How Should Christians Respond to Terrorist Attacks?

Paris

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Seeing the images coming out of Paris in the last 24 hours has been confronting and disturbing. As these events were unfolding, there was an world class cricket match being played at the WACA in Perth. And I thought: what if an attack happened there?

So, I was asking questions: Are we safe? What should we do? What should Christians say and think as they respond to Da’esh sponsored violence?

I want to mention three or four things we must do, and three or four things we must not do. Some of these were inspired by Ed Stetzer’s recent post on The Exchange . I have used Ed’s heading, though written my own content. This message was written late Saturday after I had fully completed a message for the Hope Eternal series – we’ll get to that some other time. So, I am indebted to Ed for the idea… thank you, brother.

So, how can Christians respond to acts of terror?

As this question is framed, let’s remember that his past week saw terrorist attacks in other places, including Lebanon. Earlier this year, after the first attack in France at Charlie Hebdo, a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria saw 2000 deaths. Compared to the press attention on France, these other attacks received little attention in Australian media. Two things: 1) terrorist attacks like e saw in Paris are very common in some parts of the world, and 2) our press is quite selective in what is presented. We don’t have to get all suspicious about that: no news service will cover everything.

These realities serve to show that our response needs to be more than occasional. we need to draw these responses into our everyday living as followers of Jesus.

So, back to the question: How can Christians respond to increasing prevalence of terror attacks?

1.Pray

It is for no small reason that Paul, persecuted and in prison, writes to his Christian friends in Philippi

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, NIV)

More than any other time, when our hearts are full of fear, we must be a praying people. We call out to the One who knows all, sees all, rules all, and we have the assurance that our powerful God will hear us.

Psalm 116:1-6

Get together with people and pray. Pray for our world. Pray for Paris. Pray that Da’esh evil will be brought to nothing and our world will be rid of it. Pray that Christ will rule people through grace, love, mercy and selflessness.

2.Love the hurting

Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminds us that anyone who is in need, anyone who is hurting, should receive our love, mercy and attention.

We know the story: Samaritans hated Jews. Jews hated Samaritans. But Jesus tells this parable to show us that when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion.

when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion

We may not know anyone hurting as a direct result of these attacks. Pray for the hurting anyway. And find some way to express that. If you use social media, Tweet like a Christian and tell people you’re praying for the hurting.

3.Love your enemies

Do you sometimes think we are becoming less tolerant and gracious? I do. And some comments in social media have confirmed that thought for me. I have seen Christians posting garbage on facebook, whipping up a frenzy of clicktivism against Muslims in particular.

Seriously friends, we shake the fist and give the finger way too easily. And it’s ugly. It drags the name of Jesus through the foulest of human mud.

Read the Scriptures: Jesus never said we should get angry or get even. Jesus never said we should talk about lining them all up and shooting them. Remember: that is what they would do to us.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. …” (Matthew 5:43–48, NIV)

To be honest, I am finding it very hard to pray for the perpetrators of these acts, or Isis/Da’esh. But Jesus commands me to pray for them. So I will pray they will be overcome, by the grace of God. I pray they would see how Jesus transforms people by grace. I pray they will see that fear and terror cannot win.

Think of early Christian martyrs. Thrown to wild beasts. Burned at the stake. Stories of Polycarp being burned, and yet singing hymns as the fire was set around his feet. Think of Jesus, as he was being crucified, praying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” There’s our model, friends. Let us go and do likewise, and let us do that together.

4.Live good lives

It’s no coincidence that we have been studying 1 Peter in the Hope Eternal series. Peter wrote to persecuted people. They were hated, maligned and misunderstood. His advice? Keep living godly lives in the public square. Don’t retreat to the bunker. Keep doing good. Keep wearing the grace of Jesus on your sleeve.

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

Think about that when terror strikes: Keep living good lives, Gospel hearted behaviour. Let the love of the King be seen in the people of his Kingdom.

How do Jesus’ people respond to terror? To the horror of Paris?

Romans 12:14–21 (NIV)

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus’ kingdom, quite clearly, is not of this world, but it is our prayer that, living in his likeness and to his glory, our world will be transformed and evil will be undone.

