Justice and Peace in the City

30 years ago, I became a kind of "fugitive" or "refugee" right in our building at UPPC!  

I was in junior high and at an all-night lock in.  It was fun, except I had a run-in with a couple bigger, tougher kids who wanted to intimidate me.  At one point I had to "flee" for refuge where the adults were!  

So while I was neither a fugitive or refugee, those words share the Latin root "fugere" which means "to flee."

As Joshua and the Israelites were settling into the promised land, they had to fulfill a command God had given Moses back in Numbers 35 -- to create six priestly cities of refuge.  If someone accidentally killed another person, they could feel from the victim's "avenger of blood" to one of these cities and be safe until a trial before an assembly.  

There is a lot that's remarkable about this command:

1) Brokenness, like accidents and death, would continue to occur even in the Promised Land.  Even when our "inheritance" became Jesus Christ and God's Kingdom, and not physical land, we have to contend with God's will that Sin will continue on earth until God's Kingdom is completely fulfilled.  

2) Justice begins with refuge.  Consider this -- the person seeking refuge was not "innocent" of an act that led to death.  They weren't a murderer.  But they had done something wrong.  It reminds one of today's laws about "manslaughter."  In fact, a more wooden translation of the NIV's "fugitive" would be "manslayer."  

3) Refuge is not blind acquittal -- it leads to humane justice.  The fugitive would have to serve justice, but not their own death (as they would were the killing found to be intentional.)  But it's crucial that Christians understand that God's justice is not about "getting off the hook."  It's about justice being paid in a way that lends God's mercy to us, even though we're guilty.

4) God's justice leads to peace.  In these cities of refuge, the fugitive would be "adopted" by the high priest of the city.  And when that high priest died, his death was seen as a blood atonement for the fugitive's act which had led to death.  

Paul reminds us that all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory.  What's more, all sin ultimately leads to death.  So as sinners, we're all culpable for words, thoughts, and deeds that lead to spiritual death.  But the good news is that Jesus is our great high priest forever (Hebrews 2) and offers his own life as an atonement for our sin, so that we can be at peace with God, peace with each other, and even point others to find refuge in Him.


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