The Judgement

As you sit in the courtroom, waiting for the judge to appear and give his verdict, you consider the penalty you’ll have to pay. You know that you are guilty, and you know that the judge knows it too. The evidence has been presented, and the witnesses have testified. Execution awaits you.

You look up as the judge enters and takes his seat. He arranges his papers, and then looks you right in the eye. His expression betrays little emotion, as he begins to speak.

“This court finds you guilty.”

There it is. You knew you would be condemned, but somehow you can’t help but feel a heightened fear inside.

“The sentence is death,” he continues, as you bury your face in your hands.

He goes on: “I find no pleasure in delivering a death sentence. It’s one of the hardest things I ever have to do.”

“Yeah, a lot of good that does me,” you think to yourself. “This trial is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, too. Can we please just get it over with?”

But he continues. “Over the course of this trial, I’ve watched you closely. And as I’ve watched you, I’ve discerned that you’re fully aware of your guilt. Through your emotions and words, I can tell that you’re sincerely sorry for your crime, and have admitted to yourself that you’re worthy of the penalty. And I’ve found that I’ve developed a feeling for you that goes beyond natural compassion. As I’ve observed your anguish, I’ve come to love you like one of my own children.”

As the judge pauses for a moment, you look up, and see tears in his eyes. Yet as he continues, his face betrays a smile.

“As a judge, who knows only better than you your guilt and worthiness of death, I’ve sought in recent days to reconcile mercy and justice. During that time my son, who as you know is an attorney, has been helping me. We’ve worked tirelessly to find a means to grant you pardon. And finally, we found a way.”

You think to yourself, “Is this really happening?” In shock, you are afraid to believe your ears. But the judge is still smiling upon you, even while tears yet glisten in his eyes.

He holds up a paper, and says, “This, my friend, is your pardon. All you have to do is sign it, and you are a free man. No strings attached.”

Still unsure whether this is really happening, you stammer out, “But, but Judge, how did you? Why, why did you do this for me?”

“I did it because I love you,” the judge replies. “As to how… well, that was my son’s doing.”

You take a quick glance around the courtroom, expecting the judge’s son to come forward and explain. But he is nowhere in sight.

“You see,” the judge continues in a choked voice, “he paid the penalty.”

Confused, you ask the judge, “What do you mean? How? I was supposed to be put to death. The penalty wasn’t a fine that someone else could pay for me. If it was, I could have just worked it off.”

“Yes, that’s right,” answers the judge, “your penalty was death. It wasn’t something that you could work off. It could only be paid with your life.”

“But you see, my son and I didn’t want you to have to die. So last week, we had an execution.”

The judge pauses for a moment to collect himself, and you ask, “So, you mean, you put someone else to death in my place?”

The judge nods his head.

“But who? Another criminal from the prison?”

“No,” the prosecuting attorney replies for the judge, who is too moved to speak. “That would not have been acceptable. Putting someone to death who is already guilty would only pay for their own crime. They had to be innocent for their death to pay for yours instead.”

You glance at the judge, who is nodding his head in agreement. And then it dawns on you.

“You mean,” you say, “you mean you executed your son?”

Again the judge nods, and says, “You see, I love you like a son, and he loved you like a brother. And he was willing to die in your place.”

Overcome, you begin to weep. “How can I ever repay you?” you ask. And the judge answers, “You can’t. But it is my hope that you’ll return my affection, as a son to his father, and be as a second son to me. And that you’ll live a clean life from now on.”

The judge beckons you to come forward, holding out the pardon to you.

“The penalty has been paid. Sign, and you’re a free man.”

The Rest of the Story

How does the story end? What do you do? Do you sign the pardon?

That is a question that only you can answer.

And it is a question that you will answer. Because this isn’t just a story.

You see, the Bible tells us that we’re all in the same place as the guilty criminal: we’re all guilty of death and are just awaiting the judgement.

But how can that be?

The Bible is the word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and in it he tells us about how he created this earth and the first people on it (Genesis 1). At that time, all of the creation was perfect and eternal, including man. And God gave it all to us, with only one stipulation: that we obey him. And he established death as the penalty for disobedience. Then he made just one, simple rule. (Genesis 2)

But the first people quickly rebelled against God. They directly defied him by transgressing the one command he had given them. This ended the perfection of creation: the earth is now under a curse of suffering and corruption. And while men are given a chance to live, we are now mere mortals, and all of our lives end in death. (Genesis 3)

All of us have inherited mortality from our parents. And no one has ever deserved anything more: each person has rebelled against God in one way or another, and all are therefore worthy of the penalty of death. (Romans 5:12)

Like the judge in the story, God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4). He knows that we are guilty, and he has to condemn us. But also like the judge in the story, God loves us and is merciful toward us. He made us to be immortal, and he still wants that for us. He wants to deliver us from permanent, eternal death.

And like the judge in the story, God found a way to reconcile justice with his mercy. And he did it just as the judge did: he made a way for our pardon by asking his Son to take the penalty in our stead.

God’s son’s name is Jesus, and when God asked him to take the penalty in our place, Jesus said yes. Unlike us, Jesus always obeys his Father (John 8:29). And like the judge’s son in the story, Jesus loves us like his own family. And now we are, because to take our place, Jesus had to become a man.

As the son of God, Jesus cannot die. To do that, he had to become a son of man. And he did. He was born to a virgin, and grew up to be a man. And like the son of the judge in the story, he didn’t become guilty in the process. Even as a man, he always followed the will of his Father. Only because of his manhood and innocence can he take our place.

