16 “Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. 17 You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.’” (Deuteronomy 1:16–17, NKJV)
We are reminded of the importance of impartial, unbiased judges as we watch this week’s confirmation hearing of the most recent judge nominated to sit on the U. S. Supreme Court. Judges who bring an agenda to interpreting and applying the law to cases are biased, unjust, and undermine the rule of law. “Equal justice under law” (engraved above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court) is a principle we strive for as a nation, but it is not a new concept. Moses commanded it of Israel under the governance of the Sinaitic Law. Gospel salvation under the new covenant of Christ is equally available to all “without respect of persons” (Acts 10:34-35). God is impartial, applying His word of truth without bias to rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile (Rom. 2:1-11). God commands all of us to repent because He has appointed a righteous, impartial Judge before whom we will stand and be judged (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Cor. 5:10). Let us discard our agendas for the only one that matters; the word of Christ. He saves and He judges without prejudice and partiality (Jno. 12:48-50).
Shall I not punish them for these things?” says the Lord. “And shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this? (Jeremiah 5:9, NKJV)
The cup of Judah’s iniquities had reached the brim: “Their transgressions are many; Their backslidings have increased” (Jer. 5:6). Like her sister Israel to the north, idolatry, adultery, selfish indulgence, oppressive leaders, false prophets, and faithless neglect of God headlined her sins (Jer. 5:7-8, 11-13). Yet they were sure punishment would not come upon them (Jer. 5:12-13; Micah 3:11-12). Even to this moment, many have created a view of God that takes everyone to heaven. Sin is minimized out of existence; therefore, they eliminate the prospect of punishment. “A loving God will not send people to hell!” they proclaim. We must divest ourselves of this illusion. Yes, God is love. His severity is also real (Rom. 11:22). Our God is a consuming fire against evil (Heb. 12:29). Over and over, God called His people to turn from their sins and return to Him (Jer. 3:14-18, 22; 4:4; 7:13, 25-26). Because Judah and Israel rejected God’s word and refused to repent, God had no choice but to exact punishment. God’s word is clear; those who “do not know God” and those “who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” “shall be punished” when Christ returns (2 Thess. 1:8-9; Matt. 25:46). Now is the time to repent and turn to the Lord. Now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:1-2).
3 If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. (Psalm 130:3–4, NKJV)
We rejoice in the truth that God forgives and does not mark (retain) our sins (cf. Psa. 6:1; 38:1). God’s lovingkindness does not free us from accountability for our sin; We are answerable for our sin, its consequences, and punishment. The way of the transgressor is hard, and the wages of sin is death (Prov. 13:15; Rom. 6:23). Today’s psalm praises God’s forgiveness, His mercy, and redemption of Israel “from all our iniquities” (Psa. 130:8). When God’s people cry to Him with repentant supplications, He hears and forgives (Psa. 130:1-2). He does not withhold forgiveness; neither should (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:32-35). God does not vindictively keep an account of evil (1 Cor. 13:5). His forgiveness generates reverential fear for His wonderful pardon (Psa. 130:4). God’s responsive mercy assures our hearts to patiently trust His purposes and hope in His word (Psa. 130:5-6). Christians trust God’s unfailing love, generous mercy, and abundant redemption. He forgives us when we repent and confess our sins (Acts 8:22-24; 1 Jno. 1:9).
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Matthew 23:37–39, NKJV)
God longed to gather His people to Himself to give them refuge and blessings. But their rejection of Christ brought terrible judgment upon Jerusalem and Judea at the hands of the Roman army. Like vultures devouring their prey, the Romans squelched a Jewish rebellion when general Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70 (Matt. 24:1-2). Historian Josephus estimated 1.1 million Jews perished (many who had come to the city for Passover). Tens of thousands were enslaved and dispersed throughout the empire. Jerusalem’s house was left desolate because she refused to receive the Messiah (Lk. 19:41-44; Jno. 1:11). We must learn from Jerusalem’s demise that God judges sin, including those of His people. When Christians turn away from the Lord and reject His truth and mercy, we face the righteous judgment of God for our sins (Rom. 2:1-6). The gospel calls on Christians to abandon sin through repentance and embrace the spiritual blessings that are in Christ (2 Cor. 12:20-21; Eph. 1:3). “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). Beware. Practicing sin will not go unpunished. Christian friend, if there is sin in your life, repent and turn to the Lord without delay (1 Jno. 1:8-9).
