Jeremiah 33:14-16 – Longing for Justice and Righteousness

Jeremiah by Marc Chagall, 1956

The Lord said:

I made a wonderful promise to Israel and Judah, and the days are coming when I will keep it.

I promise that the time will come
when I will appoint a king
    from the family of David,
a king who will be honest
    and rule with justice.
In those days,
    Judah will be safe;
Jerusalem will have peace
and will be named,
   “The Lord Gives Justice.” (Contemporary English Version)

Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet.” From the very beginning of his prophetic ministry, Jeremiah was given a message that Jerusalem and Judah would experience God’s wrath and be exiled to a foreign country. 

The prophet Jeremiah was faithful to his calling. Yet, he loved his homeland, and it grieved his heart to know that everything familiar around him would be either altered or destroyed. All would change because God’s judgment was coming.

The Lord gave Jeremiah an unpopular message, especially since Judah was enjoying a time of abundance, economic stability, and relative freedom from war. No one took Jeremiah seriously. Initially, when Jeremiah began to spread his message of gloom and doom, he was perceived as a kook, and no one took him seriously. 

But Jeremiah did not let up. The eye-rolling turned into annoyance, and then, over time, contempt. Judah’s king and the governing officials tried to silence Jeremiah as being subversive and unpatriotic. As a result, Jeremiah was imprisoned several times.

Jeremiah, in today’s Old Testament lesson, is under house arrest. The city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah’s prophecy is knocking at the door….

But the people are not listening, believing they’ll be delivered by God for two reasons:

1) They see the Babylonians are evil pagans who do not recognize the One true God, so, obviously, God would never use such an ungodly army to overthrow the people of God, right!?

2) They have the temple and the true worship of God, and God would never let the temple be desecrated, right!? 

So, the people of Jerusalem felt immune from any kind of terrible judgment, as if being God’s people with God’s temple would ward-off any disaster.

The siege against Jerusalem lasted over two years. During that time, the people of Jerusalem went from cocky and confident to having a very rude awakening. Horrible disaster was upon them. At their lowest point, with barely any food, and atrocities occurring throughout the city, Jeremiah’s word from God was a message of grace. 

The people would not be delivered from their inevitable fate. Yet, God would not wipe them off the map and destroy them forever. There is coming a day when there will be a Deliverer, a just and right Savior from the line of the greatest Israelite king ever, David.

The hardest reality for Jerusalem’s people to accept was that their way of life would never be the same again. It would forever change. Although they continued to practice all the rituals of the temple system and worship, over the generations it had simply become a rabbit’s foot for them – as long as they did their duty, they could walk away and do whatever they wanted. And they did.

That approach got God’s attention. Divine wrath came through the most unlikely of instruments: the pagan Babylonians led by the arrogant King Nebuchadnezzar.

The transition from one way of life to another was excruciating. 

Oftentimes change happens and it’s out of our control. However, what is within our influence is how we make the transition from the previous reality to the new reality. 

A biblical way to deal with difficult changes and transitions is by focusing on God’s promises. There are two pairs of the promise we have within the prophecy of Jeremiah: judgment and grace; justice and righteousness. 

“Justice and righteousness was never meant to be the work of only one person, or one part of society. It should be the foundation of how everyone stewards their lives, as well as an integral, normal part of all of society. Every aspect of this world needs God’s justice and righteousness.”

Jessica Nicholas

By looking ahead with hope to the new future of what God is doing and will accomplish, we then come to grips with present troubles.

Judgment and Grace

All of the Old Testament prophetic books have a rhythm of judgment and grace. The promise God gave to the people through Jeremiah was that judgment was coming; and, that grace would follow on its heels.

Proclaiming only a message of judgment without grace brings despair, death, and hell; there is hopelessness. Conversely, only speaking of grace apart from judgment is oxymoronic – it doesn’t exist because there is no need for grace if there is no judgment; grace is an undeserved mercy given freely by God in the face of our sinful selves.

The siege of Jerusalem was terribly horrific. The details are too graphic to mention. Even the most pious of believers who believed Jeremiah’s message were completely aghast at the level of cruelty and violence done to God’s people.

At the people’s darkest hour, the message of grace came to them….

Justice and Righteousness

A safe, secure, just, and peaceful future will be provided by God. The Lord will not forget the people. Better days are coming. A king will arise. His rule will be just and right, providing protection, peace, and prosperity. God’s people were to keep their heads up looking toward that future in order to help them now in the present.

This requires patience. They must wait.

While waiting, the people need to live in the way God intended before all this terror happened. They are to uphold justice and live righteously because that’s what the coming king is all about.

Justice and righteousness are often paired together in the Old Testament. They’re really two sides of the same coin. We may often think of justice in the punitive sense of giving lawbreakers what they deserve. Yet, biblical justice has more to do with giving someone what they need and deserve to live and thrive as human beings. 

