Audio length: 46:03 minutes
Transcript published: July 11, 2011
If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one (I John 2). Fr. Tom explores what the Scriptures mean by this term.
When we were discussing the servant of the Lord, we saw that in that famous 53rd chapter of Isaiah, the Prophecy of Isaiah, that the servant is called “the righteous one.” We read in that prophecy where it says,
It was the will of the Lord to bruise him, to put him to grief; when he makes himself (or his soul or his life) an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, his seed; he shall prolong his days. The will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul (and his life) and be satisfied.
Then it says, “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.” So the righteous one, “my servant,” makes many—and we said often that in the Hebrew Bible where it says “many,” it means “the multitude”; it actually means “all”—“the righteous one, my servant, shall make many (the multitude) to be accounted righteous.”
We also mentioned that in I John, in the New Testament, Jesus is simply called “the righteous one,” so it’s a kind of a title: “the righteous.” In the second chapter of I John, it says this: “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father.” And “advocate,” that’s “paraklētos.” It’s also a title for the Holy Spirit. It means the one who defends the case, the one who is kind of an advocate, a counselor, a comforter, the one who represents someone or intercedes and mediates.
So we have this Advocate with the Father, and then it says, “Jesus Christ, the righteous.” And then it continues: “And he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” And it continues: “And by this we may be sure that we know him: if we keep his commandments.”
So the righteous person is the one who is connected with the keeping of the commandments. Here, it just must be noted that Jesus is the righteous one. That’s a title of [his], like the holy one, the beloved, the chosen, and then, of course, all the higher titles: the Son of God, the Lord, the Christ, the Savior, the Healer. He is all these things because he is the righteous one.
This term, “righteous, dikaios,” it’s connected to the noun “righteousness, dikaiosynē.” In Hebrew, the righteous one is the “tzedakah” [righteousness], the “tzadik,” and it’s almost, we could say, a technical term in Holy Scripture. If you look up “righteousness” or “righteous” or “the right” in a concordance, you will see how many times it’s used. And in the original language, it’s used even more, because sometimes this term is translated “just.” Instead of being called the righteous, he will be called the just one. And “dikaiosynē,” instead of being “righteousness,” will often be translated as “justice.” And then you have other, related terms, like “justification,” the verb of being made righteous, and here, of course, you have the whole Pauline theology, especially the fourth and fifth chapters of the Letter to the Romans, about righteousness, about how human beings are made righteous and share in the righteousness of God, by faith and grace in God.
Certainly, you have the teaching that God Almighty himself is the only righteous one. He is called the righteous one, so to call Jesus “the righteous” is to use the same term as the term for God: the righteous one. This exists also with terms like “the holy.” Jesus is called the agios, the holy one, and God alone is holy.
But what we must see here is that the righteousness and the holiness belong to Jesus by nature. They are his. We get them through him, from God, but Jesus has the very righteousness that is the righteousness of God himself.
In the Scripture, there’s some kind of ambiguity also, about righteousness, because on the one hand, we know that text that’s often quoted: “There is no one who is righteous, no, not one”; that God alone is righteous; God alone is holy. Nevertheless, the Scripture does speak about the holy ones; it speaks about the saints; and it certainly speaks about the righteous. And it speaks about certain people being righteous. For example, Jesus said, “I didn’t come to save the righteous, but sinners.” About Simeon and Anna in Luke’s Gospel, it said that they were righteous according to the Law. Zachariah and Elizabeth were righteous ones.
In general, in the Scripture, the Bible, that term, “righteous,” sometimes also translated as “upright”—according to the Law upright—Paul says that he himself, according to the Law, was totally righteous. It’s a kind of synonym for those who kept the precepts of the Law of God. Here you would even say that what makes a human being righteous in the Scripture is to follow the commandments of God. Those who keep the commandments of God are those who are upright, or righteous.
