And Justice For All

courtroom-898931_960_720   She was walking home from work one evening. She had made this walk dozens of times since she took the dinner shift at the restaurant where she worked. Almost always between 10:00pm and 11:00pm; her route took her down the street, through the park, and just over the bridge near her apartment. Once across the bridge it was a quick stroll across the back parking lot and she was home. Very routine. She never imagined she would one day join the list of #metoo victims but this night there was a man waiting for her.

She had served him a few times at the restaurant, and he had taken a fancy to her. So much so that, hiding along her route, he had watched her walk home night after night for a couple weeks. He knew her route and he knew her routine. She always walked with her headphones on, her waitress outfit was dark red, the restaurant’s color, so passersby rarely noticed her, but there was little traffic anyway and rarely was anyone around at that time of night. He formed a plan. He was a very troubled man, and this was not the first time he’d done this.

One night, he hid between the cars in her apartment parking lot and waited. When she crossed the bridge and started through the parking lot, he stood up behind her, followed her quietly to the door. Coming up behind her, acting as if he was just going to see friend, he struck up a brief conversation, as two people heading to the same destination might, and she easily let him follow her inside and up to her floor, where he had stated his friend lived also. But as she unlocked her apartment door, he suddenly turned around and violently pushed her inside. And there, in her own apartment, he brutally attacked & raped her.

Thanks to the video surveillance at her apartment, it did not take the police long to identify the attacker and arrest him. And the DNA evidence assured a speedy trial and easy conviction by the jury. The evidence against the man was simply overwhelming. And there he stood at the sentencing before kindly old Judge Thomas. The judge was known as a loving family man and a deeply caring friend, always putting the needs of others before his own. But here, in the courtroom, faced with such convincing evidence and the resulting guilty verdict, there was only one thing the benevolent judge could do – he handed down the maximum allowable sentence.

And would any of us handle it differently than Judge Thomas? Surely not! In fact, knowing the facts of the case, we might feel that no punishment is harsh enough; such cases usually trigger our emotions in ways that are deeply passionate. This is not really all that surprising, though, because we are created in the image of God and we know that, in addition to being a perfect, loving Father, God is also supremely just, and he punishes sin wherever he finds it. Like the judge in our fictitious story, God is loving, caring, and benevolent…but completely just.

And so while we don’t often like to talk about judgment, the Bible tells us judgment is coming and we do well to understand this. The writer of Hebrews notes that it is appointed to a person to die once and then comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). John the Baptist spoke about God’s coming judgment saying, “Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees.” (Matthew 3:10) and Jesus frequently spoke of coming judgment with statements such as: “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!” (Matthew 5:22) and: “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.” (Matthew 12:36) and: “Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.” (John 16:11) So the coming judgment might not be a popular topic we see that it is one of vital importance.

At this point many might say, “I’m am not concerned about judgment because I’m not that bad of a person, surely my good deeds will outweigh my bad on judgment day.” But even a statement like that reveals what we all know to be true about ourselves, that despite the good things we have done, we all have done bad things, too. So let’s not be disingenuous by refusing to admit our sins. We all have guilt and we all know it intuitively. And God doesn’t grade on a curve like your high school teacher, he judges sin wherever he finds it.

But God, being the loving, perfect, and just judge, made a way for us to be redeemed by sending his one and only Son to the cross to pay the penalty for us. And here we find the real conundrum; regardless of our sins, we can be forgiven only if we accept God’s free gift of grace through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. But many refuse. And this is where judgment comes. Jesus said, “But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” (John 12:48) And in John 3:19 he said, “And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” And in John 3:36, “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

But in Romans 8:1 we read: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” And in John 3:18 we read that: “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.” So it is really very simple, we all know we have sinned, but we can avoid God’s judgment simply by acknowledging our sin and believing the Gospel message that Jesus died and rose again for us. The Apostle John wrote: “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.” (1 John 4:9) and “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:12) That is the Gospel message. If you haven’t already, won’t you please believe starting today?

