Like a mother and her child – Mothers Day 2015

Mothers Day Interview at Gateway Community Church

Mothers Day Interview at Gateway Community Church

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, so we left the DEEP series and focussed ministry and teaching around the mother’s day theme.

A few week’s ago I thought it would be good to focus on the idea that a mother’s love for her children opens our eyes to God’s love for his children. In fact, what we learn about God’s love in parenthood is so unique and profound it probably cannot be learned in any other way.

So, a mother’s love teaches us much about God’s love. There were three elements to how we explored this on Sunday

First up, we viewed a brief clip from The Skit Guys which established the basic premise. This clip was an absolute gift, and considering it was not available when I first started planning, it was just brilliant that it suited the theme so well.

Moms – Portraits of God

Next, I interviewed three mothers, stating with the idea that their own feelings of love for their children, their desire to comfort and protect them, reflected God’s own love. Willy Pike is a grandmother and Head of Primary at Rehoboth Christian College, Kenwick. Kylie VanderZee is mother to Aidan, who is just a little over one year old. Stephanie Hondema is a young mum of Nora (2) and Boaz (1). The video of the interview can be dowloaded here.

Finally, I drew the thoughts together and concluded with a short sermon, the edited text reproduced below.


Like a mother with her children…

Psalm 103:13, Isaiah 66:13

As we think about our mothers, some of us will be thinking of childhood memories. Experiences. Adventures. Celebrations. Holidays. But some memories stand above them all, and they are when we remember our mother’s character. Her love, her commitment, that she was always there, words she spoke into our lives, time she held us in times of sadness. When it comes to memories, character wins every time.

So, what is a Godly mother’s character? One that reflects God’s loving nature.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;” (Psalm 103:13, NIV)

The word for compassion speaks of a deep inner love from a superior to an inferior. In Isaiah 66 God speaks of himself as a mother:

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”” (Isaiah 66:13, NIV)

The word ‘comfort’ coveys a sense of consolation. It pictures a mother holding her child close, rocking back and forth, breathing deeply, and whispering sweet, soft comfort into the ear of her child. Which mother hasn’t done this when a little one falls, or when a favourite toy breaks, or a pet dies.

Can you see what’s happening? The writers imagine moving scenes of warmth and closeness, a profound relational connection where comfort and compassion is more embodied than spoken. And they are saying, these feelings we have for our children are just like feelings God has for us. God’s feelings of compassion. God’s desire to comfort his children. And God has valued the thoughts of the writers, those word pictures, so much that thousands of years ago he recorded them in his word. He did so in order that mothers today might read and be encouraged to believe that when they love their children, when they forgive, when they comfort, when they support their children in times of trouble, they are actually like God. Such feelings can teach us things about God’s love which we never would have learned by other means.

Now, the terrific thing is, God does not just reveal these things and say “Mums, lift yer game.” He actually enables and empowers mothers to develop a godly mother’s character. As Paul writes to the Colossians Christians he says

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6–7, NIV)

A mother’s capacity to reflect godly compassion and love comes because she is in relationship with Christ Jesus. It’s not just a matter of imitation, of copying an attitude. Christ transforms us, and through his Spirit refashions our values, our attitudes, so that Christ’s life flows into ours and through ours.

Paul goes on to say those who are in Christ have a change of mindset:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1–3, NIV)

Through Jesus Christ a mother is enabled to live and love in a new way:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NIV)

Mums: here’s the thing: If you want to overflow with a godly mother’s character, if you want to embody God’s compassion, if you want to comfort your family as God has comforted us, you need to be in relationship with Jesus.

See, not only does a mother’s love and compassion say much about God’s love and compassion, it’s also true that through her own godly motherhood, she will reveal something of God’s grace, his wonderful love, his free forgiveness, and his glorious faithfulness to her children.

Could there be a higher calling? Than being a mother who reveals God? His protection, comfort and compassion. The reality is there’s nothing ordinary about being a mum. Mothers have a glorious calling. Because of Jesus, any mother can pray and ask him to pour his love more and more into their lives. They can ask his spirit to continue the work of change and transformation, so that with each day, they are drawn more into Jesus, reflecting his grace, love and compassion.

Mothers: you are not alone. You’re not without power. The Jesus who is with you through his Holy Spirit always promises to reveal his love, comfort and compassion to the world through you and through your love.

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DEEP – Thirsty

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Read: Psalm 42:1-5

Last weekend I spent four days on a fishing charter. So that I would not succumb to sea sickness, I decided to take some motion sickness medication. These things are great, but one of the side effects is that you get an incredibly dry mouth. I found this out when one morning I took a piece of cake for morning tea and I found that I couldn’t taste it and it was very difficult to swallow. That’s what happens when your mouth is dry.

What about when you’re dry on the inside? What happens then? Are you even aware of it when your soul is thirsty?

As the deer pants

Israel, where Psalm 42 is written, is an arid environment. Most of the year there is very little rain, and most streams are nothing but gullies. Stories around water are prominent throughout Israel’s history. One of their formative experiences was 40 years in a wilderness. At one stage people were so dry that Moses prayed to the Lord, and he provided water out of a rock – an event celebrated every year during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Generations earlier, Patriarch Jacob dug a well which is still present today, in the West Bank city of Nablus. Generations later, Jesus’ own teaching reminded his people of how blessed it is to give even a cup of water to the thirsty.

Psalm 42 speaks about thirst. But it’s not physical thirst which is in view. It’s a deeper thirst. A dryness of soul. A withering thirst of one’s entire being.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1–2, NIV)

This man is thirsting for God. How come?

In the OT times, the only place people could meet with God was in the temple in Jerusalem. The problem was that the psalmist was nowhere near Jerusalem. Something has happened, and he’s acutely aware that he’s a long way from God’s presence.

How do you know when you’re dry on the inside?

Apparently, when you’re dying of thirst: you lose your taste, your tongue swells, you become disoriented, you have a terrible headache, you lose strength.

What about spiritual thirst? Sometimes, it seems, we end up in a wilderness of soul. Spiritually dehydrated. God seems remote, far away; there’s no taste for God, no sense of his presence, faith seems weak; no desire to read; no heart for prayer; the things of God seem abstract and foreign; your soul feels dry and withered. Faith, love for Jesus, desire to praise, love for the church just seem to have evaporated in the dry heat of life’s harsh realities.