There are some things to do. Here are a few things not to do:

1.Do not hate people

Do not hate people. It’s a fine line, but when Paul says “hate what is evil” he’s talking about actions and behaviour, not people. Even so, we need to guard our heart here.

Hatred, especially in the face of terror, feels good. There’s something about indignation that will sometimes strangely warm us. But it’s a slippery emotion.

“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12, NIV)

The Gospel transforms hatred into a love that seeks Gospel good and Gospel change:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV)

Remember Christian, we know how all this will end. It won’t be with the destruction of the church, or with the Christian faith being eradicated. Jesus’ promise is that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

His promise is that a day is coming when

“They will neither harm nor destroy on [the Lord’s] holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9, NIV)

In the words of 20th century Christian martyr, Martin Luther King Jr,

The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice

And again

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate: only love can do that.

Vengeance belongs to God, and he will defend and vindicate his faithful ones. Believe this and make it your comfort.

2.Don’t blame refugees

It did not take long for some to associate the attacks in Paris with the refugee crisis. Seriously! It was not refugees who mounted the attacks. It was Da’esh. The refugees we tend to see, the refugees our country puts in detention camps, are people fleeing what we saw in Paris.

We are one with refugees, friends. All of us run from these attacks. Let’s not allow the uninformed opinions of some be all we see in this picture.

The Bible reminds us ver directly: God has his eye on refugees, and how we treat them. His people were refugees from Egypt, from Assyria, from Babylon, from Rome, from Hitler, from Stalin, from the Iron & Bamboo curtains. His own dear son and his family were refugees from Herod. (A few days after I preached this message, my sister created this meme – great work Jo!) …

Refugees n Christmas

 

Christians should be the first to respond in grace.

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34, NIV)

3. Don’t blame Muslims

Bracketing all Muslims with Da’esh is like saying all Christians are KKK. It’s like saying because some Christian institutions have been places of abuse, that all Christians are abusers of children.

We believe Jesus is the only way to the Father. We want Muslims to come to know Jesus, (and they want us to know the prophet). But we must not answer injustice with prejudice. The Paris attacks were the work of extremists using Islam for their own evil ends.

4. Do not call for war on Islam

To do so is to embark on a Christian Jihad, our own holy war, a crusade. And that is repaying evil with evil, all the worse because we lump all Muslims together. When we do this we do the very thing Da’esh is doing to us.

The truth: everyone needs Jesus

The Gospel is about the transformation of the world under Jesus’ rule.

Jesus’ Kingdom is not perpetuated by fear or violence.

Jesus’ Kingdom is advanced through love, peace and selflessness in his people.

Jesus Kingdom transforms our world one life at a time, as people bow they knee, coming under his grace, and live in his likeness.

The impact of his Kingdom in people is described as fruit:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

And when people like you and I come under Christ’s Lordship, we have new life, we are given a new start, and we start to live a miracle of grace:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

As Da’esh shows the world the face of terror, Christians must show the world the face of Christ.

In the day of terror, He is our hope. Christ in us, the hope of glory!

We see the horror, and we weep. But we know, in the end, Christ’s love will win.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, NIV)

A Prayer

Compassionate God and Father of all,

We are horrified at violence

In so many parts of the world

It seems that none are safe

And some are terrified,

others grieving lost loved ones, and lost freedom

 

Hold back the hands that kill and maim

Turn around the hearts that hate

Remove the scourge of evil from our cities

And from our world.

 

Grant instead your powerful spirit of peace

Peace won in the cross of Christ our King

Peace that came through persecution and violence

 

Help us remember that nothing can separate us from your love

That you are with us always

That Christ’s life in us is our power to be

A people of good and a people for good

 

Keep us from prejudice, from judgemental attitudes

From superiority, and from living in fear

 

And until Christ returns,

May we live as new creation, fleeing sin

Walking in newness of life

That people everywhere will know

That because of Jesus

Our world belongs to God.

 

 

 

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’s Plan to Address Injustice

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Read: Luke 10:25-37

It seems you don’t have to talk about Christianity for too long before someone says, ‘One of the issues I have with God is that there is so much evil in the world: Why isn’t he doing something about it?’