And for those who may be victims, who may have suffered by a crime committed by another, please know that Jesus loves you dearly and he stands with you, arms wide open, able to understand by his own suffering, and that he will one day make all things right. He spoke these words in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” And we are assured in the book of Revelation that one day: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4) So we cry with you, come quickly Lord!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
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An Honest Man

scales-36417_960_720 Among the impressive sites we saw on our recent trip to Arkansas is a magnolia tree that was planted 178 years ago. Located in Historic Washington State Park in Arkansas, the magnolia tree is so large it now occupies an area almost as large as the entire yard upon which sits your average home. The branches arch down to the ground and back upwards, forming a large canopy under which you could easily park your car. After nearly two centuries, it’s a really big tree – the oldest known to exist in Arkansas.

But that is not all we found in Historic Washington State Park. The park encompasses the entire town of Washington, Arkansas; a town of specific significance in our country’s history. For one, it is blacksmith James Black who made the first Bowie Knife. While there is some controversy surrounding the accuracy of this claim, Black’s knives are prized by collectors and to this day the American Bladesmith Society maintains a knife making college at the site. Secondly, Historic Washington was the Confederate State Capital of Arkansas from 1863-1865.

With my brother-in-law, Steve, as our knowledgeable guide, we toured the town and the many well-preserved and reconstructed buildings found there. While space doesn’t allow me to recite the full list of buildings, I will say that they include a recreation of James Black’s blacksmith shop, the old courthouse, circa 1874, that contains some truly gorgeous wood work and a museum, the Royston log house, and the B.W. Edwards Weapons Museum. There is also the oldest Methodist church in Arkansas and Williams Tavern, which is now a restaurant offering excellent food at very reasonable prices (including genuine southern style cornbread).

Among the things we saw was Pioneer Cemetery, which contains graves dating back as far as the Revolutionary War, but mostly is the final home to many of Washington’s earliest settlers. Among them, we found Ephraim Mirick and his wife, Mary (Belcher) Mirick. Now that big old magnolia tree was just a sapling when Ephraim and Mary were in their prime. Through a little research I found that Ephraim was a respected trader and land speculator who helped establish some of the trade routes in the area, especially between Camden and Washington, a portion of this route still exists as Nevada County Road 10. What most caught my interest about Ephraim and Mary Mirick, however, wasn’t the historical facts about them that I found, but the sayings preserved for all time on their respective grave markers.

Ephraim’s stone has the scales of justice on top and the words “an honest man” engraved on the bottom while Mary’s has the Bible on the top and the words “a Christian” on the bottom. Both epitaphs convey a decidedly positive message about the individual, but while being an honest man is certainly a good thing, it tells us nothing about Ephraim’s eternal fate. Mary’s, on the other hand, tells us all we need to know. She was a Christian and “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Mary as a Christian and we know that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So we know on October 7, 1877 at age 71 she entered the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ephraim’s fate, on the other hand, remains a mystery to us. We simply do not know. For the truth is, while people thought well-enough of him to inscribe “an honest man” on his stone, the Bible tells us we simply cannot be good enough to get into heaven based on how we lived our lives. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) The great prophet Isaiah said it this way, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” (Isaiah 64:6) So old Ephraim may very well have been an honest man, he may have been generous and kind to many, but we know from Scripture that even the best of us have sinned, even Ephraim. And the penalty for sin is death. (Romans 6:23)

Now Ephraim may have been a Christian, and he may be in heaven right now with his wife, but based on his epitaph we just don’t know. But you can know what will happen to you when you die. It is very simple, we just have to believe the Bible and admit to God that we are sinners and we need him. As it says in Romans 10:9-10, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” So, if you haven’t already, won’t you take this step of faith today? Then you will know, with certainty, that you belong to Jesus and you will go to heaven when you die.

Want to know more about how to become a Christian? Please visit KnowGod.org

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.