October 7, 2018
One Race – Revelation 7:9-10
Pastor Jeff Struecker
If you’ve been around the Chattahoochee Valley for a while, then you’re already aware that our community is changing. How many of you know that in the last twenty-five years, our community has changed a lot? I’m not just talking about the whitewater rapids; I’m not talking about I-185 being wider than it was twenty-five years ago. I’m not even talking about the Eagle and Phenix apartments and all of the construction that’s happened in our community. I’m talking about the very foundation of the fabric of the Chattahoochee Valley. Let me tell you about the demographic shift that’s happening in our community. By the way, it’s happening in every community in America; it’s happening all over the world.
Twenty-six years ago (1990s demographic numbers just from Muscogee County) 57% of people in Muscogee County were of European descent, 37% were of African descent, 3% were Hispanic and 1% were Asian descent. The most recent statistics that we have are from 2016. Let’s compare this twenty-six-year gap. In Muscogee County in 2016, 41% were of European descent, 44% were African descent, 7% were Hispanic descent, 3% could not be narrowed down to one ethnicity (they consider themselves multiracial or multi-ethnic), and 2% were Asian. There’s a shift that’s happening in our country, in our community, and in our church.
Any church that doesn’t understand or doesn’t respond and respect the cultural shift that’s happening around them will immediately become irrelevant. In fact, here’s the truth: As the country changes and as a community changes, a church must adapt to those changes, or it will die. Every church in America is in the same place: adapt or die. Calvary is changing. I’m changing. And I hope you have been changing as a result of this ethnic shift that’s happening in our community.
What we’ve tried to do over the last several weeks is a sermon series about how God is glorified by this unity and diversity that we have in the Chattahoochee Valley when it comes to ethnicity and culture. Today I’m going to wrap up the whole sermon series. Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of inviting a few pastors that I’ve had a chance to know over months (or in some cases, years) to come to our church and to answer some honest questions. I trust these men implicitly. Let me give you this phrase that I used while I was in the Army. There are guys that I trusted, and then there were only a handful of them that I would trust alone in the same room with my wife or alone in the same room with my wallet. These three men, Derrick, Michael and Carlos, are all pastors in our community. They are the kind of men I would trust with my wife and with my wallet. A few weeks ago, we invited them here, and I had the chance to ask them the kind of questions that you really don’t get a chance to ask very often. Listen to these guys answer some questions that I think we all need to hear today.
All of us have preferences. It’s okay. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your preferences unless your preference becomes THE most important thing. Then we have a problem. In fact, I’m going to take it a step further. You don’t just have a problem when the preference becomes the priority; you’ve just created an idol. Now the preference is more important than Jesus or the preference is more important than the Gospel. Everybody has preferences. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re dangerous when they become the priority.
What I was going to do for us today is to summarize all of the sermons from all of the pastors over the last several weeks with their sermon points. However, there’s no way I could pull that one off. So, I’m just going to give you the entire sermon series in one word. Write down the word skin because what we’re talking about today, many people who aren’t followers of Jesus who are hearing this conversation from the outside can think we’re just having a skin discussion today. Some people’s skin is darker than others. Some people’s skin is lighter than others. Maybe this is just a skin issue. It’s just a preference issue. I want to make this absolutely clear. Where you just wrote down the words skin draw a line through the letter k.
This isn’t a skin issue when you elevate a preference to become the priority in your life; it’s now a sin issue. This is an idol that you are worshipping that’s become more important in a church or in a person’s life then Christ. When that happens, we’ve got problems. Preferences become sins when they become a top priority and not just a preference. Now they’re the preference in your life and you disassociate or associate based on preferences. The Bible just doesn’t leave that as an option for us. I’m going to make this really clear to us today because Revelation 7:9-10 make it absolutely clear you’re going to have to put some preferences aside if you consider yourself a part of God’s global family.
9 After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!
The love of Jesus compels us to…
This is the direction that God’s church all over the globe is heading towards. This is the direction that Calvary Baptist Church is heading towards. This is the direction that every church in a multicultural community must be heading towards, or that church is heading towards irrelevance and death. Revelation 7:9-10 is unashamedly the goal in this whole sermon series.
We were going to do several weeks of answering your honest questions in this sermon series. We offered you opportunities to tell us your questions. To be honest, only about three real questions came in, and it’s hard to do “you ask, we answer” when nobody’s asking. So, what I’m going to try to do for the next few moments from these two verses is answer the honest questions that came in about this sermon series.
