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With Liberty and Justice For Me (Matthew 5:6-8)

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Matthew 5:6-81
January 18, 2004

Introduction

Last Sunday, I began with a question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to me?” There’s another question that usually goes along with it, particularly when the bad things that happen to me are caused by someone else. Our second disturbing question is, “How can they get away with it? Why doesn’t God make them pay for what they did to me?” People have been asking God that question for thousands of years.

Deep within us, we all long for evildoers to be brought to justice.

Last week I was in court for jury duty. People come seeking justice.

But for some who come to court, the last thing they want is justice.

They know they’re guilty. They know what they deserve and they are in court, not seeking for justice, but hoping for mercy.

One month ago, December 18, in Seattle, Washington, Gary Ridgway, also known as “The Green River Killer” was sentenced for murdering 48 women. Because Ridgway helped police to locate the remains of some of his victims, he was spared the death penalty and instead was sentenced to 48 consecutive life terms. The Associated Press reported:

“The sentencing gave the victims' relatives a chance to confront Ridgway at last. With an eloquence honed by years of grief, they stepped forward and cursed the killer, or forgave him.

The brother (Tim Meehan) of one of the victims said, "It was not your right to decide who lived and who died. …I can only hope that someday, someone gets the opportunity to choke you unconscious 48 times, so you can live through the horror that you put our mothers and our daughters through. ... May God have no mercy on your soul.”

Others lashed out at prosecutors, investigators and the news media.

"I believe we've been sold by the prosecutor for not giving us the justice that we could expect," said the mother (Helen Dexter) of one victim.

But another mother (Kathy Mills), whose 16-year-old daughter was killed, offered Ridgway forgiveness. "You have held us in bondage all these years because we have hated you — we wanted to see you die — but it's all going to be over now. That is, provided we can forgive you. Gary Leon Ridgway, I forgive you. I forgive you. You can't hold me anymore. I'm through with you. I have a peace that is beyond human understanding."

One of the fathers (Robert Rule), said, "Mr. Ridgway, there are people here who hate you. I'm not one of them. I forgive you for what you've done. You've made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and that is what God says to do, and that is forgive, and he doesn't say to forgive just certain people, he says forgive all. So you are forgiven."

Looking inside myself, trying to imagine how I would feel if this horrible man had killed my little girl, I don’t know how these parents could forgive.

I would want to have this man pay for his crimes. I would want to see him dead. I would probably volunteer to pull the switch myself. In fact, I think death is not enough punishment for him. I would like to have him toasting in hell just as soon as we could arrange for it.

As one victim’s daughter (Sarah King) said to Ridgway, "I'm glad you didn't get death. Death is too good for you. Someday you will die and you'll go to that place and you'll get what you deserve."

I saw a Clint Eastwood movie in which the bad guy tries to kill Clint’s daughter. In one scene, as the daughter lay badly injured in a hospital bed, the killer comes in to finish her off. But Clint gets the jump on him and sticks a needle in his neck. The killer, feeling groggy from the poison entering his body, can only manage to get out one word to Clint, begging for his life: “Mercy?” Clint looks at him with that steely Eastwood glare, and, as he injects the remainder of the poison into the killer’s neck, he says, “Mercy? Fresh out.”

You want to know the truth? That’s pretty much how I feel about Gary Ridgway. I want justice. How about you? Are you that kind of person to wants to see someone pay for their crimes? If you are, then Congratulations! The Bible says that you’re just the kind of person that will appreciate the Kingdom of God. Because in the Kingdom of God, justice will be done.

Last week we began a new series, which is part of what I call
“The Jesus Curriculum”, the lessons that Jesus gave his followers while he was here on earth. Today we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. I’ve called this part of the curriculum “The Kingdom Handbook” because essentially, it is a manual for citizens of God’s Kingdom. In other words, an instruction manual for those who want to follow Jesus, the King and be trained by him.

Jesus’ message about the kingdom begins with the characteristics of the kingdom’s citizens. What kind of people belong to God’s kingdom? The answer is surprising.

One might expect the citizens of God’s kingdom to be the best and the brightest, the most noble, the most worthy, the most beautiful, the strongest and the bravest. But instead we find that God’s kingdom belongs to the poor and the nameless. It belongs to those who in this world are outcasts.

As Jesus describes the characteristics of the citizens of God’s kingdom, he uses the word “Blessed.” The first few verses of the Sermon on the Mount are known as “the beatitudes.” They speak of those who are blessed. The word “blessed” means “fortunate” but without the idea of chance; someone who is envied for his condition; someone who should be congratulated.