The interesting thing about spiritual thirst is that it tends to come when conditions are adverse. Trouble, trial, pressure, stress, tension. Spiritual dryness can creep in. Dryness of soul can invade slowly and imperceptibly – and all of a sudden you realise “I am so thirsty inside…” How does this happen?

Part of the problem is our lives are so busy. Diaries are chock full, work demands are high, spouse is doing this, kids are doing that, we’re bombarded by stimuli like email, the internet, iPhone, the iPad, who knows what else. And you know, we don’t sense the dryness of our soul. We are so busy with life’s demands that we scarcely notice how thirsty we are. In relation to the baptism vows we make about our children, we must think carefully about the lifestyle we lead, the sheer busyness we accept, and ask if that is the best way to lead our children to spiritual health.

Me? Thirsty?

So, when was the last time you took stock of your heart? Listened to your soul? Are you thirsty? Thirsty inside? Has your taste for God waned? Jaded with worship? Your spiritual life dull, grey, and you’re wondering where the sweetness of grace has gone?

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” (Psalm 42:2–4, NIV)

Sometimes these feelings come because we’re living in disobedience to God. Thirst, then, would be hardly surprising. But sometimes we just kind of end up in the wilderness.

Earlier this week I was thinking: maybe we’re all feeling that a bit? After planting Hope Community Church, maybe we’re feeling a bit depleted? A few people move on, home groups change, worship changes, church changes, and we feel a bit down about that.

Isn’t that a kind of thirst? For the way it used to be? Maybe so.

Interestingly, I read this week that the early church fathers, and even John Calvin himself, spoke of a ‘spiritual desertion’. It’s bit of a surprising term. Not that God deserts us, for he doesn’t ever forsake his people. But sometimes he allows us not to feel his presence – like the jaded Footprints writer – who wondered where God was in his toughest and hardest times. Sometimes God allows us to get thirsty. Perhaps at those times he’s changing things to alert us to something: that we haven’t quite been trusting him as we should. Might that be part of our thirst? Worth considering, isn’t it?

Maybe God is allowing us to feel that emptiness, to sense that thirst, so we realise we can’t put our hope in people, or things, or experience, and that we can only trust him. Only when we are with God, when we trust God alone, the living God, will our thirst be quenched with his living water.

Living water

So, how do we do that? The Psalmist knew if he pulled more away from God his deep thirst would only get worse. Even if he didn’t know how God would help him, even if he didn’t know all the answers, or he couldn’t resolve his problems, he knew it was good to be near God:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, NIV)

Centuries later, at Jacobs Well, a woman came along, and she was thirsty. Sure, she was thirsty for water, but she was more thirsty for God – though like most, she didn’t know it. She wanted water from the well. Jesus said what she really needed was living water, water that was like life itself. Life. which like water, would become part of her and enliven her entire being. Jesus said he would give this life, so freely, so abundantly, that not only would her inner thirst be slaked, but his grace and life and love would overflow from her into others, powerfully, satisfyingly, eternally.

You: Thirsty? Dried out?

Jesus is calling you to drink deep from his life. You don’t have to go to some Temple, like the psalmist, or to Jacobs Well, like the woman from Samaria. Jesus, the Son of God has come to us, and he has come full of grace and truth! His death on the cross and his rising again is the cure for your inner thirst. Through his death, Jesus forgives all your wrongs. Jesus cleanses all your sins. Jesus has borne all your guilt and punishment. His death and rising has conquered your inner darkness so comprehensively, so powerfully that his living water will flow into you, and you will never be the same.

“… “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”” (John 7:37–38, NIV)

Jesus is your water of life. Don’t push back. Don’t walk away. You have to drink. Step up, and drink deep.

Here’s a few things to do to drink deep his water of life:

  • Acknowledge your thirst: Lord, I am so thirsty: I don’t know how I got here, but I am so dry, and I am asking you to pour your water of life into me. Jesus, I trust you. I know you can do this. I know my failing and acknowledge my sin and my need. I don’t deserve your grace: but I know your water of life is what I need. Please, Jesus, quench the thirst of my soul!
  • Drink! That is, accept and believe in Jesus! If you’ve already done this, or you’re already there, just do it again, say it again! I believe you, Jesus! My water! My life! Pour your water into me, break my spiritual drought, moisten my withered heart with your loving grace
  • Trust! Follow the Psalmist’s example! Despite all his thirst, despite his agony and the taunting of his foes (Ps 42:10), he still said, “I will yet trust you! I put my hope in you, my Saviour and my God!” So you can say: Don’t let me trust in your things or your people – no matter how good! Lord, I need you! You, in me; you, one with me; you, like water in my soul’s belly. I trust your life, your grace, your forgiveness through Jesus, your faithfulness
  • Finally (and related to the above): Reconnect. Don’t wait to feel great to start praying. Don’t wait to feel healthy to get into worship with God’s people. Don’t wait to feel better to read your bible. Think about it: how will God speak to you and pour his life into you if you’re not listening? If you’re dehydrated, you don’t wait till you’re no longer thirsty to drink, right? You start drinking before you feel better. So, if you’re spiritually dry, turn around, repent, reconnect with God! Don’t wait until you feel spiritually healthy: do it now!

There’s a wonderful section in the letter to the Hebrews. We don’t really know who wrote this book, but we can see easily enough that the people addressed in the book were going soft on their faith in Jesus. They were in danger of given up. They were thirsty. Look at the advice they receive:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19–25, NIV)

The confidence to reconnect is grounded squarely in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has opened the way. He is our great priest. He has cleansed us and purified us. On that basis, because of him, we can hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.

Are you thirsty? Then acknowledge, drink, trust, and reconnect.

  • Just open his word and ask him to speak you, to quench your thirst, to pour his Spirit water into you, to refresh you.
  • Go deeper into prayer, into worship, into community – your Home Group.
  • Let others pray for you. Let them be a channel of God’s grace, let them share God’s love.

God wants you deep in his living water. Come to Jesus, drink deep, and have him pour his living water into your life.

