Justice and Righteousness: Is Not This How You Know Me?

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 22-24

“Is not this how you know me? declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 22:16

How do we know God?

This is a very fundamental question for every Christian.

However, I think many Christians get this question confused with another related, but not the same, question.

That second question is how do we know about God?

We can know about God, really anyone for that matter, but reading an account of them. We can know about anyone in history by reading an account of their works. The written account of someone’s works is the testimony of what they have done.

This is exactly the role that scripture fulfills in regards to God. Through scripture we can know about Jesus and about God. This is precisely the role that Jesus gives to scripture in John 5:39-40, which says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

The scriptures witness about eternal life, who is God. But, the scriptures do not allow you to know eternal life himself. Jesus said you can know about me, about God, about eternal life, through the Scriptures. However, if you want to know him, the Father, and eternal life directly, one-to-one, in relationship, then you must come to him.

Essentially, Jesus said you cannot know God by the scriptures. You can know about him, but you cannot know him.

Many Christians fail to see the distinction between knowing about God and knowing God. Therefore, many Christians don’t understand that we can and should know God apart from the Bible. Dare I say that Jesus even insists that we know God apart from the Bible.

For, there is a world of difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Knowing about God leads us follow strict rules and regulations, which if you break those strict rules and regulations you are evil and wicked and out of fellowship with God, perhaps even condemned to everlasting torture. Knowing about God leads us into forcing others to adhere to our strict moral code without producing any real transformation in our own lives.

However, knowing God leads us into a relationship of self-sacrificial love with the God of all creation through Jesus that transforms our very hearts and minds so that love we love our enemies with the same love that we have for God and our friends.

So, I believe it is possible, and necessary, to know God apart from the Bible.

But, what that does that look like?

Jeremiah 22 helps us see how.

The lead up to God’s question “Is not this to know me?” begins to reveal how we know God apart from the Bible.

“Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? The judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is not this how to know me? declares the Lord?”

We know God by doing justice and righteousness. But, justice and righteousness are not adhering to strict moral codes, rules and regulations. Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 4:3, 6-10.

“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world…And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather be known by God, how you can turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!”

When we know about God we follow the elementary principles – rules and regulations of how to please God – of the world. But, once we know God, we are no longer a slave to those elementary principles.

And, it is the Spirit of Jesus who God has put in our hearts who takes beyond these elementary principles to practice true righteousness and justice. Jeremiah tells us that the justice and righteousness we should practice is judging the cause of the poor and the needy. We don’t judge them in terms of right and wrong as in a court of law. Instead, we judge them as in need of our care and support, our love.

Jeremiah explained this further earlier in chapter 22. In verse 3, the Lord commanded the king and his servants, “Do justice and righteousness.”

What did this justice and righteousness entail?

  • “deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed”
  • “do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow”
  • “nor shed innocent blood in this place”

Doing justice and righteousness is taking care of the disadvantaged. Doing justice and righteousness is providing for those that have been taken advantage of and despised by the rest of the world.

And God says, “Is this not to know me?”

Therefore, we know God apart from the Bible by doing justice and righteousness in the same manner and character that God does it. And, God does by delivering people from their oppressor who has robbed them, doing no wrong or violence to anyone, particularly the stranger and the weak, and not shedding innocent blood, which in a true Biblical understanding goes far beyond physically murdering them.

In virtually identical language, Jesus tells us the same thing. Taking care of the needy is how we know God, or as Paul said, how God knows us.

Remember, in Jeremiah 22 God was speaking to the king on the throne and his servants. Now listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-40.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothes med, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when we did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”

These righteous, by caring for the outcast, the poor, the hungry, the broken, and the naked, did true righteousness and justice to the disadvantaged. And, by doing this righteousness and justice to the disadvantaged, they did it to Jesus. Therefore, they knew Jesus. These righteous didn’t just know about Jesus from the scriptures. These righteous knew Jesus and God by their practice of true righteousness and justice.

At the close of the sermon on the mount, which details all the ways that true righteousness and justice are displayed in loving our enemies, Jesus, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

There will be many that in effect say, “But, we practiced all the elementary principles of this world. We did all the religious sacrifices that the Bible says.” And, Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you.” In effect, Jesus is saying that religious practice only leads you to knowing about him. But, it doesn’t lead you knowing him and him knowing you.

