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1. God's Priority for Justice
The Book of Psalms, Luke 4:18-19
God is passionate about justice for his creation. Reflect on the following passages from the Psalms.
For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face. (Psalm 11:7)
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. (Psalm 36:6)
In your majesty ride forth victoriously in the cause of truth, humility and justice; let your right hand achieve awesome deeds…. Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. (Psalm 45:4, 6)
The Hebrew word mishpat (justice) is rich with meaning and impact. We translate it as justice and that is part of it. But it is greater than that: it is to act justly, to give a verdict or judgement, to declare right from wrong, to bring equity to people and communities.
In God’s view, justice is central to life in his Kingdom.
MEDITATE: Read Psalm 146:5-7:
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.
Now consider Jesus’ calling from Luke 4:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
REFLECT: Jesus is the supreme expression of God’s justice to the world. As we enter Holy Week before Easter, reflect on how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross brings justice to our world.
PRAY: Ask God to show you how, where, and to whom you can be a conduit for his justice in someone’s life.
2. When Justice Does Not Prevail
Jeremiah 22:13, Isaiah 10:1-2, Luke 11:39-42
The Old Testament prophets repeatedly give strong corrective to the Israelites, who often strayed from their calling to be a just and honoring society. And the prophets held nothing back in calling out the people for their sin!
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.(Jeremiah 22:13)
Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2)
CONSIDER: What happens to a society or culture when injustice prevails? Consider the implications for people, institutions, and the culture over time.
Tim Keller writes this about justice in his book, Generous Justice:
“Justice is not just one more thing that needs to be added to the people’s portfolio of religious behavior. A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers’ hearts are not right with God at all, that their prayers and all their religious observance are just filled with self and pride.”
In Luke 11:39, Jesus speaks almost as an Old Testament prophet when he condemns the Pharisees, who he portrays as “full of greed and wickedness.” What is the evidence of this? Verse 42: “… you [Pharisees] give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs,but you neglect justice and the love of God.”
REFLECT: These are very harsh words of Jesus to these religious leaders. Prayerfully consider how any aspects of your life are similar to thePharisees (this is a difficult exercise!). Ask God to change your heart so that you will become merciful and seek justice.
PRAY: We all can think of unjust situations and structures in our society. Pray for people who are affected and impacted by these unjust contexts. Pray for government and private institutions to change and become more just and equitable so they reflect God’s justice.
3. The Micah 6:8 Challenge - Living Justly Today
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
The word justice (mishpat in Hebrew) or some form of it occurs more than 200 times in the Bible. Micah is one of the “minor” prophets who lived in VUCA* times around the year 750 B.C. He was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. It was about 150 years before the Israelites went into exile in Babylon. During Micah’s time, there were terrible kings both in Judah and Israel. And the result was that justice and righteousness was compromised throughout society, both for the Israelites as well as for the foreigners who lived among them.
In the midst of this, Micah gives his prophecy (or exhortation) toIsrael - God’s vision for his people is that they do justice as an overflow of merciful love toward others. And in the midst of God’s condemnation of Israel, Micah offers an amazing vision of God’s ultimate just society. Read his prophecy in Micah 4:2-5.
What a vision of God’s eternal plan for creation! And how does that begin to happen now? The answer is Micah 6:8.
There are several things that are crucial to our lives as we follow Jesus.
First, our justice is always a response to and a reflection of God’s perfect Justice. Second, doing justice is not an “extracurricular activity,” but rather an overflow of God’s grace in our lives. Third, justice in the world is always imperfect and only in part; that is, we won’t get justice right all the time, in part because we live in these VUCA times.
DESIRE: How is your heart this week with regard to justice and injustice in our communities? How is your heart impacted as we come to Good Friday and ultimately to the resurrection of Jesus? How does Jesus’ resurrection impact our understanding of justice?
PRAY: Ask God to bring someone across your path who has been treated unjustly and who you can show loving mercy to in a small or great way.
Pray for healing in your own life where you have perhaps been treated unjustly, whether it be in the distant past or in recent times.
* Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous
4. The Shalom of God
This Bible we hold in our hands tells a beautiful story. And this story is what our lost and hurting world needs now.
The Old Testament tells the story of God’s people (Israel) and how they are chosen and called to be the people through whom God is restoring his fallen world. The world has gone wrong, needs to be repaired, and God is doing something about it through his people. Several poets, sages,and prophets offer inspired reflections and commentary on both the successes and the failures of God’s people.
Then in the New Testament, the Gospels tell of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, showing that the Old Testament story found its powerful fulfillment in Jesus, God’s Son, the promised Messiah. The New Testament letters, written to real followers of Jesus, in real churches, in the real world of the Roman Empire, answer pastoral questions and give inspired instruction on following Jesus.
The Bible speaks to us in earthy ways, in the down-and-dirty world of human existence: joys, pains, obedience, and rebellion. And throughout the story are major themes of restoration, justice, and a word we don’t often use: SHALOM. And shalom means far more than just peace.
In his book Simply Christian, N. T. Wright refers to things like justice,spirituality, relationships, and beauty as “echoes of a voice.” These are echoes that drive people to explore the truths of Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ. This drive to explore comes from the basic, gut feeling that something’s not right with the world; that there must be a better way. And arguably, these “echoes” might be understood as subsets of something even larger: God’s shalom.
The world as we often experience it is not as it ought to be, as it was created by God to function. And not just to function, but rather to flourish. And that’s shalom’s best definition: flourishing—in every way, on every level. Shalom is the way things ought to be.
REFLECT: Imagine the world being and becoming increasingly a place of beauty, integrity, and delight. This is what Jesus came to bring to the world. Jesus came to renew all things (Revelation 21:5) and humanity to the flourishing life of God’s beautiful shalom.
PRAY: Ask God to show you how he desires for you to join him in the renewal of all things, his restoring of all creation to shalom-flourishing.
5. Good Friday and Shalom
Good Friday is all about the cross. We remember that through hisatoning death on the cross, Jesus brought peace between God andhumanity. Peace, and so much more than peace. The cross bringsshalom. And shalom is more than peace. Shalom captures God’s desire that all of creation – human to God, human to human, and human to nature – be in beautiful flourishing delight and harmony.
This week, we’ve been looking at the theme of justice. The Bible links these two words mishpat (justice) and shalom together. For example, inIsaiah 59:8 the prophet brings an indictment against those who shed innocent blood, pursue evil schemes, and act in violent ways toward the poor and the weak.
They do not know the way of peace (shalom), And there is no justice (mishpat) in their tracks; They have made their paths crooked, Whoever treads on them does not know peace. (Isaiah 59:8 NASB)
To know shalom is to do mishpat. Hence, the teaching in Micah 6:8:He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Jesus is the one who brings justice and shalom into the world. And then we are drawn into a deep calling to follow Jesus in his work of bringing God’s shalom, and all that it entails, to all of creation. We are called (as theologian Howard Snyder says) to live shalomistically.
So this Good Friday, let’s not just remember the vertical axis of the cross of Jesus (how through the cross, God wages peace between God and humanity). Let’s also remember the horizontal axis of the cross—the justice and peace God desires between all human beings.
The New Testament Greek word dikaiosune is usually translated as righteousness in the Bible. Yet this word has another meaning—justice. In the cross, righteousness and justice meet. Through the cross we receive Christ’s righteousness and God’s shalom. And through the cross, Christ’s vision of justice flows into the world.
MEDITATE ON THIS VERSE: “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness (and justice); “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
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