The King Is Just
by Jack Wald | December 21st, 2014

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Mark Twain was an American author and two of his most popular books are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These books share the same characters and so the second of the two books, Huckleberry Finn, begins with this:
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.

If you read Huckleberry Finn without first reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, you miss a lot of the depth of the story.

This morning I am preaching a sermon titled: The King Is Just. But if you were not here last week or did not read last week’s sermon, The King Is Gentle, you will miss out on the fullness of this description of Jesus, our King. And I think I told the truth, mostly, as best as I could.

Let me give a brief recap of last week’s sermon, The King Is Gentle.

We looked at two stories of Jesus coming, his birth in Bethlehem, and John’s picture of him returning as he promised in Revelation 19.

We celebrate this Christmas the birth of Jesus and on Wednesday night, we will have a Christmas Eve service with the children acting out the parts of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, angels, and sheep. This is a great story.

The description of the return of Jesus is not so sweet. (Revelation 19:11–16)
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords.

A baby lying in a manger. A gentle Jesus. A warrior on a white horse with a robe drenched in blood. A just Jesus executing the judgment of God.

I asked last week: Which one is the real Jesus?

The answer is that both of these are Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. He is our Savior who rescues us. He is gentle and he is just.

We looked at Isaiah 42:1–4
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.

And I talked about the gentleness of Jesus as he encountered fragile and wounded people, bruised reeds and smouldering wicks. In this world of sin, there are many bruised reeds and smouldering wicks, people who need to be loved and tenderly cared for by Jesus.

But Jesus is not so easily defined. He cannot be limited by our understanding or preference. He is love but he is also just. Jesus is both the baby in the manger who tenderly cared for fragile and wounded people and the warrior who comes to judge the world. How do we comprehend Jesus who is just? Perhaps the best way to get at this is to ask why Jesus was born.

Was Jesus born so the Triune God could get a first-hand report of what was happening on earth? God is omnipresent, present everywhere. God does not need to come to earth to know what is happening.

Was Jesus born so that we could know what God is like? This is true. In John 14:6–9 Jesus told his disciples:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

But this could also have been accomplished through dreams and visitations. Jesus could have miraculously appeared to the Jews in Palestine and then after a few years ascended into heaven without a birth and without a death. Why was Jesus born?

Why does someone run into a burning building? Why does someone jump into a flooded river? Why does someone risk their life by running toward a car that is on fire? People do these things because there is someone in the building, river, or car that will die unless they are rescued.

Was Jesus born so he could rescue us? If so, from what do we need to be rescued? The best place to find the answer to this is in the first eight chapters of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome where Paul presents the theology of our Christian faith. From 2003 to 2011 I preached from Romans each January up to the first Sunday of Lent and would love to start over again. This is a great book.

In the first eight chapters of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul walks us through three giant theological concepts, three stages of salvation: justification (We have been saved), sanctification (We are being saved), and glorification (We will be saved). As he lays out for us the theology of the church, he shows how we are trapped with no hope of escape, unable to help ourselves.

The first trap Paul reveals concerns the doctrine of justification (We have been saved), the process by which we are made holy in the eyes of God.

Paul began his letter by writing of the wrath of God. Before he could share the good news of Jesus, the bad news had to be presented. And the bad news is that all of us, every one of us, deserves the wrath of God. Note how Paul presents this truth in his letter.
Romans 1:18-19
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

He then goes on to describe moral behavior that is unfortunately similar to behavior in our current culture.
Romans 1:21–32
God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

And then there is this terrible indictment.
32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Depraved, non-religious society deserves the wrath of God and we say “Amen!” to that. But Paul goes on. Critical moralizers who think they are basically good people, better than those around them, also deserve the wrath of God. Ouch! That hurts because that is exactly what we were thinking.

Paul continues. Self-righteous, religious people who think because of their religion and behavior they are good deserve the wrath of God. That is also us.

So when we think we are better than all the wicked people around us and better than others because of our religious life and devotion, Paul cuts off our room for maneuvering and we are trapped. And then just to make sure that there is no escape, Paul summarizes by saying that if we thought we escaped one of the three previous categories, the whole human race is sick and deserves the wrath of God.

Romans 3:10
There is no one righteous, not even one;

There is no wiggle room. I am trapped. Although I am pastor of a church, help with charitable projects, pray for people regularly, do lots of good things, Paul has put me into a tight spot from which I cannot escape. I, along with you and everyone else, deserve the wrath of God. God who created the world around me, who is all powerful and all knowing, who speaks and the mountains melt, thinks I deserve to be the object of his wrath. That is not a good position to find myself in. That is not a good position for you to be in.

And then just when we are trapped, stuck with no hope of escape, Paul delivers the absolutely marvelous news that sets us free.

