In 1865 General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, to declare to slaves there that they were free. The order that General Granger took to those slaves had been signed two and a half years earlier. So although the people had been pronounced free nearly three years before, they did not know it until the general came and told them. In essence they were still slaves. They thought like slaves. They talked like slaves. They even lived like they were slaves.
We have a lot of Christians today who are still thinking like slaves, still talking like slaves, still living like slaves. Although our emancipation proclamation was signed two thousand years ago by the blood of Jesus, we still don’t know how to treat one another in the Lord. God wants us to be able to come together in the Body of Christ regardless of our racial background, regardless of our ethnicity—to come and experience unity and fellowship one with another. In fact, Galatians 2 challenges us about an issue that we’ve been dealing with since the beginning of time: racism. Racism is the institutional power used to hold down a certain race of people through injustice or other unkind means. And the last place we should see racism is in the church of Jesus Christ.
Peter, the apostle to the Jews, and Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, confronted this issue. We see Peter’s failure, and Paul’s freedom to help him overcome his failure.
Peter failed on the issue of racism because he forgot. Galatians 2:11 says, “When Peter had come to Antioch”; we could stop right there. Peter forgot where he was. Antioch was no place to be a racist. It was one of the largest cities of its time, with over half a million people. It was a bustling multiracial city. Not only was it a multiracial city, but Antioch had a multiracial church with a multiracial leadership staff (Acts 13:1). One of the brothers was called Niger (not that other word, but “Niger”), who was from Africa. So there were Jews and Gentiles worshiping together in the city and in the church of Antioch. We need to be diverse. But Peter forgot. He thought he was in a tomato-soup church. No, Peter, you were in a gumbo church. Tomato soup is one color and it’s bland. But a gumbo-soup church has crab legs in it and rice. There’s all kind of flavor in a gumbo church, in the church of Antioch.
How could Peter forget this when God had been teaching him all through the book of Acts? Peter stood and saw all of these people get filled with the Holy Ghost and start speaking with different languages (Acts 2:5, 6). Peter said that these folks weren’t drunk (v. 14). It wasn’t early enough for them to get high off that wine. Those people were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4). I think that’s the key to knocking down racism.
God used these people from all these nations to show Peter diversity.
Then He took Peter to my brother Cornelius, that Italian brother (Acts 10:1) who worked at Olive Garden. Peter walked in, and God gave him this culinary vision (vv. 10–12) to try to show him—because God knows something about food and fellowship with Christians: if folks can get the food right, the fellowship and all other things work out all right. God showed Peter that He has not made anything uncommon and unclean.
God taught Peter in Acts 2. He taught him in Acts 10. Then He taught him in Acts 15. There was a missionary Baptist church meeting, where some were saying that Gentiles needed to get saved by keeping circumcision. Peter stood up and told them that you don’t need something extra to get saved. Just come as you are. They found out there’s no distinction between classes, color, or cultures, for Jesus is the Savior for all people.
But Peter forgot that. Why? Because of his tradition. Maybe Peter’s momma told him, “We don’t associate with them kind.” It’s our tradition. We all have a propensity to bring our culture and impress it upon the text. You don’t come to the text and unload; you come to the text to dig up. You don’t impose your culture on the Bible; the Bible imposes culture on you. So white folks make Jesus and they anglicize Him: He’s got blue eyes and this long, pretty hair. Black folks, they Africanize Him, and they give Him a big old Afro, and He’s saying, “Ungawa, black power.” Hispanics “Hispanicize” Him. (I don’t know if that’s a word, but it sounds good.) We’re all wrong. Jesus was not a white man. Jesus was not a black man. Jesus was not a Hispanic man. Jesus was a Jew.
If you want to know how He looked, turn over to Matthew—He’s a king. Seek His kingdom first and all His righteousness. A king has always got a kingdom.
You turn over to Mark, and He’s a servant: For the Son of man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.
You turn over to Luke and you see His humanity, for He came to seek and save the lost.
You turn over to John, and you see Him as the God of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). So you’ve got the preexisting Christ, Who became the prerecorded Christ. For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” We got us an awesome God! If you can’t get excited about the gospel, we’ve got some problems.
Peter failed not only because he forgot where he was, not only because of his racial background, but he failed because of his fear. Look at Galatians 2:12: “For before certain men came from James, [Peter] would eat with the Gentiles.” What’s going on? Peter came into Antioch, and he started looking for a Ray’s BBQ Shack. He could smell that pork, so he would cross the tracks and go down to Ray’s BBQ Shack and order him some baby back ribs. But the Bible says his homeys came down from Jerusalem, these Jewish Christians, and saw Peter sitting at the table eating them pork chops and them chitlins, and they said, “Peter, what’s wrong with you?” (v. 12).