Another thing that can be said about this term is that it’s often translated into English as “just,” and definitely in Latin, it’s almost always “iustus, the just one.” And that has led to some confusion again, because, in certain cultures, and perhaps certainly in English-speaking places, when you use the term “just” or “justice” or “justification,” one thinks of law, and in a sense that’s true: the one who keeps the law is the one who is just. Even the term for “law” in Latin is “ius,” the just; “ius” is “law.” So a just person would be law-abiding, or would be living according to the law, doing things according to the law. So that gives the term a kind of a legalistic connotation. I really do think that when most people think of “justice,” they think of keeping the law, or being a law-abiding person, or following according to the law.
Therefore, the question is: is it a legalistic term or not? Therefore, “justification” often becomes, in people’s minds, being put right according to the law, that you are considered to be okay as far as the law is concerned. Sometimes, if you translate, for example, in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” if you translate it, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” you even think of justice as a kind of societal or a social term: social justice. Of course, in our time, “social justice” is a big issue: justice and peace. So we think about justice as having societies where things are done fairly, things are done equally; that there would be justice; [justice] would be served; there wouldn’t be injustice on the part of anybody.
But it sounds very much like a legalistic term. And here it is on some level, because, certainly in biblical terms, the Law is simply the prescriptions and the ordinances, and even the ordinances are the statutes. The word in Greek also comes from that same root. “Dikaiomata” means that which is according to dikaiosynē, and that’s the way the dikaios, the just person, lives. But “dikaiomata”—“Teach me thy ordinances; teach me thy statutes,” for example, in Psalm 119, it’s used I don’t know how many times. You could count them. “Blessed art thou, O Lord; teach me thy statutes”: we sing that in church, about the ordinances of God, and that means the things that make people righteous.
So the Law is an expression of what is right, but I think [what] we have to say, to be really accurate, is that, biblically speaking, the term “dikaiosynē, tzedakah, justice,” or “righteousness,” it’s more an ontological term, a metaphysical term, than it is a forensic or a juridical term. You could say that “dikaiosynē” means “righteousness,” means living according to the reality of the way things actually are, as they have been ordered and established and created by God.
A just person is a person who lives according to reality, according to the way things really are. So [the] laws of God are prescriptions that people should live, according to the way things really are, according to reality. Therefore, that means that when something is “made righteous” or “put right” or, using that term, “justified,” it means that they are aligned up rightly, which means that they are according to reality. They are according to truth, you could even say, the way things really are, so that if the Lord God does righteousness, it means he’s making things to be the way they are. He’s putting things according to their reality.
We could say that when Jesus, the righteous one, is the one who lives according to the way things really are, as coming from God, and that when he justifies or makes righteous, he restores to reality—especially human beings, when they are made righteous—then they are made to be what they really are. It’s something that [has to do] with a person’s very being, not just a person’s activity. You are righteous, and then you act righteously, but you are righteous. It’s something that you actually are, according to the very being. And righteousness is the reality of things being the way they really are and as they ought to be from God.
Therefore, if you introduce the concept of “ought,” how things ought to be, you could say that justification is making things the way they ought to be, making human beings the way they ought to be. It is doing what you owe, even: what you ought. So there’s a great connection with the verb “owe” or “ought” and the noun “debt” in relation to righteousness. If things are not right, you pay the debt or you do what ought to be done, and then things are made right.
An example of what I’m driving at here would be in the Lord’s Prayer, where it says, “Loose us our debts as we have loosed those our debtors.” We could put it this way: Forgive us or loose us or remit us or set us free from having to pay off what we owe or how we ought to be and do, as we, in turn, also loose, remit, forgive, and let go the people who do not do and are not toward us the way they ought to be and what they owe us. So when a debt is paid, things are made right. Things are put in order. They’re made to be the way they’re supposed to be.
