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Justice and Jesus

3: Jesus, the Champion of Justice–Sean

Examining how Jesus embodied and preached justice.

Scripture: Matthew 23:23-36

 

If Jesus was preaching in the church today, I wonder if his sermons would be just as hard as his language was with the teachers of the law and Pharisees? Let's think about this today as we dive into this scripture passage. Jesus typically taught things like forgiveness, the Kingdom of heaven, loving God, doing unto others, loving your enemies, resurrection on the third day, faith, and he told parables. Then, in Matthew 23:23-36, Jesus addresses the Pharisees in a much different way.

 

23 "How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith. You ought to give a tenth but without forgetting about those more important matters. 24 You blind guides! You filter out an ant but swallow a camel.25 "How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are full of violence and pleasure-seeking. 26 Blind Pharisee! First, clean the inside of the cup so that the outside of the cup will be clean too.27 "How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs. They look beautiful on the outside. But inside they are full of dead bones and all kinds of filth. 28 In the same way you look righteous to people. But inside you are full of pretense and rebellion. 29 "How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 You say, 'If we had lived in our ancestors' days, we wouldn't have joined them in killing the prophets.' 31 You testify against yourselves that you are children of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, complete what your ancestors did. 33 You snakes! You children of snakes! How will you be able to escape the judgment of hell? 34 Therefore, look, I'm sending you prophets, wise people, and legal experts. Some of them you will kill and crucify. And some you will beat in your synagogues and chase from city to city. 35 Therefore, upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been poured out on the earth, from the blood of that righteous man Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah (Bear-A-Ki-Ya), whom you killed between the temple and the altar. 36 I assure you that all these things will come upon this generation."[1]

 

It is like someone different was addressing the crowd at this point. Did Jesus wake up on the wrong side of the bed? What we are seeing is Jesus is "fit to be tied."  Jesus was finished with the ways of the religious leaders and how they dealt with people or didn't help out people. Justice was not being done for the people, so Jesus made a bold statement. We must ask ourselves, are we one of the religious leaders seen in this passage today? Do we talk of justice, faith, and peace yet do nothing to make a difference? Justice is more than talk. It is about action. If all we do is talk about justice for all people and nothing happens, then we fulfill what Jesus says in verses 27 and 28,

"How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs. They look beautiful on the outside. But inside they are full of dead bones and all kinds of filth. In the same way, you look righteous to people. But inside you are full of pretense and rebellion."[2]

 

Hypocrisy is a contradiction between reality and appearance. They are misrepresenting God's will and leading people astray. What happens when the leaders do this or when we do this by not making sure justice occurs for all people is that we close kingdom doors. As teachers, they should have opened the door to the Kingdom instead of closing it. 

 

In contrast to their teaching, Jesus is the gate to the Kingdom. John 10:9-10 says, "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed so that they could live life to the fullest."[3] The work of justice doesn't become an obstacle to people coming to Jesus.

Romans 14:13 says, "So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister."[4]  Justice says we shouldn't put obstacles in people's way just because we don't like how they dress, how they look, where they came from, or what they do. We should lead them to Jesus and not away from him.

 

Justice makes sure that wrongs are made right. The religious leaders neglected the justice and needs of others but made sure that all the ceremonial things were in order. Instead of focusing on bringing justice to people who have been wronged, mercy to those who are doing wrong, and faithfulness to those who have left the faith. How much has the church done this today? How have we focused on the church's order, methodology, or legalism instead of ensuring that those who have lost or are without faith are found? What about those who are discriminated against every single day of their life, people worried about eating every day, and people who do not have shelter? Instead, we want to ensure that the inside of the church looks perfect. Maybe we should spend less time inside and more time outside the church doing the work of Christ.

 

Like the religious leaders, we focus on the most minor things and forget what is essential. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter in verses 25-26 when he says, "How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside, they are full of violence and pleasure-seeking. 26 Blind Pharisee! First, clean the inside of the cup so that the outside of the cup will be clean too."[5]  A person can wear all the right clothes and do and say all the right things on the outside when everyone is looking, but inside they can be sinful, selfish, and spiritually bankrupt. The religious leaders focused on what made you look clean, but ignored what makes us clean. The church tends to do the same, and justice work ensures the dirty work is done first.

 

What matters is a life that is changed. Justice work is making sure that lives are changed. The Gospel is all about life change. The work of religion is not about life change. Galatians 6:15 says, "Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn't mean anything. What matters is a new creation."[6]  

 

I had a chance to go see where Dr. Martin Luther King lost his life.  Dr. King was focused and centered on social change.  One of his quotes from Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King says, “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”[7] He also said,

 

“The time has come for an all-out war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled and feed the unfed. The well-off and the secure have too often become the indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern of the least of these.”[8]

 

Jesus teaches us in this same way as He called out the religious leaders that change must happen.  Change has to move from the status quo of religion to the social change of making a difference in people’s lives especially those in the margins. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took a stance with those who mourned, those who were hungry, the merciful, and the poor.  Jesus took this time to draw a proverbial line in the sand about how those who followed Him should show justice to those around them. In John 8:2–10 the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery and Jesus drew a line in the sand.  According to the “religious law” she should have been stoned to death, but Jesus says this, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”[9]  In Matthew 15 Jesus welcomed the Canaanite woman and didn’t discriminate against her just because she was from a different tribe.

The evidence from the Bible is so clear that any of us could predict how Jesus would react in situations of injustice, exclusion, and inequality.

He embraced the poor and needy.

He touched lepers.

He chatted openly with women.

He connected the ones from other regions.

Jesus embodied a life of justice and left the example to you, me, and the church.

 

The question we have to ask ourselves is how will we live this life out?  We will be seen as Pharisees and be more about the religion, the building, and the things of the church, or will we be about the work and justice of this world? 

 

So, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Hebrews 13:16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]                Matthew - Common English Bible online. https://ceb.scripturefirst.net/newtestament/matthew/page/23/

[2]                Matthew - Common English Bible online. https://ceb.scripturefirst.net/newtestament/matthew/

[3]                John- Common English Bible online. https://ceb.scripturefirst.net/newtestament/John/

[4]                Romans - Common English Bible online. https://ceb.scripturefirst.net/newtestament/Romans/

[5]                Matthew - Common English Bible online. https://ceb.scripturefirst.net/newtestament/matthew/

[6]                Galatians - Common English Bible online. https://ceb.scripturefirst.net/newtestament/Galatians/

[7]                King Jr,, M.L., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1967).

[9]                John - Common English Bible online. https://ceb.scripturefirst.net/newtestament/John/

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