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God is Just

October 5, 2008 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Justice For All

Passage: Psalm 75:1–75:10

God is Just
Psalm 75:1-10
October 5th, 2008
Way of Grace Church


I. A Hope for Justice

"The murders of Charles Moore and Henry Dee, both 19, were among the most notorious acts of white southern supremacists who sought to silence opposition to segregation through violence and intimidation. The year of the slayings, 1964, was known as "freedom summer" in the south because of efforts by civil rights campaigners to overcome barriers to black people registering to vote.

On May 2 1964 members of the Mississippi branch of the White Knights of the KKK kidnapped the teenagers, who they suspected of being involved in civil rights activity, as they were hitchhiking to a party. The men were tied to a tree and beaten 30 or 40 times with a stick, before being thrown into the river with a Jeep engine block tied to their legs."

That is how a newspaper article, only several weeks old, described the killings of Charles Moore and Henry Dee. Why was an event that took place 44 years ago in the news last month? Well, the focus of the article was not the young men who died, but a very old man.

72-year old James Ford Seale was convicted last May in these killings. Seale had been arrested back in '64, but nothing ever happened because, according to federal prosecutors, the local police were in cohoots with the KKK. It was only when the brother of one of the dead men went looking several years ago that he found James Ford Seale, who was thought to be dead.

Last year, Seale was convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy charges and given three life-sentences. But only weeks ago, on September 9th, a US court of appeals overturned the conviction citing that the statute of limitations had run out. While prosecutors are currently asking the court to reconsider the verdict, Seale may once again be a free man.

The article went on to quote a woman from the Mississippi Workers' Centre for Human Rights, a group involved in the Seale case. She called the appeal court ruling "disheartening and demoralising ... the Seale case gave us hope that somewhere down the line there would be justice."

Justice. Justice is like electricity. When we have it we take it for granted. But when it doesn't work, we notice its absence right away. Justice. Will there ever be justice for Charles Moore and Henry Dee? We don't know. But we do know justice is something so precious that the lack of it brings about immense suffering.

But what is justice? Where does it come from? Why does it matter in the everyday, in the face of life's challenges?

Turn with me to Psalm 75. This morning I'd to explore this idea of justice by looking at God's word together.


II. The Passage: "I Will Judge with Equity" (75:1-10)

Listen as I read from Psalm 75:

We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.

2 "At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity. 3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah

4 I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,' and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn; 5 do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.'"

6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.

8 For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

9 But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. 10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

This psalm comes from the third book or third division of this collection we call the Psalms. The sixteen Psalms that make up book three are all related to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of God's people. They are psalms filled with incredible suffering. They are filled with questions and doubts. They are a window into the gut-wrenching agony of people who are watching their world fall apart around them.

Given this context, it is not surprising that this is a psalm from which we can learn a lot about justice. But why? Why is it that during times like this questions about justice so often arise? Well, it has to do with the definition of justice.


A. Defining Justice (75:4-8)

Look back with me at verses 4 through 8:

4 I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,' and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn; 5 do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.'"

6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.

8 For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

Notice what we learn here about justice. God executes judgment, and that judgment is about two things, verse 7: putting down and lifting up, or making low and raising up, or bringing down and exalting.

And who is put down and lifted up? The wicked (vs. 4, 8) are brought low and the righteous are lifted up; verse 10 seems to support that idea. So this concept of justice or judgment is about the difference between right and wrong, and the appropriate consequence such actions deserve.

So we might say that justice is delivering what is deserved when our moral choices are weighed in light of God's moral order.

God has designed for us a right and a wrong. He has also designed and decreed that there should be distinct consequences when we choose to follow the right or listen to the wrong.

It is this reality that causes Abraham to challenge God in Genesis 18: "Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (18:25)

You see, Abraham understood that justice is about assigning the appropriate consequence for either good or evil.

In Psalm 75, God is warning the boastful and the wicked that the consequences of their moral choices, choices driven by pride, their choices will be receive the appropriate consequence. God will deliver what they deserve. In the same way, the innocent will be vindicated.

