Texts: John 3:12-16; 35-36
1st John 4:9-16
--Have you ever talked to a family member, it was like they were speaking a different language than you? My mom and I used to be like that. Whether talking about sports, or politics, we would saying the same thing, just using different terms.
--It is so funny because in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, it was if they were using 2 different languages. In John’s gospel, Nicodemus admits that Jesus a teacher from God, but Jesus corrects him, and says, oh no, that he is from heaven— from above.
We may only see John 3 as a chapter on God’s love on the surface, but it is also about God’s righteousness. The way we can talk about our sense of justice and divine justice can be just like the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus—same starting point, but 2 completely different understandings.
-The apostle John is often called the apostle of love. In 1st John—Love is God’s action-the crucifixion. Yet, doesn’t it strike anyone as ironic?—the author of the Gospels and Love letters from John--- may be the same oral tradition where the book of Revelation comes from-- a book dedicated to Jesus Christ and his justice. The Johanine tradition never separates God’s righteousness. This is primarily our problem with God’s justice
--Oddly enough, as Jesus is discussing his future work on the Cross and Ascension, he uses the story of how Moses raised the Serpent. This is not accidental. The Exodus story is when God 1st displayed His justice. Jesus’ Judaism is a large theme in John’s writings, like Matthew, only the use of symbols from the OT— whether referring to Moses, teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus as the manna from heaven [bread of life] (Passover),as the Passover Lamb, as David’s Good Shepherd.
Let us refer back to the Moses/bronze Serpent narrative:
4From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
This was not the 1st time Moses had to deal with serpents sent from YHWH. [ In Exodus 3] Moses asked— What if the Hebrew children not trust him or YHWH’s justice, and God said—throw down your staff. A snake appeared and when Moses picked it up, it returned to a rod/staff. Then, when Moses and Aaron and Pharoah went before Pharoah: again, snakes came from Aaron’s rod which ate Pharoah’s snakes.
God was sending Moses and the Israelites a message—Trust YHWH alone. YHWH’s justice was greater than any human constructed view of Justice. Pharoah was right and just, in his own eyes. The Roman politicians and fellow Jews who executed Jesus were acting righteously, according to their own way. We Americans as so confident in our judicial system—“innocent until proven guilty” & “liberty and justice for all”—God’s justice, however looks nothing like the justice that we human beings can create. Bible’s story of God’s justice is quite different from what the world would have us to believe.
Divine justice is more majestic than what we can comprehend. God’s ways are not our ways. This is why in Scripture: snakes or serpents sometimes represent God’s wrath. When Isaiah was in the temple of YHWH, mourning the injustices of his fellow Israelites, he looked up—saw YHWH—and around his throne was these—winged cobras.
6In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
5And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
Isaiah had to be justified—he had to recognize that only God was righteous and the One who vindicates—before he showed the family of Jacob the error of their ways. Isaiah was unjust in the face of God’s righteousness.
God’s justice is like a snake. Snakes, found in the desert, or in the country. In the City of Louisville, where I’m from—there aren’t any snakes, and although we need snakes to keep the rat population down, we really don’t want them around. We don’t want God’s justice anywhere near us. We want it to go away, like that homeless person we see sleeping in front of Loafin’ Joes, or that undocumented worker who doesn’t look like us or talk like us. God’s justice is a scary thing—like a serpent, it is ugly, lowly where we have to get low to the ground in order to receive it (just as Moses had to pick up the serpent by the tail to get his staff back) but at the same time, like the winged cobras in Isaiah’s dream, it is from above; we want divine judgment on others, on our enemies, but we never really want to that same justice shown to us. Instead, we would rather go to church every Sunday morning and talk about how God loves us and how we should love our neighbors (which usually means tolerating/without offending them). God’s justice—like the 100 foot long six winged dragon in the middle of your living room—Oh I hope it doesn’t see me…..
God’s love and justice are not divided in Scripture. Theologian James Cone argues that “Love without righteousness is unacceptable” to those who suffer injustice. If God’s love is preached without God’s wrath, sin and oppression rule; by embracing both the justice and mercy of God, we proclaim the fullness of God’s kingdom. God is not a neutral permissive Being, who sits idly by, hoping for the best while the iniquity goes unpunished; the Christian God, the Trinity—Father Son Holy Spirit—works in the world to establish God’s righteousness throughout the world, choosing the foolish, the lowly and the poor, to shame the wise, mighty and rich.
Jesus uses the example of Moses lifting up the bronze serpent as the foreshadowing of the revelation of God’s righteousness. [CAN YOU IMAGINE JESUS AS A SNAKE?] If there is one thing about the gospel of John--- it is that Jesus is innocent. His conspirators are wrong and God is right. Our human brand of law & order, what we call just, is exposed starting the Caiphas, who saw Jesus as a scapegoat so that the Roman authorities would be satisfied. However, God, in the greatest display of the Triune God’s power, used the crucifixion of Jesus to—reveal our wickedness while God remained righteous and just. In the resurrection and ascension of Christ, God vindicates Jesus as he is sitting at the right hand of God, on his throne.
God’s justice is for everybody; through Christ, God made a way out of no way, to show God’s love for all of the world—that whosoever TRUSTS in Jesus Christ, God’s son (John 3:16)—will saved.
Trusting in Jesus as God’s Righteousness is at the heart of the Gospel message. The apostle Paul, who was once a murderer, even found forgiveness by placing his trust in him. As he made the cases for the church at Rome about the order of the creation as well as the reason why no human being on this planet can call themselves righteous—as well as Jesus Christ serving as God’s Justice in his crucifixion and resurrection. Christ did not die for the righteous, but for sinners—and according to Paul, “All have turned aside, together, they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not one.” (Romans 3:12) Yet, the Letter to the Romans is filled with good news: God has shown His kindness—by sending our Justifier-- Jesus Christ. It is not from within ourselves as we remain self-assured in our justice systems or our man-made laws or our religions that we can find God, but thru fully trusting that the One True God is Just! Who can accuse God’s chosen?--It is God who justifies, it is God who vindicates, and God alone. In a land where the Supreme Court and the congress may have found me guilty of being 3/5ths of a person, but God has the final, the last word—the Alpha and Omega.
The Word according to Paul to the Romans does not stop without giving us a clue of what it means to be declared righteous, to act justly as a justified people. We should not conform to the what the world believes is just, yet be transform by the renewing of our minds, or as Jesus told Nicodemus, to be born again. Walk in humility; Rejoice and pray always; Be on one accord; and just as God treated us—do not repay evil with evil, but good with evil.
You may be asking yourself why I am wearing this Black church studies shirt. The motto say,” Linking divine justice to social justice.” Why? Because the apostle Paul nor John the evangelical kept God’s justice to the past—on the cross of Golgotha 2000 years ago. God’s justice is also for the here and now as well as the future
The words of Isaiah the prophet says it the best.
7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this.