To act justly means to provide essentials like clean drinking water, a safe environment, food to eat, a place to sleep, etc. Righteousness is the relational element to justice. To be righteous means to have right relationships, to connect with people, to move toward them and provide them with all the relational things that people need like respect, dignity, friendship, hospitality, fellowship, etc.

Justice and righteousness go together. Justice without righteousness is at best, impersonal, and, at worst, condescending. Righteousness without justice is a dead faith that wishes well but never delivers. Together, however, justice and righteousness brings love, peace, harmony, well-being, and human flourishing because all the basic necessities of life, physical and relational, are met in abundance.

This is what is meant in the Old Testament when Israel is referred to as “a land of milk and honey.”

Conclusion

For Christians, the time of abundance is here, in Christ. Yet, it’s not here in its fullness. We anticipate, wait, and hope for the Second Coming of our Savior and King. While we exercise patience, we long for better days. A true Advent spirit is a deep longing for justice and righteousness because King Jesus is just and right.

So, what do you long for today? 

I long for justice.

I long for broken spirits to be made right, for people’s healing of both body and soul. I long for the day when children with epilepsy will have no more seizures. I long for the day when individuals and families will not have to contend with cancer anymore. I long for the day when there will be no more depression, anxiety, mental illness, or dementia. I long for the day when people will be free of addictions. I long for the day when there will be no more sex trafficking, death from malnutrition, grinding poverty, corrupt governments, whole families and communities torn by the ravages of diseases, refugees with no place to call home, and devastating natural disasters. 

I long for righteousness.

I long for the day when women and girls across the globe will not be abused and become the victims of disordered power. I long for the day when nations, ethnicities, races, and everyone everywhere will no longer hate each other. I long for every individual to know forgiveness. I long for people to experience the exhilaration of new life in Christ. I long for my community to hear and believe the gospel. I long for peace, harmony, unity, equity, and an egalitarian spirit.

I long for God’s benevolent rule to come in all its fullness, freedom, joy, prosperity, peace, and happiness. I long for Christ’s coming! And I long to be doing justice and righteousness when Jesus arrives!

Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!

Hebrews 10:26-31 – On Rejecting Divine Love

 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (New International Version)

Love isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes it’s downright tough, unabashedly truthful, and concerned for appropriate justice.

Love is compassionate, kind, and full of good deeds. Love is also subversive. Love takes a breach in relations seriously. Love announces that the hurt which has happened is not to be accepted as normal. Love is a refusal to settle for what is.

So, whenever God’s people drift away and slide into unhealthy or damaging ways of living, God’s love is not okay with it.

There’s a reason why we feel emotional pain. That’s because God feels pain. We don’t have to go very far into that thick book, the Bible, to find the hurt:

The Lord saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil. He was sorry he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (Genesis 6:5-6, NCV)

There is perhaps no more awful pain than being brokenhearted. A thousand kidney stones are not as painful as becoming heartsick over a relationship gone awry. Love can be an affliction – a deep ache which longs for wholeness, integrity, connection, and unity.

Perhaps we have neglected how much God hurts and longs for prodigal people to return in love to a divine relationship of grace. Just because God is always content, happy, and celebrating within perfect Trinitarian Love does not mean that God isn’t also profoundly sad, full of grief, and gazing from heaven, watching and waiting for sinful humanity to come to their senses.

God’s wrath exists because of God’s love.

God doesn’t paper over humanity’s guilt and shame and pretend it isn’t there. Instead, God has gone to the ultimate length to realize a restored relationship with fallen people. God got down in the trenches with us, in the person of Jesus, and dwelt among us – willing to suffer and die for us. Grace is most certainly free; however, it is anything but cheap.

Therefore, to know this great Love, then spurn it, is much more than agonizingly painful – it isn’t right. The preacher in the New Testament book of Hebrews captures the pathos of God against all that separates people from such perfect Love.

To renege on a commitment to Jesus is tantamount to crucifying him all over again.

This is an emotional and spiritual pain which transcends any human disappointment or failed friendship. Because God’s heart is so large, so God’s agony over defiant persons who turn from Love is immense beyond what we can even imagine.

Yes, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. Those who hate ought to beware. The ones trampling God’s moral law and ethical will into the ground, like some animal dung, ought not to think they are outside the reach of Divine Love, complete with Divine Wrath purging the resentment and rancor from Earth.

The warning of the preacher is of rejecting the spirit of Love and replacing it with the ancient evil spirt of hubris, animosity, and fear. Perfect Love drives out fear, restores comity, and embraces humility.

We are responsible for our own transgressions against others; our own failures to love as we ought; and our own neglect of God. Therefore, we must forsake willful and deliberate treatment of God and others by denigrating the work of the Spirit and attributing evil intentions to them.

