My name is Matt Nestberg, and I get to serve as one of the pastors here at North Hills. Today we are finishing the Book of Judges. And before we do that, I just want to mention two things.
First of all, I want to take a minute on behalf of the North Hills Student Ministries, pastors and staff to say congratulations to the Class of 2022, all the students who have graduated from high school or college this year. So, congratulations! And let’s give them a round of applause. You seniors have done a great job, and for many of you who have come through North Hills and kidstuff, for many years it’s been a joy to watch you grow up. It’s exciting to see what God has next for your life. We will continue to pray for you as you go forward. We want you to know that North Hills, we hope you’ll feel like North Hills will always be your home.
And also to the parents, we want to say congratulations because we know that that’s a big effort on your part for that to happen. So, way to go. And we want you to also know that we’re thankful for you. We’re asking God to give you grace in these transitions as you seek to follow the Lord in whatever he has next for you as well.
And then the last people I want to thank on that is the Alive Life Group leaders that have participated in discipling and caring for these students as they’ve gone through student ministry. Some of those Alive leaders have discipled your children for six years straight, from 7th grade through 12th grade, and now done with high school. So, I just want to say thank you to many of you who serve week after week after week, month after month after month, to invest in the lives of people. So, thank you for that. Yeah. Good job. I’m going to pray about that just a minute.
But before I do, the second thing I want to mention is, at the end of our time in the world today, I’m going to lead us as we take the Lord’s Supper together, and I’ll say a little bit more about that when we get to the end. But I want to give you the details up front so when we get there, we can just go right into the Lord’s Supper.
I want to start by answering the who and the how. The who is that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed was with his followers and gave them bread and wine as a remembrance, an ongoing grace to them as he went to the cross so that they could remember what he had done for them. So, this is simply for the followers of Jesus. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, maybe you’re checking out the claims of Christ, but you’re not yet sure, you’re not yet following him, we ask you to refrain. And if you are a follower of Jesus, we want you to participate, whether you’re a member here or not, because that’s who Jesus gave this to. Later on, when we do that, if you are following Jesus, we want you to participate with us.
And then the how, that’s the who. Here’s the how. The how is at the end of my sermon, I’ll pray, some people will come to the front and pass out bread and grape juice to you in these little cups. And if you’ll just hold on to that. Then I’ll come back up, and we’ll all take the bread together and then take the cup together. That’s how that will work. And that’s all.
And now I’m going to pray and the three things I’m going to pray for are, I’m going to pray for the graduates and their families so we can join our hearts to pray for that. I also want to pray for Peter and Karen Hubbard, our teaching pastor. They are in Houston today, and Karen goes to MD Anderson tomorrow to begin her treatment. And so we want to remember to pray for them. And then thirdly, pray for our time together in God’s Word. So let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, thank you so much for the work you’ve done in and through those who are graduating from high school and college and have graduated this year. We have great hope for their future. We pray, God, that you would mold them into the men and women that you want them to be, not who necessarily their parents or family and friends think they should be, but how you, Lord, want to mold them in your image and and make them the kind of disciples that you see fit. So, we pray for that. We pray for their families, their parents, and the families and friends that are around them.
We pray, Lord, for their moms and dads, as they are also going through a transition with their kids moving to different places and doing different things. I pray, Lord, that you would be with those parents, that they would have wisdom for what’s next. I ask that you would protect their marriages. So many, when the kids leave home, decide they don’t like each other anymore, and they also leave each other. I pray, Lord Jesus, that you would protect the marriages of the people in this room, that if that’s happened — where people have kind of looked at each other and said, “I’m not sure I know you anymore after all these years we spent investing in our children” — that they would do what is necessary to reinvest in each other in this great relationship between husband and wife so that that may be renewed. We asked that Lord Jesus, that you would give grace for that and patience. Whatever is the next phase or stage for those who are the parents, that you would lead them as well and make them embrace that next stage in the way that you would see fit.
