I lived through many moments of great suspense when I worked as a translator in the courtrooms. But the most dramatic, suspense-filled moments were when a jury entered the courtroom after concluding its deliberations.
Twelve people have been huddled together for hours, often days. They have carefully studied every shred of evidence presented against the defendant. Only those who have lived through those moments know first-hand the agony of awaiting the verdict. Even if you are not the defendant, you feel the tension in the air. In a few seconds, the defendant will know what the future holds for him--whether he will spend years in jail, or whether he will be released to glorious freedom.
If we could enter that defendant’s head, this is probably what he’s thinking: “If the jury’s verdict is ‘Not Guilty,’ what awaits me is the warmth of my home, the tight embrace of my wife and children, and the raucous welcome of my friends and family. But if the verdict is ‘Guilty,’ I’ll be sent off to the loneliness of prison, far from my family, surrounded by dangerous criminals who will most likely welcome me with the worst beating of my life!”
One particular day stands out in my mind. The defendant was a young man, about twenty-five years old. He had been accused of voluntary manslaughter. The district attorney’s evidence and arguments did not appear to be overwhelmingly convincing, or in legalese, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” There had been several gang members involved in the shooting. The defendant claimed he was just an innocent passer-by during the incident. What’s more, the police had indiscriminately stopped him. He didn’t have the tell-tale signs of gunpowder in his hands. Yet, an empty 9-millimeter handgun had been found in his car.
The young man did not have the funds to hire a private attorney and investigators. But he had always held out hope for a “Not Guilty” verdict. His attorney had presented a strong defense. He hoped this would help to create reasonable doubt in a majority of the jury.
When the ruling came down, it hit him with tsunami force: “Guilty.” As I translated the verdict, he sat with his hands in his face, trying to hold back the tears. He was later sentenced to eight years in the state penitentiary, with a chance for parole in six.
An older woman from the community who had been following the case surprisingly showed up in prison a few days later to visit him.
“I brought your wife and children to visit you. You have permission to visit with them for a few hours,” she said.
“But who are you, and why are you doing this?” asked the surprised young man.
“That doesn’t matter, don’t waste your time thinking about that, your family is waiting for your visit.”
The unexpected benefactor was always faithful. Throughout the ensuing months and years, she always went to visit him, bringing along his wife and children. He was able to see his children grow, sustain his relationship with his wife, and keep up with news from his extended family and friends. After six years, he was granted parole and returned home to the joyous welcome he had always imagined. His benefactor even had a job waiting for him. Today, he is a useful member of society and his community. The benefactor has made him and his family part of her extended family, and the young man and his family consider her as their “other mom.”
A little over two thousand years ago, an unexpected young man presented Himself to the human family and proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18,19).
This unknown, unexpected, young man not only came to visit and comfort the human family with his compassion for the poor, the abandoned, the sick. He also came to take our place as the death sentence came down upon us in the jailhouse of death. Yes, the death sentence had already been handed down to us, in fact, to every single person who has ever breathed, and will breathe, upon the planet. There had been no jury deliberations. It was the sentence of the Judge of the universe. He acted according to the power of the Law to condemn all for their transgressions, even those that we may think occur only in the imagination.
But with the power of His “not-guiltiness,” He busted wide open the iron doors of death’s prison, and tore up the writ of our death sentence.
Then, He did the unthinkable. He replaced it with the record of His own pure, perfectly obedient loving life! But that’s not all. With the power of His resurrection, He opened wide the gates of heaven. Never again would they be closed to any believing human being, regardless of social class, race, gender, or place of origin.
Today, by faith, we live free from condemnation, free from the fear of death, free from all slander the devil could whisper and scatter about us. In Him we have a new family, the family of the forgiven.
His visit two thousand years ago took us by surprise with this Good News: “I’m here to be with you. I’m here to bring you to your new family. I’m here to set you free. Now you can freely serve others. Go and, out of pure joy, tell them what great things I have done for you. Look, I’m opening the jail doors. Come out, come with me. Come, follow me. I bring to you fresh bread for your spirit, pure and eternal water to quench your spiritual thirst. Go, my friend, you are free.”