If we focus on loving God and neighbor, then there is no room for apostasy, for lashing out and being an evangelist of wickedness. By clarifying and focusing on what matters most; being non-retaliatory; and reminding oneself of divine Love, we can cultivate a spirit of grace and forsake the hateful spirit.

Whenever we are wounded by another, or even by God, holding onto the hurt only causes gangrene of the soul. Yet, through forsaking all forms of violent and destructive language and behavior, and embracing the wounds of Christ, we can experience healing – even if our present adverse circumstance does not change.

So, be kind to yourself and others. Allow God’s kindness to penetrate the deep portions of your heart. Live a life of grace. Why be punished for acting like a foolish person? If you must suffer, suffer for doing good, not evil.

O Lord God, I confess and acknowledge your infinite mercy and goodness to me, and my ingratitude for such grace shown. You have saved me and made me your own child, and an heir of heaven. And I end up ignoring your gracious blessings, giving into temptation, and treating faith like a paper plate to be trashed when I’m done with it. I am truly sorry for my offenses toward you and admit my failure to observe your goodness. Accept my imperfect repentance, forgive my wickedness, purify my uncleanness, strengthen my weakness, heal my unstable spirit, and let your divine Love rule in my heart, through the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Romans 5:6-11 – Christ Died For Us

“Golgotha” by Edvard Munch, 1900

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.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (New International Version)

In Christianity, there is only one way of approaching God: Through the death of Jesus Christ. That means we cannot approach God by our good works, doing things right, or by our spiritual pedigree. We are justified and declared righteous by grace alone through faith in the cross of Christ.

Back when my youngest daughter was still living at home, sometimes I needed to go into her room to get something. More often than not, it ended up becoming an archaeological dig. I had to wade through layers of stuff. I didn’t always find what I was looking for, and other times I discovered things I didn’t know I had even lost. 

When the magisterial Reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546) went digging into the Bible, he found he was wading through layers of church tradition and came upon something that was lost. Luther rediscovered that God justifies sinners by grace through faith apart from any good works done by us. Luther found in the Scriptures that we are completely and totally at the mercy of God in Christ.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the means of salvation from what ails us because the cross is an attack on human sin. Luther discovered we all have layers of stuff that has grown around our hearts to the degree that we no longer see the sheer grace of God in Christ alone to meet the most pressing needs of our lives. 

The Reformation has taught believers that apart from Christ, we are addicted to ourselves. The cross is the intervention we need to help us confront our constant me-ism.

We might justify ourselves with the fact we do good works. However, one of the legacies of the Reformation, coming from the book of Romans, is that good works do not earn us deliverance from sin. In fact, Luther said that our good deeds are the greatest hindrance to our salvation because we have the tendency to trust in those good deeds instead of the death of Christ. 

So, Luther actually called our good works a mortal sin that sets off God’s wrath and leads straight to hell. In other words, good deeds can be deadly, if they are done as a means of approaching and appeasing God. 

It is through the suffering of Jesus on the cross, his death for us while we were still sinners, not when we were lovely and looking fine with all our pious actions, that we are saved. 

“He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore, he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people who are under God’s wrath! God can only be found in suffering and the cross. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.”

Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation

God does not come to us in our beauty and goodness but in our ugliness and sin.

While we were still sinners, ungodly, enemies of God, powerless to save ourselves, Christ died on the cross for us. We spend too much time and effort concerned about looking good and doing good things in order to present ourselves acceptable to each other and even to God. 

But that is the very sin that sends people to a hellish existence. The hottest places of damnation are actually reserved for outwardly pious persons who trusted all their lives in themselves and how they looked to others without a thought, at all, about justification, reconciliation, and being restored to God through Christ.

Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout, is a person who has good deeds but knows nothing of God’s grace.

It is a totally human tendency to decide which sinful actions are trivial and which are the biggie sins. The Apostle Paul was really hard on his fellow Jews in the book of Romans because they tended to place their trust in who they were and what they did – being the covenant people and practicing all the good things a good person does. And Paul says the wrath of God is reserved for them. 

The way of approaching God is by seeing our true ugliness, our rebellious hearts, and that the hope of salvation is through the cross of Christ. We are justified by and reconciled to God because of Jesus, and not for any other reason. A new relationship is established based solely in God’s grace.

“Jesus Carrying The Cross” by Olga Bakhtina, 2017

When Christians grasp this truth, even a little bit, it should cause us to repent of our sinful good works (yes, sinful good works). Wherever there is humility that leads to a complete turning to Jesus, there is revival to new life in God, and a personal reformation around the doctrine of grace instead of the doctrine of my glorious works that I perform.

