SERVICE LIVESTREAM (LINK)
TEXT: Deuteronomy 32:3-4; Isaiah 1:17-20; Matthew 23:23
We are continuing today in a series called, “What is God like?” We are looking at a number of the characteristics of God over the course of about six weeks. Last week we looked at holiness using Isaiah’s vision of God seated on a throne, high and lifted up. The winged seraphim were singing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty; the earth is full of God’s glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) We talked about how an understanding or experience of God’s glory convicts us of our sinfulness and leads to confession of sin. And we saw the Good News of God’s mercy as God cleansed Isaiah from his sin. We stopped short of what came next: God calls Isaiah into service and Isaiah responds, “Here am I; send me!” And Isaiah himself becomes holy, set apart for this holy work God has called him to.
We are going to see a similar pattern today as we consider God being JUST. We first want to look at God’s justness or justice, but we will see that God also invites us to be a part of his justice, a theme not only stressed by the Old Testament prophets, but also by Jesus. And we’ll consider what that might look like for us.
God is Just
Let’s begin with our question, “What is God like?” Our first text, used in our call to worship, is from Deuteronomy 32:3-4. It provides several descriptive words about God:
3 “For I proclaim the name of the Lord;
Ascribe greatness to our God!
4 “The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.
Let’s focus particularly on verse 4, which says “all God’s ways are just.” You may remember that Hebrew writers like parallelism. They like repeating things with synonyms (and sometimes antonyms). We have a case of that here. We are to praise God, the Rock, and why?
His work is perfect, for all his ways are just
[He is] a God of faithfulness and without injustice
[He is] righteous and upright
There are six words in bold and they all can be translated as something close to ‘just.’ This description of God is like a gemstone with six facets, each revealing an aspect of God’s justness. Let’s briefly look at each one:
- PERFECT (Heb. tamim): complete, blameless, right
- JUST (Heb. mishpat): this is actually a noun meaning ‘judgment’ or ‘justice’; our translation has used the adjective ‘just’ for better English, but it literally reads “God’s ways are justice”
- FAITHFUL (Heb. emunah): steadfastness, reliability, honesty, truth, faithfulness
- WITHOUT INJUSTICE (Heb en awel): without injustice, dishonesty, unrighteousness
- RIGHTEOUS (Heb. saddiq): just, in the right, righteous
- UPRIGHT (Heb. yasar): straight, level, smooth, right, correct
Are you getting the picture? God is all this and worthy of praise because of it. You can see that righteousness and justice are related – God is right (righteous) and does the right thing (justice). God is also consistent, fair, truthful, and trustworthy. All of that makes up the just nature and the justice of God.
To that I’d add two reflections:
- What God says is right is not as simple as majority vote or prevalent custom, but is DEFINED by God’s character. That means that what is right is shaped by all the traits we will be studying: God’s holiness, justice, mercy, love, faithfulness, wisdom, and goodness (and more). This is what sometimes puts Jesus at odds with the Pharisees. They are rule-followers – the letter of the Law – but fail to see the spirit and purpose of the Law, to show compassion. We’ll look at that some more with the Matthew passage.
- In general, if you find yourself working against God’s definition of what is right and wrong, you are the one that needs to change. It is possible (as with the Pharisees) that you or the person teaching you has read scripture wrongly, and that is worth examining, but if we truly believe God is all these things (holy, just, merciful, etc…), then our BEST course of action is aligning our lives with what God says is just.
We Are to Be Just
As I said at the beginning of the sermon, these characteristics of God are not just what God is like, but what God desires for us as well. That may be partly because we are created in God’s image and also because if we trust and love God we will seek to obey God. So, we are also supposed to be just, to live out godly justice in our own lives.
This was certainly true in Isaiah’s day – roughly 600 B.C. The people of Israel had turned away from God, with particular sins of idolatry and injustice. Here at the beginning of Isaiah, the Lord (speaking through Isaiah) is laying out the alternatives of obedience or disobedience. What did obedience look like for God’s people? Look at verse 17:
Learn to do good
Reprove the ruthless
Defend the orphan
Plead for the widow
Interesting, right? Not “offer more sacrifices” or “worship me more whole-heartedly” but “live out justice.” Of course, one of the core meanings of worship is “serving the Lord” so one might argue that these ARE the sacrifices and worship the Lord desires. In fact… that is a connection you can find in scripture.
6 With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
7 Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)
And not only is this true worship, it is also true Law-keeping according to Jesus:
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you tithe mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law:
justice and mercy and faithfulness;
but these are the things you should have done
without neglecting the others.
God is holy; we are to be holy. God is just; we are to be just.
What Just Looks Like
What does that look like?
One form of that is the kind of work our SERVE team is doing in our neighborhood and community. They sponsor our Christmas Shoppe each year. They coordinate our local volunteer and service efforts, including things like the CROP walk. They also work in our near neighborhood with neighbors at Brighton Place and with guys like Ryan and Nick at the Swan’s Run Group Home across the street. When we have our congregational meeting on January 29, you’ll hear more from SERVE elder, Leslie Pack, about ways you can plug in.
An ongoing and significant place I believe God is calling us to step up is in the area of racial justice. We have offered several classes in the past 3-4 years, believing that Christians are to understand and be involved in working for justice.
Godly justice is doing what God says is right for others. It is what is fair and true and faithful in the sight of God, and as God defines it. It is easy for justice to get co-opted by politics or by the media. Too often we pick a team or a media source and let them dictate our thoughts and behavior. But the believer looks first to God. Let me say that again: the believer looks first to God.
Sometimes one party may get it right; sometimes the other (and sometimes neither!). It can be hard work to not toe the party line, but ask “what does God say is just and right (and merciful and good) in this circumstance?” But that’s the justice God desires. That’s also why I believe offering classes at the church to understand racial justice in light of scripture is exactly where we need to have that discussion, as challenging as that can be sometimes. Together, we want to ask what the Lord desires from us as Christians living in the world and in our culture right now.
So I’d remind you that Cathy Youngblood is offering a course on Thursday nights. You can find a link to that on the home page of our website.
Leslie will be inviting participation in our SERVE ministries in two weeks. It’s a wonderful way to put feet on our faith! It’s also always a good time to ask where God is leading you to serve!
Some Music Used
- Let God Arise
- Praise to the Lord/Hallelujah
- I’m Waiting for You
- Morning Has Broken/Bach Prelude in C – Rick Bean, piano
- Immortal, Invisible
- Here is Love
- Lord, You Hear the Cry
- Lion of Judah
- Postlude: Majesty (Rick Bean, piano)