Does God have a plan to address injustice?

We’ve been looking at issues surrounding injustice for the last four weeks, and the question we’re dealing with today is that very question: Does God have a plan to address injustice?

On the road to Jericho

One day, a lawyer asked a question of Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus asked him what the law taught, and the lawyer’s response is well known:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27, NIV)

‘Great answer’ says Jesus. Do that and you’ll be fine. But the lawyer knew that giving an answer and living an answer were two very different things.

Think about it: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Who can do that perfectly? So The law expert wanted the matter clarified: ‘and who is my neighbour?’

The parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to his question. And while we might not realise it, this parable is also the answer to our question: what is God doing about injustice?

But before we get into that, Let’s observe that there are two aspects answering the question of what God is doing about injustice. First, there is what we call the ‘not yet’ aspect: The ‘Judgement Day’ aspect.

He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4, NIV)

Rev 21 & 22 tell us a day will come when every evil act, every abuse, every agent of oppression, every person who does injustice or turns a blind eye to it will answer to the living God. On Judgement Day God will forever end all injustice. But we are not there yet.

Second, there is a ‘Now’ aspect. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what the ‘now’ aspect is. We read,

…“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30, NIV)

The victim was a Jew. A priest and a Levite, both brother Jews to the victim, to our surprise pass by on the other side. Then along comes a Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans. Samaritans hated Jews. Typically, neither would have regarded the other as their neighbour.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? See where he’s pushing?

The lawyer wanted to justify himself. That is, he wanted Jesus to say ‘your neighbour is your brother’; or at worst: ‘your neighbour is your countryman’. But Jesus does not do that. Jesus says your neighbour is anyone, anyone who needs your mercy. Anyone in need.

In this parable, a great injustice has been committed. A man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. His own countrymen ignore him. And the question that interests us right now is: What was God’s plan to address that injustice?

Well, of course, God’s plan was that the Levite address that injustice. And his plan was that the priest address that injustice. But they both rejected God’s call. And then along came this despised Samaritan. Like the others, he was the plan. Unlike the others, he obeyed, showed mercy, used his donkey, spent his money.

your neighbour is anyone, anyone who needs your mercy. Anyone in need

What is God’s plan to deal with injustice? His plan is to use us! When injustice is going on, and you know it, and you see it, you are the plan to deal with it.

God’s plan has not changed

God’s plan is to deal with injustice by using his people. His plan has never been any different. The oft quoted Exodus manifesto reveals how when God’s people obeyed him and kept his covenant

“…then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation …” (Exodus 19:5–6, NIV)

Jeremiah 22 and Isaiah 1, show the Lord expects his people to address injustice around them. It was his plan for his people then. The question is does the New Testament teach it is his plan for his church, for you, for me, for his church to do it now? Does Jesus clearly teach this?

Let’s cover some of that data:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16–18, NIV)

It’s clear: Christians know God’s love, and this places them under an obligation to help a brother or sister in need. In doing this we clearly follow Jesus’ example.

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8, NIV)

It’s clear: Because you are a Christian, you have an obligation to assist family and relatives in need.

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”” (Acts 20:35, NIV)

As Paul farewells the Ephesian elders, he does not just tell them about their responsibilities to guard the flock from false teachers. He clearly says they have an obligation to help the weak.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10, NIV)

Here we see how the circle of responsibility widens: it’s not just fellow Christians in need that the church has to care for, nor to their responsibilities extend only to their family. God’s people are called to do good and to address the needs of all people.

Can you see the emphasis? You are God’s plan to address need inside the church. You are God’s plan to address need outside the church.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,” (Matthew 25:35, NIV)

Christ’s people don’t just render assistance to the ones they know and love, but even to those who are strangers. As one scholar observes:  to ‘those who were enemies politically and religiously.’

