Christianity and Prejudice – Can They Belong Together?

Acts 10:1-35

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”

And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?

So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.

While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”

Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?”

And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” Then he invited them in and lodged them.

On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Prejudice and partiality exist.  Prejudice is everywhere — in every nation, in every city, in every neighborhood, even in every family.  Unfortunately, prejudice is many times in the church.  Prejudices arise because people are different.  Different nationality, different language, different religion, different color, different social standing, different wealth.  When we meet someone different from ourselves, it often makes us uncomfortable.  The unknown can be intimidating.  We are more at ease when we are in a group where “someone is just like us.” 

Prejudice often leads to mistreatment – from ignoring, gossiping, and joking about to persecuting, abusing, opposing and enslaving.  Mistreatment leads to more prejudice.  Both the one mistreating and the one being mistreated form judgments against the other group of people.  If one person does wrong in a certain group – judgments are formed against the entire group. 

Prejudice is passed on from one generation to another.  Think about it.  You may be prejudiced against people you have had little contact with.  Where did you get your knowledge of them?  From your parents, from your peers, from TV, from what you have “heard.”  What little contact you have had with them was probably hindered from any real understanding or meaning because of preconceived ideas – both on your part and on theirs. 

Think of the divisions:  In Ireland – Catholic vs. Protestant; In the Middle East – Jew vs. Muslim; in India – Hindu vs. Muslim and Hindu vs. Christian – In USA – white vs. black,  rich vs. poor, English-speaking against Spanish-speaking.

This passage in Acts strikes a fatal blow against prejudice.  It shows forever that Jesus Christ has come to erase all prejudices and barriers between people.  By studying the book of Acts, it becomes clear that while prejudice may be natural, it is not to be a part of the Christian’s life.  John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoeverbelieves in Him shall be saved.”

The Jews, like everyone else, had developed their own laws and customs.  They were steeped in their own nationality and viewed other cultures as “dogs.”  They had been mistreated through the years – conquered by various nations – scattered throughout the earth.  During the time of the Early Church, they were ruled by the Roman government.  The one thing that united them wherever they went was their religion (belief in one true God, the sacrifices at the temple only, their special diet, their observance of the Sabbath, etc.)  These rules and beliefs kept them from alien beliefs and maintained their distinctiveness as a people and a nation.  Therefore, anything that threatened their religion they believed threaten their very existence as a people. 

The Jews had misread and misunderstood God’s purpose for them.  When God called Abraham, he called him to be the head of a nation that would be a witness to the entire world.  God wanted to use the Jews to be his “missionary” nation to show the world God’s love and power.

Genesis 12:1-3 – Now the Lord had said to Abram:  “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation;  I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  This promised that Abram and his family would be a blessing to all the earth is repeated in Genesis 18:18, Genesis 22:18, Genesis 26:4 and Genesis 28:14.

The prophet Isaiah also spoke of this.

Isaiah 2:1-4 – The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.  Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.”  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

The Psalms are full of exhortations to “make known His deeds among the peoples.”  Yet, they had completely separated themselves from the world in ways God had not intended. 

  • They referred to other cultures as “dogs.”
  • They would have no contact with a Gentile unless absolutely necessary.
  • They would not help a Gentile woman giving birth because it would be bringing another Gentile into the world.

This was the prejudice of the Early Church.  This was the barrier God had to break down.  That is the point of this chapter.  God was showing Peter, the leader of the Church up to this point, that the doors of salvation were to be opened to every person, regardless of race, language, religion, color, social standing, etc.

  • God Chooses a Gentile to Receive the “Good News”
  • A Roman noncommissioned officer – not only a foreigner, but one of the despised Romans who had conquered Israel and subjected them to Roman government.
  • Devout man who feared God – he believed in the one true God and held him in extreme respect or awe.
  • A generous and praying man – note that his prayer was to God always.  In other words, prayer was a daily part of his life.
  • In spite of his respect of God, his generosity, his prayers, he still lacked something – knowledge of and a relationship with Jesus Christ and        the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

NOTE:  Cornelius is a good example that, while respect of God, good deeds and prayer are important, without a true knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ, they are insufficient for salvation.

  • Because he was seeking God, God sent an angel to him to lead him into the full knowledge of God. 

NOTE:  Cornelius is a good example that, if someone honestly seeks God even without true knowledge of His Word, God will provide an answer.

Romans 1:20 – For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Jeremiah 33:3 – Call (cry out, call out loudly to get someone’s attention) to Me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty (inaccessible) things which you do not know.

Jeremiah 29:13 – And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

  • God Chooses a Jew to Give the “Good News” to the Gentile
  • Peter was a praying man.  He was praying about the sixth hour (12 noon).  This was one of the three prayer hours practiced by the Jews.  This indicates that Peter was praying at least three times a day. 

Psalm 55:17 – Evening and morning and noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice.