But here the psalmist is emphasizing the certainty of God's judgment or justice for the very reason that it doesn't always seem that God does deliver what is deserved. Have you ever felt that way? That person who hurt you seemed to simply get away with it. You were blamed for something that wasn't your fault. The co-worker who cheated got the raise. A relative dies before they can be held responsible for what they said or did to you.

Where is justice in those situations?


B. Justice and God (75:2, 3, 7)

Well, look again at verse 2, 3, and 7:

2 "At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity. 3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.

... 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.

There is a very clear emphasis in this Psalm on the fact that justice ultimately rests in the hands of God. In fact, not only will God judge, but he will judge with equity, fairly, uprightly.

Now, God is surely emphasizing this because there are judges who do not always judge with equity, right? There are human judges who are, in fact, corrupt. But God is different. Listen to what Moses told us about God:

"The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he." (Deut 32:4)

The moral order that God has designed for us is rooted in the very nature of God.

Psalm 9 tells us something similar: But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, 8 and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness. (9:7, 8)

Because God is God, there is and there will be ultimate justice. Because God is perfect there is and there will be perfect justice. Because God knows everything, everything will be judged with equity. Because God is all-powerful, every person will receive every thing their deeds deserve. Because God is faithful, he will do everything he has designed in this moral order, in light of his laws, in light of right and wrong.

You see, verse 3 is describing not a shaking of the planet, but being shaken up by troubling circumstances. God is saying, "when the world seems to be falling apart around you; when good seems to be triumphing over evil, when justice seems far away, I am in control. I will deliver what is deserved."

It is his justice that steadies the moral fabric of the universe. In His timing, He will deliver what is deserved in response to every deed, every word, every thought of every person.

And remember, in the Hebrew mindset of the Old Testament, God's justice could be demonstrated, not simply at some point in the distant future. No, God could and did judge in the present. People died and people were blessed in the present because God is just. Cities were protected and empires destroyed because of God's justice.

And all of it was and is good and right because God judges with perfect equity.


C. Justice-Inspired Praise (75:1, 9)

Now how should the reality of God's perfect justice affect us? What should it inspire within us? Well, look at verses 1 and 9 again:

We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.

9 But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

Very clearly, the psalmist saw the reality of God's judgment or justice as a reason for praise. He worshipped God because he knew that evil would somehow, in some way, be repaid, and the suffering would be somehow, in some way, rescued.

Listen to how Psalm 96 expresses this same idea:

10 Say among the nations, "The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity." 11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 13 before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. (96:10-13)

Even creation praises God in light of his justice, in light of the fact that every wrong will be repaid and every right affirmed. For people suffering under the weight of injustice, the hope if perfect justice should inspire praise and thankfulness.

Do you feel that way? Are you praising and giving thanks to God because he is righteous and just? Because he will address every grievance?

Oftentimes, our desire for justice is not simply about seeing someone else suffer. It certainly can be. But in many cases, we desire justice because we are looking for evidence that God cares and that God is in charge. If he or she gets away with that, if no is called to account for that suffering, what will that tell us about God?

But the psalmist reminds us here in Psalm 75 that the world is still in God's hands, and he will respond in righteousness and faithfulness to every single human decision. No matter the decision of the US Court of Appeals, Charles Moore and Henry Dee will see justice. God will see to it.

Is God's justice something that inspires worship in you?


A. Walking in Justice (75:10)

The last thing I want you to see here in regard to justice come from the last verse, verse 10. Listen to it again:

All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

Now, what is not clear here is who is speaking in this verse. Is it the writer or is it God?

It does sound like what God has said before about putting down and lifting up. But listen to a similar verse from Psalm 101: 8 Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord. (Ps 101:8)

In that Psalm, David's praise in light of God's justice causes David to rule in light of God's justice. David is a man of justice because the God he serves is a just God. We may be seeing the same idea expressed in Psalm 75. The writer in 75:10 may be speaking from a position of authority, or the psalm may have been written for the king.

What is clear from God's word, and what we've been reminded of here is that justice matters to God. And because it matters to God, we need to be people of justice if God matters to us. In whatever way is appropriate for us to act justly, we should do so, shouldn't we?

