July 16, 2 thousand and nine, just a few days ago, a woman by the name of Lucia Whalen was walking out to lunch from her job. And as she walked she met up with an elderly woman. And this woman was very distressed and she pointed out that she thought she saw a burglary taking place at a house just down the road. And she asked if she had a cell phone, and so Lucia made the call to 9-1-1 and as she's standing there, she's talking to the dispatcher, and she's asked if the people who are breaking in, if they're black, white or Hispanic. She says, “I can’t tell. I can't see very well, but I think that one of them was Hispanic.” Well it turns out that the house that she was looking at was the house of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr..
Well, minutes later, Sergeant James Crowley is on the scene and there he’s met by an older black man who is immediately upset at the officer’s presence, and he tells Crowley that he’s a Harvard professor and this is his home. And the officer steps into the door, steps inside the house and asks to see the man's ID and at this point he became very upset and he asked the officer to give him his badge number so he could report him, at which point the officer asked the man to step outside, asked Professor Gates, so they could discuss the issue and the man replied, “Yeah, I'll speak with your mamma outside.” Then the officer warned Gates that he was getting awfully close to disorderly conduct. Finally the officer took out his handcuffs and he threatened to arrest Gates, but the man continued to yell at him and curse him, and the officer arrested him and charged him with disorderly conduct, like he promised.
Now I’m not going to make a call on this story, which way was right, who was right, but I want us to think about it for a second. What's the heart of the story? What's the biggest issue here as it's come out to the press. When you get President Obama involved and other people. I think the heart of it is this. Everybody wants to know who's the biggest bigot. Who's the biggest racist. Now if you look at the story online, you'll see the word bigot all over the place.
So who's the biggest bigot? Is it the woman who made the phone call? Some people thought that she was, at first. Was it the professor, who became angry at the police officer. Was it the police officer? And then there's this other character that shows up, this cop who sends out an e-mail about it, I guess, and calls the professor a ‘jungle monkey’. Was he the biggest bigot? Was it President Obama? You know, nobody wants to be called a bigot these days. That's important. Nobody wants to be called a bigot. Nobody wants to be called a racist or prejudiced. It's kind of a dirty word in our time.
Well, what is a bigot? According to Wictionary.org, that's the same company that does Wikipedia, a bigot is “one who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” I think that's a fairly good definition, but you know, if pop culture defines what a bigot is, if pop culture defines it, we might find that we are bigots, according to that definition. Look at this one. This is the Urban Dictionary. Now, the Urban Dictionary. You’ve heard of Wikipedia, Wikipedia or Wictionary, people come in and they edit and there's a lot of controls on it and I think, a lot of times the definitions come out pretty good. Urban Dictionary is not quite that way. Basically people just send in their own definitions, and they're all retained, every definition, so you have a thousand definitions for the same word. Here's the fourth one about ‘bigot’. “A bigot. A person, who regards his own faith and views in matters of religion as unquestionably right and any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them as unreasonable or wicked.” Which means we’re all bigots, according to this definition. Because, according to the world, if you believe in absolute truth, you’re a bigot now. Ok. Now we’re switching over, as you can tell, from racial bigotry to religious bigotry. That's what I want to talk about today.
Unfortunately, I think this wide definition of bigotry has allowed us to cover up the fact that we may actually have a bit of a problem with it. Here's how it goes. We feel accused of bigotry, unjustly so, from the world, because we believe in absolute truth. And because it's so ridiculous, we say, “Oh, I'm not a bigot”, but maybe, maybe, maybe, we might have a slight problem with it. And you say, and I say, “Well, I'm not a bigot. I hate the sin, not the sinner. I'm opposed to a system, not a person. I'm tired of being called a bigot just because I believe in absolute truth.”
You know, we’re going to look into the Bible today. We're going to look at a story of some real bigots. And I think we're going to discover that if we don't watch out we could end up like them. We may not be bigots, but we may be headed down that path. And then again, I'm going to emphasize, I'm not talking about racial bigotry, this time. I'm talking about religious bigotry.
