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The Los Angeles Riots A Biblical Perspective

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/01/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, By John MacArthur Jr.  It was transcribed from the tape, GC 80-104, titled "The Los Angeles Riots: A Biblical Perspective."  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.

I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made.  Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions.  This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article.

It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription of the sermon, "The Los Angeles Riots: A Biblical Perspective," to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.

                            The Los Angeles Riots                            A Biblical Perspective                                      by                                John MacArthur

This morning I want to endeavor, by the Lord's help, to give a perspective on what we have seen this week in our city.  I would be unfaithful to the task of the prophet and the shepherd if I didn't endeavor to comment on it.  There are so many things to say and many perspectives that could be brought to bear.  I am not here to give you some political perspective, I am not here to give you some economic perspective, I have only one responsibility really, before God, and that is to give you a Biblical perspective.  I know today that many churches across our country, many of my own fellow pastors and friends in the black inner city of Los Angeles and other places in our country are going to be facing their congregations with a similar need to articulate some kind of perspective as to what is going on. 

There are many ways that it might be approached; we could talk about the signs of the last days and the decline in culture, the decline in man's demonstration of the image of God as he grows worse and worse, as social structure and society and man himself begins to unravel at the seams and wind down until the coming of Jesus Christ finally brings his sinfulness to an end.  But I don't want to follow the prophetic path.  We could talk about a Biblical economic path and what is just and what is right in terms of social economics and what does the Bible teach about how the needs of the poor are to be met by those have and have been blessed by God with some measure of wealth.  We could talk about educational issues: do people in certain parts of our culture find themselves on the short end of the stick educationally and from the standpoint of opportunity and what does that mean to the dignity of man and all of those kinds of features.  But I am going to leave a lot of that kind of thing for maybe another time and place. 

What I want to talk about today is the root of all of these problems, and it is a very simple word with three letters called SIN.  And that is the perspective that I think is the most needful for us.  Perhaps the most devastating description of humanity is given in Romans, chapter 3, and I want you to open your Bible to Romans 3, and I want to read you God's own description of man.  There are people who continue to tell us that man is basically this good creation, this person who deep down inside is noble and honorable, and that of course is the absolute opposite of the truth.  In Romans chapter 3, verse 10, we read concerning man, a series of quotes out of the Old Testament that Paul puts together here.  They run like this, speaking of man, humanity in general,

             There is none righteous, not even one;              There is none who understands,              There is none who seeks for God;              All have turned aside, together they have become useless;              There is none who does good,              There is not even one.

             Their throat is an open grave,              With their tongues they keep deceiving,

             The poison of Asps (or snakes) is under their lips;

             Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;

             Their feet are swift to shed blood,              Destruction and misery are in their paths,              And the path of peace have they not known.

             There is no fear of God before their eyes.

I wish we could just lay that on the desk of every psychologist.  That is the clearest, most concise and direct description of man given in the Bible.  Man  is corrupt, man is depraved, his heart, said the prophet Jeremiah is deceitful and desperately wicked.  Isaiah said the best that he does is filthy rags.  There is something deep within man that is so corrupt, and so wicked, and so wretched, so evil, so brutal, so devastating, that if left unchecked, or if given an opportunity to express itself it will bring about devastation. 

The problem in our city is not lack of jobs; the problem in our city is not lack of opportunity or lack of education; the problem in our city is not too much possessions, materialism, those are only symptoms of a problem.  The problem in our city is the problem of the wretchedness of the human heart, and nobody escapes that.  It knows no race, it knows no color, it knows no location.  It is pervasive.  Sin is the degenerative and damning power in the human stream that pollutes every man and every woman and every part of life. 

In Mark's gospel, chapter 7, verse 20, Jesus said, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man."  It is not his society.  It is not his economics.  It is not his education or lack thereof.  It is not anything outside the man that pollutes the man, it is what is inside the man that pollutes and defiles.  Verse 21 of Mark 7 says,

      For from within, out of the heart of men, proceeds the evil       thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of       coveting, and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy,       slander, pride, and foolishness.  All these evil things proceed       from within and defile the man.

