Two young men pulled up alongside a car at a traffic light. On the prowl for someone to rape, they saw a lovely young woman in the car next to them. She was just the kind of target they were looking for. Following the woman to an apartment complex, they grabbed her, took her to an empty schoolyard and both raped her. Realizing she could identify them if left alive, they decided to kill her in a most demeaning and horrible manner.
Back at the complex, some residents had heard her scream as she was abducted, noted the license plate number of the men’s car and notified the police. Within a few hours, the men were caught and the murder knife, still covered with blood, was found in their car.
As would be expected, the entire community was upset that this kind of thing could happen. The nature of the crime committed on a randomly chosen victim just about to graduate from university was reprehensible. Because of the nature and brutality of the crime and the unquestionable guilt of the young men, both of whom confessed, the district attorney asked for the death penalty.
The men were tried separately. The defence lawyer, while acknowledging the alleged actions of the first man to be tried, sought to prove that he was influenced by the second man and should not be found legally guilty. The jury was unconvinced and he was convicted on all accounts. But then the decision on whether he should be given the death penalty came up. A three-judge panel failed to a unanimous decision and he was spared the death penalty.
The community was outraged at the failure of the panel to sentence the man to death. Regardless of what one may think about the death penalty, the people in the community felt that justice had been violated. They believed the man did not receive the penalty he deserved. They wanted justice, not mercy.
This is the way most of us tend to view justice, especially in a case where a terrible crime is committed. Looking back over the years, I have seen how justice or the legal system doesn’t seem to work. There were times where the outcome of a trial seems so outrageous we get angry. I can think of the OJ Simpson trial where he was accused of killing his ex-wife and her friend. Was he guilty? The evidence seemed to suggest it. But due to some sharp lawyers and loopholes in the system, he got off. More recently, there have been many conflicts between white police officers and black civilians in the US where the black person was shot for a seemingly unjustified reason. When charges weren’t brought forward, there was outrage. People demonstrated and violence often ensued.
We want to see justice done, but what about the guilty party? He doesn’t want justice. In truth, he hopes for mercy or even a miscarriage of justice. He doesn’t want to see justice done. He wants as light a sentence as possible, or perhaps even to be declared not guilty.
But now I want us to consider our relationship with God. The Bible tells us that all of us will eventually face judgement before a holy and just God. Hebrews 9:27 says, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” As we think about that inevitable day, what do we want? Do we want to see justice done, or do we want mercy? Except for the most arrogantly self-righteous among us, I think we would all hope for mercy. But here is our dilemma, God’s justice is certain and He’s not too flexible about it.
God’s justice is certain. In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8, Paul writes, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Although there are times where we would wish God’s justice on those who cause us trouble immediately, we can know for certain that in His time, it will come.
Justice might be defined as rendering to every one according to one’s due. In other words, we get exactly what we deserve – nothing more and nothing less. God’s justice is inflexible. It doesn’t change. The outcome is always the same. That is why there is so much outrage in society when a judge sentences a criminal. For some crimes, the punishment seems to be severe, yet more often, there are times when a heinous crime is committed and the perpetrator gets a mere “slap on the wrist” or gets off altogether. But with God, there is no more or less punishment. With Him, any justice we receive means we get exactly what we deserve.
In our system sometimes one person prevails over another, but there is no tension in God’s justice. His justice prevails because of Himself. He is the proverbial Judge, Jury and Executioner. If God wasn’t consistent in satisfying His justice, His moral government would be undermined.
One of the most controversial cases in our system today is that of Omar Khadr. Here was a man who as a teenager committed some terrible deeds in the midst of a conflict in the Middle East. After spending about twelve years in Guantanamo Bay, he was transferred to Canada to serve the rest of his incarnation. But following the appeal process in Canada, he was released on bail until his next hearing. The nation was split. There as outrage from our neighbours to the south. How could a guilty man they deemed guilty be let out of prison? Canada was labelled as weak and too lenient. Where was justice?
In God’s system, mercy is not exalted at the expense of His justice. In order to maintain His justice, all sin without exception must be punished. Contrary to popular opinion, with God there is no such thing as mere forgiveness.
Now you might be here thinking, “hold on a second,” does that mean, I’m not forgiven? Let me explain by looking into God’s forgiveness a little deeper. Let’s look at the original story of the men convicted of rape and murder. Suppose the governor of the state did not believe in the death penalty and instead gave the man a full pardon. Although the governor would have the authority to do that, to do so would mean he would be subverting justice. The community would have been more incensed. They would try to impeach the governor to have him removed from office as his actions would have been seen as a severe miscarriage of justice.