Romans 3:21–24
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

We all, everyone of us, every single one of us, without exception, deserve the wrath of God – but God has provided a way for us to get out of the trap we find ourselves in. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

We all deserve the wrath of God but then God made known to us a way of escaping the consequences of his wrath. Paul goes on to detail what exactly this righteousness is that is given freely to us and then in chapter 5 he begins to describe the benefits that come to the Christian who has been justified by faith alone: Because we are justified by faith, we have peace with God; we stand in grace; we have hope of the glory of God; and we rejoice in our sufferings.

Although we are sinners, we are viewed by God as being righteous, This is not because God has a problem with his eyesight, but  because when he sees us, he sees us through the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. God is holy and the purity of his holiness burns away any impurity. For us to exist in his presence means we must be pure. This purity cannot come from us because we are sinners, but it comes from Christ. The purity of Christ is given to us so we can be pure in the presence of God. We are not holy. We do not deserve to be saved. We are still sinners. The death of Jesus and the sacrifice of his blood and life for us is what makes us holy in the eyes of God. This is justification (We have been saved), the first stage of salvation.

Why was Jesus born? To rescue us. We had no hope. We were trapped and doomed to eternal death and then light entered the world. Jesus came to save us which is what his name means in Hebrew, he will save us.

But, you might ask, Why couldn’t God simply overlook our sin? Why did Jesus have to die? If God is the all-powerful creator of the universe, why can’t he accept the fact that we are not perfect and allow imperfect people into his kingdom? Why can’t he simply say, “I love you,” and let everyone into heaven? This is what my father believed. This is what many people believe. They are uncomfortable with the thought that Jesus will judge us and simply want him to love us, overlook our sins, and allow us into his kingdom.

Let me explain the problem with this. If I want a fish to be my friend and live with me on land, the fish has to develop the capability of breathing the air I breathe. The gills of a fish are not able to do this and after a few short minutes in the air I breathe, the fish dies. What is necessary is for the fish to be transformed and be given lungs. No matter how much I love the fish, unless it develops lungs, it will die on land.

In the same way, unless I am transformed by Jesus, I will die in the air of heaven. It is not a question of God allowing me in or not. Only when you are protected by Jesus can you enter into his presence. If I am to live in heaven, I need to be transformed by Jesus in order to survive. It is not a matter of God choosing, it is a matter of you surviving.

Because God is just, sin must be paid for. There is not a choice for God to make. We must be made pure or we will perish in his presence.

And this is what is so amazing. Because God is love, he saw we were incapable of living according to his perfect law and did not want us to be lost. So he sent Jesus to be the way for us to come and live safely in his presence. This is why Jesus was born.
John 3:16–17 (The Message)
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

We do not understand how much Jesus sacrificed for us. We cannot understand why Jesus would do this for us. We will never fully understand the wonder of this love Jesus has for us. But we are grateful.

God is a god of love and a god of justice. Love and justice are both parts of God’s character, who he is. You cannot take away love without taking away God and you cannot take away justice without taking away God. Justice is not something God can choose to exercise or not to exercise. Justice is who God is and for justice not to be exercised would necessitate the nonexistence of God.

Our need for the salvation Jesus offers is not something about which God has a choice. God cannot choose to be who he is not. He cannot not love. He cannot not be just and he cannot overlook evil. And so God’s wrath is expressed as a holy reaction to the evil in this world, to the evil that is in our hearts.

How much did it cost Jesus to be born? When we think of the suffering of Jesus, we think of his crucifixion. But was there also suffering in his birth?

The early hymn of the church that Paul quotes hints at the cost Jesus paid to be born.
Philippians 2:5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7  but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Who being in very nature God. For eternity, Jesus existed in the perfect relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus left this and made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. We sing Christmas songs abut Jesus being born in a manger, in humble surroundings. But even if Jesus had been born into the most luxurious palace the world has ever known, he would still have had to give up more than we can ever imagine in order to be born as a human. We can barely glimpse at the cost Jesus paid to be born because we have such a limited understanding of the eternal existence of the Triune God.

Frederick Buechner speaks of feeding sheep in a neighbor’s barn on Christmas Eve and catching a glimpse of the depth of that night.
The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God … who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”
 Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.

Jesus gave up the rights and privileges of heaven in order to step into a world of suffering. He was born as an infant, vulnerable to all the dangers of the world. He entered into the world in order that he might die for the world. That is the baby who lies in the manger.

The justice of the Triune God demanded that sin be paid for. There was and is no way around this. The love of God saw that we are sinners, lost and heading for our eternal extinction. God saw, he understood, he had compassion, and he acted. God himself was born as a baby to take on the sin of the world. God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The love of God led to Jesus being born to die and satisfy the justice of God.

How do we respond to this Christmas gift? The angels in heaven looked on in stunned amazement at what the eternal God was doing for mankind. Peter said (I Peter 1:12) Even angels long to look into these things. The shepherds (Luke 2:20) returned to their field, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. A year or so after the birth of Jesus the magi came with their gifts for the king that had been revealed in the stars.

How do we respond to the birth of Jesus who was born to die for us? We fall on our knees and worship. We bring our gifts to Jesus. We surrender our will and make him our Savior and our Lord. We live for him who died for us.

Josh Groban – O Holy Night