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16, NIV)

You are the salt of what? Your Family? You are the salt of your friends? You are the salt of the people you know and love? You are the salt of people who are like you? No. None of that. You, church, are the salt of the earth. It’s hard to think of a context wider than that. You are God’s plan on the earth.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, NIV)

Peter writes to this church, people who are salt and light, and he says “be this kind of people, do good, live good lives, even amongst pagans. In the context of 1 Peter, God’s people were called to live good lives toward those who were persecuting them. That is an astounding command.

So: What is God’s plan to address injustice? You and me. Us. Church, together. We are the plan. We see from the above that this teaching is consistently reflected and embedded in the witness of the New Testament. And when it comes the the emphases in Jesus’ ministry, I can do no better that quote Timothy Keller. In Generous Justice he writes:

While clearly Jesus was preaching the good news to all, he showed throughout his ministry the particular interest in the poor and the downtrodden that God has always had.

Jesus, in his incarnation, “moved in” with the poor. He lived with, ate with, and associated with the socially ostracized (Matt 9:13). He raised the son of the poor widow (Luke 7:11–16) and showed the greatest respect to the immoral woman who was a social outcast (Luke 7:36ff). Indeed, Jesus spoke with women in public, something that a man with any standing in society would not have done, but Jesus resisted the sexism of his day (John 4:27). 51 Jesus also refused to go along with the racism of his culture, making a hated Samaritan the hero of one of his most famous parables (Luke 10:26ff) and touching off a riot when he claimed that God loved Gentiles like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian as much as Jews (Luke 4:25–27). Jesus showed special concern for children, despite his apostles’ belief that they were not worth Jesus’s time (Luke 18:15). Lepers also figured greatly in Jesus’s ministry. They were not only sick and dying, but were the outcasts of society. Jesus not only met their need for physical healing, but reached out his hand and touched them, giving them their first human contact in years (Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13). He called his disciples to give to the poor in the strongest and most startling ways, while praising the poor for their own generosity (Mark 12:42–43). His own mother prophesied that he would “fill the poor” but turn the rich away empty (Luke 1:53). Yet Jesus also showed true justice by opening his arms to several classes of people who were not just poor. He ate with and spoke to tax collectors, the wealthiest people in society, yet the most hated, since they acquired their gains through collaborating with the Roman forces of occupation. The first witnesses to Jesus’s birth were shepherds, a despised group considered unreliable, yet God revealed the birth of his son first to them. The first witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection were women, another class of people so marginalized that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court. Yet Jesus revealed himself to them first. The examples are too many too enumerate.

So it is very clear indeed: Jesus’ teaching and ministry shows the absolute depth of His commitment to address the injustices of his day and reflect the compassion of his Father.

The How and the Why

In fact, Christians have no way of understanding God’s plan to address injustice, or their own part in it, outside of Jesus.

We need to remember this. Too often the church and Christians have been guilted into compassion. But guilt is such a lousy motivator. It may lead people to conform, but it never changes the heart. All guilt gives is more brokenness.

we take responsibility for God’s plan because in God’s plan, Jesus has taken responsibility for us

So, what is our motivation to join this plan of God? To be his means to address our world’s injustice? Well, we take responsibility for God’s plan because in God’s plan, Jesus has taken responsibility for us.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, NIV)

The Gospel ends every argument about whether people will accept compassion in the right frame of mind, whether they deserve it, or whether they will abuse the grace extended to them.

Because

  • I was not in the right frame of mind for the love of God in Jesus.
  • I did not accept him as I should have.
  • I regularly abuse the privilege of grace.
  • Only in Jesus do I become the righteousness of God.
  • Only through Jesus does my status move from rebel to regenerate.
  • The Gospel gives me the only motivation I need to engage with God’s plan.

But Jesus is not only our motivation. Jesus is our means, our capacity, our ability to respond. He lives in us through his Spirit, the deposit guaranteeing what is to come. Christ in us! Do we need more? It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me! This incredible reality means we have Jesus’ resources at our disposal as we engage with God’s plan!

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV)

Jesus is my motivation. Jesus is my means. And Jesus is my message. As we are God’s plan to address injustice, let us remember that we cannot divorce what we do from who we are in Jesus Christ. Faith and actions go together. Gospel work with Gospel words. It’s not enough to aim for mere changed circumstances. What we’re presenting is that God changes people through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The greatest agent of change in the world is the human heart ruled by Jesus Christ.