And that’s why you can say that, when Jesus as the righteous one does righteousness, when he is the one who makes righteous the people, what he’s doing is making things to be the way they ought to be. Then you could bring in the concept: he does what it takes to have that happen, which can then be put in terms of “he pays the price” or “he does the debt.” So then that leads this concept also to the concept of redemption or atonement. If you redeem something, it means you pay the price to make things right. Things are not right, you do what it takes, and now they become right. But that’s always a costly act, very often a sacrificial act, and it’s a sacrificial act of doing what is necessary to make things right.
When you make things right, there’s only one way to make them right, and that’s to be right yourself. To be a righteous person, [you] then can make things right. All this is what it means when we call Jesus Christ “the righteous one,” and when he [says] he justifies sinners, or he makes sinners righteous, or, in place of unrighteousness or sin or missing the mark, he puts us on the mark, and then things become right again, and he does it by being righteous, and his righteousness is proved by the sacrifice and the cost of his own very life, his own blood on the Tree of the Cross when he is crucified.
That’s why the Crucifixion of Christ, the Christ, the Son of God, makes things right. Things are not right. He dies on the Cross, he does the perfect act of righteousness as the righteous one, acting totally according to the commandments of God. He keeps the dikaiomata, the ordinances and the statutes, and when he does that, everything is then made right and is put right, and then everything is in right relation to everything else; everything is harmonious, everything is peaceful, everything is the way that it ought to be.
And in legalistic terms, it means the commandments have been done and the Law has been fulfilled. So again we can say that Jesus, as the righteous servant of God, the righteous one, the paraklētos, the advocate, the one who makes expiation or propitiation—it means that he’s the one who puts things right. And he puts things right by being right himself. He makes things righteous by being the righteous one.
Then, again, we believe that in and through him, and by grace and by our faith in him, then our lives can be made right, our lives can be straightened out, our lives can be put back together to be the way they ought to be. And he has that power to do that as the righteous one.
Again, with “the righteous,” there’s a definite article: Jesus Christ, the righteous. Just like we say he is the Son of God, the Lord, the Savior, the King, the High Priest, the Prophet, the Teacher, so he is also the righteous man.
If we wanted to meditate further on what that could mean, how it would be, we could read the Holy Scriptures, and I would suggest here simply reading the psalms. If you want an exercise in what righteousness is and how righteousness relates to God as the only righteous one, and how the righteous man and righteous people and righteousness and doing right and keeping the dikaiomata, the ordinances, how that all works, I would say: Read the psalms.
And, of course, every Christian is supposed to be reading the psalms all the time. Our monastics read through the entire psalter once a week. I mentioned on Ancient Faith Radio recently, when I was speaking about bishops and priests, how there’s even a canon law in the Orthodox Church that a man is not supposed to be consecrated a bishop in the Church unless he could recite the 150 psalms by heart. And there was even a time when to be tonsured a monk, you had to be able to recite the psalter. You had to learn the psalter. You had to commit the psalter to memory.
That can seem outrageous to us today, because our minds are bombarded with so many sounds and images and words and thoughts, but if you think about a time when there was no radio, no TV, no computer, no iPods, no Ancient Faith Radio or anything like that, and you only heard words when they were actually being spoken by someone’s mouth, and then if you add to that that you went to the church, you went to the assembly of the faithful, and every time you went, the psalms were being sung, and if you add to that that the psalms that were being sung were always sung with the same words—there [were] no [translation] problems like we have today where you can go to church and hear the same psalm read three different ways at the same service because of three different translations—but if you always went to church and you always heard the psalms the same way, with exactly the same words, and if it really was a psalm, meaning poetic and sung and chanted—and we all know that it’s a lot easier to commit something to memory when it’s poetic or when it’s chanted or when it’s sung—I know lots of times as a priest I’d ask people at a baptism if they could recite the Creed, godparents, and they’d say, “Well, I could sing it…” in the Russian churches especially, everybody can sing it; I remember once, being in Moscow at the Zagorsk, at the Sergius Lavra under Communism where all these illiterate people, very lowly, poor, needy, afflicted, suffering, they’re just singing the Creed at the top of their lungs all the time; if you’d probably ask one of them to say it, they wouldn’t have been able to do it, but if you ask them to sing it, they all would be able to sing it—so if you’re going to church and you’re hearing this all the time, and let’s say you become a monk and you hear it at least once a week of your whole life, twice a week during Lent, not to speak of the psalms that are served, read, other times at other services, like the six psalms at Matins or whatever, it wouldn’t be very hard sooner or later for a person to commit that pretty much to memory.
