INTRODUCTION – We began last week a series on the topic of justice for a variety of reasons. 1. Because I’ve never had a course on it. Never read a whole book just on that subject. Never heard a sermon preached on it except for clips from some Martin Luther King sermons. And yet I keep coming across the words, “Just”, Justice and injustice in the scriptures as I read them day after day.
2. I am on a task force for the Statesmen’s group, which is an international group that Dennis Peacocke leads – – and our particular task force has been given the assignment to produce a biblical theology on the main topics in scripture that bear on city reaching or city transformation. And in our discussions in Dallas back in September I was given the assignment to produce some papers on the theme of justice in scripture since no city is going to be transformed unless justice is taken seriously and executed faithfully and courageously, and everyone in our group admitted along with me that they had never done justice to the subject of justice, and no one else seemed inclined to do justice to the subject of justice.
3. Because when there is a vacuum in society of truth in whatever arena – because the church, which the apostle Paul says is the “Pillar and support of truth” has not lived it out and proclaimed it like it should have – – that truth gets perverted and corrupted and co-opted as we have seen so vividly with the battle for the definition of marriage in our nation. This has been happening with justice as well. And I believe God is calling us to do what we can to turn that around.
1. Review of Last week re: God & Justice God alone is Just and is our standard of justice
God executes justice in the earth and delights in our knowing Him as such
Jesus’s ministry & kingdom rule will be characterized by justice
The righteous look to God for justice and trust Him to deliver it
The more we are grounded in these truths and realities; the more God can use us to bring about justice in the earth. And God knows the earth is in desperate need of justice in these days. One thing I’ve found helpful in this study is that many of the prophets lived in times similar to ours and felt the anguish we feel about the lawlessness and injustice in our day. The prophet Isaiah lamented, Isaiah 1:21, 23 “How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. …. Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow’s plea come before them.”
While there was a time in Israel’s history where its leaders were godly and righteous men who laid their lives down for those they served, and who were careful to execute justice for the poor and afflicted and vulnerable; and thus where its cities were characterized by justice and righteousness – – that time had long passed – by the time Isaiah began his ministry. Now those who led had one primary objective – and that was to line their pockets and stay elected (sound familiar?). Because of this obsession, they were mostly oblivious to the cries of the poor and needy and mistreated – especially when it came to truly bringing about justice for them, and not some politically correct bandaid measure, or photo – op. Now I suppose we could all say, Well surprise, surprise! This is where rulers so often end up. But what about God’s people? Surely they could be counted on to execute justice in the land? Well sadly in Isaiah’s day that was not the case. Isaiah 5:7 “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.”
As I survey the landscape of our nation as it relates to executing justice – whether at the highest levels of government or in our neighborhoods and communities – and even among the people of God – – I believe we are coming up frightenly short of the righteous standard and expectation of our justice loving God.
I’m reminded of that sobering quote by Thomas Jefferson where he said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,…. that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
So my objective this morning is to begin to introduce you to God’s call on His people to be a People of Justice. But before we jump in – let me try to bring some clarity to the definition of justice. I. Defining Justice I say clarity because libraries and the internet are full of everything but clarity when it comes to what true justice is and looks like. For instance, Plato once sought to define justice this way, “Justice means minding one’s own business and not meddling with other men’s concerns.” This was one of a number of quotes from famous people on the subject of justice that Caroline and I read over and discussed on our date Thursday evening – half of which were not helpful or in any way accurate.
From my study of all of the passages wherein the word is found I would say that justice includes just dealings with one’s fellow men; and/or bringing about just dealings between men where there is injustice. Sometimes we are commanded to be just in our own dealings with men. Sometimes we are to get involved in unjust situations between others and try to bring about just dealings or just treatment.
II. Defining Justice and Righteousness Were you to trace every reference in scripture to justice, you would note that often – when you see the word justice – at least 36 times – justice and righteousness appear together. Such as in II Samuel 8:15 – speaking of David – “So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.”
Some writers and scholars seem to think they are one and the same. But after meditating on all these passages I do not agree with that assessment.
Difference between Justice and Righteousness? Pursuing righteousness has to do with my personal life in Christ – – being in right relationship with God and others – through the process of sanctification or being conformed to the image of Christ. Righteousness is doing, thinking and speaking what is right, with the right motives for the right reasons.
