Today is Good Friday, 25 March 2016 – a day to pause from the busyness of life and remember afresh the significance of what Jesus has done for His people.
The title of this post might be confusing at first, particularly due to my use of the term ‘full justice’, but hopefully the meaning of this will soon become clear and you will see as I do the beauty in the truth of the title’s statement.
This morning, my wife and I went to church as we usually do on Good Friday and every Sunday – and today the theme for the service was “Imagine a world without Justice”. This is part of a broader theme for the Easter period that looks at the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection at the first Easter and what this accomplished for those who follow Him. The pastor pointed out the fact that as humans, we crave justice. We don’t like it when others are wronged unfairly and we like it even less when some wrong has been done to us. As Christians, we (unlike other members of society) have an objective basis for demanding that justice be done – the Bible. The God of the universe has a right to lay down what is just and unjust, right and wrong. When non-believers say they believe in justice, what they mean is they believe in holding people accountable to a set of rules, but they don’t have any solid grounding for what those rules are or why they should apply universally. I’d argue even the existence of a universal, immaterial desire for justice in humans (who are made in the imago dei / image of God) is evidence of an immaterial, universal God who by his very nature is just, but that’s in some ways a side track… so back to Good Friday!
There are a number of occasions in scripture where God opposes injustice, but perhaps no more concise summary can be found than in Proverbs 17 wherein we find the words:
“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD”. – Proverbs 17:15 (ESV)
Notice that BOTH acquitting the wrongdoer with no consequence AND bringing harm upon the innocent are equally an abomination to God. In either case, justice is sidestepped and evil attempts to prevail.
So we know God is for justice and against injustice, but what does this have to do with Easter? As the title says, Jesus saves His people from ‘full justice’. What this means is that because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and since have all sinned (Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:1-7) we all deserve the full justice of death and eternal separation from God – and yet God intervenes in history, sending Jesus to live perfectly and to die willingly in humble submission to the Father. In doing so He fulfills the Father’s plan for our salvation and for His glory. Some don’t like the idea, but the fact is that the death of Christ was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world. God is God, He does not need a plan B. Jesus was plan A – a plan to save God’s people and to bring God glory as the one who is just and the justifier of many.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. – Isaiah 53:6-10 (ESV)
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 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. – Romans 3:22-26 (ESV)
‘Full’ justice, if Jesus had not been in the picture, would be unbearable for us as sinful humans, as the sin that lives within us condemns us before a holy God, BUT Jesus’ passive obedience in going to the cross and his active obedience in living a sinless life allow justice to be upheld for His glory and for our benefit. As Philippians 2 and Romans 5 say:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV)
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:19 (ESV)
Hence the beauty of the title of this post. We experience ‘true’ justice because Jesus has fully paid the price for our sin, but we do not experience the ‘full’ extent of the consequences of divine justice (separation from God) because of His propitiatory work, for which I am eternally thankful. Instead, God looks on those whom he draws to himself and sees the righteousness of Jesus, and so we read:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4 (ESV)
Romans 8 is a beautiful passage that speaks of those whom God has chosen and redeemed (see Romans 9 for a discussion of God’s sovereign choice in salvation) being reunited to God. In the latter part of the chapter, the theme of justice comes around again when Paul writes the following:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. – Romans 8:33-37 (ESV)
What an incredible message – because of the work of Christ we are justified, no longer to be condemned because the very one who has the right to condemn died in our place, gave us his righteousness and now intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.
In closing, I find in these truths bring an incredible peace, knowing that I am made right with the God of the universe through the work of His perfect Son. I am not just pardoned for my sin, but I am credited with Christ’s righteousness. The question then is how should I respond? How should you respond? If you’re not a believer, the call of the gospel is to repent (confess and turn from your sin) and believe in (trust in, submit to and live in relationship with) Jesus. If you are a believer then it is important to realise that we have been saved for something – we are saved to live a life with God both now and in eternity. This doesn’t mean we are saved by our works, but it does mean we should expect to see fruit in our lives if the faith that is in us is genuine.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people*, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. – Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
I am not perfect at this, but I pray God continues to sanctify me and to teach me to walk in His ways, to do the good works which He has prepared for me to do, knowing that it is Christ who works in me.
This Easter, I challenge all who read this to marvel at the incredible holiness of God, weep for the sinfulness of man, rejoice in the work of Christ, be satisfied by the love of God and hope in the future glory which God will bring His people into as the final step in His perfect, unbroken salvation plan of predestining, calling, justifying and glorifying.
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:30 (ESV)
It is an amazing, powerful message and one that is worth celebrating and sharing. God bless you this Easter and always.