Last Saturday in Brooklyn a 28 year-old loser-in-life murdered two New York City police officers as they sat defenseless in their patrol car. Then, Sunday a parolee shot and killed a 45 year-old Tarpon Springs, Florida veteran police officer and father of six. Now today a white policeman in Missouri shot and killed an 18 year-old black man who had pulled a gun on him. This violence comes in the wake of police officers elsewhere killing several African-Americans who apparently had committed crimes. We might well observe with the prophet in 7th century B.C. Israel . . .
“So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous:
so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4)
Indeed! Where is justice for crime victims? For the guilty? For the innocent? For the police? Since the Brooklyn murders, I’ve heard “experts” opine a solution: we need to “come together” as a community. They remind me of Isaiah’s biting words about the false gods of the nations . . .
“Behold they are all a delusion,
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind” (Isaiah 41:29).
Coming together for conversation would be good. But if we presume to find the solution in ourselves we have become our own false gods. What will it take to stop supposing we can solve sinful violence if we just sit and talk it out? When will we admit our helplessness and turn to God? How like “empty wind” we are to infer that by law we can erase injustice from our hearts!
Old Testament Israel faced the same false-god foolishness. But the Lord graciously responded through the prophet Isaiah by introducing his servant . . .
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isaiah 42:1-4).
Three times the prophet proclaims the servant’s justice. ” . . . he will bring forth justice to the nations . . . he will faithfully bring forth justice . . . He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.” Does justice not now go forth? Is it forever perverted? The prophet answers with this word from the Lord: “Behold my servant . . . he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
The Hebrew word translated “justice” refers to establishing, maintaining or giving others what is right. It implies what the Lord makes explicit—over against all the false gods of the nations, there is one true God who will ultimately allow no counterfeits . . .
“I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 49:9).
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6b).
We’ll never get true justice right until we get it right that there is one God—the God from whom Isaiah spoke.
“Justice” also implies the one God has sovereignly settled what is truth. “My truth” and “your truth”? What he witnessed and what she witnessed? No! There is only God’s truth. Without “true truth” there can be no true justice.
Finally, “justice” implies what the word means: the righting of wrongs. I’m thankful that I live in a nation whose legal system seeks justice, unlike that of, say, North Korea or Iran or China. But even America’s justice system falls short of righting wrongs.
Take the Eric Garner case, for instance. Even if police were guilty of Garner’s death, “justice” couldn’t bring him back to his wife. Or the killing of the Tarpon Springs officer. “Justice” won’t return that father to his children. But the Lord will ” . . . create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).
Who is this servant of the Lord? Sometimes in Isaiah, “the Lord’s servant” refers to Cyrus, the king of Persia who would order the exiled Hebrews returned to their homeland (Isaiah 45:1). Other times, the Lord’s servant refers to the nation of Israel as a whole (Isaiah 44:1). But in the four “servant songs” of Isaiah (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12), “the Lord’s servant” is an individual man. Which man? Matthew the Gospel writer tells us.
“Jesus, aware [that the Pharisees were conspiring to destroy him] withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope'” (Matthew 12:15-21).
Which man is the Lord’s servant who will bring justice to our prejudiced, violent world? Jesus.
Street protestors won’t bring justice. Community conversations won’t bring it. Re-trained police won’t bring it. New laws won’t bring it. Only Jesus. He inaugurated justice in his First Advent. He spreads it now through his followers. And he will consummate it when he comes again as Sovereign Lord in his Second Advent.
If we’re to seek greater justice in this unjust world, we must go back to Christmas and pray the Servant of the Lord to change our hearts that we might ” . . . do justice, and . . . love kindness, and . . . walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8b).