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Rising Above Discouragement

Rising Above Discouragement

13 

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,

    his upper rooms by injustice,

making his own people work for nothing,

    not paying them for their labor.

14 

He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace

    with spacious upper rooms.’

So he makes large windows in it,

    panels it with cedar

    and decorates it in red.

15 

“Does it make you a king

    to have more and more cedar?

Did not your father have food and drink?

    He did what was right and just,

    so all went well with him.

16 

He defended the cause of the poor and needy,

    and so all went well.

Is that not what it means to know me?”

    declares the Lord.

17 

“But your eyes and your heart

    are set only on dishonest gain,

on shedding innocent blood

    and on oppression and extortion.”

(Jeremiah 21:13-17)

When I was in college I had a professor who opened the class by emphasizing that life was not fair.  All of his tests emphasized this point. 

We all know that life is not fair- but why do we know that?  It can only mean that there is within each of us an innate sense of justice.  It is I believe the best evidence of the existence of God- that all humanity has a sense of morality and justice.  It is an instinct within the human heart.  

Here are five important points about justice we find in scripture: 

1. Our sense of justice is derived from God himself

Over and over in scripture the Bible says that if you call yourself a child of God and yet you insult the poor and promote injustice you have nothing to do with the Lord God.  The Bible says that God is a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow- he identifies with the poor and the oppressed. 

This was a radical belief in ancient times. In all other ancient cultures the gods identified with the people at the top.  It was believed that the gods favored the kings and wealthy.  Religion was a religion of good works and mortal effort and so if a person was succesful than they must have the gods favor. That is how it worked in every culture except in Israel.

When Naaman had leprosy he brought a pile of money to the king of Israel he would order the prophet Elisha to come heal him. The king ripped his clothes and said “The God of Israel doesn’t work like that…I don’t tell the prophet what to do.”  

God stood for the least of these – the widows, the orphans, the poor, the immigrant.

 This passage tells us about the importance of justice and that the heart of the biblical faith is that God is a God of justice and if you do not embrace justice for the magrinalizaed then you have nothing to do with God. 

2. God’s justice is universally applied 

The Old Testament law defended the powerless- the immigrant, the poor, the outcast, the “wanderer”.  In Genesis 9 God says if you shed blood of any human being I require blood to be shed because ALL human beings are created in the image of God.  It means equal treatment.  

3. God’s justice has special concern for the oppressed 

Speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.  

Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. Proverbs 31:9

Our greatest example of this was in the words of Jesus: 

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:34-40)

4. God’s justice is manifested in generosity 

Does it make you a king

    to have more and more cedar?

Did not your father have food and drink?

    He did what was right and just,

    so all went well with him.

16 

He defended the cause of the poor and needy,

    and so all went well.

Is that not what it means to know me?”

    declares the Lord.

God reminds us in his words that everything we have in this life we have because God has given it to us.  He has given you life, your abilities, your gifts, your talents, your context- all of it was given to you by God, and he expects you to be generous with what he has given you.  

5. God’s perfect justice is embodied in Jesus  

Jesus came to resolve the world’s injustice. 

By every measure, the arrest and trial of Jesus was unjust. According to legal scholar and historian Steven Steward, Jesus’ arrest was illegal on at least three grounds of Hebrew law: It was a nighttime arrest; it was affected by Judas, who would have been considered an accomplice of Jesus; and it was not based on probable cause by officials seeking righteous judgment. According to first century Hebrew laws, either the trial should never have taken place, or at the very least, Jesus should have been acquitted based on multiple legal violations. And that was only according to the Hebrew laws. 

When Jesus was handed over to Pilate, a whole new set of ethical problems ensued. Why did Jesus go before the Romans? The Jewish religious leaders wanted Pilate to execute Jesus because only the Romans had the right to execute on criminal charges. The Romans had removed the death penalty from the Jews’ authority, and any criminal charge the Jews might bring would be subject to Pilate’s approval or vetoed.

The Romans prided themselves in their sense of justice. As attorney Walter Chandler noted, “The Roman judicial system is incomparable in the history of jurisprudence. Judea gave religion, Greece gave letters, and Rome gave laws to mankind. Thus runs the judgment of the world.” 

And yet the Romans were also guilty of an unjust verdict. First of all, the charge of blasphemy would not have held up in a Roman court and certainly was not worthy of execution. Second, Pilate at first ruled that Jesus was “without fault,” and then changed the verdict after pressure from the Jews. His action, called “double jeopardy” in the court, would have been a basis for acquittal. And yet, Jesus was sentenced to death and brutally executed. 

No one in history was more unjustly sentenced than Jesus of Nazareth, but because of his great love and grace, Jesus endured the injustices of the Hebrew and Roman courts. He never lashed out. He remained calm, and even prayed for his accusers, asking God to forgive them because they “know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

What does this mean for us? Because Jesus endured such injustice, he identifies with all injustice in the world in a very personal way:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus took all of the world’s injustice onto himself so that we could be shown mercy. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). And one day all of history will culminate in the ultimate day of justice in which God will make everything right. In The Prodigal God, Tim Keller wrote this: 

Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much that he came and experienced it to defeat it and someday, to wipe the world clean of it. Knowing this, Christians cannot be passive about hunger, sickness, and injustice. Karl Marx and others have charged that religion is “the opiate of the masses.” That is, it is a sedative that makes people passive towards injustice, because there will be “pie in the sky bye and bye.” That may be true of some religions that teach people that this material world is unimportant or illusory. Christianity, however, teaches that God hates the suffering and oppression of this material world so much, that he was willing to get involved in it and to fight against it. Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people. It is more like the smelling salts. (Tim Keller, The Prodigal God) 

Truly, life is not fair. But because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and what he will fulfill in the final judgement, all of life's unfairness will one day be overwhelmed within the scales of eternity. Only then will the innate sense of justice our hearts so desperately long for be fully and infinitely satisfied.

Discussion questions:

  1. Where do we get our sense of justice?  
  2. How does this seem to prove the existence of God?
  3. Why is it important to believe in justice and fairness?
  4. How should we as Christians influence our world toward the justice of God?
  5. How did Jesus satisfy God’s perfect sense of justice? 


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