If you’ve never been on jury duty before let me tell you how it usually goes. First, you will be asked to fill out a summons. Next, you will go through an interview process. You will be given a panel number. Until you’re selected to serve on the jury you remain a number to the court. During the interview process, the prosecution or defense lawyers will “challenge” you. This term means, they will try to find a reason why you should not serve on this jury. If there’s anything in your past, or any knowledge about this case that would keep you from being impartial as you listen to the evidence, you will be dismissed from the jury. It’s no surprise that many people will not make it past this stage of the jury selection process. This stage can take a lot of time but it’s important to make sure the defendant gets an unbiased verdict.
You will then be asked to take an oath. Usually something like, “Do you and each of you solemnly swear that you will well and truly try and a true deliverance make between the United States and fill in the blank, the defendant at the bar, and a true verdict render according to the evidence, so help you God?” This is a reminder. It is designed to cause you to think about the seriousness of the judgement you’ll be asked to pronounce. In a capital offense case if you say someone is innocent, they will live. If you say someone is guilty, it’s possible you are sending someone to die.
Sitting in Judgement
Once sworn into the jury, you must always sit in the same place every time for the rest of the trial. From this point on, you are literally “sitting in judgement” over the defendant.
The whole American judicial system is built around the idea of “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s predicated on the goal that any person accused of a crime should be given every opportunity to demonstrate their innocence before they are sentenced for the crime. Admittedly, no judicial system ever gets it right every time but at least in American courts there’s an attempt to ensure the wrong person isn’t sentenced for a crime they didn’t commit.
The sin of silence
The Bible gives vivid detail about the court case that sentenced Jesus to death. Almost everything about this court case was a travesty of justice. It’s pretty clear from the story in Luke 22:63-71 that Jesus didn’t get a fair trial. In fact, I’m not sure you could call what happened that night in Palestine many years ago a trial at all. Jesus was treated like he was guilty and given no chance to demonstrate his innocence.
If you were in the jury box that day, you would be guilty just for watching this travesty unfold in front of you. This was a gross abuse of judicial power. If you said nothing, you would be complicit in this illegal court proceeding. We are wrong anytime we see someone innocent suffering and fail to speak out about it. The guilt is even worse when you have the power to stand up for the innocent and don’t use it. This is what I refer to as “the sin of silence”. If you were accused of a crime you didn’t commit and someone was aware of your innocence, they have the moral obligation to speak out on your behalf.
At no time, during Jesus’s trial did anyone speak out on his behalf. No one even considered the fact that he might be an innocent man. None of the religious leaders were willing to entertain the idea that he might actually be the Son of God. Therefore, Jesus never really had a fair trial!
Sentencing the wrong man to die
After receiving the instructions and hearing the final arguments, the jury retires to the jury room to begin deliberating. Usually, the court provides the jury with written forms of all possible verdicts, so that when a decision is reached, the jury has only to choose the proper verdict form. At this point the jury is responsible to weigh the evidence and to render a verdict. In most instances, the verdict in a criminal case must be unanimous.
This is where the pressure is the highest for a jury in a capital case. The jury has a man’s life in their hands as they weigh the evidence and render a verdict. Jury members just can’t afford to get this one wrong.
Sitting in the jury box while guilty
I’ve just describe what an abuse of judicial power looks like. I’ve also described the travesty of justice when an innocent man is standing trial and unable to defend himself. But I want to take this logic one step further today. Jesus came to die for the sins of others. Hebrews 4:15 makes it clear that Jesus was an innocent man. There is no charge that could be brought before him because he is the only man, ever to live a perfect life. So why would Jesus even allow himself to stand trial in the first place? Because of what 2 Corinthians 5:21 says about sin. Although Jesus never committed a sin, he allowed himself to stand trial for our sin. He took on himself the sentence that we deserve for our sin. He paid the consequences for our sin, so that we didn’t have to pay the consequences ourselves.
Think about it this way… The men who were in the jury box at Jesus’s trial were actually the guilty ones. They would ultimately be guilty of murdering an innocent man.