2 Samuel 7:14 I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me. When he does wrong, I will discipline him with a human rod and with blows from others.
The first part of this illustration, you’ve probably heard before. Too many times.
You’re led into a court room handcuffed and trembling on the inside. Today is the day. The judge sits high, donned in his black gown with gavel at hand and stares right through your façade of innocence to your guilty soul. And even though you had come close to believing the lies, you now look in the judge’s eyes and know that it’s all about to be exposed.
The list of offenses is long. He reads them as if numbered on a scroll, but never looks down, never unlocks his gaze that’s been set on you from the moment you entered his court. Each accusation resurrects vivid memories you had once filed into the forgotten. With each reading, the specific event and its circumstances rush to the forefront of your mind, every one catalyzing accusation to guilt and then certainly to conviction.
Lust, theft, lust, theft, selfishness, greed, lust, theft, hate, cheating, theft and lust. They begin to run together forming the picture of a dirty and shattered life.
Then he finishes. Your legs are weak now and you need to sit, but the sentence is coming. The crowd in the courtroom who was, at the beginning of all this, chattering in whisper about your orange jumpsuit, shackles and shame is now silent and slumped, their heads bowed by an odd combination of pity and disgust. The long list and nature of your crimes had crested their threshold of entertainment into sickness and evil. They can no longer look at you. But the judge can. Justice is about to be handed to you and the fact that nausea fills your gut and throat doesn’t seem to affect him at all. “This court finds you guilty. You are hereby sentenced to…”
“Wait!” From the back of the courtroom, a man steps to the front and does the unimaginable. “I will take this man’s penalty.” The courtroom chatter is revived. The judge thumps his gavel. “Order! Order!” He directs his attention to the stranger. “Why would you do this for this man who is guilty of every thing I’ve recounted?”
“Because I want to see him free.”
“Then step forward. Though you have done no wrong, I transfer the sentence of this guilty man to you. The sentence is death.” Even though the crowd knew the severity of the sentence long before the reading of trespasses had been completed, there’s still a gasp of surprise at the astounding turn of events. The guards unlock your shackles and cuffs and turn you toward the door. Your slow steps turn into a sprint as you struggle to discern this reality from a dream and only as you burst through the exit, do you turn briefly to shout, “Thank you!” to the man now being shackled with the same restraints that had bound you only moments ago. The man is smiling. The courtroom is in shock. And you are free.
But here’s the reality. You’re still guilty. Yes, you’re free from the penalty, but not the shame. Initially, there’s a lot of celebration and hooplah. After all, you have what many call “a new lease on life.” But in the midst of all the excitement and your new plans, a nagging truth gnaws at you with a voice that’s you’re own. “I’m the one who did it. I’m the one whose guilty.” Eventually, this truth of your conscience grows weighty and begins to manifest in depression and lack of confidence. That feeling when you were first set free has evacuated and is replaced with a bitterness of soul. Pure logic begins to argue for a position of comfort, ease and euphoria over the relentless guilt and shame. In the end, your return to the old way of life is less that you succumbed to it and more that you simply decided on it. For the deductive conclusion at which you arrive sounds strange but is right none the less: “It was nice to be set free, but I’d rather be dead.”
Had you known the agony of living free from penalty but slave to shame, you would have stood your ground in that courtroom that day boldly addressing your judge and that strange savior at your side, “If only from the penalty you set me free, then to the gallows I go gladly for I would rather die in chains in the grip of justice than live with none in the grip of guilt.”
Your soul and body are now trashed again. All seems lost. Nearing insanity, you begin running toward that courthouse in the town square. Security at the entry point is caught off guard by your desperate rush and look of a man wildly possessed. You escape their restraint, clambering up the stairs to the courtroom doors, bursting back in with no less vigor than you had once burst out. Court is in session for some other poor soul and you can’t help but feel sorry for him and somewhere in all your jumbled and confused mental state, you think, “I’m going to warn that guy. Freedom isn’t what it seems.” The judge is not startled by your bold interruption, but he certainly is angry. Two bailiffs quickly grab you by the arms as you blurt out the circumstances of your trial once held in this very room. You recite many of the crimes of which you were accused, the man who stepped forward, the sentence that was transferred to him.
“Your honor! I know you must remember me! I can no longer live with myself. I am guilty! The man who took my sentence was innocent. I am guilty and I want to join him in death. I no longer want to live.”
In contrast to your frantic plea, the judge calmly asks, “What was your name again?” You feel exasperated by his failure to remember you, but you gather yourself to clearly state your full name. He pulls out a heavy black leather bound book, large enough that it requires two hands to open it to the letter of your last name. He licks his index finger and peers through the bottom of his bifocals as he flips a couple of pages forward and then runs his finger up and down the columns on that page.
“No. I don’t see your name here. And I don’t remember these crimes you’ve recalled.”
“What!? But I stood right here and you were about to impose a sentence of death when a man from the back came forward and said he would stand in my place and…and you transferred the sentence to him! You don’t remember that?”
“Young man. Settle yourself and listen carefully. I am a just and fair and perfect judge. And perfect justice can only penalize the guilty. The only way any person could ever take another’s penalty is if he himself somehow also became guilty. Transfer of sin would be required for the transfer of penalty.” He picked up the black book. “Do you see this? It is the book of death sentences. Those who are in it are guilty. Those who are not are innocent. Your name is not in this book. You are innocent of any wrongdoing. Do you understand me?”
The room is silent. It seems as if all the world and heaven is watching you and thinking the same thing you are; “I shouldn’t even be here right now.” The revelation of what that stranger did for you dawns on you like a new day that will never end and as you prepare to back your way to the doors, you humbly ask, “Your honor. I understand now that I have no record. If you would allow me, I would like to go and sin no more.” The bailiffs slowly release their grip as he responds with five words that you never, until now, understood correctly.
“You are free to go.”