February 5, 2015

Justice and Jesus

Sometimes the astute philosophers and theologians must take a back seat to ordinary people. This quote is from a homeless man: “You wouldn’t want to live in a world where God didn’t punish injustices and just freely forgave sin — without any request for someone to choose the salvation He offers back. Imagine a place where injustice was never punished and people never recognized their sin and need for salvation. That would be terrible and painful.”

It seems that the desire for justice is in our hearts. It might be misled or misdirected, but everyone has a sense of rightness and feel dismay when it does not happen. No doubt this is part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

When Egypt made slaves out of God’s people, the Lord sent Moses to lead them to freedom. Of course the Egyptian Pharaoh did not want them to leave. Even though he seemed to be favorable during each plague, he hardened his heart as soon as the plague was lifted. Moses must have been frustrated by what seemed a lack of justice, but God said there would be one more plague . . .

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12–13)

The blood He spoke of was in the instructions He gave Moses, who then passed them on to the elders of Israel. He said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” (Exodus 12:21–23)

He told them when their offspring asked about the Passover celebration to be celebrated every year afterward, they were to say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ ” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 12:27)

Because God is truly good, injustice must be punished. This is why Jesus had to die. He paid the price for all the evil inflicted in the world and the terrible sins we commit against one another and against God. Jesus’ death combines God’s mercy on sinners with His justice for sin —all in one wonderful and terrible act.

This act was foreshadowed in the Passover event. The Exodus is often called a saving act, and it was, but it was also brutal and horrible. God killed all the firstborn in Egypt as an act of justice against them for the suffering they inflicted on His people. While Pharaoh was given many warnings, he refused to change his ways and paid a terrible price. He was guilty and deserved justice. But Jesus was innocent. He suffered a brutal crucifixion as He took upon Himself the punishment we deserve.

The next reading offers words of praise from a bride to her lover. For me, it evokes worship to the One who redeemed me from justice by paying my wages for sin . . . “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” (Song of Solomon 2:3)

No person wants to have justice fall upon them. I know that true justice would cost me my life. But God loves me. “He did not send his Son into the world in order that he should judge the world, but in order that the world should be saved through him” . . . The one who believes in him is not judged, but the one who does not believe has already been judged, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

There is a caveat to this wonder of escaping justice. It puts people into two camps; those who love sin and those who love Jesus. He said about the former: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19)

And He explained the way of escape. It is not through anything we do, but through revelation and faith: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

The Israelites were helpless to escape their bondage. They were told of a land of promise, but it was not only beyond their vision, but beyond any ability to get there. God had to rescue them, and He did it.

Without this new life that God gives, I could not see God’s kingdom either, never mind enter the life that He promises. My exodus from bondage began more than forty years ago – simply because God determined to rescue me. With great delight I sit in His shadow . . . !

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