So, we can, even must, know God apart from the Bible. Jeremiah and Jesus tell us how – by practicing true righteousness and justice, taking care of the disadvantaged in society. It is then the actual act of righteousness and justice that we truly know God.

 

As the Lord Lives, or Jesus Is Lord

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 4-5

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and him shall they glory.'” – Jeremiah 4:1-2

If Israel was going to return to God and if they were to swear “As the Lord lives” in truth , justice, and righteousness, then the nations would be blessed and glory in the Lord.

Israel was originally called by God to be a witness of him, a light, to the Gentile nations. They had failed in that calling because they had become enslaved to idols and false gods. But, if they would return to God, turn from their false idols, then they would once again be a witness of God to the nations and the nations would be blessed through them.

A condition of their returning to God was to proclaim “As the Lord lives” in truth, in justice, and in righteousness.

What does “As the Lord lives” mean?

And, how do we see Jesus in this proclamation?

“As the Lord lives” was something Israel was to swear. Therefore, this phrase is an oath. And, it is used that way all throughout the Old Testament.

However, you could swear “As the Lord lives” falsely.

Jeremiah 5:1-2 says, “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Thought they says, ‘As the Lord lives,’ yet they swear falsely.”

Israel was proclaiming “As the Lord lives,” but no man could be found who did justice and sought truth in all Jerusalem. In other words, men were claiming “As the Lord lives” but their actions revealed that oath they swearing was not a reality in their lives. So, the profession “As the Lord lives” was false because their words did not line up with their actions.

Jeremiah 23 connects the oath “As the Lord lives” to Jesus.

Verses 5-6 say, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.'”

Remember that Israel was to declare “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness but not one man could be found to do so. However, in Jeremiah 23:5-6, we find just such a man.

Of course, these verses are referring to Jesus, the righteous branch, that came forth from David. This one man, Jesus, does not profess the oath, “As the Lord lives,” verbally, but he does profess it with his life. Notice that these verses say Jesus would reign as king and deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness. In other words, by the life he lived, Jesus professed “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness and all the nations are blessed in him, just as Jeremiah 4:1-2 says. Here is the one man in all the streets of Jerusalem that could not be found in Jeremiah 5:1-2.

In Revelation 1:18, Jesus said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Jesus declared of himself that he is the living one, alive forevermore, the Lord that lives.

In the New Testament, we do not find the words “As the Lord lives,” but we find a similar oath.

Romans 10:8-9 says, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

1 Corinthians 12:2-3 says, “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

In the New Testament, instead of professing “As the Lord lives” we profess “Jesus is Lord.” This is our oath. This is the declaration we swear to live by. But, we can swear it falsely, just like in the Old Testament, if our the actions of our life do not line up with the words we say. This is why Paul says that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Not because you can’t literally say the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit, but because you can’t actually live the life that reflects the reality of the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit.

How do we go about professing “Jesus is Lord?”

Notice that back in Jeremiah 4:3-4 it says, “For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.'”

Jeremiah stated that in order to swear truthfully “As the Lord lives” one had to break up their fallow ground and be circumcised, removing the foreskin of their hearts. In other words, one had to repent and be baptized.

This is exactly what we see in the New Testament. In Acts 2, Peter delivers the first sermon in church history. He closes it in verse 36, saying “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” In other words, Peter closed by saying, “Jesus is Lord.”

What was the response of the hearers?

Verse 37 says, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” The hearers had come to see that “Jesus is Lord” just as Peter proclaimed. What should they do in response?

Verse 38 says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Just like Jeremiah 4, you need to repent and be baptized to truly profess “Jesus is Lord.” And, Peter says that you will receive the Holy Spirit to ensure that the profession of your mouth lines up with the profession of your life.

So, what will the life of one who proclaims “Jesus is Lord” with his mouth and the actions of his life look like?

I believe there are threes specific actions the flow out of allegiance to the oath “Jesus is Lord.”

Isaiah 53:9 says, “Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

Daniel 9:9 says, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness.”

