The story woven throughout scripture is one of redemption and reconciliation to God and to our neighbor. Revelation 7:9-12 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” In heaven, the differences between us won't serve to divide us. The differences between us will display a unity in diversity. This is so because, in heaven, the sin that causes all division will be eradicated.
Never is that division more clear historically than along the lines of race. In that regard, the history of America is sometimes hard to look at. Also difficult, is the realization that we are still plagued by racial division in our country today. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” As with every other country throughout history, ours is stained with division and strife. This serves to remind us that divisions will remain in the world until we are united with Jesus Christ and He has completed His work to make all things new.
That is why it is critical that we keep the end in mind. We are called to live in view of the full picture of God’s restorative work. We live in the realization that God is making all things new through Jesus and that He will bring that work to completion one day. This speaks to the “already and not yet” of God’s redemptive work. That is, we live in the already truth we have in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and the not yet arrival of His return.
A look back into history reveals that God has appointed people in their specific time to play a part in the fight against the racial division that sin creates. For example, we see this in the prophet Micah or in the story of the good Samaritan. Scripture is full of such examples. But, it’s important to note that God has used people for this purpose in our recent history as well. Let us take time to celebrate the African Americans in our history that God anointed to glorify His name in playing key roles in this fight against division.
There is much to be celebrated during Black History Month in this regard. For example, in the 1800’s Christians rallied behind the truth of the gospel for all people during the Second Great Awakening. The testimonies of faithful African Americans to speak the truth and shine light into dark spaces are truly inspiring.
Consider the quiet and faithful work of Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad. Harriet Tubman was raised in slavery in eastern Maryland, but escaped in 1849. When she first reached freedom in the North, she wrote, “I looked at my hands to see if I was de same person now I was free. Dere was such a glory ober eberything, de sun came like gold through de trees and ober de fields, and I felt like I was in heaven." Harriet was not satisfied with her freedom, but felt the burden of all those enslaved. She made 19 return trips to the South in helping to deliver more than 300 fellow slaves. This earned her the nickname “Moses,” as she ushered in deliverance for so many.
Or consider Harry Hosier, known as “Black Harry.” He was heralded as one of the best preachers of his time. Hosier was born in North Carolina and freed in Maryland around the end of the Revolutionary War. Harry would become the first African American to preach to a white audience, in part because his delivery was so impressive. His famous sermon “The Barren Fig Tree” from Luke 13:6-9 is considered the first formal sermon given by an African American in America. In summarizing his work, he wrote, “I sing by faith, pray by faith, preach by faith, and do everything by faith.”
In more recent years, we have seen the issue of lingering racial discord and oppression brought to light by our black neighbors. There is purpose in this because, in the end, God will not allow even a trace of racial division to linger. Psalm 9:9 says “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed and a stronghold in times of trouble.” The Lord continues this work in our society today and is using black men and women to mirror Christ to bring this darkness to light and break down the dividing walls of hostility.
The call on the Christian is always to fight against division and darkness in the world. This call is heralded clearly in Paul's encouragement to the Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12) May we, as Christ’s church, be prepared for that Revelation 7 picture by sharing the good news of Jesus until we see people from every tribe, tongue and nation represented before the throne!