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.

Repentance (Foundations #5) – How God brings change in his world – Group Questions

Opening:

What do you think the people of your local culture understand by the word “repent’?

What do you think the people of your local church community understand by the word “repent’?

What conclusion do you draw from any differences there might be?

Read: Colossians 3:1-17

If you were to choose one verse from this passage to illustrate repentance, which one would it be, and why?

James I Packer defines repentance as “changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently”. How does this definition challenge the popular notion of repentance in your church community?

Discuss together: who are the best models of healthy repentance you have observed? What is it about their example that impresses you?

How would you help and encourage someone who was struggling with God’s call to change?

What sort of personal daily disciplines would help us develop healthy expressions of repentance? Discuss together which of these behaviour you would like to try in the coming week.

Repentance (Foundations #5) – How God brings change to his world

Read: Colossians 3:1-17

Turn around

Up to this point we have been observing somewhat objective realities: things that are true irrespective of our response or acceptance, namely:

1. God has created the universe

2. Humanity rebelled against his loving rule

3. God promised redemption

4. God brought redemption through the death and rising of Jesus Christ.

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Today, things change. Today the theoretical rubber meets the road of our daily lives, because we are talking about repentance.

First, some fine print:

God is the Lord and Master of our lives irrespective of our response. You might be sitting here totally unmoved by Jesus. You might be quite indifferent to God and his plans for the world. You may regard yourself as an unbeliever, an infidel, an atheist. Sorry to burst the bubble, but none of that changes the reality that God is still King, and that you are still accountable to him.

God is still Lord and he will bring his purposes to fulfilment despite your unbelief or indifference. He is a sovereign God, and is not waiting on you or me before he can do anything.

Second, you may be wondering why have I chosen to talk about repentance, and not faith.

Answer:

a) We tend to see ‘having faith’ as a cognitive function, an intellectual thing. Which of course, it is. We accept facts about Jesus, we agree to church teachings, we believe the Gospel. All well and good, except that

b) Faith cannot be separated from a total life response. It is not possible to have faith in Jesus without that commitment coming to expression in your life and behaviour. Faith must go hand in hand with a repentant life. So, throughout this sermon, when I use the word ‘repent’ you need to understand that as an all-of-life response flowing from faith, not as something separated from it.

Repentance, in biblical terms, always flows out of faith. Faith, in biblical terms, always leads to a repentant life.

Faith in Christ must be expressed in works. Without action, faith is dead. By the same token, repentance cannot be equated with mere activity. Such activity, without faith, is either mere activism or dead religion. Repentance, in biblical terms, always flows out of faith. Faith, in biblical terms, always leads to a repentant life.

Repentance: How God’s plan impacts his world

We’ve noted that God is sovereign. He is not dependent on human response. In his great wisdom, however, this sovereign God generally does his work through people. Which is why I want to stress the role of repentance in God’s Big Picture.

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You may not realise it: but you hunger for repentance more than you know. You’re hungering for a changed world. You’re longing for peace. Praying for reconciliation. You desire growth, and faith, and strength. We long for repentance because God’s change comes to his world as he brings change in people.

There was once a man called Saul. He hated Jesus. He was persecuting Christians as much as ISIS extremists in Mosul today. But a few years later he had become the most eloquent and powerful proponent of Christianity in the Roman world.

How did that happen?

God brought him to his knees, and opened his eyes to Jesus. Saul believed and repented. He came under Jesus’ rule. His life changed. He started sharing the good news of life and grace in Jesus’ name. Saul repented.

What is repentance?

Repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently – James I Packer, Concise Theology

Here’s the critical thing: the sovereign God brought his change to the NT world through Paul and other followers of Jesus as they led repentant lives. As God worked his change in and through repentant people, families, communities, cities, empires were transformed.

So, How does God change the world?

Through one repentant person at a time.

Coming Under Jesus’ Rule

The thing about repentance is that we don’t understand it very well. We’re not helped by the crazy street preachers who connect repentance with the end of the world. We’re not helped by the evangelistic emphasis which too readily equates repentance with mere initial commitment to Jesus: “Did you hear about Bob? He repented the other night and became a Christian!”

When we look at the whole sweep of Bible teaching on repentance, we see a couple of things:

One: Repentance is certainly connected with a person’s initial commitment, with a decision to trust Jesus in faith. Like the people listening to Peter on the day of Pentecost.

Peter responded:

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

Three thousand people repented and were added to the church on that day. So repentance is certainly connected with that initial faith.

Two: repentance is also more than an initial act. You may have noticed that in Packer’s definition:

“…one’s whole life is lived differently”

It’s like a change of citizenship: there’s an initial decision and action, but the changed citizenship continues after the initial transition has been made. Over time the person adapts, changes, and takes on a new way of life. They stop speaking the old language, and start speaking the language of the new country. They stop eating food of the old country, and start eating the food of the new environment. They stop wearing the clothes appropriate to their old address, and start wearing clothes appropriate to the new setting.

How does God change the world? One repentant person at a time.

