Justice for All
Thank you, Rebecca! It’s so good to be worshiping with you all and those on livestream! I’m very excited to jump into Exodus in a moment, and Terrell, thank you for sharing. If God moved in your heart, and you want to know more about Reach, Terrell will be right outside that door at a table after the service. Or if you’re online, you can call the church office to find out how to get connected.
Next week, we begin our new series in the book of Judges. This is a book many people love because of its unforgettable stories and many people hate because of its unforgettable stories. A lot of violence, a little bit of moral chaos, but from start to finish, the book will point us beyond itself to our deepest need. And for that, I am super excited to start Judges next week.
Let’s pray. Father, you are a God of justice. You love it. My sense of justice is so warped. I get really passionate about justice when it benefits me, when something is, I think, owed to me. But I do not love justice like you love justice. You have a deep, objective delight in right. It flows from who you are. It overflows into everything you do. And so we’re asking that this morning, as we sit under your Word that you would stir our moral imagination, increase our delight in you. We pray that as we do that and then apply this to a subject that is extremely controversial and personal, we pray that the enemy would not allow this teaching to be turned into something that heaps shame on people. For those who have made choices in the past they regret, or choices were made for them, we pray that as we talk about justice, we would fix our eyes on Jesus so that the holiness and the gentleness and the sacrificial love and what you did for us on the cross would be preeminent. This is a big request, but we pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
So, everyone is born with a warped but strong sense of justice. Warped and strong, like the four-year-old … when you confront the four-year-old for stealing his brother’s truck, and he immediately, instinctively … you didn’t train him to do this … he protests, “But he popped my balloon!” What is he doing? He’s arguing for justice. It’s built in.
Even pirates love justice. So, in an old, old book called A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates — you know it’s old because the title is so long and interesting — written by Charles Johnson in 1724 during what was known as the Golden Age of Piracy. He records the captain, Sam Bellamy, lecturing (He was a pirate captain, that’s Sam) lecturing a merchant captain, Captain Beer, on how pirates are more moral than merchants. And his argument is heading toward trying to convince — he’s a pirate recruiter — trying to convince Captain Beer to become a pirate. Pardon the pirate language here.
“Damn ye, you are a sneaking puppy.”
Now, somehow those two words don’t seem to go together, the beginning of that phrase and the end; it’s been a long time since this was said.
“You are sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security, for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by their knavery [their dishonesty]. Damn them, for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who served them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference; they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make one of us than sneak after … such villains for employment?”
Do you follow the moral logic? There’s no comparison here, according to Captain Bellamy. You have “you merchants,” who are siding with rich people and using your laws to get rich; “we pirates,” based on our courage, are siding with the poor. Which is better? Do you see it? Little side note: Forbes magazine has listed Captain Bellamy as the richest pirate in history. He had a short career. Most pirates do. In one year, he made over a million and a half dollars, and there’s no evidence that he was sharing this with the poor. So, I’m not sure what he was talking about when he’s talking about siding with the poor.
But this is the pirate version of class conflict, and this kind of moral logic is flourishing today. It’s basically, “Your injustice makes my injustice just.” Your injustice makes my injustice just. Or one injustice justifies another injustice because obviously Captain Bellamy is getting at something, but he’s using that to justify spreading the cancer of injustice.
Almost 3500 years ago, God addressed this mindset in Exodus 23. So, a bit of background on the book of Exodus. Exodus is a book of new beginnings. God has miraculously freed his people from slavery, hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt. He has revealed his law and entered into covenant with his people, and yet one of the things you see very quickly, when you read books like Exodus, is it is far easier to bring people out of bondage than to bring bondage out of people. You notice that? It’s easier to bring people out of bondage than to bring bondage out of people. And so, that’s one of the goals of Exodus, is trying to address each part of their lives that still are shaped with a slavery mindset and move toward a freedom/justice/truth mindset. And the way, the only way that can happen is for them to truly see God as God really is. You get a glimpse of this in what is known as the Song of Moses. Look at this. Deuteronomy 32:4,
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice: a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
Or Psalm 37:28, and if you don’t get anything else out of this message, I pray that you get this:
“For the Lord loves justice.”
Let’s say that together. “For the Lord loves justice.” He loves justice. What does God love? God loves justice! If you want to love what God loves, you must love justice.
So, how does this love of justice shape the lifestyles of this new nation? And in Exodus 23, we get a bit of a glimpse of that. He is systematically dismantling the justifications for injustice and undermining a class-conflict mindset in order to produce this love of justice in his people.
So, seven examples. We’ll walk through them pretty quickly. You’ll see them in your notes there. God is saying, I want justice for all even, verse number 1, even if someone is being discredited. Look at verse 1.
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.”