The Greatest Injustice (Time for Justice #6)

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Reading: Gal 3:13John 19:17-30

A sermon for Good Friday

There is a reason why many are happy to call today good, and that is because for many, these next few days are about a long weekend and chocolate eggs. As Christians, of course, we want the focus to be on the Cross and the Open Tomb. But these days that is a minority view.

One of the reasons people don’t want to consider the real meaning of Good Friday is because it is about an execution. There is quite some discussion about execution in Australia at present, with the fate of Chan and Sukumaran being played out before our eyes. And on that, while I want justice to be served, I find the prospect of an execution almost impossible to contemplate. Howe much more crucifixion. This barbaric sentence was employed to install terror in people and to depict the curse of the executed.

The Old Testament says

“… anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:23, NIV)

The Curse of the Cross

“Good Friday.” Odd language because this day is really about a curse. That very word is used three times in Gal 3:13

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

But the curse does not only come through crucifixion. We are under a curse because we do not keep God’s law perfectly.

“Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God…”” (Galatians 3:10–11, NIV)

That’s the power of the curse of sin in fallen humanity. We cannot find acceptance with God, we cannot access his life and love on the basis of what we do, or don’t do, or how we live, or anything else.

this day is really about a curse

No one knew that truth more than Paul. He was fed the power of obedience in his mother’s milk. He had lived his whole life, to a point, believing God would justify him because of his exemplary life. But here he is saying no one is justified through obedience to the law. And if he with his blameless life lived under the law’s curse, what hope is there for us?

Well, this short verse tells us despite the curse there is hope. But it’s not a hope which arises from ourselves. There is hope because Good Friday says the curse was dealt with another way:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

It does not say “Jesus took the curse for us” – that would be bad enough. It says “he became the curse for us”. Jesus became punishment for us. He took our place. Jesus took into himself God’s wrath – which was reserved for us. He satisfied God’s wrath once for all. On the cross, Jesus became sin for us so powerfully that he absorbed it totally and dealt with it conclusively.

The prophet Isaiah says

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5, NIV)

And in another place Paul says

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

He did not only die a cursed death. He became your sin, died your death, and bore your curse.

There will be some who push back at this. It’s natural. We are confronted here, not just with our fallen nature, but with the reality that we’re powerless to restore it. And with the reality that we needed an innocent, sinless, magnificent, true God, true man, Jesus, to become the curse for us. This is the disturbing reality: We are totally dependent on this Jesus for life.

He became your sin, died your death, and bore your curse

Confronted because: who wants to admit their dependence on anyone? No one likes to do that because it runs against our pride. We resist because, deep down, we think we can still get things sorted ourselves.

What foolishness.

But if you think about it there is one context when we will gladly accept our own powerlessness: and that is when we’re facing certain death. Imagine you were on that Germanwings plane, and you see the captain trying to break into the cockpit. You know if he doesn’t get in, you’re dead. No one is going to say to the captain, “sit down, you’re making us all feel bad.” You will never say that, because if he doesn’t get in there you’re on your way into side of the mountain

Imagine a different scenario: that the pilot did get into the cockpit, overpowered the Copilot, and saved the day. Do you think the papers would be full of people offended that this one guy had saved them? Of course not! They’d be cheering him on! There’d be ticker tape processions! He’d get a medal for bravery! Every passenger would sing his praises! No one would ever forget what he had done! He would be proclaimed as the victorious captain! The saviour of the ship!

When Jesus went to the cross and became your curse, He saved us from a greater enemy than a suicidal pilot. He has saved you from a worse fate than ploughing into the French Alps. When he became our curse on that terrible cross, he saved us from a Christless eternity, and he saved us for life that never ends! Paul uses a special word to describe this rescue.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

Paul is using slave market imagery, where slaves were lined up and sold to the highest bidder. He’s implying that someone has come along and purchased our freedom. His point is that we have been bought by the blood of Jesus! And we have been bought completely! And we have been bought for freedom! For transformed life! There has been a change of ownership: you belong to Jesus! You are no longer at the mercy of the fall, your sin, your guilt or the curse. Christ has set you free!!

The (In)justice of the Cross

But there’s something else we should see about this redemption. We understand from the above the core of the atonement is that Jesus was punished in the place of the guilty.

Isaiah the prophet:

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7–9, NIV)

And Peter, speaking to the very people who crucified him, says

“…you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23, NIV)

We have spoken much about injustice these last weeks. Here’s the question: Could there be a greater injustice that the totally innocent and righteous son of God being put to death by sinners and rebels, for sinners and rebels??

The interesting thing is the verse from Acts 20 also says:

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23, NIV)

Jesus’ death was no accident. No unfortunate chain of events. He was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge meant the cross was the right place at the right time. God planned all along that your curse would be conquered. He planned all along that your sin would be taken away. He deliberately steered the course of world events to that very place on Calvary, so his Son would die in your place and end forever the power of the curse to rule your life. God used this injustice to satisfy the claims of his justice which demanded your sin be punished and your curse conquered.

We learn two things here. One is how in prodigious grace God ensured his own justice was satisfied by his own dear son, who willingly gave himself to the injustice of the Cross. The other is how the God we worship can conquer the greatest injustice through his Son. Calvary tells us that nothing is ever out of control. Nothing.

We may wonder what we can do to address injustice. The doers of evil might threaten and terrify God’s people, as they did with chilling brutality this last week in Garissa, Kenya. But our sovereign God can transform any injustice and use it for the good of his people.

The Cross is evidence that in the hand of the Redeemer, moments of apparent defeat become moments of grace and victory – Paul David Tripp

So: Good Friday? Absolutely. The greatest injustice has become the most wonderful redemption. Our curse is gone. Our guilt is atoned.

Today, the one who became your curse is calling you to trust him. To turn to him. This Jesus intends to rule your life, and he is calling you to bow the knee.

He has removed every barrier between you and the Father.

All that remains is for you to live in the grace and freedom Jesus has won for you.

