GUILTY OR NOT
GUILTY?Matthew 7.16-20: "By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."
Several years ago when I first gave this lesson, there was a man in Afghanistan by the name of Abud Rahman. This man was arrested for the "crime" of converting to Christianity from Islam. As hard as it may be to believe, this government continues to have in place laws against such an action, and if one is caught doing this, it is punishable by death. After a tremendous amount of outrage from the world community, and of course the citizens of the United States and President Bush, they decided to allow this man to go, dropping the charges of apostasy because of the following two things: (a) Suspicions he may be mentally ill, and (b) A lack of evidence.
That story made me think back to a statement I heard somewhere, and though I can't remember where, it applied greatly here.If Christianity was a crime in America, and you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Eventually, Italy granted the man asylum, and somehow he was able to escape all those who wanted to kill him, including mobs of people, and is now "somewhat" safe in Italy. While we're not at that point here in America yet, I thought it would be good for us to at least explore the question again today and take a look at some of the various kinds of evidence that is collected to provide conviction today and relate it to a person who may be standing trial for being a Christian.
Like the popular TV show, we can call it our own C.S.I. - Christian Scene Investigation. The Bible says that if you're going to try to determine what kind of fruit tree is being grown, all it takes is a look at the fruit that is growing on the tree. In other words, oranges won't grow on apple trees, and grapes won't grow on fig trees, and of course a Christian will produce good fruit instead of the bad fruit that the rest of the world produces. So, the first two areas of evidence we're going to look at apply to what those around us can see, and the last two are those that will only one day be seen by God himself, who will be our final and ultimate Judge.
First of all, as each one of us stands trial for being a Christian, we are going to take a look at Circumstancial Evidence. How many of you know that nothing we do can qualify us for salvation including, but not limited to going to church, reading the Bible, prayer, witnessing, putting bumper stickers on our car or wearing crosses around our neck. The Bible makes it clear that all our righteousness is like filthy rags in God's sight.
Isaiah 64.6: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."
So with this in mind, we can be assured that our Christianity cannot be achieved as a result of "righteous acts" as we read here; but we must also realize that these things should be a natural outflow of a heart that is in love with Jesus Christ and placing him first. In other words, these will be "fruits" that will grow from our lives, and be evident to those around us. I looked up the term "Circumstantial Evidence" to be sure I knew what I was talking about, and I'm glad I did because it helps me make a point.
Circumstancial Evidence defined: Evidence not bearing directly on the fact in dispute, but on various circumstances from which the judge might "infer the occurrence" of the fact in dispute. While circumstantial evidence is usually not the only evidence presented in a case, we know that there has to be a lot of it to actually convict someone of a crime. We can take a quick look at the life of Peter, who had more than enough circumstantial evidence to convict him, yet at one point in time he denied even knowing Jesus."You are not one of his disciples, are you?" the girl at the door asked Peter. "He replied, I am not" (John 18.17).
Verses 25-27: "As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, 'You are not one of his disciples, are you?' He denied it, saying, 'I am not.' One of the high priest's servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, 'Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?' Again Peter denied it, and at that moment, a rooster began to crow."
Peter had left behind enough circumstantial evidence that it was almost impossible for him to escape being labeled as "one of them" even though here he was trying to do just that.
If we are truly growing in the Lord, then as we grow, we'll have an effect on the world around us for good. The Bible says that Christians are the "salt of the earth." In other words, we should be the ones influencing the world around us, and not vice versa.
So is there enough Circumstantial Evidence to convict you? Things like faithful church attendance, faithful reading of God's Word, and faithfulness in your prayer life, as well as a cleaner way of living. Evidence not bearing directly on the fact in dispute, but on various circumstances from which the judge might "infer the occurrence" of the fact in dispute. So, as our trial continues, let's take a look at another kind of evidence, and that is:
There aren't too many things that are more convincing than a witness who outlines in great detail what they've seen or heard. When a person goes to the witness stand, it is not up to them to tell the Judge their "opinion" or how they "feel" about a person on trial, but it is up to them to testify to what they have seen or heard. We see this term "seen and heard" used often the Bible, and always involving the idea of what someone is witnessing, and one of the most compelling areas is in Luke 7. While John the Baptist was in prison, he was getting reports that Jesus was becoming very popular. He sent messengers to ask Jesus whether or not He was the Messiah, or if they should look for another.Luke 7.22: "So he replied to the messengers, 'Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.'"
Imagine for a moment that the U.S. government has been following you for the past six months and now a government official is at your door with the announcement, "You are under arrest for being a Christian!" Your trial begins and one by one the prosecution calls to the witness stand those who know you best. First, your spouse and children. Then, they call your mom and dad and other relatives to testify. Your neighbors, friends and co-workers are all asked to tell what they know about you, on how you live, on what they know you stand for, on what they have seen you say and do.
