One word we hear a lot about today is “justice.” Everyone wants justice for themselves and others, primarily in the context of “social justice.” But do we really? Do we know what we are asking for?
The word justice means the quality of conforming to law, or conformity to truth, fact. God is just, or righteous, because His very character is truth. He can do no wrong; He is the ultimate standard of perfection in and of Himself. He determines what is “just.”
To us, justice happens when everyone gets what they deserve, either by merit earned (you answered all the questions on the test correctly, so you were justly awarded a perfect score), or you receive what is deserved by virtue of innate worth (you are part of the human race, therefore you justly receive equal treatment under the law). True justice means equal treatment across the board; it speaks of fairness, equality. Not all people enjoy living under just principles; we are very blessed that our system of government was founded on this cornerstone. Remember your pledge of allegiance?
I pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
What was the purpose of our Constitution? We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice… (from the Preamble). And, from our Declaration of Independence, those words with which we are most familiar: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Our founders recognized that the ultimate source of justice was the One who created us; He alone determines what is right and fair and just. That’s why the gospel message is so amazing.
As we begin the book of Acts, Peter preaches two sermons that reveal how God’s view of justice is very different than ours (Acts 1-3). In your opinion, what would be the “just” outcome for those who participated in putting God’s Son to death? What would justice dictate for those who tried to murder God?
Acts 2:22-23 – Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man delivered over by the predetermined plan of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Acts 3:13-15 – The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.
Justice says these men are guilty, without question. Even though many acted in ignorance (Acts 3:17), they had all the evidence they needed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They had the words of the prophets fulfilled in front of them, and the evidence of miracles and wonders and signs performed by God in their presence. They disowned Him – rejected Him as one of their own, refused to believe that He was sent by God, denying their own need for a Savior by failing to see their own sin. Justice demanded the death penalty.
Yet what did Peter tell them? He repeatedly invited them to repent and return to God and receive forgiveness for their sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Jesus did not receive justice; He was innocent, yet God put on Him the penalty for the sins of the world so that He could justly offer forgiveness to those whom justice demanded payment. God treated Jesus unjustly, so that we could justly receive mercy.
Are our sins any worse than those who shouted, “Crucify Him!”? Have we not disowned Jesus, sometimes in ignorance, and many times willfully? Do we want God to treat us with justice – giving us exactly what we’ve earned, what we deserve?
I think not! God’s justice is rooted in the finished work of the cross. He is the ultimate, fair God, demanding no payment from us for our own sin, but simply to recognize it, repent of it, and receive the gift of mercy purchased for us by Jesus. God is just because He offers all men forgiveness in the same way – equal access to salvation through Jesus.
Salvation is amazing because it shows us that our sins are truly and fully paid for in Jesus. God could not be just otherwise.
Acts 3:19 – Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.