Thursday, September 11, 2008

Verdicts Old and New

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).

Judge Jackie Glass has a tough job on her hands. She’s presiding over the trial in Las Vegas in which O.J. Simpson is being charged with various felonies. The work of a judge is hard enough, but Judge Glass is faced with the task of seating a jury that will consider the charges against Simpson without being influenced by another trial – the one Simpson sat through 13 years ago.

Addressing the pool of potential jurors this week, Judge Glass asked a straightforward question: “Can you put aside your feelings about that verdict?” More than few folks are being sent home because they can’t.

The Simpson trial happening now makes me wonder about old verdicts and what we do with them.

Those old verdicts may be verdicts that we silently passed on another person. Sometimes those old verdicts are judgments we rendered against ourselves.

The “guilty” verdict is heavy weight we carry around. With regard to someone else, it’s a label we can’t forget or ignore. The “not guilty” verdict is often one that we refuse to believe. We’re suspicious of others and our own guilt sits like a stain on the soul.

As the debris fell from the ceiling above Jesus’ head and the paralyzed man was lowered on his mat, Jesus rendered a verdict. “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” That verdict evoked an outcry from some who heard it. They were very serious about right and wrong and what it meant to keep God’s law. Maybe they had already rendered a verdict of their own, deciding that crippled legs meant punishment for some sin. They didn’t know what, but whatever it was only God could forgive and God’s verdict seemed clear.

Jesus saw their hearts. Judge Glass’ question comes to mind; “Can you set aside your feelings about that verdict?” Apparently they could not.

Jesus renders a new verdict. Just as he spoke forgiveness to the paralytic, he speaks it to us. The act of faith is coming to Jesus knowing that his verdict is final. No one reverses the old verdicts by becoming more adept at keeping the rules. We come to Jesus in faith, and Jesus forgives our sin. And then at his word we live a new life.

Those treasured words from 1 Corinthians 13 tell us that love is patient and kind . . . and does not keep a record of wrongs. Faith knows it to be true, and lives as if a new verdict has been handed down: Forgiven. When we hear that new verdict it changes us. We take up our mat and walk. People see something different. New verdict, new life.

What verdict shapes the way you live every day?

We give you thanks Lord Jesus for your grace and the new verdict you speak over our lives. Give us faith to believe it, and then help us to live a new way. Change us, and teach us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Amen.

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