Numbers (In the Wilderness)

Numbers 12, Red and Yellow, Black and White

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The title comes from the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” It is sad how easily we can move away from the truth of this song. God loves every person and it does not matter what you look like or what ethnic or racial background you come from. Jesus loves everyone and has no concern about physical appearance. We might be tempted to think that race and ethnicity is a modern problem. But the scriptures reveal that this was a major problem throughout the history of humanity. In the New Testament we see the problems of race between Jews and Gentiles. Reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles was the primary message in the books of Galatians and Romans, and is also seen in Ephesians and Colossians. But the problem goes further back than the New Testament. Open your Bibles to Numbers 12 where we read about one of the first incidents recorded in scriptures about this problem.

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. (Numbers 12:1 ESV)

Let these words settle in your mind and heart for a moment. Moses married a Cushite woman. Notice what is told to us. What is the reason that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses? The text tells it to us twice to make sure we do not miss it. They spoke against Moses because he married a Cushite. A Cushite woman would be from Africa. Perhaps she was among the Egyptians that came out of Egypt in the exodus. Perhaps she came with some of the other peoples in the exodus or along the way as they marched to the promised land. Whatever the case may be, the problem is that Moses married a woman of a different race. She is a Cushite. The basic definition of racism is valuing one race above another. It is as simple as that. Racism is as simple as valuing one race above another.

Now do you think that Miriam and Aaron came to Moses and said that they were troubled by this marriage. No, that is not how racism works. Look at what they say in verse 2.

And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. (Numbers 12:2 ESV)

Rather than stating the real problem in their hearts, they come up with another excuse. “The Lord has not only spoken through Moses. He has spoken through us too.” We can be leaders too. Please notice what they do. They do not say what the basis of their complaint is: that Moses married a Cushite woman. They come up with another issue about Moses that is completely untrue, which is emphasized in verse 3. “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” Moses is not abusing his leadership. Moses is not being showing and rubbing it in people’s faces that the Lord speaks to him. This is not the real problem. The problem was stated twice in verse 1. Race was at the heart of the issue. The rest of the chapter is the vindication of Moses. God calls all three of them and God burns with anger against Miriam and Aaron. God says that Moses has been faithful in all his house and that God speaks directly to Moses, not in visions and riddles. After God condemns them, Miriam was leprous. Yet even after his brother and sister complain against Moses, Moses intercedes on Miriam’s behalf (12:13). God is very clear that this whole scene from Miriam and Aaron was completely wrong. Miriam and Aaron sinned.

Considerations

This text forces us to consider our hearts, words, and actions. But we would like to think that the problem of race and prejudice is no longer an issue. But it is. And I would say that we may expect that in the world we will continue to see this problems regarding race and ethnicity because they have not come to Jesus and had their heart changed by the gospel. But what is sad, so terribly sad, is how often racism and ethnic prejudice continues in the body of Christ.

Let me start with one of the most stark things that has bothered me since I was aware of the existence: How can it possibly be that there are still white churches and black churches? How can that exist today? When the gospel was proclaimed in the New Testament, there was not supposed to be Jewish churches and Gentile churches. Paul was running around making sure to break down those barriers.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27–29 ESV)

Think about what Paul says. He obviously does not mean that there is no such thing as race or gender or slavery. What he means is that in the body of Christ, these things do not exist. We are together as one in Christ Jesus and there is to be no more dividing lines. Yet we still see those divisions even today. Jesus taught the same thing in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. These are two different racial groups. Who was the neighbor? The Samaritan who ignored that racial difference and did good to the Jewish man who had been beaten and robbed.

It is important to note that even the Law of Moses did not want this kind of distinction to be made. In Numbers 9:14 God made it clear that, even though the people of Israel were God’s chosen people for the promises, outsiders (other races and ethnicities) could belong to Israel if they submitted to God’s covenantal laws. God plainly said that there was one law for the sojourner and the native, not two.

Examples

I believe part of the problem is that we do not want to believe there is a problem. We do not want to believe that among Christians this kind of thing could happen. But it has and it still does. Let me start back a few decades and work our way to the present. Some of you may remember brother Lloyd Nash, a faithful gospel preacher and preached at Washington Park in Fort Lauderdale for a long time. I had the privilege of preaching a gospel meeting there and spending time with him. He told me stories of some of his experiences. The one experience that stands out to me the most is when he visited a white church that was a “one cup” church (used only one cup to pass around the fruit of the vine for the Lord’s Supper). So they appeared to show him great kindness by having him sit in the front row. But the reason why was so that the cup would be passed in a way so that he was last to take it. The following week he sat in the back and they passed the cup again in a way so that he was last to drink.