So, a malicious witness has discredited someone, and now he’s got his hand out to you, big smile, convincing story, and he’s saying, “Come on! Join with me! Like my post!” But what he’s saying is not true, and it’s not kind. Don’t join him, God is saying.
Number 2, verse 2, and you’ll see he’s moving. That’s an obvious one. He’s going to move from the obvious to the less obvious. Verse 2, even if someone is popular:
“You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice.”
So, all the emotional fire is heading in one direction, but what they’re saying is not true. What do you do? God is saying you tell the truth even if no one else is believing it.
Number 3, ratcheting it up a little more, even if someone is poor. Look at verse 3.
“Nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.”
So, your poor neighbor is asking you to stand with him in a lawsuit where he is not telling the truth. Everything in your mind is saying, “But, but he’s had it so hard. Life has been terrible to him. He can’t get a break, and he’s just asking me to stand with him.” And God is saying, “No. You don’t lie. You don’t fight injustice with more injustice. You don’t fight injustice in a way that creates more victims of injustice. You’re just spreading the cancer.”
Now, a little sidebar here: this is where CRT (Critical Race Theory) can fall short. What is CRT? Critical Race Theory is just a tool that helps expose systems that are set up to advantage certain people, certain groups, and disadvantage other groups. The Bible has numerous examples of exposing structures that are set up to hurt some and help others, and Christians need to be very sensitive to opposing those. But where CRT is going astray today is often it is used, not as a tool like that, but a worldview through which you look at all people and classify them as either oppressed or oppressor. And once you fit into one of those classes, everything you do or don’t do is filtered through the lens of the class you occupy. And Exodus is undermining that. When a poor man lies, it’s still a what? A lie. When a rich man tells the truth, it’s still the truth. When a Republican lies, it’s still a lie. When a Republican happens to tell the truth, it’s still the truth. Same with Democrat lie, democrat tell the truth. You get the point. Today, we often filter people through the group they occupy, and if they happen to be with a group we’re like, we’ll look away, even if they’re not telling the full truth because we kind of agree with them, for the most part. Or if they’re in a group we don’t occupy, we will villainize them, even if they’re telling something that happens to be true. Do you see God is saying, I love justice! Don’t put people in a group and then treat them according to their “groupishness” in a way that is unjust.
It’s going to take it up one more level. Next, verse 4, even if someone is hateful:
So, “if you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray [I’m sure that happened to many of you this week.] you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.”
Notice how personal it is. “You shall rescue it with him.” What? With him? My enemy, the one who hates me? No, when I see something bad happen to someone who hates me, I think “karma”! Yes! They got what’s coming to them.
Your friend at school … No, you have an enemy at school, who mocks you, humiliates you, in front of everyone. And one day he loses his phone. Your friend finds the phone, brings it to you, unlocks it, finds pictures that will be humiliating to your enemy, offers you a chance to get even. What do you do? Well, it must be of God. No. Dude, give the phone back. His wrong doesn’t make my wrong right. It’s still stealing. His wrong doesn’t make me doing wrong right. No matter how wrong his wrong is, it doesn’t make my wrong any more right.
Do you see — and I know we’re heading toward the sacrificial love of Jesus — but when you know that love, do you see how it strips us of that slavery mindset? “He hurt me; I’m going to hurt him.” Because when you’ve experienced the unspeakable kindness and forgiveness of Christ, you can look at your enemy and you can say honestly, “There is nothing you can do to make me hate you. There is nothing you can do to make me not love you.” And do you see, I want you to see the freedom in that because you can be brought out of Egypt and still be in chains, chains of bitterness, chains of resentment, chains of insecurity. And what God is doing here is saying, “My people are to be truly free” even when your enemy’s donkey goes astray, even if someone is hateful.
Look at the next one. Even if someone is powerful, verse 6:
“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.”
So, here he flips it. Back in verse 3 he said, “Don’t be partial toward the poor. Don’t lie just because someone’s had a hard life.” But here he flips it and says, “Don’t be partial against the poor. Don’t mistreat someone or misrepresent someone just because powerful people will make it advantageous for you.” God loves justice.
Next, even if someone is profitable, verse 8:
“And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.” So, here you could benefit financially if you would simply shade the truth a bit. Take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted.” For a bribe blinds. People who normally could see clearly when money is flashed before their eyes suddenly go blind, he’s saying. They lose the ability to see clearly. God is warning us of that. “I love justice. I love justice,” God is saying.