And God, we remember, too, Peter and Karen today. Our hearts are with them. The only reason I’m standing here is because they are there. And I pray that you would be with them as they sleep tonight and then get up early in the morning to see what’s next. Lord Jesus, we pray for healing that you would touch Karen’s body. Heal her from cancer. Take it away as you see fit. And Lord Jesus, that you would help Peter to be patient and courageous, loving his wife and listening and walking through this with her, that you would free him from any cares or worries of what’s happening at North Hills while he’s gone, but that he’d be able to to just continue on in the next steps that you have for them. We pray for grace, lots and lots of grace. We join our hearts together, God, to beg you for grace towards them. Remember your servants and give them your mercy this next week.
And today, Lord Jesus, we also need your grace. I pray that you would fill me with the Spirit and be able to communicate the things that you have. I pray that I wouldn’t say things that are unhelpful or that you wouldn’t also say. But help me to say the things that would be helpful for your people. These are your sheep. I desire to be an under shepherd serving your priorities and your values. And I pray that that would come through today as we look at your Word in Jesus name, amen.
Well, we’re going to start as we wrap up the end of Judges, we’re going to start this morning by talking about Shakespeare, which is not in Judges, in case you were wondering. But we are going to talk about Shakespeare this morning and one of his plays, one of his well-known plays called Romeo and Juliet, one of the Shakespearean tragedies, Romeo and Juliet. You probably know it well or know something of it. But in case you’ve forgotten, I’m going to give you the two-minute recap of Romeo and Juliet. Are you ready? Romeo and Juliet is kind of like the Hatfields and McCoys, and it’s definitely like West Side Story. So, if you’ve seen West Side Story, it’s the same thing. It’s just a little updated.
Okay, but Romeo and Juliet goes like this. You have the Montagues and the Capulets, which are two powerful families, and they are in a feud. That’s the Hatfields and McCoys parallel there. They’re in a feud. The head of the Capulets, which is Juliet’s dad, Juliet Capulet, it’s her dad, decides to throw a feast. And he’s throwing the feast because he has invited a man named Count Paris who he wants to introduce to his daughter, helps set them up so that they’ll get married. However, he throws this feast, and some of the Montagues sneak in, in disguise in the feast. One of them is a kid named Romeo Montague who sneaks into this feast. He and Juliet meet. They instantly fall in love. And then you have this scene outside the balcony where Romeo hangs around at the feast at the Capulets. And he’s waiting for Juliet to appear at the balcony. And he waits and waits and waits. And you have lines like Shakespeare writes (this is Romeo talking),
“But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks. It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Very poetic. And Juliet says,
“Oh, Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
And so they talk. They decide, hey, this is real. We’re going to get married tomorrow. It’s every father’s dream for his daughter, for her to meet a guy and get married the next day.
So, that’s what they decide to do. They decide to get married the next day, which they do. They get married secretly, so no one knows. And they are now married. Romeo and Juliet. Well, Romeo’s, excuse me, Juliet’s dad, Mr. Capulet, doesn’t know about the marriage, but decides, hey, Count Paris is the guy for Juliet. Let’s get them together. And he decides that they are going to get married the next day after that, and they are going to get married together. I guess long engagements weren’t popular back then. So, he decides they’re going to get married the next day. Well, the local friar says I’m going to help Juliet out by faking her death. So, he makes a potion and has her drink this very strong sleeping potion that will put her into a deep sleep, which appears like death. He spreads the word that Juliet has died. Except he has a messenger who’s supposed to go to Romeo and deliver the news that Juliet is not actually dead. She’s just in this deep sleep. And so everything’s going to work out great, except the messenger gets delayed and doesn’t do his job. And so, everybody’s mourning. Juliet’s dead. Romeo hears that Juliet’s dead. He shows up at the tomb to mourn for Juliet. Count Paris is there already mourning for Juliet. Romeo kills Count Paris. He goes into the tomb, finds the dead Juliet, drinks poison. He dies. She wakes up, realizes he’s dead and didn’t get the word. She stabs herself, and she dies. And then, and only then do the Capulets and Montagues decide this feud isn’t that important. After all, let’s make peace. And that’s Romeo and Juliet, isn’t it encouraging? It’s a great, great story.
