Note: I was told this story verbally. If you know the origin of this story, please let me know.
Joshua and Paul have been the best of friends since kindergarten. They attended the same grammar school, junior high school, high school, and even college. Even though they ended up pursuing different careers after college — Joshua in law and Paul in business — they remained close in a friendship that is unchangeable.
Paul, in an attempt to make some profit, broke the law and was sued by the state. His case was sent to the court in which Joshua served as a judge. Joshua had the right to decline the case because he knew Paul personally, but he decided to take up the case. In most situations, a judge would usually decline such cases as to avoid facing difficult situations. Joshua, however, believed that he can still serve as a fair judge even though the defendant is his best friend.
Paul, upon hearing that Joshua had decided to take up his case, was relieved. He thought to himself, “Even though I have committed the crime, Joshua should be able to let me get away fairly easily since people believe him to be a just and righteous judge. No matter how strict he is now, he can’t possibly ignore our friendship.” He believed that Joshua would put their friendship before justice, but would Joshua do what Paul wished?
For Joshua, this was a major dilemma that seemed to have no easy solution. If there is enough evidence to convict Paul and he proclaims Paul to be guilty, then he would be betraying their friendship. If he lets Paul go free or receive less punishment than he deserves, then he would be betraying his conscience and his duty to the state. Either way, he would have to sacrifice one of his two most respected values — love and justice. Is there a way to preserve one without sacrificing the other? Are love and justice, both virtues, truly in conflict in this case?
It came time for Joshua to proclaim his judgment on this case, and Paul waited with a bit of trepidation. He heard from others that Joshua is a very strict judge who enforces the law without compromise. Whether Joshua would abandon his life-long commitment to justice in favor of his friendship with Paul was unclear to Paul. As the defendant, he had nothing to offer to Joshua that would sway his decision. The decision was totally up to Joshua.
Joshua conducted the court in the usual manner. Paul’s guilt is so evident that even Paul realized that he didn’t have a chance of being acquitted. Finally Joshua proclaimed that Paul is guilty as charged, and he gave him the longest jail sentence and largest fine possible for that crime. Everyone was shocked, especially Paul. He said to himself, “How could my best friend treat me without mercy? Even if he is unable to judge me to be innocent, he is at least allowed by the authority given to him to give me a lighter sentence. Since he is known to be a just judge, no one would have challenged his decision. Why has he betrayed our life-long friendship?” Paul couldn’t understand why Joshua wouldn’t compromise a bit, especially since the compromise wouldn’t cost him anything because no one would challenge his decision.
In an unusual move, Joshua walked down from his seat and came to Paul’s stand. He took off his robe and gave Paul two documents. He said, “By the law of the state as written in chapter 3, section 16, in which it is stated that a person can voluntarily take on the punishment of another, I have volunteered to go to jail for you, my most beloved friend. I have also sold my house and paid the fines for you. All you need to do is to sign the two documents of acceptance.” Indeed, Joshua found a solution that allowed him to both fulfill his obligation to the state as a judge and his commitment to his life-long friend. Justice and love, the two virtues that Joshua values the most, are both fulfilled in this great act of self-sacrifice.
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This simple story explains the basic reasons why Jesus came to our world to endure the crucifixion. Both love and justice are part of his immutable innate qualities that cannot be compromised. We, however, have failed him and put him in that difficult position. His sacrifice, which seems totally unreasonable in our view, is actually the only way in which he can save us without compromising his qualities of love and justice.
But the story doesn’t end with Joshua giving Paul the two documents — Paul has to decide whether to accept the offer or not. If he accepts the offer, then he will not need to waste the rest of his life in jail and live in bondage. But this also means that he admits to the crime, because he has the right to claim innocence and appeal to the higher court. The documents are for both acceptance of the substitutionary atonement and confession of the crime, for without one there cannot be the other. Although most of us will not face what Paul faced, all of us have to face the decision on whether or not to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Unlike Joshua’s offer, Christ’s sacrifice is already done and your acceptance will not cost Jesus Christ anything more. Are you willing to accept this free gift, the sacrifice that fulfilled both the love and the justice of God?