June 3 – Act Justly – Rev. Mark Thompson

Act Justly – Rev. Mark Thompson

 

Micah 6:8-

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

God tells us to act justly and to love mercy. Do you think he meant that? And I imagine some people reading this, probably just quit. I hope not. I hope all reading will finish reading my humble writing. I hope every believer considers the commands to act justly and to love mercy. These are not merely suggestions and many Christ-followers have difficulty in understanding how serious God takes issues of justice. I think one of the problems, when this topic comes up, is when a word is added in front of the word justice. For example, if I asked someone if they believed in justice, the answer would most definitely be a “yes”. If a word is put in front of the word “justice” and I was to ask the same person if they believed in “social justice” I may get another answer. No matter the word used in front of justice, we should be people interested in acting justly and loving mercy. I did not always believe this next sentence, but I have read my Bible enough now that I see it. Jesus believed that justice was central to the Gospel. Allow me to establish this statement with the words of Jesus.

Luke 5

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Most of us know this passage well. Jesus is in His hometown and His public ministry is just beginning. When He is given the scroll of Isaiah, He could have read any passage. Jesus knew every word in the entire book of Isaiah. Think for a moment a passage in Isaiah which characterizes the ministry of Jesus. If we were Jesus reading from Isaiah we would be in chapter 53. We would be highlighting the stripes, the lamb to the slaughter, and the iniquity of us all being laid upon Him. We would proclaim the Gospel as it is obviously found in that chapter. Jesus instead turns to another chapter of Isaiah. He reads the beginning of Isaiah 61. He then says the scripture is fulfilled. What were the actions found in this passage which Jesus felt would reflect His ministry best? Read the passage from Luke 5 again. Read it again. These words, above Isaiah 53, are what Jesus wanted to use to describe His ministry. How were these words reflected in the actual ministry of Jesus?

When John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus to question if He were the One or was John mistaken. Jesus chose to respond in such a way that His actions would speak louder than His words. Jesus did not simply say “Yes, I am the One.” Jesus responded with actions consistent with His teachings and God’s character.

Luke 7

21 At that very time, Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

When Jesus finally spoke, what words did He use to describe His ministry? He describes the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, not Isaiah 53. Jesus lived out justice and not just the kind of justice you may want to support. He set the oppressed free. Have you heard of anyone oppressed lately? He is not talking about the religiously persecuted being vindicated. When he mentions the healings that take place, may I remind you that disabilities were unjustly viewed as a punishment from God and it was believed wrongly that people deserved them? Jesus knew better. Jesus knew the Good News that set people free included a message for ALL people. That is justice. No matter what word you put in front of the word “justice”, Jesus was concerned about acting justly and loving mercy.

Loving mercy. What does that mean? Mercy goes beyond justice. Justice stops at fairness. Mercy keeps going. Grace is when you get something you do not deserve, but mercy is when you do not get what you do deserve. We receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ alone and that is grace because we receive something we do not deserve. We are also given mercy when we do not receive the punishment we deserve, for the wages of sin is death. We deserve punishment. We are not given that punishment and that is called mercy. Plenty of guilty defendants have thrown themselves on the mercy of the court. That phrase is an admission of guilt and a plea to not sentence a defendant to the punishment deserved. When Jesus loves mercy, He loves to not bestow upon the guilty the punishment they deserve. Not only does Jesus act justly, but if He fails at justice, it is also on the side of mercy. This is the behavior of Jesus and therefore should be the behavior of those who follow Him.

As a follower of Jesus, I try to act justly and learn what it means to desire mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13). I recognize this does not come naturally. Our human nature is one-sided. How do we follow Jesus and move towards justice and mercy? We begin by loving our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Jesus answered this question with the example of the Good Samaritan. Whom are we supposed to be like in that parable? Oh, yes, the minority of the story. There goes Jesus again with that justice thing.

I want to believe most followers of Jesus want to love justice. I do believe many of these followers are unsure how best to go about it.

  1. Love God. If you love God, you love His creation and all those made in His image.
  2. Pray for help in loving your enemies or simply those who do not look and live like you.
  3. Listen. We are not the listeners we should be. God is a great listener. We should be too. Find people who do not look like you and have a conversation.
  4. Learn to disagree and still love each other. I have a few friends who are pastors who disagree with me on many issues, but we are just as nice when we disagree as to when we agree. I love them. They love me. We both love Jesus when we do this.
  5. Speak into the wrong. When someone says something racist or hurtful, speak out. I had teachers in school who were racist and I kept my mouth shut. I have heard adults say words that should not be spoken and I kept my mouth shut. No more do I keep my mouth shut when racist people speak. I am not hateful, but I am not silent.

A church where I pastored at one time was titled First Baptist, which had a date on the building that was not as old as Second Baptist, an African American church. I had been the pastor for some time when this came to my attention. I asked the church about the history of the church and the story behind the dates and names. It was suggested that I leave well enough alone. I did, for a while. I knew I could go to Second Baptist on my own, but that would not have been the heart of my church. I walked with my church down the road of justice to the point I was requested to go to Second Baptist and apologize on behalf of a 100 plus-year-old mistake and sin. After Bible Study at Second Baptist on a Wednesday night, I shared who I was and why I was there and simply asked for forgiveness. Though this sin was not brought up at my church, the pain of this sin was still suffered by those attending Second Baptist. I asked what they would like us to do to show our regret. I spoke into the wrong. The response was Christ-like. The pastor’s wife said, “After 100 hundred years, you are the first”. She said all they ever wanted was for someone from the First Baptist church to speak the words and ask forgiveness. It is never too late to speak light into darkness, to act justly, and to love mercy.

If you would like to engage in further conversation, contact me at:

markthompson@abc-indiana.org