Justice Video

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Redeemer, this is an incredibly important time for the community of Jesus, as our nation grapples with the injustice of racial inequality. The systemic oppression and racism that plagues the history of our country to this day has been highlighted like never before in many of our lifetimes. The silence of large swathes of the American church on issues of racism and racial inequality has been uncovered to a profoundly uncomfortable degree. And calls for justice are louder now than they have been in several generations.
In fact, when I joined my fellow pastors in Atlanta this week to decry the evils of racism, the word that was on the tongue of every speaker, every pastor, every activist, every protestor was that word, “justice.” Chances are talks of justice have flooded your social media feed, your news channels, and your dinner table.
But “justice” is one of those words so easily spoken, yet so often misunderstood. So I want to spend the next few minutes talking about this word, this idea of “justice.” As a community of Jesus, we must derive our definition of “justice” from our Scriptures, the pages of which are filled with talk of justice, so we are not lacking for ample material to work with. Though we could spend hours on this topic, I intend to move quickly through this. I have 5 points to make.
Number 1. Justice, as defined by the Bible, is the pursuit of a society in which the vulnerable and disadvantaged are supported and cared for.
It is impossible to walk away from reading the full story of the Bible and not recognize that God is deeply and primarily concerned with the plight of the vulnerable, disadvantaged, oppressed, and marginalized. Biblical scholars have even given a name for this category of persons, calling them the “quartet of the vulnerables.” In the Bible they are the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant. When the biblical books were written, these four categories of people were particularly vulnerable of being taken advantage of and disinherited.
Again and again in the Scriptures, we see that justice is defined as caring for, supporting, uplifting, and restoring these vulnerable populations.
When the prophet’s condemned God’s people of Israel for withholding justice, they were condemning the way they had treated these vulnerable people groups.
In Zechariah 7, we read “And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.” The prophet is describing true justice as caring for the widow, the orphan, the immigrant and the poor. Namely, the vulnerable and oppressed.
The poet in Psalm 146 praises God for his justice and he describes God’s justice in terms of his actions on behalf of the disadvantaged. He writes that God “executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the immigrant; he upholds the widow and the fatherless.” What is the justice that God is enacting? He’s caring for the vulnerable in society.
Job, in his defense of his righteousness describes in Job chapter 29, how he had clothed himself in justice, which he describes in this way, “ I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them. The one who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing. I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” What is justice in Job’s eyes? Caring for those in need, even if they are a stranger to him.
We could go on and on, but do you see the point? Do you see how we are to define justice? Justice is pursuing the formation of a society in which the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, and the marginalized are cared for.
Number 2. What the world calls Charity, the Bible calls Justice.
When someone in our society goes and cares for these populations: the vulnerable in our culture, those who are more likely to be oppressed, disadvantaged; so we’re talking about the poor, the elderly, the immigrant, the oppressed. When someone in our society goes and cares for them, we call it charity, which is a word that means an optional outpouring of service. But charity is optional, and for too long the Christian community has seen this kind of service to those who are in need as something that is optional. Something that goes above and beyond what is required.
The world calls this charity, but the Bible calls it justice; and it is not optional.
Micah 6:8 : He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
When Jesus is invited to dinner with a group of Pharisees, they didn’t know what was coming to them. The Pharisees were a deeply religious group, devoted to being moral, upstanding citizens of God’s kingdom, following His laws to the letter, and then some! And Jesus interrupts the meal with a series of condemnations, and one of them should hit us all right between the eyes. Jesus says, ““Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
Caring for the disadvantaged is not charity, it is justice. And justice is not optional.
Number 3: According to the prophets and therefore the one who speaks through them, the litmus test for a just society is whether the vulnerable and disadvantaged are worried for their safety or wellbeing.
If this is the case, than we as the people of God must recognize and lament that our society is unjust. The philosopher Nicholas Walterstorff writes, “Lower classes are not only disproportionately vulnerable to injustice but are disproportionately actual victims of injustice. In human history, injustice is not equally distributed.” Today, what so many eyes are now finally seeing is that, in America, injustice has not been equally distributed. The Black community in the United States is worried for their safety and wellbeing. And this is by no means a new condition. It is a lack of justice that results in black parents feeling the need to teach their children how to not get shot by law enforcement. It is a lack of justice that results in black joggers avoiding certain neighborhoods out of fear for how the residents might respond to the color of their skin. It is a lack of justice that a black child felt the need to create and carry a sign to a faith-based rally in Atlanta that read, “I am not your enemy.” The litmus test for a just society is whether the vulnerable and disadvantaged are worried for their safety or wellbeing, and that is the the society that you and I live in and have lived in for some time. And it is time that we acknowledge that and begin to address it.