And then finally, even if someone is foreign. Look at verse 9:
“You shall not oppress the Sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
This Hebrew word for “sojourner” here is “resident alien,” someone who is foreign but has been welcomed into a country. And here God is stirring our moral imagination. Do you remember what it was like to be in Egypt? To long to be in a place you could call home? To wonder what it would be like to feel like you fit in? To wonder if there would ever be a time where you would truly feel welcomed? Now wonder that again, and then love your neighbor in that way. Treat the one who doesn’t look like you in that way. Respond to those who are social outcasts or don’t know how to navigate the system like you do. Respond to them in that way. Do you see what God is doing? He is stripping them of a slave mindset, pouring in a freedom/justice mindset.
Now someone may say, “Listen. You can’t do that. If you say I’m supposed to have a heart for the sojourner, then automatically that means I hate the local. If you say I’m supposed to love my enemy, then I’m hating my friend. If you say I’m supposed to care about rich people, then that means I hate poor people. Do you see what’s happening? That’s the class-conflict mindset. What I would call a moral polarity. What is polarity? Think North Pole – South Pole, pushing you one way or another. Do you care about rich people, or do you care about poor people? Do you care about enemies or friends? Do you care about locals or foreigners? And Christians say what? Yes. Yes! We care about people. Like Terrell said a few minutes ago, “Made in the image of God — people, little ones, foreign ones, rich ones, poor ones.” And that doesn’t mean we don’t have compassion. God’s going to go on to say, “When you harvest your field, don’t go all the way to the corners. Make sure you leave plenty for poor people.” Justice does not mean we don’t show compassion, but it does mean we look out for the interests of all people, and we refuse to be squished into a class-conflict mindset.
Today, as we’ve mentioned, is Sanctity of Life Sunday. So, I want to take a few minutes and apply this specifically to the subject of abortion. Last month, the Supreme Court heard the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case. Many view this as a very serious challenge to Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court will issue a ruling on this probably sometime this summer. But obviously this has, if possible, ramped up the abortion debate even more in our country. And I would love to address this debate comprehensively, but because of time, we can’t. So, let me just focus in on one tiny part of it. And that is the moral logic.
If you follow the moral logic of this debate today, often you will encounter this moral polarity or this class conflict. I want to show you a video, a promotional video from Guttmacher Institute, which is an abortion rights advocacy group. So, they’re promoting abortion, and they are warning in this video of the danger of limiting or restricting abortion. But what I want us to notice is the moral logic. They’re arguing from a very specific place. First of all, if you are for any kind of restriction, then you are motivated purely by control. You’ll notice that. Secondly, stated and implied, that if you care about unborn babies, then you don’t care about other people. See if you notice this.
“Abortion rights and access are in serious jeopardy. Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, more than 1,330 state-level abortion restrictions have been enacted across the US. Restrictions are about control. They’re designed to make abortion care harder to provide, obtain, and afford. Together, they form massive barriers between pregnant people and the care they want, need, and deserve. And these restrictions are ramping up. Almost half of them were enacted just in the last decade, and more restrictions were enacted in 2021 than ever before. Abortion restrictions hit some communities much harder than others, especially those already marginalized by health care systems. That includes people with low incomes, black and brown people, people with disabilities, young people, and LGBTQ people. We deserve better.”
So did you notice the polarity? If you are for restricting, at all, access to abortion, the taking of an unborn baby’s life, then that means you are against those who are marginalized. You don’t want them to receive… And notice it’s not the ability to have an abortion, it’s abortion care. You don’t want them to be cared for whether it’s black, brown, LGBTQ, young people, disabled people. And the argument is actually brilliant, and it’s working. Young people are overwhelmingly pro-abortion because of this argument. When you frame it this way: are you for the women we know (or maybe the women we are) [or] the unborn baby we don’t know? Which way are you going to go every time? You’re going to go with the woman you know. Always. But what if we didn’t have to look at this issue in that way? What if there was justice for all?
This argument, which the Supreme Court is wrestling with, which brought about Roe v. Wade, is not a new argument in the Supreme Court. Dr. Darel Paul, who is a political science professor at Williams College, has argued this: that the logic of Roe v. Wade is a familiar kind of moral logic. If you go all the way back to 1857, Dred Scott v. Sandford, our Supreme Court sickeningly ruled that African-Americans do not have judicial standing as persons, as citizens of our country. That’s 1857. And the way they came to that position was shocking and sickening, but different than had been ever argued before. It always had been argued that slavery is a necessary evil. That’s bad enough.
But then they took it to another level leading up to that ruling … that slavery is actually a necessary good. Why? Well, for equality. What do you mean “equality”? Well, if we’re going to live equally. For poor white people to live at the same level as rich white people, you need slavery. And that argument won the day in 1857. But a thinking individual is going to ask what question? What about the slaves? Is anybody asking the question, “What about the people who don’t have any rights?” Well, the argument was that they are not human persons. They’re human, but human non-persons. They don’t have legal standing.
