Released from Double Jeopardy

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He will plead guilty on our behalf, and suffer the death sentence in our place.

The public defender advised the defendant, “If you plead guilty now before your trial is over, you’ll only get three years jail time. But since you’ve already been locked up nearly three years awaiting trial, you’ll most likely be freed in just a few weeks. You’ll be given credit for time served. Sure, you’ll be deported when you’re released, but you’ll be free in your own country. If you don’t take the offer, you’ll most likely be found guilty and sentenced. The charges are extremely serious: rape of a minor on multiple occasions. If the jury finds you guilty, you’ll most likely be given a life sentence. If you continue to claim your right to a trial, you’ll most likely be locked up forever without parole. But if you take the deal, you’ll be sure of your sentence, and you’ll be released soon.”

But the defendant insisted on his innocence, even as the attorney reminded him of the risk. The attorney continued. “This jury will most likely convict you.” As I translated, I could hear the man mouth to himself his inner struggle, “Do I plead guilty and go free? Or do I insist on my innocence but risk the life sentence?”

Our dilemma before God is worse than this defendant’s. His jail time while awaiting trial counted as “credit for time served,” which meant he had the option for an early release. But our time, “dead in our sins and trespasses,” amounts to nothing. We pay for nothing with our life of sin. God offers no deal for our time served. Sin is equal to time served in vain. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking we can work out a deal with God, because prisoners to sin have no choice.

Our guilty plea is also fatally flawed. Our admissions of guilt before God always have at their nucleus nothing but swirling pretexts and justifications. They are also wrapped up in self-interest and fear of punishment. God reads right through their hypocrisy. We have nothing over the pedophile in our story. His guilty plea was his ticket to freedom. Not much remorse there.

He will plead guilty on our behalf, and suffer the death sentence in our place.

Going to trial before God is even more futile, yet inevitable, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:10). But we also know from Scripture that no one will receive the good. All will receive evil, “since all have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s glory” and “the wages of sin is death.”

It is a trial where we all know where the verdict and the sentencing will land except that our attorney, Jesus Christ, steps in. He does not advise us to plead guilty. We already saw the intrinsic flaws of our guilty pleas. Instead, he will do the unthinkable. He will plead guilty on our behalf, and suffer the death sentence in our place. His guilty plea is the only sincere and thoroughly heartfelt admission of guilt there has ever been. His strategy is trustworthy. It’s infallible. We just sit back in jail, believe in his already finished work, and the jail doors will bust open. In fact, he presides over the biggest jail bust in history. And as the jail doors burst open and we are set free, the devil and all his minions are locked up.

The evil one can do absolutely nothing as he watches us run free, celebrating our freedom. He will not be the next witness to take the stand against us. His days as “the accuser of the brothers and sisters” are all over (Rev 12:10). His accusations and cries are not heard outside his prison cell. If he were indeed to take the witness stand against us, the father of lies would tell the sordid truth about us, additionally embellishing it with his own slandering genius. However, we have nothing to fear.

Our only plea before God is the one that Christ entered on our behalf. It is recorded as a plea of David, but proleptically, it is Christ’s own plea on the cross when he took our sins on his guiltless soul: “Do not enter into judgment with your slave for before you no human being will be justified” (Ps 143:2). And yet, through this desperate cry admitting guilt on behalf of all sinners, we are all declared entirely righteous, pure, and loving, as though we had never offended anyone with our deeds, hurt ourselves with our thoughts, or failed to care for God’s creation!

As we leave the heavenly courtroom our song, together with the countless throng of the redeemed will be, “We have been justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24), “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev 5:13).