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Insight #3 July 16, 2016
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Third Quarter 2016 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament- Part 1
July 16, 2016

 
The lesson this week is so timely, with all the events taking place in the news recently, which raise issues of equality, justice, the need to help the poor and needy, and to speak out as to how all the events relate to the issue of the Character of God, and also the Great Controversy Theme, for "man's inhumanity to man is our greatest sin", and also, Christ's character is clearly described in Acts 10:37 as one going about "doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him." 
 
Our Memory Text is Psalm 146:7-9.  The text describes the character of God as one caring for the oppressed, hungry, prisoners, handicapped, the foreigner, fatherless, and the widow.  I remember a Charlie Brown cartoon once, in which Charles Schultz was influenced by his Christian background, and thus in the cartoon Charlie and Lucy express sympathy to Snoopy as he shivers in the cold in the winter time and say "God bless You."  Snoopy responds, "I would have rather they gave me a coat."  Justice and mercy in the Old Testament, as well as the New, are speaking not only about the character of God, but also Christianity in action.  If we are truly His, we will passionately care about and provide for the poor and the powerless.  But now I will challenge you a bit.  Are the categories of the "poor" and the "powerless" only the ones we typically think of, or are there even more areas of life that could fall under these categories.  There are certainly serious issues of poverty, which Christ said would always be with us.  There are serious issues in the U.S. and the world of economic inequality, educational inequality, racial, ethnic, and cultural prejudice and bigotry, sex slavery, molestation, marital violence, rape, sexual exploitation, religious violence, political lies and exploitation, chrony capitalism, greed and selfishness of businessmen, inequalities in health care, drug issues, and many, many other issues.  God created us all a part of the human race, and people everywhere want homes, a family, a good job, freedom, religious liberty, and justice and fairness.  We as Christians ought to do all we can to ensure to the degree possible in this fallen world that we care for those less fortunate, oppressed, mistreated, etc.  But then I ask a question.  "How far are you willing to take it?"  I am going to stretch your thinking.  Let us say that a policeman is accused of a racist act, driven from his position, prejudged before all the evidence comes in, and then when the case is completed, it becomes obvious that the original "rush to judgement" was wrong.  Should we help him financially and otherwise as a result of "injustice" as well.?  What if someone is poor because they refuse to work, thus violating basic Biblical principles that God himself has laid out?  What do you do with the text that says that He who will not work should not eat, and thus is stealing in the process.  I am speaking hypotheticals, but they are real examples in today’s world.  I realize that the former I mentioned are far more prevalent and important, but if we truly believe in Justice and Mercy, we need to stretch ourselves in being honest, sympathetic, and responsible wherever and whenever an injustice has occurred, without any boundaries to those principles.  Moreover, are we willing to speak out against acts of violence, retaliation, revenge, and hatred in response to injustice, when the Bible says to "overcome evil with good" and to "love your enemies", and to allow God alone to seek vengeance?
 
The early Old Testament was replete with a concern for social justice, wanting to create a world in which people had opportunity, justice, and peace would be seen as God's ideal.  Sadly, through the recalcitrance of the Jews to experience the Gospel and the power of Agape Love, when self became the motivating factor in their lives, they not only failed to evangelize the gospel in relation to the truths of God and the coming Messiah, they also failed to model and witness to principles that would have benefited society in general, and caused many to question why they were so fully blessed.  In only short sections of Old Testament history could they really fulfill their destiny, such as, for a time, under the rule of Solomon.  Sadly, for most of their history, their experience was marked by rebellion, and injustice towards God in that rejection of His grace, for how we treat God is how we treat others, and vice versa.   
 
The Three Sabbaths discussed under Sunday's lesson reveal God's concern that all have equal opportunity to rest and worship, a time for canceling debts and freeing slaves, the restoration of sold property, the careful stewardship of the land, and in every respect protecting against extremes that can occur in a selfish society.  When we reflect on what the violation of these principles mean, we realize much more why God finally placed them in captivity.  We live in a pluralistic society today in which it is much more difficult to implement these principles, but our concerns for poverty, slavery, and simply the opportunity for a "new start" should still exist.
 
Jesus said that the "Sabbath was made for man."  Mark 2:27. The Sabbath, and all the privileges and opportunities it brings to man should and has universal application.  Israel had a calling to be a "light to the gentiles” Is. 49:6, and a deep understanding of the Sabbath rest, with implications for the commonality among us all in experiencing it obviously points to the need for the entire world to experience its blessing.  If the Sabbath is a blessing to you, see that you share the truth to others, for God wants all to experience rest, peace, fellowship, worship, communion with Him, and the Gospel projected into that special time of fellowship with God. 
 
