Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 14 2020 - Luke 7:11-35 – Justifying God

In the passage that we have been reading this morning, the Greek verb meaning “to justify” is used twice. In the first instance it is used of tax collectors and sinners who “justified God” (Luke 7:29) – though it is translated in the NIV saying they, "acknowledged that God's way was right". What an extraordinary phrase. What does it mean? I am reminded of Paradise Lost in which Milton says that his purpose is “to justify the ways of God to man”. He wrote his great work to demonstrate the justice of God.

The meaning is similar and yet somewhat different in Luke 7:29. Jesus declares that the crowds, including tax collectors, who were baptised by John “justified God”. That is to say that they declared God to be righteous, just or true. They recognised the truth of God in the preaching of John and the justice of God in John’s declaration of their need to repent and be baptised. By way of contrast, says Jesus, the Pharisees and teachers of the law rejected the purpose of God in rejecting John. When we hear and receive God’s word, we “justify God”, we recognise him to be in the right. When we ignore God’s word, we set ourselves in opposition to his purposes.

The second occurrence of this verb is in 7:35 where Jesus says that “wisdom is justified [proved right] by all her children”. I suggest that this rather enigmatic phrase means that those who believe the word of God preached to them recognise the wisdom of God (declare the truth – the rightness – of his wisdom) in what they have heard. More than that, they become wisdom’s children; they themselves become wise by responding to the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God is not an abstract idea, it is to be made visible – shown to be wise – in the lives of those who have embraced it.

Whatever we may take this verb to mean in other parts of the New Testament, here it clearly means to “reckon as right” rather than to “make right.” And in this sense, it is not only the case that God, in his grace, justifies sinners, it is also true that sinners, in believing, justify God. Day by day, moment by moment, we justify God by living in response to his word. The responsive heart and transformed life are a poem written by the Spirit of God by which he justifies his ways to ‘man’.

We see this supremely in the Lord Jesus himself. John was in prison and must have been aware that he might never be set free. He had begun to ask whether Jesus whom he had heralded was truly the Messiah. If Jesus had come to set the captives free, why was he, John, still in prison? So he sent two of his disciples to challenge Jesus.

Jesus sends them back to John with the words, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (7:22). The things that Jesus said and did were a living demonstration of who he was. They “justified God” – showed the righteousness and compassion of God to a world full of questions. They demonstrated the strange wisdom of God that would find its ultimate demonstration in the cross. “Blessed”, says Jesus, “is the one who is not offended by me” (7:23).

The character of God is seen shining through the life, words and actions of the Lord Jesus. He is moved with compassion over the plight of the widow who has just lost her son – "his heart went out to her" (7:13). He calls us not only to recognise the wisdom, justice, compassion and grace of God displayed in his life but to reflect that character in our own lives.

Lord Jesus, you came to justify the ways of God to man, to show us the righteousness, wisdom and love of God. Help me to trust you not only when all is going well, but also in the dark days when I do not understand what you are doing; help me to trust you and follow you. By the power of your Spirit within me may all I say and think and do this day justify you and declare the rightness, goodness and beauty of your ways to a watching world.

Peter Misselbrook