A man was arrested for murder. He didn’t set out to kill anyone, just to get some extra cash to pay the rent. But, the convenience store clerk went for a weapon under the counter, and the thief fired the handgun he brought for the robbery before he could suppress his defensive instincts.
He dropped the finger-print covered gun and ran. Several witnesses saw him fleeing the scene. There was a security camera pointed at the register. His lawyer advised him to stay away from a trial and just plead guilty.
And, on the day he appeared before the judge to hear what his fate would be, his estranged elder brother showed up in the courtroom.
So he did. Then he faced sentencing. And, on the day he appeared before the judge to hear what his fate would be, his estranged elder brother showed up in the courtroom. They had not spoken to one another in ages. His brother had tried to keep in touch, but the younger brother was carrying too much guilt and embarrassment. The man in the defendant’s chair was a common criminal, an alcoholic in perpetual recovery, and, now, a murderer. His brother was a family man with a wife and three kids, a successful businessman with a fine education, and deeply religious man who had never been in trouble with the law. But, there was no place to hide in the stark, confining courtroom.
The court session began and progressed as expected–until the judge prepared to declare the sentence for this thief and murderer. Just as the judge was about to begin, the older brother stood up and asked to address the court. The judge hesitated, but gave him permission.
Just as the judge was about to begin, the older brother stood up and asked to address the court. The judge hesitated, but gave him permission.
So, the brother spoke. He began talking about their strained family relationships, about his own guilt and sorrow over their differences and his younger brother’s choices. He expressed regret over the crime that had been committed and condolences to the family of the victim, but also love for his troubled brother. Then he said this: “I love my brother too much to see his life ruined like this. And, if you would allow me, your honor, I would go to prison in his place.”
The older brother finished speaking, but remained standing. The judge had heard parents, grandparents, and siblings express similar thoughts before, but this brother seemed to mean it, seemed to expect an answer. As the people in the courtroom observed the sincere request, the brother standing in expectation, and the judge sitting quietly in what appeared to be genuine thought and consideration, they became silent and still in disbelieving anticipation.
The silence was broken by the loud stutter of wooden legs on the hard floor as the prosecutor, taking in the scene, rose to object to what had now become a serious suggestion. Anger crept onto his face, he raised his hand and took a deep breath as he mentally prepared his objection, but before he could utter a sound the judge raised his own hand to silence him. Then quietly, but firmly, the judge said, “So be it,” and he brought down his gavel.
The question that ran the headlines the next day: “Justice Served?” And, it is the same question we have to consider, as Christians, since this obviously fictional story is very close to the picture we get from scripture about the nature of Jesus Christ’s journey to the cross. He is the older brother who goes to prison (or, rather, to a lethal injection) for our crimes. Was justice served by Jesus taking our punishment? Can He really do that?
Was justice served by Jesus taking our punishment? Can He really do that?
Not with our narrow, limited understanding of justice. Imagine the cries for “justice” that would come from the media, the legal community, and the victim’s family if such a scene as described above actually took place. But, fortunately, God’s idea of justice is much bigger than ours. Paul wrote in Romans 3:25-26 (NIV; emphasis mine):
God presented [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
What an incredibly unjust view of justice! To think that the guilty can just get off and go “unpunished” because someone completely innocent takes their place! But, that just goes to show us that we have a lot to learn about God and about true justice.