Russell and Duenes

rodney king, justification and ash wednesday

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Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the unrighteous and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” On the human level, we see how this plays out. One of the clearest examples of it happened during my senior year at UCLA. When the videotape captured some white L.A. cops beating senseless a black Rodney King, the world assumed the cops were guilty – and who could blame them? The ubiquitous video of the beating was plain-as-day. So when the verdict came down and the cops were declared not guilty, well, let’s just say that the abomination was clear, with the result that, over the next few days, central Los Angeles came to look a bit like London after the Luftwaffe was done with it. If men do this over one unjustly beaten, imagine far worse?

Far worse? How about God sending rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, to use Jesus’ example? Or God giving you and me food to eat? How about God giving us family and friends? Or, how about God “justifying the unrighteous?” How are these “far worse” than Rodney King being unjustly beaten? Well, let’s see.

The God of the universe is a perfectly holy and righteous God, dwelling in unapproachable light and having absolutely no darkness, wickedness or sin within him. He loves his own glory, honor and beauty with perfect and inexpressible energy and zeal. He is high and exalted above all creation and lives to magnify his glorious name. He declares that he will not give his glory to another, and that he will not allow himself to be defamed. But he IS defamed, every second of every day. God’s glory is hidden, suppressed, exchanged and ignored by us on a daily basis, and God appears to be overlooking it. In fact, St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans that God “justifies the wicked (Rom.4:5).” That is, God forgives and counts as righteous sinners like you and me who put our trust in Jesus. But how can God do this? Can God condone the dishonor we have heaped upon him and still remain righteous and holy? Can he just “wave it off,” as it were, and decide to forgive us? John Piper answers:

For God to condone or ignore the dishonor heaped upon him by the sins of men would be tantamount to giving credence to the value judgment men have made in esteeming God more lowly than his creation. It is not so much that he would be saying sins do not matter or justice does not matter; more basically, he would be saying that he does not matter. But for God thus to deny the infinite value of his glory, to act persistently as if the disgrace of his holy name were a matter of indifference to him – this is the heart of unrighteousness. Thus if God is to be righteous he must repair the dishonor done to his name by the sins of those whom he blesses. He must magnify the divine glory man thought to deny him. (The Justification of God, 148)

How does God restore the honor and glory due his name and yet justify – count as righteous – sinners like you and me? Ash Wednesday, which is today, points the way; for Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season, the time of year in the traditional Christian calendar when God’s people look ahead to the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is the death and resurrection of Christ where God answers our questions. It is in the death and resurrection of Christ that Almighty God is “both righteous and the one who counts righteous those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom.3:26).

When God killed Jesus on the cross, he poured out his holy wrath against our God-dishonoring sins, thus demonstrating his own righteousness. And having thus punished Jesus for sins in our place, God can now also freely acquit us of our sins with no miscarriage of justice. Justifying the unrighteous is an abomination – unless Jesus has stood in sinners’ place to accept God’s just judgment. God has not ignored our sins, but has righteously punished them. And thus Jesus righteously saves “those who come to God through him” (Heb.7:25). Let us come boldly to our righteous God who is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Amen.



Written by Michael Duenes

February 18, 2010 at 3:59 am

Posted in Duenes, Race, Theology

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