Isaiah 11:3-4 “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears, but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.”
Isaiah singles out the needy and the poor, not because poverty is a virtue. Let’s face it, no one aspires to poverty. If you’re poor, you want that to change as soon as possible. Isaiah zeroes in on these people because historically they are the last people to get justice. They have no influential friends. They cannot afford good lawyers. They certainly don’t have money to work the system and bribe their way out of trouble.
But with Jesus, all justice is given on an even playing field. That picture of a level field actually lies behind the Hebrew word for “justice” in this verse. He doesn’t judge you differently because you don’t dress as well as some people. He doesn’t treat you differently if you aren’t one of the “pretty people.” He doesn’t care if your friends are popular, or if you don’t have any friends at all. Race means nothing to him. He looks at you and he sees a person, nothing more, nothing less. It’s just you, and him, and your life.
This is the measuring stick by which he judges: “…with righteousness he will judge the needy,” and everyone else, for that matter. Righteousness is absolute perfection, unwavering, unbending adherence to what is good and true. There is no acceptance of “pretty good,” no steep curve to help out the class, no extra credit points to cancel out the things we missed.
There is, however, his gift. For Jesus, righteousness is more than a standard by which to judge others. It is the way in which he lived his own life, from his first breath in the stable where he was born to the last breath he gave up on the cross. It is his obedience to every detail of his Father’s plan to save us. It is his perfect love ending in his selfless sacrifice as our substitute, in our place. Righteousness was the standard by which he lived. Now it’s the status he gives to us, not based on our performance, our behavior, but his own. Righteousness is all there is to see in us after he has removed all our sin. Righteousness is all there is to see in us after he gives us the credit for his love, and kindness, and mercy, and obedience, and selflessness, and sacrifice.
This righteousness meets his higher standard. It is ours, not because we lived it, but because we received it by faith. It belongs to poor and needy people like us, a borrowed righteousness for people not too proud to admit they have none of their own. With it we now stand confidently before our Judge.