But what we see in that canon about the bishops having to memorize the psalter is that it says, “How can they teach righteousness if they don’t know it?” So the psalms is a kind of a schoolbook about what is righteous and what is the righteous man and how they live and what happens to them. And for the sake of this talk, I went through my Septuagint psalter, my Greek psalter, and I counted that the word “righteous” or “unrighteous” or “righteousness,” not counting “dikaiomata” or words like that, but simply the terms “righteousness” and “righteous”—as over 150 times in the 150 psalms. It’s there all the time. It’s amazing how often it’s there.
And all the different things that are said about what it means to be righteous, what it means to be like God, to have everything in its place, everything harmoniously, everything according to truth, nothing false, nothing out of whack, nothing disordered, and then, of course, nothing sinful, nothing missing the mark, everything totally godly—you have it. And I’ll just give you some examples now, just for, you know, to listen to while you’re driving in your car or whatever.
For example, in the very first psalm, the sixth verse says (Psalm 1:6), “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the unrighteous (the way of the impious) shall perish.” It says (Psalm 1:5), “The ungodly shall not rise in judgment, nor sinners in the counsel of the righteous.” The righteous, or it says here, “the just,” but in Greek it’s “en voulē dikaiōn—in the counsel of the righteous.” And it’s interesting that in this very first psalm it begins, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…” but then it says that the ungodly are the ones who are unrighteous, and that those who are godly are the ones who are righteous. And it’s interesting that it doesn’t say “human being”; it doesn’t say, “Blessed is the human being”; it doesn’t say “they” as some of the new Bibles translate it because they don’t want to use the term “man,” but it says “man—anēr, makarios anēr,” and “anēr” means a male human being.
This led the Church Fathers and certainly it became almost a commonplace in orthodox ancient Christian tradition that whenever you hear the term “the righteous man”—“Blessed is the righteous man, the righteous person”—you think of Jesus. You think of Christ. And some folks even think that every time the psalms speak about “the righteous person,” they’re speaking about Jesus, because he is the righteous one. So you could say that everything in the psalter that is applied to the righteous person belongs to Jesus Christ par excellence. He’s the one who shows what it is in a living manner. You could even say that Jesus is the only one, as the righteous one, who really puts into practice by every thought, word, and deed, every movement of his being, what is right.
As I said earlier, there are righteous people, and here we would say the Bible and so on, they speak about righteous people. There are those who are upright according to the Law, but there is no one who is completely and totally righteous, but there are people who are called righteous. Well, one thing’s for sure according to Scripture about righteous people, and that is: they have no righteousness of their own. They have no righteousness of their own: if they are righteous, it’s only because of God. It’s only because of faith and grace and obedience to God.
If you have that text, “There is no one who is righteous; no, not one,” you might interpret it as meaning there is no creature that can be righteous by himself or herself or themselves. If anyone’s righteous at all, they’re righteous because of God. Here, in our Orthodox tradition, we would claim there are people who reach very high levels of righteousness, that they are really righteous people, upright people, holy people.
I will just use the best example: the Theotokos, the mother of Jesus Christ, [who] we believe certainly never did a sin unto death. Her soul magnified the Lord; her spirit rejoiced in God her savior. She was a doulē; she was a handmaiden. She was empty of everything, and the only thing she had was God, and she had nothing but God. And everything she had, she had by her faith in God and her obedience to God: “Let it be to me according to your word,” she tells God. And then she becomes full of grace, kecharitomeni, highly favored, highly graced.