We've been studying Acts. We will be studying Acts 17 today and you know, this series has been going on for a number of years before I ever arrived here. I don't know if you realize that are not. We've come back to it and last week, Pastor Gettys helped us relive the story of the jailer in Philippi, right? And how Paul and Silas helped to convert him. Well, the story continues in the end of Acts 16 that Paul and Silas were able to go and visit with the brethren at Philippi just a little bit longer. Encourage them and then they were on their way.
According to archaeology, it appears that Paul would have traveled on a road called the Ignacian way, which is a major highway, you know, according to their standards. It went across Greece, all the way to a little port that was very close to a port opposite it on the heel of the boot of Italy. And as they traveled along this Ignacian way they went through a couple of towns that apparently didn't have synagogues, until they reached a city called Thessalonica. And Paul, according to his custom, the Bible says, Acts 17, verse two. It says that “He went to them and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I'm proclaiming to you is the Christ.’”
I want to stop for just a second here. We're going to discover from Thessalonians, 3 mistakes that you can make that will lead towards bigotry. Towards religious bigotry. But there's something about this text that’s surprising to me as we get into this story. It amazes me. Because Paul is allowed to preach in their synagogue. Imagine it as if it were today. Think of the most controversial preacher, we have in our denomination. When I was a kid there was a guy named Desmond Ford. You may have heard of him, and he caused a lot of trouble for a lot of people who, I think, went a direction that was dangerous because of him and he's still around. He’s still preaching. I just saw that he preached at a church out in California recently. So Desmond Ford comes to our church, one Sabbath morning, and he walks up to Pastor Gettys and he says, “Could I preach today?” “Well sure.” No. No! That would not happen. In fact, I think it would take a phone call to the conference and a special decision from the board and all kinds of things for that to ever happen. It probably wouldn't happen.
And yet the Thessalonians, from the very beginning, Paul walks in and they let him preach. They don't sound very bigoted to me. Okay, well the truth is, Paul as a Jew had a right to address the synagogue. I think he addressed them three weeks in a row. I think that the Thessalonians started off as fairly open-minded. More than we’re comfortable being, perhaps. And yet they quickly descended into a bigotry that's just unprecedented.
Well, in Acts 17, verse four the story continues. “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.”
Then the Bible continues and says that the Jews became jealous and they went down to the marketplace, it says, and they found some, I guess some thugs, some troublemakers, and had them join with them and together they put the city in an uproar and created a big mob scene and they marched on the house of Jason where apparently Paul and Silas were staying and they were looking for Paul and Silas. And when they discovered that they weren't there, they grabbed Jason and some other church brethren and dragged them out to the city authorities, which in those days, the city authorities would have been five, of what was called polycarps. These five rulers were fairly autonomous. In those days the cities of Greece, at least in that area, were free cities, which meant that Rome allowed them to rule themselves, you know, within reason. ‘You don't cause any trouble and you can rule yourself’ basically. And so they didn’t really want to cause Rome any trouble. As much as they appreciated their freedom, and so when these people brought, the Jews brought Jason and his brothers to these authorities, they became concerned because the accusation was, was that they were, and I'll read it here, “They all act contrary to the decree of Caesar, saying that there is another King, Jesus.” In those times, Ceasar Augustus had actually made a decree that if anybody prophesies a different kingdom that’s coming to replace the Roman Kingdom, it's against the law and to be punished. And so Paul and Silas were breaking that law, apparently. Which I think is funny because really, the Jews broke that law as much or worse than Paul and Silas. They were constantly looking for a kingdom that would come and replace the Romans. Right? They wanted a literal one that would come and destroy the Romans, where as Paul and Silas were preaching a kingdom of the heart that wasn't actually going to overthrow the Roman Empire. That's a funny thing about bigotry. We tend, when we’re bigots, to accuse others of the problems that we have.
