PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Just and Righteous

02/21 Just and Righteous; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160221_just-righteous.mp3

We have been looking at the character of God, specifically at the goodness of God, his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. We defined mercy as God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace as God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment, God’s love, which is his special favor toward his people. Today we will look at God’s justice and righteousness, which is his goodness expressed by rewarding each one according to his work, and treating the righteous and the wicked distinctly (Bavinck, p.206, 215).

In Exodus 33, when Moses asked to see the glory of God, God replies:

Exodus 33:19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

In the next chapter God proclaims his character.

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

There seems to be dissonance in this verse. We might be inclined to replace the comma with a full stop in the middle of verse 7. We like to hear about a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” But it might make us squirm a bit, and it is clearly contrary to our cultural climate to finish the sentence. We might not be so bold as to take out our black highlighter and strike the words from the page, but our voice might trail off, a bit embarrassed, and mumble the last lines under our breath. But we must finish the sentence! We want to know God, not as we wish for him to be, which would be to form a god after our own image, and worship and serve the created thing rather than the Creator, but we want to know God as he truly is, as he reveals himself to be. And he revealed himself to Moses as a God “who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

God is just. God is righteous. God will not let sin go unpunished. God will by no means clear the guilty. We might naturally recoil at this idea, or be embarrassed by it. We might feel a bit like the child of a father who easily loses his temper and flies into a fit of rage. The child is embarrassed by the actions of his father, especially if an outburst happens in front of his friends, but he loves his father and tries to downplay his imperfections, drawing attention rather to his better qualities. But to feel this way is to reveal that we misunderstand God’s justice, God’s righteousness, God’s wrath. To view God this way is to impose the limitations and imperfections we see in sinful creatures on the perfect and sinless Creator. We should not be embarrassed by God’s righteousness, or try to explain away his wrath. Rather we should delight in the justice of God, as an aspect of God’s goodness, because God delights in his own justice.

The Lord Delights in Justice and Righteousness

Listen to how the Bible speaks about God’s justice and righteousness.

Psalm 33:5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 97:2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Isaiah 5:16 But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.

Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Hear this: the Lord loves righteousness and justice. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice. The Lord delights in practicing justice and righteousness. God’s justice is a grounds for our boasting. God delights to reward each one according to his work. God is exalted in his treating of the righteous and wicked differently, as they each deserve.

Notice also, how justice and righteousness are coupled with his steadfast love. God’s justice and righteousness are not the opposite of his grace, mercy and steadfast love, they are not contrary to or in tension with his other attributes. Rather, God’s justice and wrath, and his love, mercy, and grace, rightly understood, are in perfect harmony.

Justice and righteousness are a positive expression of God’s goodness. To clarify this, it may be helpful to imagine a god who had no concern for justice, who was soft on sin and tolerated evil, who allowed the wicked to prosper and the upright to be persecuted. When we see images of persecution and slavery, of racial inequality and child prostitution, drug lords and terrorists, when we see wicked men prey on the innocent and helpless without consequence, our hearts cry out with the Psalmist “how long O Lord?”

Psalm 94:1 O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 ​Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! 3 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? 4 They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. 5 They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. 6 They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; 7 ​and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

The Psalmist sees injustice and cries out for the Judge of the earth to repay to the arrogant proud wicked evildoers what they deserve; he cries out for the God of vengeance to shine forth.

Many times in Scripture, we see God pouring out on his enemies what they deserve as a ground for worship

Revelation 19:1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39-43; Revelation 11:15-18; 16:4-7; Psalm 96, Psalm 98, etc.)

That God is just, that he punishes evil is grounds for worship. That God does what is right, that he rewards the righteous and punishes evildoers is something to rejoice in.

The Judge of All The Earth

In Genesis 18, God came down to give promises to Abraham and to punish Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 18:17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

The Lord is revealing his own just and right dealings with these wicked cities as an example for Abraham to learn justice and righteousness. He is teaching him to keep the way of the Lord by modeling his own righteousness and justice.

Genesis 18:20 Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

The Lord does not fly off into a fit of uncontrolled rage. The outcry was great and their sin was grave, so he investigates. He goes down to see.

