By Pastor Glenn Pease
Two men were looking at the epitaph on a tombstone which read, "Here lies an honest man and a good lawyer." One looked at the other and said, "I wonder why they put two men in the same grave?" Lawyers have not gained the best reputation for being honest men. One doctor asked another how his lawyer patient was doing, and he replied, "Not well, he is lying at deaths door." "Well, that's a lawyer for you, "responded the other, " At deaths door and still lying." It is reported that a lawyer should be a good sleeper since he can easily lie on either side.
The very nature of the profession leads one to be tempted to bend the truth by manipulating words. Thomas Jefferson referring to congress said, "How can expedition be expected from a body which we have saddled with an hundred lawyers, whose trade is talking." When one does a great deal of talking and debating he learns how to convey a message in such a way that you get the opposite impression of what you would if you knew the truth. For example, a lawyer out West did not want to admit that his first client was hung, so he reported to his friends back East that he got him a suspended sentence.
Like every profession, that of the lawyer is the object of many slams and jokes, but in spite of them we know it is a necessary and valuable profession. It is essential to our sense of justice that every man have a right to defense, and that he have a defender skilled in the law. Our Constitution guarantees this, and that is why even the worst criminals are provided with a lawyer if they cannot obtain one. It may bother us that known criminals, who are obviously guilty, have such skilled defense that they often escape the penalty of the law. But let us not forget that everyone of us who have received Christ as Savior are in that same boat. We are guilty of breaking God's law, yet, because of our adequate advocate and divine defender we gain a pardon and escape punishment.
The difference of course is infinite in quality, for an earthly lawyer by immoral and unethical means, or through weaknesses of the law, gets his client off, but as we shall see, Jesus fulfills the demands of justice in gaining our pardon. The fact that Jesus is our advocate raises this profession to the highest possible level. Jesus was a carpenter for a few years on earth, but ever since His ascension He has been the believers lawyer in the court of heaven, and He will remain in that ministry until He comes again and takes the throne of judgment. This means that all who do not have Jesus as their defense attorney now will have Him as their judge when He comes again. This shows that Christ's present ministry is exceedingly important for every person to consider, and our purpose in this message is to gain a better understanding of His present ministry by examining the three factors of it brought out in John's statement: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
I. HIS CLIENTS.
A big burly man called at the house of a woman known for her charitable impulses, and when she came to the door he addressed her in a broken voice, "Madam, I wish to draw your attention to the terrible plight of a poor family in this district. The father has been fired; the mother is too ill to work, and the nine children are starving. They are about to be turned out into the cold streets unless someone pays their arrears in rent which amounts to fifty dollars." The woman exclaimed, "How terrible! May I ask who you are?" The sympathetic pleader applied his handkerchief to his eyes as he said, "I am the landlord." Here is a case where the advocate obviously had only one client, and that was himself. His pleading was not for there need, but for his greed. But we have in Jesus and Advocate who is ours-literally ours, in that His purpose in the court of heaven is not for His own defense, but for our pardon.
John says, "We have Him." That is, He is always available, and is never too busy, or tied up on another case, or on vacation. Hebrews tells us the same thing by saying, "He ever lives to make intercession for us." In earthly courts there are cases backed up for months and years, but we who are clients of the eternal Advocate have immediate defense when we sin. It is tragic when Christians let their sin go unconfessed and suffer needless pain and guilt when they could have immediate pardon before the court of God.
It is important that we recognize, however, that Jesus is not the Advocate of every sinner. The "we" here includes only those who believe and have trusted in Christ as their Savior. One must be a child of God before he can be a client of Christ's and be a beneficiary of Christ's present ministry. The unbeliever will have to face God alone, and with no advocate, and the result will be, he will loose his case and suffer the full penalty for breaking God's law.