We, then, as Christians, saved and justified through the blood of Jesus, ought to be the most joyful and grateful people on the planet. We have deliverance from the deception of our hearts to life in Christ. Apathy and lethargy to the things of God are the twin evils that reign in the place of awe and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ.

There is nothing more God can do to show us that he loves us than by actually dying for us, and by doing so, satisfying God’s own wrath against the sin which seeks to destroy us. The late Brennan Manning once told the story about how he got the name “Brennan.”

While growing up, his best friend was Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, and went to school together. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the frontlines together.

One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly, a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was spared.

Later in life, when Brennan became a priest, he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan. So, he took on the name “Brennan.”

Years later he went to visit Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?” Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And Jesus’ mother Mary pointing to her son, saying, “What more could he have done for you?”

The cross of Jesus is God’s way of doing all he could do for us. And yet we often wonder: Does God really love me? Am I important to God? Does God care about me? We tend to ask those questions when we are trusting in ourselves, because we never really know where we stand with God.

No matter how bad or how good you are, the path of suffering of our Lord Jesus has taken care of the sin issue once for all.

Week after week for the past two-thousand years, God’s people have gathered together to worship this same Lord Jesus who died on the cross. The only thing left for us to do, since Jesus has done it all for us, is to offer our lives to him.

While we were still sinners, enemies, estranged, hopeless, lost, despondent, proud, and stained by sin, Jesus died a cruel death on a cross to wash away your sins with his blood. It is my hope and prayer that today you are rediscovering the great Reformation truth that we are justified by grace alone through faith in Jesus alone, and the life of unbounded joy in knowing that we have now received reconciliation with God in Christ.

Lord God Almighty, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. We need you, Lord Jesus, and come to you on the basis of nothing else but your shed blood. I pray for all those who are wrestling with you right now. Oh, that you would revive those that need new life, that you would renew those who have become cold, and that you would reform all of our hearts so that our lives would completely be devoted around the person and work of Jesus Christ! 

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for dying for us while we were still powerless, sinful, and ungodly. Thank you for saving us from God’s wrath. Thank you, God Almighty, for reconciling us back to yourself through the cross. There are those needing you to break through their stubborn hearts; and those who need peace to their troubled hearts. O God, save us from ourselves, whether it is from our trust in our own perceived goodness, or our sense of shame and guilt. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Luke 10:25-37 – The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Good Samaritan by He Qi

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”

He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”

Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Common English Bible)

In Christianity, no one justifies themselves. The kingdom of God turns on grace, and not with us working more or harder. As we anticipate Reformation Day, Christians remember the famous posting of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. 

Justification by grace through faith, apart from human effort, is the great theological emphasis and legacy of the Reformers. I suppose one would expect to look at the New Testament books of Romans and Galatians when it comes to dealing with justification. However, there might just be a better place to go….

Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan is a famous and familiar story to many people, even for those outside of the Christian faith tradition. The parable is likely not the place one thinks to go when considering the Reformation. Yet, this parable is just the right place for considering the grand Reformation doctrine of justification.

“Every week I preach justification by faith to my people, because every week they forget it.”

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

The Gospel writer, Luke, gives us insight into the thought process of the person for whom Jesus told the parable to. That man sought to justify himself. 

When we view the parable from the angle of justification, we see the perspective of the wounded and hapless man, the victim of robbers. He was left for dead, and, indeed, in the story we know that he would die apart from help – the kind of help the man could not do for himself. He was completely dependent on someone to rescue him from his plight.

The Samaritan, the Christ figure in the story, comes and shows the man mercy. This grace was free, lacked any sort of favoritism, and was full of sheer kindness. Without the Samaritan’s actions of binding up the man’s wounds and getting him to a safe place, the victim would have died.  

Reformation Day, and every day, is a good day to celebrate the wonderful and glorious reality that Jesus Christ saves people from their terrible plight. 

Christ’s mercy is not dependent on what kind of people we are but is simply based on need. God graciously gives us the gift of faith and the mercy of deliverance. By Christ’s wounds we are healed. 

Take some time today to reflect on this most gracious of biblical truths: We do not need to justify ourselves. As Christians, we already possess justification by grace alone apart from human effort. 

Read the parable of the Good Samaritan carefully and slowly, absorbing it from this angle of the inability to justify ourselves and the incredible mercy of Christ. Let this wonderful truth sink deep in your soul to bring increased awareness, emotional wholeness, and spiritual healing.

Lord God, heavenly Father, you did not spare your only Son, but gave him up for us all to be our Savior, and along with him you have graciously given us all things. We thank you for your precious, saving gospel, and we pray that you would help us to believe in the name of our Savior faithfully and steadfastly, for he alone is our righteousness and wisdom, our comfort and peace, so that we may stand on the day of his appearing, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, our Lord. Amen. – A Lutheran Collect of Thanksgiving