33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:33–34, NKJV)
Crucifixion was a gruesome form of execution. Suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus hung in anguish for hours before death came. The innocent Son of God was tortured to death between two criminals who, admittedly, deserved their death sentence (Lk. 23:40-41). The merciful heart of Jesus is fully displayed even while He was being treated mercilessly. The Son of God is always ready to forgive our sins against Him. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” including those who murdered the Son of God (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Were they saved the moment Jesus said this prayer? No. Those who killed Jesus had the gospel preached to them on Pentecost, and many of them believed it (Acts 2:22-36). They asked the apostles what they should do for having crucified the Lord and Christ, and were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:37-38). About 3,000 of them were forgiven when they received and obeyed that gospel message of salvation (Acts 2:41). It takes more to be forgiven than God wanting us to be saved. It takes more to be forgiven than wishing God to forgive us. It is when we believe, repent, and are baptized in the name Jesus Christ that God forgives our sins against Him and His Son.
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:8–10, NKJV)
The gospel is the “word of faith” the apostles preached. It is near, having been confessed by our mouths and believed in our hearts. The gospel of Christ is the message of “righteousness of faith,” not “righteousness of the law” (Rom. 10:4-7). But please see that the word of faith (gospel) is not a message of salvation by faith only, since “confession with your mouth” is belief plus confession. We are neither saved by faith alone or by confession alone. Both are said to be “unto” righteousness or salvation (v. 10). The preposition “unto” translates the Greek word eis, which denotes “entrance into, or direction and limit: into, to, towards, for, among” (Thayer, 183). Believing the gospel in your heart and confessing Christ with your mouth move you toward salvation, but they are not all the gospel says to be saved. The word of faith commands us to repent or perish (Lk. 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30). The word of faith also commands us to be baptized “for (eis) the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Let us believe and follow all the gospel preached by the apostles. Then we have God’s assurance of being saved in Christ.
20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20–21, NKJV)
Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ will not exist in a person’s life until that person repents toward God. Repentance is changing the mind toward its object (in this case, toward God). It is about thinking differently, and then we live differently. Repentance is not the regret of feeling sorry toward God. Genuine repentance results from godly sorrow over sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Some think to repent means “to turn,” but this is also incorrect. Only when we think differently about God and our sin against Him will we turn to God for salvation. Paul shows the difference between repentance and turning to God in Acts 26:20 when he explained he preached the gospel to people so “that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” Paul did not say, “turn (repent), and turn to God.” He said to repent (change your mind) and turn to God. Repentance, produced by godly sorrow, bears the fruit of turning to God (that is, “works befitting repentance,” cf. Lk. 3:7-14). The gospel requires repentance 1) Toward God, Acts 20:21; 2) Of sins, Lk. 5:32; 13:3, 5; Acts 8:22; 3) For the remission of sins, Acts 2:38; 3:19; and 4) Because God commands it, Acts 17:30. Without repentance, we will not escape the condemnation our sins bring from God (Rom. 2:3-5).
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; 12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. 13 For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth. (Psalm 96:11–13, NKJV)
Throughout history, the Lord God has come in judgment against sin. The most notable being the flood in the days of Noah, which is a type of the fiery day of the Lord yet to come (2 Pet. 3:5-10). The Bible records God coming in judgment against cities and nations (Jude 5, 7). He stirred up nation against nation to render His punishments against their sins (Isa. 13:1, 17-22; Isa. 14-24). God’s creation in heaven and on earth rejoice when God applies His justice against evil. Righteousness and truth are His standards of judgment (Rom. 2:1-5). We dare not minimize and forget that God reigns and blesses good while calling evil to account. Jesus promised a day of judgment for all who reject Him and His word (John 12:48). If you cannot rejoice in God’s righteous judgments of truth, then it is time to repent and honor God (Rom. 2:4-5). James’ exhortation still rings true, “You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (Jas. 5:8-9).
1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–3, NKJV)
Jesus rejected the philosophy of Karma. (“Karma is a Hindu term which comes from Sanskrit and relates to fate and action. You alone are responsible for your actions. It is the law of cause and effect, an unbreakable law of the cosmos. You deserve everything that happens to you, good or bad. You created your happiness and misery,” The Tree of Awakening.) While it is true that our choices bring consequences, that is not the only force at work in our lives (Gal. 6:7). It was wrong to conclude that these people Pilate killed were “worse sinners” than others (it was an invalid judgment, see Lk. 12:57). Evil people commit evil acts against the innocent. Time and chance happen to us all (Lk. 13:4; Eccl. 9:11-12). Suffering in the present does not necessarily correspond with some wrong in the past (Jno. 9:1-3; cf. Job). But, times of suffering and affliction should cause us to examine ourselves and repent of our sins. Whether we are experiencing a moment of distress or we see others suffering, instead of judging them as “worse sinners,” we should ponder our lives and repent of our sins. Why? Because we will answer to God for our sins and be punished justly by Him (Rom. 6:23).