Racial prejudice is nothing new. It has existed in the world for thousands of years. In fact, we read about racial prejudice clear back in the book of Genesis, thousands of years before the time of Christ. In the time of Christ, racial prejudice between different nations and races of people was as strong as ever. Two groups of people prejudiced against each other were the Jews and the Samaritans. Once when Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink, “The woman of Samaria said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9).
During the conversation, the woman wanted Jesus to tell her where to worship, in Jerusalem according to the Jews, or the mountain where the Samaritans believed was the right place to be. Those kinds of prejudices have continued right up to the present day, not just among Jews and Samaritans, or Jews and Gentiles, but also between various Christian groups, so much so, that we find many instances of two nations, both calling themselves Christian nations, at war with one another.
Racial prejudice is a terrible thing which Jesus addressed more than once during His time here on earth. Jesus had just entered Capernaum, a city that had become a headquarters for His work, where many of His most mighty and powerful miracles had been worked. The Bible records that a centurion, a Roman soldier who was over a hundred other soldiers, “pleaded with Him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ The centurion answered and said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel’ ” (Matthew 8:6–10)!
Jesus then made a statement that to the Jews around Him was absolutely astonishing. This text shows us that many of the people that we tend to be prejudiced against are going to be saved but the people that have prejudice will be lost. Notice what it says in Matthew 8:11, 12: “ ‘I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
Here Jesus addressed, very directly, the problem of racial prejudice. However, the disciples were slow to learn the lesson. Jesus told them again just before He ascended that they were to take the gospel, not just to the Jews, but even to other nations that the Jews despised. Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem …,” to the Jews, “… and in all Judea …,” to the Jews, “… and Samaria …” to the Samaritans, “… and to the end of the earth… ,” the Gentiles (Acts 1:8).
But the disciples were Jews. This prejudice had been received as a part of their society and culture since birth. When you have learned something and believed it all of your life, it is difficult to change your beliefs. So, the disciples preached the gospel to the Jews, but they were slow to learn the lesson that they were also to preach it to the Gentiles, not just to some Gentiles, but to all the Gentiles to the end of the earth.
Jesus had no racial prejudice toward people of other nations. He had the same love and compassion for people of all races. Another Roman centurion is mentioned in Acts 10:1–4: “There was a certain 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. About the ninth hour of the day [3 p.m.] 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.’ ”
God knows about every detail of every life. Cornelius’ generous deeds did not go unnoticed by God. He does not miss anything. Every good deed you do to help your fellow men, God knows about. He saw that Cornelius was an honest man who feared the Lord and wanted to do what was right. He did not know the gospel and he did not know about Jesus or the sacrifice that had been paid on the cross of Calvary that could take away all of his sin and the sins of his family and make it possible for him to have eternal life. But he was a God-fearing man and the Lord decided that He would arrange for this man to receive more light.
If you are living up to all the light that you have, then you put yourself in a position so that God can reveal to you more spiritual truth. But why should God send more light to anyone who is not living up to the light that they already have? The important thing to consider is not how much spiritual light you have, but that you are living up to the light you do have. Cornelius was living up to all the light he had.
The Lord said to Cornelius, through the angel, “ ‘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.’ And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout solder from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa” (verses 5–8).
Part of the reason for the awful racial prejudice that exists in the world is our difference in habits and culture. This was one of the main reasons for the prejudice that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans and between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews looked upon the Gentiles as unclean, and it is true that the Gentile world was steeped in every kind of sin. Sin is what makes a person spiritually unclean. The Gentiles were involved in idolatry. The Jews had received the law of God and had received information on how abhorrent idolatry is to Him.
Notice what it says in Deuteronomy 4:15–19: “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything the creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth. And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.”
The Lord had said, “Watch out that you do not get involved in idolatry.” The Jews abhorred idolatry. It was idolatry that caused them to incur Babylonian captivity before they had learned that lesson. The Greeks and the Gentiles were steeped in worshiping all manner of idols. Not only that, but God, the Creator of the human body, has a right to tell us how to take care of the human body and how to live. He gave instructions in the law written by His finger about how to live for our best benefit. He gave us perfect freedom within the boundaries of this law, but said that there are certain things that are not acceptable.
