The Good News of the Judgment
What can a defendant do when the axiom “innocent until proven guilty” is not upheld by the court?
NBC Dateline’s Keith Morrison tells the story of Michelle O’Keefe, an 18-year-old woman who was killed in her blue Mustang, and her suspected killer.
The night of her murder at the Palmdale park-and-ride was the second night of Ray Jennings’ new job as a parking lot attendant. Over the course of investigation, he moved from being a person on the premises–who didn’t see what happened–to being the prime suspect.
After two trials resulting in hung juries, Jennings faced a third trial. Deliberating for nearly three weeks, the jury came back with the verdict that he was not guilty of first-degree murder, but rather was guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to prison for 40 years to life. All the while, Jennings maintained his innocence.
One evening, Clinton Ehrlich, a law student, ran across the story of O’Keefe’s murder and the subsequent trials that eventually sent Ray Jennings to prison. Something didn’t fit well with him, and he became convinced that facts were overlooked. Clinton spoke with his father, Jeff, an attorney, about his belief in Jennings’s innocence.
Finally, with the Ehrlich team defending him, Jennings was released after 11 years of imprisonment. The court found him to be “factually innocent” and vacated his conviction. Ray Jennings, father of 5, was free.
Ray Jennings was innocent, but that didn’t make any difference until a young law student was convinced that Ray needed an advocate to ensure justice be done.
Likewise, we are also in desperate need of an Advocate.
And through all the trials, Ray kept his faith in God. He describes the time during that final hearing as one where he prayed, asking his Father that he not be sent back to prison, but rather released from there. His trust was not only in his own innocence or even in his capable legal team, but most of all in his Heavenly Father.
We must do the same.
That said, in most analogies, situations don’t parallel exactly. Unlike Jennings’ innocence in the case, when it comes to us facing divine judgment, we are all guilty of sin. However, other facets of the story reveal similarities between our fates. He faced judgment, we must face judgment. He was found guilty. We are guilty. The change came for Jennings when Ehrlich became his advocate. Like Ray, we too have an Advocate. What an assurance! Revelation 5:5 reminds us “. . . the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome. . .”
The good news of the Judgment is multi-layered. First of all, we do not face it alone. We have an Advocate. Secondly, the Judgment is based on the merits of The Lion of Judah, of our loving Savior, and not on anything that we have earned. We are assured that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9, NIV). Imagine facing judgment where we can rejoice and join in the chorus of “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12, NKJV) That is Good News!
Connecting: What emotions do you feel when you know you are facing judgment of some type? Perhaps it is a performance evaluation, a test, or even litigation.
Sharing: As you read what David wrote in Psalm 51:1-4, what assurances about God are voiced?
- David shows complete assurance in God’s abundant love
- One can have confidence in God forgiving sins unconditionally
- God’s judgment is something we need to fear
- God wants us to feel guilty for our sins; guilt and shame are what keep us from sinning again
- God always makes right when dealing with those who acknowledge their sins
Applying: Think of a time when you found yourself looking forward to a test or evaluation. What factors were involved that gave you that positive outlook or hope rather than one of fear, dread, or nervousness? We can look forward to God’s judgment. Take a few moments to thank God for the message of 1 John 2:1, “My little children, . . . if anyone sins, we have an Advocate. . . .”
Valuing: The good news of the Judgment is that our sins are forgiven through Jesus. We never need to stand alone, but rather we stand forgiven, not because of what we do, but because of the One in Whom we believe. How could you share that good news with someone?
~ Joy Veverka