If I was William Montgomery, I would sit down and write a very personal letter of thanks to Governor John Kasich this week. Why? To answer that question, you simply need to read the Akron Beacon Journal headline from March 26, “Ohio Governor Spares Killer’s Life.” On Monday Governor Kasich spared the life of condemned killer, William Montgomery, by granting clemency at the recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board. Montgomery was sentenced to die on April 11 for the 1986 murder of Debra Ogle, which happened during a robbery in 1986 in Toledo, Ohio. Why was his death sentence commuted to a life’s sentence without the possibility of parole when it appeared he was guilty as charged? The decision to extend grace or clemency was due to questions regarding the fairness of his trial and discrepancies in his case. Jon Oebker, Montgomery’s legal counsel, stated, “We will continue to pursue a new and fair trial for Mr. Montgomery in the courts, as justice requires.”
Now let’s take a journey back 2,000 years ago and read the headlines of the Jerusalem Post. “Pontius Pilate Condemns Jesus of Nazareth to Death.” Jesus stands in Pilate’s courtroom with no advocate or legal representation. Without question all of the trials Jesus encountered on Bad Friday of Hell Week (better known as Good Friday of Holy Week) were held in kangaroo courts. Justice wasn’t the issue, rather it was the hatred and revenge of a religious and governmental system “hell bent” on Christ’s death. History has proven that the “crimes” for which Christ was accused were bogus, but who cares about justice when the powers that be can frame the evidence, and no defense witnesses are permitted to speak? Even Jesus Himself chose not to speak in His own defense. The Montgomery case has had 32 years for legal bantering, while Jesus’ case had one day of illegal clamoring.
So justice and mercy weren’t really the issues with Christ’s legal case in Jerusalem. However, there was another court in session in another place at the same time, and the issue was about justice and mercy. The other place was at the mercy seat in Heaven, and Pilate wasn’t the judge, rather it was the Judge of all the Earth, God Himself. The charge wasn’t bogus but was legitimate and clear. The facts of the case were clear.
God had created His image bearers to be on mission with Him in the world He had created. The only requirement was to avoid the fruit from one tree, and the penalty for disobedience was clear. “‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” (Genesis 3:3) God had also written with the finger of His own hand 10 commandments that required strict obedience to the law or the penalty was death. You and I were on trial for violating God’s commandments, and the sentence that was delivered was eternal death. You and I stood alongside the thief on the cross knowing that our future was doomed. There was no question regarding our guilt because the evidence was overwhelming against us.
It’s time for the dreaded question from the Judge. “Here are the charges, and how do you plead?” In this court Jesus is also present. He stands up and addresses the Judge of all the Earth and all who are witnessing this public hearing and says, “I am guilty, Your Honor.” A hush falls over the courtroom, and God Himself looks into the eyes of His only begotten, beloved Son and smiles. In that moment the words of the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah are fulfilled, “…and it pleased the Lord to bruise His own son.” God’s smile was not one of a smirk, rather one of approval and satisfaction. You and I and William Montgomery stand there guilty as sin, as Christ the perfect Lamb is silently led to the slaughter house called Golgotha’s Hill.
The time has now come for the sentence to be handed down, and the payment of death is to be carried out. He who knew no sin became sin that we might become righteous. The Apostle Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The blows with the rod, the crown of thorns, the 39 stripes with a whip, the vulgar slurs, the taunting insults, and the driving of the nails, were coming from the very ones for which Christ was taking the punishment. The thrust of the cross, hoisted up by the bloody hands of the executioners, drops with a thud in a deep hole to stand erect for all to see. The impact of the thrust, hoist, and drop rips the flesh of the innocent who has been marked as a criminal. In the midst of the mass injustice and cruelty, Christ has the presence of mind to pray for His enemies, forgive a thief hanging beside Him, speak to His earthly mother, cry out to His Heavenly Father, and commend His spirit to the very Father He cried out to in those moments of feeling abandoned.
Now it’s time to say THANK YOU to the one who took our place when we were on death row. In William Montgomery’s case, his sentence was commuted at the mercy of Governor Kasich from death to life imprisonment without parole. In our case, God did more than commute our sentence from death to life in prison. Instead, He declared us innocent of all charges and set us free. I think it’s appropriate on this Good Friday that we stop and express our deep gratitude to the One who accepted the payment for our sin and to the One who paid the debt He didn’t owe. Thank you Father, and thank you Jesus for saving a wretch like me.