Now what Jesus is saying essentially is what Paul said: man at his deepest level is wretched, wicked, and sinful.  It is not anything on the outside that defiles him; it is what he is on the inside that defiles him.  Again I say: there is something, there is a principle, there is a power deep within man that is so corrupt and so wicked, and so brutal, and so devastating, that if left unchecked, or given an opportunity to act it will bring about devastation.  That is why in Joshua 7:13 sin is called the "accursed thing."  It is the venom of snakes, it is the stench of death, and it makes man at home with brutality.  And nobody is exempt.  Everybody has this polluting stream.  It knows no racial bounds and sometimes it comes out even in those who are supposed to be the model citizens, as well as those who are assumed to be the criminal element. 

Sin is the problem and sin by definition is going beyond the bounds that God has set.  It is lawlessness; it is rebellion and it cannot be by human effort alone held in check on anybody's part.  There is the heart of a rebel in every sinner.  The people who have the wealth become selfish.  People who have not the wealth become bitter.  People who possess the goods become completely self indulgent.  The people who have nothing become angry.  In either case--it is sin.

The problem in our city and the problem in our nation, and the problem in our world is the destructive, rebellious sin of man.  There is the heart of a rebel in every sinner and sin is God's would be murderer.  In fact, so sinful is man, that he will wear himself out.  He will even kill himself sinning.  Jeremiah 9:5 says, "They weary themselves committing iniquity."  Psalm 7:14 says the sinner "travails with iniquity," in other words, he is in literal pain trying to bring forth sin, and he will do it even though it is painful and sometimes deadly.  People go to hell sweating.  Sin causes evil to overpower people.  It causes the mind to be dominated with iniquity; the will to be dominated; the emotions to be dominated; the affections to be dominated.  Sin overpowers behavior.

Sin causes people also to be controlled by Satan, because they have that sin principle in them.  It connects up with the arch-sinner Satan.  They have more in common with him then with anyone else, and so they become not only victims of their own internal wretchedness, but they become victims of the prince of the power of the air, of the ungodly spirit named Satan who works in the hearts of unregenerate people.  So you have not only men acting out of the depravity of their own heart, but men acting in concert with the very depravity of Satan himself and his whole empire. 

Sin also subjects people, not only to the power of the internal wretchedness and to Satan, but it subjects people to the painful miseries of life.  Romans 8:20 says sin subjects the creature to emptiness.  It corrupts the body; it degrades all well-being; it destroys all relationships; it ends rest and joy and comfort.  It defiles conscience; it defiles beauty; it defiles love; it darkens the mind; it makes man an unteachable and uncontrollable beast who is sensual and never satisfied.  It robs man of his honor; it scars him who is created in the image of God; it robs man of his peace, because the Bible says the wicked are like the "troubled sea when it cannot rest whose waters cast up muck and dirt." 

Sin sets men on a damning course for eternal hell and sin is the problem.  As long as these people keep meeting, these "Reverends" with no churches and these churches with no gospel.  And as long as politicians and policeman and whoever else meet: presidents, and congresses, and councils, and try to solve the problem of man educationally or economically--they will never succeed.  It cannot be solved there, it is not an environmental problem--it is a nature problem.  It doesn't come from the outside in--it comes from the inside out!  Admittedly, society can do somethings to help control the wretchedness within man.  It can impose on him some compunctions that force him into some level of submission to code and law, but it cannot change the wretchedness of the human heart which is ready to burst at any moment when it is exacerbated, or when it is given opportunity.