Someone has said, "He who appears as his own advocate has a fool for a client." This may not always hold true in an earthly court, but it is certainly true concerning the court of heaven, for only a fool could hope to defend himself before God and expect to prove himself righteous, and thereby escape judgment. One does not need to be rich to be a client of Jesus. Barton Holyday said, "A man may as well open an oyster without a knife as a lawyers mouth without a fee." A pelican, it is said, would make a good lawyer, for he knows how to stretch his bill. These things do not apply to the ministry of Christ, for it is free to all who claim it.
John says in verse 2 that Jesus has already paid for our sins, and the sins of the whole world. Every sin in the world then can be freely pardoned though the ministry of Christ. The poorest can benefit fully from His services. One does not even need to be right to be His client. Sometimes mothers say to their children when they are naughty, "If you do that, Jesus won't love you anymore." This is the world's worst theology, for if Jesus only loved us when we are good, like everyone else, who is to our helper when we most need it, when we are not good? It is when we are guilty that we need an advocate, and not when we are innocent. When the Greek lawyer Phacian was criticized for appearing on behalf of an unworthy client he said, "The good have no need of an advocate." Jesus said, "It is the sick who need the physician and not those who are well." We conclude this point by making it clear, there is only one requirement to be a client of Christ. You need not be rich or right, but you must be redeemed. You must be one who has Christ as personal Savior. Only then are you in this, "We have an advocate." Jesus is a specialist, and thus,
and advocate only of believers.
II. HIS CALLING.
He is an advocate with the Father. We have here His profession and the place where He practices that profession-with the Father. The place of His service is important, for it is that which makes His ministry distinct from that of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is also our Advocate, but His ministry is within us. When Jesus said to His disciples in His last discourse before He went to the cross, "I will pray the Father and He will give you another Comforter," He used the same word that is used here-paraclete. It is used four times of the Holy Spirit and just once of Christ.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our Advocate, and the Holy Spirit through John calls Jesus our Advocate. Jesus, however, says He will send another advocate, and by saying another He claims also to be one, even when He was with the disciples. The terms comforter, counselor, advocate, are all descriptive of the one Greek word paraclete. It means one who is called to one's side to help and give aid. When summoned to court the paraclete is at your side to aid you. The Christian than needs two advocates, for he needs aid in two realms and in two ways. He needs earthly and heavenly aid, and he needs subjective and objective aid.
In the last part of the first century, not long after John wrote this letter, the Roman Emperor Adrian in a letter to Minucine Fundanus said, "If, therefore, the people of the province will appear publicly and in a legal way charge the Christians, that they may answer for themselves in court, let them take that course, and not proceed by importunate demands and local clamors only. For it is much the best method." Here was an earthly court situation, and Christian lives were at stake, but they were given the right to defend themselves. Here is where the Holy Spirit's ministry came in. Jesus said they would be taken before courts, but they need not worry, for the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say. Time does not permit us to examine the great Christian defenses of the early Christians, but we do want to refer to one more modern example of how the Word of God has made great victories through Christians being tried before men.
F. O. Nilsson, the first Baptist preacher in Sweden, was summoned to the supreme court of Southern Sweden in 1850 on the charge of heresy. He was found guilty and sentenced to banishment. The news media, however, carried the minutes of the trial and the convictions of Nilsson were spread over the land. Nilsson reported, "From this day the Baptists and their doctrines were no longer confined to an obscure corner of the land, and to a few poor despised laborers. The truth was with trumpet voices proclaimed on the housetops, and the sound thereof re-echoed from cottage to palace, throughout the length and breadth of the land. Thus my appearance before the High Court at Jonkoping was the public introduction of Baptist principles into Sweden." In 9 years there were 95 churches; 4,000 members, and it all began in court. This is of additional interest because the banishment of Nilsson was even a blessing, for he came to America and became one of the founders of the Swedish Baptist Conference which is now the Baptist General Conference.
