As I was preparing this sermon a huge heading appeared on the front of The West Australian ; NO JUSTICE (13 May 2015 p.1). The average Australian appears to be deeply committed to issues of justice: everyone deserves a “fair go” so “queue jumpers”, whether at shops or in boats cannot be tolerated. Last year’s federal budget was savaged across the nation as “unfair”, we rose up in protest at the gross injustice of the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Anger is an expression of a perceived injustice; take road rage, the slow coach in front of me is obviously a selfish person. Many Indigenous people burn with a chronic hatred because their human rights have been violated. Society is full of people who won’t forgive because they believe they have been treated unfairly. The human sense of justice, or injustice, is extraordinarily powerful; I remember a young man who was a part of a church I was pastoring who gassed himself and left a suicide note for his parents aimed at hurting them for their many sins. Most memorably, when our family came out of the funeral parlour after laying my father to rest in his after a long illness my mother cried aloud in bitterness, “It’s not fair!” Much of life is filled with injustices. Given this is so, why are there so few men and women who can be heard crying out for God to work righteousness. Our lack of fervent prayer witnesses against us that we have lost touch with the Lord as a God of justice (Deut 32:4; Isa 5:16; 30:18).
An Image of Justice
The Bible confidently proclaims God is Just; “the Rock, his work is perfect and all his ways are just.” (Deut 32:4). Unlike all other spiritual or human powers the biblical Creator is essentially Righteous, he cannot be anything other than Just. It is because we are made in the image of God that we all have a profound sense of justice; life is framed in terms of right and wrong. To know the difference between good and evil is a great gift, BUT the way we decide what is right and what is wrong has become dreadfully corrupted. When God commanded Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Gen 2:17) the Lord placed himself at the centre of determining good and evil. When Adam and Eve listened to the Satanic lie, ““You will not surely die….you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Gen 3:4-5) they placed themselves rather than God at the centre of all issues concerning good and evil. “Good” became good for their own interests and evil what seemed contrary to their interests. They exchanged the glory of God’s justice for their own self-centred righteousness (Rom 1:21-23). As fallen creatures they feared God’s judgement in the Garden, not because they accepted that they deserved to be punished as an act of justice but only because punishment is painful (Gen 3:8-10). Nothing has changed, imagine there were no speed rules on the roads or that there were no penalties to using your mobile phone when driving. Though Adam and Eve felt terribly ashamed when they were caught out by God they never cried to him as a just and merciful Father whose heart had been broken heart by their mistrust (cf. Gen 6:5-6). Despite all contrary appearances in a world permeated by injustices God is always on our side seeking to restore a just world.
Crying for Justice
God’s chosen people first received a revelation that the Lord is a God who hears their cries for justice at the time of the exodus from Egypt; “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.” (Ex 2:23). Once God had delivered Israel from oppression he gave them a covenant that commanded acts of mercy and justice.
““You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners…Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. 23 If you exploit them…and they cry out to me…I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will blaze against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless.”” (Ex 22:21-24). The severe warnings of the Law against all injustice are matched by the words of the wisdom writers and the prophets. “Don’t cheat your neighbour…don’t take the land of defenceless orphans.11 For their Redeemeris strong; he himself will plead their cause against you” (Prov 23:10-11). God’s promises are for the weak and powerless who cry out to him for justice; “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Ps 34:6). As God’s primary representative in the nation the king was expected to give justice for the needy as a reflection of the Lord’s own rule of righteousness and justice (Ps 89:14). Josiah is applauded; “He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn’t that what it means to know me?”” (22:16). Josiah however was an exceptional ruler, because most kings in Judah were unrighteous the Lord released the sword of the ruthless Babylonians who slaughtered the population of Jerusalem indiscriminately (Jer 9:16; Ezek 5:17; 14:21). This divine judgement against the unjust nation had a specific outcome in mind; “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezek 28:23).