How We Fit In To God’s Plan – Time for Justice #5 – Group Study Questions

Read Philippians 2:5-13

  1. Have you ever found yourself wondering whether you’ve missed something really important? Share your experiences
  2. “Why do Gospel realities sometimes leave us feeling underwhelmed?” Discuss some of the factors that may be at work here
  3. Think of someone who seemed to model a Jesus centred ‘fear and trembling’.
    1. How was that fear and trembling expressed?
    2. Did it tend to make their faith appear more real or less real?
  4. If ‘working out our salvation’ flows out of God ‘working in us’ (see v.13) – what sort of comfort might result?
  5. “Fear and trembling arises from a profound awareness that God is bigger, more powerful, gloriously greater, more disturbingly wonderful than anything we can imagine.” – comment
  6. How might a comfortable western lifestyle dampen the desire to pursue the deeper realities of faith and witness? How is this different if you are living in the developing world? (feel free to leave a comment, below)
  7. What sort of commitment are you and/or your group prepared to make to enter into the justice journey?

In closing:

Pray for one another, asking our loving and sovereign God to deepen your engagement with his Kingdom through the justice journey.

How we fit in to God’s plan – Time for Justice #5

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Philippians 2:5-13

In the last few weeks we have covered quite some ground:

  • We’ve seen that injustice has its roots in the human heart, in people estranged from a loving God, in the sin of the human heart
  • We’ve seen that God cares deeply for the victims of injustice
  • We’ve seen that he hates injustice, and how he uses the strongest language to describe his feelings towards that injustice
  • And last week we have learned the surprising truth that his plan is to use his church to deal with the injustices of our world
  • On Good Friday and Easter Sunday we will see how the cross of Christ changes everything, and how the glorious reality of the resurrection impacts the church’s calling.
  • The week after we’ll be nailing it all home.

What we want to look at today is the question of how. How do we fit in with the plan of God? What is it we are to do? It’s a challenging question. And to get into this I want to tell you a story…

How do we fit in with the plan of God?

Once, when I was a little boy, maybe four years old, we visited my grandfather in a neighbouring town. Television had only been in Australia for 5-6 years. And because we lived so far away from the place of broadcast, anyone who wanted to receive the TV signal needed at least a 15 meter TV antenna. That meant no one could get TV on the sly. As soon as that huge antenna went up, your neighbourhood knew you had TV. My mother, who was especially good at noticing things, would sometimes see a new TV antenna and say “Ooh, they’ve got TV!”

So, we are at my grandfather’s house, and the next door neighbour had just had her TV installed. We knew this because my mother has seen the antenna. So after lunch, Mum asked whether me and my older sister wanted to go next door and look at the TV. We were pretty excited about that. So, guess what we did? We raced next door, sat on the front lawn and stared at the 15 TV antenna. It was great! For the first few minutes. And really, we had no idea that inside the house there was a box with a screen with pictures and sound! Imagine that: we thought the experience was all about looking at the antenna. We had no idea there was more to it. There we were: content to sit in the front yard staring at the TV antenna. Yet is there a sense in which, with regard to our faith, it sometimes feels we’re doing just that: staring at an antenna, but wondering whether there’s more to it.

Why do the glorious realities of the Gospel sometimes leave us feeling underwhelmed?

Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of being so incredibly blessed. We live in a beautiful country, in a wonderful city, we have so much: good health, reasonable income, leisure time, capacity to do whatever we choose. Might this work against us?

We know the truth. We have been given forgiveness in Christ. We have eternal life in his name. We have the fullness of grace. But too often it doesn’t feel like fullness. Why do those glorious realities sometimes leave us feeling underwhelmed?

If we look at Philippians 2, we know it’s not because of any lack in Jesus Christ or his work:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, NIV)

Jesus is the greatest expression of God’s saving plan. His suffering and death, his glorious resurrection, the fact that he is seated at the right hand of God shows his glorious victory. His name is above every other name! And Paul says this wonderful God will bring the work of his son in his people to a flourishing finish:

“[Being] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

This God is working the life Jesus into us day by day:

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13, NIV)

This God who directed all history toward the coming of his Son, toward the cross, toward the open tomb, who had Pilate, and Herod, and the executioner all doing his will; this same sovereign God is now working in you to bring the fullness of Christ’s life to expression! And it’s no surprise Paul continues, ‘now, you Christians, you church, you keep working out what God is working in.’

When he says ‘keep working out your salvation’ he’s not talking about mere mental activity, like when you work out the square root of 144. And he’s not talking about the sort of working out you do at the gym.

When Paul says ‘work out your salvation’ he’s saying bring your salvation to full fruitfulness, bring it to full expression in everything, put it into effect entirely and thoroughly. He’s saying: Don’t stop until the fullness of Christ’s Kingdom flourishes in the totality of new community together and the entirety of your individual lives. And he even tells us what that will look like:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12, NIV)

There it is again: we know Jesus, we worship Jesus, we live for Jesus … but this fear and trembling, where is that? What is that? Gotta say: I read those words and I get this sense that I am looking at the TV antenna, and thinking there’s probably more to it. This fear and trembling – what is that?

Well, it’s not a fear of punishment. The Bible makes it clear: Jesus has dealt with that, and there is no more condemnation for those who are in him (see Rom 8:1).

Fear and trembling arises from a profound awareness that God is bigger, more powerful, gloriously greater, more disturbingly wonderful than anything we can imagine. Fear and trembling flows out of a deep sense of our own insignificance. An awareness of our profound dependence on the Lord and his mercy. Fear and trembling is living out the unnerving adventure of grace. It is intentional witness and new life which confronts the dark forces of our world. This fear and trembling cannot be manufactured. On the contrary, it comes when we are so unsettled from expressing Christ’s new life entirely and thoroughly that we can do no other but fear and tremble as we follow. Paul mentions fear and trembling as a normal experience, but is it our normal experience? Is it yours?

Now, there are plenty of Christians around who will say if you lack fear and trembling it’s because you haven’t been baptised with the Holy Spirit, or because you don’t speak in tongues, or because your not prospering, or because you don’t have enough faith, or some other reason. IN response, we need to remember how Paul reminds us the Holy Spirit is given to every follower of Jesus when they believe (Eph 1:13-14). But here’s the thing, every believer has the Spirit, but that Spirit can be quenched and his work stifled (see Eph 4:30).

By the same token, a life of trust from a person who follows Jesus, who obeys and honours him, when someone seek to do that with a full heart and in all things they will increasingly find the Spirit challenging them to a more determined and courageous Christianity. Obedience matters.