One of the questions that somebody asked was, “What is Calvary Baptist Church doing to stop racism at the beginning? What are we doing to address racism with the children and the youth of our church?” I’m going to answer that question very easily for you. We are trying to create an environment where people that don’t look like each other, that share different cultures, are worshipping together, just like you read in Revelation 7:9-10. -where they are learning together and where they are living life with one another. We believe that if we do it in the church at an early age, by the time that they become adults, it’s just not a thing for them, because this is what they know and what they’ve experienced. For some people, this is still a real wrestle. In fact, some of you were really honest about how you’re wrestling with this.
What we’re learning today is that if a church, if our church, if Christians, are really going to move healthfully through this cultural issue in our community heading towards Revelation 7:9, the love of Jesus is going to cause us to have to do a few things.
I. Confront our fears
Somebody asked the question, “I’m striving to do my part to end racism. However, I see an area of racism in my life when it comes to areas of our community that are predominantly populated by people of color. I feel unsafe. I tell myself I’m unsafe, and I don’t need to go to those parts of town. I know this is racist and wrong, but I don’t know how to uproot this remaining racism in my heart. How do I do this?” I don’t have the first idea who asked this question, but it took great courage to admit what they just admitted. They basically said, “I’m struggling hard in my heart to get to the place where I feel safe in parts of town that predominantly don’t look like me.” By the way, it’s not just a white person entering into a predominantly black part of town. It can be somebody who’s African American going to a predominantly white part of town thinking, am I going to be okay in this neighborhood?
This is one of those things that the author of Revelation 7:9 can help you with. John the apostle, when he was writing this book, was considered public enemy number one with the Roman government. He was persecuted. He was exiled to a remote island so that his dangerous message couldn’t spread anymore. Church history tells us they already tried to kill him, and it didn’t work. So, they just sent this old man to an island to die in obscurity. While he was on that island, God met him and gave him a vision of what the end times is going to look like. What made John so dangerous is not his strength or his power; it was his message. The Roman government decided they had to shut this man up, but since they couldn’t do that they isolated him from everybody else because his message was spreading like wild fire.
It’s understandable to feel unsafe when people around you are a little bit different, but fear really boils down to one of two equations. It is either personal fear where you’re worried about your personal safety, or it’s environmental fear where you’re worried about the changes that are happening around you. In both cases, the root of fear is the same. It’s the unknown. It’s not knowing if you’re going to be personally safe. It’s not knowing how the environment’s going to turn out that causes people great anxiety. You’ve heard me say this before, church; I’m going to say it to you again. The antidote to fear is not courage. Courage is not the opposite of fear. In fact, you have to have genuine fear in order to have courage in the first place. The antidote to fear is faith. It’s having faith in the outcome even though you can’t see the outcome. It’s being able to say, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know the one who holds my future in the palm of his hand, and he’s big enough to take care of me no matter the circumstances.”
When you have that kind of faith, you don’t have to worry about the circumstances that you find yourself in. To the person who courageously asked this question – thank you for being honest with yourself. Thank you for being honest with us. Our answer is to run to Jesus. Hang on to Jesus and trust him and him alone for your safety. If you’re trusting in anything else, you’re putting your trust in the wrong place.
II. Move beyond our hurts
The second question that somebody asked was, “I’m a victim of my property and my emotional life being devastated by my neighbor who doesn’t look like me. They destroyed my grounds and my home. After 51 years in that house, I ended up in the hospital with three months of rehab. I find it very hard to forgive. I do pray several times a day. How do I forgive somebody who’s hurt me this bad?”
The answer to the question is it’s going to take supernatural strength to be able to forgive somebody who’s hurt you that bad. Maybe you were hurt as a child by somebody who doesn’t look like you, and you’re still struggling with it. Maybe you were hurt by somebody who did harm to your family or to somebody you love that doesn’t look like you, and you’re still struggling with it. Be careful, because that hurt can only go in one of two directions, and one of those two are deadly to you personally.
When John was seeing this vision from Heaven, he said this unusual combination of words, “I saw this vast multitude.” This word vast means a massive number. The word multitude means great differences. When you put those two together, they’re found almost nowhere else in the Bible like this. John was saying there are people in that crowd who are Asian and African. There are some that are from Canada and some that are from Mexico. There are people who look like you and people who don’t look like you in that crowd. It’s a huge number, and all of them have the same thing in common. All of them are brothers and sisters because they’d been bought by the blood of Jesus Christ.
When you’ve been hurt by somebody, here’s how the person that doesn’t know Jesus responds. They either hurt back and they try to do to them what they did to you, or they hate. Jesus just doesn’t give us that option. Jesus makes it clear. If you call yourself a believer, you are to forgive, asking God to forgive you to the same extent that you are willing to forgive somebody else. Ouch! That’s tough to do!