The greatest agent of change in the world is the human heart ruled by Jesus Christ.

Now that doesn’t mean that before we help anyone we have to share the gospel, or get them signing off on ‘two ways to live’, or something like that. But as Jesus himself did, the works become a context to speak his words.

When the message comes without actions, it will lack traction. When actions come without the message, people will not understand the gracious God who is reaching out to them through his son.

God has a plan to address injustice. God has made it clear: through Jesus we are the plan, and God does not have another plan. So, how do we do this? What will we at Gateway Community Church actually do to engage with God’s plan? Do we have a plan? That is what I will get specific about next week.

For now, for this week, pray this

“Lord, open my eyes to how I can be part of your plan.

Open my eyes to how we at GCC can engage with your plan.

Open our eyes and our heart to

the people we need to see,

to the situations we need to address,

to the dark places,

the broken lives,

where the light of your Gospel needs to shine,

and where the love, grace and forgiveness of your Son will bring healing.”

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

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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?

Time for Justice – The Origins of Injustice

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Leviticus 19:13-15
Ezekiel 22:1-16

The six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday have typically been known as the season of Lent.
Traditionally, it’s a time when people to go without certain things, traditionally meat. Fish was permitted on Friday.

More recently, people choose to do other things: drinking only water, give up Facebook, not eating bread, giving up something else they like. Whatever it might be, the point is your fast from those things, and the hunger that ensues, draws you to focus on your hunger for Christ, and the life he brings through his death and resurrection.

OK. But if that’s the case, why is the focus for our six weeks of Lent focussing on injustice? What has that got to do with hunger for Christ?

Two things. One: Jesus’ people are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6). Two: there are 27 million slaves in our world today. And you can bet they are hungering for the justice of the Kingdom of Christ.

For us and for them, hungering for justice during Lent makes all the sense in the world.

Why this, and now?

The statistics of injustice are confronting and overwhelming. I said before there are an estimated 27m slaves in our world today. That’s more slaves than were extracted from Africa over the entire 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.

If someone comes to your home and attempts to burgle your property, you dial 000 and the police come. The moment you see the police cars, you’ll be relieved. In so many parts of the developing world, however, police do not give rise to feelings of safety, but fear. In those places the police may be your worst enemy, one of the biggest threats to the safety of you and your children.

In our world today, mainly in developing countries, there are 4 billion people who live outside the protection of the law. In Peru, 47% of women have been victims or rape or sexual assault. There are a plethora of horrifying statistics like that. Truth is, injustice is an everyday reality for billions of people in our world.

What is 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

For the last 7-8 years I have been reading more and more about this issue. It’s been wonderfully encouraging to see the good work of Compassion, World Vision, A21, Common Grace, and International Justice Mission of course. But interestingly, for the last 7-8 years I have been asking myself why, for all the years before, I had been oblivious to the pervasive reality of injustice? My guess is it’s not too different for you.

If we are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why have we not much engaged with the dark reality of injustice?

One reason might be that over the last two centuries there have been movements in various churches to engage with these issues, but not always from the point of view of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes, these efforts have been more about political change and structural reform. Sometimes these efforts have confused working for such change with doing the Gospel. In other cases social activism has been confused with the Gospel. The result may be something like a ‘social Gospel’ or liberation theology.

The church has sometimes reacted to this by retreating from the call to justice, and instead left it all to government and NGOs. IN such times the church has tended to just concentrate on spiritual realities. So in many cases evangelical and reformed churches forgot about injustice altogether.

And thinking about it, I never heard a single sermon about injustice in the first 25 years of my life. And for the first 20 years of my ministry, I hardly ever touched the subject. I say that to my own shame.

A scriptural concern

There are good reasons why such neglect is unacceptable.

One: People are suffering, laws are not upheld, violent people are not being brought to justice, and people like us are in a position to do something about it…

Two: the biggest reason why it’s time for justice is because God calls us into this work. You can say a lot of things about injustice. God only has one word for it: Injustice is sin.

