Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Atonement – an eye for an eye

Bible Readings

  • Leviticus 24:10-23
  • Deuteronomy 19:15-21
  • Matthew 5:38

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

It took me many years to work out what “brotherly love” meant.  Our household, like many others I suppose, represented your typical family where brothers got stuck into one another – love between brothers was not always portrayed.  Later in life, I worked it out that sin was part of our daily life—but we still loved one another.  And it is almost if I can still hear Mom’s rebuke, that is when things got a bit hot, “Do not repay evil with evil!”

Even a word from the Bible sometimes did not help you to knew that you had a case against your brother.  You just felt you wanted justice.

Then one day I read this passage in the Bible:  eye for an eye, hand for hand, foot for foot.  I had my verse.  I had grounds for retaliation and revenge!

In preparation for this sermon, I read quite a few commentaries.  When it comes to this particular verse some of them just skip it.  There was one who argued that this verse, and other places in the Bible where it is mentioned, is the most embarrassing in the Bible and should be removed, or not referred to at all.

I beg to differ.  It is my clear conviction that this verse underlies the reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While reading through the Scriptures and finding this verse in Exodus 21:23-24, I wrote:

This principle, I believe, lies behind the cross of Christ. He bore the punishment of God on all harm and injustice in his Person to satisfy the righteousness of God. 

Justice, not retaliation! 

Study the paragraph of Deuteronomy, and you will know that the setting is that of disputes in a court of law.  There is no hint of personal retaliation or vindictiveness.  

I am the Lord your God

Above and over all the regulations and case laws that Moses gave to the people of the Lord, stood the Ten Commandments.  The top line reads, “I am the Lord your God.” No less than 76 times do we read this in the first five books of the Bible.  God has a claim on his people, and his people were different, living under a different law, and were saved from slavery to be the possession of the Lord, their God.  

The very fact that Deuteronomy 19:15-21 indeed starts with how do deal with blasphemy indicates that God demanded that he who blasphemes must pay restitution to the Lord who is jealous about how his Name is used.  God requires and righteousness from the person who blasphemes his Name.

When it comes to the second table of the love which speaks about the love for the neighbour, God’s people were driven by the first table, which is the love for God and God’s love for them.  All relationships between the people of God stood under the overarching principle of love.  One would honour your father and mother because God loves you and them, He gave them to you, they love Him, and you love Him.  The same applies to adultery, stealing, and lying in court:  God loves me, I must love Him; He loves my neighbour, and I must love my neighbour.

Sin distorts justice

So when we go back to Deuteronomy 19 these principles are assumed – but sinful nature gets in the way:  people lie, justice is perverted, and retaliation becomes a reality.  They needed priests, judges, a thorough investigation and a verdict.

Sin makes life impossible.  We hate, lie, steal, and covet.  We know the law, and yet we trespass; we need a judge, we need a verdict, we need justice, we need punishment.  We need an eye for an eye – not driven by retaliation or vindication, but because we need justice.

In the presence of the Lord

Have you ever wondered where the custom to take an oath and be sworn in as a witness in a court of Law comes from?  Where does “So help me God” come from?  

“our law (like that of most civilized nations) requires a witness to believe, not only that there are a God and a future state of rewards and punishments, but also that, by taking the oath, he imprecates upon himself, if his evidence is false” (Simon Greenleaf)

Witnesses, even in the day of Moses, must understand that truth is universal because God is omnipresent.  That’s why the witnesses of Deuteronomy stood “in the presence of the Lord.”  The priests and judges also sat in the presence of the Lord and had to measure out justice as God determined: they could only take the side of truth, not of the circumstance or the person.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21, NIV)

To stem the possibility of retaliation, and only seek justice, any person who felt that he was dealt with unjustly, could approach the judges and priests.  Then, even the quality and quantity of the witnesses were tested:  two or three who were there when the alleged injustice took place;  their statements had to be checked.  And if it is proved that the witness is corrupt, what he wanted to be done to the person charged, would be done to him.

Punishment fits the Crime

Until very recently this was a principle accepted by the courts.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.  Justice demands that the penalty for a crime should not inflict harsher punishment than the offence called for.  We know of no case in the Scripture where this law required an actual eye, foot, or teeth, but the compensation sought by a person for injustice against him could be measured out only in as far as he received injustice.