But this is exactly what most people expect God to do. They think that God will relax His inflexible justice and pardon all of us by His sovereign prerogative. But guess what? God can’t do that. He can’t suddenly become one characteristic, say merciful, over another, says loving. Justice must be satisfied. In a way, God was in a dilemma of His own doing. How could He show mercy when His justice needed to be satisfied?
We are forgiven not because God is forgiving; rather we are forgiven because justice has been served. You see, the answer to this dilemma is sitting in this room. It is the cross. Jesus paid the price. Justice occurred so forgiveness could be meted out. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, He satisfied fully the justice of God on our behalf. I shared last week about how Jesus satisfied the Law by obeying everything in it and dying in our place. What that means for us is when we put our trust in Christ, all the work He did, both satisfying and fulfilling the Law, is credited to us.
When it comes to God’s precepts and laws, we have all failed miserably. We were born in sin and continue on throughout our entire lives. From Adam to the newest conceived child, humanity is guilty. So under the Law, we are all deserving of condemnation and punishment. But through Christ’s death on the cross, He suffered to pay its full penalty in our place.
Our Scripture reading today gives us such a graphic picture of what Jesus did for us. This was prophesized hundreds of years before He came. Look again at 53:5, ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was brought upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” This verse explains perfectly “what” Jesus death accomplished. Jesus suffering paid the price for our sins and iniquities and the result was peace with God and one another and healing from the curse of sin. And as the verse points out, Jesus did this by being “pierced,” “crushed,” “punished” and “wounded.”
Look again at verses 7-11. It say, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.”
This is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible. Look at what Jesus endured and how He dealt with what happened to Him so God’s justice could be met and forgiveness could be extended to us:
- He was oppressed and afflicted and how did He respond? Silence
- He was led to the slaughter and how did He respond? Silence
- He was taken away and who stood up for Him? No one.
- Did He do something wrong to justify His suffering? No violence or deceit.
So why did it happen? It was God’s will. Really? Isaiah records it was the Lord’s will to “crush him” and “cause him to suffer” and to make His life an “offering.” I heard about someone years ago saying that if God really sent Jesus to die on the cross for us, God was committing cosmic “child abuse.” But that is what the passage says… and Jesus said it too. In Matthew 16:21, we read, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
So to answer the “why” question, let’s look at verse 6. It says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
“All,” refers to every person who has ever lived or will live. It means all of us, without exception. From Adam and Eve hiding from God, we all continue to go our own way. This is a sad picture of selfish rebellion that is often illustrated with the picture of straying wandering sheep. Sheep are notoriously unmindful and unaware of their circumstances. Their minds are on the next clump of grass and not much else. When looking for food they stray in all directions. Sheep are prone to get lost.
We are prone to stray and get lost in life also. Our selfishness, our lack of judgment, our poor decisions, our lusts, our temptations, our ambitions and so much more have cause us to go our own way. Again how did we go astray? By turning to our own way or by living life like we thought or desired to live rather than living our lives according to God’s Word.
Like sheep we humans don’t seem to be aware of the consequences of our choices. And like sheep, we can’t defend ourselves against the consequences of our choice. I spent many years journaling and still have them in my possession. In them, I’ve recorded events, actions, and prayers from my life. Not all the stuff I wrote is “good” or shines a good light on me, but they are mine… and they are private. But can you imagine reading in the bright clear light of God’s presence the biography of all your thoughts, words and deeds recorded and then having them measured against the Word of God? How far short of the glory, the perfection of God, would it reveal about each of us and how far we have gone astray?
So what did God do to bring us back into His eternal fold? God would send the Messiah to bring us back. The Chief Shepherd laid down His life for the lost, straying, rebellious sheep. Our consequences were made to fall on the Servant. The effects of our behaviour were made to fall upon Jesus. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep, to create the way back to God. God made this One suffer the consequences, the result, of our rebellion. The iniquity of all of us fell on Him on an old rugged cross.
Justice had to be served and the only One worthy or able to do it was Jesus. He was the perfect man, the Son of God, who through His death satisfied God’s justice and made forgiveness and mercy available to us who don’t deserve it. The people of Isaiah’s time got to look ahead to the suffering of the future Messiah and the resulting forgiveness made available to all of humanity.
We have the hindsight to see and know the identity of the promised Messiah who came and died for our sins. He did so to bring you back into the fold of God. So my question to all of us here today is, “Have you given your life to Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd or are you still like a straying sheep, going your own way?” In John 10:11-16 says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
At Calvary, God’s justice was met by Jesus. He bore our sin there and fully paid for our transgressions. He made full restitution for our sins, and we who have taken our stand by faith in the finished work of Christ are forgiven. 1 Peter 2:24 says, Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness-by whose stripes you were healed” That is the reality I know today. My hope and prayer are that will be your reality as well.