A Tale of Two Justices

I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand I will guard You, i will make You be a Covenant for the People and a Light for the Gentiles.      Isaiah 42:6

The difficulty in this text is to catch the exuberance which surrounds it. These seven verses from Isaiah speak of sheer delight, expectancy and hope. Yes, there is the majesty of God in His sweeping powers of creation but most of all, there is the powerful image of the Messiah, the Christ, Who will come with “justice.”

It is this “justice” that proves most fascinating, because it is not what we normally think of when we cry for judgment.  Often we want the law to be laid down, the guilty party to not escape punishment, that he who did the wrong pay dearly for what he did.

Of course, if we demand such righteousness, then it won’t be executed just on the other guy – we also will stand under the same scrutiny.  It’s nice to have everybody else get what they deserve, just as long as nobody pays too much attention to us.  When someone doesn’t stop at the 4-way stop and he cuts us off, we wonder where the police are.  But when we get nailed because WE absent-mindedly didn’t stop, then it isn’t “fair,” after all it wasn’t deliberate, it’s just that something had taken our attention at the moment.

So when you have a Messiah that “will bring forth justice to the nations,” “establish justice on earth,” at first glance this might be met with a bit of apprehension.  But reading on, rapidly we discover that this is a most unusual justice, one that does not CONFINE us in prison, but rather RELEASES us!  Now that’s the kind of justice we really want to hear about!

This justice obviously is not the earthly kind.  We recognize that the Christ Isaiah was foretelling was not going to go all over the earth merely opening prisons.  No, something more far-reaching and spiritual was to be involved.  This was a justice which pulled eternity into the NOW of life, a justice which had GOD-sized proportions rather than whether this person or that person had had his hand slapped appropriately.

Therefore the prisons aren’t merely about holes in the ground for dungeons, or rooms with bars, or blindness because the eyes don’t work properly.  Rather there is a greater spiritual depth here: Isaiah speaks of those who are “so down that they have to look up to see bottom”; he’s pointing to those who are kept in the prisons of their past, the prisons of their traditions, the prisons of their fears, the prisons of their weaknesses; he’s grabbing hold of those who just can’t see – they just can’t see that God would love them, that God would forgive them, that God could care about little insignificant them.

In surprise we hear of this justice not being hammered out by the Judge’s gavel at His bench, but rather it is the justice of NOT snuffing out a dimly-burning wick, of NOT breaking the reed already bent – it is justice with a tremendously gentle heart, a justice that does not destroy, but rather a justice that preserves and protects.

It will not be the justice of the screamed accusation, nor the loudly paraded self-righteousness, nor of the angry demand of retribution.  No, it will be the justice of opening, freeing, releasing – the speaking of forgiveness and new life, new awareness and joy.  After all, to suddenly be able to see, to suddenly be able to walk away from a prison, to suddenly come up into the light out from the depths, there is great joy.

Most surprisingly, this is for the person against whom justice must pronounce sentence!  At first this is confusing: after all, the prisoner is not being punished by mistake – this is no case of mistaken identity nor of being framed for a crime he didn’t commit.  The sentence accurately and properly answers the crimes for which he is guilty.  Compared against the required perfection demanded by a holy Law, justice must force the conclusion that we must not merely be kept in prison, but that we DIE, terribly and eternally.  After all, justice has no choice but to accurately, without watering down and without favoritism, carry out the penalties of the law!

So how can forgiveness, opening, freeing, and releasing be true JUSTICE??  It has no choice, it must pronounce sentence – or else it isn’t just!  It must proscribe penalty, punishment and condemnation for the breaking of the Law.  If you were the one against whom a serious crime was committed, you wouldn’t think it appropriate for the crime to go unanswered!

Of course, at the cross we discover that the crime did not go unanswered, that the penalties of the Law had to be, and indeed were carried out to their fullest extent.  It was that Isaiah’s Servant of God suffered, took our blindness, our negative attitudes, our angers, our hatreds, our histories, our prison sentence, our condemnation to hell’s dungeon upon Himself.

