For all of his anger, his petty hatreds and grudges (which he so often carries deep under his skin, where he thinks no one can see), he is guilty. The thoughts he sometimes has about people, the nastiness he wages against his fellow humans right there inside his skull, is appalling.
For the thousands and thousands of lies he has told, too. Big ones as a child and a young man, lies so ridiculous they’d be laughable if lying weren’t a sin against the God who always tells the truth. And, as he’s gotten older, subtler ones. Exaggerations, and little expressions on the face which were calculated to get a response but made to look like genuine emotion.
And, oh, the pride. Deep, poisonous, nearly constant pride. Always believing he is more worthy of his needs being met than another. Always making allowances for himself that he would never make for someone else. The quiet belief he nurses in his heart that the reason the fallen brother or sister has tumbled is that he or she wasn’t quite enough like him. The self-centered, self-focused, self-righteous clamoring for his own reputation, his own pleasure, his own validation without half as much, a tenth as much regard for the well-being of others. Oh, believe me, this one is proud.
For the cowardice, the meanness, the vengefulness, this man is irrefutably guilty. No one, not even God Himself can deny that, on his own standing, this Wade Thomas Jr, born at Good Samaritan Hospital in the Year of Our Lord 1985 (and having sinned every year since) is guilty as (and of) sin.
There is no excuse. No justification. He had no valid reason for lust and brazen manipulation and gossip and deceit, he has no just cause for his anger and bitterness and idolatry of heart. His head is in his hands because he knows this. There is no defense he can mount. There is no mitigating factor that will justify his willful, ignorant, faithless, rebellious wickedness.
None. He is guilty.
And now let this one speak.
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:13-21
Death is the sentence. The serpent knew it in the Garden, though of course he lied (he always does). Sin brings death, the only thing it can bring. And so death is the sentence for Wade. Shameful, inglorious, painful and God-forsaken death. God gave life, sin brings death. So Wade is owed it. He merits it. In at least one sense, he has asked for it.
The executioner is ready. The crowd is assembled.
But the guilty man is not the one to die.
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Every guilt the serpent lays on this man is valid. He sinned. He did. He did rage at his brethren and sin sexually and deceive people and play out his proud hypocrisy in the most sinister of ways. If he isn’t the chief of sinners, he is certainly a lieutenant. But here is where the serpent plays into his own undoing: Since he is the father of lies, he rarely expects the full, undiluted, 80-proof truth. When God says He loved this man, He really meant it. And when He pledged from love, right there in that sin-stained Garden, that a son of man would crush this ancient liar’s head, He wasn’t just talking to talk.
This love from God didn’t hinge on Wade’s faithfulness. It preceded his faithfulness. Beyond that, it superceded his unfaithfulness. This God slew the dragon by being slain, and He gave pardon by taking on punishment. He undid the sin and death Wade wrought by becoming sin and then dying.
This God made Wade, gave Him a Law, watched him break it, and then bore the punishment Himself. He is exactly who He has always claimed to be: Good, holy, loving, and just. And the truth will always undo a liar. And, as the saying goes, it is also quite likely to set free.
And so while Wade is, in at least one sense, guilty, the charge will not stand. You cannot punish two men for his crimes. The debt is real, but it is no longer his.
The criminal’s cross has already been stained with man’s blood. And the tomb has already had the body laid in it. Sin brings death, and death it has brought. Wade deserves to die, but in this great exchange called the Gospel, he gets to live. By the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, he has been given unshakeable, eternal life.
And the guarantee of that gift is that his Jesus Himself did not stay dead. Look over there, on that hill.
Like the charges against this guilty man, both cross and tomb are by now quite empty.