Paul is describing Christian life with edge. A living for Jesus which on a regular basis is passionate, courageous, stretched, and demanding.

Could it be that we do not often feel fear and trembling because we love our comfort, our privileges too much?

Could it be that this preoccupation with ourselves prevents us from entering into the fullness of life, from living our faith on the edge, and so there’s no fear, and little trembling?

Could it be that we’re looking at the antenna, and not living what Jesus calls ‘the deeper realities’?

IJM’s Gary Haugen sums it up well:

This is, I believe, a voice of divine restlessness. This is a voice of sacred discontent. This is the voice of a holy yearning for more … This is the moment in which we can see that all the work that God has been doing in our lives and in the life of the church is not an end in itself; rather, the work he has been doing in us is a powerful means to a grander purpose beyond ourselves. … This is the critical transition—when we who have been rescued by Christ come to understand that our rescue has not been simply for ourselves but for an even more exalted purpose. Indeed our own rescue is God’s plan for rescuing the world that he loves. 

[Just Courage]

We have not been rescued from sin and death so we can take it easy. God has worked his salvation into us so we can work it out, so we can put it into effect entirely and thoroughly. So that we can live new life with edge, with a sense of scary adventure, with fear and trembling. So we can serve God’s purpose (v.13). So we might will (that is, decide and choose) and act (that is, behave and do) the very things he has purposed in us.

The grander purpose the Lord has for us is that we enter into his heart for justice. Not a new program. Not a means to make people more busy. But a working out of what God has worked in, and a pursuit of the things which are close to the heart of God. The things Jesus calls ‘the weightier matters.’

So, here at Gateway we are embarking on a deepening of our strategic vision. The plans follow something of the material outlined in Jim Martin’s “The Just Church

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Encounter

We want to start a group, or a number of groups, that we might call ‘justice learning communities’. Everyone in these groups will be committed to working through key sections of God’s word which deal with justice, mercy and compassion. These  learning communities will prayerfully sit under the word. They will spend much time in prayer as they will work through some key books like

These groups will not be academic or merely intellectual. They will be prayerful, united, and desiring a deepening understanding of God’s call to be his people of justice. We will take some time to do this. Maybe 6-12 months. We will ask God to open our eyes, and to speak to us powerfully. We won’t want to assume we know the answers. We will be asking him daily to lead us to the right outcomes.

Explore

As we continue this learning, the time will come to start developing a justice task force, a ministry group who will

  • Ascertain the key needs around us in Cockburn. They will identify areas where people are vulnerable, they will work to unearth any injustice in our neighbourhood
  • Look also to wider contexts in Australia and beyond where the Gateway Church Family might be able to express the mercy and justice of the Kingdom of Jesus
  • See what resources we have: what are the gifts, skills, opportunities, passions and interests here in our church community?
  • They will then seek to match those resources to needs identified locally and beyond.

Engage

The third stage will see us prayerfully and intentionally start to respond to the various needs identified in the first two stages. In reality, this will be the hardest work on the justice journey. But it is what we are called to do.

They may be much risk as we respond to the needs around us, and we bet go into it with our eyes wide open. We don’t only need to see clearly the work that needs to be done and the resources we have to do it. The most important thing is that our eyes are fixed firmly on the Christ who is exalted above all things. He is the One on whom we depend. He is the One who lives in and empowers his people. He is the One who is with us always, even to the very end of the age. This being so, he is also the one in who is with us in our times of fear and trembling, who enables us to live his new life with faith and edge and courage.

My prayer is that we will all be changed in this process of growth and discovery. My prayer is that this justice journey will change our church, and lead us more into the maturity the Lord calls us to. Will you share that prayer that with me? It’s true, it may be a hard and difficult work. But Jesus is on the throne! Jesus is the Risen King. And the last thing any of us would want to do is keep looking at the antenna when deeper life and greater realities await us.

Please indicate how you want to engage with the justice journey by taking the brief survey below:

God Hates Injustice: Group Study Questions

Read Isaiah 1:10-20

  1. Discuss some of the things we typically say we hate. How many of those things are on the same level as injustice? What conclusions can you draw about this?
  2. Looking through this passage, what sort of actions and behaviour from God’s people lead to this strongly worded complaint to his people?
  3. Any worship anyone brings is only ever acceptable through the grace of God in Jesus. Can such grace overcome the situation outlined in Isaiah 1? If so, what explains Yahweh’s strong words to his people? Why doesn’t he just forgive and be done with it?
  4. “It is impossible to have orthodoxy without orthopraxis: impossible to have right doctrine in isolation from compassionate and just practice.” – Discuss
  5. Share a few stories of people who have seemed to get the balance right between great theology and compassionate practise
  6. Share your thoughts on the significance of Isaiah 53:4-6 and 1 John 3:1 for your pursuit of justice in your local context

 

These questions are relevant to “Time for Justice: God Hates Injustice” from Gateway Community Church, March 08, 2015

 

 

 

 

Time for Justice #3 – God Hates Injustice

Reading: Isaiah 1:10-17

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Before we get underway, I’d like to recommend a couple of books to challenge and extend you:

The Just Church – Jim Martin Martin begins with a few stories which underscore the need for Christians to think seriously about justice issues. Martin’s approach is deeply rooted in Scripture, and he takes good time to step us through the Bible’s teaching on justice related matters. The final section of his book is a very helpful strategy for a church to commence their justice journey. Martin is sensitive to the unique context of every local church, and rather than impose a series of outcomes, his generalised strategy will enable each local church to use their unique resources and context to advance the Kingdom of Christ.

Generous Justice – Timothy Keller Wow! This book. If ever you wondered how, and whether the Old Testament injunctions could be properly and graciously applied to churches in the 21st century, you will hungrily and gratefully devour Keller’s book. Keller’s characteristic well reasoned, deeply scriptural approach motivates the reader to respond to injustice in the light of the Cross of Jesus. I am so thankful for this book!

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What can’t you stand?

I can’t stand rap music. Some love it, even thrive on it. Not me. Can’t stand it.

I can’t stand tepid, weak, insipid coffee: like Starbucks. I was kind of happy when Starbucks folded in Australia. There seemed to be something good and right about that.