Well, as I mentioned, that’s written by William Shakespeare, and it’s known as a Shakespearean tragedy. Shakespearean tragedies are a genre that has specific elements. And I want to give you the nine elements of Shakespearean tragedies. Now, just hang with me. I will get to Judges, okay? I will get there. So, here are the nine elements of Shakespearean tragedies. They are… I’m going to go through them relatively fast.
In the tragedies, there is a tragic hero. It’s usually a prince, a king or a general. It’s some sort of hero who has a fatal flaw. There is good versus evil, and evil wins. There is what’s called hamartia, which is sin or error. The hero falls usually because of some kind of character flaw. There is tragic waste. The hero dies with his opponent. In other words, good is destroyed with evil. There’s conflict, both internal and external. There is catharsis, which is the audience’s release of emotions. That happens, too. There are supernatural elements — awe, wonder, and fear. There’s the absence of poetic justice. Poetic justice is when good is rewarded, and evil is punished. That doesn’t happen in tragedies. And there’s comic relief. Tragedies serve a purpose. For example, they demonstrate the struggle between good and evil.
Now I want you to consider something. The Book of Judges is a tragedy. And it serves as a tragedy in the Bible. Now, I’m not saying it’s a Shakespearean tragedy. Shakespeare was 2500 years after Judges. But it serves like a tragedy in the Bible. As you read it, you go, “Yuck! This is tragic.” And it is. Judges is filled with tragedy. Know some of it sounds Shakespearean. I mean, Samson is the perfect Shakespearean character, isn’t he? He’s perfect. Now, he’s not perfect, but he would work with Shakespeare. But it has some of these, like, tragic heroes with fatal flaws, like Shakespeare. There’s good versus evil, and evil often wins. Samson dies with the Philistines. He’s the hero, but he dies too. There’s sin and tragic waste and supernatural elements and very little poetic justice. There’s not a lot of comic relief, but there is some. Like Samson and his riddles that he tells. Or how about this one? When Samson decides to burn the Philistines crops, he doesn’t just burn them. He catches foxes, lights their tails, and sends them through the crops. That’s kind of funny. I mean, it’s cruel. But it’s funny, too, because, I mean, you could have just burned the crops. Did you have to do the whole fox thing? But he does. That’s Samson.
There’s all these elements that are in there. Judges is a tragic tale of Israel’s total failure. Like other tragedies, Judges has a purpose. For example, Judges as a warning for those who would forsake God’s will and God’s way. But here’s what’s different. Judges is part of a bigger story. When set in the Bible, you have to look at Judges by itself, but also within the metanarrative of the Bible, the larger story of the Bible, because it plays a role. And we’ll see that unfold, I hope today. It plays a role in the larger story of the Bible. And when you do that, when it’s set within the metanarrative of the Bible, there is gospel hope in Judges.
Today is our final Sunday in the Book of Judges, and my job has been given to me to highlight the gospel in the book of Judges, especially as it relates to the bigger story of the Bible. So, that’s what I’m going to try to do. And I’m going to try to do that in a few ways. I’m going to tell you what that is, and then we’re going to jump in. I’m going to try to do that in a few ways. I’m going to try to show these little threads that run through Judges — they’re not even really themes — they’re more just threads that connect to the rest of the Bible that show us gospel hope. I’m going to try to connect it to Jesus, connect it to other New Testament writers who are drawing these things out and setting it within the larger scene, and then connect it to us. That’s a long journey. So, let’s get to it. We’re going to talk about gospel hope in Judges, or ways that we see some gospel hope in Judges, or what is God doing in this tragedy. So, let’s take a look. I’m going to give you four things. Here they are.
Number one, God works throughout history, judging and redeeming his people. God works throughout history, judging and redeeming his people. We see this in Judges. Each story is an example of God’s work in history. The evidence begins in chapter 2, which gives us the overall cycle of the book. The cycle of the book, judge after judge, is sin. The people sin, which is followed by oppression. The people repent. God raises up a judge which gives them temporary deliverance, which leads to peace — sometimes long periods of peace — only for the cycle to start again from sin, oppression, repentance, deliverance, peace. Sin, oppression, repentance, deliverance, peace. And this happens over and over again in the Book of Judges. Judges 2 introduces us to that cycle that just continues throughout the rest of the book.