So some people, especially, let’s say some Protestants, they don’t like when we talk that way about the Virgin Mary. I mean, I know people who just got angry when you talk that way. I had students leave my classroom and slam the door because I said, “The Virgin Mary is perfectly righteous by the grace of God.” She became a totally righteous person. She may have had little faults here and there, as St. Silouan and others have said. In fact, the majority of Church Fathers think that Mary had some little faults, little weaknesses, but she never had any major unrighteousness. She lived according to the Law and the commandment of God with every breath, with every thought, with every deed.
They say, “Oh, how can that be?” And then they might even quote the text: “ ‘There is no one who is righteous; no, not one,’ so how can you say Mary or anybody else—St. Seraphim, St. Sergius, St. Basil, St. Gregory—how can you say they’re righteous people?” Well, I think our response would be very simple: No one is righteous according to themselves. In fact, St. Athanasius the Great said if we look at [ourselves] according to [ourselves], what we really are is nothing but phthora, corruption, and ouk ōn, no thing, nothing. We’re just wind, a breath in the night, a passing breeze, a piece of flesh, a bunch of dust—we’re nothing without God. And we’re certainly not righteous.
So there is no creature who is righteous, “no one who is righteous; no, not one.” And certainly, according to the Old Testament, there is no one who is righteous according to the law of God. There’s no one who kept that law absolutely, totally perfectly. But there are people who achieve very great degrees of righteousness, so much so that you could call them just people, holy people, righteous people. But how does that happen? That happens only because of God in them; only because of the grace and power and presence and action of God in them. It’s not in themselves. You can’t save yourself; you can’t redeem yourself. You can’t do anything by yourself. By yourself, you are ouk ōn; you are nothing. You are just smoke in the breeze.
But with God, a person can really become righteous. So the psalter is all about the righteous and the unrighteous. Read the psalms, and you will see it. And it will have all these descriptions. For the sake of our meditation, I’ll just begin with this very first psalm as I already did. It says that “the Lord knows the way of the righteous,” so it speaks that there are righteous and there is the way, “but the way of the impious will perish.” That’s what it says in the very first psalm. But it ends, when it begins, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…” and then when it says, “The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish,” then the psalm ends with “Blessed are all they who trust in him.” Blessed are all they who put their trust in him.
So if you put your trust in him, you are righteous. And that’s even said about Jesus, humanly. In the letter of Peter in the New Testament, it said, “He trusted to God who judges justly.” And what we see about God in the Scripture is that he executes righteous judgment. We’re going to speak about God and Christ as the Judge, but God does righteous judgment, but so does a human being. A human being judges rightly, if they are in communion with God and are keeping his commandments and are doing so by the very grace of God.
This is what we find. For example, the fourth psalm will say, “When I called upon God (upon him), the God of my righteousness heard me.” So God is called “the God of righteousness” or even “the God of my righteousness”: ho theos dikaiosynēs mou, the God of my righteousness. And then in the same psalm it says, “Offer to God the sacrifice of righteousness—thysate thysian dikaiosynēs—and call upon the name of the Lord, and trust in the Lord.” So sacrifice to God the sacrifice of righteousness.
And here we believe that’s what Jesus did. The thysia, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was the thysia dikaiosynēs, was the sacrifice of righteousness that the psalms speak about. So when we hear a sentence like “Offer the sacrifice of righteousness and trust in God, the Lord,” we think of Jesus. Humanly, Jesus did that. So then, again we think of this.
Okay, I’m turning the page in my Greek Old Testament. I’ll read from the next psalm, let’s see, Psalm 7. It says, “The Lord judges the people (the nations).” Then it says, “Judge me, O Lord!” So we ask God to judge us. We’ll speak about this when we speak about God and Christ as the Judge. But we actually have a prayer, you see? “Krinon me, Kyrie—Judge me!” But then it says how: “kata tēn dikaiosynēn mou—according to my righteousness.” But other lines in the psalm will say, “Judge me, O God, according to your righteousness.” So: “If I have any righteousness, I have righteousness because of you.” So (Psalm 7:8): “Judge me, O God, according to my righteousness, and according to the innocence that is in me.”