I can’t stand it when Perth drivers don’t know how to merge. Despite a speed limit of 100 kmh on most freeway onramps, some people – typically Honda drivers – dawdle along at 70kmh down the onramp, and then when it comes to the merge point they get the jellies and slow down even more. What is it with that anyway? Can’t stand that.

This week, I saw that one of my Facebook buddies had been in the habit of packing noodle snacks for the little bloke’s play lunch. One night as she was emptying the lunchbox she found this note:

No guessing where this little guy is coming from...

No points for guessing where the little bloke was coming from.

So, yes, there are a number of things I can’t stand, and I find them really irritating. But when you hate something, your response is one of intense hostility and deep aversion. You hate. You abhor. You are appalled. You detest.

All my kids will tell you that whenever they said they hated something, I’d caution with: ‘hate is a strong word.’ I’d encourage them to verbalise their feelings differently. And I think that when I use it of stupid drivers, or rap music, or pathetically coffee, I was either cheapening the word, or elevating pathetic coffee to a status it clearly did not deserve. So, I wonder how often in life we have actually felt things strongly enough to really hate them in a way that would do the word some justice.

What’s going on?

Surprisingly, right here God says there are things that he hates. And most astonishing of all, back in Isaiah’s day, he hated his people’s worship:

“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:12–14, NIV)

How can this be? What is going on?

Valid question. And what makes it all the more pertinent is the apparently lavish nature of this worship from God’s people. There are thousands of sacrifices! Rams, and bulls, and lambs, and goats, and fattened animals! All considerably more extravagant that what was required. So some impressive worship going on. Awesome worship. Everything looked right, powerful, and awe inspiring.

But things are not always as they seem. For with all this impressive worship there is a dark and sinister reality:

“…Your hands are full of blood!” (Isaiah 1:15, NIV)

“…evil deeds …doing wrong.” (Isaiah 1:16, NIV)

v.17 Justice is not sought, oppressed not defended, fatherless ignored, widows neglected

v.21 murderers dwell in Jerusalem, once a city of righteous

v.29 pagan gods worshipped

The Lord looks down on his once loved city, his treasured people, his own possession, his Kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:6). He sees their worship, the reality of their lives. And he can’t stand it:

“Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” (Isaiah 1:13, NASB95)

Notice that last phrase: “I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” This is the point of this entire passage: On the one hand they were presenting what looked to be glorious worship. But at the same time God’s people were

  • ignoring the vulnerable
  • oppressing the weak
  • siding with the violent
  • neglecting God’s commands to live in right-ness as his treasured covenant people

And God’s word was clear: I cannot endure the fact that you allow iniquity to coexist with the worship

How ignoring injustice affects God

What the Lord says here is actually some of the strongest language we ever hear from his lips. And in a similar vein to last week, the level of divine emotion is off the charts:

  • I have had enough, I have no pleasure (v.11)
  • Stop this, It is detestable to me, I cannot bear it (v.13)
  • I hate it with all my being, I am burdened, I am weary (v.14)
  • I hide my eyes when you pray (v.15)
  • I am not listening, I will not listen (v.16)

Let that sink in.

There is what appears to be awesome worship in the house but in the eyes of God it is appalling and offensive and detestable. These people, this worship is nauseating to God. He cannot bear it. It’s an atrocity. An outrage. Have you ever thought such responses could be possible of God?

Think about it. You can have:

  • the best worship band
  • the most powerful, competent, and passionate preacher
  • the most accurate exegesis
  • a theological heritage of the finest pedigree
  • an auditorium seating thousands, filled several times each week
  • giving and tithes to the extent that hundreds of thousands of dollars come in every week

But if that church, those Christians, are neglecting the vulnerable around them, if they are allowing injustice to thrive, all that good looking ministry and worship becomes odious to the Lord. Friends, God hates injustice. And one thing he hates more is when his people wilfully and purposefully ignore injustice around them:

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear iniquity mixed with the assembly. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:13–14)

It is interesting to look at other places where God says he hates things. And really, there are not that many places. Here’s a sample:

“You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31, NIV)

– God hates human sacrifice

“Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.” (Deuteronomy 16:21–22, NIV)

– God hates the worship of false Gods

“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” (Psalm 11:5, NIV)

– The Lord hates it when people love violence. The Lord hates what ISIS is doing, right?

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.” (Isaiah 61:8, NIV)

– He hates robbery and wrongdoing

And here in Isaiah 1 he says he hates it when injustice lives in the midst of his people.

We may sometimes think that injustice is the kind of issue that only some churches and some Christians need to deal with. Maybe those who have special insight, or special skills. Or we guess instances of injustice need not be a concern for the whole church. For our church.

But would you say the same about robbery? Or idolatry? Or violence? Or ritual sacrifice of children? God detests all these things. The same word for ‘hate’ is reserved for them all, injustice included.

God hates injustice. He hates it so much that when he looks down on this worship – and remember, it may have looked great to the observer at the time – The Lord didn’t see the response of a beloved Covenant people. It was so repulsive, such an offence to his holy character, he saw something else:

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:10, NIV)

When God’s people ignore the cries of the vulnerable, when they neglect the doing of justice, it is as appalling and heinous as pack rape, multiple incest and paedophilia. Because that’s what was going on in Sodom & Gomorrah.

The Challenge

Now, maybe it’s the same with you: the clear implications of this teaching leave me very uncomfortable. I spoke a few week’s ago that for a long time in my ministry, God’s call to justice was not even on my preaching radar. I thought it was enough to have responsible theology, good exegesis, a healthy church, an evangelism program, and do things decently and in order. But this passage, and the many, many other passages in the Old and New Testaments, where the Lord calls his people to be a people of justice and righteousness and compassion simply cannot be ignored.

And – this passage in particular – is a sobering reminder that if God’s people neglect this call, pretty much everything else they do moves from what might appear to be awesome to what is actually appalling. Last week we saw the confronting reality of how denying justice was to deny the covenant.

That’s why it’s time. Time for justice to become part of our DNA, a recognised mark of a healthy church. To be a people of compassion and justice is simply part of what it means to reflect Christ, to build disciples, to develop healthy community, to mission our city. It’s part of God’s desire for his church.