Genesis 18:22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Abraham understood that the Lord is the Judge of all the earth. And as judge, he must do what is just. Abraham understood that it is unjust to sweep away the righteous with the wicked, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, to treat the righteous and wicked in the same way. For the sake of 10 righteous people God would spare the entire city. In the next chapter, we see the angels seizing Lot and his wife and his two daughters by the hand and bringing him out and setting him outside the city. The angel said “escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.”

Peter holds this episode up alongside Noah and the destruction of the ungodly world with a flood to demonstrate that

2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

The Judge of all the earth will do right. He differentiates between the righteous and the wicked, giving to each what he deserves.

God Repays Each According to his Deeds

Jeremiah 17:10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

The Lord does not judge based on appearances. He searches the heart and tests the mind, he judges every man justly. Jesus says

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.

Peter says to the church,

1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed … 19 …with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Our Father judges impartially according to each one’s deeds. Paul spells this out in Romans. In chapter 1, he says that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In chapter 2 he says:

Romans 2:2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

God shows no partiality. God is a righteous judge, and his righteous judgments will be revealed on the day of wrath, when he renders to each one according to his works.

The Soul Who Sins Shall Die

In Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31, God clarifies a misunderstanding of his people when he said that he will visit “the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deut.5:9). There came to be a proverb ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Jer.31:29; Ezekiel 18:2), implying that God punishes innocent children for the sins of their fathers. This, indeed would not be just. But fathers need to realize that they set patterns for generations to come. There is a tendency for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents, and the children will not be able to excuse their sins because of the bad example of their parents. God says:

Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

Ezekiel 18:29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. As we have seen, God is good, he is inclined to extend undeserved mercy and overwhelming grace. He is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands [of generations].’ He prefers to forgive iniquity and transgression and sin. He invites us to turn and live!

The Good News of God’s Righteousness

But if God is just and righteous and will by no means clear the guilty, if he must treat us as our works deserve, if he must punish sin, then that leaves us all in a whole heap of trouble, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s the point of Romans 1 and 2, that ‘every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God.’

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

We return to the tension we felt in the beginning. How can God be merciful and gracious, abundant in steadfast love, inclined to forgive iniquity, transgression and sin, yet he is just and will by no means clear the guilty? How can God forgive, and yet repay each person according to what he has done? This is the power of God and the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel that addresses the problem for us of the wrath of God.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

God’s righteousness. Righteousness given to believing sinners by grace as a gift. We are all guilty. To get what we deserve is to experience hell. But if we will cry out to God for mercy, if we depend on the work of another, we can be given a gift we do not deserve. We can be declared righteous as a gift through the redemption and propitiation of Jesus. Jesus became our substitute. He took my place, and I take his place. All my sin was laid on him, he became sin for me, and God’s righteous wrath was propitiated, satisfied, in him. My sin got what it deserved; death. I now get what Jesus’ perfect obedience earned; the declaration of righteousness, and the reward; eternal life. Notice the concern to demonstrate God’s justice and righteousness.

Romans 3:25 …This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded…

God’s own justice does not allow him to merely pass over sins. God’s righteousness is upheld both in punishing the evildoer in the person of the Lamb of God who became sin for us, and in rewarding the righteous, as I now come to be in Jesus through faith and enjoy his inheritance.

We see this same emphasis on God’s justice in 1 John 1:9.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we turn and agree with God about our sin, his justice is satisfied, because we see sin as it really is, as an offense that must be punished, and he is just to forgive and cleanse us, because the punishment has been poured out on Jesus. This is no mere outward declaration. It changes us. If we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, then we are righteous. We are born anew, given a new heart, given the Holy Spirit, and we begin to hate what God hates and to love him above all else. The Spirit begins to bear fruit in us, and God, who searches the heart will give to us according to the fruit of our deeds.

May we praise God for his justice! We don’t want a God who doesn’t take sin seriously. A God who is soft, compromising, inconsistent is not worthy of our worship. The cross of our Lord Christ is a public demonstration of both the justice and mercy of our overwhelmingly loving God.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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February 23, 2016 - Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , ,

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