You would hate to imagine, wouldn't you, what all of us would be like if we lived in a society with no laws and no controls.  Sinful men would destroy every good thing.  They would destroy each other and we saw a little taste of that in the recent months and in the recent days in our own city.  Fallen man is so bad, and so selfish, and so destructive, and so unkind deep inside, that God has had to set some controls on him.  Let me make it as simple as I can.  There are basically two institutions, God ordained, to control man's sin.  One is the family and the other is the government. 

The family exists to control individuals in the very most intimate level of human interaction.  The family exists for the purpose of teaching children that they have to live a controlled life.  You got to get a handle on your wretchedness.  Teaching them that there are consequences.  Why do you think the Bible talks about using the rod on a child?  Because a child will only modify behavior when evil behavior has such severe consequence and pain that the child doesn't want that.  Corporal punishment, as it were, is what is used in the family as God has designed it to bring control to society.  The family is the first point of accountability to exercise personal control.  You have the breakdown of the family--you have the loss of all of that. 

Then there is society or government, the institution that God has ordained for social control.  Personal control should be taught, nurtured, in the family; social control--by the government.  Those are the two institutions that God has ordained.  In the family God says the parents have the authority and the children are to submit to it.  In the government, God says the government is the authority there and the citizens are to submit to it.  If you don't have personal controls being exercised firmly, and justly, and righteously, in a family or in a society, your going to have all hell breaking loose all over everywhere, because the depravity of man will run amuck. 

Now, both of those areas of control sort of come together and you will see how they weave there way through.  A list of thoughts that I want to give you as you look at the current tragedy.  I am just like you: I see what I see on the television, and I read what I read in the newspaper, and I hear what I hear on the radio, and try to sit back and think.  The one other component that I have at my disposal (and so do you) is the Bible.  And while everybody is trying very hard to figure this out without God's perspective, I can go to the word of God and it is very clear and simple for me to see, and for you I hope as well.

We have a fatal sin problem that can only be remedied by the gospel--the only hope for equity, and justice, and mercy, and all of that in balance in our society.  The only hope is Jesus Christ transforming people's hearts.  The hope of Los Angeles is Jesus Christ.  Do you know what breaks my heart?  You can drive through the inner city of Los Angeles just as you can drive through this part of our city and out into Simi Valley, and you will find whether you are in Simi Valley, or whether you are in Watts in south central Los Angeles, churches on every single corner who have little or no impact in the community.  Who have somehow long ago abandoned a faithful, bold, confrontive, direct, loving, compassionate, proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ that can transform people's hearts and end these kinds of attitudes and actions.

My grief (as you might have expected) is for the lost people who have no hope of changing their insides, anymore than a leopard could change a spot.  My grief is for the churches that have prostituted themselves away from a saving message to some other kind of social orientation that can't do anything in the long run.

Now, trying to make some sense out of this chaos, I jotted down a few of the things that I think might put it in perspective.  I have to confess to you that I'm sort of interested in what I am saying too because I'm saying things that I never said before, and didn't necessarily plan to say, so this is one sermon that even I want to attend.  I also realize that I run a certain risk of stepping over the line at some point and I don't want to offend anybody.  I have no agenda other than to deal with the sinfulness of man, and to call a whole city to repentance and to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to call you people to live your Christianity, wherever it is, in a way that would honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have listed some of the important things to note about the condition of man and if you understand this I think that you will understand what's going on in our culture; in our world even.  By the way, I might just mention to you that what we have seen in L.A. can't hold a candle to what the people in Croatia and Yugoslavia are undergoing.  That same kind of racial animosity that actually has nothing to do with black or white; nothing that defined.  It has to do with bitter hatred of people who you would assume would be of very similar race.  The wretchedness of man; the "front" for this is all over the face of the earth.

Here are the things that you need to understand.  Here are the sins that basically end up in this kind of activity.  One, and I don't know why they are in this order, this is just the order that I wrote them down in. 

1.  The terrible tragedy of the futility of living for pleasure.

We have a society that is in to "cheap thrills."  We have a culture that wants the feeling--mindless kicks.  At its best, it is a very educated yuppie society that is into the latest fashion; and the latest cars; and the fanciest houses; and the best restaurants; and all the jewelry; and the whole nine yards.  We have a culture that is not particularly cognitive, it is not thinking deeply about issues.  It is not dealing with human need at its truest level.  It is into self-fulfillment, self-pleasure.  It is into kicks; it is into the rush; it is into fun; it is into feelings--pleasure at every front. 

You will find, that were you to even talk about motivation with some of the people that were looting, and robbing, and stealing, and killing, in the city.  You would find them saying things like, "Stealing, and looting, and shooting, and beating is a kick.  It's a high.  It's a rush.  It's a thrill."  It's a cheap kind of thrill.  It disregards human life.  It cheapens everything.  We have a sensual society.  This society is literally poured a steady diet of sensuality--get a thrill.  It is not a cognitive society.  Neal Postman was right a few years back when he wrote a book called "Amusing Ourselves To Death."  We are so far into pleasure.  We are so far into fun.  We are so far into cheap thrills and kicks and highs that that is all we live for.  Those kinds of things end up in what you have seen. 

In 2 Thessalonians 2:12, last week, we saw this: that God is going to judge those who didn't believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness.  2 Peter 2:13 says, (listen to this) "They count it pleasure to riot."  1 Timothy 5:6, "She who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives."  When you live for pleasure: it is the death of dignity; it is the death of respect; it is the death of potential; it is the death of achievement; it is the death of personal growth; it is the death of the mind.  You have a society that is literally consumed with pleasure, feeling, sensation, and they are going to go after it any way they can get it. 

As you look at this you learn another thing, another condition that exists in the human heart that manifests itself:

2.  The terrible, terrible, reality of selfishness.

Whether you are talking about racial prejudice, or whether you are talking about looting and stealing, or whatever, all of that is a manifestation of selfishness.  Has there ever been a society (ask yourself) as self-centered as this one?  Has there ever?  Has there ever been a society as egotistical as this one?  Pride is exalted.

I remember Mohammed Ali started a trend.  Mohammed Ali was more a philosopher than a boxer.  He was a great boxer but his boxing didn't affect but only a few people--the ones he hit!  He was much more a philosopher than a boxer, and his philosophy introduced into American culture a brand new issue.  He is known for a statement: "I am . . ." (finish it) ". . . the greatest!"  He legitimized pride.  He legitimized ego, not just for black people but for everybody.  He transcended his race.  He became a hero of massive proportions to a whole culture of young people.  This tragic man did more to legitimize selfishness and legitimize pride than any other person in American history, maybe in the history of the world.  He has not affected this world with his fighting; he has affect the world with his philosophy of selfism.  He was the first person who ever got away with what would be called murder in the sense of advocating pride as a virtue.  He took a whole generation of people into the pit of selfism. 

We have a generation that believes they matter above everybody else.  I am the most important person.  The Bible says God hates pride.  God hates the uplifted look--haughty eyes.  It destroys love, it kills brotherhood, it destroys care, it ends kindness, and most of all it kills the supreme virtue in all of human conduct and that is the virtue of humility.  "Pride and arrogance I hate" says the Lord (Proverbs 8:13).  When pride comes there comes dishonor.  Pride doesn't bring honor--it brings dishonor (Proverbs 11:2).  Proverbs 13:10 says, "Through pride comes strife."  Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction."  Proverbs 29:23 says, "A man's pride will bring him low."  On the other hand, the same verse says, "Honor will uphold the humble."

It is amazing that when people become consumed with themselves and who they are, everybody else becomes only means for self-gratification.  You have pride corrupting every part of human stream.  In James, would you remember 4:1 and following:

      What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you [this is       a very, very important text to answer that]?  What is it that       causes riots, and quarrels, and fights, and wars?  Is not the       source your pleasure that wage war in your members?  First of       all, it's your tremendous need for pleasure.  You lust and do       not have so you commit murder, you are envious, you cannot       obtain so you fight and you quarrel. 