Well, the brethren very quietly and secretly sent Paul and Silas out of the city and on their way. And now where do they go? If they continue on along the main highway the people are going to come chasing them down, right? They’d been going on that highway, so far. It's logical that they would continue on it. So they go off the main highway and down a little road, down south, and pretty soon they're climbing up some tall mountains and up and up with beautiful views until they reach the small resort village of Berea.
And you would have thought that Paul would have learned his lesson. So far going to the synagogue at the very beginning seems to have been a problem. He keeps getting in trouble. But Paul is fearless and he goes straight again to the synagogue. And it's here in the city of Berea, and it's this description, Luke's description of the Bereans that helps us to understand the bigotry that happened back at Thessalonica. Luke says of the Bereans, “Now these were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness. Examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” And then in verse 12. “Therefore many of them believed.”
There were three things that the Bereans did right that the Thessalonians did wrong. The first thing that the Bereans did was that they received Paul with interest. The second thing that they did was that they searched the Scriptures and the third thing that they did was they believed. And if we compare the Bereans with the Thessalonians, we can see the mistakes that people make that will lead them into bigotry. Religious bigotry.
So the first thing, the first mistake that the Thessalonians made was they did not take much of an interest in Paul and the words that he spoke. They let him preach three weeks, but they weren't that interested. They let him preach, but they fell asleep in his sermons. I have to say something, because I find it funny, but you know that when you sleep in church, the pastors can tell. I’m speaking to myself here, because I fell asleep the other day in church. Just for a short time. I woke up and I was fine, but. You know, one time somebody was sleeping in church, and they came up. This was not here. They came up to me after the sermon and shook my hand and they said, “Pastor, what a wonderful sermon,” and I knew that, you know, they had slept through most of it and I wanted to say, “I'm glad you found rest for your soul.”
But you know, the Thessalonians, they let Paul preach, but they didn't take much interest in what he had to say. Like, “Well, oh, ok.” I think the way that can lead to bigotry is that when somebody comes to us who has a different idea and we just don't really pay attention to them, we don't really take them seriously. When later it comes to a bigger head we haven't taken the time to actually look at what they have to say. We make our judgments based on our own opinions and not on truth or on God's Word. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if the person who is coming to us has error or truth. We should still take them seriously because we don't know for sure which one they have, right? We've got to take them seriously. Sometimes I think our tendency when somebody has something strange or different is to shove them aside. Say, “Uh, uh. Bye, bye. Don’t want to talk.” you know. “Nope. Ooh. Don’t want to hear that. No.”
Well, the second mistake the Thessalonians made was that they didn't search the Scriptures. The Bereans, Luke says, were more noble minded, because they searched the Scriptures, but apparently the Thessalonians didn't do that. In fact, there is evidence that those who believed didn't search the Scriptures. If you look at how Luke describes the difference between the conversion of the Thessalonians and the conversion of the Bereans. For the Thessalonians, he says, “They were persuaded.” Some of them were persuaded. And basically there's two different words for ‘believed’ here and the first one, basically, is being persuaded out of a good argument. So the Thessalonians were persuaded. They believed Paul. But basically they said, “Yeah, that sounds good. That sounds right. Ok, I believe it.” The few that believed.
But the Bereans. They believed, and the belief that's listed here in that text is much stronger. It's like they made it their own. They were examining the Scriptures. When they saw that Paul was right, they said absolutely. They wanted to do God's will as they saw it in the Scriptures.
And so, again, if we’re not willing to take a look at what the Bible says, to study it carefully about a topic, what we tend to do is we get fearful because we don't really know the subject that well and we’re afraid that we might be wrong. We’re not sure and we get angry, and we haven't really checked up on it, whereas if we could look at the Scriptures, see what the Bible says, we wouldn't have to be afraid. We'd say, “Yeah, the Bible says that,” or “No, the Bible does not say that.”