Also Judges 2 tells us what God is doing, that God is intervening in history, working throughout history, judging and redeeming his people. It tells us what the people do and what God does, and it names him. In our Bibles, it’s the all caps LORD, which is his name, Yahweh. That’s God. That’s his name. My name is Matt. His name is Yahweh. And it says that this is what Yahweh is doing. The people do this, and Yahweh does that. Let me give you some examples from Judges chapter 2.
“They [the people] abandoned Yahweh.” They provoked Yahweh. They abandoned Yahweh. The anger of Yahweh was kindled. And he gave — here’s him working — He gave them over to the plunderers. He sold them into the hands of their surrounding enemies. The hand of Yahweh was against them. The LORD, Yahweh warned. The LORD had sworn Yahweh raised up judges. The LORD was with the judge and he saved them from the hand of their enemies, and Yahweh, the LORD was moved to pity.
This is God working throughout history of his people, judging and redeeming them. Sin, oppression, deliverance, repentance, peace. And God is working as the cycle continues. But it’s not limited to the judges. We see that there. But God continues his work throughout human history.
The incarnation of Jesus, the only begotten from the Father, is the personification of God’s work in human history. God is working, and then God comes in as a person and continues his work. Jesus stops the cycle with God’s people, not with supernatural powers like Samson or Gideon, but by laying down his own life. That’s the message of the gospel. Jesus’s life, death, burial and resurrection is the hope that ultimately stops the tragedy of Judges. It’s Jesus that does it.
Now, this is a super encouraging word, if we think about it, and I think it’s one of the things that we parents are called to pass on to the next generation. I was reflecting this week on Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which you’ve probably heard, but it says this.
“These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
What things? Well, the immediate context is, “You shall love the Lord, your God.” But in the larger context of everything that Moses is calling God’s people to teach them about God, and that they repeat over and over and over again is,
“I am the Lord your God who saved you out of the land of Egypt.”
That’s what they teach, that this is who God is and what He does. We are to teach the next generation who God is and what He has done. And one of the things we see about who he is and what he does is that he’s working. That God is continuing to work throughout history, judging and redeeming his people.
The reason we say, “I am the Lord your God who saved you out of the hand of the Egyptians is because that’s who he is.” That’s the kind of God he is. He’s a saving God. He’s a delivering God. He’s a judging God. He’s a redeeming God. That’s what he does. And it didn’t stop then. He continues to do it today. How encouraging is that? How optimistic is that? The message of the gospel, the incarnation itself is that God is working even when things look bleak.
Now church, think with me for a minute. That applies today. God is working today. No matter how pessimistic things might look. When we live in a world that’s filled with fear of pandemics and politicians and every other blight that would come on us. We are people not of fear, but of faith. We are people who say God is working now, judging and redeeming his people. And I know that because he’s always done it. And Judges is a testament of that, that God is active, he is working. He has not left us alone.
So, yes, there is evil and oppression and terrible things. And at the same time, God is working. The gospel is not cataclysmic. It’s not, the world is spinning out of control. Everybody’s going to hell. Let’s just build high walls and hunker down until the apocalypse is over. That’s not the gospel. The gospel is what Jesus said to Peter when he said,
“On this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
That’s a message of hope. That’s a message of optimism. That’s a message of something completely different than the world has. That’s a message of, yes, there is evil. And yes, there are hard things. And the church advances by the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen. We need this word today that God is working right now. He is working right now. And I’m going to circle back to this at the end to show you another beautiful way that God worked, even in the darkness of justice. But we need this word that God is working today, judging and redeeming his people.
Number two. God delivers in surprising ways. God delivers in surprising ways. Some of them are just little, and some of them are big, like Ehud. Ehud is a southpaw. You know, he’s a lefty. And the text points it out that God even uses lefties. Isn’t that encouraging if you are left handed? In case you didn’t know that? It’s true. And it’s like, well, that’s an interesting thing to point out, but it does, in surprising ways. Or Deborah and Jael were unpromoted women. Now I’m not saying that in a pejorative way against strong women, and neither is the text. Deborah actually says it to Barak. Because she says, “Go save God’s people.” And he’s like, “Well, I mean, if you’ll go with me.” She’s like, glory is going to go to another person. It’s going to be a woman. Because you, the military leader, are afraid. You’re a coward. And Jael, instead, It’s Deborah and Jael, the other woman who drives the stake in what’s-his-name’s head. And ends it. Gideon was a coward, and yet God used him and delivered through him. Samson was morally bankrupt. And yet God used them. This is what God does. He works in surprising ways through really messed up, broken people. That’s what God does.