Justice good for the people of God

“You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid. and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:20)

Much can be said about punishment dished out by courts in our days, but the fact is many law-breakers do not fear the law, and citizens, in general, have not much respect for the law, purely because the penalty does not fit the crime.  It is wrong to try to get rid of a cat by putting it in a rubbish bin, but if you did, and you get caught it, your punishment could be harsher than someone who raped an elderly person, or even killed a partner or killed an unborn baby.  Our law system does not necessarily ask what is morally right; it is only concerned about what is legally acceptable.

God instituted the law of “eye for an eye, foot for foot, tooth for tooth and life for life” to be an example of justice; it was meant to be a deterrent.  It was not “correctional” as we have it these days; it was exemplary punishment.

God’s righteousness demands justice

Whoever thinks this verse in the Bible is an embarrassment or thinks it gives every individual to exercise personal retaliation, has it wrong.  The only principle laid down here is that of justice.  Fact is, God’s righteousness demands justice.  This principle helps us to understand the cross and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

We are all sinners

The Bible is clear about our position before God:  “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Listen to Isaiah 59:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity…They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched…Their deeds are evil deeds…Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways… there is no justice in their paths… So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us… Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes… among the strong, we are like the dead. (Isaiah 59:2–10, NIV)

All the sins mentioned here go back to the Law of God, and as such to the paragraph in Deuteronomy:  hands are stained with blood (guilty!); false lips (guilty!); no justice (guilty!); utter lies (guilty!); evil deeds (guilty!); violence (guilty!); evil schemes (guilty!).  The result?  Justice is far from us.  We are like dead corpses!

This is the picture Paul paints in his letter to the Ephesians:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

God cannot turn a blind eye on sin

There is a principle in the Bible which may crush every sinner if it is not read in the full context of the cross of Christ.  It reads:

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.  Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished;… (Numbers 14:18, NIV)

God is merciful and abounding in love and forgiving sin, yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  It seems contradictory:  He forgives in love, but does not leave the guilty unpunished!

This is true of the Bible message from the beginning to the end.  Anyone who wanted to approach the Lord on his own terms would be crushed.  Yes, God is merciful and forgiving, but He demanded a sacrifice:  the blood of lambs and bulls satisfied God’s judgment on sin in the Old Testament; without that, there was no forgiveness.

Point is, God does not turn a blind eye to sin.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.  We demand justice, but we need justice.  How can we expect justice if we are born in sin, and utterly corrupted by sin?  How can we ask for forgiveness if we are unforgiving?  Can God just say, “I forgive you”, without penalty on sin?  Would He still be holy if He did so?  Would He still be righteous if He let the unrighteousness off the hook without repentance and punishment?  Such a God I don’t want to worship.

Eye for eye, life for life

God solved our problem, not because we deserved it, and not because He just forgets sin.  He solved our problem by being just.  He punished in righteousness, not compromising his holiness.  He gave his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord to be our mediator.

When Jesus walked this earth, He regularly told his disciples that He would be handed over in the hands of sinners. He also said to them that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17).  The Pharisees thought they did well by demanding retaliation and finding avenge for wrongs done to them.  Christ, being the fulfilment of the law, now required more of his followers:

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20, NKJV)

Where would they find this righteousness?  Only in Jesus Christ who made the Law full – He met every demand of the Law in full!  Our only hope to ever fulfil the righteousness of God is that we are clothed in Christ righteousness.  He is the One who gave an eye for an eye and a foot for a foot because we are not able to meet God’s demand for perfect atonement with Him.

When He was brought before them, all rules went out the window:  no proper witnesses, no truth in the allegations; lies conjured up by people in the street; an illegal court meeting in the middle of the night; bribes paid to witnesses.  They let robbers free to have Him crucified.  They had Him flogged even though they found no reason to do so. Even those who followed Him lied about Him and others deserted Him.  

When they nailed Him to the cross, He prayed to the Father that He would forgive them.  Then, He faced the righteousness of the Father:  justice called for an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth and life for life.  He cried out, “Why have Thou forsaken Me?”