Jesus lived a life that was marked by absolutely no violence and no lies. This is why he was also to go to the cross and be crucified to be free us from our bondage to sin, idols, and false gods. And, it was because Jesus lived a life marked by no violence and no lies that he was able to proclaim forgiveness, mercy, to us from the cross.

Jesus proclaimed that the same should be true of us. In John 8, Jesus said that Satan was the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. He told the Jews he was talking to that Satan was their father, meaning their lives were marked by murder, violence, and lies. But, Jesus told them that those whom the son sets free are free indeed. Therefore, to say that “Jesus is Lord,” means that your life is no longer characterized by the works of Satan – murder of lies – but by Jesus, who did no violence and no lies.

In the context of loving your enemies, in Luke 6:36, Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The ultimate display of that mercy was Jesus’ forgiveness of us even as we were crucifying him. Therefore, our lives should be marked by the same level of forgiveness.

Remember that Jeremiah 23 said that Jesus was the one man that was found who said “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness. And, that Israel would truly swear “As the Lord lives” if there profession was lived out in truth, justice, and righteousness.

To live in truth is to live without lies.

Righteousness is not the right moral action alone. It is more than that. Righteousness is setting things right. For Jesus, this meant bringing to life. In John 10:10, Jesus said he came to give life and life more abundantly. This will be fulfilled when the last enemy, death, Satan’s chief weapon, is defeated. To live in righteousness is to bring life and overcome death, murder, violence.

To live in justice is to give mercy. Mercy, forgiveness, was Jesus’ justice from the cross. James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Paul sums this profession, “Jesus is Lord,” in two ways for me.

First, in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17, he says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And, in Galatians 6:14, Paul says, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Second, in Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Let me close with two final points.

First, “As the Lord lives” is used eight times in the book of Jeremiah. Eight is the number of new beginning or new creation. When we proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and truly live a life marked by no violence, no lies, and complete forgiveness as Jesus did, then we participate with him in ushering in the new creation and causing the nations of the world to be blessed and glory in Christ.

Second, “As the Lord live” us used 35 times in the Old Testament. The number 35 speaks to vindication and hope. Remember, we can say Jesus is Lord because he is the living one who died and is alive forevermore. That Jesus lives and is Lord is both or vindication and our hope.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14 says, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” In other words, if Christ has not been raised, then our faith would be without hope, without vindication.

However, 1 Peter 1:21 says, “God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus has been raised, resurrected. He is the living one. “As the Lord lives” he is our vindication and hope.

Jesus is Lord!

Justice: A Joy to the Righteous, A Terror to Evildoers

TODAY’S READING: PROVERBS 21-23

“When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

Jesus is just. He came to make the world just, to bring justice to the world. This means that he came to bring the world into conformity the character of God. Jesus’ most significant act, the beginning of his rule, of justice was the cross. This was when he truly began to make the world right. Indeed, God was reconciling the world to himself through Jesus on the cross.

The justice of Jesus, this setting the world right and reconciling it to the character of God, is a joy to the righteous. But, Jesus’ justice is terror to evildoers.

Why is Jesus’ justice a terror to evildoers?

It’s not because Jesus is bringing justice like we are accustomed to through our legal by punishing evildoers. First John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Fear and punishing are linked, but there is no fear in love. And, Jesus and God are love.

Yet, even without punishing evildoers, Jesus’ justice is a terror to evildoers. Proverbs 21:7 says, “The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just.” Evildoers refuse to do what is just. They refuse Jesus’ reconciliation. Evildoers refuse to take on the character of God, which is to love. So, instead of loving, particularly their enemies, evildoers refuse to do what is just and do violence instead. And, it is their own violence that sweeps them away. This, their own violence, is the terror that evildoers face.

So, for those that are righteous, those that are being reconciled to God, justice is a joy. But, for those that are evildoers, refusing to be reconciled to God, refusing the justice of God, their own violence sweeps them away, which makes justice a terror to them.

The Way of Death Was to Stay in Jerusalem?

As I’ve been reading Jeremiah the last few days, it seems so relevant to our time today.

In short, Jerusalem and Judah were in full rebellion against God. The leaders, the shepherds, were not feeding and protecting the people. Instead, they were enriching themselves through injustice and oppression. So, God was going to bring Babylon against them and send them into exile.