Now, who can say such a thing? Here we believe again the words of the psalms are the words of Jesus, because Jesus could say to God the Father, “God, judge me according to my righteousness, and in my innocence, do justice to me,” because he is innocent; he is just, and that is the truth. It’s not proud to say so if it is the truth. If I [were] to go around saying, “I am just; I am righteous,” that would be ridiculous and people would think I’m nuts. But Jesus Christ is the righteous one, and when people bow down before Jesus and recognized him as the holy one, the just one, the righteous one, the chosen one, the son of David, the Son of God, Jesus never said, “Don’t say that,” because he would be lying if he said that. He said, “Yeah, you’re right. That’s me.” And real humility is to be in the truth, and the truth is that Jesus is the righteous one.
In that same psalm, it says, “Judge me, O Lord, according to thy righteousness, and according to the innocence that’s in me. O, let the wickedness of sinners come to an end, and then thou shalt direct the righteous.” You shall direct the righteous. So the righteous are directed, according to the psalter, by God. Jesus himself is totally directed by God. He never does anything, says anything, except under the direction of God. He said, “My work is not my work; it’s God’s work. My will is not my will; it’s God’s will.” He says, “My work is to do the work of the Father who sent me, and that is the work of righteousness.” It’s even said in Scripture, “to fulfill all righteousness,” that is why he has come.
This is what you keep finding through the psalter. Let me just read another one, in Psalm 10 (LXX). This is what the Lord says, “The Lord tries the righteous (tests the righteous), and the ungodly, and he that loves unrighteousness hates his own soul (hates his own life.” So the righteous have to be tested. The righteous have to be tempted. You cannot prove that you are a righteous person unless you are tested. Again, it says about Jesus in the New Testament, that he was tested and tempted in every possible way, to be with us who are tested and tempted. And the New Testament says that no one can enter God’s kingdom without being tested. So we are always tested toward our righteousness.
The other day I said on Ancient Faith Radio that St. Paul said it’s an inevitable, even in the Church, that schisms and heresies and factions and divisions come, so that those who are tested and stand the test will be revealed. They will be approved. They will show by that act that they are indeed righteous. And then, in that same psalm, it says (Psalm 11:7), “For the Lord is righteous—oti dikaios Kyrios—the Lord is righteous, and he loves righteousness—kai dikaiosynas ēgapēsen—the Lord is righteous, and he loves righteousness, and in his face beholds all uprightness.”
So the Lord is righteous and those who belong to him are righteous; the Lord loves the righteous, and the Lord tests the righteous. He allows, and he not only allows, but he makes it a necessity, that the righteous will be tested. Later on in the psalter, we’ll even see how the righteous are not only tested, but they are afflicted. “Many are the troubles of the righteous,” it will say. I’ll find that and read it to you. But here we’re still in Psalm 15 (LXX 14) where it says, “The man that walks blameless and works righteousness, who speaks truth in his heart, he will be the one who will sojourn in the tabernacle of the Lord, and live on his holy mountain.”
This is Psalm 15, and, by the way, Psalm 15 was used in the introduction to St. Benedict’s Rule for monks. If you ever read the Rule for monks of St. Benedict, he says the monastic life is simply to put into practice Psalm 15. In Psalm 15 it says, “We should sojourn in God’s tabernacle; we should dwell in God’s mountain, who does that?” And the answer is, “The one who is amōmos,” and that term, “blameless,” it always means according to the Law. He [can’t] be blamed for breaking any commandments. And then who, [it] says, “ergazomenos dikaiosynēnōsei,” who works or acts righteousness, and who “speaks alētheian, truth, en kardia aftou, in his heart.” So it says the one who does this will never be moved.