Paul understood the cross and the Saviour and writes:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 21) NIV)

In Christ the righteousness of God is met:  He paid for our big sins, the small ones and everyone in between – an eye for an eye.  We might think it is not a big sin, but all our sins are an offence to the holiness of God and demand his righteous justice.  When Christ died in our place, the punishment fitted the crime;  if He did not do it, we had to do it – and the consequence would have been disastrous. 

Conclusion

My dear friend in the Lord, Christ’s death on the cross is your vindication;  those who do not trust in Him for forgiveness will find the justice of God’s righteousness calling for retaliation: an eye for an eye, life for life.

Make sure that your life is saved in Christ who took God’s judgement and became your righteousness.  When He returns He will vindicate those who suffered under unbelieving and oppressing regimes, and his enemy will be punished.  All because of justice. 

Eye for eye, and life for life. 

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 April 2019

 

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Grace, forgiveness, restoration

Bible Readings

  • 1John 1:5-2:6
  • 1Samuel 12:6-25

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Of all the parables of our Lord Jesus Christ I relate very well to the one of the wayward son.  This parable is about four lost things:  a coin, a sheep, and  two sons.  The headings added by some translators are missing the point:  it’s not about the lost coin, or the lost sheep, and even one son—the last it about two wayward sons, but surely not a prodigal son.  To be “prodigal”is to be wasteful, especially with one’s money—and the parable has nothing to say about being wasteful.

Although the father pleaded with the elder son and assured him of his love, the hardness of his heart resisted the restoring love of the father. That’s why he too was lost.

What the parables want to bring home is that the coin, the sheep and the younger son were found by the owner who cared. That’s the point! And over and over our Lord repeats:

I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10, CSB)

And this aspect of grace keeps knocking me over every time I think about it. In our sinfulness we walk away from God, we want to do our own thing, we then fall in a heap, but the cords of love we enjoyed in the presence of our Father, draw us back.  In his faithfulness and mercy, God forgives and restores.  This is the message of all Scripture: the holy God who bows down to an underserving and sinful world, and then provides a way out if this sinful mess in and through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ.

Grace

According to 1 Samuel 12 he is now and old man, grey, about to hang up the boots.  He calls the people to bring charges against him, if they have any, before he hands over.  Has he taken anything from anyone unlawfully?  (“Taken” in this context stands against the charges brought against the sons of Eli who “took” what be longed to the Lord, and also stole what did not belong to them.  The future king would also “take”, and even Samuel’s own sons “took” bribes.)

Has Samuel defrauded anyone?  Was anyone oppressed?  Was anyone bribed?  No!  Can you hear these words echoed in the words of Paul?

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7–8, CSB)

Samuel had been faithful and true to the God who appointed him. But he was not sinless; he too needed a sacrifice and atonement blood to be forgiven.  More later.

Our High Priest and Prophet, Jesus Christ, superseded and was far more superior to Samuel.  He never sinned in any way.  Yes, He only gave.  He did not come to be served, but to serve.  He knelt and washed the feet of his own.  The only thing He took was our trespasses to become sin for us, in order that we might in Him become the righteousness of God (2Corinthians 5:21).  Him we worship as our perfect High Priest. The writer of Hebrews helps us to understand the superiority of Christ.  A human high priest “… is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he is also subject to weakness. Because of this, he must make a sin offering for himself as well as for the people.” (Hebrews 5:2–3, CSB) But of Christ he writes:

“… though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek, …” (Hebrews 5:8–10, NKJV)

Call to life

Samuel used the last opportunity to address the people to plead for the people before God.

Now therefore, stand still [maybe,“be quiet”], that I may reason with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous acts of the Lord which He did to you and your fathers: (1 Samuel 12:7, NKJV)

Moses used the same word and command of Moses in Exodus 14:13 when the Israelites were in a panic with the army of the pharaoh behind them and the mighty waters of the Red Sea in front of them. Moses said to the people,

“Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. (Exodus 14:13, NKJV)

Now Samuel connects these events and applied it to the people who away turned from God, and rejected his Kingship by asking for a king so that they could be like the nations around them.  In essence they formally walked away from God in rebellion.  Do you see the attitude of the younger son of the parable?