And he did take our place. When he was just 33 years old, he was condemned and put to death by the governing authorities on a cross on Calvary. He died, and paid our penalty. And because of that, we can now be pardoned.

But here is where the truth diverges from our story. Because the Bible tells us that Jesus did more than just die: he also rose again (Acts 13:30). He not only died, he overcame death, and passed from mortality to immortality; from death unto life. Those who are pardoned aren’t just freed from the penalty of death, we have our immortality restored. Instead of eternal death, when we die we can receive eternal life. Death no longer has to be permanent, because the penalty has already been paid.

And that brings us back to our original question: will you accept the pardon?

You don’t have to ask God to save you, because he’s already done that. His Son has already paid the penalty. It is finished (John 19:30). There is nothing that you or he can do to provide a more perfect way: it has all been taken care of already. All you have to do is accept God’s pardon. “The penalty has been paid. Sign, and you’re a free man.”

But God’s judgement throne is in heaven, and you are down here on earth. So how can you sign the pardon? How can you have it applied to you?

And the answer is simple: you don’t have to. You don’t even have to sign!

You see, when Jesus rose again, he ascended back into heaven, and right now he is seated on the right hand of his Father (Romans 8:34). And God has appointed him to be your heavenly attorney. You don’t have to sign yourself, he can sign it for you. All he’s waiting for is for you to give him the directive.

But wait! There’s more. Because Jesus is God, he knows everything. He knows your thoughts and feelings. And he knows whether you want to be pardoned before you even ask him. Because of this, the Bible tells us that all we have to do is believe (John 3:16). Just believe, and he’ll take care of all the rest.

The only question is, will you?

One Ending

Let’s return to the courtroom for a moment, and see how our poor criminal responded.

You might think that he ran up and embraced the judge, crying, and laughing, and telling him that he’d never be able to repay him. Telling him he’d never break the law again. Telling him, telling him that he would do his best to take the place of the son he had sacrificed to save him. That he’d love and serve him like he was his own father.

But what if that isn’t what happened?

What if instead, the condemned man jumped up in a rage and started shouting, “How dare you? How dare you condemn me? What right do you have to tell me what to do or how to live my life? Did I ask you for help? No! And I don’t need it either Mr. So-high-and-mighty. I’m a pretty good person, and yeah, I made a mistake, but what right does that give you to condemn me to death? Well, you can keep your stupid old pardon. I don’t want it. Don’t think that you can just come along and think that you can use me to make yourself feel like some great person just because you forgave me for something you shouldn’t have condemned me for in the first place.”

Shocked, the judge would respond, “You were guilty under the law. All I have done is give a just sentence. But I’ve put my own son to death to make way for your pardon. If you don’t sign it, he’ll have died in vain.”

“So what? Your the idiot who had such a crazy idea in the first place. I didn’t ask you to kill your son. As far as I’m concerned, it’s your loss, and maybe it serves you right.”

Would not all in the courtroom leap to their feet, and quickly escort this man to his just death?

Yet God, in his abundant mercy, is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. And so he pushes back the date of execution, giving us more time to accept the pardon. Many of us are given 70 years or more to repent and turn to him. Who could but joy at the honor to serve such a just and loving Creator?

Yet many do not accept the pardon. They think that their long lives, filled with good things, must mean that everything is all right, not knowing that the longsuffering of God leads them to repentance (Romans 2:4). And the Bible says that they are without excuse. Because even if they never heard this good news preached, they are still culpable for not seeking the Creator after having observed his glory through his creation. (Romans 1:20)

One day, each of them will die, and will stand before God’s judgement seat. All of us will stand before Jesus to be judged. Each of us will receive one of two things: everlasting life with him, if our name is on the pardon; or eternal death, if it is not.

Which brings us back to the question: Is your name there?

The Other Ending

Let’s return to the courtroom for a moment, and see how our poor criminal responded.

You might think that he ran up and embraced the judge, crying, and laughing, and telling him that he’d never be able to repay him. Telling him he’d never break the law again. Telling him, telling him that he would do his best to take the place of the son he had sacrificed to save him. That he’d love and serve him like he was his own father.

This seems like a most natural ending for the story. It is the response that we would expect. And it is the response that God expects, too. But he does more than just give us the honor of serving him: he gives us power to serve him.

You see, the Bible explains that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection did more than just overcome death. He also had to overcome three other things to be able to serve his Father: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Most of us haven’t just given in to rebellion against God. Most of us have struggled to try and overcome these things. But none have been able to do it without fail. All have sinned (Romans 3:23).

All, except for Jesus.

When God’s Son came to earth, he had to struggle against all of these things: the attractions of the world, the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and  the temptations of the devil. The difference is that he overcame. And through him, we can overcome, too.

Because God does more than just call us his children. Once we are cleansed from the stain of sin through the death of his Son, he sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts (Romans 8:15). With his Spirit within us, we have more than just cleansing from sin: we have the power to overcome it, just as he overcame (1 John 5:4). God doesn’t just call us his children and servants, he gives us the power to fulfill those roles (Philippians 2:13). Through the hope of his resurrection, we can overcome the world; through the power of his name, we can overcome the flesh and the devil (James 4:7).

Your sins can be cleansed, the penalty is paid. You can be God’s child, not just in name, but in deed.

The only question is, will you sign the pardon?

“Sign, and you’re a free man”