At the time of 9/11 I felt the Lord spoke to me through this verse; “In the path of your judgements, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.9 My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgements are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn justice.” (Isa 26:8-9). “For when your judgements are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn justice.” The prophetic message behind the exile to Babylon was as clear as the one contained in the 9/11 disaster, to trust in money and military power is to court divine judgement. The righteous know that the one great response that pleases the Lord in the face of disaster is to cry out to him for deliverance (Ps 107:28).
Over the centuries this response became rarer and rarer in Israel so the prophets started to speak of a coming King of perfect justice. “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!….May he have dominion…to the ends of the earth.” (Ps 72:1-2; 8 cf. Isa 32:1). “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him;…4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; And in his name will the nations hope.” (Isa 42:1, 4). This King of justice who is the hope of the poor and needy of the world is Jesus.
Jesus the Great Crier
The Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus speak powerfully of the inbreaking of the justice of God; ““My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked on the lowly estate of his servant…. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:46-48, 51-53). Mary knows that her son is the fulfilment of all the Old Testament prophetic hopes for justice.
Jesus himself named “justice” as one of the “weightier matters of the Law” and his promise was that if we “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness/justice” he will give us all we need (Matt 23:23). As is so often the case it is the parables of Jesus which most pointedly expose our situation before God. ““In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Manreturns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”” (Luke 18:6-8).
According to Jesus because God’s afflicted people know that he is a just they cry out to him day and night for justice. The word used here for “cry” is not a whisper or a mutter or even a normal volume of speech; it means to call out loudly or to scream. In the Gospels this is the cry of those who are desperate for the relieving justice of God’s kingdom and who believe Jesus can bring it; it is the cry of the father of a demonised and fitting boy, it is the cry of blind beggar whose voice rises above the crowd in calling to Jesus to heal him (Luke 9:38; 18:38; cf. Mark 15:34). The presence of the righteous kingship of God in Christ draws out of suffering human beings prayer-filled cries for God’s active justice. But Jesus’ parable did not end on this note; according to Christ when he returns he will find few calling out to him for deliverance. As the Australian Church we must confess Christ’s prophecy describes us!
Unlike our brothers and sisters in the impoverished Third World and in lands where the people of the cross are persecuted, we are a very prayerless Church. There are only two possible explanations for our failure to cry out to God. The first is that we have no deep needs that require divine deliverance. This is not true; as a society we have enormous needs; marriage and family breakdowns, a plague of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses and the scourge of drugs spring to mind. The second explanation for our prayerlessness is that we do not truly believe that God is a God of justice. This is our real problem and there is only one possible remedy for such unbelief, it is the gospel, we must look again at the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Cross’s Cry for Justice
In the psalms people who are unashamed to describe themselves as “poor and needy” cry out to God for deliverance; “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Pss 34:6; 40:17; 70:5; 86:1; 109:22). Since some of these psalms are prophecies of the Messiah they find their ultimate fulfilment in Jesus own crying out for justice (e.g. Ps 40:7=Heb 10:9; Ps 109:25= Matt 27:39). Hebrews 5:7-8 describes this most clearly; “While…on earth, Jesus offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers…” Jesus was unashamed to cry out deliverance. Such crying for justice came to an extraordinary climax on the cross when he “cried out with a loud voice” words that were taken by his opponents as utterly shameful (Heb 12:2) and clear confirmation that he could not possibly be the Saviour of the world. He ““cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). Jesus cry to God for justice broke through every barrier of shame, fear or humiliation that has ever held humanity back from calling upon God for justice; and the Father answered his Son’s plea by raising him from the dead. The resurrection is the final revelation that God is a just God who ultimately and completely delivers all who cry to him.
Paul proclaims the universal implications of Jesus death and resurrection in this way; ““God overlooked people’s ignorance…in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved this…by raising him from the dead.”” (Acts 17:31 cf. Rom 8:10-11; 1 Tim 3:16). The resurrection of Jesus is the proof to that there is indeed a God of justice who in the End will set everything right in this world. It follows that anyone who has had a deep revelation of God’s justice in the gospel of will be a person who cries out to him in prayer (Rom 1:16-17).
