Time for Justice – The Origins of Injustice

Magic Bus 008

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