(Photo by David Veksler)
Last Friday, I spent the day at an online hearing at the Supreme Court of Victoria. Along with me were the Judge, the attorney from the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and the Legal Aid defence attorney. I was a character reference for a friend who was accused of murder. In fact, I was his only reference.
As I looked into my laptop screen in my study, I was suitably dressed for court in a suitcoat, nice shirt, tie and cufflinks. My dress was less formal below the screen, with a pair of tracksuit pants and ugg boots. I sat in my high-backed black vinyl look-like-leather chair backed up to a bookshelf to make me appear more switched on and well-read than I am, and waited for my turn to give a verbal rundown of my written submission.
With headphones plugged in, I listened as the Prosecution read out the case. The three of them, the Judge, prosecution, and defence discussed pertinent elements of the law. The amount of detail intrigued me. They bartered over the interpretation of the wording in a very small section of the Crimes Act, spending about ten minutes on one phrase.
On the screen, I watched my friend sit uneasily on his makeshift dock, the plastic chair. In his dark green prison clothes, he had put on a bit of weight since I saw him last a few years ago and now wore glasses. But despite the years and changes, he was clearly recognisable. His demeanour said, "guilty!"
When they came to my testimony, the defence asked a few questions to draw out the details of my letter for the Judge. The Judge asked me just as many questions, mainly to verify if my story was real. Much weight was placed on my sole testimony for my friend. I felt the Lord put the words in my mouth, and by the time I had finished the prosecution only had one simple question of clarification.
Out of those in the court and those listening in without the camera, I knew him best. They only knew him of recent, as an alcohol-fuelled murderer, but I knew him from years gone by, as a person who wanted to change his felony-ridden life. I knew him as a different person. I met him in a course I was facilitating in Port Phillip Prison in about 2006, and he was in the group. When he was released from prison I mentored him for eighteen months, then kept in touch over the years, losing contact in the last few. He showed promise through an earnestness I saw deep within him.
The Judge took into account that he was reared (for want of a better word) by alcoholic parents in an argumentative and violent household. His father committed suicide when my friend was nine, but not before he took to my friend's mum with a claw hammer. The Judge also considered the fact that his new stepdad physically abused him, and he was sexually molested a number of times, being made a ward of the state by the time he was thirteen years old. The listeners heard how these early life sufferings had already shaped his future, despatching him into a life of crime which was extensive. Despite his tragic life and my testament to his good side, he was being tried for murder, from which there was no escape.
As I watched the proceedings, I couldn't help thinking of the court of Heaven, with the Judge, the prosecutor, Satan and the defence. I pondered over the fact that no tragedy in our life stops us from being judged in Heaven after our passing. In this earthly case my friend wasn’t going to be let off the judgment for murder, but in the afterlife on the day of judgment, if we are in Christ we will be acquitted because he has already paid the price.
Then I thought about the people who would have no defence — all those who had not put their trust in Jesus Christ. Here on earth, we get a defence attorney even if we have no money, but in Heaven, the only defence attorney is Jesus Christ, who is also the Judge. He either knows us intimately as one of his, or we are alien to him and not on his books as a client, so to speak. If our name isn't written in the Lamb's book of life it's too late to add it, as it has to be done in the land of the living.
Matthew 7:21-23 says, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
As I listened to the prosecution challenge the defence, I assumed Satan will be doing something similar in Heaven — trying to convict on legislative details of God’s Law.
As my friend's earthly Judge was balancing everything out (and he was a merciful Judge), I acknowledged how simple it will be for Christians. If we are in Jesus Christ he will simply say,"He's one of mine, saved by my blood!"
My mind went to the tragedy of the opposite if we're not one of his, who is our defence attorney? I felt as troubled as my friend in the dock, thinking of someone going to court without any defence.
“But, Your Honour, I have never intentionally hurt anyone or stolen anything. I’ve volunteered for many things. I’m a nice person.”
The Judge replies,“Are you Born Again?”
"What does that mean?”
“I died on a cross two thousand years ago, so you could be saved from this penalty, and you’ve not once searched for me or even asked questions about me to the right people. Yet, I am the only one who could have prevented this outcome.”
I revisited messages I was told years ago, that all of us will be judged according to what we have done with the word of God, whether we have read and believed it or just left it on the shelf as a closed book gathering dust. I heard as a youth that the judgment will be a fairly basic process determined entirely on whether our name is written in Jesus’ book.
Some wish the final proposal of separating the sheep from the goats was not part of God's plan. Yet, it has been from the beginning of time. That process must be there. When we ask Christ into our lives, we are covered by his righteousness. If we haven't, we are not covered, and unrighteousness cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
As I waited with muted sound, sipping my cauldron of water prepared earlier for such a lengthy sitting, I had a new appreciation for what my Saviour did on that cross, and what he went through for me. I don't really know what the court of Heaven will be like, as clearly I haven’t yet been there (although I came close a few times in my life). But I have been to court in this life, and I have been the accused on more than one occasion, receiving my due penalties and serving my sentences. I know what those were like, and I would not want to be the accused in the court of Heaven without Jesus Christ, as the verdict is always guilty and the penalty is endless.
Today’s prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for this glimpse, and the reminder of how important your dreadful experience on the Cross is to me. Please help me to continue to thank you and ensure I have you as my Defence attorney both here and in Heaven.