A post from the Jesus Collective Theology Circle

Contribution by Hank Johnson (Pennsylvania, United States)

The following blog is part 2 in a series focused on a Jesus-centered understanding of justice (find part 1 here). In this series, we look at theological and biblical understandings of justice and then apply our developing understandings to important historic and cultural realities that require a thoughtful, Jesus-centered approach. These blogs are not intended to be exhaustive, but we pray you find them a helpful resource as you discern and join Jesus’ work in your communities.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” -Micah 6:8

An Old Testament Example of God’s Justice

Micah’s most famous chapter outlines God’s call for justice. Justice there is seen as making things right as God sees fit, in love and for peace. Jesus, who came to make the Father known, promised all who had ears to hear and eyes to see that to hear and see him was to hear and see God the Father. So Jesus, who is the exact representation of God, and in whom the fullness of God dwells, is both the God of justice and the ultimate outworking of God’s justice. 

The prophet Micah wrote to a people in deep peril. The sin of the leaders and people violated God’s law and reaped a judgment of a split country. Small town prophet Micah was gifted with the voice of almighty God in a heartfelt address to all who had ears to hear. The word came with not only allegations and warnings but also further judgment. God’s people were accused of creating systems where the rich took advantage of the poor and became wealthy through threat and greed. And even the prophets had grown corrupt while living to preach a prosperity gospel that favored the rich while disenfranchising the poor. 

The pinnacle of Micah’s oracle is presented in the sixth chapter. It’s here that God puts the people on trial. God calls out to the forever present mountains and hills to be witnesses in the court and recites a small sampling of the record before Israel:

  • I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery

  • I sent you leaders and prophets to guide you and teach you how to follow me

  • I have protected you from those who plotted against you

  • I have been faithful and righteous in bringing you to the Promised Land

God pleads before the people because they have continually fallen short of their calling and responsibility. Just as children look like their parents in character and characteristics, we are called, commanded, and expected to look like God our Father. Biblical justice as outlined in Micah is our invitation. 

A New Testament Example of God’s Justice 

And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.’” -Luke 18:6 – 8a

In telling parables, Jesus instructs his audiences by meeting them where they are to take them to where God desires them to be. He would tell stories with familiar characters, places, and things that his audience would recognize and understand. Then, like every great teacher, Jesus would build on what was known to reveal some new truth to help his followers grow deeper in their faith and to encourage them in their walk with God. In so doing, Jesus transformed how his hearers saw and understood God, their world, their lives, and the kingdom. 

Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow is centered on a judge that neither follows God nor cares for others — so much so that this judge ignores the consistent pleas of a widow, who in that culture and context is an example of the oppressed. She would also have no means of financial support, could not afford a bribe to change the judge’s mind, and was at the mercy of both her adversary and the judge. This parable presents a standard Jewish how much more” argument. In essence, the story asks the audience that if an unjust judge who doesn’t follow God or care for others can dispense justice for an oppressed person, how much more will our righteous God dispense justice?

Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the image of God, in whom all things were created, in whom God’s fullness dwells, and through whom all things will be reconciled (Colossians 1:15 – 20). Jesus was filled by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1) without limit (John 3:34) and his life, death, and resurrection brings us peace with God (Romans 5). Jesus’ parable here reminds us that God’s justice will come. Knowing who Jesus is reminds us that it’s through Jesus that God’s justice comes. 

Jesus, the Fullness of God’s Justice, and Us 

Micah’s standard (Micah 6:8) reminds us that our just God calls and expects us to do justice. The Apostle John tells us that if we do what’s right, we belong to God, and if we fail to do what’s right, we are children of the devil who do not love our sisters and brothers (1 John 3:10). Therefore, the call for justice is from God, realized in Jesus, and expected to be acted out by us. 

So what is biblical justice? It’s knowing that God is just and works to bring shalom (peace with God, creation, others, and self) to our world. It’s knowing that God’s people must do the same. This is why God’s case rests by inviting all who follow to do God’s justice, loving the way God loves, and walking in shalom with God and neighbor. 

We are to do God’s justice (mishpat) by making things right. If our world isn’t as it should be, Christ has left his Spirit and his Body, the Church, to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18 – 19). The law commanded justice by calling for care and commitment to God and neighbors far and near; Christ came to earth to show us care and commitment to all, but especially the least among us and the marginalized. By doing the same, we help shine our lights brighter so others can see and glorify our Father in heaven.

We are to do God’s justice by loving mercy (hesed). Hesed is God’s love in action because God is love (1 John 4:7 – 8). It is God’s love for all people, but particularly the disadvantaged and the weak. Hesed is God’s agape love, God’s unmerited favor, and God’s love that is not out of obligation. Hesed is God’s favor and grace; it is God’s faithfulness, lasting loyalty, and kindness. Hesed is Jesus living and loving others to show us how to live and love others as well. Loving mercy is asking forgiveness from God for good left undone, forsaking neutrality which only perpetuates oppression, asking God for injustice to always break our hearts as it breaks God’s heart, and relying on the Spirit to lead to that place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

We are to do God’s justice by walking in peace (shalom). As followers of Christ, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). We live to share that good news with all others that we have been blessed to journey along with. In Christ we can have peace with the creation all around us. We must live to care for the greater good of the world we live in, and for the best good for our siblings as well. In Christ we can have peace with others. Praise God for the blessing of the Holy Spirit and we the Church, Christ’s peacemakers, who together can bring reconciliation in our polarized world.

God calls us to do justice as He does justice, to love as Jesus loved, and to walk by the Spirit in peace with God and each other. So let’s join together in this work:

  • Pray for God’s justice to roll like a mighty river and God’s righteousness to flow like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24).

  • Ask God to reveal if there’s any offensive way in us, and then for God to forgive and lead us in the way of the everlasting (Psalm 139:23 – 24).

  • Listen. Be empathetic. Learn. Grow. And then repeat again, and again, and again. 

  • Cultivate genuine relationships with people who look different, think different, and who live different lives, as this can be a great catalyst for growth that moves us from adversaries to advocates, enemies to friends, and reminds us that we are God’s family together.

  • Love one another as Christ has loved us to show our world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34 – 35).

Hank Author Photo

Hank Johnson is Senior Pastor at Harrisburg Brethren in Christ Church. He has a Master’s of Divinity from Evangelical Theological Seminary, and his ministry experience has been gleaned through serving at camps, community and youth centres, and in the social work field. Hank and his wife, Shell, live in Harrisburg with their daughters, Harper and Kennedy.

The Theology Circle is a group of Jesus Collective leaders joining together to provide theological direction and resources for our network, mentor theological leaders, and provide a peaceful voice for this growing Jesus-centred movement around the world. You can learn more and meet the Circle here.