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Jesus, You, and the Fight for Human Rights, Part 1

From the series Jesus Skeptic

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.” In this program, guest teacher John Dickerson continues his series “Jesus Skeptic.” Join us as John looks at the ways that authentic followers of Jesus have opposed evil for centuries, and the inspiration it gives us to keep up that fight today.

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Message Transcript

There are many lights in the world, but when it comes to the sun, there's only one light of the world, there's only one light that when you see it breaking over the horizon, people in Chicago are seeing it and people in Miami are seeing it. There's only one light that brings the life and the warmth that the entire planet depends on. It's like, man, without that light, not only would we be depressed, but we would not have life. There's light and there's darkness in our existence physically, and there's light and darkness in our existence morally.

I wonder today, what if there were a light, just like the sun can brighten the earth, that can brighten moral and spiritual darkness.

What if there were a light that could brighten any evil, in fact, could extinguish evil. Would you want to experience that? I mean in the same way that when you wake up and it's 20 degrees out and it's dark and you see the sun rising and, and something inside you says, I'm so glad the sun is finally awake.

Today, we look at this quote where Jesus said in John chapter 8, “I am the light of the world” - not a light in the world, but the light of the world. And then He says this: Whoever follows Me will essentially be freed from spiritual and moral darkness or from evil. They'll be freed from addiction, freed from lying, freed from cheating and stealing, freed from abusing others. Instead, they will have the light of life. Jesus claims to be the only light that can fully extinguish evil.

I hope that gives you some hope today, wherever there's evil, maybe within yourself of some habit you can't break, or evil in your family's system of brokenness, or evil in the world. Jesus claims to be the only light that can fully extinguish that. Now, in our series, we've been looking at the greatest breakthroughs in human existence. What I mean is what are the things that took us from the dark ages when life expectancy was 45 years when there was no hospital to go to if you were sick, people didn't know how to read and write, slavery was a global norm, there's no antibiotic if your child got sick. And so, as a result, many children died before age 10.

What took us as a society, as a planet, from that existence to an existence where every one of us has a hospital that we can drive to. Every one of us has been taught by someone else how to read, right? We didn't go to school because we wanted to, we live in a society that made us do it for our own good. How did the world change so dramatically when it was in those dark ages, if you will, for thousands of years? What changed it?

And we saw that the top 10 hospitals in the United States, which are also the top hospitals in the world. We looked through the history of them and we saw that not coincidentally, but one after another, they were founded by followers of Jesus, who said, we're doing this to care for the poor.

And if that seems like an unbelievable claim to you, I'd encourage you to watch part two of this series because it's documented, we're making these claims from things that people wrote down, not from opinions.

Now in the book, Jesus Skeptic, there's documentation of these other breakthroughs as well: medicine, universities, the scientific revolution and education for all. If any of this is interesting to you, I'd encourage you get a copy of the Jesus Skeptic book.

Now, today, we're going to dig into the end of open and legalized slavery. And behind me now you see some of the well-known champions of that. And we're going to look through each one of these in our time today. But first, before we do that, it's important that we set the context because when we talk about history, the last 200 years is a very small time.

And the reality is if we go back thousands of years, a sad reality about humans is that slavery has been a norm in every major civilization up until the last 200 years. In fact, when Jesus lived the world that He was born into was under the Roman empire. We know the Romans had slaves. It's so well documented. In fact, just this week, researchers over in Pompeii where a volcano kind of uh, froze a whole civilization. They found these tiny little slave quarters for the slaves in Pompeii, about 40% of the population in the world that Jesus was born into were slaves. This was not an anomaly. This would've also been the case in ancient China, India, Egypt, Greece. In fact, in a historical guide to world slavery, researchers who spent their entire lives studying slavery throughout human history, said this: In the ancient near east, as in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the pre-conquest America.

So, before the Europeans showed up various forms of slavery and servitude almost certainly emerged long before they were systematized by laws or legal codes. So, when we look at cave drawings and ancient pottery and ancient records for civilizations that have them, slavery shows up all over the world. Here's how normal it was. Some of these quotes are going to make you cringe and that's good.

Aristotle, who most of you would be familiar with, you learn about him in your philosophy class, Aristotle lived about 300 years before Jesus. Here's how normal slavery was. And by the way, a lot of people say like, oh Aristotle, very sophisticated, wise person, right? He once said or wrote: He who is by nature not his own but another man's is, by nature, a slave. Aristotle wasn't the only one. Socrates and Plato also argued that slavery is the natural order of human existence.

And if you read their writings, you'll see that they base this argument off of their observation. They say we've traveled around and every great society has slaves. Therefore, slavery must just be part of the natural order. This is the world that Jesus came into. And it's not just slavery. Human rights, as we know them today, we're born into a society where we think this is normal, but so many of our human rights, the rights for kids to not have to work, the rights for women, were not the norm throughout history. Here's another thing Aristotle said, and I hesitate to even read it out loud, because I'm like, someone's going to pull a video of that off the internet and just clip me quoting Aristotle on this. He said: A proper wife should be as obedient as a slave. The female is a female by virtue of certain lack of qualities and natural defectiveness.

I mean that's outright evil, it's outright evil, but this was the philosophy for slavery, for gender equality. Back to the evil of slavery, here's how one researcher, Catherine Cameron, who's spent her life studying this. The Oxford research in encyclopedia summarizes her work and says this: In her cross-cultural, so she looked at all the cultures around the world, historical research, all the data she could find, on comparative captivity - how did different cultures do slavery? There's lots of variation. She found that bonds-people, that is, slaves - those who are physically enchained - to be property of another person - composed 10 to 70% of the population of most societies. So, one to seven out of every 10 people in the global average was born a slave and never had any hope or opportunity of that changing. This lends credence to another researcher, Seymour Drescher, who has asserted that freedom, not slavery, was the peculiar institution.

