Last week, in the course of pastoral ministry, I found myself sitting in a small court room awaiting the trial of a friend. As I waited, other individuals charged with various crimes came forward to allocute for a plea agreement. Before me stood thieves, pedophiles, abusers of women, and drug-users. It was a sobering experience on many levels to see these men and women come forward meekly (ashamedly?) before judge and plead guilty to the crimes that were read out.
But far more telling was the experience of my own heart. For twice, when the name of an accused was called they stood up from sitting next to me in the gallery and walked forward to stand next to their attorney. Both times I bristled with incredulity at the thought of what happened. These people have committed crimes, why are they sitting with the rest of us?
Then, in his infinite wisdom and Fatherly care, God reminded me of his word . . . “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14).
Ashamed, I was reminded that I was not any better than them. Their crimes carried a civil penalty. But both their crimes as well as my own sin deserved far worse than any human judge could sentence out. I deserve a judgment only the divine Judge can issue – eternal punishment in hell. It was my sin along with theirs that put Christ on the cross so that God could be both just and the justifier of his people. I was just as guilty as anyone in court that day.
But thankfully, my Advocate is also the one who secured my freedom before the Judge. Yes, I’m guilty. But Christ bore my guilt for me on the cross. He took the punishment I deserve so that I could be declared innocent before God. More than that, God credits his righteousness to me! I’m not only innocent, but holy in my standing before him.
I pray those I saw that day in court will hear of God’s grace in Christ and come to be truly free as well.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-4)