What Samuel said was to remind them of God’s love and how He compassion on his people.  Samuel recalls God’s acts of rescuing his people from slavery out of Egypt, and later out the clutches of Sisera, and again from the commander of Hazor’s army, and out of the oppression of the Philistines too.  He gave them leaders like Gideon, Barak and Jephthah, and even Samuel himself.

Samuel preached about the God’s great act of salvation, pleading with them to worship God.  This “plead” is a word used in legal sense.  An advocate pleads on behalf of his client, or brings charges against a perpetrator.  Samuel did both:  he charged the people with their sins, but he also pleaded for them before God.

Samuel hammered in the fact that they sinned by asking for a king, and pointed to Saul, “Look at him, God answered your prayers.”

Is it all over now?  Will God forsake you and leave you in the hands of this feeble man?  Have they missed the boat?

Has the lost son forfeited everything, even the love of his father?  No!  There is still opportunity for grace, forgiveness and restoration.

If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. (1 Samuel 12:14, NKJV)

The next verse spells out the opposite, “the hand of the Lord will be against you!” And it is a dreadful thing to fall in the hands of the living God!

The prophet then called upon God to do an extraordinary thing:  to send thunder and rain upon the grain which was ready for harvest.  Why?  It was to illustrate to them that their actions were a mirror of the disruption of the God-ordained pattern of relationship that should be between them and the Lord. Israel moved out of its proper relationship with the Lord; now Lord ordained that nature would move out of its proper pattern with the people. This terrified the Israelites, for they understood that it could point to more severe disturbances as God spelled in the his Covenant with them.

Repentance and forgiveness

They then begged Samuel to pray for them, to intercede so that they would not die.  They realised they had made an enemy of the living God.  They begged:

“Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.” (1 Samuel 12:19, NIV)

They needed some to intercede for them.  Samuel did!

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you. (1 Samuel 12:23, NKJV)

This is the amazing aspect of grace. Then Samuel said to the people,

“Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing. (1 Samuel 12:20–21, NKJV)

Why?  “For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.” (1 Samuel 12:22, NKJV)

Restoration

The younger son went after all the empty things which profited him nothing and could not deliver what he craved for: he dreamed of freedom, but ended up in slavery.  At that point the loving care of his father overcame him.

“I will go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. (Luke 15:18, NIV)

Like Samuel, and more than Samuel, our Lord, our Mediator, stood before God.  He,

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, [he] offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7, NIV)

God heard the cry of his Son, not only for Himself, but for those He came to set free.  Samuel said if he would not intercede for the people he would sin.  But he stressed upon them “to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart” and to “consider what great things He has done for you.”  (1Samuel 13:24)

Jesus is still doing it. That’s our verse from 1 John this morning:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2, NIV)

More than Samuel, Christ pleads for us:  He is our righteous advocate before the Father; his plea rests upon his atoning sacrifice.

Conclusion

What is so amazing about grace?  Ask the younger son of the parable: in spite of his rebellion, his father restored him as his son.

Ask the Israelites as they gathered to hear Samuel’s farewell speech and heard the thunder and saw the lightning!  They found out that the same God who rescued their forefathers stood ready to destroy them if they did not repent; but He also stood ready to forgive and restore if they turned from their wicked ways and serve Him with all their heart.

What’s so amazing about grace?  There’s forgiveness and restoration for every rebellious sinner in and through the work of Jesus Christ, our High Priest.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:14–15, NIV)

He is our atonement.  He intercedes for us.  He calls sinners home to freely forgive and give assurance of restoration.

He is our King.  Saul, the king, is dead, but Jesus Christ our King lives forever. Fall down and worship Him as Lord. Do as the younger son did:

I will go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ (Luke 15:18–19, NIV)

What you will hear is the welcoming voice of the Father:

This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.  (Luke 15:24, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 20 August 2017

 

A Christless Gospel is not Gospel anymore

“This is the chief aim of the enemy’s assaults—to get rid of Christ, to get rid of the Atonement, to get rid of His suffering in the place of men! They say they can embrace the rest of the Gospel, but what, ‘rest,’ is there? What is there left? A bloodless, Christless Gospel is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill it neither honors God nor converts the sons of men.”

C.H. Spurgeon