“Would eat” speaks of an action that started in the past but that’s still going on in the present. So Peter wasn’t eating pork chops just on Friday; he wasn’t eating pork chops just on Saturday. He would stop by there after the church service and go in there and order him some fried chicken, some collard greens, some corn bread, some yams, and some peach cobbler and Breyers ice cream. And he had his eat on. But when the Jews came, the Bible says Peter got afraid (v. 12).
What are you afraid of when it comes to cross-cultural relationships? Verse 12 says that when the Jewish believers came, Peter “withdrew and separated himself” from the Gentile believers. Anytime you’re in leadership and you mess up, it causes other folks to mess up. The rest of the Jews followed Peter and his hypocrisy right out the door (v. 13). How do you think that made those Gentile brothers feel? “It was okay to eat with me as long as it was just us. But as soon as your little proper people come, then you act like you don’t know me no more.”
Did you know that it’s not the visitors’ job to make themselves feel welcome. It’s the church home and the family—it’s your job to make people feel welcome. If I came into your church, with my African American self, would I feel welcome? Or would everybody start grabbing their purses, hoping that I don’t rob somebody?
When we were up in Grand Rapids looking at a college for our daughter, we visited a huge, predominantly Caucasian church on a Wednesday night. We sat down in the sanctuary. I thought, Maybe the teacher will acknowledge that he has visitors. No.
I said, “Well, maybe all of the people there can certainly tell we’re visitors, ’cause we’re the only ‘ones’ there.” No.
My wife said, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” I said, “No, no. Let’s stand in the hallway and see if somebody is going to speak to us.” We stood in the main hallway, and everybody just walked by like we were invisible.
What are you trying to tell me and my wife? That we don’t count? The same blood that washed my sins is the same blood that washed your sins.
God says don’t be a hypocrite. What’s a hypocrite? A hypocrite is a person who lets you see something on the outside that’s not indicative of what’s going on, on the inside. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t be afraid.
So what did Paul do? He used his freedom to alleviate Peter’s fears so Peter could be set free.
Paul said that the first thing to do to overcome racism is confront it. Does Galatians 2:11 say, “When Peter was come to Antioch, I sent him a text message?” Or “I sent him an e-mail?” No. When somebody sins publicly, we need to deal with them publicly. We need to deal face-to-face.
What’s our problem? There’s too much pragmatism in the church and not enough “Biblicalism.” What am I saying? In the church today there’s no more concern about authenticity or character or integrity. All we’re concerned about is that the ends justify the means. The church is twenty miles wide and two inches deep. The issue should never be how many people you have in your church. The issue is what kind of people are in your church.
Paul had a lot of audacity. Here’s Peter, who has been on the trail a whole lot longer than Paul. Paul says, “I don’t care if you’re the senior pastor. If you’re a racist and you’re not doing right, I’m going to confront you to your face!”
What else do we need to do? Paul wrote in verse 14, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” We need to speak up, because racism is not the truth of the gospel.
The gospel is for everybody. It’s not about traditions; it’s about truth. It’s not about culture; it’s about Christ. It’s not about what you want, but about what God wants. Stand for the truth of the gospel.
How are we going to confront and end racism? By taking a stand like Joshua, who stood up and said, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
We must take a stand like Elijah when he said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him” (1 Kings 18:21). We have to take a stand like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king” (Daniel 3:16–18).
We just need a few good men and a few good women who won’t take expediency but will take a stand for God. God can do it if you let Him use you. But we’ve got to be real. I’ll close with this story.
The gorilla at a zoo died. The zoo couldn’t afford to buy a new gorilla, but they still had people coming to see the gorilla. So they bought a gorilla suit and looked for somebody to play the gorilla. An unemployed gymnast said, “I can do that.” He put on the gorilla suit and started jumping around, swinging on ropes and stuff. Everybody came to see him, because most gorillas just sit and look at you when you come to the zoo.
Then he thought, I’ll just do some more tricks so my job is secure. He got on his rope and swung over to the next cage. The next cage was a lion’s cage. Every time the man swung that way, the whole crowd yelled, “Whoa!” and then he’d swing back. Then he’d go back again, and they’d yell, “Whoa!”
One day, just as he swung over the lion’s cage, the rope broke. “HELLLLLLLLLP!” He let out a real yell before hitting the ground. The lion came over to him and, whispering in his ear, said, “Shut up! You’re going to get us both fired.”
Now, you’ve been walking around too long in your gorilla suit. If you say you’re a Christian, take off your suit. Take off your suit, put on your armor, and do something for God. Then God can do something in you and through you and for you. Let Him have His way with you.
Greg Randle is pastor of Waukegan Baptist Bible Church, Waukegan, Ill., “A Church for All People.” Pastor Randle is a graduate of Carver Baptist Bible Institute in Kansas City, Mo., where he now serves as adjunct professor, and will soon graduate from the Master of Ministry program at Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife, Robbie, are parents of two young women. Listen to the full version of this sermon at www.vbcaurora.org/2010conference.