In Jeremiah 22 we read the prophet’s words to a King who was building his kingdom on the broken backs of the poor:

““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 labour. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? 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. “But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.”” (Jeremiah 22:13–17, NIV)

In Leviticus 19, we move from rulers to those who exercise judgement:

““ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly. “ ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “ ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:15–16, NIV)

A few verses on, and it’s clear that every person who knows the Lord is called to honesty, integrity and justice

““ ‘Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. “ ‘Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD.’ ”” (Leviticus 19:35–37, NIV) {Ephah – dry, 10-20 litres, Hin – liquid 4.4 litres]

God’s people were to show, in the fullness of their lives, what it meant to live as the people of the Lord.

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:4–6, NIV)

Their obedience to God’s law was an every day, all of life thanksgiving for their deliverance from Egypt. But more: God’s commands, his call to be holy as he is holy, are not merely a reason for his people to give thanks. They are an expression, a revelation, of his character

“I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45, NIV)

We may know that when it comes to holiness, Scripture always sees as being fully devoted to God’s service and consequently living a distinctly different life. As western Christians we need to relearn this. We seem strangely adept at making unbiblical distinctions to make discipleship less sacrificial.

Think about it: We will often make a distinction between a holy life – a righteous life – and pursuing justice. True? We see righteousness as our state before God, and justice as something that needs to be brought about in various life contexts. We see unrighteousness as a spiritual condition, and injustice as something that needs to be addressed politically or socially.

My point is that Scripture never makes those distinctions. When God calls us to righteousness, he’s not just calling us to merely an inner spiritual state. He is calling us to changed lives. Righteousness equals ‘Right-ness’ of life. A life which shows through changed attitudes, gracious actions, just values as well as a heart overcome by the mercy of God.

God calls his people away from injustice, to end injustice, because injustice is sin. Injustice is sin because it breaks the entire law. People who do injustice, people who ignore injustice, do not love God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength. People do injustice, who ignore injustice, can not love their neighbour as themselves, because they allowing lies, theft, sexual violence, and deceit to take God’s good gifts of life and provision.

This is why in Ezekiel 22 injustice is bracketed with idolatry (v.3-4), desecration of the Sabbath (v.8); adultery (v.9), gross immorality (v.11-12), and why injustice will be punished with judgement and exile (v.15,17-22).

There really is no other way to describe it: Injustice is an affront, an offence to the character of God. Injustice is sin.

Reflecting God’s character

Since injustice is sin, it has its roots in the fall and the alienation of people from God in sin. And if injustice has its roots in the fall, then the ultimate cure for injustice is the cross of Jesus: Jesus ruling the hearts of his people. Surely, as people who have come to know the love, mercy and grace of God in Jesus our greatest privilege should be to reflect his character and show his grace.

Look at the way Peter frames the call to holiness to a persecuted church:

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:14–19, NIV)

The Cross, redemption in Christ, drives us to be holy as he is holy. The cross drives us to reflect God’s holy character. It’s time for justice. I am the Lord.

This is why, as our churches adopted our denominational vision in 2006, it included initiatives to ‘penetrate structures of society with the gospel.’ So, being a people of justice is not about introducing another program or ministry. This is about doing the very things God calls us to do. This is about reflecting God’s call to justice, our hunger and thirst for righteousness, right into the very DNA of how we equip, how we reach, how we grow. Right into our discipling, our community building, our mission to our city.

Living justly is one of the ways we flee from sin. Living justly is how we thank for God for everything he has given us in his son. Our God is the God of justice. When his people follow him, they must be people of justice.

“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)

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, NIV)

So, there is good news today: people who hunger and thirst for righteousness can be loved, cleansed, forgiven, restored in the grace of Jesus. His work in them now, through his Spirit, is to transform them more and more so they reflect the character of the God who has rescued them:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5–10, NIV)

It is time for justice, friends. So, in these next weeks, let’s do this journey together. Let’s commit to prayer these next weeks:

• Open our eyes to your word

• Open our minds to the implications of the Cross and the resurrection for those who are bowed down through injustice

• Open our hearts to your mission, through you son, and give us the power of your Holy Spirit to rise to this call