  • Last week we talked about three kinds of people who are blessed. Three kinds of people who deserve to be congratulated for being so fortunate.
    the Spiritually Bankrupt, those who have nothing worthy of qualifying them for a relationship with God.
  • the Deeply Dismayed, those who are grieved by the pain and suffering of this world which is caused by sin.
  • and the Completely Inadequate, those who recognize that they can’t do it, that they don’t have what it takes.

These are the kinds of people who recognize their insufficiency. They have found the end of their own resources and thus they have been forced to seek for strength and comfort beyond themselves. They have been driven to God, the only place where anyone can find true and lasting strength, comfort, and fulfillment. And because of that, they are to be congratulated.

Title: With Liberty and Justice for Me

Today we move on to the next three beatitudes, three types of people that Jesus says are blessed, three types of people that should be congratulated. Last week we looked at three great needs. This week, we look at three great desires. They all have to do with the issue of justice. If you are among those who have these three desires, then Congratulations! You’re just the kind of person who will appreciate the characteristics of God’s kingdom.

Crying for Justice

Let’s look at the fourth beatitude in verse 6:

[6] Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The word “righteousness” often refers to uprightness, doing the right thing, obeying God’s rules. But the same word is also used for what in English we call “justice” and I believe that here that is exactly what Jesus has in mind.

In many places throughout the Bible, God’s people cry out for him to give them justice, to punish those who murder their loved ones, invade their land, steal their possessions, tell them lies, and cheat them in business. God’s people cry out to him and ask him to act on their behalf and bring them justice.

Jeremiah 12:1 You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?

Sometimes it seems like people who do evil things will get away with it. But throughout the Bible, God also promises that one-day, justice will be done. No crime will go unpunished. No wrong will go unanswered.

I believe that is the promise in view here.

Are you that kind of person who doesn’t like to see the wicked get away with their crimes? If you are, then Congratulations! The Bible says that you’re just the kind of person that will appreciate the Kingdom of God. Because in the Kingdom of God, the demands of justice will be satisfied.

Acts 17:31 [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.

Psalm 9:7-8 The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. [8] He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.

Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
[7] …He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

Psalm 45:6 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

2 Peter 3:13 In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

There will be justice in God’s kingdom. If you like justice, then Congratulations! That’s just the way God feels. And you’re going to like what you see in God’s kingdom.

[6] Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Jesus says that in the kingdom of God, justice will finally be fulfilled. All those who hunger and thirst for justice will be ultimately satisfied by the justice of God’s Kingdom. That means that Gary Ridgway’s crimes will be punished. Adolf Hitler’s crimes will be punished. Sadaam Hussein’s crimes will be punished. Chip Bell’s crimes will be punished.

Oh, no. Wait a minute. Did I just say that I was hungry and thirsty for justice? Maybe I should think about this for minute. However much I want justice for everyone else who’s offended my sensibilities, what I really want for myself is to go free. I want justice when it comes to everyone else. But when it comes to my crimes, what I really want is mercy. It’s a strange combination: liberty AND justice for me.

Unexpectedly Forgiving

Fortunately for me (and fortunately for all of us), God is merciful. And he congratulates all those who reflect his quality of mercy in their own lives.

[7] Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Mercy is unexpected forgiveness. Justice is a punishment that someone deserves for what they have done wrong. Mercy is unearned. It’s a surprise. It’s forgiveness that someone does not deserve. There is nothing they’ve done to justify it. God forgives your sins, not because you said you’re sorry, not because you’re trying to make up for it. God forgives your sins just because he is merciful. And since God has been merciful to us, he expects us to be merciful toward others.

Congratulations to those who demonstrate mercy, to those who forgive others even though they’ve done nothing to deserve it. Congratulations to the merciful, because that’s just the kind of thing God would do. And if you appreciate mercy, guess what? That’s exactly what you’re going to get in God’s Kingdom.

Jesus tells a story about mercy in

Matthew 18:23-35 "The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. [24] …A man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.

[25] Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. [26] "The servant fell on his knees before him.

'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' [27] The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

[28] "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

[29] "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' [30] "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

[31] When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. [32] "Then the master called the servant in.

'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. [33] Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'

[34] In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

[35] "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

Why should we show mercy to a criminal that clearly doesn’t deserve it? Because God has been merciful and we didn’t deserve it either. Since God has been merciful to us, we should be merciful to others.

