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God has placed within the human heart an intrinsic desire for justice. We balk at injustice and cry for justice to be implemented. Think of the reactions to the recent news that Graham Smith was cleared of all racist-related charges by Cricket South Africa (CSA) and that CSA a few weeks later dropped all charges against Mark Boucher. The responses to the news called for justice: Boucher and Smith should sue the CSA board who levelled spurious charges and held over them the threat of dismissal before suddenly backtracking and pretending it never happened. They must not be allowed to get away with such injustice.

The popularity of the superhero genre is driven by a similar desire for justice. Mere humans cannot hope to oppose formidable foes like Darkseid or Doomsday, and so we require the Justice League to step in and bring justice from chaos. Of course, Darkseid and his minions are the villains and we the innocent victims. Superman and his friends will come to our aid because that is what justice demands.

The theme of justice pervades the text before us this morning (Ezekiel 20:45–21:32). It confronts us, however, with the biblical reality that, in our sin, we are not innocent victims who will benefit from justice but villains who will sufferjustice. The images of sword and fire are used throughout this section to describe God’s justice. Babylon is God’s sword of judgement, which he will use to comprehensively destroy Jerusalem (20:45–21:27). Ammon would similarly face God’s judgement before the sword itself (Babylon) experienced divine justice (21:28–32). Justice would be far-reaching and comprehensive.

The message to the exiles was that they must not hold out hope of justice working in their favour. Justice, when it descended, would work against them and their beloved city. The fire of justice would “devour every green tree in you and every dry tree.” This fire would “not be quenched, and all faces from north to south shall be scorched by it” (20:45–49). This unquenchable fire would utterly consume everything in its path. God’s justice would not be stopped.

As we think about our God-given desire for justice, we do well to reflect soberly on the reality that, in our sin, God’s perfect justice would never work in our favour. As the flaming sword prevented Adam and Eve from gaining access to the garden and its tree of life, so perfect justice would bar us from God’s life-giving presence and result only in eternal death. The wages that we earn for a lifetime of sin is only death (Romans 6:23).

If our reality was portrayed in a Justice League comic or movie, Superman and his colleagues would fight against us, not for us. We are the villains of the story and justice demands that we be cut down by God’s fiery sword. Indeed, the New Testament affirms that the wicked will be cut in pieces and assigned a place with the hypocrites (Matthew 24:51) and that God’s unquenchable fire will be the instrument of their judgement (Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:43; Luke 3:17).

But thank God for the gospel. Thank God that Jesus Christ, at Calvary, was pierced by the sword of justice in the place of those he came to save. Thank God that Jesus Christ, at Calvary, suffered the full wrath of God’s consuming fire when he gave his life for those he came to save. Justice has been fully satisfied in Jesus Christ so that those who deserve the destroying force of God’s flaming sword can, instead, receive the promise of eternal grace. Christ has sheathed God’s sword and transformed the consuming fire into a purifying fire for those who believe in him. While we may experience the fire of affliction, and while some of our works may be burned at the day of final judgement, God’s flame of justice will never consume those who believe in Christ.

This is the way we should think about justice. We deserve to be consumed by God’s perfect justice but, at the cross, God’s eternal wrath was poured out fully on Christ. While we may never give a fully satisfactory answer to the problem of evil, we can find a fully satisfactory answer to the problem of our evil. God’s Son was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities so that, by his wounds, we can be healed. Thank God for the gospel.

As you reflect on Ezekiel 20:45–21:32 this morning, thank God for the gospel. Commit to sharing this good news of a just God with a world longing for, but deeply confused by, the need for justice.