Is God’s Love Balanced by His Justice?

Deuteronomy 16.19, 20 says, “You shall not pervert justice…Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

As I read this verse the other day, I thought it was a very accurate description of how many Christians today view God. For these Christians, the thinking seems to be that God is just. Therefore, justice is going to be served by God, whether in this life or in the next. Justice is someone being punished, getting what they deserved, for their sins. In other words, justice sounds like, “Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

I see two reasons many western Christians think this way about justice. The first is our legal system. The system is designed to exact some sort of punishment, not restitution and reconciliation, for crimes committed. We fail to recognize how much this influences our thinking about God and Jesus and how they act in the world. Second, much of western Christianity is dominated by the thinking of John Calvin. Calvin was a lawyer. Not coincidentally, whether Calvin himself intended it or not, we have made Calvin out to make a big deal about justice.

As a result, many Christians set God’s justice on an equal footing with God’s love. For these Christians, when someone says that God is love, a typical retort is to say that God is just too.

But, is that true?

Are we to know God as love and as justice?

Is God’s justice like our justice?

Or, is God’s justice moderated by his love because God’s love supersedes any justice he brings about?

My answers would be no, no, no, and yes.

For starters, 1 John 4.8 and 16 both say, “God is love.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say God is just. God’s very nature, his very being, is love. But, we must know that God’s very nature, his very being, is not just – at least in the sense that almost all of us think of justice.

God’s actions flow out of love not out of justice.

Consider the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.1-11. Yes, this woman was being treated unfairly by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus pointed out that they were sinners just like the woman was. But, have you stopped to consider that there was an unmentioned wife in the story? Was it just that the woman (and the man by the way) caught in adultery got away unscathed, unpunished? Should not there been some sort of justice for the wife who was cheated on?

Or, consider the parable of the workers in Matthew 20.1-16. The workers started at different times during the time, but they all got the same pay. Some of these workers clearly did not think this was just. But, it did reveal God’s love.

We can see that love supersedes justice in other ways too.

Jesus’ two great commandments that the all the law hangs on are about love, not justice.

God so loved, not wanted justice for, the world that he sent Jesus.

Jesus said he gave us a new commandment to love one another as he loved us. That’s how we are to love one another, not do justice.

God showed his love, not justice, for us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love, not justice.

Love, not justice, is the fulfilling of the law.

Love, not justice, is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not arrogant, is not rude, does not insist on its way, is not irritable, is not resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, rejoices at the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends.

We are to pursue love, not justice.

We are controlled by the love, not justice, of Christ.

The only thing that counts is faith working through love, not justice.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Justice is not mentioned.

God is rich in mercy because of the great love, not justice, with which he loved us.

We are to be rooted and grounded in love, not justice.

We are to know the love, not justice, of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

We are to walk in love, not justice.

Yet, there are Christians that would say I have been brainwashed by love. They would argue that God’s love is balanced by his justice.

However, God, Jesus, the scriptures, are all about love, not justice. The scale is decisively tipped in favor of love. Everyone of the love, not justice statements above is straight from scripture. And, there are a whole lot more to go with them.

Love will bring about reconciliation, not punishment. Reconciliation is God’s justice.

 

We will never be able to lay down our own lives and pick up our own cross if we continue to insist that justice is on equal footing with love.

How Does God Grant Vengeance in Flaming Fire?

TODAY’S READING: 2 THESSALONIANS

“Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thessalonians 1.6-9)

Here again we find a passage of scripture that is used as proof that God is going to punish unbelievers with eternal conscious torment in a burning lake of fire. However, when you examine the actual Greek in the light of the life of Jesus, you find that this translation has been influenced by a belief in hell and eternal conscious torment of unbelievers.

Ironically, this translation and this understanding of the passage reveal those that do not know God and do not obey the gospel.

Jesus revealed God as the one who suffers and dies for and forgives his enemies in the midst of his own suffering and dying. This is the gospel. And, you know God when you see him in Jesus on the cross.

Jesus, and therefore God, suffered the greatest affliction ever on the cross. Yet, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23.34)

This statement from Jesus shows that until our Father in heaven reveals himself to us, until we understand by the spirit instead of the carnal mind, we know nothing of how God repays anyone and God’s “vengeance.”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.” (Matthew 5.38-39)

The Old Testament law was based on retributive justice. You were punished with the same thing you did to someone else. If you caused someone to lose their, then you lost their eye too. According to the law, justice was served.

If we believe that style of justice to be the truth about God, then 2 Thessalonians 1.6-9 would prove God to be far more evil and monstrous that even retributive justice.

Why?

Because he would be repaying an individual with eternal, as in forever, conscious torment in a burning lake of fire for an evil, an affliction, they caused to another that was merely temporal. A punishment that lasts forever does not equally pay back a crime that was momentary. This would be a punishment that grossly outweighs the crime. It would be like electrocuting someone for jaywalking on an empty street.

Further, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5.43-44)

Paul and Peter pick up on these two statements from Jesus in their letters. Romans 12.17 says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” First Thessalonians 5.15 says, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” First Peter 3.9 says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

We would not be called to respond this way if this was not how God himself responds to evil. For, if we are to follow Christ, then we are to pick up our own cross, suffering and dying to bring new life.

So, how would I read 1 Thessalonians 1.6-9?

