READ – Jeremiah 22:1-5; 13-17
Many times people come to the Bible looking for answers. That presupposes we are asking the right questions. Thankfully, often in the Bible God draws near and asks questions of people (e.g. Adam and Eve, Cain, Abraham, Hagar, Moses, Elijah, Job) not to get clarity for Himself, but to offer people better self-knowledge and knowledge of God.
This week we are looking at a question found in the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah: “Is not this what it means to know me?” It’s a question that gets right at the heart of reality – isn’t this what it means to be in a true relationship with God? The “this” that God is referring to in Jeremiah 22:5 refers to King Josiah’s practice of administering justice and righteousness in his kingdom – he took care of the poor, oppressed, and needy. Those words, “justice and righteousness,” is really a phrase that uses two words to describe one idea. In the Old Testament, “righteousness” was relational and meant to be in a right relationship. “Justice” was the practice of putting to right those things that were wrong. It was a relational and public concept. Perhaps the best modern equivalent we have is “social justice.” In the Old Testament it involved rescuing the oppressed, not exploiting the immigrant or refugee, guarding innocent life, the fatherless, and widow.
1. WHO IS THIS QUESTION FOR
God’s question is directed at the audience identified in 22:2 – the king, the officers, and the people at the gates. These were people who had access to opportunity, influence, resources and enjoyed the comforts of life. This question is directed to those living in affluence, luxury, and comfort. Who is that question for today? If you’re living an ordinary, suburban, middle-class life in Orange County – don’t try to dodge or deflect this question. The question is for you.
2. HOW SHOULD THE QUESTION BE ANSWERED
You should let this question do its prophetic and penetrating work. It’s meant to be uncomfortable, to challenge, to shake us up. That’s what prophets do. But from there it’s important to ask to follow-up questions: (1) Do I really know God? (2) Do I really know the poor and oppressed? To help answer the first, do you see that God’s delight in justice and righteousness is not a side hobby, but something that’s central to His character? Do you know this God of the Bible? In any healthy relationship, you should know what delights the other person. God is no different. He delights in setting oppressed people free, righting inequities, befriending the marginalized. Answering the second question is tough for us culturally – many of us live in places designed to isolate us from poverty and injustice. We can read statistics and scan social media – but Scripture is calling us to be in relationship with those who are robbed, exploited, oppressed, neglected, and brutalized.
3. HOW CAN THIS QUESTION CHANGE US
We need change both at the intellectual level, but also the motivational level. It’s not enough merely to know injustice exists, our hearts need to be drawn to see, and feel, and act in ways that right relationships and right wrongs. For king Jehoaikim, his problem was with his eyes and his heart. He only saw and was motivated by things that profited him, his comfort, and his legacy. When Jehoaikim saw the poor, he saw himself above and distanced from them. When we see the poor, who do we see? A change in our vision and motivation will only come when we (1) see Jesus in the poor, and (2) see ourselves in the poor. Jesus is the coming king that Jeremiah foresaw who would bring righteousness (Jer 23:5-6). But He was surprising in that He was the king who became poor to make the poor rich (2 Cor 8:9). He also invited His followers to see the poor as Jesus himself (Matt 25:31-46). Secondly, Scripture offer us resources not to serve the poor out of a guilt-complex (I’ll do this to fix myself) or god-complex (I’ll do this to fix them), but out of grateful posture that knows that in our spiritual bankruptcy and poverty, Christ emptied himself to cure, rescue, and save us.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Social justice is hot right now. Honestly, where are you with issues of justice in our culture? Are you apathetic, skeptical, passionate? Why do you think you feel the way that you do about justice and righteousness? How is Scripture shaping your thinking when it comes to injustices in our community, nation, and world?
3. What do you think is most challenging for a follower of Jesus living in Orange County to actually live out God’s invitation and call to justice? Doing justice often doesn’t factor into the ordinary ways we view discipleship – we tend to think of growing in Christ in relation to church, Scripture reading and memorization, prayer, small groups. These are all good things, but how is our discipleship stunted if we leave out a public expression of justice?
4. What’s been your relational experience with “the poor?” How has God changed you through that relationship?
5. How does the Gospel change both our thinking and feeling about the oppressed and poor?
6. Trinity OC has a Compassion Team that has been doing some amazing work on connecting our church with opportunities to partner with others in working for justice in our community. Ask a pastor or elder for more information about how you can get involved in following Jesus’ call on this area of your life.