One of the ways that this comes out in the New Testament is something that jumped out to me in Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 is the text that uses all that “by faith.” By faith Abraham, by faith Sarah, by faith … It does that number. Remember, we call this the Hall of Faith. Hebrews 11 is called the Hall of Faith. It has all these Old Testament examples of people that walked by faith. And so I thought, I wonder if it mentions judges, any of the judges. So, I looked at, it and it does. Hebrews 11:32, says,
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah.”
And I thought, why in the world did it name the bad ones? Why didn’t you say Ehud and Othniel, Deborah? It says Gideon, who was a coward, Barak who was a coward, Samson, who was morally bankrupt, and Jephthah, the who killed his daughter. Why does it named the bad ones? And it goes on verse 33,
“who, through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness.”
I think that’s a really important phrase.
“Became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”
Why? Why name the bad ones? Because I think the writer of Hebrews is making the same point, that God saves in surprising ways. He delivers in surprising ways. I’m going to point out the worst examples and say, “Yeah, but look at what God did.” In ways that you wouldn’t expect, up to and including Jesus himself. That’s his point. He’s going to get us to there in Hebrews 12, looking to Jesus. But that’s also surprising because when Jesus came on the scene, he wasn’t impressive. He was born poor. He was a carpenter. In fact, when Jesus starts his public ministry in Luke chapter 4, he goes into the temple, he opens the scroll, and he reads from Isaiah 61, and this is what he reads.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And He identifies himself as the Messiah. I am that guy. I’m doing what Isaiah 61 said. Now, if you’re a people that’s living under the oppression of a foreign, invading army — just imagine for a minute — and a guy says, Isaiah 61 is happening. Liberty, justice, freedom. We’re Americans. We get that. You just want to stand up, put your hand over your heart and shoot off the fireworks for the 4th of July, right? But you know what they say? They say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s kid? We know him.” That’s how they respond. And then it gets worse from there. He’s come to give freedom from oppression. And they’re like, we know this guy. He works in the carpenter shop. This is not happening because God delivers in surprising ways. When Jesus himself came on the scene, when God himself came on the scene, people were like, “Nah, that’s not him.”
The Gospel of Mark does the same thing. It repeatedly gives us this upside down view of Jesus’s priorities, upside down from a human perspective. Let me give you two examples. In Mark, the insiders are out, and the outsiders are in. For example, in Mark 3:31, they say, “Hey, Jesus, your mother and brothers are here to see you. And then what does he say? Not, “Oh, Ma, Ma, she’s here? Bring her in!” He says,
“Who are my mother and brothers? Those who hear the Word of God and do it. You are my mother and brothers.”
That is a surprising response. And in the South, you get that. The importance of family, it was the same in that culture. Family, so important, and Jesus flips it upside down and says, “My family are those who are in this family by the word. He says this in Mark 8.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
You think I’ve come to overthrow Rome and establish my kingdom here? Here’s the way forward.
“Take up your cross, deny [yourself], and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake in the gospel’s will save it.”
That’s upside down. Compared to what people thought. And then Jesus delivers by dying. Not with the jawbone of a donkey. That’s how he delivers. It’s surprising.
The Apostle Paul continues this upside down surprising plan of deliverance. By the way, I want to mention this. The Apostle Paul was the guy that took the gospel to the entire Roman world at that time. Do you remember at the end of Judges when you had the Benjaminites who were nearly wiped out, except for 600 of them, who kidnaped women so that the tribe of Benjamin would continue? Remember that horrific ending to Judges that we ended up with last week? The Apostle Paul is a Benjaminite. He’s the descendant of this horrific story at the end of Judges. And yet, God surprisingly, uses a descendant of that horrific situation to take the gospel to the entire world. That’s cool.
