10th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 15) LSB #802, 814, 820
Text – Isaiah 56:1
Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, & do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, & my deliverance be revealed.”
Back in the year 1855, a man named William B. Ferguson deeded 10 acres of land to the Wabash Railroad in exchange for a new train depot & naming rights. The settlement that sprang up around the depot was called Ferguson Station. In the year 1894 it incorporated as the city of Ferguson. Ever since, it’s been just one of many small cities across our nation.
On Saturday August 9th, of this year, it gained notoriety as one of its police officers shot & killed an 18 year old teenager. Understandably, the family & loved ones of the teenager want justice. Likewise, the family & loved ones of the police officer want justice. Depending on who did what, which left this young man dead, those two groups may want very different outcomes.
There are also outside groups horning in on the emotional nature of this tragedy to serve their own personal agenda. One sign being held up during the protests stated: “Stop trying to criminalize the victim. Mike Brown was murdered. We want justice for Michael. Hands up don’t shoot.”
That last phrase is a reference to one of the witness statements, by a friend of Michael’s, who claims, Mike had his hands in the air when he was shot.
Naturally, the police department has a differing version of the story. They claim the officer felt his life was in danger & he shot Michael in self-defense. In other words, he was forced to administer his own justice in order to protect his life.
A store owner gave the police a security camera video revealing a man looking a lot like Michael Brown stealing cigars from a store, just 15 minutes before his deadly encounter with the police officer. No doubt the store owner is looking for justice after having been threatened & robbed. None of us here know the truth of any of those allegations. We aren’t aware of the sins of Mike Brown, or of the sins of the police officer who shot him. However, there is someone in this room whose sins are intimately familiar to each of us.
You know your sins & I know mine. Yet even that knowledge of our own sin is clouded by the corrupted nature that lives within my heart & yours. There’s an undying desire within us to excuse our own bad behavior. That same fallen nature will easily default to pointing out the sins of others in order to draw attention away from our own.
You’ve probably heard it in person. Little Johnny gets caught hitting little Susie & what are the 1st words out of his mouth? “She hit me first!” If true, Susie has already administered her own justice, so Johnny was just delivering his own.
When politicians are at their worst, we see the same attitude between Democrats & Republicans, instead of doing the work of governing our nation in the best interest of all the people. The nations of Ukraine & Russia are at it right now, & last month, Israel & Hamas had been doing the same. The prophet Isaiah hit the nail squarely on the head with these words:
They have mapped out crooked roads, & no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace. So there is no justice among us, & we know nothing about right living. We look for light but find only darkness. We look for bright skies but walk in gloom. For our sins are piled up before God & testify against us. Yes, we know what sinners we are. We know we have rebelled & have denied the Lord. We have turned our backs on our God. We know how unfair & oppressive we have been, carefully planning our deceitful lies. Our courts oppose the righteous, & justice is nowhere to be found. Truth stumbles in the streets, & honesty has been outlawed. Yes, truth is gone, & anyone who renounces evil is attacked. The Lord looked & was displeased to find there was no justice. (Isaiah 59:8b-9, 12-15 NLT)
God knows our lost condition pretty well, doesn’t He? What our sinful nature demands is revenge, plain & simple. If the rule of the day is, ‘an eye for an eye & a tooth for a tooth,’ there will never be peace, & the administering of justice will never be done. For that reason Jesus tackled this issue head on in the Gospel of Matthew, the 5th chapter:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye & a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you & take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.’” (5:38-40) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor & hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’” (5:43-45a ESV)
If men take revenge as the rule of the day, sin will utterly destroy our heavenly Father’s creation. The rioting & looting in Ferguson, MO, are a perfect example of sin run amuck. Satan has come to steal & kill & destroy, but he commonly disguises that work behind a false veneer of cries for justice. Revenge & justice are totally different animals.
In this morning’s reading from Isaiah, thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, & do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, & my deliverance be revealed.” Whereas looting & rioting express what is worst of a society, the pairing of justice & righteousness expresses what is best of a society.
They are both, what people in power should do, & the essential characteristics of the good society. The pair is both means & end. The justice & righteousness of the people, & of God, produce the just & righteous civilization. In fact, salvation & deliverance are often the preferred translations of the Hebrew words for justice & righteousness.