But – you might ask – can these passages about Israel in 700BC be applied to the church in 2015? Can we really just transfer that command and application into a totally different time, place, and culture? We’ll be looking at that more closely next week…

The truth is, we cannot look at our theological pedigree and divorce it from our ethical responsibilities. We cannot lean on our confessional heritage in isolation from expressing compassion and seeking justice. It is impossible to have orthodoxy without orthopraxis: impossible to have right doctrine in isolation from compassionate and just practice.

we cannot expect our theological pedigree to relieve us from our ethical responsibilities. We cannot lean on our confessional heritage in isolation from expressing compassion and seeking justice

We in the reformed evangelical family need to learn this. Perhaps our doing so might even be the beginning of a new reformation, a powerful Word driven, Spirit empowered renewal of the church and of ourselves (more about that in the next weeks).

For now, let me ask you:

Are you hungering for a faith that is alive? For an expression of Christianity that overflows with life, with love, with Gospel reality, with God’s power? A faith and life that God would regard spot on and wonderful? It’s no secret: God has already told us how to find that:

“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, NIV)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV)

Church, a living faith is grounded in and remains faithful to the Gospel. We must honour our heritage, and guard the good deposit handed down to us by the apostles in the Word. But if we leave it at that, at our beliefs, at faith, and do not allow Christ’s Spirit to reform us, renew us, and shape our lives, we might get some great worship going down, but we’d be in danger of making the same grave mistake, committing the same repulsive sin as God’s people in Isaiah 1.

To me, that would be unthinkable. And to our gracious Lord, unimaginably abhorrent.

Who are we, really? Aren’t Christians people who, through the dying and rising of Jesus, have been reconciled to God? Who once were not his people, but have now through the blood of Christ become the people of God?

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

What glory! We have received untold compassion of Christ, true? He shed his precious blood for us!

“… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)

John the Apostle’s words are a glorious punch in the air, right? “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! …” (1 John 3:1, NIV)

His Spirit has opened our hearts, and our eyes, and our minds. This Jesus lives in all who call on his mercy and look to him in faith. And he calls us to express his mercy, to have it overflow from our lives into the world around us. This Risen Jesus has a plan to address the injustices in our world and around us.

In the coming weeks we’ll be listening to the Word as it leads us from the Cross of Christ to a compassionate response to the injustices around us.

God’s Heart for the Victim – Group Study Questions

Read Jeremiah 22:1-16

Share a few examples of injustices you see in your local community or in your world. Are these affecting people known to you, or are they more situations that you are aware of but you don’t now the people concerned? If we are not particularly close to victims of injustice, how might this alter our perception of this issue?

To what extent do we regard injustice as a core factor in the decline of the Old Testament kingdoms of Israel and Judah?

The injustice of Jehioakim, Jehoiachin, Shallum and other rulers would one dat lead to exile and to Jerusalem’s destruction (see Jer 22:5, 8-9). It seems unthinkable that God would visit such terrible punishment on his own people. What does this tell us about God’s heart for victims of injustice?

“When God’s people allow injustice to thrive, they break the Covenant with the Lord” – Explain

Read Luke 4:18-19 and Mark 11:15-17. What do these passages tell us about Jesus’ views on injustice, and the place they occupy in his Kingdom mission? How do these words of Jesus reflect what we read in Jeremiah 22?

How does the death and resurrection of Jesus impact on what we think and do about injustice?

If it’s true that the things that matter to God should also matter to God’s people, what does this mean for

* how we do church

* what we do as church?

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These questions relate to “Time for Justice – God’s Heart for the Victim”. You can read the full text here.

Time for Justice – God’s Heart for the Victim

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Readings: Jeremiah 22:1-16; Psalm 35:10

The Old Testament chronicles the sad and sorry decline of God’s ancient people: The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. We typically hear about the spiritual adultery of worshipping idols and other false gods as being the primary reasons for this decline. What we may not realise is that the idolatry of these once great nations was not simply the worshipping of foreign or false gods. It was also their greed and abuse of power to such a degree that they trampled and oppressed their own people. This injustice, a core element of their unfaithfulness and idolatry, ultimately led to their downfall and exile.

King and Country

The emphasis Jeremiah gives here, and the voice of God through him, is unmistakable:

“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3, NIV)

“But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’ ”” (Jeremiah 22:5, NIV)

Further, doing justice, living in righteousness, in right-ness, was an integral part of being God’s treasured possession and his holy nation, so much so that

““People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and have worshipped and served other gods.’ ”” (Jeremiah 22:8–9, NIV)

When God’s people allow injustice to thrive, they break the covenant. As the Lord speaks through Jeremiah, he remembered a once faithful ruler

““…He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. 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.” (Jeremiah 22:15–16, NIV)

So, what was happening? What was going on? It turns out the reign of Judah’s King Jehoiakim and Israel’s Shallum were marked by gross injustice and crimes against humanity. What were these injustices? We see them outlined in Jeremiah 22

“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3, NIV)

People were being robbed blind. Foreigners, refugees, widows, the fatherless, those least able to defend themselves were being violated:

““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, NIV)

The King was building a glorious palace, and doing so with the lives of his own people, refusing to pay them.

““But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.”” (Jeremiah 22:17, NIV)

What King enslaves his own people? Had he forgotten that Israel themselves had been slaves in Egypt?

These rulers have forsaken the holy covenant he has made with his people. And as such they were the polar opposite to the Lord’s desire for a just ruler:

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.” (Psalm 72:1–4, NIV)

How did the Lord feel about the Kings of Israel and Judah perpetrating these things? To answer this, observe the emotion, the heart of the Lord in the following:

“But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’ ”” (Jeremiah 22:5, NIV)

Tell me what you see: What emotion do you see there? Anger, retribution.

“For this is what the LORD says about the palace of the king of Judah: “Though you are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon, I will surely make you like a wasteland, like towns not inhabited. I will send destroyers against you, each man with his weapons, and they will cut up your fine cedar beams and throw them into the fire.” (Jeremiah 22:6–7, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Grief! Anger!

