Of all the diabolical things that we’ve discussed that are subtle, this may be the most diabolical way that Satan brings death and destruction. I want to walk through a very clear explanation of what prejudice is, how it develops…
And here’s the thing, you can kind of relax. This message is not about, are you prejudiced or not? Please, no. No, no, no, no. This message is only about how prejudice you are.
Everybody is prejudiced. Okay? Now, let me show you why. First, we are all born into a cultural bias. You grow up in a family, in a culture, in a language, with a religious orientation. You learn during that time. There is a bias.
You look at life through a lens that came from parents, and grandparents, and where you came from, and the part of the country, or the part of the world.
Second, apart from interaction outside our group, we grow up assuming our view accurately defines reality. You’re a little kid and you don’t know any better. And they say, “This is what’s true about black people. This is what’s true about those white people. This is what’s true about people from the South. You know those people from California, what they’re like? Well, here’s how rich people are. Well, you know those homeless people, what their real problem is? They need to…”
All those things are implanted into your mind. And you assume, unless you get outside your world, your group, and your box, that your view really is in alignment with reality.
Third, generations of socialization and indoctrination create barriers, at best, and hatred at worst, with those that are different from ourselves.
See, we always, out of our insecurities, when anyone is different from us it creates a barrier. I’ll tell you why in just a second. There are barriers between tall people and short people. There are barriers between people from red states and blue states. There’s barriers between people that believe that and don’t believe that.
There’s all kind of barriers. You name a difference. There are barriers between, do you shop at WalMart or Nordstroms? There are barriers between geography, religion, politics, gender, color of skin, race, religious orientation.
The moment there’s something different, at best it creates a barrier. At worst, it breeds hatred.
There’s people that grow up and they’re taught from an early age. Those people, and you can fill in who they are, they should be dead.
And that’s true. It’s true all across the world. Different tribes, different orientations, people from different religions.
Notice, four, internal inaccurate assessment. It’s a nice way of saying pride. Internal inaccurate assessment. This is who you really think you are. And external inaccurate assessment, that’s prejudiced. Results in the fulfillment of Satan’s agenda – to kill and to steal and destroy.
Now, lest you just think of pride as people that are arrogant and have just a higher view of themselves, I put the definition: pride is a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority.
And then here’s the part I wanted you to see. Whether as cherished in the mind, or displayed in behavior. I think for most Christians it’s often cherished in your mind. You have attitudes. You have labels. Those people are like that. Then you generalize to all those people.
Notice prejudice, this external inaccurate view, is a preconceived judgment or opinion. It’s having an adverse opinion without learning, or without just grounds, or sufficient knowledge. It’s an irrational attitude of hostility directed toward an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.
Think of words like Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan, Northern Ireland, South Africa, race in America.
This is all nice and theoretical, out there, but it’s not so nice and theoretical when it gets up close. I’m this twenty-eight year old, non-prejudiced person. And I find myself in my first pastorate in a little rural town in Texas where people use the “N” word and argue about the KJV versus the NIV translation in the same sentence.
It was a world that I’d never seen. John Deere hats, skull under the lip, gun in the back of the pickup.
And for a year and a half, I just thought how narrow, and bigoted, and redneck, they were. And how prejudiced I became toward them for their prejudice.
And how superior I was to them, and I remember God whispering about a year and a half into my journey as the young suburban pastor, “You know, Chip? I love these people. I sent you here to love them but you’re not doing very well. All you do is judge them. And every time you see a gun in the back of a pick up or a John Deere hat or…you generalize, and you label, and you think they’re all the same. And you don’t see them the way I see them.”
And I went on a journey to learn how to love people that were very different from me. And I realized I was deeply prejudiced.
And so in God’s great, ironic humor He says, “Well, step one is there. Now I’m going to take you to Santa Cruz.” And so, you know, highest per capita of lesbians, and the government thinks that Berkeley is too far right, and people are tattooed and pierced in places that it’s unimaginable that you could actually tattoo and pierce yourself in those places.
And there’s sort of the Santa Cruz mindset. And for at least a year and a half or two, I remember sitting in different places watching people and just thinking, “This is nuts.” And there was an arrogance about it.
And we were all, “Alternative this, and new age that and…” And it’s like God had to whisper a little louder, “Hey Chip? I love these people. You don’t even like them, let alone love them.”
And I went on a journey. And went on a journey where I asked God, and then began to see, I need to see people the way God sees people and you know what I learned after a couple years there?
I learned there’s not a nickel’s worth of difference between a guy in a John Deere hat who uses the “N” word, and argues about this type of Bible, and two lesbians in the corner being very affectionate, in terms of my attitude towards both. They may have some behavior that God absolutely says is not correct and will be painful, and hurt them.
But He loves both of them, and both of them have learned some of that behavior from their prejudice and their backgrounds, and the only way they’ll be liberated and get loved is if someone doesn’t judge them, but loves them and gets into their life.
And I realized I wasn’t doing that. I was an eight or a nine in prejudice. Not a two or a three.
And there is only one thing on the face of the earth that has the power to break prejudice, that you have in your heart, and I have in mine. The reason we don’t feel like we’re very prejudiced is because we stay in our little group, most of the time.
And most of us, in our Christian view, we cherish in our mind, we look at people and we judge them in our mind, and because we judge them in our mind.
Here’s what happens: the problem is prejudice creates walls between individuals and groups so the gospel can’t move from one person to another or from one group to another.
That’s the problem. Jews and Gentiles, at this point in historic, cultural history, hate one another. This is like the head of the NAACP and the KKK becoming friends. That’s what it’s like. And there’s only one power, there’s only one thing that can break those kind of things down.