What does that mean? It's more rare to live in a society that doesn't have slaves than a society that does, throughout human history. And we know this because even in the last 100 years, did you know that India, the country did not outlaw slavery until 1976? Saudi Arabia did not outlaw slavery until the 1960s. Slavery was outlawed in Peru in the 1930s, China, if you went to China in the 1930s and forties, you would still see slaves. It was still a normal part of that society up until the end of World War II, when the western nations went in is when that changed for China. Worldwide, this has been a plague on human existence, a spiritual and moral darkness all through human history.

I want to skip forward to Luke 4, verse 16 because it was in such a world, a world where the majority of people couldn't read, where women were often sold as property into marriage, where slavery was the norm, where there were not hospitals or antibiotics or immunology.

It was into that brutal world that Jesus said: I'm the light of the world. And those who follow Me are just going to be a beacon of light in the darkness. He said this multiple times. Here's another example, Luke 4:16, Jesus went to Nazareth, which is where He'd been brought up: And on the Sabbath day, He went into the synagogue as was His custom. He stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet, Isaiah was handed to Him. And unrolling it, He found the place. So He searches through Isaiah for this passage that describes the Messiah - God on earth to extinguish evil from humanity, and Jesus reads it. And He says: The spirit of the Lord is on Me because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to those un-justly imprisoned and recovery of sight for the blind to set the oppressed - that is, the captives that as Jesus' whole audience knew, the slave class - to set them free.

Messiah will free those wrongly imprisoned. Messiah will give physical sight to those who've been blind. Messiah will set the slaves free. I mean, what an expansive, impossible, outrageous prediction. And then Jesus looks out at his friends, people He grew up with, and He makes this impossible claim. Verse 21. He says: Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. In other words, I am the Messiah. I am the one who will set the captives free. I'm the one who will break the bonds of the oppressed.

Now, if you're a follower of Jesus and you've been in church for a while, perhaps you've heard this passage taught in a spiritual, metaphoric sense that we're slaves to addictions and to dishonesty and to all sorts of dangerous lusts and passions. And then when we believe in Jesus, He breaks those spiritual bonds and we can now say, no, to those things and, yes, to good things.

And that's true. But what I want to talk about today is the literal fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction about what His movement would do across the entire planet.

You see, if you were to fast-forward 1,830 years from the time Jesus said that, and if you were to be here in the United States, you'd be in a nation where half the country thinks slavery's evil and half still thinks it's okay and there's great unrest. And a war is about to begin, a civil war. And within that time, it was a great battle of ideas or ideologies. And we know the specific people who led the charge through their writings and their posters and their books to convince the entire nation that slavery is an evil because we live under a God who is just, who has made all people equal and that was the basis of their argument. And we know this because of their documentation.

For example, this publication called The Liberator. Any secular historian, you don't have to be a Christian to look at the facts, would say that The Liberator was, if not the most, one of the most influential publications in turning people's opinions. See, there were people in the north who hadn't personally seen slavery and they're like, Well, I don't have a slave. I I'm against it, but what does it have to do with me? And they needed to be educated about what life was actually like in the south and for slaves. And publications like The Liberator are what did that. And in time, turned the conscience of an entire nation. Now within The Liberator, you can see in the middle that Jesus is standing there, that there's a cross behind Him and that there’s a slave kneeling and praying for freedom. And there's a Caucasian man sort of repenting on the other side.

And that they're on equal footing before God. Now, if you were to study the banners and the words here, I’ve highlighted a couple of them, you'd see that the words around, or on the top there, above Jesus say: I come to break the bonds of the oppressed. It's the verse we read in Luke 4. It's Jesus saying: Me and My followers, we will set the captives free. In the ribbon beneath, you see some other words of Jesus. It's in the King James, an older translation, but they’re quoting Jesus who said, in Matthew 22: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Now the reality is at this time in history, people in the United States and Europe and western Europe were the first societies in all of history where most people could now read. And this had come about because the Protestant Christians wanted people to read the Bible.

And all of that is documented. And as a result, this King James Bible was an almost universal textbook. So, when the abolitionists, those are the people who fought to abolish slavery. When they tied their argument to the Word of God, you have for the time in history, an entire nation, where most people have read the Bible for themselves. It was a unique window of time. And they say, it's according to the Bible that we have to overthrow this. Even if we're not part of it. Even if it's out of sight, we have to give our lives to follow Jesus. And if you imagine a barn full of kindling and a match, the kindling was a nation that knew how to read the Bible for themselves. The match were the abolitionists who like a spark in the darkness said, we will give our lives to end this evil and injustice of slavery. It took them hundreds of years. In fact, it's started in 1688.

Here's a document well known by historians from the Quaker Christians in Germantown. So, 1688. This is the United States does not exist yet. This is a colony. This is a new land. It's pioneers. They're cutting down trees with axes. They're dying of cholera and stuff. And these Quaker Christians who are reading the Bible for themselves, wrote the document behind me, which most historians say is the first ever universal declaration of equal human rights.

That all people should be treated equally regardless of their gender, or their race, or what class they were born into, or even their religion, that all people should be treated equally because of Jesus and Him saying over and over again, you can read this document for yourself and it quotes about eight times, Luke 6:31. Jesus saying: As ye would that men should do to ye, do ye also to them, likewise. That was the Quaker's mantra.

We call it the golden rule today and in modern English, it sounds more like this: Do unto others, as you would have them do to you, or at an elementary level: Treat others the way you want to be treated. That was their whole thesis.