40. Justice

Meditations in Romans : 40:  Justice Demonstrated

Rom 3:25,26 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– 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.

Justice is a key issue at the heart of life. The word ‘just’ means ‘equitable, fair, right, and proper’. Justice is about achieving ends which are equitable, fair, right and proper. In our relativistic age there is a lot of talk about ‘understanding criminals’ or understanding why people are ‘driven’ to do bad things and we excuse them on the basis of their bad backgrounds, their bad education or their bad parents – until they do something to us! The modern trend is to do away with rights and wrongs – until they affect me personally. It is easy to theorise about such things until they hit home personally. Rape is academic until I am raped. Murder is academic until someone tries to kill me. Theft is academic until someone steals what is mine. When any one of those things happens to us, we suddenly want justice! Until then justice, too, can be an academic thing. It can be academic until we are offended against.

Now put yourself in God’s position. He has made a perfect world, given us every form of provision possible for a good life, encouraged us again and again, and all He gets is rejection and reviling, and He has to watch as we abuse one another, abuse His world, and abuse Him. It is very personal for God for He is there and sees it all.

Justice demands that what is wrong is put right. Justice demands that what is stolen is returned. Justice demands that the offender is corrected, even punished, and stopped repeating the offence, for until he does we are all under threat from him. Justice looks at our sins – our wrongs, our failures, our rejections of God, our abuses – and demands they are dealt with, that they be stopped, that they be punished. The easy answer from God’s point of view would be to instantly wipe out and remove all signs of the offender so they no longer offend or threaten people or His earth. How easy that would be to God. But He doesn’t do that because we are told that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and love wants to help, to change, to improve, to bless, to remedy. God wants to act to change the person or situation.

But justice is there demanding action. Justice has always been there demanding action. Something needs to be done, someone needs to pay! There is payment in that every sin does bring upon the person some sort of negative consequence. When we fail to ‘work’ as we were designed to work, then there are repercussions, but those are just normal consequences, natural outworkings of doing foolish things. Justice still stands in the wings and looks for the wrong to be righted, for the offender to be punished. How to punish every sin without destroying the sinner who God wants to draw out of Sin?

The answer has been for an eternal being to come and stand in the place of execution and to take our punishment. Only an eternal being is ‘big enough’ to take any and every sin’s punishment, and it happened in time-space history on the Cross at Calvary two thousand years ago when Jesus died for us. That was exactly what was happening, a ‘sacrifice of atonement’ or a means of fulfilling the demands of justice. This was God who had come ‘to demonstrate his justice.’ This was God ensuring that the demands of justice were fulfilled.

Prior to that there had been the sacrificial system which “left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” The sinner was able to walk away unpunished. Yes, under the sacrificial system an animal died, and animal was seen to carry the punishment for the sinner, and that appeased the conscience of the sinner as they conformed to the law that God had laid down as a means of dealing with their sin. But that, we now understand, simply pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah who would be the eternal Son of God who would died in our place to carry the punishment for each and every individual sin we have ever committed.

This, Paul says of God, he did .. to demonstrate his justice at the present time.” Yes, now in history, he says, we have witnessed justice being administered as an eternal being has died in our place. He did it “so as to be just.” He made sure that justice was genuinely administered, and in so doing Hejustifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Yes, all those who will come in repentance on the basis of what they have been told about what Jesus did on the Cross for them, are forgiven and released from the sentence of death that hung over them. They have been ‘justified’ – made right in God’s sight – because their punishment has been taken, their sins have genuinely been deal with, and justice is satisfied. THAT is what this is all about. Receive it humbly and rejoice with thanksgiving for the wonder of what God has done for us.

20. Laws of Theft

Lessons from the Law: No.20 : Laws of Theft

Ex 22:1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

In the Ten Commandments we have already seen, “You shall not steal” (Ex 20:15) but, as we have already commented, laws are not only to restrain sin, as that command does, they are also to legislate for when sin has occurred. Elsewhere in the Pentateuch we have laws for dealing with that sin before God (laws of sacrifice – see Leviticus) but here in today’s verses we have how to deal with that sin in society. It is a recognition that we live in a Fallen World where people will go contrary to the basic laws God laid down.

So, we now come to the law of straight-forward theft. Being an agricultural economy, theft of animals was clearly the worst sort of theft envisaged because it took away a family’s food or livelihood. Domestic theft is that sort covered here. The law here seems to have an element of deterrence in it. The assumption is, of course, that the thief has been found out. The thief has stolen an animal belonging to someone else and has either killed it or sold it on. If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it.” In other words, there is no possibility of giving it back. The original owner has lost his property and there is no way of returning it.

Now here comes the tough part for the thief: he is to pay back fivefold cattle or fourfold sheep to the man he stole from:he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. Without any doubt that is a strong penalty and a strong deterrent.  A few verses on the possibility of the animal still being alive is dealt with: If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession–whether ox or donkey or sheep–he must pay back double.” (v.4) In other words, he’s not going to get away with just giving back the animal; there is an element or punishment or deterrent about it, for he has to give double what he took. Yet there is a further element to be added: “A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.” (v.3b) This surely is the ultimate deterrent: if you steal and can’t pay the appropriate amounts you will end up working to pay for the debt. It is unclear whether this means slavery, which is unlikely in the light of our previous considerations, and so it probably means, more likely, that he will have to work as a servant, a little bit like our modern community service. It is interesting that our modern law is moving closer to the Law of Moses.

Next comes dealing with the situation of where a thief breaks in and the homeowner, defending himself or his home, kills the intruder: “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.” (v.2,3) The law is very simple: if it happens after dark, the homeowner is not guilty; if it happens in the daylight, he is. Presumably there is a recognition that in the dark there is a greater likelihood of fear and great probability of violent defense, and greater difficulty in being careful to avoid over use of force that might result in death of the intruder. In the daytime presumably there is less fear and it is easier to control what takes place, and therefore the homeowner should do what he can to avoid seriously injuring the intruder. In recent years court cases have come more in line with this way of thinking. It is a recognition of the practical difficulty in carefully defending your home, especially at night.

For those who have the tendency to criticise the Law of Moses as either harsh or outdated, the consideration of these laws should provide an adequate rebuttal for both claims. In each law, that we have been considering in these laws of chapters 21and 22, there is a strong concern for the wellbeing of all the parties concerned. We have also seen that our own legal system now operates in very similar ways to the ways we have been considering. There is nothing haphazard about these laws. They are very down to earth, showing a clear understanding of the failures of the human race while at the same time seeking to provide the best possible guidance for how to deal with those failures. There is nothing ‘religious’ or ‘super-spiritual’ about these laws. To the contrary, they simply display the wisdom and compassion and understanding of the Lord.