They came to Jeremiah, asking him to inquire of the Lord for them. In Jeremiah 21:8-10, Jeremiah says, “And to this people you shall say: Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set you before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’”

What!?!? The way of death was to stay in Jerusalem? This was the city where God had caused his name to dwell. This was his holy city. Shouldn’t the people fight to stay in God’s city, where he dwelt, where the temple was? Shouldn’t they defend it against the king of Babylon? No, because God had set his face against it. He had seen its wickedness and corruption. God saw the city and that it was full of evil. So, God was going to put an end to that. To stay in the city, to defend the wickedness, the evil, and the oppression would be to go against God. Therefore, to go with God would be to flee the city. To go with God was the way of life.

Our government, political system, and rich leaders are full of corruption, evil, and wickedness. It is a continual oppression to people in this country and around the world. God’s people should not be a part of that. It seems to me in Jeremiah that God isn’t saying that you should stay in it, try and fix it up, and fight for it. Because God’s kingdom will consume every kingdom of man in the end. All the nations are but dust before him.

Instead of staying to defend and fight for the city that had become corrupt, God tells his people what to do in the next chapter. Jeremiah 22:3-5, “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.” Don’t fight against the king of Babylon who God sent to destroy Jerusalem. Instead do justice, righteousness, and no wrong to those who have been taken advantage of or are helpless.

What’s a possible application for us?

There is no need for American Christians to lend their support to our corrupt government. There is no need to defend it, to fight against God ending its wickedness. Simply come out from it and do justice, righteousness and mercy. God’s kingdom is completely different than the kingdoms of this world. As Christians, we have transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. We are strangers and sojourners in the earth. Like Jesus, we are without a home, a place to lay our head. We are ambassadors in a foreign land, representing our Lord whose kingdom is completely different than the one we are currently sent to.

Later in chapter 24, Jeremiah has a vision of very good figs and very bad figs. The very good figs were the ones that went with God, that left the city, that became exiles. The very bad figs were the ones that stayed and tried to defend what Jerusalem had become and what God wanted to destroy.

Jeremiah 24:4-10 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to me: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall by me people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. But thus says the Lord: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”

Let us be the very good figs that go with God.

Required: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Micah 6:8 – “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you God?”

Israel thought God wanted their sacrifices. But, through Micah, God says he doesn’t want sacrifices and burnt offerings. He wants Israel to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly before God. Micah’s statement is not an isolated portion of scripture as it is repeated over and over in scripture.

When I read Micah 6:6-8, I think of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. The Pharisees had caught a woman in adultery. And, by the law, she was to be stoned to death. So, they asked Jesus for his opinion? As one who claimed to know God, even be God, would he consent to stoning her?

Jesus said nothing. Jesus stooped down. Stooping down is a sign of humility. Imagine this group challenging you, demanding an answer from you, perhaps even threatening you. But, Jesus got down on the ground, in a sense under the Pharisees.

Then he wrote in the dust. To do so, his eyes would have been on the ground, not looking up to the Pharisees. Again a position of humility. He stalled, delayed, waited. The Pharisees demanded an answer.

Then, Jesus stood up. He got back on the level of the Pharisees and said whoever is without sin let him cast the first stone. Having said that, Jesus stooped down again and went back to writing in the dust. He stalled, delayed, and waited some more. Having answered them, he went back to his position of humility.

The accusers left. But, the crowd was still there. What was the crowd expecting? Did they expect Jesus to stone her? He was proclaiming to be God. Would he follow the law as they had been taught it by the scribes and Pharisees?

It’s only Jesus and the woman in the middle of the crowd. He stands up once again. I imagine he did so to look her in the eye. He asked her where her accusers went. Didn’t any of them condemn her? She said no. And, Jesus said he didn’t either, so go and sin no more. He was merciful. He gave her what she did not deserve.

Think about that. Jesus was without sin. So, by his own statement he could have thrown the first stone at her. He could have rightfully judged her and condemned her to death. But, he was walking in humility and loving kindness. In Luke 6:36 we are told to be merciful even as God is merciful. And, if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father. So, in Jesus’ act of mercy we see what God is really like.

But, what about justice? Or, what is justice?

I think when most of us think of justice we think of punishment being doled out for wrongdoing. Maybe I need to rethink what justice is to God.