“I swear by almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me God.”
How many times in courtroom dramas have we heard those words? The defendant’s hand on the Holy Bible, declaring before all, that whatever questions they may be asked or evidence presented that they will give a true testimony – the very act a symbol that God-fearing men and a woman would not dare to do otherwise.
Yet how often do we fail to be true witnesses?
The Jewish legal teams that operated in Jesus’ time were forever congratulating themselves that they knew the law backwards and forwards and inside out. Therefore, the one way that they would be sure to be rid of this nuisance, upstart Rabbi was to get him into court where they could throw the book at him
‘On another Sabbath, Jesus entered a synagogue to teach. A man was there whose right hand was withered. The legal experts and the Pharisees were watching him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. They were looking for a reason to bring charges against him’
The trouble for them was that he always had an answer to their charges – but let us just imagine if Jesus had been brought before the court at this point in his journey…
Witnesses for Christ
A hush fell over the room as the defendant was brought in. He stood accused of usurping the authority of the court and there were audible gasps as he walked past the dock and made his way to the high bench that ran along the back of the room.
“This is all highly unusual,” spluttered the clerk of the court, an earnest young man, partially hidden by the piles of law books spread across his desk.
The packed public gallery leaned forward as if they wanted to make sure they heard every word correctly; for the defendant spoke so quietly that it was difficult to hear sometimes and they didn’t want to misinterpret his evidence. Meanwhile the jury sat silent, some nodding occasionally, whilst others seemed bemused and glanced over towards the foreman, a man with an air of self-importance, who seemed to know exactly what was required of him.
An usher stepped up to the bench and asked the defendant to raise his hand for the oath. “I swear by almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me.”
The chief prosecutor stood up and faced the defendant, “Jesus Emmanuel, you are here today to answer the charge that on several occasions you did wilfully break the law of the Sabbath and that you have been heard to issue blasphemous statements. How do you plead?”
The defendant looked down with great sorrow etched across his face, as if to say that it would make no difference whichever he pleaded because they had already intimated that his word was not one that they would be prepared to accept. Instead he called for the first witness to be brought in.
The entrance of this witness caused quite a stir. He moved awkwardly into the witness box as if he was uncomfortable in his stiff rough cut suit; his sandals flapping on his feet. His wild unruly mop of hair looked as if it had never known a comb and his beard was littered with sticky patches of what looked like honey and insect remnants. Yet, he had an air of confidence and conviction.
“Your name and occupation?”
“My name is John, son of Zachary and I am a Baptist preacher for the Church of Repentance”
“What are you able to tell us about the defendant’s claims?”
“I have already testified before hundreds, no thousands that this man is the Son of God. He came to me in my professional capacity and I recognised that he was one that had been given full authority to reveal the very nature and will of almighty God. His credentials have been verified at the highest level and his work since our meeting has confirmed that his commission is genuine.”
The witness then shook his head as he looked around at the blank, uncomprehending faces – he didn’t think they’d even heard what he’s said. He glanced at the man sitting calmly and apparently relaxed on a chair to the right of the ornate throne where the judge normally sat, and smiled knowing that he had spoken true.
There was a brief lull in the proceedings as the next witness came into the court. He was an old man who leaned heavily on the staff in his left hand. Everyone shifted in their seats as they began to realise exactly who had just entered. The atmosphere became deferential, and the clerk of the court was barely beside himself as he recognised the editor of some of the very books that lay before him and which he had pored over when he’d studied for his examinations.
The distinguished looking man made his way to the witness stand and waited patiently to be questioned by the chief prosecutor.
“Please could you confirm your name?”
“Officially I am called Toviah Levi, but generally people know me by my Egyptian name of Moses.”
“Very well then, Moses, the defendant here is claiming that he has been sent by God to offer a way of gaining eternal life for anyone who is prepared to believe in him. Furthermore he states that you yourself assured your readers that he was to be the one to act with the full authority of God. To be honest we have made a thorough examination of your admirable texts but can find no mention of a Jesus Emmanuel. It seems unlikely therefore that he speaks the truth.”
The witness, Moses, sighed deeply and thought to himself that nothing changes. How long was it to be before people would understand absolutely and unquestioningly that God was trying to reach them in every way possible to offer love in all its fullness.
“Young man, you are no doubt learned in many ways, but you are also a fool. The commandments given to me many years ago by God himself and by which you say you live, are still valid, but this man is fulfilling every part of the law and brings you new commandments. He is indeed the prophet of which God spoke to me about and who has the words of God in his mouth and who has been commanded to speak them to all who will listen. The trouble you may find yourself in if you are not prepared to listen is that inevitably it will be you who has to do some explaining to do to the judge.”
There was uproar in the room following this remark and the prosecutor and the other members of the court looked furious at being rebuked in this way; someone was heard to shout from the gallery, “They’ll never find him innocent now, they’re going to crucify him!”
The defendant, however, rose from where he was sitting and walked through the tumult of the room and threw open the doors of the court-room. Light flooded into the room, causing those within to shield their eyes – all except Moses and the man they called Jesus Emmanuel.
Outside the voices of a waiting, expectant crowd raised a loud cheer as the Son of God walked free; a freedom that would lead to his death and resurrection; a freedom for all those who do hear and believe. A freedom to which they would continue to witness