Will You Pay The Price Of Righteousness?
Jeremiah 7:1-12 Luke 23:13-24 January 19, 2020
Have you ever gone into a store and saw something you really wanted, but you looked at the price tag, and even though you wanted it, you decided the price was too high to pay. Today and tomorrow all over the country , people will be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many will be quoting his quote from the Old Testament book of Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Although those words are associated with Dr. King speaking, the words are actually a command from God to his people who had rejected the concept of righteousness. Righteousness comes about when we are in a right standing with God and are treating each other justly. That’s why the two greatest commandments are to first love God and then to love each other as we love ourselves. The only problem with love, is that it always costs us something. You can’t love without giving up something you have.
Dr. King was constantly connecting the concepts of righteousness with the concept of love for all people. Righteousness is always going to connect us back to God. We think that we can have justice independently of God. But the sin in the human heart, will over rule justice any day of the week.
Pontius Pilate was a roman governor who could decide whether a person found guilty of a crime would live or die. Jesus was brought before Pilate on the charges that he had been plotting to overthrow the Roman Government, that he had forbidden people to pay taxes to Ceasar, and that he claimed to be a king. Pilate listened to the evidence and declared that Jesus was innocent and should be set free. His verdict for justice was challenged.
The people didn’t want to look too closely at the evidence, they simply wanted a problem solved. They didn’t care about the truth. Jesus was a threat to the lifestyle of the rich and powerful. He had challenged them on their love of money and their lack of concern for the poor and needy. They had to get rid of him. They demanded that Pilate’s verdict be one of guilt and then execution by crucifixion.
Three times Pilate claimed him to be innocent. As a matter of fact, even though Jesus was innocent, Pilate was willing to have him beaten just to teach him a lesson about upsetting the wrong people. But that was not enough. The people and leaders demanded their way and gave Pilate a threat. “If you do not give us what we want, we will send message back to The Emperor that you are siding with a man who’s trying to replace Ceasar.”
All of a sudden, justice is not in Pilate’s best interest. If he does what is the right thing to do, it could cost him his job, his reputation, and his life. This is an easy choice for him to make. It wasn’t like he was the one who had Jesus arrested. He had not asked for this case?
He was personally opposed to having innocent people killed, but obviously the majority is making a lot of noise and therefore they must have a good reason for doing this. The pressure of sin to compromise was weighing heavily upon him, and so he gave up Jesus to be killed. The cost of righteousness had proven to be too high.
Those of you who went to see the movie “Just Mercy” in which an innocent man was on death row. There was plenty of evidence presented that the man was innocent at the hearing for a new trial, yet the judge ignored all of it in his ruling. The judge was placed in the same position as Pontious Pilate, and like Pilate he decided the cost of righteousness was too high.
We can look at Pilate or at the judge and condemn them as being cowards and unworthy of their positions, but before we condemn them totally, we need to ask “how much of Pilate is living inside of us?” When do we ignore the facts because it is no longer in our interests to carefully consider them.
In Matthew’s gospel, Pilate brings out water and washes his hands and says “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” But then he goes ahead and turns him over to be executed. We will all be tempted to do the same thing. We want to shed our responsibility for not speaking up or out, by saying “I personally am against this, but go ahead and do it anyways.”
We all have two weakness that Satan seeks to exploit. The first is that we want to be liked and accepted by others. Nobody likes to get the cold shoulder treatment, the icy stairs, or the knowledge that others are saying terrible things behind your back or even to your face. We don’t want offend those whom we may need to turn to for help.
We may say, “I don’t care what anybody says or thinks about me”, but that’s just not true. Even if you reach out your hand to a toddler and the child pulls back their hand and says “no” it has an affect upon you. Though we may try to hide it, we feel that rejection.
The second weakness is that once we reach a certain material comfort level, we do not want to go below it again. We actually begin to tell ourselves we deserve this, and it closes our hearts to the cost of pain it causes others.
Don’t you think the church going people in this country knew that slavery was wrong in both the north and the south? Don’t you think they knew that selling children in one direction and parents in another was evil? But slavery was an economic system that allowed people to have a certain level of material comfort that they did not want to give up.
