[This is the second in a four-part series looking at the gifts given to us in the coming of Jesus. The first gift I explored was BEAUTY. You can read it here.]
One of the most powerful ways to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good. ~ Tim Keller
In his first advent Jesus promised justice for the oppressed, something that will be ultimately and completely dispensed in his second advent. In this vein, at Christmas we often hear preachers refer to the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, such as those in Isaiah 9:
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. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. 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. (Isa 9:6-7)
The first advent of King Jesus heralds the establishment of a just and equitable kingdom of God on earth. NT Wright calls it “…the explosive news of a different empire, a different emperor, a different kind of emperor.” He continues,
Jesus isn’t simply another politician on whom everyone can pin their hopes and who will then let them down. His way of establishing God’s justice and peace on the earth was different to Caesar’s, different to the usual power games and money games, different in source, different in method, different in effect.
But, different how? How is his empire different to all others? What are the mechanics of how justice works in Jesus’ new kingdom? Here are a few ways.
1. JESUS IS THE DISPENSER OF PERFECT JUSTICE
Jesus liked referring to himself as ‘The Son of Man,’ a cryptic name drawn from an ancient prophecy by the 4th century prophet Daniel.
Daniel had seen an astounding vision of God sitting on his throne like a judge in his courtroom (see Dan 7:9-14). In the dock awaiting their judgement were people from every tribe and tongue throughout the world. Then, in his vision, a figure described as being “like a Son of Man” appeared and God granted him authority over all people, who fell and worshipped him.
This ‘Son of Man’ is God’s unique representative, the ruler and judge of the world.
When Jesus used this designation to refer to himself, he was saying, I am your king and your judge, and I act with the full authority of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After his death and resurrection (indeed because of them), other New Testament authors refer to Jesus as the one who will judge the living and the dead (see Phil 2:5-10 and Acts 17:24-31).
But remember this is the God of whom it was said, “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Gen 18:25) Jesus dispenses perfect justice, not the half-baked kind we see in courts and congresses around the world. In a world wracked by the miscarriage of justice, by bad judgements, inequity and oppression, the season of Advent is a moment to be reminded that Jesus is the perfect judge. He sees the injustice and poverty, the discrimination and hatred, and will one day sit in judgement of those who have oppressed others less powerful than they.
In 2010, responding to a wave of asylum seekers arriving from Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the civil wars in Sudan and Sri Lanka, Australia announced it would manditorily imprison all refugees and remove them from its shores to processing centers in New Guinea and Nauru. Except these weren’t “processing centers”, they were prisons. Even though close to 90% of those imprisoned in these camps have been proven to be genuine refugees, the Australian government has decided to leave them locked up indefinitely to dis-incentivize what they called the “people smuggling trade”. Hundreds of desperate refugees, including children, innocent of any crime, are currently serving indefinite incarceration for the imagined crimes someone else might commit. It is plainly unjust. Those who trust in the reign of King Jesus can believe he sees this injustice and sits in judgement of it.
2. GOD IS ON THE SIDE OF THE OPPRESSED
Jesus’ gospel is the hope of both the oppressed and oppressor, but the Scriptures are pretty clear about God’s preferential treatment for the poor. Jesus doesn’t just see the suffering of the men and women on Nauru and Manus, he sides with them.
This is a pretty confronting truth for the Australian church, that our God might be on the side of oppressed (predominantly) Muslim refugees, over against our (nominally) Christian nation. But the Old Testament is clear that God’s wrath isn’t just reserved for other nations. God seethes with anger toward Israel when they exploit and oppress the most vulnerable members of society.
When we read stories of a little refugee girl in Nauru detention center, so overwhelmed by hopelessness that she compulsively swallows stones in an attempt to kill herself, we can’t help but sense God’s anger toward her oppressors.
When we hear about how the desperate Manus Island detainees have adopted stray dogs as their pets, only to have their guards brutally kill the animals as a lesson to them, we should hang our heads in shame.
The Australian Council for International Development sent representatives to Manus Island, and reported, “The indefinite nature of this situation, with no clear pathway for resettlement, has an insidious impact on these people. We are robbing them of their freedom, denying them of all hope and condemning them to suffer.”
As Manus Island detainee Walid Zazai tweeted recently:
Australia for how long we should suffer?
For how long you want to torture us?
For how long you want to use us for people smugglers?
For how long you want to use us to stop the boats?
Aren’t we humans?
The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, more than willing to give voice to God’s righteous anger at injustice, nonetheless prays this simple and beautiful prayer: “In wrath, remember mercy.” (Hab 3:2).
That is my prayer for my nation. O God, who sides with the oppressed, in your anger toward us please remember your promise of mercy.
Of course, we can thank God that that prayer is answered in the coming of Jesus.
3. THE CHURCH IS TO BE THE AGENT OF GOD’S JUSTICE IN THIS WORLD
Knowing that Jesus will dispense perfect justice in the age to come is one thing. So is knowing that God’s heart is for the poor. But the way Jesus works to bring justice in the here-and-now is through his people, as agents for justice to the whole world. NT Wright says,
‘The government shall be upon his shoulders’: that is the good news of the gospel. But the way Jesus Christ exercises his authority, consistent with the nature of that authority, is always through the healing and renewal of human beings, calling them as he called his first followers to the dangerous, difficult but glorious task of working as his agents, growing the kingdom as we say, making it happen for real people in the real world.
Jesus’ people – the renewed ones – are called to be agents of Jesus’ justice to the world through our ministry of sacrificial love and generosity to the most vulnerable.
This will involve being a voice for the voiceless – for incarcerated refugees who have become pawns in the Australian government’s vicious attempts to remain in power; for victims of police brutality; for displaced First Nations people; for survivors of domestic violence; for unborn babies. It will involve sharing our wealth to provide the poor with the basics of water, food and shelter and to protect the vulnerable from neglect and exploitation.
This Advent, please don’t just sing about the kingdom of God. See yourself as an agent of that kingdom, sent to bring healing, restoration, and repair to a broken world, in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
[All photos were taken in the Manus Island detention center]