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Lesson 6: Ethnicity and Discipleship *

Introduction: Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun. ( Ecclesiastes 1:9) Racial problems are an old story. They existed in Jesus' time and they exist now - although in America they are at an all time low. When I first moved to this area I was a member of a church with serious racial issues. The one race predicted that the other race would take over the church. After I left that church, I came back to visit and preach. One time I recall walking in and they had two racially segregated classes studying in the sanctuary. I sat in the "wrong" class for my race. I recall preaching a racial reconciliation sermon in that church. Afterwards, members from each of the races came up to me and said, "I hope THEY were listening." It was quite distressing. Today, as predicted, the church is no longer bi-racial. That is one answer to the problem, but it does not seem to be the Bible's answer to the problem. Let's dive into our study and see what the Bible says about race and discipleship!

  1. Samaritans


    1. Read Luke 17:11-14. This is a "long distance" miracle. Do you get the feeling that Jesus is traveling, has a destination in mind, and these guys will slow Him down? (Yes. It seems that Jesus calls out as He is moving along towards His destination.)


      1. Does it matter that Jesus does not stop and take a little time with them? Are they short-changed on their miracle? (No. As they leave to follow Jesus' instructions, they are healed.)


        1. Is there a lesson in this for us? (We have a great God who can do anything for us. He does not need to study the matter.)


      2. Why does Jesus tell them to show themselves to the priests? (You had to go to a priest to be certified that you no longer had an infectious skin disease. Leviticus 14:1-7.)


    2. Read Luke 17:15-16. Why point out this fellow's race?


      1. Does this prove that Luke is a racist?


      2. How does it add to the story? (Luke is certainly "race conscious" here. I think this story is told because of the race factor. God is pointing out that the "disfavored" race is showing better discipleship traits than the favored race.)


    3. Read Luke 17:17-19. How would you characterize Jesus' approach to racial issues? (He doesn't sound too politically correct to me. He calls him a "foreigner." This time Jesus makes the point about the foreigner doing what is right.)


      1. Look again at Luke 17:19. What do you think this means?


        1. Would leprosy return to the rest?


        2. Are some people healed without faith?


        3. Is this Samaritan's healing superior to the rest? (I don't think Jesus means the others are not healed, or will be diseased again. Instead, I think Jesus means this fellow has healing for both his mind and his body. His faith has been rewarded.)


      2. Nelson's Bible Dictionary, under the topic "Samaritans," says "Samaritans were a 'mixed race' contaminated by foreign blood and false worship." If they had "false worship," how can Jesus say this fellow has "faith?"


        1. What does this teach us about members of other churches? (This fellow obviously had faith in Jesus. The idea that members of a specific denomination, created by humans, are automatically superior to other Christians is an idea contrary to Scripture. Faith is an individual matter.)


  2. Greeks


    1. Read Mark 7:24. Why do you think Jesus wanted to keep secret that He was in Tyre? (Read Matthew 15:24. This is Matthew's account of this same story. Jesus had not come to minister to the people of Tyre. He was just looking for rest.)


    2. Read Mark 7:25-26. Was this woman a believer? (Read Matthew 15:22. The fact that she calls Jesus "Lord, Son of David," shows that she believes Him to be the Messiah.)


    3. Read Mark 7:27. Why is Jesus talking about eating?


      1. How do you understand His message to this woman?


        1. Is He calling her a "dog" because she was a Greek and not Jewish? (Yes! Worse, He seems to be calling her daughter a dog.)


    4. Read Mark 7:28-30. Do you think Jesus was testing her faith or do you think He was serious? (Both. I think He was serious for two reasons. He entered the town secretly so He would not have to be bothered by these people. He specifically said His mission was not to these people.)


      1. Recall the church I mentioned in the introduction? To my knowledge, they never called the other race "dogs" or said they would not help them. What is the lesson that we learn here? People of disfavored races can come to Jesus if they show great faith and shrug off insult? (I think this story is much better than it appears on the surface. First, it is right to have a focused mission. Jesus had about three years of mission here and His mission focus for that time was the Jews. That is an argument for efficiency, not racism. Second, Jesus (then and now) tests our faith. Jesus tested the faith of this woman by telling her things she already knew - that Jews looked down on non-Jews. Her faith would not be deterred by that. Jesus, having tested her faith and found it strong, healed her daughter.)


  3. Italians


    1. Read Acts 10:1-2. What do we learn about Cornelius? (He was commander of a Roman division. He appears to have been an Italian. (The text refers to the "Italian Regiment" and he has a Latin name.) He believed in the true God and was devote. However, he could not have been a "full" Jewish convert because he is later referred to as an "uncircumcised" man. See Acts 11:1-17.)


    2. Read Acts 10:3-5. What does this tell us about the ability of non-Jews to be disciples? (God has a special message to someone who is not Jewish! God has some sort of plan for Cornelius.)


      1. What problems do you see with this message? (Read Acts 10:27-28. God directs Cornelius to bring a Jewish man to his home. The problem, as Peter later explains, is that observant Jews would not want to visit the home of a Gentile.)


    3. Read Acts 10:9-17. The text says that Peter was "wondering about the vision." What is there to wonder about? Isn't the message pretty clear - all meat is now clean meat? (That is precisely what the vision means at first glance. However, Peter could not believe that was what the vision really meant.)


    4. Read Acts 10:17-19. Has this story changed to another topic? Why does the text tell us that Peter is still contemplating the vision while these three guys are at the house? (This tells us that the mission of the men from Cornelius and Peter's vision are linked.)


    5. Read Acts 10:23-29. Is the vision about unclean meat? (No. Whatever your view about the Levitical prohibition on eating unclean meat (see Leviticus 11), this story is clearly not about what you can eat. It is about who can be God's disciples.)


    6. Read Acts 10:30-33. On a scale of 1-10, how certain are you that God was behind this meeting of Jewish Peter and Italian Cornelius? (Both were directed by God to have this meeting.)


    7. Read Acts 10:34-38 and Acts 10:44-47. What does this teach us about racism in the church?


      1. What lesson do we learn about whether God makes any ethnic distinctions when it comes to discipleship?


      2. On what basis does God discriminate? ( Acts 10:34-35. God's basis for "discrimination" is those who fear Him and do what is right.)


    8. Friend, if God does not discriminate on the basis of race, what right do you or I have to discriminate on that basis? If you think you are a victim of racism, remember that the Bible commends those who shrug off racial slurs in their pursuit of God.


  4. Next week: Preparation for Discipleship.
* Copr. 2008, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2017 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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