Image: widows/victims of Boko Haram atrocities from one village in Borno State.
The Hope of Righteousness: What was the hope of the Old Testament people that has been fulfilled in the gospel?
Today I think I heard the gospel in the clearest terms I have ever heard it. Ruth spoke in our meeting and I have summarised some of it below. I hope it may come across clearly here.
“The bow of the mighty is now broken, and those who stumbled are now strong. Those who were well fed are now starving, and those who were starving are now full. The childless woman now has seven children, and the woman with many children wastes away. The Lord gives both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up. The Lord makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honour. For all the earth is the Lord’s, and he has set the world in order.” (1 Sam 2:4-8)
Hanna’s prayer of thanksgiving when the Lord gave her a child, Samuel. Samuel would judge Israel and bring order to an unjust and scattered land. Hannah’s situation mirrors the miraculous conception of Mary. It is from this prayer that Mary’s Magnificat is taken. Jesus would bring salvation to the oppressed and turn the world upside down, reversing injustice and bringing relief.
“But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth.” (Job 5:15-16)
“The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught. The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God. For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.” (Psalm 9:15-18)
“Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.” (Isaiah 59:7-9, 15-17)
Here is a lamentation of Isaiah. It speaks of the injustice of man and the effect on the world. It displeases God. He sees there is no one to help, so he comes himself to bring about a change in the world. He is going to bring order and put things right. He is going to bring righteousness to the world, to the earth, and the all its inhabitants.
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
The Magnificat shows what God is like. It shows what happens to the world when God comes. It shows his care for the downtrodden and the oppressed. It says when his kingdom comes he will fix this, and bring judgement (meaning justice and righteousness) to the world. Mary said the birth of Christ was to fulfil this promise to Israel.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-20)
Jesus proclaims his kingdom. It is for the poor and for those in captivity in this world. It is the kingdom he announced in the Beatitudes: his kingdom is for those who are persecuted, the poor and oppressed. Jesus has come to turn things around; to bring justice and judgment into the world, to set it in order, to bring the world into righteousness. He said “This day is this promise fulfilled in your hearing.” This justice of God began that day in the synagogue in Nazareth. We are not waiting for this to come at some future time. It has begun now.
Then Paul speaks of this hope in Romans 8:18-30. There is the suffering of oppression now. Paul compares this to the suffering of Israel in Egypt. Romans 6-8 to comparing Israel’s journey to the world’s journey, being liberated in Christ. The hope is that creation shall be put right, righteousness and justice shall heal our people, communities, nature and the world: the vision of Isaiah. This shall happen through the children of God, who have the deposit of the Spirit of heaven already in us. The day is coming, in the resurrection, when all things shall be put right, but now the church is already walking to the tune of this kingdom. The kingdom has already dawned in our lives, our fellowship with each other and in our relationships in the world. We are already the light of that kingdom.
“For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (Gal 5:5)
The hope of righteousness! In our Sunday School today, Pastor Ralph said, “We have passed through centuries of biblical interpretation where everything is individualised.” He was speaking about African community culture, as seen in the church in Acts 4:32. So too we have individualised Galatians 5:5, in fact the whole message of Paul in Galatians and Romans. Our Western cultures have done this since the Reformation. So we read Gal 5:5 as if Paul is talking about going to heaven. We see our hope of righteousness as our personal, individual salvation in heaven.
This is our gnostic gospel. Gnosticism was a Greek form of religion, in which everything was spiritualized, so people could ignore the suffering in the world. God said in Isaiah 59 (above) that this displeases him. The gospel is about God coming to do something about this suffering. But when we say this to “gnostic believers”” today they say we are putting on them a guilt trip. This phrase (“guilt trip”) is a part of the gnostic belief system of avoidance of suffering and hedonism. Good news is not a guilt trip. It is a new, great way to live. The hope of righteousness Paul referred to in Gal 5:5 is this hope. He is talking about God’s promises to renew the world. The hope of righteousness is the hope of a new world in which righteousness is done. This is not the hope of individualistic salvation, but the salvation of our world, the hope which we live out today in are sharing with one another.
“We by the Spirit eagerly await this hope of righteousness.” That is, the Spirit enlivens our heart and our community, to love and serve one another, transforming our own lives and the lives of those around us. This is the gospel and this is what began in the synagogue of Nazareth 2,000 years ago. God has come to bring righteousness and justice to the world, to put things in order, through the lives of his transformed people, who show mercy and care to the suffering, reversing the effects of the Pharaoh systems of selfishness in our world. This is what Hannah and Mary sang about: the work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of his people and the way that turns our lives around, and the help this renders to the world in which we live. There is no other way in which this world can be changed.