"Jackson Walks!" "Michael Free!" "The Gloved One escapes the long arm of the law." So read the headlines after the jury found Michael Jackson not guilty of all charges. According to one juror, there was not enough evidence to find him guilty.
This does not necessarily mean he was innocent. I cannot judge either way, not having been a party to the alleged incidents. But this does point out an interesting facet of the American justice system: one may have actually committed a crime but there may not be enough evidence to find the perpetrator guilty and deserving of punishment under our laws. There is allowance made for reasonable doubt so as not to convict the innocent by mistake.
God's justice system works quite differently. There are no mistakes or reasonable doubts. This may sound harsh at first, but it's actually comforting in the long run.
The prophet Nahum reminds us that "The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished" (Nahum 1:3). The apostle Paul said, "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23a). The author of Hebrews warns, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13). This doesn't leave any of us much wiggle room.
However, although God is perfectly just and all-knowing, He is also wise and compassionate. Unlike a prosecutor who may have a vendetta or a judge who has human weaknesses or a jury that may just want to get out and go home, God judges fairly. And, He has only one penalty for breaking His laws: death (Ezekiel 18:4: "The soul that sins, it shall die."). This is starting to sound hopeless, isn't it? Yet God's awareness of every one of our sins can actually bring peace and hope.
God has a greater love for us than we can ever imagine. As our Creator, He wants us to love and serve Him forever. Imagine a judge whose son stands before him, condemned to death. Justice screams for punishment, while love pleads for mercy, and the judge's heart is wrenched. What can be done? Someone must die to satisfy the law. God Himself found a way to free His people without violating His justice. He sent His only son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die on the cross for us sinners. Jesus was innocent of any sin, so he had nothing to pay for, and proved it by rising from the dead. Yet he died to pay for our crimes against God. Because the debt to God's society was paid, we could go free! If we sincerely and humbly ask, God will forgive our sins and apply Christ's payment to our account. Christ's death serves justice, and our release satisfies mercy. We can receive the "not guilty" verdict.
We and God know that we are not innocent; that's part of the beauty of forgiveness. God's magnanimity is shown in that He can release us and cover over the crimes. The fact that He sees EVERY sin means that we can be sure that EVERY sin was paid for by Christ. There will be no surprises or faulty verdicts or doubts in heaven. If you ask God to forgive you now, you can experience the peace and hope of knowing that you will never pay for your sins. The rest of Romans 3:23 says, "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Why refuse a free pardon?
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