When it comes to hurt, you have really only one of two options. You can dwell on it and let it fester; you can head in the direction of getting bitter. Eventually hurt becomes hatred. It’s always going to go that direction. Or, you can work on it. You can deal with it, and you can start to get better because of it. Hurt can lead to healing. It either is going to go towards hatred, or it’s going to go towards healing. The difference is up to you. It’s not up to the person who hurt you; it’s up to you, which direction you go. My guess is a lot of people have been hurt over cultural, ethnic, or racial issues. If you’ve been hurt, you can either choose hurt that leads to hatred, or you can choose to move towards healing, and it’s going to take God’s help to go in that direction. The love of Jesus compels us as followers to head towards healing, because if we don’t, we’re going towards hatred.
III. Learn to love other cultures
Somebody asked, “How do I learn to love other cultures?” The thing is, you don’t have a choice. I don’t have a choice. The Gospel compels us in a multicultural city to learn to love other cultures. Here’s the question that somebody asked, “As a white woman, how can I approach my new neighbors, a black family, and build a bridge with them without racism? Practically what do I say when this topic comes up that would convey understanding and the love of Christ?”
I’m going to give you a very simple answer to this question. Treat them exactly like you want to be treated. Talk to them exactly like you want people to talk to you, and get to know them. Pretty soon you will find that those differences are just not that significant. -that what unites you two is more important than what divides a white woman from a black couple that moved in next to her. Maybe God will use you to be the catalyst to lead this couple to Jesus.
In Revelation 7:9 the Bible does something really fascinating, and you would miss it if you’re not careful. It uses four different words to describe this crowd in Heaven. It says that there was a nation gathered there. That word nation is the Greek word ethnos. We get ethnicity from it. It’s fascinating because in the New Testament this word referred to all those people outside of Judaism. All those people outside of the family of God have now become part of the family of God because of the blood of the Lamb and the grace of God. But it doesn’t stop there.
It says not only were nations represented, but it says tribes. These are family groups that were represented. Peoples were represented. These are geographical boundaries, like there’s going to be Canadians and there’s going to be Mexicans right next to Americans in Heaven. Finally, language will be represented. This word ought to cause some fits right now. There’s going to be every language on the earth represented in Heaven. This makes me want to ask, what language are we going to speak in Heaven? I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be English. In fact, I have a theory about this. I’ll tell you when we study through the book of Acts, my theory on what language we’re going to speak in Heaven.
What the Bible is saying by putting all four of these terms together is there’s going to be an Asian woman right next to you. There’s going to be an African man on the other side of you. She brought her culture with her into Heaven, and he brought his language with him into Heaven. You’re going to spend the next ten thousand times ten thousand years with people who don’t share your language and don’t share your culture and don’t share your ethnicity. Is it okay for a church to be in a multicultural city heading towards a multicultural community of faith in Heaven to have no desire to be around people who are not of your culture? In fact, when the church starts to get really serious about this, the church decides what unites us has to become more important than what divides us. What unites us is we are brothers and sisters bought by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because of that, there is no more “us or them”. There is only “in Christ or out of Christ”.
I have been praying for brothers in our church who are not seeing eye to eye with one another that they would respond with grace and try to view what unites them as more important than what divides them. I asked our team if they would put a picture of trees on the screen. You don’t see one kind of tree on the screen, but you see many kinds of trees. What God created was just absolutely spectacular! Nobody gets up in the fall and drives to a planted pine forest to go sit there and stare at that for hours because that doesn’t look good. What God made in these beautiful mountain views in the fall is a dogwood right next to a maple. It’s a pine tree right next to an oak tree. It’s an elm right next to a sycamore. What makes that view so spectacular is the diversity and the unity at the same time. That’s the kind of stuff that you go sit outside at a lodge with a cup of coffee on a cold morning and just thank God for the beauty of his creation. That’s exactly what the church is supposed to look like. It doesn’t look like a planted pine forest. It has beauty and diversity at the same time. Yes, it’s messy, and yes it can sometimes hurt. It can cause fear. It can be challenging. When what unites us is more important than what divides us, a church will eventually show a community something that everybody wants to know. Is Jesus more important to you than your preferences, or have your preferences become the priority?
• I need the love of Jesus. Today, I surrendered my soul to Jesus for the first time.
– I have let fear or pain hold me back from developing relationships across cultural lines. With God’s help, today I will put those things behind me.
+ I will start a gospel friendship with someone of a different culture.
- Is it wrong to have personal preferences? How can your preferences hurt someone else? How can they bless someone else?
- If you have you been discriminated against in the past, have you found healing for the hurt of that event? If so, what helped you get over it?
- What language do you think you will speak in Heaven?
- Why doesn’t God make everyone the same culture in Heaven?
- Do you have to reject your culture and heritage in order to become a Christian?
- Can a “one-culture” church accurately represent the Gospel to a “multi-cultural” community? Explain your answer.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to help us develop Gospel friendships today.