Well, the third and final thing that the Thessalonians did that led them into bigotry was that they didn't believe. They rejected the Christ that Paul preached. Remember, it says that Paul gave evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead and saying, “This Jesus, whom I'm proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And I think that that was the point that was so hard for them to believe. That the Messiah was going to die, that had died. Not their messiah, not their savior. The Thessalonians had a different savior than the Bereans. They wanted a savior who was a bigot. They didn’t want a Savior that would die for all people. They wanted a savior who would bless only the Jews. They wanted a savior who would make the Jews a nationally great kingdom, and overthrow the Romans. They wanted a savior, who would only save people like them.
And when we reject the dying Savior that is the ultimate final step towards bigotry, and I think that anybody out there, who claims to not be a bigot, but if they have rejected Christ, they're going to be a bigot. Because it's only after we’ve looked at Jesus dying on the cross for every man that we can see the true value of every man. We won’t look down on so-and-so because of such and such a thing because we know that their value is infinite because of the infinite price that was paid for them. And when somebody comes to us with a new idea we’re not going to just brush them off. We’re going to say, “This is a child of God. Maybe God is talking to them. I want to hear what you have to say. Let's search the Scriptures. Let's find out.”
You kow, in short, I really like how Luke describes the Bereans. He says, “These were more noble minded,” and that word means, directly it means, that they were upper-class. They were first-class. They were the upper crust of the heavenly kingdom, which would've been a real slap in the face, by the way, to the Thessalonians, because Thessalonica was on this big Ignacian Way. They’re a big-city. Important. They probably had more opportunities for education, and they probably saw themselves as being more enlightened and they probably looked up at these mountain hicks up here, ok, the Bereans, as a little bit less than themselves. Even the Jews, probably, to the Berean Jews and the idea that the Bereans would actually be more noble than them would have been, “Excuse me?” But God has a different idea of nobility. They were more noble minded. First because they received the word with eagerness. Second, because they examined the Scriptures, and third because they believed.
I think if I were to put a modern name to their nobility I would call them gentlemen or gentlewomen. I don't want to be a bigot. I want to be a gentleman, don’t you? Or for ladies, you want to be a gentle lady.
I knew a gentleman one time. Somebody who was a true gentleman. You may have known him too. He used to be the head elder of this church. Doug Bennett. Many of you remember him. I had the privilege of being one of his students at Southern as well as being his step-son-in-law. And I have a memory where I think Doug was just like a Berean. We were discussing theology. I was a young, new seminary student and I was excited. I’d been studying this one topic and I felt like I had it, I really understood it. It was kind of a controversial issue, and I had really studied it and I think I did have it. And I was talking with him about it and he had a different opinion and we were looking at it, and I remember him standing there. And he was so polite. Gentlemen are polite, right? He was so polite. He says, “Well, David, let's look at it.” So we looked at the Scriptures and I kind of leaned over his shoulder while he held the Bible, and he looked and he said, “Well, what about this?” And I said, “Well, no, no, no. But look, look.” “Oh yeah. Well.” And all of a sudden he looked up at me and he says, “You know David, I think you're right.” And I gulped. Really?! And then I was worried that maybe I was leading him astray. You know? After all these years, I’m his downfall, you know? And then I thought to myself, “Ok, this man has been teaching theology longer than I've been alive, and yet he’s willing to say, ‘Yeah, I see that in the Bible, and I'm going to believe it.’” I want to be somebody like that. I want to be a gentleman. Of course Who I really want to be like, is like Jesus, because that's what Doug was trying to be like. I want to be a gentleman like Jesus was. I don't want to be a bigot.
And so that's my call today. Be a gentleman. Be a gentle-lady. Please, don't be a bigot.
We're going to sing a song now. Hymn number 245, More, More About Jesus.
Dear Jesus. We just want more of You. Help us Lord, to be learning more about You. Help us not to become religious bigots and stuck in just exactly what we have learned, but to look for more. To be gentlemen. To, when people come to us Lord, with new ideas, we’d treat them like You would, Lord. Thank You so much for Your love for us, for making a way that we can live for eternity as kings and queens with You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #1, Praise to The Lord Scripture: Acts 17:11 Hymn of Response: #245, More About Jesus
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 8/27/09.