Not Pursuing Justice
Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, â€œThis man said, â€˜I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.â€™â€ And the high priest stood up and said, â€œHave you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?â€ But Jesus remained silent.
We have a tendency to rabidly pursue justice for ourselves, and to ignore when others are wronged or oppressed. That's why we look at Jesus' silence in the face of death-by-false-witness, and wish we could yell at him to defend himself. It just isn't right that a man who has done nothing wrong wouldn't stand up for himself, especially when he's facing certain death because of his silence. So Jesus is weird. We knew that.
Peter doesn't seem weird to us, however. Even if our best inclination is that he should go try to defend Jesus from the murderous clergymen, we're not really surprised that he doesn't. It's a rare man who goes out of his way to risk his life for another. So Peter is like most of us. We knew that.
What do you do when you're wronged? When someone in the church accuses you of sin you didn't commit, or when some busybody threatens to call the police because you disciplined your child in public? When the boss fires you for no reason, or when the persecutors come to set fire to your home because you're a Christian? When anyone says or does anything that wrongly damages your reputation?
We would all probably instinctively get defensive, stand up and shout out, "I've done nothing wrong!" We would pursue justice for ourselves. But then we look at what Jesus did when he was falsely accused, and it gives us pause to rethink. Should we instead be silent like he was? Should we stand there, like Stephen, and let the evildoers throw their stones? Even if it means our death? And should we be expected to muster up the grace, like Jesus and Stephen both, to call upon God's mercy for those who do us harm?
I wish I could say, "it depends." Maybe it does, but I think generally it's pretty clear what Christians are supposed to do when wronged. The Scriptures do not call on us to defend ourselves. Christ is our defense, even if those who would harm us couldn't care less. We would like to get the good that we deserve (and not get the bad that we don't deserve). But in Christ, graciously, we get far better than what we deserve (and, mercifully, don't get what we do deserve). Superjustice has already prevailed, as God has punished all our wrongdoings in Jesus, and we now stand before him acquitted of all things. Who can bring any charge against us, in God's sight?
If we know that our identity, our reputation, our defense, our justice is secure in Jesus, we can stand there and let people wrong us all day long (isn't that what sinners do to each other, anyway?). We don't have to pursue justice for ourselves. That's not to say we don't pursue justice for othersâ€”the Bible is replete with commands to defend the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan.
Christian Martyrs inspire us. We're not sure we could do what they have done, but we know we ought to be able to. How can we speak blessing over those who would harm us? They certainly don't deserve mercy and grace from God for what they're doing to us! Should we really be expected to say, "Forgive them, Lordâ€”don't hold this against them"â€¦?
We should be able to pray for those who wrong us. God isn't gracious toward those who deserve itâ€”no one deserves God's grace, even those of us who are being killed for our faith! If we don't ask for grace for those who kill us, we're making a statement; "I'm better than you, I deserve grace, but you don't." This is a terrible lie, self-deception, and rejection of God's clear revelation that we're all sinners. If we don't ask for grace for those who kill us, we're not really asking for grace for ourselves (because we're not asking for grace for people just like us).
Jesus didn't pursue justice for himself, but was silent and let himself be wronged. And he did it for the sake of others (namely God, you, and other sinners like you). Imitate him.