The dim light in the courtroom illuminated their faces. The soldiers standing guard, rolling their eyes in exasperation at the ridiculous proceedings. Their faces contrasted sharply with that of the king and judge, sitting on his throne, his forehead wrinkled in thought, his expression somber. Worried, even. The prosecutors were standing to the side, intently pushing their accusations. Through the thick walls, the sounds of the angry mob in the courtyard could be heard, faintly, screaming their fury against the prisoner. Oh, yes: his was the last face. He stood, facing the throne, his face untouched by wrinkles of worry or nervousness. He was peaceful, even. A good friend of mine described it as the look of conscious innocence. He knew he was innocent, and so had no reason to worry.
Even though the outcome was not looking good.
The king’s mind was whirling. He had plenty of reasons not to condemn the prisoner. The accusations against him were ridiculous, and the conflicting stories of the “witnesses” seemed to prove that. The king knew the right thing to do. But the last thing he wanted was to affect his reputation: and these prosecutors had the power to destroy it if he didn’t give them the verdict they wanted.
He had another reason to free the prisoner, as well. His wife had sent a message pleading with him to let the prisoner go. She had dreamed about him, she said. Such terrible dreams, she was convinced he was not only innocent, but was actually the Son of God. And, looking into his face now, the king believed it. The prisoner’s face was filled with a peace unlike anything he had ever seen before. And that, even though he was on trial with a potential death sentence!
But he feared that if he failed to give the verdict, the prosecutors could turn the people against him. His reputation would be gone, and once the news reached the emperor, he may even be put to death himself. These thoughts pounded in his head as he came to a decision. Trying to forget the letter from his wife, he spoke to the prosecutors. “Fine, then. You may put put him to death. But I cannot prove any fault in him, and I wash my hands of this matter!”
Stupid. As if his excuses could save him from the fact that he himself had condemned the man to death.
The prosecutors? They were just happy to have their way, as they gleefully rushed the prisoner out to die.
So… which was stronger? The king on the throne, or the prisoner, captured, being led to die?
I would say it was the prisoner.
Real strength, the kind that matters in the great controversy between God and Satan, good and evil, is internal. It’s not the throne; nor is it the biggest muscles in a fight. Real strength is from the inside, from the mind. It can only be gotten from a relationship with God… because, of course, God’s strength is far stronger than our own. Only real strength keeps us faithful to our beliefs when everyone else is mocking us. Only real strength gives the kind of peace the prisoner had. Only real strength gives Conscious Innocence.
I was reminded of this story when I read the following hymn this morning, especially the last verse:
“Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide: in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side. Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight; and the choice goes by forever, between that darkness and that light.
“Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust; ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just. Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside; till the multitude make virtue, of the faith they had denied.
“By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track; toiling up new Calvaries ever, with the cross that turns not back. New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth; they must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.”
Listen now, and you’ll see why Jesus won in that courtroom:
“Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ’tis truth alone is strong; though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong. Yet, that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.”