1 Corinthians 1, Paul continues this upside down view when he says,
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
God saves in surprising ways, even through a crucified Deliverer, Savior. He doesn’t usually deliver through human power or wisdom, nor through human political power or the power of human kings. It’s tempting to trust in human kings when they make big promises about how they’re going to help you. But usually it’s the unexpected that will be God’s messenger, his deliverer, or his means of grace.
Number three. God makes sure that the unrepentant get justice. God makes sure that the unrepentant get justice. Justice is the administering of deserved punishment or reward. It’s the administration of deserved punishment or reward. That’s just. That’s justice. The entire book of Judges is a circle of justice: God executing justice to bring his people to repentance, disciplining them, to bring them to repentance, and judging the unrepentant to bring them to justice. Each pagan people received justice. But the problem with Judges is that justice — there are too many “j” words. But you got to hang with me. The problem with Judges is that justice is temporary in Judges. Isn’t it? It only happens for a little period of time. For example, when you get to first Samuel, you remember the Philistines were addressed and judges, as were the Amorites. Well, they’re back in 1 Samuel. They weren’t wiped out. They weren’t destroyed. They continue to plague Israel. It was temporary, and all justice is temporary until Jesus finally does something about it. All justice is temporary until Jesus finally does something.
So, what does Jesus do? Let me give you two things that Jesus does. Number one, he is the just Judge. Jesus is the just Judge. Jesus’s intent is to be the one that ultimately sets everything right. The Jesus Storybook Bible says that “everything sad will come untrue.” That’s what Jesus does. He makes everything sad come untrue. He will be the just Judge. One place that we see that is in Revelation Chapter 19, which says this,
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True. [That’s Jesus.] And in righteousness, he [Jesus] judges and makes war….”
So, this is the same God of Judges. Jesus isn’t the nice one, and in the Old Testament God is the bad one. Jesus is also the Judge. He judges and
“makes war from his mouth [verse 15] comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
That’s Jesus. He is the just Judge, the one that will finally make everything right, the one that will finally make everything sad come untrue. Which raises this question. What are you waiting on? When you look around at the evil that is around us, the oppression, the injustice, it’s like, “Come on, come quickly, Lord Jesus!” I’m sure that many of you in this room, when faced with the trauma, destruction, heartache and the effects of sin in the world, have prayed, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Why doesn’t he? Well, 2 Peter 3:9 tells us. It says,
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness. But is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
That’s the answer. Jesus doesn’t want anybody to perish, but that all would repent. And the straightforward answer is, grace. He’s waiting so that more will come to faith. And everyone that knows someone who is away from the Lord and has rejected the Lord and prays that they would repent, has also prayed, “Don’t come yet. Please don’t come yet.” Because as soon as the ark door closes, no one else can get in. And so, Jesus waits. He waits. He’s patient. He’s giving more grace and more grace and more grace so that more people can come in. And that’s hard to wait. That’s what he’s doing. He’s the just Judge.
Number two, that goes with that, he’s the justifier. Jesus makes the unrighteous righteous through faith in Jesus. He declares those who are guilty to be righteous. One place the New Testament says this is in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul writes,
“For our sake, he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Martin Luther calls this the great exchange where the many guilty become the righteousness of God, and the one Righteous who perfectly kept the law takes on the sin of the many. That’s what God does. He exchanges. So, we are not just “not guilty,” we are righteous. It’s not that we just didn’t do sin. We have the righteousness of Christ. And He takes the sin on Him and crucifies it to the cross with his body.
Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf describes how the justice of Jesus frees God’s people — us, the Church — to be people of justice, but not people of vengeance. That’s the difference. There’s a difference between the two. And he writes this.
“By suffering violence as an innocent victim, [Jesus] took upon himself the aggression of the persecutors. He broke the vicious cycle of violence by absorbing it, taking it upon himself.”
Jesus doesn’t reflect violence back and say, “Oh yeah, like in Judges? They did what? They did what? Oh, let’s raise an army and go get them.” That’s not what Jesus does. He absorbs it. He says,
“He refused to be sucked into the automatism of revenge.”