Then, they call the cashier from the grocery store. Your barber, the video store operator, and your accountant are all asked to take the stand and give an account of what you say and do. Your barber tells about the jokes you told while hanging around with "the guys", as well as the jokes you thought were "funny." The cashier tells about how you treated your spouse. The video store operator testifies about the kind of movies that you rent. They all give testimony about what they know about the life you live.
Then, some people you have never seen before in your life come forward. They announce that they don't know you, but they've seen you around. They represent the people that stood behind you in line at the movies or sat beside you in a restaurant. These are the people you have never seen, but who overheard things you said, or saw things that you thought no one else saw. One by one they are called - all to testify on what they have seen you do and heard you say. They give an account of your life. The jury leaves to determine the verdict.My question is, "Would they have enough evidence to convict you?" Would your closest friends and relatives, casual acquaintances and people you don't even know all agree in unison that "Yes, guilty as charged; you are a Christian."
Do they all know without a doubt where you stand because of all that you say and all that you do? But, our trial continues. Let's take a look at another kind of evidence, and that is:
We're now moving into an area where this line of evidence can only be fully explored when we stand before the Lord in judgment. And the Bible is clear; one day we will be judged.1 Cor. 3.13: " His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work."
So it's important that our actions line up with our thoughts, and that our thoughts are pure. There's a little test we can use to determine our motive as a Christian, and it's based on the scripture in Matthew 6.3-4: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you". It's easy to do what's right when we know we'll receive praise or recognition. But the reward God promises is not material, and it's never given to those who seek it. Doing something only for ourselves is not a loving sacrifice.
People are amazed to see a Christian serving the Lord, and are even more amazed when they see them doing it without fanfare or photo opportunities. I'm not saying that these things are necessarily bad. In fact, we often see elected officials involved in photo opportunities, which in turn helps to bring attention to some great causes and inspires others to help as well.
But motives will always be questioned; but it's important to continue to do good for the sake of others and the Glory of God.People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
So, after Circumstantial Evidence, the Testimony of Witnesses, and Motive, we now come to the final display of evidence to be explored, and again, this evidence will be fully seen on Judgment Day, yet traces of it can be seen now. This is the evidence that undeniably proves our "guilt" of being a Christian, if I can say such a thing. We are talking about:
DNA analysis has been in U.S. courtrooms since 1987. Every single cell in our body contains DNA, the genetic material that programs how cells work. 99.9% of human DNA is the same in everyone, meaning that only .1% of our DNA is unique! Each human cell contains 3 billion DNA base pairs. Our unique DNA, that .1% percent of 3 billion, amounts to 3 million base pairs. Obviously this is more than enough to provide profiles that accurately identify a person. We know that in the collection of DNA, blood samples are often used to rule out, or rule in suspects of a crime.
Now every illustration that I've used certainly has it's limitations, but I am here to submit to you that in order for us to stand before Jesus one day with any hope of our name being written in the Book of Life, we must have accepted what Jesus did for us on the Cross through the blood that he shed for us. We used to sing a song that said - "Yes, oh yes, I'm a child of the King. His royal blood now flows through my veins." Every Sunday we gather to remember the death of Christ through something we call Communion, to remember what he did for us, and what he asked us to do for Him.1 Cor. 11.23-26: "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper, he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
What is it that sets us apart? It's the blood of Jesus Christ! The ground is level around the cross and we are all adopted into the family of God and justified as if we had never sinned. I thought it was also interesting that the only match in physical DNA is with an identical twin. When we're adopted into the family of God we become joint heirs with Jesus Christ! No, we are not HIM, but, we are part of that unique family of God whose common ground is in the blood of Jesus!Romans 8.17: "Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."
Without the blood of Christ, we're simply left without an answer for eternity. We're not "Christians" - believers in Christ. But once we accept the uniqueness of his death and resurrection, only then can we be adopted into the family of God. This is the evidence that will really matter when we stand before Christ on that final day. Yes, there are a number of things tremendously important in the Christian life, but this is the evidence that will convict you!
Circumstantial Evidence is necessary such as church attendance, prayer, and reading the Word. The Testimony of Witnesses is important as they share what they have seen and heard. And of course our Motives are vitally important. But it is the DNA - the blood - that will convict you ... and, ironically, will set you free!
- Neal Talmadge
(published in Spanish in La Voz Eterna, Julio-Agosto and Septiembre-Octubre 2009)
(Scriptures cited from New International Version)
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