Number 4. Justice is treating the problems of the oppressed as our own.
If we are to honor the Bible as the source of divine wisdom and as the authoritative voice in our lives, we have to reckon with the fact that the problem of injustice towards the disinherited must also become the problem for those of us with influence, resources, and a voice. This is what it means to do justice: owning the problems and issues and injustices of the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant, owning them as our own. Justice is taking up their cause.
Isn’t this exactly what we see God do again and again in the Biblical story? The Lord hears the outcry of the spilt blood of Abel, and the Lord takes up his cause. The Lord hears the outcry of the frightened and cast out Hagar out in the desert, and he takes up her cause. The Lord hears the outcry of the Hebrew people enslaved and mistreated by Egypt, and he takes up their cause. The Lord hears the cries of Rebecca, Leah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and many others who long to bear children but can’t, and he takes up their cause. The Lord hears the injustices being committed against the poor and oppressed within his own Chosen people, and he takes up their cause. The Lord looked out on the world and saw his image bearing people, enslaved to sin and without hope to ever move towards God and be restored, so he takes up our cause and sends his Son, Jesus. And what do we see this Jesus do? He disadvantages himself for the sake of others. He humbles himself below others and serves them. He is constantly drawing closer and closer to the poor and needy. He takes up the cause of the leper, the tax collector, the prostitute, the sinner, the blind, the lame, the deaf. With what great proclamation does he begin his ministry on earth? “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 favor.” This is justice - taking up the cause of the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant. Take up the cause of the oppressed.
And so when the Black community cries out, the church cannot turn away. Justice demands we take up their cause and stand against racism, white supremacy, and racial inequality. These are not their problems alone, but ours to share. Because this is justice.
Number 5. There is no justice without Jesus.
What does it take to convince a person to willfully disadvantage themself in order to advantage another? What does it take to persuade someone to risk comfort, security, convenience, and reputation in order to care for those who cannot repay them? What does it take to move someone to engage in the costly work of stepping into the gap, standing up to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, entire systems of society for the sake of those suffering injustice? What does it take to leverage one’s time, resources, and power not for one’s own benefit, but to benefit a stranger?
These are not natural responses or behaviors for human beings. No. This kind of thing will require a total renovation of a person’s mind and heart. A complete reworking of a person’s priorities and loyalties. A remarkable transformation. And there is only one power in this world capable of doing that, and his name is Jesus.
There is no justice without Jesus. It is by experiencing the justice of God on your behalf - where he looked on you in your slavery to sin, and he provided for you by disadvantaging himself for your benefit - it is by receiving that act of justice that you are empowered to seek justice in the world. There is no justice without Jesus.
But at the same time, if we claim to follow Jesus but are not pursuing justice, if we are not moving towards the oppressed, if we are not using our power and resources for the benefit of our own quartet of the vulnerables, than though we claim to follow Jesus, we are actually moving away from him, because he moves in one direction, and that is toward those in need. There is no justice without the gospel of Jesus, but there is no gospel without justice. If we’re going to follow him, we’ve got to follow where he’s moving today.
So it’s time to take inventory, Redeemer. Does your understanding and practice of following Jesus include the pursuit of justice? Does your definition of justice follow God’s definition? Or has justice for you morphed into something else, perhaps something less challenging or costly?
Right now, the world needs the message of justice that only the community of Jesus can offer. But before we can offer the world anything substantive, we have to ensure that our practice of faith includes the pursuit of justice, and not just as a sidebar issue, but as front and center for what it means to be a follower of Jesus. So it’s time to task the hard questions, Redeemer. Throughout the history of our nation, racial bias has been combined with political power to create racial inequalities that are unjust. Our brothers and sisters of color are crying out, and they have finally gotten our attention. How will you pursue justice today? How will you pursue the creation of a society where communities of color are supported and cared for? How will you do so in your own heart? In your own home? In your neighborhoods? At your workplaces? These are big questions that will take time to find answers, but it’s time to start that process as individuals and as a community. I love you guys, and I’m right there with you; and I believe that as we move towards racial justice together, we’ll come to know the Lord more than ever.
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