  • Peter was just a man.  He had got hungry, he did not immediately recognize God’s leading.  He was subject to the prejudices of his time and culture. 
  • Peter obeyed the leading of the Holy Spirit. 
  • He went with the men.
  • He “entered” the house of Cornelius.
  • He rejected worship from Cornelius.
  • He preached the “good news” to the Gentiles.
  • God Clearly Shows that Prejudice Does Not Belong in the Church

Romans 10:12 – For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.

Galatians 3:27-28 – For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek (German or Spanish, American or Russian, black or white, Anglo-Saxon or Hispanic), there is neither bond nor free (educated or uneducated, rich or poor, sophisticated or simple), there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 6:9 – And you master, do the same things unto them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven and there is no partiality with Him.

Partiality means favoritism, distinction, bias, conditional preference.  The word denotes a biased judgment, which gives respect to rank, position, or circumstances.  God shows no partiality injustice, judgment or favorable treatment when dealing with people, and He expects us to follow His example.

Two Covenants

Galatians 4:21-31

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:

“Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband.”

Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

(To fully understand this passage – read Genesis 16:1-16; 17:15-21; 18:1-15; 21:1-21)

Genesis 16:1-16 – Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.

Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.”

So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.

Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”

The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” And the Angel of the Lord said to her:

“Behold, you are with child,
And you shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has heard your affliction.
He shall be a wild man;
His hand shall be against every man,
And every man’s hand against him.
And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

Genesis 17:15-21 – Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”

Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

Genesis 18:1-15 – Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.”

They said, “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.

Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?”

So he said, “Here, in the tent.”

And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

(Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”

But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid.

And He said, “No, but you did laugh!”

Genesis 21:1-21 – And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.” She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.”

So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned.

And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.” And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

But God said to Abraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba. And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.

And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

TWO SONS

  • Ishmael

born a slave son – of the servant of Abraham

born after the natural order

born – Sarah suggested that Abraham take Hagar for his wife

  • Isaac

born a free son – of the wife of Abraham

born by miracle of God

born  because of God’s plans – God had promised that Abraham would have a son by his wife, Sarah

The one who trusts in human plans and efforts is born to be a slave.  But the one who trusts in God’s plans and miraculous intervention is born to be God’s child. 

TWO MOTHERS

  • Hagar – a type of the Law

her children are slaves

represents the religious system that teaches people to be saved by what they do or don’t do, by their own good works or good personalities 

  • Sara – a type of God’s Grace

her children will enjoy their father’s blessings

represents the truth that people are saved by accepting the sacrifice Jesus made at Calvary and not by trusting in themselves for salvation

Those who trust in following the Law are doomed to live in bondage.  Those who trust in the gift of God’s Son are given spiritual birth and freedom.

Those who trust in the Law often persecute those who believe in God’s grace alone.

  • The self-righteous are trying to secure favor with God by their own works.  The believer who says self-effort will never make you acceptable to God presents a threat to them.
  • The self-righteous cannot accept the fact that they are too sinful, too helpless, and too unrighteous to receive God’s favor.  The believer threatens their sense of their own goodness.

If we trust in God for our justification, we must not be surprised if other “religious” people do not agree with us, and even slander our name, reject us or do other hurtful things to us

LEGALISM IS TO BE REJECTED BY THE CHURCH

  • The Law cannot Co-exist with God’s Grace.
  • The Law has no claim on God’s Children.

It is not enough to accept God’s righteousness for ourselves, but we must always proclaim freedom and always reject legalism in our church.

The Promise Unchanged

Galatians 3:15-18

Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

THE FIRST COVENANT

Genesis 12:1-3 – Now the LORD had said to Abram:  ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’   

  • Abraham trusted by Faith

Genesis 12:4 – So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.  And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Hebrews 11:8 – By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 

  • Covenant was to Abraham and His Seed

Genesis 12:7–Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’

Galatians 3:16 – Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promised made.   He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.

  • The Covenant cannot be annulled.

Galatians 3:15 – Brethren, I speak in the manner of men:  Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 

Galatians 3:17 – And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise to no effect.

Galatians 3:15-17 – Once a person’s will has been ratified, no one else can annul it or add to it.  Now, the promises were made to Abraham and to his descendant.  You will observe that Scripture, in the careful language of a legal document, does not say “to descendants,” referring to everybody in general, but “to your descendant: (the noun, note, is singular), referring to Christ.  This is the way I interpret this:  A will, earlier ratified by God, is not annulled by an addendum attached 430 years later, thereby negating the promise of the will.  No, this addendum, with its instructions and regulations, has nothing to do with the inheritance in the will.  The Message Bible

THE SECOND/LAST COVENANT

Galatians 3:19 –What purpose then does the law serve?  It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 

  • Christ Jesus –  Promise of Faith

Galatians 3:22 – But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

  • Covenant was Fulfilled to Abraham and His Seed

Galatians 4:4 – But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law…

  • The Covenant was fulfilled in Christ.

Hebrews 6:15-20 – And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.  This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.