Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds

God’s justice is characterized by His preference for mercy.

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21 ESV)

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4) that Jesus fulfilled according to the Gospel of Matthew. They are echoed in the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven spoke and said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

Of particular note to me is the statement that Jesus came “to proclaim justice to the Gentiles”, and he will “bring justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope!” For the past two years, I have read through the Bible from start to finish focusing on the theme of justice (among other things).

The theme of justice is everywhere in scripture when you look for it! Justice is particularly embedded in the messianic prophecies and promises. The coming, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus is all about righteousness and justice.

I believe that modern Americans have a warped view of what justice means, biblically. We tend to view justice as retributive and punitive. Justice in a popular sense tends to mean people getting their just desserts, but that isn’t what we see in Scripture.

The prophets warned God’s people about two main things: idolatry and failing to do justice. Obeying God’s commands fit more or less into these two broad categories of worshiping God alone and doing right by people.

These are the two great categories of the ten commandments. Thus, the law is summed up this way: love God and love your neighbor.

When God executed judgment on His people in the OT in keeping with the warnings spoken by the prophets, He always did so in hope that His people would turn from their wicked ways. Judgement as a subset of justice was redemptive. It’s aim was to guide people back to right relationship with God and to each other.

Overarching God’s justice is His preference for mercy, because His ultimate desire is for relationship with us. He desires also that we would have healthy relationships with each other (love your neighbor) in the same way. A right relationship with God and with our other human beings (and the world we live in) is the essence of what it means to be righteous and just.

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Justice, Mercy, Sin, Forgiveness, Jonah and the Cross

“Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger….

“Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” Jeremiah 10:24 ESV

This is my cry today. At some level it is the cry of everyone, or should be the cry of everyone, because we are sinners. We are saved only by God’s grace.

Sometimes, like today for me, we are keenly aware of our sinfulness. Some days we aren’t.

Though I gave myself to God as my Lord and Savior many years ago, I still find myself climbing onto that throne in my heart and taking back control. I may be mindful and submissive in the morning. By evening, I have taken back that position I promised to God in the morning.

Like a bird caught in a snare, I find myself entangled by the old, sinful threads of my life that tangle easily around my feet. I gave them to God once for all time. Only I find myself going back to them, like a moth to a flame. Then, I must turn to God… once again… and again… and cede control again.

I am 61 years old. I have been a believer for 40 years. I know better.

Shouldn’t I be further along in the process of personal holiness and sanctification? Why am I so weak to deal with these things that have plagued me since I was young?

How many times will I fail? How many times will I repent? How many times will I fall? How many times will God forgive me?

I ask myself. I ask God.

Continue reading “Justice, Mercy, Sin, Forgiveness, Jonah and the Cross”

Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?

“We were held in custody under the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law became our guardian to lead us to Christ….”

Much confusion in the early church arose out of the relationship of the Law to the “good news” that we now call the Gospel (which means good news). The confusion continues today. I continue to wrestle with the tension, myself.

Two passages come to mind that seem to be directly counter to each other. They establish a paradox – a seeming inconsistency – that needs to be resolved. Compare what Jesus said as recorded by Matthew, to the instruction of Paul to the Ephesians:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill themFor truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)


“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees.” (Ephesians. 2:13-14)

In one place, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law; and, in the other place, Paul says Jesus abolished the law. Which is it?

The answer is both. If we view this apparent dichotomy as a paradox, rather than a contradiction, we can make some sense of it.

First of all, we need to consider the context. When Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, he was talking about his coming in the flesh. Jesus was God who became incarnate. Jesus was God who emptied Himself of all that separated Himself from His creation and became part of it in the form of a human being. (Phil. 2:5-8) Thus, when God became man and came to us, He did not come to abolish the law.

We also need to look at the larger context of the Law. The Law was a covenant (an agreement) with Israel. It was given to Moses for the descendants of Abraham after He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God was faithful to this covenant, but the people were no. They filed at every turn.

This was a problem, because God promised to bless the people based on them holding up their part of the bargain, but they failed to do that. God was true to keep His part of the bargain, but He could not be true to keep His promise to bless them because they did not keep their part of the bargain.

When Jesus made the statement that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, he was putting that statement into the context of time and purpose. He was saying that the purpose for which he came was to fulfill the law, and now was the time.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law in the flesh as a man. When he said on the cross, “It is finished”, he was proclaiming that he had finished accomplishing the fulfillment of the Law in his human body. He lived it out perfectly. He was obedient to it unto death.

Jesus did what no man had done. God became a man so that he could keep man’s part of the bargain, and that enabled God to keep His promise to bless mankind. God, in a sense, carried out the terms and fulfilled both sides of the covenant.

But that is not the end of the story.

Continue reading “Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?”

Rising Up To Honor Christ Who Saves!

“[I]n your hearts honor Christ as holy….”

Most Christians, especially those who like apologetics, are familiar with the exhortation in 1 Peter 3:1 to “[be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you….” I read this verse today, but the beginning of verse stood out for me today:

“[I]n your hearts honor Christ as holy….” (ESV)

Perhaps, this phrase stood out to me today because of my recent experience at a gathering on a bright, sunny and warm day. We were outside with neighbors, enjoying the turn of good weather, and I was very relaxed.