Remember how Jesus chastised the Pharisees: "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Luke 11:42)

The Pharisees, who were leaders over God's people, were not treating others in fairness, with equity. They should have remembered the words that king Jehoshaphat gave to the judges of his time: "Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment. 7 Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes." (II Chronicles 19:6, 7)

God communicated the same idea to us through the prophet Micah: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Are you fair in the way you treat others, or do you play favorites? Are you committed to respond rightly to wrongs, or are easily swayed by gain or fear or doubt? This could apply to those who are parents, to those who are employers or managers; this could be speaking to us in terms of social justice, in terms of our responsibilities as citizens.

We need to walk in justice.


III. The God Who is Just and Who Justifies

So what have we seen this morning? We've seen that justice is about rendering what is due to every person in light of every deed. And we've seen that God does and will render justice completely, purely, fairly, and perfectly as God. He can do nothing else, because justice is merely an expression of his righteousness, because He is always in the right. Furthermore, the reality of His justice should inspire in us praise and gratitude. But it should also cause us to be just as God is just; to respond to every person and every circumstance fairly, doing what is right.

But...I think that if we are honest with ourselves, the reality of God's justice unsettles us. This is why this attribute of God is not one that we talk about, or sing about, or teach about as regularly as we talk about other attributes like love and faithfulness and power. There aren't too many hymns, greeting cards, or wall plaques that remind us that "God is just".

So why are we uneasy about God's justice? Well, I think it's because all of us are guilty and we know it. It's the same reason a criminal is uneasy around a judge. Yes, we care about God righting every wrong. Yes, we feel something is terribly wrong when a bad guy gets away with his crime, especially when someone is left suffering or even dead. We are satisfied with justice, until...until our moral choices are weighed in light of God's moral order.

You see our guilt causes us to downplay and rationalize those actions, words, and thoughts that we know are wrong. And when we do that in our own lives, we become more and more jaded to how bad bad really is. We lose sight of the fact that every sin, not matter how big or small in our estimation is contrary to the very nature of a perfectly righteous God.

And the more we hear about that fact the more we don't want to hear about that fact.

So if we're honest with ourselves, we hope for God justice as those who suffer, and we hope to never see God's justice as those who sin.

So what are we to do? How do we praise God in light of his justice, and walk justly in light of his justice, if his justice is something we are disturbed by?

Well, number one, let the justice of God disturb you. If it doesn't disturb you, how will you be driven to seek forgiveness and righteousness? Isaiah 26 says, "For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness."

When we confront the justice of God head on, we plead for God's pardon and we look for a way to be righteous before Him. Most of the religions of the world are built around those two impulses.

But second, when you are looking for forgiveness and righteousness, let the justice of God drive you to Jesus Christ. Listen to the astounding words of Paul in Romans 3:

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law [apart from our precise conformity to God's moral order...as righteousness apart from the law], has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Is that amazing? God, in his infinite wisdom, accomplished a means by which he can be both just AND the one who justifies by faith in the face of human corruption. And it's all because of Jesus Christ.

Next Sunday, we're going to explore this even more carefully, but it's enough for us this morning to see that our only hope in the face of God's justice is Jesus Christ.

When we come to know that righteousness that only He can give us, we come to see the justice of God as something that inspires praise and thanksgiving because we come to love God and His glory, and therefore, we come to hate sin.

There's so much here. We're only scratching the surface.

But this morning, our hope is that we can know God as the One who is just AND the one who justifies us, who declares us righteous because of Christ's righteousness. Because of the cross we can say along with the psalmist: We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.

Yes, God's justice is alive and well today. Yes, God's justice will one day right every wrong and lift up every right. And yes, because of Jesus, we can hope for His justice, and have hope because Jesus Christ drank that cup of foaming wine mentioned in Psalm 75:8, that cup of God's just punishment.

May we praise God for His justice, and walk in His justice, because Jesus satisfied God's justice for us.

Let's pray.

 

 

 

 

More in Justice For All

October 26, 2008

Justice and Eternal Punishment

October 19, 2008

The Great Day of Justice

October 12, 2008

Guilt and Grace