A Church that Cries for Justice
Today a new wave of crying out to God for justice is arising across the globe for we live in a day when the truth about the persecution of Christians is inescapable. Everyone has heard of the slaughter of believers in Syria, Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria and so on. The newspapers can tell you what is happening in the material world, but we need to turn to the scriptures to understand the implications of martyrdom in the spiritual world. In Revelation 6 we read “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. 10 They cried out with a loud voice and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” (vv.9-10). The martyrs do not hang around in heaven playing harps, possessed by the Spirit of God they cry out in prayer for divine justice on the earth. These are the departed in heaven who the writer to the Hebrews describes as “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:23). Made fully whole by the just judgement of God in Christ they ceaselessly seek the consummation of his justice on the earth. The whole of heaven is galvanised by issues God’s justice; unlike the worship scenes in today’s churches the worship scenes in Revelation have the holy powers of heaven concerning themselves with the Day when God will speedily give justice to his chosen people (Rev 11:18; 19:2).
Something is dreadfully wrong with the prayerless Western Church which fails to cry out for God’s justice to be enacted for the poor and needy. Prayer has been rightly called The Cry For the Kingdom (S.Grenz); as Jesus himself taught us to pray; “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10). If a revelation of the justice of God moves the hearts of men and women to pray for this justice to come quickly then we should expect those Christians who claim to be champions of righteousness to be warriors in prayer. Over the years I have encountered believers whose passion is to deal with abortion, euthanasia and sexual immorality, or, whose zeal is for the poor, Indigenous, abused and refugees. I am familiar with the political lobbying and protests of such Christians on the political right but I have not encountered amongst them extraordinary prayerfulness. If we deeply believed that all the trauma and terror of slaughtered infants, battered women, desperate displaced persons and starving children was taken into the cries of the Son of God on the cross we would be people of extraordinary prayer. We would be those who join daily in the constant prayers of the slaughtered saints in heaven in their unity with the ongoing intercession of Christ for justice to come speedily upon the earth (Rom 8:34 ff.). Before the Reformation in Scotland John Knox cried out to God, “Give me Scotland or I die.” Whoever prays in this way has entered into the intercession of Jesus on the cross on behalf of a sinful lost world that refuses to believe in the justice of God (Isa 53:12).
I have been working on this sermon for a while, but all along I sensed there was something missing to give it real edge. Early this morning I was feeling very under – resourced, I guess I was feeling poor and needy and was in touch with the spiritual powerlessness of the Church. Then I saw that it was 3.34 a.m. and the words of Jesus about himself in John 3:34 came to mind; “he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” Today is Pentecost Sunday and it is time for the people of God to realise that there is a world of difference between operating out of conviction of conscience and the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33; 10:38; Rom 9:1). Only the Spirit who led Christ to the cross and raised him from the dead can reveal to us that God is truly a God of justice (Rom 1:4; Heb 9:14). If Jesus was not ashamed to cry out from the cross for justice why are we? We need to know that such prayers are themselves acts of justice. Sometimes the natural holds a message for the spiritual.
100 years ago this month a German U boat sank the British liner Lusitania causing the loss of 1200 lives; an eye witness records that the sea was full of people who could be heard praying out loud (cf. Ps 107:23ff.). Australia as a Christian nation is sinking fast, and the prayers of the people of God need to be heard across our land once again – in bedrooms, board rooms, churches, paddocks, streets, offices, schools…everywhere. it is time to receive the power of the Spirit of God to lift us above our feelings of shame, embarrassment and inadequacy and to cry aloud to God for justice. If we truly want to see a new heavens and earth filled with the justice of God we must obey the exhortation of Peter to “hasten” the coming of the Day of Christ’s return by becoming a people of extraordinary prayer (2 Pet 3:12-13). If we will not cry out to God now an incredible wickedness will descend upon our land and our Church will join the ranks of the openly persecuted. I do not think this will please our Father, but perhaps this is just how it has to be?