Social Justice and the Gospel

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I hesitated for what seemed like years to actually start blogging. Two big things kept me from becoming a practicing blogger: 1) The abundance of other established blogs that we are constantly flooded with all over the internet and specifically social media.  I mean, why would I want to be a part of the noise? 2) Due to the first reason, I didn’t think anyone would even read my feeble attempts to express what I felt God iss saying to and through me.  Yet, alas I am here and along with seemingly everyone else, I have something to say.

In the last few months, dare I say years, it seems as if the world has taken an overwhelming turn for the worst; overwhelming being the operative word.  One cannot turn on the television or radio or Facebook without being exposed to the wickedness, brokenness and suffering that is taking place ALL.OVER.THE.WORLD.  I mean within the last week, I don’t know whether to pray for Ferguson, the drought in California, Chicago,  Iraq, Ukraine, Ebola-infested places, or the people who I get to Pastor.  I don’t know whether to spread awareness about ISIS, ALS, police brutality or sex-trafficking.  It’s overwhelming; literally.  To top it off, I have to deal with all the posts and videos and rants that don’t serve any purpose but to try to make me feel guilty for not being more involved and speaking out or marching or helping to spread the awareness.  Yet, what I really feel convicted by is the fact that as a Pastor who gets paid to lead and preach, I’m NOT doing enough spreading…of the Gospel!

Everyday I am more and more convinced that the answer to ISIS, the answer to Ferguson, the answer to racism, the answer to gossip, the answer to oppression, the answer to hate, the answer to divorce, the answer to sin is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know that seems ultra-simplistic, but Isn’t that why Jesus came?  Isn’t that what the body of Christ has been “commissioned” to ultimately spread?  Isn’t that heartbeat of the Church? The answer to these rhetorical questions is, YES.

WHY JESUS CAME

As I was considering about blogging these past few weeks, the Holy Spirit kept bringing two passages to mind and one is an almost direct quote of the other.  In Isaiah 61, the prophet says,

The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of our God’s vengeance;
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify Him. (Isaiah 61:1-3, HCSB)

And in Luke 4 we find these words:

He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 He began by saying to them, Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” (Luke 4:16-21, HCSB)

What the prophet Isaiah spoke contextually about Himself, he also spoke prophetically of the One who would ultimately fulfill this “mission statement”; Jesus the Christ.  I find it fascinating that on the surface this would seem like the social justice Magna Carta.   It talks about the poor, the disabled (Blind), the oppressed or enslaved, the brokenhearted and the response of the prophet and ultimately Jesus to those things.  In fact, all of these descriptions are but metaphors ultimately saying the same thing: People are in trouble, but one has come under the unction/empowerment and leadership of Jehovah/Yahweh (and the Holy Spirit) to bring about a change through “good news” or in the Greek, “the Gospel”.

In order not to reinvent the wheel I have chosen to use David Guzik’s commentary on this passage as a guide:

a. The Messiah announces that He is here to heal the damage that sin brings. Sin has done great damage, so there needs to be a great work of redemption.

b. Because sin impoverishes, He will preach good tidings to the poor. Because sin breaks hearts, He will heal the brokenhearted. Because sin makes captives, He will proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. Because sin oppresses, He will proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.

c. Because sin is a crime that must be avenged, He will proclaim … the day of vengeance of our God.

d. Because sin brings grief, He will comfort all who mourn.

I love this summary and the reality that it paints.  God’s mission, the prophets’ mission, Christ’s mission is to bring good news to those, as John Calvin puts it, “who are altogether forsaken and abandoned, but who are also wretched in themselves.”  We see this fully played out in the life of Jesus recorded in Scripture.  Although he reached out to the marginalized, the end goal was not de-marginalization but Spiritual transformation aka the New Birth.  Their being marginalized allowed them to be more receptive to his message, but even after putting their trust in Him, many then and today still have remained marginalized.

I conclude then, that this passage in Isaiah and Jesus’ recitation and interpretation of it in Luke isn’t about social justice.  Also, Christ’s mission did not have a primarily social justice emphasis, but it was a call to sinners to come to God through His finished work on the cross of Calvary made acceptable by his perfectly obedient life.  This is not to say that He did not or does not care about social justice, but I would venture to say that social justice is the byproduct of lives transformed by the gracious work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  In other words social reform is birthed out of redeemed, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting lives and unless the latter precedes the former, what is left is nothing but good intentions and whitewashed tombs.  How do I know this? The answer lies in verse 3b of Isaiah 61, “And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him.”  It does not that they will become de-marginalized, though that is important, but righteous, which is not a socio-economic transformation, but the transformation of a radically corrupt heart.

THE GREAT COMMISSION

It didn’t just stop with Christ, though He is the end goal and reward of all those who trust Him and would trust Him, He gave His original Disciples and all that would follow after Him and them (their pattern that is) an assignment  which was and is to,

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you…”(Matthew 28:19-20a, HCSB)

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16, HCSB)

2000 plus years later this should be the Church’s priority. This is our mission.  Our attention to social justice ought to be in response to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives but it should not be the sum total of our lives.  More is at stake than eliminating racism, incurable diseases and terrorist groups.  More is at stake than flooding each other’s timelines in an effort to make folks “aware”.   God has so graciously allowed His people to be part of His mission.  We get to be a “kingdom of priests” who stand on behalf of the Lord to proclaim the wonderful, glorious beauty of Christ and Him crucified.  Therefore, should we not make people aware of the fact that “though their sin be as scarlet, they will be white as snow?” (Isaiah 1:18).  The only true hope for this world is Jesus.  The only true cure to sin is Jesus.  That is the Gospel. Whether it be Muslim extremists, rapists, thugs, cynics, rich, poor, black or white, the answer to this world is found in Christ and Christ alone.

THE HEARTBEAT OF THE CHURCH

So what does this mean for Pastors and laypersons? It means we need to be serious about evangelism, both personally and communally.  We must be bold in our approach yet humble in our speech.  We must, as Pastor Bryan Loritts put it in a sermon last week, “get over the awkwardness of sharing Christ”, because at the end of the day, we share what we delight in.  I must say, I have failed in the area of personal evangelism.  As a Pastor it’s easy to get up and proclaim truth to people who are there to hear me, but to the person in the cubicle next to me it’s a whole other ballgame.  Yet, if I have been truly anointed and endowed with the Spirit of God, I have no cause for fear or anxiety.  He empowers, He brings about His intended results.

What this also means is that (particularly when it comes to matters of race and ethnicity) there must be a greater sense of urgency and desire to plant more multi-ethnic, multi-everything (especially Leadership) churches.  Change starts from the inside out, both spiritually and practically.  We must intentionally surround ourselves and invest ourselves into people who do not vote like us, talk like us, dress like us, look like us so that as we live out the Gospel, we reflect the image of the One who gave His life for us that we might give our lives for Him.  To Him be the glory and power forever. Amen.

Stepping Out,

T.

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