Archives For June 2005

Isa. 59:14-19; Jn. 8:15-18
Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA
© Andy Campbell, 06/26/2005

I have just recently returned from a pilgrimage to my homeland, the deep South. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to see the places of, and speak to the people who were involved in, the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. In my study in preparation for the trip, and on the trip itself, I was surprised to learn that the sustaining force behind the civil rights movement was not civil, it was spiritual.

Being a white male from the South, I knew little of the events surrounding the civil rights movement other than that Martin Luther King Jr. was involved and it had something to do with getting rights for African Americans. But when one begins to research the history and the people of the civil rights movement, one learns that many of the leaders of the movement, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, C. T. Vivian, and Fred Shuttlesworth, were men of a deep and abiding faith in Christ. Their commitment to nonviolent change was rooted in the teachings of Christ and the methods of Gandhi. As I got the opportunity to talk with some of these leaders of the civil rights movement, one refrain in particular kept coming up, “we were on the right side of history”.

The civil rights struggle has been compared to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and with good reason. The parallels are strong. This got me thinking about other places in the Biblical narrative where people have been oppressed and subsequently liberated. Theirs was a civil struggle with spiritual implications as well. They were also on the right side of history.

When God’s children are oppressed, He works to free them from their oppression and restore them to a right relationship with Him. There are always people on the “wrong” side of history, those who act as the oppressors, those who actively, and sometimes passively, resist the change God is working to bring about. As children of God, we need to be on the “right” side of history: God’s side.

In the midst of civil struggle, how do we know which side is the right side? In order to answer that question, we will look at three Biblical accounts and try to get a feel for how God worked in those situations. So, bear with me as we dive into a lot of Scripture.

The Exodus: Exo. 2:23-25; 3:6-10, 16-17, 19-21

23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

21 “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed.

Gideon: Jgs. 6:7-9, 12-16; 7:7-9, 22; 8:22-23

7 When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land.

12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

7 The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.” 8 So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took

over the provisions and trumpets of the others.
Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. 9 During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands.

22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.

22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.”

23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”

Jesus: Lk. 2:25-32; 3:2-6, 15-17; 4:14-21; 18:6-7; 24:44-48

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’ “

15The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

(After his resurrection) 44He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.

There is a pattern that emerges when these stories are compared. The first thing to notice is who is acting. In all three cases, it is God who instigates the action. When we recall these stories, we tend to think of the main character, especially Moses and Gideon, as the one who is acting. They are the ones being used by God, who is acting through them. Then three things happen: God recognizes the oppression and reminds the people of his promises, God prepares his people for action, and God acts through his people.

In each of these cases, there is a right and a wrong side. In the story of the exodus, the right side was the side of the enslaved Israelites, the wrong side was that of Pharaoh and the Egyptian oppressors. In the story of Gideon, the right side was, again, the oppressed people of Israel and the wrong side was the side of the Midianites. In the story of Jesus, the right side was Jesus’ and the wrong side was the side of the High Priest, Jewish Council, and the Romans.

These sides are easy to pick out now. Interestingly enough, in the aforementioned examples, the “right” side was never the side of the ruling government, those who sought to maintain the status quo. All the people God used to liberate the oppressed were, in some way or another, breaking the law. Later, we can plainly see that the laws that were being broken were unjust or misapplied. The idiom goes, “hindsight is 20/20.” If that is true, then we can expect that as God continues to right wrongs, free the oppressed, and correct injustice, there will be a right side that aligns with God and a wrong side that opposes him. It is our mandate, as followers of Christ, to be on the right side.

That means we must recognize injustice and recall the promises God has made regarding oppressed people. It means we must allow ourselves to be prepared for action, reluctant though we may be. And it means that we must resist the temptation to intellectualize, sympathize, or otherwise detach or partition ourselves from the struggle and persecution faced by those who are being oppressed. We must act.

Over the next three weeks we are going to take an in depth look at these three steps that God takes when bringing justice to the oppressed: Recognition and Remembrance, Preparation, and Action. We will be coming back to our examples from today to see how God has worked in the past, and we will be trying to pull all that together so that we might come away with a fuller understanding of the role that God is asking each one of us to play as he continues to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the captive, recover sight for the blind, and release the oppressed.