Persecution meets prosecution

Sometimes what you need is just a competent attorney.

I have served on juries on both civil and criminal cases and have seen the difference a good attorney makes. On one case, the counsel for the defense was confident and organized. He made a point of listening carefully to each juror during the initial selection process, and used this knowledge to tweak his closing arguments. He remembered everything every witness said, and knew how to pursue a line of questioning to his predetermined goal. He was never lost or confused.

Then there was the other guy.

The prosecuting attorney was disorganized and poorly prepared. He scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad and held the pad nervously as he examined witnesses. Back and forth he would flip between pages, trying to find his place and organize his thoughts, keeping up a stream of words as he did so. The witnesses would look confused, unable to follow his train of thought. Eventually, the judge would intervene in exasperation: “Counselor, is that a question?”

Perry Mason meets Woody Allen. Who do you think won the case?

Exactly. And sadly, in conversations after the verdict was delivered, it seems the prosecutor thought he was doing a good job.

Jesus draws upon the prophetic motif of the courtroom as he warns his disciples of coming persecution. After he leaves them, he will send the Holy Spirit as their Advocate, who will testify about Jesus and even convict the world on three charges:

It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.  (John 16:7-11, NRSV)

About sin: Jesus has spoken the Father’s words and performed signs that should have pointed people to the truth about Jesus and his origins. It reminds me of the “reasonable person” legal standard. Any reasonable person who had heard Jesus speak, seen how he lived, and then seen him feed 5,000 people, give sight to a man born blind, heal someone who had been lame for 38 years, and raise Lazarus from the dead should have believed. The verdict for those who did not: guilty.

About righteousness: some of those who didn’t believe rejected Jesus in self-righteousness, refusing to recognize that Jesus himself was the righteous one, the only one who could ascend to the Father. As Jesus already predicted, some — like Saul of Tarsus — would persecute Christians in God’s name. Only after being confronted by the risen Jesus would Saul realize his mistake. Guilty.

About judgment: Who’s in charge here? Those who about to pass judgment on Jesus — the Jerusalem leadership with their middle-of-the-night kangaroo court, Pilate with his political expediency — will think they are doing what needs to be done, using what power they have. They have no idea that they are pawns in the devil’s scheme, nor that the devil himself will stand condemned after the resurrection and vindication of Jesus. Guilty.

This is not, of course, a prediction that the world will realize its guilt, repent, and stop persecuting Jesus’ followers. Some will still hate them for being one of Jesus’ own. The disciples will still suffer for that identification.

But for what it’s worth, they have the confidence of knowing that in God’s eyes, the final verdict is already secure. Justice wins in the end.