was a...man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always". Even one of this man's soldiers is described as "devout". But, Cornelius was a gentile. He was a Roman citizen, not a Jew.
So in the eyes of people like Peter, he was the enemy, an outsider; in fact, Cornelius was considered unclean. Verse 3: "About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, 'Cornelius!' And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, 'What is it, lord?' So he said to him, 'Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.'"
Cornelius was a sincere follower of God. But there were some real gaps in his knowledge and in his experience. He needed to know more, and Peter was just the man to tell him. But Peter, a Jew, no way would Peter ever go and tell a gentile about Jesus, or about anything else. And you've got to have a pretty hard edge about you to have such animosity towards someone that you wouldn't even tell him about Jesus. So Cornelius sends two servants and a soldier, and they set out to find Peter, who was about 35 miles south of them, straight down the Mediterranean coast. When they arrived in Joppa, it was around lunchtime, and Peter was praying up on the roof of the home. The Bible says that he was very hungry, and that while the meal was being prepared, "he fell into a trance," and he had a vision. So what did this have to do with racism? Well, the answer to that is...everything. And that's coming up.
God wanted to root racism out of the early church. To do so, He gave a vision to Peter that would radically change the church. Peter "saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four- footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.'" Now, this was shocking for Peter. As a Jew, there was no way he would eat an unclean animal.
Now, the Passover lamb was considered clean, but pigs and camels and horses and rabbits and tigers and elephants and hippopotami, and so on, no way, never. They were unclean. Peter wouldn't eat a frog or an oyster or an eel or a possum or a crab or a catfish for the same reason. But here's God telling him to rise, kill the unclean animals, and eat them. "But Peter said, 'Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.' And a voice spoke to him again the second time, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.' This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again". Peter didn't understand why God would tell him to eat unclean animals.
Verse 17 says, "Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.'"
Now, notice, the vision was given to Peter three times, and that's because three men were there to see him. God was using this vision to tell Peter it was okay to go with the three gentiles. When he got to the home of Cornelius, Peter interpreted this whole thing for us when he said in verse 28, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean". Now, we saw that together. Often, all you hear about this passage is that God said it was okay to eat pork and lobster. But that's not what God's saying here at all. "I should not call any man," Peter said, "common or unclean". If you're not sure about that, just look six verses later: "Then Peter opened his mouth and said: 'In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.'"
Now, this passage has nothing whatsoever to do with food. It has to do with racism. Don't think that this wasn't huge. The next chapter, Acts 11, starts by saying, "Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, 'You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!'" Peter was in trouble. So he told them about the vision he received three times, how three men were at the door for him, how he went with them, how Cornelius and others spoke with other tongues as the Holy Spirit descended upon them. "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, 'Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.'"
And in chapter 15, Peter refers to this thing again at the Jerusalem Council, where the church officially recognized that gentiles may receive the gospel and be part of the church. We've come a long way since then, haven't we? Have we? In Acts 17, Paul said that God "has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth". That person that you're tempted to despise, owing to the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes or the accent that they speak with, you're related to that person. We're all the descendants of Adam, actually, of Noah. Humanity is one. Hatred on racial grounds is, it's senseless, and it isn't Christian. Jesus said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself".
And look at what John wrote. Remember, this is the man who wanted to burn up a village full of people. First John 2, verse 11: "But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes". Chapter 3, verse 15: "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him". Jesus one day met a woman at a well. She had a...colorful sort of past. As Jesus talked with her, she said, "'How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?' For Jews have no dealings with [the] Samaritans". But after she realizes that she has encountered the Messiah, she runs to the city, and she says, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ"? When she met Him, Jesus was "a Jew". When her heart had been changed, He was "a Man".
Racial distinction didn't matter to her anymore. So how is it with you? If there's prejudice in your heart towards others based on race, God wants to work with you on that. When Jesus comes into your heart, racism disappears. If racism hasn't disappeared, then this is a spiritual problem for you. The history of the world is littered with examples of hate and injustice carried out in the name of race. But that's not God's way.
Can I ask you to ask God to search your heart and work in your life and remove anything that shouldn't be there? Racism is a spiritual issue, a spiritual problem. The solution for racism is Jesus. Jesus died on the cross to give you and me a new heart. You know that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him", black, white, brown, and everything in between, "should not perish, but have everlasting life". Jesus said this: "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another". That's John 13:35. And when He said "for one another," He meant "for everyone".
Jesus died for you. He died for all. And He died to make you new and give you hope. Do you have hope in Jesus right now? You know, He can change the hardest heart. He can remove the heaviest guilt. He can remake the most broken heart. If you've never done so, give it all to God. Give Him your heart. Let Him lift you up. And on that day when Jesus returns, He will take you up to be with Him forever.
Our Father in heaven, today we turn to You and ask You to remove out of our hearts anything that should not be there. And we thank You that Your Spirit is so powerful that You can do just that. Today as we have discussed Jesus and racism, we might have been reminded that it is within every one of us to hate on the basis of race. It's within every one of us to treat others as inferior based on race. It's within every one of us to manifest distrust and malice based simply on race. Lord, we've got to be better than that. And You can do something in our lives to take away that kind of attitude.
Friend, as God speaks to your heart, is racism an issue with you? Can you pray and ask God, "Lord, take it away, and let me love everyone as You love everyone"? Well, friend, maybe there's something else, some deep-seated sin. There might be something else that you're hanging on to, or that is hanging on to you, and today you need to say, "Lord Jesus, take it away. Heavenly Father, take my heart. Forgive me of my sins. Create in me a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within me".
We look to the Jesus who died on the cross and thank You that one day He will return in the clouds of heaven. Until then, keep us, we pray, and we thank You, in Jesus' name, amen.