The Justice of God in our Unjust World: On Fire Mission 2023
Readings Isaiah 42:1-7 and Luke 4:14-21
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I wonder here if any of you have been to a court? Now I am not going to ask if any of you were a defendant, but I am sure lots of you have been to courts for various reasons. I have only been to court once quite a few years ago now, as an expert witness in support of a defendant. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect, beyond what I saw in dramas, which make the whole procedure a lot more exciting than it is in reality, as the place is just so soulless. But a number of things really shocked me. The first was, when we were waiting for our case to be heard, we got chatting with a friendly barrister who asked which judge our case was being heard by, to which he replied ‘oh it could go either way depending on his mood’. Now I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, because I had assumed, wrongly, that justice as we are led to believe was blind. That justice would be delivered regardless of the personality of the presiding judge. How naïve, perhaps, of me.
In court the defence barrister for the defendant was woefully inadequate – he was a last-minute stand in and the questions he asked were unhelpful. After the hearing had finished, the judge, who was in a bad mood spent 15 minutes berating the defence barrister. He got all the evidence that was clearly in the case files and shouted at the defence barrister about how this piece would have proved his case, or that piece would have helped, or this line of enquiry would have been good. The defence barrister asked if that evidence could now be submitted, but was told no forcefully, that to do so wouldn’t be following the correct procedure. The judge then told the defendant that their case had failed, pending any appeals. Can you imagine – the evidence pointed to a positive outcome for the defendant, but because of the incompetence of the barrister and the grumpiness of the judge, despite the clear evidence, it meant that the defendant was facing some serious life changing consequences as a result. I am happy to say he was cleared on appeal. But what I witnessed that day shocked me and was about as far from justice as it is possible to get. The justice of the world, even in our society that is so litigious, is not real justice, is not God’s justice.
We live in a world that cries out for justice. A world that longs for justice. A world where injustice is so common place that it only makes the news if it is particularly unpleasant or nasty.
So what is God’s justice? What is true justice and how as Christians can we better embody the justice of God for a broken and a breaking world?
I think our readings point us to three distinct ways God’s justice works and by extension how we should work as Christians.
Notice what happens in both our readings tonight. In the first, where the word justice is mentioned at least three times as we hear about the servant of God in whom He delights, we hear nothing about punishment, we hear nothing about retribution. What we hear about, both in Isaiah here and in the gospel reading as Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 is how the servant open the eyes of the blind, we hear how the prisoner will be brought out of the dungeon, how the good news will be proclaimed to the poor, sight to the blind, how the oppressed will go free. The goal of justice isn’t about punishment, although God’s justice can lead to punishment for the unrepentant, no God’s justice is about restoring, bringing up people who have nothing, and bringing low those who go beyond their station. Punishment is a symptom of a fallen world. The justice of God is a releveling, where the beauty of every human is restored to what it should be, where the proud are humbled, the lowly are lifted, where the persecuted are protected, where our very selves find our infinite value not in wealth, success or knowledge but in the heart of God. God’s justice restores, rebalances and resurrects. God’s justice is one that brings life. Its not about the settling of scores but the restoration to righteousness of all humanity.
Secondly, justice is ultimately going to be achieved through Christ. So often in our world and in our lives, we face injustice. I suspect you won’t need to think very hard to think of an unjust situation that has either affected you or those who you love. Certainly, one need only pick up a paper to see the injustice of our world. But that injustice has a shelf-life. Because, in that wonderful upside-down way God uses so often, Gods justice is made manifest on the earth through the injustice Christ faced at the cross. The life of God living in us is achieved through the death Jesus faced for us. God’s justice saw His Son come so low in the incarnation so that we might be raised so high as to become children of the living God. And Jesus who brought the new covenant with His body and His blood, will bring justice in the end. Perhaps you are facing a particularly unjust situation, perhaps you have not received justice for something. You may tonight be utterly exhausted by injustice. Whatever you carry, justice is coming, the scales will be balanced, all by the blood of the lamb. During this conference we are invited to place what we carry with Him who brings justice. Tonight, give to Jesus the injustice you face.
Jesus will bring forth justice to the nations.
Thirdly, how can we Christians bring some of God’s justice, led by Jesus, to our broken world? Notice how justice is achieved in each of our readings tonight. In the gospel, Jesus has just returned from the wilderness, full of the Spirit. As He read Isaiah to that soon to be violent congregation, He says the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor. In our first reading we hear how God put His Spirit upon His servant to bring forth justice to the nations. If we hope to be just, we must be full of the Spirit. Our mission to release the captives, to be a light to the nations, to free the prisoner, to walk with the outcast, to love the unlovable will never really be very successful if we are not overflowing with Holy Spirit. We can never bring true justice without the Spirit. Do you need to be filled with His Spirit once again? Do you need His power and justice and love? Don’t leave tonight without receiving prayer or anointing if that is you.
Those three things, I think, begin to unpack the justice of God – true justice is about bringing people to their proper place, levelling the playing field where all are held in the love of God, true justice will be achieved by Jesus ultimately and if we are serious about being just, we need to be overflowing with the Holy Spirit. Christian justice looks to build up the broken and tear down the walls of tyranny. Christian justice looks to be Jesus to a world that hates Him. Christian justice is only possible through the unbelievable gift of the Holy Spirit living within us.
Before I finish, I want to share with you the greatest example of Christian justice I have come across. I had a friend many years ago called Sam whom I taught with. He was a supply teacher, I a newly qualified teacher. But Sam, from Nigeria was also a local pastor and we got talking as the only Christians in the science department at the time. Occasionally I would give Sam a lift home and during one of these lifts he told me about how his old church in northern Nigeria had been attacked by Islamists, how they had murdered a number of his friends and extended family in the church building. How nothing was being done to find the killers. I asked him what his church community would do, what they would do if they ever found out who had in such cold blood killed their siblings in Christ. He went quiet for a moment, before turning to me in the car, through gritted teeth and teared eyes and he simply said ‘we will love them’. That is the justice that God desires.