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Perhaps what is most remarkable about this passage is the sheer enthusiasm GOD has for this Messiah.  Of course, WE are glad to hear that this Messiah is so full of grace, that His justice would take our penalty and set us free.  It is no wonder that we would find ourselves very eager about this prophecy.  But to see GOD so excited is quite the wonder.  After all, He was the One against Whom all the crimes, all the sins, all the rebellion have been committed; and now HE is the One Who will receive the punishment? – you would think that He would cry out the most against such unjust “justice”!

Yet look at His excitement!  Before the whole universe He proclaims, “Here is My Servant, Whom I hold up before everyone; My Chosen One, in Whom I delight!”  Then later, this Creator God looks to this Servant and says, “I have called You, I take hold of Your hand, I guard You, I make You BE a Covenant to the People.”  The cost to God was extreme: the greatest sacrifice that God the Father could have given; the greatest sacrifice for the Son to give up heaven and then die on a Cross – and yet look at His enthusiasm and sheer delight, His eagerness and joy!

But there is something else here on this day set aside for accenting Baptism: although we celebrate Jesus’ Baptism, it is impossible for us to do that without also remembering our own Baptisms.  And with that in the background, this passage takes on a whole new depth.

In our Baptisms, St Paul states that you were “buried into Christ,” you “put on Christ,” you were made part of the Body of Christ. Your identity is so intertwined with Jesus that you are as one with Him as your body is one with your head. Through Him, this passage speaks also of YOU.

Can you imagine God having such enthusiasm and eagerness over YOU, just like He does over Jesus?  In exactly the same way as He does with Jesus, can you imagine God going before the whole universe, angels, archangels, Satan, demons – everybody – and saying about YOU, “Here is My Servant, Whom I uphold; My Chosen One, in Whom I delight!” and then later to say to YOU personally, “I have called YOU, I take hold of YOUR hand, I guard YOU, and I make YOU to be a Covenant for the People.”

Obviously we are not Jesus, we are not God the Son, and so these words have a different meaning specifically for Him.  Still that does not take away the truth that these words very powerfully and appropriately declare God’s relationship to us through Baptism, in Jesus Christ.  And what an enormous comfort they are!  It would not hurt you at all to stop and spend a few minutes dwelling on the fact that GOD says HE DELIGHTS IN YOU, that GOD could be that excited about YOU, that GOD would call YOU, hold YOUR hand, stand guard – not just some angel, but that God Himself would stand guard over YOU; that God Himself would regard YOU as so important that He personally would be this involved with YOU and this elated over YOU.

But now wait a minute!  If this passage applies to us, how can WE “be a Covenant to the People”?  Well, Covenant speaks of relationship, the closest that a person could ever have with another person.  If you are God’s Covenant to the People, then you will be God’s demonstration of how close He is to them through you – just like Jesus was when He walked the earth.  Obviously you will not be able to demonstrate this quite the same as He did, but nonetheless you are God’s Covenant to the People all around you.  In you they get to see the delight which God has for any and all who reach out to Him, any who humbly submit to His participation in their life, who in great relief repent and hand over all the very sins, rebellions and darkness in their lives which Jesus had died for.

But to do that every day and everywhere in our lives – that’s a big job and, boy, we will need help!  That’s why Jesus is also the Covenant to us, and here at the altar is the Blood of the Covenant; here His LifeBlood flows through our veins.  Jesus Himself courses through our whole existence, so that we and those whom we touch can all the more share in His wonderful Messiah and therefore through Him we together more and more be the demonstration of God’s presence and relationship and delight – God’s Covenant – to all the People.

And then here is God’s justice to be recognized – justice which satisfies His Law, and justice which brings the freedom of His love; it is the justice which brings down the Judge’s gavel of condemnation against sin, yet it also makes real the salvation of mankind as Jesus takes upon Himself this full penalty; it is the justice that proclaims in Baptism before the universe, “this is MY Child,” where we discover that we also are included within this exciting proclamation of such a delighted God; it is the justice that makes us part of Jesus’ unique demonstration of God’s touching people with His eternal Covenant relationship.

Really this is quite a special and delightful passage by which to start the week off!


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