Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”
The Jewish leaders listened intently to Paul’s story of his upbringing and his conversion. He talked of his Damascus road experience, which included being blinded by God himself and having a conversation with Jesus who they all believe was still dead. None of this pushed them over the edge. It wasn’t until Paul shares that God told him to go to the Gentiles that they lose it and demand he be killed.
We are living in an interesting time in our country. Though with each passing year we get further and further from the dark moral stains of slavery and segregation, we seem to be growing further and further apart on race issues. At no time in my 36 years of life can I remember a more racially charged sociopolitical environment. Social media is jammed back full of people expressing their views about a myriad of topics from white privilege, black lives matter, and even Beyoncé’s halftime performance. Race strikes a chord. It should strike a chord. Race in America is one of the most distinguishing factors in identity. It’s the second box we have to check (sex is first) when filling out a census, getting a License, or filling out health/insurance forms. I can’t help but understand why it’s possible to feel so divided. The Jews and Gentiles of the first century felt the same way. They too checked separate boxes, worshipped in different places, and were led to believe they were different from one another in all ways. And they were. That is until Jesus broke the social boundaries by offering eternity to a Samaritan woman, healing a Roman’s centurions child and associating with the poor, the hurting, the sick, and the forgotten. Then Jesus’ commission as He ascended into heaven 40days after his resurrection was to make disciples of all nations. This included different languages, religions and yes, races. Jesus erases the boxes we tend to put ourselves in and offers us a new identity. One that does not take the color of our skin or our nation of origin into account. It instead is a new identity found in Christ and made one with any and everybody who believes. People were elitist and racist in the first century and people are elitist and racist now. Yet the gospel has no place for either. Regardless of what skin color we are, when we place our faith in Christ, the identity He gives trumps the one we used to have. The Apostle Paul preached to Jews and Gentiles because Jesus showed him how to love everyone, regardless of the box they checked on the census. This type of love was rejected by the first century Jewish leaders and it is being rejected now in the 21st century by popular culture and our current sociopolitical climate.
A handful of final thoughts…
1. The gospel message is for the whole world.
The gospel I live and preach must be applicable to every audience. If it is not, it is tainted.
2. Race isn’t the biggest issue in our culture. Lostness is. When our country is fighting inwardly about the color of our skin and the ramifications of that socially, people are dying without a saving knowledge of the work of Jesus Christ. As believers we can not allow the current sociopolitical wave to distract us from the mission.
3. There will always be the blind. 1st century Jerusalem to 21st century America, there will always be people who are blind to what matters most and walk to the beat of the wrong drum.
4. Jesus loves the racist. Whether a defender of white privilege or a firm believer that Black lives matter more than anyone else’s you must recognize you are a racist. Your desire to defend and fight for your race has now become your idol and it displeases God. He doesn’t love one race more than the other and therefore neither should you. Jesus still loves you and He offers you forgiveness. Repent from your blindness and receive forgiveness. He loves you in the midst of your sin and His love will transform you if you just trust Him. Love changes everything.
Father, may the love of Jesus change everything about my life. The way I see you, the way I see myself and the way I see others, regardless of what box they might check.