“a bruised reed he will not break”

This is from Isaiah 42.

What a beautiful tweet to wake up to from a dear friend in ministry who inspires and encourages me and is absolutely brilliant.

So here I am, pre-coffee (I’ll have to come back later to check for spelling), still in bed, compelled to post what I started responding to her and then realized I wanted to share it here and not try to cram it into the character limits of Twitter or an epic reply on her Facebook wall.

Not too long ago in our study at Chloe’s House we worked our way through Zechariah’s contribution to Biblical prophecy. Prior to this time through it I had been tossing the idea around in an ever growing momentum that we have been missing something huge about God and the Gospel and I’m so grateful for the friends who endured my endless efforts to verbally process this . . . something! . . .that was just edging in but not yet clearly visible.

It sparked to life the day that I firmly solidified my rejection of the idea presented in Penal Substitution Atonement that God had to punish someone so he sent Jesus to be tortured and put to death on our behalf. God’s justice required blood and Jesus did that for us. I do believe he died to bridge the gap between God and us, but I reject the idea that there is an angry, wrathful God in the Old Testament who required blood and we need to love New Testament Jesus God who suffered for us so that we can be protected from God’s wrath.

I reject the idea that God could not be around Jesus because of all of the sin on him. Sin is not God’s Kryptonite. God can absolutely be in the presence of sin — it is sin that cannot be in the presence of God without burning up! I believe Jesus, without sin himself, was able to carry our sin into the presence of the Holy Fire that consumed it completely and yet could do him no harm.

While I had never embraced the idea of a vengeful wrathful angry God, I did struggle with how to understand all of the talk about justice in Scripture. I knew the answer was in the Prophets but I also knew I needed to study and understand some other things before I was ready to go there. When God told me this last year it was time to begin studying the prophets I knew something big was about to happen.

Then we read Zechariah.

God tells Zechariah:

“Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me?

‘When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? (Zechariah 7:5-6)

The fasting and mourning of the fifth month is Tisha B’Av while the fasting of the seventh month is Yom Kippur.

Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts:

​‘​Execute true justice,
​​Show mercy and compassion
​​Everyone to his brother.
​Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless,
​​The alien or the poor.
​​Let none of you plan evil in his heart
​​Against his brother.’ vv8-10)

We began reflecting on the seeming contrast in the first two lines of God’s Word to the people. Why had we always been told this was a list? Especially considering punctuation is provided by translators. Then we wondered why justice was qualified as “true” justice. That must be significant!

He’s just told them their approach to the fasting of the Holy days of the fifth and seventh months is not being done for God. And when they eat and drink they don’t do it for him. They do it for themselves. Then he tells them to execute true judgment.

Turns out ’emeth speaks to faithfulness, sureness, uprightness. It speaks to integrity of mind. Zechariah is telling the people to execute righteous, upright, true and faithful justice. And in order to do that you have to show mercy and compassion.

Realizing that caused the kaleidoscope to shift just enough to reveal the paradigm I’d been trying so hard to wrap my mind around. The pattern in the text shifted into such clear and clarifying perspective that we almost wept.

God tells the people, through Zechariah, to show true justice by showing mercy and compassion.

We know this is how God executed judgment on humanity.

God IS the defining standard of holiness.

When Isaiah encountered the awesome holiness of God and realized how unholy he was in comparison he said this:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)

In response, God causes a Seraphim to take a burning coal from the fire in the throne room of God and touch it to Isaiah’s mouth and in verse 7 he says this to Isaiah:

“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

A sanctified Isaiah is ready to deliver God’s Word and when the voice goes out asking, “Who can I send?” Isaiah responds, “Here I am! Send me!”

I can relate so much to this experience. When I responded to God’s call on my life it was because I had experienced standing before him and realizing how holy he is and how unholy I was. I told him that he didn’t want me. I wasn’t worthy to be called because I simply did not measure up against his standard of holiness and I could see no way that I would be useful to him. The gap between my filthy righteousness and his righteousness was the measure of my judgment.

God’s response to me was the same as his response to Isaiah. He took away my iniquity and purged my sin.

His true justice was to show mercy and compassion.

I want to circle back to the bruised reed he will not break and put that in context for you and hope you will even more clearly see this idea expressed.

“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
​​My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
​​I have put My Spirit upon Him;
​​He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
​​Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break,
​​And smoking flax He will not quench;
​​He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
​​Till He has established justice in the earth;
​​And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

Thus says God the LORD,
​​Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
​​Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
​​Who gives breath to the people on it,
​​And spirit to those who walk on it:
“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
​​And will hold Your hand;
​​I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
​​As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
​​To bring out prisoners from the prison,
​​Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
I am the LORD, that is My name;
​​And My glory I will not give to another,
​​Nor My praise to carved images.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
​​And new things I declare;
​​Before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (Isaiah 42:1-9)

The Gospel — The Good News — isn’t that God did away with the Law. The former things that have come to pass are our sins that separated us from God. The new thing that is declared isn’t that there is no standard of holiness. It’s that God has shown us mercy and compassion and all of the ways in which we don’t measure up can’t separate us from Him.

He saw us as the bruised reeds we were and did not break us. Instead, he established justice in the earth by extending mercy and compassion to all mankind.

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