It was Easter. I had gone to church, but the poignance of the morning service had washed out in the sunlight and warm breeze of a lazy day. I wanted to hold onto and appreciate the significance of the day, but the pleasure of spring after a long, hard winter absorbed my attention.

I am reminded as I read 1 Peter 3:15 today that holiness means being set apart. A more literal reading of the Greek phrase might be as follows:

“Sanctify Christ in your hearts as Lord….”

The Greek word translated variously in different translations as honor, sanctify, reverse, worship, set apart, consecrate, dedicate, is ἁγιάζω (hagiazó). It means “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify”. It comes from the adjective, hágios, which means holy. It is a verb that means to make holy, consecrate, sanctify or to dedicate separate.

Thus, Christ is not simply holy. He is holy, of course, but we have to make Him holy in our hearts. We must actively participate in honoring, revering, consecrating, sanctifying and making Christ holy in our hearts. This is not a passive stance; we are called to be active participants in the process of making Christ holy and set apart in our hearts.

I was troubled in my heart the evening of our lazy Easter day. I went to bed troubled. I woke up troubled. I am still troubled.

This verse focuses the light of God’s word on my troubled heart: I was not actively participating in the holiness of Christ in my heart. I was a passive vessel after church the rest of that Easter day. I was passive, not active, in my heart to honor and revere Christ as Lord the rest of that day.

I am not beating myself up for this. Christ is my salvation. He alone is my hope. His gift of salvation is freely offered to me. It’s nothing I can add to, nothing I must strive to hold onto, and nothing in which I can boast.

Yet, my heart is troubled when I fall short of honoring Christ for what He has done for me.

I am not troubled for having enjoyed the day. All good things come from God. The warmth of spring after the cold of winter is a reminder of God’s love for us. We do well to enjoy the blessings of God.

We shouldn’t enjoy the blessings of God, however, as we are often tempted to do, in place of God from whom all blessings come. It’s easy, especially in the good times, to embrace the blessings while relaxing our embrace of God from whom those blessings come.

I believe I have been troubled because I failed in my heart to honor Christ well during the rest of the day after the morning church service in the way that I wanted to – in the way my heart desired to honor Christ, who died for my sins.

As I write this, I realize the danger of being the Pharisee here. I could beat myself up. I could do penance and scrub the outside of this tomb I call my body. I could polish it up so that my appearance to all who see me is whitewashed, but I would do nothing in the effort to drive out the darkness in me that would rather settle into the comfort of a lazy day than keep Christ sanctified in my heart.

Or, I could simply recognize that I need Christ all the more for having succumbed to the laziness that resides still within me. Christ is the Author and Perfector of my faith. Not I. So, I submit in writing this to Him who saves me to work in me to will and to act according to His good purpose.

The spirit in me aligns with God’s Holy Spirit to cry, Abba! Father! Save me from this heart of sin! Save me from the sin into which I so easily settle.

Stir my heart within me to rise up and honor Christ who saves me!

The Longing of Faith and the Pleasure of God

Faith is the exercise of rejecting all other choices in this life but God.

I recently gave a presentation on faith (and doubt). We moderns tend to think of faith as the opposite of doubt – as in proof or evidence, or the lack thereof – but that isn’t the way Scripture presents faith to us. Cosmological and fine-tuning arguments for the existence of God and so on are elementary.

We shouldn’t be commended for merely believing God exists. God has made himself obvious. (Rom. 1:20) Even the demons believe … and bristle! (James 2:19)

Rather, faith involves trust and relationship. It involves a willingness to rely on God, rather than rely on ourselves. A willingness to wait on Him, to trust Him, and to be confident in His goodness toward us. Faith is believing God loves us and desires us to love Him.

We receive God’s grace by faith; it’s not anything we do, lest anyone boast. Rather the grace we receive is the gift of God offered to us out of His love for us. (Eph. 2:8-9)

“Anyone who comes to God must believe He exists”

Hebrews 11:6a

Of course!

and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

Hebrews 11:6b

Faith is not just believing that God exists, but believing that He really does reward those who desire Him.

I had not previously thought of the story of Adam and Eve in the context of faith before. After all, they didn’t doubt God existed. God walked with them in the cool of the day in the garden. They knew God face to face!

When Satan tempted them, however, they lacked faith. They failed to trust that God was trustworthy.

It may not seem immediately obvious that the story of Adam and Eve is a story of unbelief, but I think it is. When Satan focused their attention on the seeming goodness of the fruit to eat and questioned why God would not want them to eat what was good for them, Satan was tempting them to doubt God’s goodness toward them.

Adam and Eve ignored God’s warning, determining for themselves what was best for them. Unbelief is an unwillingness to rely on God and a choosing to rely on ourselves and our own ability to determine what is best for us – rather then rely on God.

Adam and Eve were intrigued by Satan’s claim that eating the fruit would make them like God. They bought into the claim that God didn’t want them to be like Him, knowing good from evil. At the core of that temptation is the desire not to be dependent on God and to be self-sustaining, self-determining, and self-righteous.

Of course, God did want them to be like Him. After all, God made them in His very image! It was the very core purpose of His plan for them to be like Him!

Continue reading “The Longing of Faith and the Pleasure of God”