Just Or Unjust

A mother approached the French Emperor Napoleon to ask for mercy for her son. He had committed some breach of the French law.

“Madam, the emperor replied, “this is the second time the boy has offended. Justice requires that he should die.”

“I did not come to ask for justice. I beg for mercy,” She pleaded.

“He does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon shot back.

But Sire,” she said, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it. I ask for mercy.”

When she put it that way, the emperor replied, “Well, then, I will have mercy.”

Today we’re going to look at a serious case of injustice, which results in mercy.

Please join me.


Judges 7:1-8:17
Luke 23:13-43
Psalm 97:1-98:9
Proverbs 14:7-8


Judges 7:1-8:17. This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. God calls Gideon to lead a pared-down army into battle with the much stronger Midianites. He does this is to prove that the victory belongs to God, and no one else. As part of the paring-down process, God tells Gideon to separate the armies according to the way they drink water from the river. The Bible Background Commentary explains the logic behind this:

Those who drink water in a kneeling position with their heads in the water to lap it up are (1) an easy target, (2) unaware of any enemy movement while they drink, and (3) susceptible to leeches. The alternative is to lie down flat (where one presents less of a target) and to keep alert, bringing water to the mouth while continuing to look around.

With this in mind, the only soldiers left are the fearless, battle-ready men.

When Gideon and his men finally surrounded the enemy, the Midianite armies assumed that each torch represented a small percent of a much larger army. With the prospect of being massively outnumbered, the men panicked.

Luke 23:13-43. In this section of the passion narrative, Pilate reveals his penchant for leading according to the polls. Despite his belief in Jesus’ innocence, Pilate sides with the people who yell the loudest and agrees to have Jesus crucified. A later Jewish ruler is said to have characterized Pilate as “inflexible, merciless and obstinate.” Pilate’s agreement to crucify an innocent man proved he had few if any scruples.

Psalm 97. Moving immediately to this psalm following our previous reading is an abrupt change. “The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad” (verse 1). We read in verse 4, “His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles.” God’s power causes the earth to tremble. This seemingly correlates with Jesus’ words in Luke 23:29-30, “For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then ” ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” Both speak to the power of God to destroy. It also demonstrates God’s unbelievable measure of restraint when his son was crucified.

Psalm 98. The nature of Jesus’ death in our reading brings verse 2 to life: “The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.”

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Forgiveness is just…just…unjust.

As we take a third look at Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospels, I’m struck by Jesus’ words in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” In the midst of his crucifixion, Jesus chose to forgive the people nailing him to a cross. In fact, one of the criminals on the cross stated it clearly in Luke 23:41: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Furthermore, we see the injustice of Jesus’ promise of eternal life to the man hanging on the cross: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Earlier today a person made a flippant remark that cut deeply. I don’t want to forgive the person because the remark was so unjust. Then I read about Jesus on the cross and the man hanging next to him—a man that could be me. Jesus’ act of forgiving me is downright unjust. By clinging to unforgiveness, I would be denying the forgiveness Jesus unjustly offered me.

I’m a justice-loving person, but I wonder if I sometimes make an idol out of my love for justice. Granted, we need justice to hold society together, but do I need justice played out in every area of my life?

If I did, then I deserve to hang on a cross next to Jesus.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How have you experienced God’s unjust act of forgiveness?
  3. Describe a time when you dispensed unforgiveness to another person. What did it do in you?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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