The argument is almost identical today with abortion. Nobody today with the ultrasounds, sonograms can argue that an unborn baby is not human. They have their own DNA, a beating heart. They pull away from the pain of the sharp objects that are trying to take their lives in the womb. You can watch it happen. It’s very different than in the 70s when you didn’t know. You thought, “Oh, it’s a clump of cells.” It’s not a clump of cells! It’s a human! Nobody argues that it’s not a human. But it’s unclear. How do you distinguish between a human person — who has judicial standing, legal rights, and protection — and a human non-person? What makes the difference? We got it dreadfully wrong in 1857. And we’re getting it wrong today. God is passionate about justice for all, little image bearers and big image bearers. All are sacred.
Frederica Mathewes-Green used to be a passionate supporter of abortion rights, and then she heard a doctor describe what happens during an abortion, and she flipped immediately, could not support that kind of violence. But years later, she wrote a statement that has been quoted by both pro-life and pro-choice supporters, which, that never happens; so, she must be getting at something important. She said this:
“No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to knaw off its own leg.”
Now, sit in that for a moment. Whether you agree with the analogy or not, she’s getting at something really important. If all Americans don’t embrace this, it doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court rules, we will not make progress in the value of life. What does it feel like to feel caught in a trap with lots of bad options before you? One woman who had an abortion said,
“Everyone around me was saying they would ‘be there for me’ if I had the abortion, but no one said they’d ‘Be there for me’ if I had the baby.”
That has to change. And that’s not just a pro-life issue. That’s a people issue. Everyone has to value life so much so that we are ready to surround women who feel caught in a trap. As you’re watching this video from Piedmont Women’s Center on Grove Road, which you helped build by your giving and volunteering, I want to list some of the services that are offered to pregnant women, many of whom feel caught and trapped.
We need to continue to dismantle the myth that you have to choose: are you for unborn babies, or are you for women? They offer free pregnancy tests, free ultrasounds, women’s health services, adoption referrals, parenting plan called Bright Course, one-on-one parenting training, culminating in free car seat, diapers, etc. They have many services, including counseling men and ways that men can truly help. We have to move away from the class-conflict mindset.
As Frederica writes,
“The issue gets presented as if it’s a tug of war between the woman and the baby. We see them as mortal enemies, locked in a fight to the death. But that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? It must be the first time in history when mothers and their own children have been assumed to be at war. We’re supposed to picture the child attacking her, trying to destroy her hopes and plans, and picture the woman grateful for the abortion, since it rescued her from the clutches of her child.”
Dr. King wrote from the Birmingham Jail,
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Let’s pray for justice for all. Father, you love justice. You are known as the God of justice. You delight in right. You loathe evil and injustice. You cannot overlook wrong. You are holy, holy, holy. We are not. We pursue justice selectively. We posture and try to figure out what kinds of justice might advantage us or disadvantage someone else. So, we are before you crying out for mercy. Forgive us when we don’t love justice like you do. Have mercy on our nation, which claims in its motto to seek justice for all, but has a really bad track record. We pray that your people would be different, that we of all people, who see the justice we deserve, that every one of us, right this moment in the presence of a holy God, should be in hell right now. We should be burning under your wrath. If you poured out justice, we would have no defense. None of us can talk fast enough or well enough to argue our way out. We would be fried, but we are not.
This morning, we are swimming in a sea of kindness poured all over us. It Is your grace. And it’s not because you’re not just; it’s because you are just. All the wrath we deserved went on your Son on the cross. Jesus, you took our just penalty so that we would not be under your just wrath. So, of all people, we should be a people who are all about justice for all. God, please, awaken our hearts to your love of justice. We can’t understand grace if we don’t understand justice. Grace is meaningless; why do we need grace if there isn’t justice? We won’t be secure in your love if we don’t understand your justice, that the penalty has been paid. So, I’m praying, Lord. Right now we’re praying together wherever we are. Some of us are numb right now. Our hearts are cold. Please awaken our hearts, stir us, warm us. Some of us are just so caught up with our own lives, we don’t have any time nor care for the most vulnerable around us or for those who feel caught in a trap. We can point a finger, but we can’t lend a hand. Forgive us, send us out in a little bit with hearts so full of gratefulness for your grace that we take your truth and your love into places where people have no hope.
And Lord, I pray specifically for some, who are hearing this message who have had abortions, and it feels like their shame is overwhelming and their guilt is just crushing them, I pray that right now he/she would run to Jesus. Jesus, you are moving near. You’re not pointing a finger. You paid for our sin. You’re flipping the script. Thank you, Lord. Thank you. We never lose the wonder that you can take a story of disgrace and turn it into a story of grace. And you’re doing that right now as we cry out to you. God, continue to kindle in us a love of justice, and may it change Greenville in Jesus’ name. Amen.