Sunday 5 July 2020
Justice is the last thing we need
Context: an evangelical congregation, mainly aged 50+, in a seaside town location
Aim: to challenge the congregation as to whether it really is justice that we want from God
There is an old joke told about a particularly wet Welsh village. Queuing in the Post Office one day, a rain-drenched lady saw the Minister of the Chapel. ‘Pastor’, she said, ‘we don’t deserve all this rain we’ve been having.’ ‘Mrs Jones’, replied the pastor, ‘if we got what we deserved, I’d be burying you and the rest of the village next week.’
We talk a lot about justice, but is it justice that we really want from God?
In our reading this morning we are dipping into a wider section of Matthew’s Gospel that deals with how different people responded to Jesus. In the earlier chapters Jesus has been revealing His teaching, through sections like the Sermon on the Mount. Then He has gone on to perform many of His great miracles. Together these reveal Him to be the promised Messiah. So next Matthew deals with how different people respond to Jesus. This brings us to our reading this morning in which we meet three different groups.
The unsatisfied – whatever you say is wrong
First, we meet the Unsatisfied (v 16-19). These are people who are unresponsive to Jesus’ words. In fact, they have been unresponsive to both Jesus, and His forerunner, John the Baptist. John is something of an aesthetic – ‘neither eating or drinking’ – and these people claim he has a demon. But when Jesus comes and does eat and drink, they say He is a drunkard and a glutton! Jesus speaks of a ‘can’t win whatever we do’ type of situation. Sadly, there are people who are like that. There are hearts that are set firm against God. Whatever He does, it is the wrong thing, because in their minds God Himself is wrong.
The condemned – whatever you do is ignored
This logically leads us to the next group we meet, the Condemned (v 20-24). These are the people, particularly the towns and villages, who have been unresponsive to Jesus’ deeds.
It often shocks people who think of Jesus as ‘gentle and mild’ to hear such words of judgment on His lips. However, Jesus is quite clear what justice means – rejection of Him and His message is rejection of God, and that brings the most severe judgment. However, there are three things we need to note within Jesus’ harsh statements here.
1. The judgment is contingent (v 21 and 23). If we take Jesus’ statements literally then it means God knows what people would do if things were different. He understands the impact of circumstances on people’s decisions.
2. The judgment takes account of opportunity (v 22 and 24). God is not only aware of what people would have done if things had been different, He actively takes this into account in His judgment. Thus, within God’s judgment there is also mercy and grace.
3. God does not owe revelation to anyone. Jesus’ teaching on judgment only makes sense if God’s act of revealing Himself is not something people can demand or feel entitled too. It is a free gift of God. Thus, Tyre and Sidon will find the judgment more bearable, implying there will be mercy in God’s judgment, because they didn’t have the opportunity that Israel had been given with Jesus. Yet Tyre will still be judged; they are still guilty of the sins they have committed.
The accepted – when you call, I follow
Then lastly, we meet the Accepted (v 25-30). These are the people who are responsive to Jesus’ invitation. Yet even here we are not meeting justice but rather grace. Jesus makes it clear that to accept this invitation requires God’s grace in revealing the truth to people, very often to those who seem the least likely (v 25-27). The invitation is made graciously, to all who labour and struggle and need rest, but the ability to accept the invitation is also an act of grace. We can only know the Father if Jesus chooses to reveal Him.
To those who do respond, Jesus offers rest, not once, but twice in this passage. Such rest is also an offer based on grace.
So, should we really be so keen on justice? As the old saying goes, if God were to act justly and remove everything from this world at midnight tonight that causes pain, suffering, sin or injustice, where would you be tomorrow morning? Justice is important, but when we come before Jesus it is the last thing we need. And this is our great hope and our great message, that when we come to our Saviour, He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. He doesn’t offer us justice; instead He offers us mercy and grace. He accepts each of us, including you this morning, and invites you to come to Him and find rest.
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