Exercising justice has to do with helping and contending for others – usually the weak, downtrodden, afflicted, poor, etc. , who so easily can be treated unjustly and taken advantage of or just flat out neglected and ignored. Exercising justice would mean doing whatever it takes to make sure they are treated justly and rightly by others; and that injustice towards them is stopped.
So why are righteousness and justice often lumped together? Well my sense is because God is never satisfied or pleased with people who seek to do the right things – – like dealing with a particular injustice – but with wrong motives or attitudes. With God – the end never justifies the means. Justice is His cause – – and He wants it to be executed in His way – with His motives – for His glory. Righteousness enables us to do that.
Personally in this journey, I have found meditating on the specific passages of scripture far more helpful than consulting with books and websites, though I will continue to read the writings of men when I get time. So that’s where I want to take you now. And I want to start where God starts because He started there for a very obvious reason.
II. The Call to execute Justice Can you guess the context of the very first passage in the Bible wherein the word justice is found? Well it happens to be in a very interesting conversation our triune God is having with Himself about Abraham. Turn with me in your Bibles to Gen. 18 – starting with vs. 17. There we find God deliberating about whether to inform Abraham of His intention to judge or punish Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s read vs. 17-19. So why did God have to ponder this decision? Why didn’t He just go on and carry out His judgment of these horribly evil cities? Well as He said in vs. 18, Abraham wasn’t just any old joe. Abraham was the one man God had chosen on the face of the earth to produce a mighty covenant people through, and to – through them – that is Israel – bless and reveal Himself to the nations. Not an insignificant calling huh?
Now I want you to clear out of your mind the whole Sodom and Gomorrah story right now. Because there is something very crucial in vs. 19 for you and I to see. While Abraham’s calling was highly unique and very strategic – – I mean the whole destiny of the nations was now riding on this man – – the fulfillment of his calling was not a given. It was not automatic. It depended on Abraham’s obedience. But can I ask you – – obedience to what? Look with me again at vs. 19. (read it) God chose Abraham, but Abraham’s calling could and would not be fulfilled unless his children and their children followed in his path. Thus he was to command and instruct them – as a way of life – to do what? “Keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice. “ Do you see the significance of this folks? The very first mention of the word justice is found in God’s formula for Abraham’s calling or destiny to be fulfilled and that formula is clearly based on his family life, and his intentional discipling of his children. Success for Abraham’s children in God’s eyes was not whether they got a good education at the Hebrew university and got a good career job. Rather it was whether they learned to “keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.”
God’s eternal plan for establishing justice in the earth was for fathers to instruct and disciple their children in living this kind of life and having this kind of mentality. Is it any wonder that most of the inmates at CMC, who were arrested – usually multiple times for committing crimes of injustice – were fatherless men (according to the ministers and chaplains and guards I have talked to over the years)?? And yet for those of you that have read books on parenting or fathering, do they usually expound on and emphasize this? I don’t think most do – that is deal with the aspects of training them to be justice keepers.
Well let’s look at some other passages re: our call to execute justice. As I have been meditating in all of these 150 or so passages over the last couple of weeks, I’ve grown very thankful for how thorough God is in His word. He just doesn’t leave any rocks unturned. And while He doesn’t give us an exact definition in His word of justice, He will often describe some of the applications or out workings of justice. For instance –in Deut. 16:18 God is directing the Israelites through Moses to appoint gov’t leaders in their towns, “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” Then He says in vs. 19 “You shall not distort justice.”
OK, well how might these gov’t leaders distort justice? He continues, “you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.” Reminds me of Proverbs 29:4 that says, “The king gives stability to the land by justice, But a man who takes bribes overthrows it.” So clearly from these two passages, executing justice as a gov’t official of a town or state or nation requires that you govern in absolute impartiality; and that you not under any circumstance take a bribe. Being partial to someone or some organization would be committing injustice. Taking a bribe that would influence your vote re: the bribe giver’s cause would be committing injustice.
It’s interesting to me that Prop. 32 seems to be geared towards curbing this particular injustice. In case you haven’t studied it yet, Prop 32, known as the Stop Special Interest Money Now Act, would introduce three key reforms to California’s campaign finance rules.
First, it would ban the use of employee payroll deductions for “political purposes.”
Second, Prop 32 would forbid corporations and unions from making direct contributions to state and local candidates or the committees that fund them. A similar rule already exists at the federal level.
Third, the measure would make it illegal for government contractors to contribute to elected officials who have a hand in awarding them a contract, at least while that contract is under consideration or is in effect.
Psalm 82 is instructive along these lines. Listen to the first few verses: “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked. (So what is judging unjustly? Showing partiality to the wicked!. Then He goes on to what they should positively do to carry out justice). Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”
One of the roles of gov’t leaders is to devise laws that protect the most needy, weak and vulnerable among us – – those that cannot defend themselves. And then to empower police to protect them according to those laws. While our gov’t does this to some degree, the ongoing tragedy in our nation is that we continue to allow greedy and corrupt abortionists and abortion industry organizations like planned parenthood to line their pockets with blood money – – the killing of our most vulnerable and defenseless – the unborn. In saying this, I do rejoice that there are a number of attorneys and lawmakers in our congress who are trying to get this horribly unjust law of legal abortion overturned. And there are a growing number of states that are refusing to funnel our tax dollars towards Planned Parenthood – after all we have discovered in the last year or two about the evils that go on behind their closed doors. These attorneys and lawmakers deserve our prayers and encouragement as the forces they are fighting against are just as sinister and powerful as the forces that kept slavery legal for so long.
By the way, do you know what the circumstances were when Israel began to beg for a King? Turn with me to I Samuel ch. 8 vs. 1 – 5. (read it). Either Samuel the prophet and Judge, who we know loved and feared the Lord, did not disciple his sons; or they in spite of his attempts to disciple them – refused to follow his ways and instruction, and pursue his heart – – and thus their perversion of justice – – led the Israelites to press for a King.
David was the first King that was known for his carrying out of justice. We see that in several ways. First II Sam. 8:15 says of him, “So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.” That’s a general assessment of his rule and reign. But I love what we see of his heart for justice in a couple of Psalms. First Psalm 7:3-5 is a heart felt prayer of David’s, where He prays, “O Lord my God, if I have done this, If there is injustice in my hands, If I have rewarded evil to my friend, Or have plundered him who without cause was my adversary, Let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it; And let him trample my life down to the ground And lay my glory in the dust.” David carried out justice because He so feared the Lord and wanted to please Him and He knew God required this of him.
Then in Psalm 101:1 we see how much this passion for justice was woven into David’s lifestyle, when he said, “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, To You, O Lord, I will sing praises.” David didn’t just sing about God’s love for him. He also sang about the things God loves and the things God hates – knowing that God loves justice and hates injustice; and our worship of Him is not pleasing when we only focus on one or two aspects of His character and works in the earth at the exclusion of the others. Whereas Samuel the prophet did not successfully “command his children …to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice..” as God commanded Abraham to do to his children, and thus all subsequent fathers to theirs, David evidently was successful in transferring that passion to his son Solomon. If God said to you as He did to King Solomon, “Ask what you wish Me to give you” what would you have asked for – knowing that evidently it was a blank check kind of an invitation? Well we know what Solomon asked for, and vs. 10-12 of I Kings ch. 3 tells us how God responded to his request, “It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor has asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold I have done according to your words.” Solomon’s just rule became known far and wide to where even the queen of Sheba commented on it after she had a chance to see it with her own eyes (II Chronicles 9:8).
Well we have looked at a Judge/Prophet named Samuel and his sons; and King David and His son Solomon. Let’s take a quick look at one of David’s other sons and then a prophet and then we need to pray some together for our nation.
There is a sobering passage in II Samuel 15:4 concerning David’s son Absalom, where Absalom said, “Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land, then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me and I would give him justice.” Now if you study the first six verses of this chapter you find that Absalom didn’t care a flip about true justice. He just knew that if you give people what they want – you can get their votes. And he needed their votes to be able to overturn his father’s rule and reign. Surely one of the more tragic stories of biblical history. But not an uncommon twisting of motives even today in our political circus. And a classic example of someone thinking they can bring about justice without living a righteous life. Finally I want to end with the prophet Micah’s commitment to justice in ch. 3 of his short book. 3:6-12.
Micah comes after the book of Jonah and before the book of Nahum (read it). Micah had the unenviable task of having to come up against all the false prophets, which far outnumbered the true prophets in his day, and rebuke and confront them of their wicked motives and practices. What enabled him to not only rebuke and confront them, but also execute justice himself was his dependence upon the Lord for the power and courage to do so. When God commands us to do something scary or challenging, He always provides the strength and power to do so, if we are willing to humble ourselves before Him and wait on Him for His empowerment.
For us to be able to faithfully fulfill our call to executing justice – we are going to need to experience the power of the Holy Spirit and the courage that comes with that – that the prophet Micah walked in.