In Eph 4 Paul describes this new way of life as a continued putting off the clothes of rebellion, and wearing instead the wardrobe of new life:

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;” (Ephesians 4:22–23, NIV)

In Colossians the image becomes more intense. Some behaviour doesn’t just need to be put off, it needs to be killed off:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5, NIV)

In Paul’s letter to Titus, ‘repentance’ is a life focussed on bringing God’s good life to expression:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:3–8, NIV)

Finally, the reformation’s Heidelberg Catechism clearly shows repentance as a life long process:

88 Q. What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion?

A. Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the rising-to-life of the new.

89 Q. What is the dying-away of the old self?

A. To be genuinely sorry for sin and more and more to hate and run away from it.

90 Q. A. What is the rising-to-life of the new self?

A. Wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God
 by doing every kind of good work.

It is a consistent life change. It is an insistent life change.

It is you, coming under Jesus’ rule, staying under Jesus’ rule, and living under Jesus’ rule.

This is why we tend to resist repentance. We’re happy for there to be changes everywhere else, in other people’s lives, but we resist change in our own. We dislike any reminder that our lives need to change. True?

Interestingly, the predominant OT word for repent is שׁוּב – ‘turn back’. Quite appropriate, isn’t it? As a follower of Jesus, as a repentant Christian, I am called to turn back from doing things my own way. To turn back from arrogantly making up my own mind. To turn back from seeing myself as the judge of what is right and reasonable. I am called instead to come under Jesus’ rule totally and completely.

This is why repentance is so dominant in the big picture of what God is doing: As people believe and repent, God is starting to restore what human rebellion threw away.

As I repent, I am coming back under the rule of the loving King who created my world, who brought me to life, who promised my redemption, and who made it happen in Jesus. By living in repentance, I bow my knee to this Jesus. I submit myself to his Lordship. I offer up my life to his Kingdom. I turn back, and walk with him.

Here’s the thing: when Jesus calls you to repentance, he calls you to a total change of heart, mind and behaviour.

So many people today are waiting for God to do big stuff in their life. They have heard people say ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’… So they wait for something wonderful, or miraculous, or overwhelming.

It may happen.

Want to know God’s plan for your life?

It is for you to come under Jesus’ rule, to love the one who gave his life for you, for you to start living for him. Truth is: most of the time the biggest thing that God changes in your life is your attitude and your behaviour.

You, taking off the garments of unbelief. You, putting on the clothes of faith, of change, of new creation. You, embracing a totally different life direction.

Let me ask: do you see yourself as a Christian?

Can you say that your life is heading in a new life direction? The direction of Jesus’ Kingdom? A different life direction compared with before you were a Christian? Is your behaviour actually different?

Consider for a moment: Could it be that one of the biggest barriers to God making a difference in your world is your unwillingness to change your attitudes and your behaviour?

Could it be that one of the biggest barriers to God making a difference in our local community could be the unwillingness of Christians like us and churches like ours to change our attitudes and behaviour?

By the same token, could it be that God working through you – you living a repentant life – that this could become a powerful statement of his transformational power in the world today?

Why should I?

God is calling you to come under the rule of Jesus and live this repentant life.

And you might say, ‘well, why should I?’

The answer is in the Cross of Jesus. That’s what he did for you. That’s how much he loved you. He forgives all your sins. He heals all your diseases. He lifts you from the pit of your own rebellion and crowns you with love and compassion. All this by his sheer grace. And today he commands you to believe and repent and by his transformational sovereign power, start living a completely different life in Christ.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)

God calls you into this life, into this repentant life, because he wants you to have life in its fullness. He wants a better you. The you where the new heavens and the new earth are starting to come to expression. The you of new creation! (see 2 Corinthians 5:17)

Don’t you think your family would agree? They would love you to be a better you! Don’t you think your workmates, your friends, your children, want you to be a better you? They’d love you to put off the destructive stuff of human rebellion, and to put on the new life of Jesus!

You’re not alone in this

The really great news is that you’re not alone in this. It’s not as if God says ‘well, my Son has come to rescue you from your rebellion, now believe, repent, and get your life together, then come and see me when you’re done.”

Happily, the Bible presents another reality: Jesus sends his Spirit, who lives in us, empowering us to make the changes God call us into.

It’s the Spirit who motivates and enables us to take off the old ways, and put on the new.

It’s the spirit to enables us to put to death the destructive rebellion that had us bound.

It’s the Spirit who points us to Jesus, seated at the right hand of the father, and who focuses our mind on the things above, on heaven things, and enables us live that new reality instead the old.

Once again, the Heidelberg Catechism:

A. 49 By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.

See God never calls you to do something which he will not enable you to do. He calls you to live this new life of repentance. He gives you his Son, who through his death and rising again breaks the reign of sin in your life. He gives his Spirit to live in you, to lead, guide, direct and change, so Christ’s new life might indeed come to full expression in yours, so you might be

“…made new in the attitude of your minds; and … put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23–24, NIV)

Are you wanting God and his transformation to be seen in this world?

Oh yes, Lord, please!

Then you need to become a repentant follower of Jesus. You need to turn back to God. Become part of Jesus Kingdom.
Become part of the people who claim his life, death and resurrection as the centre and foundation of their own.

In Christ’s power, live this new repentant life. Change your attitudes. Change your behaviour.
And may Jesus receive all the glory.

This sermon was originally preached on August 3, 2014 by Dave Groenenboom at Gateway Community Church, Cockburn Central, Western Australia