With many in our nation and world I waited in anticipation yesterday as the jury delivered their verdict in the Derek Chauvin case. I watched intently as the camera focused on the face of the accused and as his eyes darted all around. I listened as Judge Cahill calmly read the sentence of justice: “Murder in the second-degree: Guilty. Murder in the third-degree: Guilty. Manslaughter: Guilty.” As I watched and listened I felt it. I didn’t feel sad and I didn’t feel celebratory. But I did feel the weight and heaviness of that word: Guilty.
As a Christian one of the things that adds significance to that judicial word is the awareness that every person is born under a guilty verdict. The principles of justice aren’t merely for a well ordered and temporary society, but are reflective of the very character of the eternal Triune God. The Bible declares that he is the Lawgiver and his commandment, as an expression of his nature, is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). And if we let God through his Spirit and Word interpret our heart and experience then we learn that we are law breakers. As Paul wrote: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19).
Yes, that’s the message the Bible gives us. The rule of law doesn’t only command our civil lives but extends to our relationship with the Lawgiver. We’ve broken the law. We are by nature and will sinners. There’s absolutely no evidence to the contrary, and a compelling case cannot be made in our defense. No jury of peers is left to determine the verdict because the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-searching God has said it. This truth is silencing. Our mouths are stopped as those condemned by the law and God declares: "Guilty!"
I couldn’t help but to think about that truth yesterday as the Judge read the just verdict. As it stands Derek Chauvin, at the young age of forty-five, will likely spend the rest of his life bearing the legal consequences of his guilt. He will be placed in confinement and never again in this life experience the simple and daily pleasures of our ordinary and even mundane routines. The sun will rise and he will be guilty, and he will still be guilty as it sets — day after day, month after month, and year after year. The civil consequences of his guilt will likely only expire when his life concludes. But as the Bible teaches, this life is “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Whereas civil consequences will come to an end the consequences of sin aren't momentary but stretch forward into eternity without conclusion or an expiration date.
It’s likely that Derek Chauvin will appeal the verdict. That’s his constitutional right. He’ll plead with higher courts to reexamine the evidence. He’ll get another day in court, and another and another after that until all avenues of appeal have been exhausted. I suspect he will learn to live in the prison of his condemnation with the sliver of hope that there might be an exit door. Someone might overturn the verdict. That prospect might keep him going on some of the darkest days he will experience.
I don’t know what will happen during his appeal process. Human courts do make mistakes. Juries can be biased and wrong. New evidence can surface. But in the presence of God there is no error. On that day when, according to the gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ there will be no bias and no mistake. No, the Judge of all the earth will do what is just (Genesis 18:5). There will be no need to reexamine the evidence, there will be no process of appeal, and those who are condemned will have no hope that the verdict can be overturned — there will be no relief to the darkness of eternity as sinners bear the just sentence of their sin.
I thought of all of that yesterday as the word “Guilty” hung heavy in the air of that Minneapolis courtroom. That will be the verdict of any who insist on standing before the Lawgiver on the basis of their own character and work. And as I felt the weight of it I also felt the weight of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is that Jesus who is the eternal Son of God became man. He became man so that he could obey the law (see Galatians 4:4). He did what no other man could: he lived the life the law commands and died the death the law demands. That’s what we call the righteousness of Jesus Christ (see 1 John 2:1). And through faith — that is by receiving, trusting, and resting in Jesus — that righteousness is credited to our account. As Paul wrote: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteous of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The gospel brings a different verdict. Far more than what any earthly court could ever pronounce. Through faith in Jesus Christ we are declared righteous and accepted in the sight of God. And the sentence into which we are brought is the assurance: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
"When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see, –
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.
"My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free, –
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.
"Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;
In thee I shall conquer by flood and by field,
My cable, my anchor, my breast-plate and shield!
"Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This “watchword” shall rally my faltering breath;
For while from life’s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu, my death song shall be."
Jehovah Tsidekenu (the LORD our Righteousness) by Robert Murray M'Cheyne