In Psalm 16 (LXX), the first line begins:
Hearken, O Lord of my righteousness. Attend to my petition, give ear to my prayer, not uttered with deceitful lips. Let my judgment come forth in your presence.
Again the Lord is called the Lord of righteousness. It also says in that very same psalm at the end, “But I shall appear in righteousness before your face, Lord. I will be satisfied when your glory appears.” So the claim is that at the end, the righteous person appears in righteousness before the face of God.
In the next psalm, Psalm 17 (LXX), you have these words: “And the Lord will recompense me according to my righteousness, according to the purity of my hands will he recompense me.” So God deals with us according to our works, kata ta erga, and those works have to be works that are righteous. So it says, “And the Lord shall recompense me according to my righteousness, and according to the purity of my hands before his eyes,” and that’s a refrain in that psalm that is repeated again and again.
As we move through the psalter, these are the kind of things that we find: “The Lord restores my life; he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness.” That’s the famous Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me dwell in green pastures; he nourishes my soul. He has guided me in the paths of righteousness.” That’s what it says in that psalm.
I want to find here the psalm in, I believe it’s 33 (34), where you have the Lord speaking about the afflictions of the righteous: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all.” This is Psalm 33 (34). It would be 34 in our regular Bible, and I’d like to read it, because again it applies so much to Jesus Christ and how we are supposed to be if we are in Christ. It says (Psalm 34:15):
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous—ophthalmoi Kyriou epi dikaious—the eyes of the Lord are upon (or on or over) the righteous, and his ears are open to his prayers.
So the Lord’s ears are open to the prayers of the righteous. But then it says (Psalm 34:16): “The face of the Lord is against the evil.” But then it says (Psalm 34:19-22):
Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but out of them all, the Lord will deliver them. He keeps all their bones; not one of them shall be broken. The death of sinners is evil, and they that hate righteousness will go wrong. The Lord will redeem the souls of his servants (the lives of his servants); none of those who hope in him shall go wrong.
That is directly applied to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Jesus is the righteous one, and his afflictions are many. The servant of Yahweh’s afflictions are many. We heard about it in Isaiah 53. All his afflictions: he’s stricken, smitten, all that. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, because in this world, the righteous suffer. That’s a law: the righteous suffer. But it says, “But out of them all, the Lord will deliver him.” And then when it says, “He keeps all their bones; not one of them shall be broken,” the New Testament applies that directly to Jesus, because when it said in St. John’s Gospel that they wanted to take Jesus’ body down from the cross, the practice at the time was to make sure the people were dead; they would actually break their bones; they would break their knees. So when Joseph of Arimathea asks for the body of Jesus, the rulers tell him that he’s already dead, and there is no need to break his bones. So the teaching is that “not a bone of his shall be broken” is a prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus, and we find it right here in this psalm: “He keeps all their bones; not one of them shall be broken.” This is applied to Jesus.
St. John Chrysostom, by the way, commenting on this, he said somewhere that, yeah, when Jesus was hanging on the Cross, his bones were not broken. But then Chrysostom says, however, at the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of Life is broken and distributed. He says [Jesus] fulfilled the prophecy: his bones were not broken, and in the grave he did not see corruption, but when we offer [ourselves] to him in the sacrifice of praise in the Holy Eucharist, then the Bread that we offer is broken and it is distributed to us.
So you find these again in the psalter. I’ll just give you another example in [the next] psalm. In the ending it says (Psalm 35:27-28):
Let them that rejoice in my righteousness exult and rejoice and be glad, and let them say continually, ‘The Lord be magnified, who desires the peace of his servant!’ and my tongue shall meditate on thy righteousness and on thy praise all the day long.
