The call for justice

The recent demonstrations in Hong Kong have brought back memories of the Tiananmen Square protests in May 1989. On 9 June more than one million people in Hong Kong marched against a controversial extradition bill which, if approved, would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. Three days later, Hong Kong police fired rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas at a crowd of hundreds of thousands surrounding a government complex. On 15 June Hong Kong’s leader decided to suspend the bill rather than scrapping it. The next day two million people took to the streets in protest calling for her resignation.

In 1989 in Tiananmen Square, in central Beijing, hundreds if not thousands of unarmed peaceful pro-democracy protesters were massacred and tens of thousands of demonstrators in cities across China were arrested. The Chinese authorities have never disclosed the total number of people detained, tried or executed throughout China since the 1989 crackdown. Even today the authorities forbid all mention of the protest. One image that symbolised the Tiananmen Square protest is of a lone man in a white shirt carrying shopping bags standing in front of a tank sent to disperse protesters. It was a David and Goliath moment!

People protests against longstanding political leaders are happening in many countries including France, Algeria, Venezuela, Haiti, Sudan, Georgia and the Czech Republic. Ordinary people are standing together to protest against corruption and the abuse of power and to call for justice.

God is passionately concerned about justice. His people were once slaves in Egypt and were ruthlessly oppressed with forced labour. The Egyptian midwives were told to kill all Hebrew boy babies. In their suffering the people cried out to God and he heard them. He raised up Moses who confronted Pharaoh, the most powerful ruler of the day, demanding that he let God’s people go. God rescued his people and set them free. Today God holds all people responsible for their actions and he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice.

God is also merciful. None of us is able to stand before God’s judgement and be declared righteous. So, God, against whom we have all rebelled, in love sent his Son, Jesus, to deal with our sins by dying in our place. His death satisfied the demands of God’s justice and offers mercy and forgiveness to us all. Through the cross on which his Son died God shows us that he is fair and just and also makes sinful people right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

We went there to save lives

The recent historical drama television series “Chernobyl” tells the story of the nuclear plant disaster which happened on 26 April 1986. It was the world’s worst nuclear accident. The Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin Atomic Power Station, near the town of Chernobyl in modern Ukraine, experienced what the authorities called a “minor accident.” The reactor experienced a catastrophic core meltdown, exploded and parts of the nuclear fuel were released into the atmosphere.

The effects of the disaster were felt over a wide area. In the first days after the accident 31 people were confirmed to have died from radiation sickness. In the years since the disaster there has been a significant increase in the number of people suffering from cancer. Some 100,000 people from the towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat were evacuated. People will probably never live in Pripyat again. As the wind carried the gigantic plume over Europe radioactive particles contaminated wide areas. In Britain bans were placed on the sale of sheep in Cumbria, Scotland and Wales. In some areas the restrictions remained in place until 2012. Mikhail Gorbachev said that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was the real reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union as people lost confidence in the authorities.

As the extent of the catastrophe became clear, more than 16,000 policemen and military personnel were deployed to extinguish the fire, remove the radioactive debris and enclose the ruin in a protective shell of steel and concrete. About 400 miners were brought in to dig a tunnel underneath the power plant to contain the contaminated material. As many as one in four miners may have died from cancer or radiation sickness. In the end, the core of the reactor cooled, and the tunnel wasn’t needed. All the people who tried to contain the Chernobyl disaster risked their lives that other might live. One miner, Vladimir Naumov said, “Who else but us? Me and my fellow worked were brought up that way. Not that we went there to die, we went there to save lives.”

At the heart of the Christian message is the good news that God, through his Son, Jesus, has intervened to save us from disaster. The great problem we all have is our sinful hearts. We live in rebellion against God and are powerless to change. We need someone to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin. One hymn writer wrote, “Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God, he to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood.”

The story of Luke Shambrook

Luke Shambrook is 11 and has autism. Over the Easter weekend he and his family went on a camping holiday at Devil Cove, a bay near Melbourne. On Good Friday morning Luke went missing and an intensive search operation was launched involving the police, rescue authorities and more than 120 volunteer holidaymakers. They used motorcycles, sniffer dogs, horses, four-wheel drives, jet-skis and aircraft to search through the thick scrub and eucalyptus trees of the unforgiving Australian bush. At times thick cloud hampered the search reducing visibility to less than 30 feet. After 4 days and nights Luke had not been found and hopes were fading.

