One of the sad truths throughout history is that people have hated others for being different. In the ancient days, our tribe was good, yours was bad. Warfare would spring up between tribes over various disputes: land, water, livestock, and sometimes, just because “we” wanted to show “you” that “we” were stronger and better. In more recent history, skin color became a cause for hatred. In America, we are still suffering the after effects of the horror of slavery imposed on people whose skin color was much darker than that of the ruling class. People thought that skin color denoted the quality of people: light skin was considered good, dark skin was considered bad. Even today, we are struggling with issues of people thinking that they are superior because of their skin color.
As Tom Lehrer put it in his song “National Brotherhood Week” – “To hate all but the right folks, is an old established rule.” When Jesus walked the earth, Pharisees and Saducees thought that everyone should bow down to them because they were the best people on earth, but that even the lowliest Jew was better than any Gentile – especially a Roman one. Guess what the Romans thought about themselves. When Jesus came, He upended those conventions and treated all people with love and dignity. In the worship scene in the heavenly throne room, John described what Jesus had done this way: “And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Revelation 5:9)
Let’s face it: Christianity is a mongrel religion. We are made up of people from every country – even those who would outlaw us, every language group – and one site put that at over 6900 languages, every nation, and every ethnic group. While churches may have membership requirements, mine does, the only requirement to be included in God’s Kingdom and to be sure to have a place in that heavenly throne room is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The crying in the throne room, because no one was worthy to open this scroll is replaced with rejoicing and worship as Jesus takes the scroll. This diverse, polyglot assembly from all the peoples of the world rejoiced that the Lamb of God had taken away the sins of the world and had led them into His Kingdom. It is a stark contrast to the reading in Nehemiah which detailed those Jews who came back to the promised land after their exile where those who couldn’t prove their lineage were put under probation, or earlier readings when those who had taken foreign wives were forced to put them and their children away if they wanted to stay in the assembly of the Jews.
Sadly, even among Christians we see divisions. Cults spring up because people know their own “special truth” that makes them better than other people – even other Christians – in their own minds. We still have followers of Christ who worry about skin color. Contrary to the belief of many, Jesus was a middle eastern Jew who had no remarkable appearance to set Himself apart from other middle eastern Jews. Any painting or portrait of Jesus that shows Him as “white” should be labeled “fake news” to use today’s popular term. Instead of seeking exclusivity, we need to remember that Heaven will be inclusive with all those who have committed their lives to Jesus being welcome there. When we gather in Heaven in those days, we will be praising God alongside people from different countries, people groups and languages. So here’s an idea – maybe we ought to start practicing now for God’s heavenly choir.
Lord, help us all to understand and love the beautiful diversity among Your people and share that love.