““People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this great city?’” (Jeremiah 22:8, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Ridicule, shame, embarrassment

““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, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Warning, rising anger

“He will have the burial of a donkey— dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem.”” (Jeremiah 22:19, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Shame, offence, disgust, contempt

““As surely as I live,” declares the LORD, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off.” (Jeremiah 22:24, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Disgust, bitterness, anger

“I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die.” (Jeremiah 22:26, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Anger, wrath, utter rejection

God’s heart for the victim

We see in these reactions, not merely the Lord’s heart for justice, but his compassionate heart for the victim. It’s not just that laws are being broken. People are being violated. The innocent are being killed. God’s image is being oppressed. This becomes particularly clear when we see how the Lord describes his own character:

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:17–18, NIV)

Hundreds of years before, as his people prepared to enter the land of promise, The Lord gave very specific instructions for how they should care for the vulnerable. Why? Because he wanted his people to be like him. To be holy as he is holy (Lev 11:44)

Turn to the Psalms, and we get a similar picture:

“Who is like you, LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”” (Psalm 35:9–10, NIV)

God rescues the poor and needy from the strong – why? Why would he do that? Because he has a heart for the victim.

“Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the LORD.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing…” (Psalm 68:4–6, NIV)

See how that speaks of God’s heart? His deep concern for the fatherless? How His compassion drives him to defend the widows? How he cares for the lonely, those without families? Even those imprisoned?

Here’s the question: Is this how you typically think of God? Have you ever considered how much he loves those who are victims of injustice? You should, if you know Jesus. Remember the words Jesus used to open his ministry?

““The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”” (Luke 4:18–19, NIV)

Jesus’ whole ministry is marked with a compassion for the poor and those trapped – not only by sin – that certainly – but also for those trapped in the oppressive consequences of sin. For example, the oppressive regime of spiritual abuse of the Pharisees.

““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23, NIV)

All God’s law is important, but some aspects are more weighty than others. And living with justice, mercy and faithfulness cannot be glossed over.

Another outstanding example of Jesus’ heart for justice and his love for those victimised by it is found in Mark 11.

“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:15–17, NIV)

In one sense, the traders seem to have been disrupting the worship in the temple courts, creating a rabble where it should never have been. But the real issue, the real cause of Jesus’ anger, is found in v.17. The real issue was that those responsible for the Temple not only allowed trading with all its associated commotion and corruption – that’s another sermon – the big issue was that they had made the temple ‘a den or robbers’. Not just a noisy market place. It was a den. A den or robbers. And what do robbers do in a den?

They hide there! They find protection there!

The religious leaders had turned the temple into a place that protected corruption, abuse and robbery. Jesus’ anger shows just what God thought about people who offer protection to the unjust!

Thinking back to Jeremiah 22, there’s no doubt is a terrible chapter. But the very next chapter tells us that the Lord will rise up a ‘righteous branch”. In accordance with the covenant promises of the Lord, one would come and he would reign wisely, do what is right, do righteousness, do what is just, and his name would be Yahweh Zidkenu “The Lord our Righteousness”.

The New Testament shows us who that righteous branch is – his name is Jesus. And thinking about that, isn’t the greatest proof for God’s compassionate heart for those oppressed with injustice the Cross of Christ?

Isn’t the greatest injustice of all the sin of the human heart, which turns people into rebels against our gracious God?

Outside of Christ we are powerless to deal with our own sin. Ravaged by rebellion. Oppressed with our guilt and failing. And yet the Easter Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to save, to rescue, to redeem. Not merely from an economic, or social, or political injustice, but from the evil that oppresses the human heart.

The Cross is the greatest statement ever of the compassionate heart of the Living Lord for a people enslaved. The resurrection is the greatest statement of victory over those dark powers. It tells us that our core issue can be dealt with. The people can be redeemed. That lives can be transformed. The Cross has conquered the greatest injustice, and in his power he calls us to liberate people not simply from unjust life situations, but from the greater power of the evil one.

So, the picture in Scripture is consistent: the things that mattered to God in the OT also mattered to Jesus in his ministry and in the Cross. And perhaps the biggest question we need to answer, then, is this:

Do the things that matter to God matter to us?

In Christ we are being recreated in the image of our creator God. Is his heart for the victim seen in our attitudes and actions?

Does the church today reflect the character of the Lord, and His Son, who care deeply for those victimised by injustice? It should:

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NIV)

If we are to imitate God, and walk in his way of love, shouldn’t this be visible in a changed heart for injustice’s victims?

Imitating God – how?

Isn’t it true that every time we see a person enslaved, oppressed with sin and its consequent injustices, we see a situation that grieves the heart of God? Aren’t we witnessing something God wants to stop?

How then can we embody this character of the Lord? There will come a time for us to talk about action, but for now, pray that you will see injustice through the eyes of God, and in the light of the cross and the open tomb.

This next week pray one prayer:

Lord, open my heart to your own heart. Let me be more in tune with how you see the sin ravaged brokenness of the world around me.

Holy Spirit, let me feel the grief, the holy anger, the deep disturbance of soul you feel ever time someone is abused and oppressed.

Lord, open my eyes. Let me see the injustices around me. Let me see things for what they really are. Give a discerning eye, and a compassionate vision for those you long to bring to life through Jesus.

Lord, keep me from prejudice, from rushing to judgement, from assuming I know the reasons why people are in the situation they are in.

They are your image, too, Lord. Help me, with the good news of Jesus, restore that broken image.

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If you’re after some suggestions on how you can seek justice you should check out International Justice Mission (Australia) and (USA).

The Origins of Injustice – Group Study Questions

Magic Bus 008

In which contexts would people of your culture typically come into contact with injustice?

Injustice is when someone uses their power to take from others the good things God wants them to have: their life, liberty, dignity and the fruits of their love and labour (International Justice Mission) – Discuss

Dave mentioned in his sermon that up until the last 10 years or so, he was not aware of much emphasis on the issue of injustice from evangelical Christian preachers. Is that a common experience? What factors might account for it?

Read Ezekiel 22:1-16. What strikes you about the way injustice is spoken about in this passage?

Read Lev 19:35-37, and Lev 11:45. Discuss the ultimate motive for God’s people to embody his law (see also Ex 19:4-6)

Since injustice has its roots in the fall, the ultimate cure is Christ ruling his people and his world – Discuss.

What are the implications of the above for the many good – but ultimately secular – efforts against injustice?