Friday, July 27, 2007

Big Words--"Justification by Grace"

What do we mean by the words, “righteousness” and
“justice?” Sometimes we use these words but what do
they really mean? Their definitions in, say,
Webster’s Dictionary are also hard to understand. But
what if we look for their definitions in the Bible?
Now, certainly we can’t page through it as we would
Webster’s and expect a definition and yet, I think the
true meaning of “righteousness,” “justice,” and
“salvation” are perhaps ONLY found in the Bible.
There the answer to “What is justice?” is simple and
direct. Justice, righteousness, is the Exodus. God
told the children of Israel, “Stand still and you will
see salvation...and those enemies behind you, you’ll
never see them again. Things were bad for Israel at
this point. The Jewish people have faced so many
sorrows and horrors but the Exodus was different.
Israel was not just facing a massacre, not just a war,
but total annihilation. Had the Egyptians in their
chariots been able to overtake them that would have
been the end of Israel forever. All were gathered
together on the banks of the Red Sea, none had been
left behind in Egypt. When the Israelites look behind
them they saw correctly not the death of a portion of
Israel, however large, but the wiping away of Israel
from the face of the earth. At a Passover meal the
family and guests do not say, “Thank you Lord for
saving those other people, way back when” but rather
“Thank you Lord for saving me, for saving us.”
Because quite literally there would be no feast, no
guests were it not for God’s actions at the Red Sea.
And these actions, as we learn from the Bible are
justice, are righteousness, salvation. If we want to
know the definition of that rather long word,
“righteousness” now we know where to look. It’s when
Moses stretched out his hand and the sea parted and
the children of Israel walked through on dry ground.
The chariots followed after but the Lord told Moses to
stretch out his staff again and the waters closed over
those Egyptians. When Israel, standing on the bluffs,
saw the dead bodies of the Egyptians, they believed in
God and in his servant Moses. All of the above,
that’s righteousness.

In this same way we can understand “justification by
grace." When Jesus died on that cross on Golgotha,
he makes a “way out of no way,” an exodus for you and
me, one by one we are being freed, and one by one,
seeing this salvation we believe in God and in his
servant Jesus. All of the above, that’s justification
by grace! Simply put, justification is the Exodus,
the Exodus through Jesus. God makes a way out of no
way by dying and rising for the sake of the world.
The waters have parted and our enemies are kaput.
“Justification by grace” seems like something hard to
understand, and we can’t depend on Webster’s for the
definition, but if we look to the Bible story the
meaning is opened to us. “Justification by
grace”--God carrying out his plan from the beginning,
to bring the world, “the nations that sat in darkness”
to the table of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that all
might be heirs, children of our Father in heaven.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lessons from Joseph

A few years ago I got a chance to see a school
production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor
Dreamcoat. I remember really enjoying it and saying
to myself “How wonderful!” It was also food for
thought. For the first time I asked, “Why did Joseph
pretend not to know his brothers? Why did Joseph
accuse his brothers of being spies? Was it just to be
mean and vindictive? Did Joseph hate his brothers?”
As I returned to the Biblical story, I found the
answer to be a resounding “no.” Joseph loved his
brothers, witness his tears and what he does for them
all in the end. Neither was Joseph cruel and
vindictive. Rather, Joseph was showing his brothers
their sin. When Joseph accuses them of being spies,
not hearing their pleas for mercy or their
protestations of innocence, he is revealing their
transgression against the young Joseph. Just as
Joseph cried and pleaded from the pit into which his
brothers had thrown him, so now his brothers' pleas
are not heard. The eleven realize all of this from the
first, saying to one another as they are being
threatened by the incognito Joseph, “We are truly
guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the
anguish of his soul when he besought us and we would
not hear, therefore this distress has come upon us.”
Even when Joseph threatens to take away Benjamin, this
too serves a purpose. The eleven brothers understand
for the first time what it meant to their father Jacob
when Joseph was taken away, the grief they have loaded
on their papa’s aged head.

This is a good lesson for us. God like Joseph
sometimes brings us to grief in order to show us our
sin. For instance, sometimes in church when I hear
the beautiful music or when I am preparing a sermon, I
realize how good God is and how merciful and at that
moment I feel sorry and grieved. I feel sorry for my
sourness and selfishness and self-pity. This is
because at that moment I know that unlike me, God is
loving and selfless, giving his only begotten son for
our sakes and I want to be better. You see, church is
not just a place to come to feel content about
ourselves. Rather church is a place where God strikes
to the heart, convicting us of our sin. It is true
that the Lord loves us and is faithful to us while we
are yet sinners. God loves sinners, so much so that he
sent his only son. And yet, he does not allow us to
remain in our sin. He is the Great Physician,
sometimes cutting and grieving us to the heart in
order to rid us of the cancer of our iniquity. Thank
God that he does not just let us alone. Rather, Jesus,
like Joseph, is our dear brother and he loves us and
shows us the truth, giving us wholeness and peace.