At an Alpha Conference we held in East Malaysia, there were people from all over Asia. Many had been persecuted because of their faith. One man told me that his father had been imprisoned for six years for the simple fact that he was a Christian pastor. He himself was imprisoned for a year, aged nineteen, for speaking out on behalf of his father.
It is a terrible injustice when the innocent are convicted and imprisoned – even worse when they are executed.
In the New Testament passage for today we read of one of the greatest injustices in human history. Jesus was totally innocent. He was ‘a righteous man’ (Luke 23:47). Yet he was executed by crucifixion. The apostle Peter explains it like this: ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).
The word ‘righteous’ is often associated with the ‘self-righteous’, and has almost become a term of abuse. However, ‘righteous’ in the Bible is a wonderful word. It is also extremely important for our understanding of the whole Bible. ‘Righteousness’ is ultimately about right relationships – a right relationship with God and right relationships with others. In the New Testament, we come to understand that this righteousness is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 3:21 – 4:25).
Blessings of the righteousProverbs 10:21-30
The book of Proverbs contrasts the life of the ‘fool’ with the life of the ‘wise’. It also contrasts the life of the ‘righteous’ with the life of the ‘wicked’. Here are some of the many blessings that are promised to ‘the righteous’:
- Difference to others
‘The lips of the righteous nourish many’ (v.21a). We cannot be righteous in isolation. Righteousness is about our relationships – it is about bringing blessing to others. Who could you ‘nourish’ (feed, guide, encourage) with your words today?
- Delight in wisdom
‘Those who have insight delight in wisdom’ (v.23b). One of the things that come from a relationship with God is a hunger for knowledge and wisdom. Ask for wisdom today. God promises to give wisdom when you ask (James 1:5).
- Desires fulfilled
‘What the righteous desire will be granted’ (Proverbs 10:24b). God’s Spirit begins to change your will to align it with his (Philippians 2:13) and, as it becomes aligned with his will, God promises to give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
- Destiny of joy
‘The prospect of the righteous is joy’ (Proverbs 10:28a). ‘The righteous stand firm for ever’ (v.25b); ‘The fear of the Lord adds length to life’ (v.27a) and ‘The righteous will never be uprooted’ (v.30a). Right relationships are a source of great joy. Your joy is made ‘complete’ in a relationship with Jesus (John 15:11). Your destiny is eternal joy.
Lord, I pray for wisdom today and that you would put a guard over my lips so that my words may be used to feed and guide others.
The righteous for the unrighteousLuke 23:26-56
This passage gives hope to us all. We see from the example of one of the criminals, who were executed with Jesus, that the moment you recognise your sin and turn to Jesus, you receive total forgiveness and are put in a ‘right relationship’ with God. This man did absolutely nothing to earn this gift. He did not even have the opportunity to be baptised. Yet, instantly, this criminal received the promise that on that same day he would be with Jesus in paradise (v.43). How is this possible?
- Righteousness of Jesus
Is there someone who has hurt you whom you need to forgive today?
Jesus sets the bar very high in terms of the challenge to love our enemies – our critics, those who sneer and mock us. The test of our character is how we respond when we are suffering and in pain. Jesus, as he is being tortured on the cross, prays for his torturers: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (v.34).
Jesus was living in a right relationship with God. His very last words recorded in Luke’s Gospel are: ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (v.46).
Even the Roman centurion, ‘seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man”’ (v.47).
- Unrighteousness of us all
The righteousness of Jesus is contrasted with the people who stood watching, the rulers who sneered at Jesus (v.35), the soldiers who mocked him (v.36) and the criminals who were ‘punished justly’ and were getting what their ‘deeds deserved’ (v.41).
One of them hurled insults at Jesus. The other rebuked his fellow criminal and, turning to Jesus, he recognised his own sin (‘We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve’, v.41a) and the righteousness of Jesus (‘This man has done nothing wrong’, v.41b). Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (v.42). Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’ (v.43).
- Righteous died for the unrighteous
This passage is full of irony. As the rulers sneer at Jesus, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One’ (v.35). The soldiers mock, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself’ (v.37).
One of the criminals calls on him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ (v.39). Actually, he is dying in order to save them and us. But in doing so he cannot save himself. He is dying as ‘the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).
The curtain of the temple is torn in two (Luke 23:45) symbolising that through the death of Jesus, access to the presence of God is made possible for everyone. Jesus has made it possible for you and me to have a right relationship with God.
- ‘Righteous’ or ‘unrighteous’?
In the contrast between the two criminals and the difference in their reaction to Jesus, Luke lays before us the decision we all need to make. You can reject Jesus, as one of them did. Or you can put your faith in him, as the other one did when he turned to Jesus and said, ‘Jesus, remember me’ (v.42).
Although many at the time rejected Jesus, others put their faith in him. For example, Joseph of Arimathea, ‘a good and upright man’ (v.50), came to believe in Jesus. He had not consented to the decision of the council (v.51), was waiting for the kingdom of God (v.51) and arranged a dignified burial for Jesus.
The women who had come with Jesus also put their faith in him. They ‘followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment’ (vv.55–56).
You too get to choose. When you put your faith in Jesus, he promises that, like the criminal who turned to him, you too will be with him in paradise.
If you ever feel the burden to try to earn God’s love, you can be comforted by this passage that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.
Thank you, Lord, that by faith, you give me the gift of righteousness and put me in a right relationship with God.
Righteous by faithJoshua 9:16-10:43
Joshua says to his leaders exactly the words the Lord had spoken to Joshua himself at the start of his own leadership (Joshua 1:6,9,18), ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous’ (10:25). Hear these words for yourself today and then pass them on to others.
The name of the king of Jerusalem was Adoni-Zedek (v.1). ‘Zedek’ means ‘righteous’. However, in all probability he was far from righteous. It is likely that the people living in Canaan at that time were involved in all kinds of child sacrifices and other evil practices.
On the other hand, Joshua was living a life in a right relationship with God. The New Testament makes clear that the righteousness of Joshua, like Abraham and others in the Old Testament, came by ‘faith’ (Romans 3:21 – 4:25). Joshua was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:30).
The results of the death of Jesus are not confined to those who lived after him. The death of Jesus affected those who lived before him as well. Jesus died for Abraham, Moses and Joshua. He died for the criminal on the cross. He died for me. He died for you. We are made righteous: ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’ (Romans 3:22).
Lord, thank you that you died, the righteous for the unrighteous. Help me to live today in a right relationship with you and a right relationship with others.
The women were loyal, brave and practical. They found out where Jesus’ body was laid and then went and did what they could. They had supported Jesus financially and practically during his life, and they were going to continue to care for him even to the very end.
Verse of the Day
‘Jesus, remember me…’ (Luke 23:42).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.