Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What’s Our Excuse?

We’re getting away from it now, in the kangaroo courts of Human Rights Tribunals and college campus inquisitions, but due process used to be a thing.

Built into the Law of Moses were several important procedural provisions designed to ensure that justice was done, including the oft-quoted “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.” First century Jews applied this principle across the board. It was the essence of fairness.

Yet we have it on the authority of several gospel writers that in the case of the Lord Jesus, the rulebook went out the window, as it did at Stephen’s trial and in Jewish attempts to get their hands on the apostle Paul.

In first century Judea, the kangaroos were out in force.

A Slightly Better Performance

Thus it’s both sad and a little ironic to find that Porcius Festus, the procurator of Judea for three years in the mid-first century, was more committed to the principles of justice than the religious Jews who petitioned him, men who had received their own law directly from God: “It was not the custom of the Romans,” Festus said, “to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him.”

Festus may have been a political animal, but he was no kangaroo. He knew the rules and played by them.

Ever been morally outperformed by a pagan? It’s a little embarrassing.

The Occasional Red Face

Of course that was not quite what was happening in our first-century comparison, which is really between two different groups of unsaved, one slightly more outwardly religious than the other.

Still, it’s not unusual for those of us who worship the true God to find ourselves a little red-faced about some aspect of our own testimony when dealing with unbelievers who display good character on a regular basis and live formidably consistent lives. It has happened to me, and I suspect it may happen to others too.

Thing is, it should be happening less and less as we grow in Christ, shouldn’t it?

At a Very Slight Disadvantage

The Jews who broke their own law had this in their favor: they had not been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless, or predestined to adoption as children of God. They had never been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, been blessed with his grace, or had their sins forgiven. They had no inside track on the mystery of God’s will, which boils down to the purpose of history: to unite all things in heaven and earth in the person of his Son. Those poor Jews had no heavenly inheritance to look forward to, nor had they been sealed with the Holy Spirit as evidence of it. Further, they had no indwelling Spirit of God working away at their characters to enable them to produce fruit for God, and no assurance that he will continue to do so until the job is done.

It’s no wonder their empty religious legalism couldn’t equip or even inspire them to measure up to the standards of a dutiful Roman secularist.

So what’s our excuse?

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