That's it!  You want pleasure and you want what you want because you think that you are the most important person in the world and if you can't get it to fulfill your lust--you'll kill if you have to.  Only humble people can love; only humble people can care; only humble people can sacrifice; only humble people can give; only humble people are content; only humble people can live their life for the benefit of others.  We live in a society of egomaniacs and everybody wants what he wants for himself and whatever it takes to get it or whoever I have to ignore to possess what I possess--I'm going to do it.

It makes me laugh really, in a sad way, when I see some wealthy movie star who is, you know, making millions and millions upon millions of dollars come on television and make a $1,000 donation to feed the homeless.  Give me a break!  $1,000 and they want a plaque on the wall.  They have no clue that they are steeped in the sin of selfishness, materialism, egocentrism.  The sins of loving pleasure and loving self will always cause disaster.

3.  The evil of materialism.

Thirdly, I'm just touching these lightly.  They follow along with each other.  You see, we live in a society (get this) where things are more important than people.  Can you believe it: you go into a store and you kill a person to take a stereo?  Absolutely inconceivable!  You murder a guy, you shoot him in the head to take his money so you can buy a CD player.  This is materialism.  Materialism says this thing is more important than a person.  Part of this, believe me, is the legacy of evolution.  Part of this is the legacy of that mindless philosophy today that says "A rock is a rat is a dog is a boy."  In other words, everything is the same and man isn't any more important than anything else.  Killing a cat is just as bad as killing a person and all of that kind of thing.  You demean man and his dignity as created in the image of God and you shoot him to get a CD player.  This is materialism at the base level. 

At the other extreme in our society is the materialism of those people who consume more stuff than they could possibly use.  More stereos than they could possibly listen to, while poor people have little or nothing.  You see it is at every level.  It knows no economics, this sin of materialism.  Jesus said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses" (Luke 12:15).  In fact, Jesus said, "What's it going to profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?"  Then what is he going to own that he can give God in exchange for his own eternal soul.  Is he going to go to God and say, "Hey God, I've got to tell you this, I've got a big house and I would like to swap it for my eternal soul."  Or, "God, hey I've got a 'Boom Box' you'd really like--I'd like to switch for my soul."  No!  You can get it all, but what are you going to do?  Are you going to give it in exchange for your soul when you face God? 

Sinful people wrapped up in love of pleasure; love of self; and love of things; are bound to have horrific conflict.

4.  The tragedy of amorality. 

Another component in this that you have to understand that consumes and leads to unbridled, unchecked devastation is the tragedy of amorality.  You are seeing in part also, the legacy of the sexual revolution of the sixties.  The sexual revolution of the sixties is so devastating in this culture [that] the arch-criminal in our society could well be Hugh Hefner.  He has probably killed as many or more people than anybody else.  And maybe running a close second to him is Phil Donahue.  Why?  Because they have advocated deviant life style.  They have given a forum to every sexual deviation. 

You talk about mass murder, take a look at the people dying of AIDs in our society because they have freedom, in their own thinking, to live that kind of lifestyle because the society tolerates it.  The legacy of the sexual revolution is absolutely horrifying, beyond description.  The loss of all moral sense has shattered the American family, therefore what you have is a whole generation of children and young people produced without an understanding of moral values; without any restraints; without any controls.  Then that one personal control, accountability source: the family, has just been blown to bits. 

You have a culture steeped in pornography, violently sexual music, perverse and wicked, wretched sexual conversation.  You take the movies of today, the music of today, the "rap-stuff" of today, and that pornographic kind of filth simply pours gasoline on whatever fire of sin is burning in this culture.  Unwanted pregnancy, abortion, unwanted children, single parents, abused children, rape, neglected infants, unwanted families, juvenile delinquency, divorce, VD, AIDS, it's all the direct result of an amoral society.  They have been driven by lusts. 