It’s a funny expression: “my tongue.” It means “my words”: “the words of my mouth will be about thy righteousness and thy praise all the day long.” But the rejoicing that we have is in the righteousness that the Lord God gives us. Then you have these sentences; I’ll just read a few more (Psalm 37:6): “He shall bring forth thy righteousness as light and thy judgment as the noonday.” Then you have (Psalm 37:30): “The mouth of the righteous will meditate wisdom; his tongue will speak justice.” Then you have (Psalm 37:29): “The righteous shall inherit the earth and dwell upon it forever.” Then you have (Psalm 37:25): “The righteous will never be forsaken, nor will his seed be seen begging for bread.” Then you have (Psalm 92:12): “The righteous will flourish like the palm tree.” Then you have (Psalm 37:16): “Little is better to the righteous than the abundant wealth of sinners.” These are all the lines that you hear in the psalter. And, of course, Jesus’ riches [were] the riches of righteousness. It wasn’t the riches of this earth.
This is what we have in the psalter, and this is what we understand about Jesus Christ. Another example (cf. Psalm 45:3-4) and a wonderful saying is that, because of truth and meekness and righteousness, the mighty one who is with God will prosper, and those who are with God will be mighty, because again it says (Psalm 45:6-7):
[Thy] throne, O God, is a [throne] forever, a scepter of righteousness. You have loved righteousness; you have hated iniquity. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
In the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, [it] applies this verse of the psalm to Jesus Christ:
Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; [the] scepter of thy kingdom is a scepter of righteousness; you have loved righteousness, hated iniquity, therefore God, thy God, has anointed you (made you to be christ) with the oil of gladness beyond your fellows.
And that means Jesus Christ, the anointed one. So this is what we find: thy right hand, O Lord, is full of righteousness. In the [psalms]: “The heavens shall declare his righteousness, for God is Judge” or “Thou shalt be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, an offering that shall be offered on the altar” [or] “Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken, humbled heart” [or] “God wants the sacrifice of righteousness” or it also is written, “Thou hast loved wickedness more than goodness, unrighteousness better than speaking righteousness, and therefore the evil man’s words are evil and destructive.”
It goes on and on, and I would highly urge you to, when you are reading the Psalms—and it’s recommended to read them every day—take a pencil and just mark where it says “righteousness” and “justice.” Here, Psalm 57 (LXX):
If you do indeed speak righteousness, then you judge rightly, you sons of men, for you work iniquities in your heart, and in the earth your hands plot unrighteousness. ... The righteous shall rejoice and they shall see the vengeance of the unrighteous. There is a great reward to those who are righteous.”
The only righteous one is Jesus, and if we are righteous at all, we creatures, it’s only because of the grace and power of God within us. None of us is righteous; no, not one. But Jesus Christ is the righteous one, and he came to make us righteous, godlike. The Lord alone is righteous. Jesus Christ is the righteous one. But when we believe in him, when we give our life to him, when we sacrifice ourselves together with him, when we strive to keep his commandments, then his very righteousness becomes our own, and that is the meaning of our life.
As our Savior, God saves us by communicating to us the very righteousness of God. We see this ultimately when Jesus lies dead in the tomb on Great and Holy Friday, it’s the Psalm 119 that is read over his dead body in church, on Great and Holy Friday, the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday, actually, when he lies dead, because that whole psalm is about the righteous person who is righteous because that person keeps the commandments of God. And this is why it’s applied to Jesus par excellence, you see? He lives because he keeps the commandments of God, and by keeping the commandments of God, he becomes the righteous one. And he keeps the dikaiomata, the statues or the ordinances, of God himself.
So: Jesus the righteous. Again, going back to I John, it says (I John 1:9-2:2):
If we confess our sins, he is righteous and he will forgive us. If we say we have no sins, we are a liar, and we make God the liar. But when we do sin, we have this advocate before God, Jesus Christ, the righteous, who is the expiation of our sins, and not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world.
On the Cross he makes everything right, and he communicates this rightness, this righteousness, to every single one of us. It is only up to us whether or not we want it, or whether or not we take it.
Jesus Christ, the righteous, the only righteous one, our advocate before God, his Father.