It’s odd that these two qualities should stand side by side in the beatitudes: justice and mercy. They call for opposite responses: one for punishment, the other for liberty. Yet both of these characteristics are qualities of God, and both are qualities that God would like to see replicated in us: the desire for justice and the exercise of mercy.

Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice:

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

[7] Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Absolutely Innocent

The sixth beatitude is found in verse 8:

[8] Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

The word “pure” means without any contaminant, stain or spot. Here Jesus is saying that those who are citizens of the kingdom are absolutely innocent of anything wrong. Not only is their outward behavior completely perfect, but so is their heart: their innermost thoughts, their motives, their desires, their dreams. They are absolutely innocent through and through.

If you were among the disciples who were listening to Jesus that day on the mountain, you would probably find yourself coming abruptly to a halt at this point. Congratulations to those of you who are spiritually bankrupt, to those deeply dismayed by this world, to those who feel completely inadequate to live life. Congratulations to those of you who long for justice. So far, so good. Most everyone is probably thinking, “Not a problem. That’s me. I’m in the kingdom for sure.”

When we get to congratulations to those who are unexpectedly forgiving, there are probably a few people squirming. “I really need to be more merciful. I’ll have to work on that.”

But when we arrive at the sixth beatitude, it all comes screeching to a halt. Congratulations to you who are absolutely innocent—inside and out—because you are the ones who will see God. Oops! Congratulations to someone, but it isn’t me.

Psalm 24:3-4 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? [4] He who has clean hands and a pure heart.

God’s standard is absolute innocence. Not one spot or blemish is allowed. Do you ever use the 5-second rule at home? You know, if it’s on the ground for 5 seconds or less, then it’s not really dirty, you can stick it in your mouth. Well I don’t know if you ever noticed, but in surgery, there is no 5-second rule. If it touches anything not sterile, then it’s dirty.

That’s the way it is with God’s holiness. He requires absolute perfection.

Hebrews 12:14 without holiness no one will see the Lord.

So much for the congratulations. But wait a minute. There is a way. Because the Bible says that if you are in Christ, then not only are all your sins forgiven, but you have the righteousness of Jesus Christ. If you are in Christ, then you do have a pure heart. In God’s eyes you are absolutely innocent. So congratulations! You will see God after all.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

It’s through God’s mercy and grace that you have been declared clean. If you are in Jesus, then you are the pure in heart. But wait a minute. What about God’s justice? How can God be a God of justice if he lets me go free? How can God be a God of justice if he lets anybody go free?

Romans 3:25 God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement. …He did this to demonstrate his justice.

God can be just and merciful at the same time because of the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus meets the demands of justice. And because of that, God can extend to us his great mercy and forgive our sins.

Jesus alone is pure in heart and because we are in him, we will see God.

[8] Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Conclusion

Congratulations to

  • those who are Crying for Justice
  • those who are Unexpectedly Forgiving
  • those who are Absolutely Innocent

because you’re just the kind of people who will appreciate God’s kingdom. In the kingdom, God will bring justice to all, and through his mercy he will proclaim that all who trust Jesus are absolute innocent. Only in God’s kingdom can I experience liberty and justice for me.

Conclusion

The beatitudes are commonly thought of as characteristics that we must strive to attain so that we may qualify for the blessings of the kingdom. But that’s not what Jesus has in mind at all. Rather, the beatitudes are pronouncing God’s blessing on those who have certain inadequacies because that is the kind of people who most need God’s kingdom. And the beatitudes are pronouncing God’s blessings on those who long for certain perfections because that is exactly what the kingdom will bring. But all these people are going to receive the kingdom strictly out of God’s grace, not because they have mastered the Kingdom Character.

When Jesus spoke the beatitudes, he was not setting a new standard of holiness and asking the people to rise to meet it. Rather, this was the introduction to his lesson, designed to meet people right where they were and give them hope that God’s kingdom would satisfy their deepest needs and fulfill their deepest desires no matter how unworthy they might be.

If you will permit me just a little silliness, I’d like to try to express what I think is a modern-day equivalent of the spirit of the beatitudes:

Infomercial

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  • Are you deeply dismayed by all the unnecessary evil and suffering in this world?
  • Do you sometimes feel completely inadequate to live your life?

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  • But for yourself, you’d somehow like to get God to give you another chance.
  • Wouldn’t you like to live in a perfect world?

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  • Would you give up all the sin in your life?
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  • Would you commit yourself to a lifetime of doing good deeds?

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1 Copyright 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the The Kingdom Character series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on January 18, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Spiritual Life