Some sociologists question whether America will ever produce the great musicians, the great thinkers, the great scholars, the great artists, the great poets, the great writers, the great geniuses in fields like it has in the past, because so many young people spend all their time and thought and energy on sexual fantasy and sexual pleasure.  Literally they are a dissipated, preoccupied, sexually deviant generation who could never produce great, great, social benefits.  They literally have sacrificed their mind for their glands.  The music and the films of our day exacerbate the problem and we are dominated by sexual violence and deviation.  That's why this kind of thing happens.  You have people who are living only at a "gut level."  They live for the next sex thrill and that is just a part of the whole sensuality.  Families are just ripped to shreds. 

I have talked on a number of occasions to my friend Tony Evans, who has preached here.  One of the really fine, outstanding black pastors in America, down at the Oak Cliff Church in Dallas.  Tony says the biggest problem he has beyond anything else (nothing even comes close to this) is trying to deal in his community with shattered families and the devastation that that brings on the whole of that society.  Everything is just ripped loose from its moorings.  This is the sexual revolution.  It has destroyed our whole culture.

5.  The danger of anger.

You not only have the love of pleasure, the love of self, the love of things, sexual perversion, another component in what we are seeing is the danger of anger.  You must understand why the Bible forbids anger.  Anger was once recognized as a sin.  When I grew up, self control was socially valuable.  I remember teachers writing home letters to my parents (they did that all the time).  That's the truth!  The typical letter said, "Johnny has a lot of potential but he never has any self control."  What they didn't understand was that I had things to say and I needed to say them.  It was just too bad that the teacher was talking at the same time.  They used to say, "He just has no self control.  Johnny lacks self control!"  That was pinned up in our kitchen.  They didn't know this was a gift.  This was a ministry.  But my parents used to spank me because I did not exercise self control. 

Self control was a virtue--you didn't say everything you thought.  You didn't vent your venom and your hostility and your anger.  By the way, psychologists know how totally self destructive that psychological theory was and it is now passe.  But that was the hot one when I was a student.  Anger is now exalted.  I have heard, I bet you fifty times, "The people have a right to be angry."  Have you heard that?  "They have every right to be angry."  What do you mean they have a right to be angry--anger is a sin!  Nobody has the right to be angry.  A policeman doesn't have a right to be angry.  A criminal doesn't have the right to be angry.  Nobody has a right to be angry.  The only thing you ever have a right to be angry over is when God is dishonored--holy wrath.  This is a Rambo mentality.  "I'm angry--bang! bang! bang!"  That's it!  (Sound effects surprised you--didn't they?  Still a little boy in me I guess.) 

You don't have a right to be angry.  Ephesians 4:31 says, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all evil."  James 1:20, "The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God."  You don't get the righteousness of God out of the wrath of man.  Ecclesiastics 7:9 says, "Anger rests in the bosom of a fool."  Anger is just the venting of sinful flesh.  Anger destroys and it even destroys the one who is angry.  Anger is always related to another thing so it's anger/hate.  Hate is intolerable.  There is no place for anger.  There is no place for hatred--none!  You say, "But what about my enemy?  What about the one who offended me?  What about the one who treats me unjustly?  What about people who are reeking havoc in our society?  What about them?  Shouldn't we be angry?" 

Listen.  These are the words of Jesus, Matthew 5:43, "You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy, say the people of your time.  But I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you; in order that you may be the sons of your Father who's in heaven."  What does that mean?  That means that when God looks at His enemies, He's concerned about their well being and you be the same.  Jesus, when he was reviled, reviled not back.  When He was slaughtered on a cross He said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  There is no place for anger and hatred.  Hatred is an offense to God.  Hatred is a wickedness.  Any kind of hatred at all, directed towards anybody, no matter what they may have done to you is outside the tolerance of God and is a sin.  You do not hate and there i

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