They liked their cheap cotton clothes and beautiful soft cotton sheets. That comfort made you forget where the cotton was coming from. To give this up was too much of a price to pay for righteousness. Again let us not condemn them, because when we get a really good deal, we don’t want to know if it was made by slave labor in a third world country or not or who have may been exploited for us to get this. To go through the trouble of finding out how it was made it is to much of a price to pay for righteousness.
Money allows us to have certain material comforts that block us from the cries of the poor. That’s why Jesus says , you cannot serve both God and money. You are going to have to choose. Do you spend your money as though it was God’s money entrusted to you, or as your money from which you give God a tip.
The other choice we will have to make according to Jesus is to choose who we are going to be afraid of the most. Are we going to fear what other people can and will do to us. We know some people will kill us for taking the right stand. That’s why we have a Dr. King day. Or will we fear God, who has the ability to deal with us even after we have died casting us into the lake of fire.
As you read the Old Testament, God’s deliverance of His People was often associated with how the people of God was treating those who had no power to defend for themselves. Righteousness came out of people being in right standing with God and with each other. Jesus told us what righteousness looked like in the parable of the good Samaritan. The purpose of the Scriptures of God is to enable us to see the boundaries of what would keep us in a right relationship with God and with each other.
At the time of our reading from the book of Jeremiah, the people of God were showing up faithfully with offerings and gifts to God at the temple. Yet their hearts were not really in it. They were under the impression, as long as they showed up at the temple, everything was fine between them and God.
They believed that God would never allow the temple to be destroyed, so no matter what they did they were safe. The prophets were telling them, that God’s judgment was coming at them from the north through an army if they did not change their ways. They would be taken out of their country and sent to another place.
But the people kept saying, we’re going to the temple now, so God should be happy and pleased with us. They wanted religion without any change in their lifestyles or in the way they related to each other.
God sends Jeremiah to the gate of the temple and says, I want you to preach this message to the people who are coming to the temple. Jeremiah is preaching a message over and over again. “God says you need to change and reform your ways. You need to stop believing a bunch of lies.” How many of you know Jeremiah was going to pay a price for this message?
God said I have 4 things against you. 1 You are not dealing honestly with others. (Any of you ever been bitten by not reading the fine print) 2) you are oppressing those who have no position of power the foreigners or immigrants, the orphans and widows,(Does that happen today in our country, taking advantage of poor immigrants working in factories, on farms under terrible conditions or forcing people into human trafficking or slavery.)
3) you are shedding innocent blood (people on death row who are framed by a corrupt justice system, people who are killed for speaking against evil, babies who are born alive after botched abortions are all innocent blood, 4) and you are worshipping other gods (bowing down for the Almighty dollar regardless of how many lives will be lost.)
God cares about people. God cares about all people from all ages, from all races, from all places on the globe. Psalm 24 tells us the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.
Dr. King reminded us that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. God’s people in the Bible learned that arm was bending for 430 years as they suffered as slaves under the oppression of the Pharoahs of Egypt. Yet it was still bending toward justice. One day God intervened and led them out of Egypt.
Here in this country we saw the moral arc was 246 years long in slavery and another 100 years under Jim Crow, but it was still bending toward justice. That’s why we can cry free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.
I find it interesting that God used Jeremiah to stand up and give this message to the people that later got him whipped, beaten, thrown into a cistern with mud at the bottom and finally thrown into jail. The one thing we know about Jeremiah is when God appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet.. Jeremiah 1:4, the word of the Lord came to me saying, Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; and I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
How many of you know that God knew you before you were born, and that God had a call on you while you were yet in your mother’s womb? There were twins in the book of Genesis by the name of Jacob and Esau. There were tossing around in their mother’s womb causing her a lot of pain in her pregnancy.
She asked, “God, why is this happening to me.” God said, it is because there are two nations in your womb from which two people will be separated, one will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” God not only sees the child in the womb, God sees the future children in the child in the womb. We even find that babies in the womb are sensitive to the things of the spirit. When Elizabeth was six months pregnant carrying her future son John, Mary was just a weeks pregnant with her son to be Jesus. Yet Elizabeth said to Mary, the moment I heard your voice the baby inside me started leaping for joy.