The point of all this in relation to our subject of advocates is that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to give guidance and counsel here on earth as we defend the faith before courts or elsewhere. It is he who aids Christians in bringing good out of evil situations. It is also the ministry of the Holy Spirit to defend us before the court of our own conscience, and to help us experience the pardon and peace of God. It is not enough that we are pardoned objectively through the ministry of Christ, for we need to sense its reality within also. We need to know we are free from condemnation, and this is the calling of our other advocate the Holy Spirit.
Christ is our Advocate on high,
Thou art our Advocate within;
O plead the truth and make reply
To every argument of sin.
The statement of Christ being our Advocate with the Father is not incidental and insignificant, for it designates his specific calling and sphere of ministry, for it is with the Father. Jesus does not plead for us in the state court, or the supreme court of the nation, nor in the international courts of the world, but rather, in the highest court in the universe. It is there where, not just a man's rights or property, or even his life is at stake, but his eternal destiny. This is the high calling and present ministry of Christ. It is said that three Philadelphia lawyers are a match for the very devil himself. But all the Philadelphia lawyers combined would be of no benefit to us before the judgment seat of God. Our need there is not to outwit the devil, but to satisfy the demands of God's holiness, and that is impossible unless we have an Advocate who is not just brilliant, but who can also satisfy God's holiness. That is why John writes to believers and says if you sin you need not despair, for you have an Advocate whose calling is to gain your pardon in the court of heaven. If this truth alone does not add to our Christian joy and fulfill one of John's purposes for writing this letter, then we must be deaf to the Holy Spirit. We who love Christ are His clients and benefit daily because of His ministry before the throne of God.
III. HIS CHARACTER.
Jesus is called the righteous. It is not just incidental either that John adds this word of description of Christ's character as our Advocate. Unless He was righteous, it would be of little comfort to be His client, for it is His righteousness alone that enables Him to gain our pardon. On earth and advocate need not be righteous to win his clients case. In fact, he may be more guilty than the man he is defending. None of the cleverness of men and loop-holes in the law, however, can help the guilty sinner before God. If there is no just way for God to grant pardon, than he cannot and will not do it. And the only way He can justly pardon the guilty is, if there is a compelling cause such as a substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of the guilty. Even God's mercy must be in harmony with His holiness. Jesus Christ the righteous is the only being in the universe who can meet the need at the throne of God. He is not just the best, He is the only lawyer that can win our case.
Jesus died for our sins and took the wages of sin on Himself, and since He was righteous and, therefore, totally undeserving of any punishment, His sacrifice makes it possible for God to pardon all for whom He pleads. Justice demands mercy since is would be unjust to punish again for the same sin. This would be to deny the value of Christ's sacrifice. It would be unjust to deny the substitute his right to suffer for another. If I take ten lashes that you deserve, because out of love I do not want you to suffer, that should be my right to so express my love, and it would be an injustice to me, and a denial of my right to so love, if the punishment were also then given to you. That would make my suffering be for nothing, and it would be injustice. Justice demands that the penalty be inflicted only once.
How much greater wrong it would be to take the suffering of Christ the righteous, and count it of no value. God's justice demands that He hear and grant every plea of Christ for pardon. Jesus can never loose a case, for since He died for all sin, there is no sin that cannot be pardoned if He is the sinners Advocate. Sir Walter Raleigh sat in prison waiting for his trial for high treason, for which he was to be condemned to be executed. He felt all was unjust in the courts of earth, but he looked to the court of heaven and wrote,
From thence to heaven's bribeless call,
Where no corrupted voices brawl,
No conscience molten into gold,
No forged accuser bought or sold;
No cause deferred, no vain-spent journey,
For Christ is there, the King's Attorney.
And when the grand twelve-million jury,
Of our sins with direful fury,
Gainst our souls black verdicts give,
Christ pleads His death, and then we live.
Be thou my Speaker, Taintless Pleader,
Unblotted Lawyer, True Proceeder!
Thou giv'est salvation even for alms,
Not with a bribed lawyer's palms.
This then is my eternal plea,
To Him that made heaven, earth, and sea.
If Christ is your Advocate, this too is your hope.