We don’t use the word automatism very often. At least I don’t. But you can see what it means. Automatic. He refuses to be sucked into the, “You slap me. I’ll slap you. You take that. I’ll take that.” You see, all the time. It’s easy to see it in little kids. It’s also easy to see it in the world. This automatism of revenge. Instead, Jesus absorbs it himself. The just work of Jesus sucks the power and meaning out of vengeance. That’s why Paul can write what we heard read earlier, which sounds nothing like Judges. Paul wrote,
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all…. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’
That’s the just Judge and the Justifier judging.
“To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning calls on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
God, make sure that justice is ultimately executed. That makes no sense unless Jesus is the just Judge and the Justifier.
Last thing, number four. The last thing is that God provides the King that his people need. God provides the King. There was no king in Israel. It says over and over again in Judges, especially the last several chapters. Over and over again, there was no king in Israel. The repeated refrain. Everybody else had a king. I thought it was interesting. As you read Judges, it lists so many other kings. It’s like everybody had a king but Israel. There was the king of Mesopotamia. There was the king of Moab who was Eglon, the fat guy. There was the king of Canaan – Jabin, King of Midian, Shechem – who was Abimelech, of the Ammonites of Edom, the king of the Amorites. There are all these kings; and yet there is no king in Israel. Just repeats it. There is no king in Israel. It’s like it’s building this anticipation that there’s no king in Israel. Everybody else has got one, but they don’t have one.
And again, pictured within the larger story of the Bible, it’s not as dark as you think. As Peter mentioned last week, if you just turn the page to Ruth, you realize what’s going on. Ruth 1:1 says this.
“In the days when the judges ruled.”
So, whatever’s happening in Ruth happened during Judges. What happens in Ruth? Do you know? Ruth is the line of David. King David of Israel and also the line of Jesus. So, you have at the end of Ruth, you have Ruth was married to Boaz. Boaz, by the way, side note, was Rahab’s son. Rahab of Jericho. Remember her? It’s amazing all the people that are in this line. Rahab, then Boaz, Boaz and Ruth had Obed. Obed had Jesse, and Jesse had David. King David. The quintessential king of Israel.
Now listen. Here’s another way that God is working throughout history, judging, redeeming his people. As all this mess of Judges is going on, so is Ruth. God is setting up the line of David while all this junk is going on. There’s no king in Israel. There’s no king in Israel. There’s no king in Israel. Meanwhile, God’s working. He’s doing things that we don’t even know. And that brings us full circle. There was no king in Israel while God setting up the king, David, and ultimately the King Jesus, the judge, the Savior and the King. God is at work. Judging and redeeming as people.
In conclusion. What do we do with this tragic tale of Judges? Here are a couple of thoughts I’ll share with you, and then I’m done. Couple of thoughts. Judges should be a warning to all. To all of us, because nobody escapes the horrific events of Judges. So, it should be a warning to all of us because we see God, the Judge. And the New Testament reinforces that it’s Jesus. He is the just Judge. He is the Judge and King. So, it should stand as a warning. That’s one of the purposes of a tragedy.
And secondly, the end of the tragedy foreshadows an optimistic turn of hope as we look to Jesus, the Judge, the Savior and King. He is the just Judge and Justifier of all those who have faith in Jesus. Judges points to Jesus. It’s easy to remember. In a few minutes, we are going to celebrate that as we take the Lord’s Supper. We’re going to continue to think. And I just want to encourage you, as we do so, to think about those things, how Judges points us to Jesus. We’re going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and rest in that message of hope by singing and taking this bread and juice. Judges has been heavy, but we know the one who’s our Judge, our Savior, and our King. And that reality gives us comfort in any present things, weights that we carry today. So, as we take the Lord’s Supper, I hope that you’ll join me as we reflect on those things. So, let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, we ask that you would keep these things ahead of us. Thank you for giving us a physical means whereby we can remember your broken body and shed blood. Thank you for giving us the optimism of seeing the threads of Judges and how they turn us to Christ. The only begotten Son from the Father who is full of grace and truth. Our King. Our judge. Our Savior. Fill our hearts as we rejoice in those things now. We pray in Jesus’s name, amen.