Why is it that our society agrees that the life of the bald eagle and golden eagle begins inside of an egg so that it is illegal to destroy one of their eggs? Yet we claim we cannot know when human life begins? With all the modern ultra-sounds we can see this little baby moving around. We can detect its heartbeat.
Doctors can even operate on the baby inside the womb. Are we being truthful in saying we do not know if the child is alive or not? Are we like Pilate, looking at facts, but disregarding them because we don’t want to lose something we have.
It seems to me that life begins when a sperm and an egg combines and the creation of life begins to grow. To my knowledge every time that has happened in a woman’s womb, the only thing it has grown into is another human being. If God knows us while we are in our mother’s womb and we are created in the image of God, then God’s image must be in us in our mother’s womb. We should be worthy of protection because we are human.
What separates us from animals is that we are created in God’s image and they are not. God gave the animals to us as food. If there were no God, there would be no need to be concerned about righteousness so killing and eating one another would not be a moral issue. But something inside of us tells us we do not have the right to raise human beings as our food supply, or as our labor force, or as our sexual objects for our lusts.
Do you know what eugenics is. It the set of beliefs and practices which aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population. You try to reproduce as many people with the desirable traits as possible and eliminate as many people with the negative traits. This was very popular in the 1930’s. That mindset drove our immigration policy as a nation and determined which immigrants was welcomed in our country and which ones were not. Can you guess which continent had the smallest group allowed in and which had the largest?
Eugenic holders believed that the population of the less desirable people should be controlled by laws against inter racial marriage, forced sterilizations and birth control. Who do you think were the undesirables in this country in the 1930’s whose genes needed to be controlled?
Margaret Sanger pushed first for blacks to get on birth control pills to control our population. She wanted to fix the Negroe Problem and to prevent the multiplication of bad stock. This is the person who was the founder of Planned Parenthood. The percentage of blacks in America today is the same as the percentage of blacks in 1930 while other groups have grown. Why, because far too many of us are killed in the womb.
Looking at the facts of the history of Planned Parenthood, do you think it is a mere coincidence that 79% or their centers are in minority and poor neighborhoods. They still perform the task Margaret Sanger wanted to do in the 30’s of controlling the Negro population of undesirable traits.
Do we really mean Black lives matter or do we mean some black lives matter. We have lost millions of lives in the womb and it has weakened us politically, economically, but most importantly spiritually. We are now at the point of saying if a child is born alive, the doctor has the right to kill the child if he or she was unable to kill the child in the womb. Is that child that’s been born alive our neighbor. Is that child one of the least of these of which Jesus spoke
How can that not be the shedding of innocent blood? The bill in the House to protect children born alive is not allowed to be brought to the floor for a vote for us to see who stands where before the next election. In the Old Testament when the people thought they could serve both God and the detestable idol known as Molech, they started to sacrifice their children in the fire to Molech. To whom are we sacrificing our children today.
If our basis for treating one another with justice and equality is not rooted in the fact that we are all created in the image of God, then justice becomes defined anyway the government which happens to me in charge defines it. Justice becomes rooted in the minds of 9 people who serve on the supreme court. What’s justice today may not be justice tomorrow.
It almost seems to me, the value of a black life in my community depends on whether he or she was shot and killed by a policeman or by somebody else. The value of a black life greatly decreases if it was done by those in the some body else category.
God has some of his people in all places of the world. We are all connected in one way or another. As Christians we can’t be bound be a national vision that simply says, “America First.” Our calling is a higher calling in which we seek to follow the drum beat of a drum major whose name was Jesus and who said come follow me. Are we willing to pay the price to get out of the line of others to be true to Jesus.
As we go into election year, Facebook has already told us it will be accepting political ads and airing them regardless of how many lies are told in the ads. Therefore keep your cool before you share something someone allegedly said. Jesus did not call us to follow Facebook, he didn’t call us to follow twitter or instagram. He called us to follow Him.
A good place to start the journey is in the Word of God. Ultimately our opinions are only as strong as the foundation upon which they are built. Jesus told us to build upon the rock. Why does justice not roll down like a river and why does righteousness not come as a never ending stream? It is because we are unwilling to pay the price for righteousness. What’s the real price, its following after Jesus totally and completely.