A few weeks before, the defendant had answered charges for his third drunk driving offense, where the public defender successfully argued in his favor. “He hasn’t committed any other infraction, misdemeanor, or felony. He’s the sole provider for his wife and five kids. He’s a supervisor in a large plant.”
On the other hand, the district attorney argued that the man presented a severe risk to the community: “Any time that drunk gets behind the wheel again, he could kill innocent victims. Your Honor, he must be kept locked up until his next hearing!”
The judge asked both attorneys to approach for a confidential conference at the foot of the judge’s bench. After a few minutes, the meeting was over, and the judge addressed the defendant. “Look, sir; I’m not going to lock you up, despite the well-founded objections of the district attorney. I’m offering you the deal of your life. I’m keeping you out of jail so you can work and provide for your family. But I’m going to impose several conditions. One, you are not going to drive anymore until your preliminary hearing. Walk, take the bus, ride a cab, but you are not going to get behind the wheel of a car. Two, you’re going to attend a daily session of Alcohol Anonymous. Next time I see you, I want to see 35 signatures as proof of attendance on the AA card. Understood? I don’t want any excuses. And last, so that you know this is a great deal for you, I’m not going to require you to wear an ankle bracelet alcohol monitor. It is expensive, so save your pennies for your kids.”
I’m offering you the deal of your life.
“If you can’t follow these rules, I’ll give you all six years of jail time the district attorney is requesting. Now, do we have a deal or not?”
“Yes sir, your Honor,” was the swift response.
After the judge had the man repeat each step of the deal, he continued, “Do you see that gentleman over there?” The judge was pointing to the court reporter.
“Yes, your Honor,” said the defendant, this time more hesitantly.
“Do you know what he’s doing? He’s taking down every word of this deal. He’s put this entire conversation and your answers on the record, so no one forgets their end of our bargain. I’ll see you in about five weeks.”
With a smile on his face, our drunk driver left the courtroom sober enough to face the responsibility of keeping his part of the deal.
Five weeks later, he showed up in court for his preliminary hearing, but with only three signatures on his AA card. His public defender merely shook his head and handed the card to the judge. The judge took one glance at the card and quipped, “Ah, my friend.” And then to the Court Reporter: “Carl, do you have the transcript of my conversation with this gentleman about five weeks ago?”
“Yes, your Honor.”
“But your Honor,” interrupted the defendant. “It’s just that my mother got gravely ill, and I had to leave the country to go see her.”
No sooner had the reporter read the last word of the transcript than the judge, still with that sneer on his face called to the bailiff, “Lock him up now!”
It’s all in the transcript. Israel made a deal with God. They would obey the law continually, without a slip-up. As a result, they would have life. The rest of the Old Testament is the transcript of the deal breakers, the litany of their excuses, and the resulting consequences. The Old Testament is a rehearsal of one enslavement into another: deals made, deals broken, constant relapses into slavery and oppression.
The same is true for us today. We’ve become experts at making deals with God. “Just teach me the right steps, and I’ll make it happen. Give me the power, and I’ll be free. With your help, I’ll muster up what’s deep within me to face whatever life throws at me. You’ll see. You’ll be proud of me.” It doesn’t matter if we are Christians or not. Atheists and agnostics also make deals with the tremendous global human power they’ve substituted for God: “Trust us, we’ll make it happen, we’ll make things right, we’ll fix the planet, we’ll fix politics, we’ll fix world hunger, we’ll fix illnesses, we can make eternal life happen ourselves. We just need a bit more time. That’s our commitment; we are promise keepers. We’ll extend human life to our solar system and beyond.”
We’ve become experts at making deals with God.
Yet social, political, economic, and military history is nothing but a transcript of broken deals across all human boundaries. Human history is nothing but a record of broken promises.
It’s all bad news until we see Jesus climb up on that tree in Calvary. There, nailed to the cross, he took humanity’s enslavement on himself. That was his way of embracing humanity across all latitudes and longitudes, tribes, tongues, and peoples. He bore humanity’s loss of freedom and eternal death. In so doing, he was humanity’s only deal keeper, for that was his promise. “Christ brings a new agreement from God to his people. He brings this agreement so that those who are chosen by God can have the blessings God promised, blessings that last forever. This can happen only because Christ died to free people from sins committed against the commands of the first agreement” (Heb 9:15).
But Christ does not bring this new agreement for us to sign again on the dotted line, and therefore preemptively agree to our condemnation. He brings us the new agreement already kept and signed on our behalf. He places it in our hands out of his over-abundant grace, and his sovereign will to save the lost. He stands before God as accused, guilty, and condemned but, at the same time, innocent, guiltless, and eternally alive.
Even the accuser says, “I find nothing in him” (John 14:30). With all promises kept, all commitments fulfilled, and every work finished, perfect love signs the new agreement for us.
And when the eternal judge calls for the transcript of his life, the global courtroom explodes in song: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12).