And here’s the story, it’s in Acts chapter 10. And the story is, the gospel smashes hundreds of years of prejudice and hatred. And notice, it’s through an enlisted soldier and a fisherman.
I’ve divided it into a number of vignettes. How did it happen? Let’s look first at Cornelius’s vision. “At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius and he was a centurion.” It means he’s over a hundred soldiers in what was known as the Italian regiment.
“He and his family were devout and God fearing. He gave generously to those in need and he prayed to God regularly. One day, about three in the afternoon, he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius.’ Cornelius stared at him in fear and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And the angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a remembrance before Me. Now send to Joppa and to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He’s staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.’
When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and one of his soldiers, who was a devout man, and he told them everything that had happened and he sent them to Joppa.”
Vignette number two. Peter’s been staying with this tanner and he’s hungry. And while he’s hungry and they’re fixing lunch something happens. Pick it up at verse 9. “About noon the following day as they were approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat and while the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance.
“He saw heaven open and something large like a sheet being let down to the earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four footed animals as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.
“And then the voice said to him, ‘Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!’” Peter’s response, “‘Surely not, Lord,’ Peter replied, ‘I’ve never eaten anything impure or unclean.’”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. This happened three times and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. While Peter was still wondering about the meaning of the vision the men sent by Cornelius had found out where Simon’s house was and they stopped at the gate.
“They called out if this Simon who is also known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision the Spirit” [he gets this inner nudge] said to him, ‘Simon, these three men are looking for you so get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them for I have sent them.’
“So Peter went downstairs and he said, ‘I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?’ The men said, ‘We come from Cornelius the centurion, he’s a righteous and God-fearing man who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so he could hear what you have to say.’ Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”
Mark that if you will. This is a good Jew, inviting Gentiles into the home, offering hospitality and he actually, because of this, ate with them.
Vignette number three. Peter goes on a little journey to Cornelius’ house. “The next day, Peter started out with them along with some brothers.”
“And they go along with him to Joppa. The following day he arrived in Caesarea, Cornelius was expecting them and he called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence but Peter made him get up. Said, ‘Stand up. I am only a man myself.’
And talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people and he said to them…” - now think about this. Ever since he’s a little boy he has said, “They’re dirty. They’re bad. They’re evil.” In fact, the term for a Gentile among the Jews? They’re dogs.
So his first words are, “You are well aware that it’s against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile and to visit him. But, God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.”
And this is so great. “May I ask why you sent for me?” There’s not an agenda. He’s not like, “Hey, I’m going to be the big evangelist.” He’s like, “I’ve never done this before in my life.” I’m probably scared to death. I’m thinking, “What are all my friends going to think if anybody could see me here?” Would someone tell me why I’m here?
“Cornelius answered, ‘Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. And suddenly a man with shining clothes stood before me and said, “Cornelius, God has heard your prayers, remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He’s a guest in the home of Simon the Tanner who lives by the sea.” So I sent for you immediately and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.’”
So this, he’s just a seeker. He just wants to know more about God. And what the Scripture says is, any time people take honest steps toward God, God’s going to reveal Himself.
Then Peter began to speak. “I now realize how true it is that God doesn’t show favoritism. But He accepts men from every nation, who fear Him, and do what is right.”
And that word “accepts” doesn’t mean they become Christians. It means, literally the Hebrew word is, He lifts His face in favor. In every nation, when God sees people that are open, he says, He lifts His face. He favors them.
He goes on to say, “This is the message God sent to the people of Israel telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ who is Lord or sovereign over all. You know what has happened throughout Judea beginning in Galilee after His baptism? That John had preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power? And how He went about doing good and healing all those that were under the power of the Devil because God was with Him.
“We are witnesses of everything He did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they killed Him by hanging him on a tree. But God raised Him up from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen.
“He wasn’t seen by all the people but by witnesses whom God had already chosen by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. He commanded us, then, to preach to all the people and to testify that He’s the one whom God appointed as Judge of the living and the dead. And all the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
“Here’s what you gotta get. God made Him the Judge over the living and the dead. So this One true God who came and gave His life to give forgiveness to whosoever would believe, those who respond, there’s life. But He’s also the Judge. And those who reject, there’s death. But there’s forgiveness for everyone who believes.”
Now, this is one of those times where God doesn’t allow the pastor or the preacher to figure out what he’s going to say. He just acts. He literally interrupts his sermon.
Vignette number six: “While Peter was still speaking these words,” he’s got no control. He can’t take credit and, by the way, later he’s going to say, “Hey, it wasn’t me, guys!” He’s going to get in a lot of trouble from his friends. “What were you doing hanging out with those Gentiles? You mean you actually went in the house?” And Peter’s going to say, “While I was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit came on all of those who heard the message.”
“The circumcised believers,” or the Jews, “who had come with Peter were astonished.” Literally, the word means they were struck in awe. They’re jaw dropped. Their eyes got wide. This can’t be. But it is.
“Because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been given to them even as to the Gentiles for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God and then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit just the way we have.’”
In other words, Acts chapter 2, I gave a message, God did this, Jews happened. Later on, chapter 8 when the Samaritans came to Christ, they believed and then I came and John came and we prayed for them, same thing happened.
And now, I didn’t even get to finish my message. Boom. God has now included the Gentiles into His church.
God broke through prejudice. Prejudice keeps the love of God from moving from you to another person that’s different than you, because you have ingrained thinking about them, and you perceive them, and think of them in ways that make a wall between you and them.