Tuesday's lesson is a clarion call for us to speak up for those who may not be able to fully speak for themselves.  If there are inequalities in the justice system, economic system, educational system, political system, as there obviously is, it is our duty to seek to let people know we care, and to contact leaders to really embrace these issues.  We also need to educate on what God's methods are.  Revelation 11:18 says that the "nations were angry."  We, in our call for justice, can only use God's method, which is love.  Love has many dimensions to it, but it does not include justifying sinning for the sake of obtaining justice, it does not include unforgiveness, evil surmising, bitterness, rage, revenge, separatist mentalities, for Satan does not care HOW you develop a Satanic character of anger, etc. just as long as He gets you there.  Our working for justice NEVER takes us out of the realm of our continual call, seen in Isaiah 43:7, to reflect the glory of God in our characters.  The Social Gospel does not take the Christian out of the Gospel experience.  Real justice is understood as coming from God, and that the only resolution to injustice will be the judgment itself.  The marginalized and oppressed need to be defended.  We need, as well, to defend against ALL anger and unchristian behaviors, for oppressed can become oppressors themselves, if they do not see the danger in the satanic trap.  True worship is based on mercy, love, compassion, patience, long suffering, and most of all, a belief that ALL need the Gospel, including the oppressor.  Our caring for the oppressed should never result in total rejection of the oppressor, for Jesus died for all.  Human nature is to become imbalanced, where we preach the truth that Jesus is the Savior of ALL men.  The Bible is clear that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Therefore, I care for the welfare of all men, and their ultimate salvation.  I told one woman who was cheated on and abandoned by her husband, resulting in a divorce, that I would still seek to help the ex-husband, for God still cared about him, and she was angry, simply wanting him to get "what he deserved".  When the call for justice becomes a desire for revenge, it is no longer justice.  As we are told, except for His mercies we would ALL be consumed.  We can never rise above the humility that we are the chief of sinners, and that the oppressor still deserves to be loved, even as our enemy.  Easy to say until we are in a similar situation, but that's the issue.  Exercising justice ALSO includes mercy, and mercy is to be extended, as much as possible, toward the offender, for we desire their salvation more than human justice.  We should always desire justice, in part, to help the oppressed, but also to sensitize the conscience of the oppressed.  You have probably heard the story of the Jewish woman who encountered the guard who had helped oppress her and her sister in a concentration camp, and she was able to find forgiveness, and to work with him in evangelizing Europe.  This is true justice, and true mercy.  The essence of the Gospel, not matter what is still, at least hopefully, restoration.  "I came to see and to save the lost."  We can afford NO other response to evil. 
 
Isaiah 58 is clear that we are to be actively involved in meeting human needs.  If we do not have "works" our faith and outward piety is a sham.  The Bigger Issue is always the revelation of the Character of Love, in practical ways, with a real concern that through a revelation of the Heart of God, people may finally seek His heart and Gospel.  Agape love, given to us (Romans 5:5) flows out to others, not primarily in a concern for us.  When we minister to others, we are blessed ourselves.  The Greatest Revelation of Christ's Character is His response to sin.  He died for the worst of sinners.  As I reflect on much that is occurring in the world, of murdering people in the name of God, of worshipping in church and then participating in destructive acts, in justifying not justice, but murderous anger, we need to see that unless we are, ourselves, willing to die for the salvation of others, we do not yet really understand the true Christian Heart.  TMB, p. 128
 
Not until you feel that you could sacrifice your own self-dignity, and even lay down your life in order to save an erring brother, have you cast the beam out of your own eye so that you are prepared to help your brother. Then you can approach him and touch his heart. No one has ever been reclaimed from a wrong position by censure and reproach; but many have thus been driven from Christ and led to seal their hearts against conviction. A tender spirit, a gentle, winning deportment, may save the erring and hide a multitude of sins. The revelation of Christ in your own character will have a transforming power upon all with whom you come in contact. Let Christ be daily made manifest in you, and He will reveal through you the creative energy of How word--a gentle, persuasive, yet mighty influence to re-create other souls in the beauty of the Lord our God.

When a crisis comes in the life of any soul, and you attempt to give counsel or admonition, your words will have only the weight of influence for good that your own example and spirit have gained for you. You must be good before you can do good. You cannot exert an influence that will transform others until your own heart has been humbled and refined and made tender by the grace of Christ.

Passion about any issue is not enough.  One must first "seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness", and then God will provide in other areas.  True justice and mercy is only found in the heart of God, in a right understanding of the Cross, in the universality of the sin problem, in a heart that loves the most undeserving, and truly has "tears" in the heart and voice as Jesus did while giving His scathing rebukes. 

Yes, we need to minister to human need, but in our fallen state, we can become restrictive, selfish, or misguided in how we interpret human events and human need.  Man shall live by "every" word of God.  Matthew 4:4. We cannot truly meet human need, seek for justice, feel mercy, unless we have gone to God in deep heart anguish, taking the "plank" out of our own eye first, and seeking God's love in motive, method, and mission.  One of the reasons I say this is that if we become totally absorbed in injustice and our feelings about it, we fall for the smokescreen of Satan, who is seeking to develop an "ecumenical union" as the human way of creating "peace", and forget that while we seek for these lofty ideals, we can never compromise on the Gospel or Christian spiritual graces in order to accomplish them.  For example, I can't steal from a rich person to help the poor.  I cannot take a baseball bat to the head of a rapist.  For the principle of justice includes the idea that we can call for justice, but we are not to mete out, ourselves, the consequences for injustice.  That is given to the courts, and more importantly, the Heavenly Court above. 

As Luke 10:2 tells us, we are to plead with God to throw us out, amongst wolves, to help with His Harvest.  I am fully convinced that if we give someone a loaf of bread, and ignore their spiritual needs, in time, we do not understand either justice, nor mercy.  We are willing to help all, but we do feel the calling, when appropriate, if ever appropriate, to reveal where that goodness came from, the Heart of God. 

May God bless you as you seek to fulfill His will to minister to the poor, needy, downtrodden.  In doing so, maintain the spirit and love of God, for the message is as important as the ministry.

~Pastor Tom Cusack