Then just before midday on Tuesday morning Brad Pascoe, on one of the search helicopters, spotted a little flash of something in the bush on the side of a peak. They turned the helicopter round and trained their camera on what Brad had seen. It was Luke! Everyone was overjoyed! Some of his police rescuers were close to tears of relief and joy, as were his family when they were reunited with Luke. Luke was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia and was taken to hospital. He probably would not have survived another night in the bush. On behalf of the family Luke’s uncle thanked all the rescuers and volunteers and said, “We’re thankful to live in a society that puts a lot of effort into finding children who go missing.”

This story reminds us of a parable Jesus told about a shepherd who had 100 sheep and one of them went missing. He left the 99 other sheep in the open countryside and went in search of the lost sheep until he found it. He joyfully put the sheep on his shoulders and brought it home. Then he called together his friends and neighbours to rejoice with him. Jesus said, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.”

As we look at our own lives, and the lives of so many in our world today, we can understand why Jesus said we are “lost”. Like little Luke, we have wandered away from the God who created us and loves us and have lost our bearings in life. Jesus came into the world to seek and save us. One hymn writer wrote, “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.”

Hope in a World of Contrasts

We live in a complex world in which there are striking contrasts. This week the population of the world will reach 7 billion. 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, including China and India, which account for 37% of the total. The rate of growth is rapid; from 5 billion in 1987 to 6 billion in 1999, and to 7 billion in 2011. The projection is to 8 billion by 2025. The implications of this growth in terms of the demands on finite resources are very significant. Wealthy parts of the world such as Europe and North America have a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth.

Amongst the billions of the people in the world every single person is precious. This was vividly seen last week in the amazing rescue of 18 day old baby Azra, who was pulled from the rubble of a collapsed apartment block in Ercis, in eastern Turkey, two days after the earthquake. It was very moving to see her being gently and lovingly held by her rescuers, and then being reunited with her mother and grandmother, who had also been rescued. Her father is still missing.

Last week marked the 44th anniversary of the Abortion Act in the UK. During that time there have been 7 million abortions in the UK. Each year there are more than 40 million abortions worldwide. The annual number of deaths worldwide, from all causes, is 56 million. In 2008 out of a total of 208 million pregnancies worldwide, 41 million (20%) ended in induced abortions. Many of these abortions are medically unsafe and some mothers die. Every mother undergoing an abortion procedure needs loving support and care.

In Psalm 24 the Psalmist declares, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” At the beginning of time he blessed the people he had created and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.” The earth on which we live is unique. There is no other planet which is so wonderfully fertile with an abundance of water and life. This shows the Lord’s kindness to us all. His ultimate purpose in Jesus is that there will be a new heaven and earth filled with a great multitude of people that no-one can count from every nation, tribe and people.

Good news from a distant country

In the book of Proverbs in the Bible we read, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant country.” These words came to my mind as I watched the 33 miners in Chile being brought safely up from their underground prison. Very little of the news we hear and see each day is good news. The news is overwhelmingly bad. But here was a good news story and it was a privilege to see pictures of this remarkable rescue. It made me thankful to God for his goodness to these men and their families.

The men have wonderfully been delivered from what seemed like certain death. An international rescue operation has succeeded in a much shorter time than had been anticipated. Human skill and technologically advanced equipment provided a way of escape. In our world some human beings do evil things and cause great suffering to other people. It was so encouraging to see the great potential for good when people use their God-given talents so effectively.

It was refreshing to hear the Chilean leaders and the miners expressing their thankfulness to God for the successful rescue of the men. One of the chaplains said their prayers had been answered. He also said that some of the men had had an encounter with God while they were in the depths of the earth and had been conscious of the presence of Jesus with them.

Times of crisis sometimes drive people away from God, but they can also draw us nearer to him. Facing imminent death raises big questions. We are all very vulnerable and are hearts can be gripped by fear. At such times our faith is tested. The best thing we can do is to come to God and ask for his help. In Jesus Christ he promises a future and a hope.

The Chilean miners were ordinary men doing a very dangerous job. They and their loved ones, the Chilean nation and people all round the world prayed to the living God for their deliverance and he graciously answered their prayers. It may be that you, too, are facing a crisis in your life. The words of David in Psalm 34 are a real encouragement to us all, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from my fears. This poor many called, and the Lord heard him, he saved him out of all his troubles.”