By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Justice divine is satisfied
How can God, at one and the same time, be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus? (Rom 3:26 KJV) That was the question we left hanging in the air in the previous devotional. There is a saying used in the UK which says that ‘justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done'. This whole question is ‘forensic', that is pertaining to courts of law. God, of course, can do anything He wants to do, but He wants to be accountable for His actions. His workings are not random or arbitrary, and instinctively we know this; this is why we instinctively try to understand Him. And it is why the child inevitably protests that ‘it is not fair' when things don't work out the way he thought they should.
The idea of assessment and verdict is integral to God's revelation of Himself. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Gen 1:3-4 KJV). This is our earliest account of God assessing and approving His own works. Everything is tested to check its validity and conformity to His will. Jehovah-Shaphar, The LORD the Judge, (Judges 11:27) is one of the many self-revelations of essential attributes of God's character. Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Isa 30:18 NASB)
This forensic theme emerges constantly in the Bible. God submits Himself to examination and verdict; "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. "What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? (Isa 5:3-4 NASB) At times God speaks as though in a court-room; The LORD standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. The LORD will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. (Isa 3:13-14 KJV) God cannot take short-cuts; the sceptre of His kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness. Justice must be seen to be done.
As moral beings God holds us accountable too. Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, We will hear thee concerning this yet again. Thus Paul went out from among them. (Act 17:29-33 ASV) The KJV has a quaint translation here; And the times of this ignorance God winked at But with all this emphasis on justice being seen to be done, can God turn a ‘blind eye' and declare a man to be righteous even when all the evidence is against him? Not at all, God knows it is the ‘ungodly' that He is declaring to be righteous. How can these things be?
Paul explains God's method of operation in one of the most important passages in the New Testament; Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Rom 3:20-25 KJV) God has been able to operate in this way because of a propitiation. Oh no, another jawbreaking word!
Propitiation is a wonderful word and the Bible gives us a beautiful illustration of the way in which it works. It is a very primitive idea but one that we have not outgrown. When, as a child, you broke your mother's favourite vase and picked her some flowers from the garden to get back into her favour, you were operating on a common human instinct. When you grew up and forgot your wedding anniversary and bought a huge box of chocolates to say ‘sorry' you were displaying the same instinct. The instinct is that if I have offended someone I may reinstate myself in that persons favour by paying a price.
I said the Bible gives us a beautiful illustration of the truth. It is the story of Jacob's reconciliation to Esau. The Bible, in its usual honesty, lays Jacob's motives wide open. Jacob had schemed his way into Esau's birthright and first-born blessing and Esau had determined to murder him; Jacob fled. Twenty years later Jacob wanted to be restored to his brother. The story is to be found in Genesis 32. Jacob sends a conciliatory message to Esau but is told that Esau is on his way... with a small army; Jacob is terrified, but continues to scheme. He decides to sent a very expensive ‘gift' to Esau; 200 she-goats, 20 he-goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 40 cattle, 10 bulls, 20 she-asses and 10 foals. (some box of chocolates this is!) And Jacob's thinking is transparent. I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me. (Gen 32:20) He is buying his way back into Esau's favour. He hopes the gift will appease, bring peace, between him and his estranged brother. He hopes to look Esau in the eye and be reconciled. This gives us our illustration of propitiation; the price paid to remove the offence and to open the way for reconciliation. I won't spoil the story by telling more; read it when you have a moment to spare.
Pagan religion is full of sacrifice. The hope is to ‘appease' an angry god by means of paying the right price. The instinct is a true one but all the data is wrong. The true God is not angry in an arbitrary fashion; He cannot be ‘appeased' by slaughtered animals, or by treasure houses of wealth. The gulf which opened up between God and man is too great to be spanned by any earthly gift. The offence is greater than he can imagine and the price utterly beyond human reach. Is man lost then forever; locked in his estrangement from an angry God? No, a price has been paid which completely satisfies all the righteous requirements of an offended God. The provider of the propitiation was God Himself, and the propitiation which He gave was nothing less than the life of His Son. We sometimes say that ‘Jesus paid the price'; if we want to be theologically accurate we should say ‘The Father paid the price, and the price that He paid was His Son.'
It was through the eternal Spirit that Christ offered Himself without blemish to God (Heb 9:14) and that eternal sacrifice has infinite reach. When my family was younger we would take day trips to places. I recall a visit to Madame Taussaud's in London. Access was gained through a turn-style on payment of the due price. My family were used to this routine; we joined the line. Four older children, Mum, Dad, and the three little ones. An official was superintending the turn-style and when the four older children arrived let each one through without payment. Was she breaking the law to allow this; no not really. You see, she had seen the father coming with the money in his hand. I had sufficient to pay the entrance price for those before me and those behind me. She ‘overlooked' those ahead of the price-payer, looking over them to the certainty that the price would be paid in full by the father. Those behind were all given access without payment too for the price was now paid.
How could God let the ‘ungodly Abraham' through? He saw the Man coming with the full price in His hands. A price so complete that it stretches from the beginning of the human race to the end of it; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; (Rom 3:24-25 ASV) The eternal sacrifice has infinite reach. It effects reached to Abraham, and to me and to the farthest corners of the earth.
My righteousness could never have been sufficient to satisfy the just demands of a Holy God, but Christ's righteousness life poured out in willing sacrifice has done so. In response to genuine faith God reckons His own righteousness to the account of the believer, and declares that he is ‘right with God. The indigenous people of Papua New Guinea created a language known as ‘pigeon English' in which they used English words with their own tribal idioms. It produces such wonders as ‘finger-belong-foot' for the word ‘toe' and many others. It was sheer inspiration which caused them to translate the word ‘justified' in a biblical sense as ‘God, Him say me OK'. The theological implications of this little phrase are amazing; justification is God's pronouncement' in the law court' that the accused is right with God and that there is no sentence to follow. He walks from the court a free man. The books show that God's righteousness has been credited to his account.
God is, at one and the same time, both Just and the Justifier of the believer in Jesus. (Rom 3:26) As always, Wesley said it so much better...
'Tis finished! The Messiah dies,
Cut off for sins, but not His own:
Accomplished is the sacrifice,
The great redeeming work is done.
'Tis finished! all the debt is paid;
Justice divine is satisfied;
The grand and full atonement made;
God for a guilty world hath died.
The veil is rent in Christ alone;
The living way to heaven is seen;
The middle wall is broken down,
And all mankind may enter in.
The types and figures are fulfilled;
Exacted is the legal pain;
The precious promises are sealed;
The spotless Lamb of God is slain.
The reign of sin and death is o'er,
And all may live from sin set free;
Satan hath lost his mortal power;
'Tis swallowed up in victory.
Saved from the legal curse I am,
My Savior hangs on yonder tree:
See there the meek, expiring Lamb!
'Tis finished! He expires for me.
Accepted in the Well-beloved,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
I see the bar to heaven removed;
And all Thy merits, Lord, are mine.
Death, hell, and sin are now subdued;
All grace is now to sinners given;
And lo, I plead the atoning blood,
And in Thy right I claim Thy heaven!