Since with a just God to repay affliction to those afflicting you and rest to you, as well as us, being afflicted in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels, granting vengeance in flaming fire to those not knowing God and to those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus, who will pay justice, eternal destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

While I believe this is a better understanding of what Paul said, we still need to dig a little deeper.

Let’s start with eternal destruction.

The Greek word for eternal, aionios, does not mean lasting forever. It was said to be coined by Plato to mean that which only can be of or from God. The word has to do with the nature of a thing and nothing to do with time. Therefore, whatever this destruction is, it is something that only can be of and from God.

The Greek word for destruction is olethros. This is not the more common word for destruction in the New Testament, apollymi. Apollymi means to destroy fully, to destroy utterly, to kill, to demolish, to lay waste. So, whatever olethros means, it does mean exactly the same thing as apollymi.

Olethros is means ruin, punishment, or death. It is found just four times in the New Testament.

First Timothy 6.9 says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin [olethros] and destruction.” Here we see that is our own harmful desires that bring about our ruin.

First Corinthians 5.5 says, “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction [olethros] of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Here we see that destruction comes to the flesh, but for the purpose of saving the individual at Jesus’ return.

First Thessalonians 5.3 says, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction [olethros] will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” I wrote about sudden destruction yesterday. Here we see that sudden destruction is compared with birth pains, which ultimately result in new life.

Therefore, in 2 Thessalonians 1.9, we know that eternal destruction is meant for the flesh for the purpose of saving the spirit to bring about new life. This eternal destruction is equated to justice.

Who pays it?

Those that are causing affliction pay eternal destruction, pay justice.

God merely repays. God grants, not inflicts as several translations say, vengeance. While it is subtle there is a difference. Note the actual definitions of inflict and grant.

To inflict means

  1. to give by or as if by striking
  2. to cause (something unpleasant) to be endured.

To grant means

  1. to consent to carry out for a person: allow fulfillment of (grant a request)
  2. to permit as right, privilege, or favor (luggage allowances granted to passengers)
  3. to bestow or transfer formally (grant a scholarship to a student)
  4. to be willing to concede
  5. to assume to be true (granting that you are correct)

When God grants vengeance he becomes willing to concede. But, he does not cause it. This is because sin contains within it its own punishment. As I wrote yesterday, our own snares and evil plans come back on our heads. We reap what we sow. God need not do anything but concede to this. So God’s granting vengeance is us paying eternal destruction, justice.

In 2 Thessalonians 1.9, it says “eternal destruction, away from [apo] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Other translations translate the Greek apo as “shut out from,” “separated from,” and “forever separated from.” Apo means none of those things. Apo is used 628 times in the New Testament. Of those uses, it is translated from 413 times, of 61 times, and by 20 times. Given that the destruction that is to be paid is eternal, of the nature of God and only God, it makes far more sense to say “eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord.” From is describing the origin of the eternal destruction not where it sends you.

Indeed, even to say “from the presence of the Lord” does not give us the best understanding of where eternal destruction comes from. The Greek word translated presence is prosopon. It used 75 times in the New Testament and is translated face 44 of those times. Interestingly, it is translated “before your eyes” one time.

Why is “before your eyes” interesting, and why should it be translated “face” in 2 Thessalonians 1.9?

Well, how is God granting vengeance?

“In flaming fire?”

Where do we see “flaming fire” in regards to Jesus?

Revelation 1.14 says, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.”

Revelation 2.18 says, “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire.”

Revelation 19.12 says, “His eyes are like a flame of fire.”

God grants, concedes to, vengeance, eternal destruction, “in flaming fire.” This vengeance, this eternal destruction, comes from the face, from the eyes, of Jesus. When Jesus returns it will be the look in his eyes, the flaming fire, that destroys all of our false eyes ideas in him. That look, those eyes of flaming fire, will destroy our flesh but save our spirit. That look, those eyes of flaming fire, will destroy us suddenly but give us new life ultimately.

Do we see an example of this in scripture?

Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked to sift Peter like wheat. Peter told Jesus that he was ready to go prison and to death with him. But, Jesus told Peter that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed.

“But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22.60-62)

Peter said he would follow Jesus to death but instead denied he even knew Jesus three times, just as Jesus said he would. In those denials, Peter consented to afflicting Jesus.

What do you think Peter saw when the Lord turned and looked at him after the third denial?

I think Peter saw those eyes of flaming fire from which come eternal destruction, sudden destruction that brings new life, destruction of the flesh but saving of the spirit.

Do you think that was painful for Peter?

“He went out and wept bitterly.”

Just from that one look of Jesus.

Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire destroyed Peter. To say that you would follow the Lord to death and not even a day later deny even knowing him three times. How crushing that must have been to Peter.

But, the result wasn’t eternal conscious torment forever for Peter. No, his flesh was destroyed, but his spirit was saved. He received new life. He delivered the first sermon in church history that saved 3,000 people.

See, God doesn’t repay evil for evil.

God’s vengeance, God’s justice is not retributive. God is not trying to get even with anyone, even his enemies.

God’s vengeance, God’s justice, Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire, restore.

This eternal destruction does not send us away from God or forever separate us from God or shut us out from God’s presence.

God’s eternal destruction, Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire, destroys our flesh to draws us towards and into God’s presence.

“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Corinthians 5.19)

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.