The 7th commandment says to not commit adultery and spelled out through Moses exactly what that meant (see Leviticus 18, 20; Deuteronomy 22). It does not mean just stealing someone else’s spouse.
The Jews understood, but the Greeks did not. The Greeks knew it was wrong to steal someone else’s wife, but were not concerned about having sexual relations with someone else who was not married—fornication. The Jews and the Greeks had these barriers because of their differences in habits and because of the sins with which the Gentile world was permeated.
Another issue was food. God gave to the children of Israel laws concerning what they should eat and what they should not eat (see Deuteronomy 14; Leviticus 11). The Lord had told the Jews which foods are permitted and which foods are unclean: “You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps; nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, lest you be defiled by them. For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate [sanctify] yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Leviticus 11:43, 44).
The disciples were Jews and they were very strict in the observance of these food laws. They were also commanded, “It’s to be a law throughout your generations that you are to never eat blood or fat” (Leviticus 3:17, literal translation). The Gentiles ate anything, including the blood and fat. The Jews sacrificed their animals in a way that drained all of the blood to comply with their food laws. The disciples were familiar with all these laws and kept them. Peter had never disobeyed any, but now these men from Cornelius were on their way to Joppa and Peter does not know what is going to happen, but he is going to have a little surprise.
It says in Acts 10:9–16, “The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour [noon]. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and 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.’ 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.”
Then Peter woke up and he did not understand what he had seen in the vision. He wondered what his dream meant. It 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.’ Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, ‘Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.’ Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him” (verses 17–23).
So Peter goes to visit a Gentile, a Roman, a person against whom he has been very prejudiced all of his life. The Jews called the Gentiles unclean, but Peter was told that what God has cleansed, he was not to call unclean.
“The following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man’ ” (verses 24–26).
This was the apostle Peter, a leading apostle. He enters into a Gentile’s house. This man wanted so much to hear what this man would tell him that he falls down and worships him, but Peter won’t allow it. The Bible teaches that not only are we not to worship Peter, not only are we not to worship anyone who could call himself a successor of Peter, we are not to even worship an angel.
John wrote in Revelation 19:10, “I [John] fell at his [the angel’s] feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ ” Notice, it was an angel from heaven who gave John the message, and when the apostle falls down to worship him, the angel told him not to worship him, but to worship God only.
This happens two times. Revelation 22:8, 9 says, “Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’ ”
Peter would not allow anyone to fall down and worship him; an angel from heaven would not allow anyone to fall down and worship him. But we are living in a world today where the whole world is full of idolatry—people worship. Today, people may not worship physical idols of gold and silver, maybe they worship living idols. If you are worshiping another human being, or an angel from heaven, then you are worshiping a living idol, but it is still an idol. Nothing or any person is to be worshiped, only the God of heaven.
Did you know that the second longest commandment in the law of God deals with idolatry? There are some commandments that in the Hebrew language are only two words long, the 6th and the 7th. But there are two that are much longer than the rest. These two are the commandments that have been almost universally broken by mankind, both by Christians and non-Christians alike.
Revelation 22:14 says, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” God’s people have been commanded in all ages to be obedient, to be loyal, to be true to His law. God’s people in the last days will not be worshiping any idols. They will not be worshiping idols of gold or silver. They will not be worshiping philosophical idols. You can make an idol of philosophy, human intelligence, just as much as you can make an idol of wood or stone, or gold or silver. God’s people in the last days will not be worshiping living idols. There are some people who worship their spouses. Others worship religious leaders of various kinds. It all comes under idolatry. Peter would not allow a Roman centurion to worship him.
Revelation 22:14, 15 say, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.”
Do you want to be saved? If so, you must forsake all idolatry and worship God alone. Surrender your life to the Lordship, the sovereignty of Jesus Christ and follow Him as your Lord and Saviour. It is worth everything to gain eternal life. To have eternal life, all idolatry must be forsaken. There will be no idolatry in the Kingdom of Heaven. What is your goal?
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.