Rioting & looting are destructive, self-centered activities. Salvation & deliverance are centered on others, rather than upon self. People, who are centered on themselves instead of the Lord, act to save themselves. Even if the police officer from Ferguson was legitimately acting in self-defense, the shooting of Michael Brown was still a far cry from Christ’s approach.
As the ultimate human being, Jesus is the highest demonstration of one who keeps justice. He lives a holy life for others, maintaining the law in every respect, & then sacrifices His own life to deliver us from our sin, from our failure to keep the law in any respect. Justice is an attribute of God. It is part of His character, not simply an attitude He chooses to follow, or a goal He seeks to achieve. That’s one problem in our seeking of justice. It’s not part of our innate character. Sin has made us characters of injustice.
The opening verse of chapter 55 states, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…” Today, people still thirst even here in the Great Lakes region which contains 20% of the world’s fresh water. In this sin-filled world, as do God’s people all through time, we thirst for justice & righteousness.
From Abel’s blood crying out for vengeance, to little Johnny saying, “She hit me first,” to the latest news from Ferguson, MO, people across the world are crying out, & thirsting even, forjustice. In the sermon text of chapter 56:1, Isaiah is responding with our motivation for living the just & righteous life. He sets the stage with the last two verses of chapter 55:
“For you shall go out in joy & be led forth in peace; the mountains & the hills before you shall break forth into singing, & all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; & it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:12-13 ESV)
Those verses present the great climax of our Lord’s work, as they tell of the salvation to come & reveal Yahweh’s deliverance of all His creation. All the universe will sing together with happiness over the results of what Christ did on the cross. All the evil & injustice that sin has brought will be removed, & the world will once again be perfect as was the Garden of Eden.
The thorns & briers that were introduced when Adam fell into sin will be replaced by plants that are productive & beautiful. These verses illustrate the changes that occur in the lives of all who come to know Christ. Then the sermon text follows: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Keep justice, & do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, & my deliverance be revealed.’”
So how does the Christian heart respond to that particular Word of God? We remember that, while we have been freed from the guilt of sin, we must hour by hour seek God’s help to overcome sin’s temptations be self-centered.
According to chapter 55, nothing a person has done or can do entitles him to attend our heavenly Father’s banquet of salvation. It is possible, however, to exclude ourselves from the feast of mercy & pardon, as our sinful nature resists God’s will. Obstinate rebellion will have no place in heaven. No one can be admitted who insists on doing what is unjust & unrighteous.
Responding to undeserved mercy & goodness – the complete forgiveness of our sins – Christians find peace in doing what is right toward their fellowman & toward God. Our saintly nature joyfully puts into practice the attributes of justice & righteousness that our heavenly Father possesses, yet enables us to participate in.
Nevertheless, because we’re sinners those gifts of justice & righteousness are painful to us, not just to the atheists or unbelievers. We too are unable to keep our Lord’s commands. They are more than we sinners are able to produce. This business of becoming holy, even while never complete in this life, is also a slow & painstaking process.
Two steps forward & one step backward is often one of the good days. Our Savior well knows the precarious nature of our walk with Him, so He doesn’t tell us to work harder, or smarter. He calls us to rest, right here in His house, because He knows that only in our rest – from sin, do we receive His strength to work hard, or smart, or to keep justice.
Justice is the governing of our lives by God, not by our self-interest, which constantly gets in the way of our keeping His commands. Thus when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” it is not in our self-interest so to do. Our selfish & sinful nature rebels against it & hates the kingdom & will of our Lord & Savior. The only form of justice that can cure the hatred & bitterness of places like Ferguson, MO, or the Gaza Strip, is for God’s own Son to die.
“Crucify Him,” the people of His day shouted. So justice was established for all sinners by the ministry of the Suffering Servant as He breathed His last on the cross. In a way, it may be that any justice for one person is always established by the “suffering” of another. Jesus, God of God, Light of Light, begotten not made, willfully suffered on your behalf & mine in order that we might live in justice & righteousness all the days of our lives. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet