When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. – Proverbs 21:15 ESV
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. – Isaiah 30:18 ESV
I had several friends that were facing court today. One in particular was having a rough time because he was facing the possibility of his first trip to prison.
I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning with him because he was absolutely distraught over what he was facing. And we went on a journey that took him from the valley of pointing fingers at others and wallowing in self pity to the mountaintop of offering forgiveness to the person he had been “blaming” for putting him there. He finally accepted that he was the one that shouldered the full responsibility, and he finally realized that if he was going to expect mercy from a judge, that he needed to show mercy to others first.
We didn’t have this counseling session in some closed room at a desk, or inside my house, or inside a church, we had this counseling session over a “quarter a game” pool table at the old pool hall that I grew up playing in. While we spoke about justice and forgiveness and personal responsibility and mercy and love and Jesus for hour after hour, different groups of people came and went from the tables around us. And we didn’t care or pay attention to them, we were focused on an all important discussion. This young man was facing the very real possibility of tonight being his last taste of freedom for a long time, so we didn’t care about what so many overheard that night in the pool hall. And we didn’t care that at times, the reality of the situation would bring this huge, Goliath of a man to heartfelt tears.
But I expect that this odd site may have seemed quite interesting to many – of little me, beside this lumbering hulk of a man, with both of us talking about Jesus and life and prison and “real freedom” and “real discipleship”, while I drank a canned Pepsi and he drank a bottled water in the midst of a regular “bar crowd” that was playing pool at all hours of the night and morning. I expect that some might have gotten a different impression from us about “what a Christian looks like”.
Now I’m going to tell you – never once did I promise this man that if he would believe Jesus that the court would show him mercy. In fact, when he explained how he had been trying to barter with God in his prayers, I encouraged him to stop wanting it his way and to hand it over to God. I asked him point blank if he loved Jesus and if he thought that Jesus deserved the cross and to lay down His life while offering forgiveness to His accusers. I asked him if he was more interested in a God who could get him out of the consequences he rightly deserved by breaking the law than a God who would offer justice and trial to teach us and change our hearts. No, I don’t bring “buddy Jesus” who just wants to cover your sin and hide it. I know Jesus Christ, the powerful and victorious redeemer, who delivers people from their old lives, who is more interested in your eternal salvation than your temporary circumstances, and who turns all things to good for those who delight in the Lord. He is the one who brings justice that is a joy to the righteous and a terror to the evil doers. We choose how that justice is received by our choosing who truly is Lord of our life.
This big man who was at first distraught with the idea of the consequences and who preferred the idea of “death by cop” to having to go to prison finally laid down his insistence on “receiving mercy right now” and instead wrapped his big ole heart around Jesus to accept “whatever may come” as long as he could have Christ. He changed his prayer from being about his wants and “getting it his way” to simply be, “Lord, draw me closer to you, however you see fit.” And chains fell away. Big chains. Heavy chains. Legion was no longer in control.
Today, he stood before the judge, and as I watched, the very mercy that this man had given up chasing after and insisting on the night before – was handed to him and he was not celebrating a victory over the system, he was thanking the Lord for such undeserved mercy. I couldn’t say “Thank you, Jesus” enough times today. And even though at the end of my work day, there was no way that I could make it to the jail tonight because of my lack of sleep from the night before – the Lord offered me that same mercy, encouraging me that the 99 were fine tonight, and so was this one precious little lamb of his now that the day’s work had been accomplished.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Matthew 18:12-14 ESV
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
James 5:19-20 ESV
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV
NOTE: To give you some background on this story, I go into the jail Thursday nights to share the gospel, to encourage a life of discipline, and to counsel prisoners. And on Sunday nights, I preach at a drug rehabilitation center where recovering addicts are living and going through a 24×7 intense Christian discipleship program. This is just a piece of our family’s weekly ministry focus, but knowing these things about me will let you understand that I have friends that many people understandably might not feel comfortable inviting into their homes and lives. Friends that have been or still are drug addicts, drug dealers, rape victims, rapists, battered spouses, spouse batterers, abused as children, abusers, thiefs, liars, drunks, atheists, religious, gossips, etc. I’m not saying this to boast about myself or to shame anyone – I’m saying this because I know this is uncommon and may be difficult to understand when considering the risks of “bad company and influences”. I understand and agree with that advise. But you see, I’m not here to join them in those “old ways”, I’m here to offer them healing and redemption and freedom from those things so they no longer have to be defined by those “old ways”, but so they can walk as a new creation.