I spoke with a few black preachers because I wanted to know if they have experienced any such mistreatment in the last decade or sooner. The answer is yes. They told me they have had their meetings cancelled once the church found out that they were black. Kyle Smith, who preached with my father in San Diego when I was in high school, when he left to move back to Texas was not able to get a job at many of the churches because he was black. One place told him that he would never be accepted in that church. So he and his family went to another church and worshipped there for years and he was not preaching. Kyle’s name was put forward as an elder. A former elder told others in the church that he could never serve under a black man. So Kyle was never appointed. My father was in a gospel meeting and an elder’s wife was explaining to my dad why they called black people “niggers.” A preacher’s wife told my father when he was moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas that it would not be too bad there because it did not have many black people.

Friends, I would have never imagined such things could happen to a Christian in a church. But I believe brother Nash and brother Smith, and my father and we must listen to those stories. Those are not just stories of 60 years ago but stories from the 1990s forward until today. We must listen to what is being told to us. Brother Jerome Jackson who now preaches at Washington Park in Fort Lauderdale and has preached for us here said to me that the opportunities to preach today are still rare.

But I want to bring back in the definition we started with regarding racism. It is simply the valuing of one race above another. We must realize that this is a fight in both directions. This was just in the news a couple of weeks ago in Alabama where a black Baptist preacher was telling black Christians not to go to white churches. On the screen is what he put on the church sign. You may remember a few years ago that a white man went into a church in South Carolina during a Wednesday night Bible class and shot the people studying that night. I had a black preacher tell me that the next week at their black church they had a white person visit and they were all really nervous about him being there. I have heard Christians say that there are not enough people who look like me in a particular church. I have heard black Christians say this and I have heard white Christians say this.

Friends, this only perpetuates the problem! Does God treat a person differently because of race or ethnicity? None of us are able to control either of these factors. None of us can control our skin color nor can we control our cultural background and upbringing. Why would we ever judge a person based on these things? Why would we only want to surround ourselves with only those who are the same race or ethnicity? For any of us to make any decisions based on these factors is absolutely sinful. Unfortunately, we are can be like Miriam and Aaron. We cover up the problem. We do not admit the real problem. So we say something different but the problem is in our hearts that we are prejudging the other person because they are different than me. We can claim that it is some other issue. But we need to examine our hearts carefully and consider if our problem is really because of some external that we were born with or born into.

While I am stepping on tough issues, let me tell us that this is the danger of bringing political parties into the church. We do not understand what the other person is thinking about you when you openly support political parties and platforms. You do not understand what they are hearing you say. You may know that you do not things that support oppression and racism and the like. But I dare say that no person fully agrees with all of the political parties positions or policies. But we bring it into the church and our differences in cultures, ethnicities, and upbringings cause us to see what stance through a different lens and it causes division. I have tried very hard to make sure no one here knows where I stand on those things because we cannot allow those beliefs to be fuel to the divisions that can already exist between races and ethnicities. We are to come together in the gospel and put all of those other things behind. There is Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female, black or white, Democrat or Republican, or any other this or that because we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Conclusion

So what do we need to do? What can we do as a body of believers in Christ? First, political correctness is not the solution because now there is a fear to talk about any of these issues. We need more communication, not less. I needed to hear brother Lloyd Nash tell me his stories so that I can understand where he was coming from. We need to talk to each other and listen to each other about our experiences. Recognizing our differences is not the issue. It is nonsense to pretend that we do not look different. Some are tall and some are short. Some thin and some are heavy. Some have a full head of hair and some are balding. Some are old and some are young. We are different and we look different. The problem is not that we look different or even recognizing that we look different. The problem is when we treat people differently because of these differences. We must never draw conclusions about each other based on what we look like. This goes beyond race. Grace has Prader-Willi syndrome. She will struggle all her life with weight. How unfair will it be for someone to look at her and think in their hearts, “She eats too much. She needs to lay off the cheeseburgers.” It is a sinful judgment because it looks at the outside. So we need more talking to each other about these things. Listen, let each other know if something hurts us. I believe everyone’s heart here does not intend to hurt. So we need to know if we do something that does hurt another so that we will not do it again. I know people were hurt from the last election and that is why I brought it up that we not wear our politics on our sleeves but our Christianity.

Second, purify our hearts and lives. We need to watch out for blind spots. If you said or thought something about another race, would it be sinful to say? What I mean is if it sinful to say about one race or ethnicity, it is sinful to say about any. It is just as wrong to say that we were afraid about a black person walking in the building as a white person or a hispanic person or any other race. We need to watch out for blind spots. It is easy to walk away from this lesson and say that we do not have this problem. But it might just be in our hearts.

Third, we are one family. We are not two families. There are not black Christians or white Christians. There are just Christians. We are one family belonging to Jesus. Listen to what James said as he wrote to a group of Christians.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1 ESV)

If James said this about the rich and poor, how much more between different races and ethnicities! James says in verse 4 of that very chapter that making distinctions among ourselves is a sin and calls this having “evil thoughts.” As we end, we must ask ourselves if I have any behavior or attitude that is out of step with the gospel. Does my behavior flow from the gospel or it is contrary to the gospel? Please let us know if you feel that there is any type of prejudice in this congregation so that we can immediately address the concern and work together for a solution. We are all going to be in heaven together. So let us live together without division now.

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