September 30, 2021
Laity, First-Centenary UMC
Scenic South District
Psalm 26 (NIV)1 Vindicate me, Lord,
for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
and have not faltered.
2 Test me, Lord, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
3 for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.
4 I do not sit with the deceitful,
nor do I associate with hypocrites.
5 I abhor the assembly of evildoers
and refuse to sit with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands in innocence,
and go about your altar, Lord,
7 proclaiming aloud your praise
and telling of all your wonderful deeds.
8 Lord, I love the house where you live,
the place where your glory dwells.
9 Do not take away my soul along with sinners,
my life with those who are bloodthirsty,
10 in whose hands are wicked schemes,
whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me.
12 My feet stand on level ground;
in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.
DevotionI love legal dramas, and Psalm 26 is a real-life courtroom scene. The defendant, David, is testifying in his own defense. There is no jury present. The judge alone will hear the case and render judgment. This is what we, in the United States, would call a bench trial. But this is no ordinary trial, and no earthly judge.
The action appears to take place during the early years of David's career. Saul is still on the throne, and his courtiers have been filling his ears with false accusations against David, which the jealous king has been too glad to hear. David protested his innocence without success (1 Sam. 24:9), so now he is taking his case to a higher court--the highest court of all, in fact: the bar of God's justice.
There are no witnesses in this trial. David appeals to the Lord to be his character witness. David declares, "You've seen my actions, God. You know I've tried to live a godly life, regularly going to the temple to worship you and singing your praises before everyone. I've never associated with evildoers, nor taken part in their wicked schemes. I have led an upright life. Like a priest approaching the altar, I have washed my hands to declare my innocence” (see Exodus 30:17-21). David goes further and asks God to judge his motives as well. This judge is able to see into David's very mind and heart. Unlike most courtroom dramas, we don't see the verdict here. We know that David eventually prevails over Saul, ascends his throne, and rules for many years, so we can assume that God vindicated him in this case.
It's all well and good to stand before a righteous judge when you are innocent, as David was. What about when you know you're guilty? Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). While you may not have committed any of what you consider the big sins (e.g. stealing, murder, adultery), you have surely committed countless sins during your life. Mental sins count, too. It is somewhat unnerving to realize that God knows your thoughts and the intentions of your heart (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Using your imagination, fast-forward to the present time, to another courtroom, another bench trial. A voice booms, "The prisoner will step forward!" That's when you realize you are the one standing in the dock, a prisoner of sin, in the custody of the Law (see Galatians 3:23-25). "Does the accused have anything to say in their own defense?" the judge asks. You decide to try the Psalm 26 defense; after all, it worked for David.
"Your Honor, I was always an upstanding citizen with a good reputation in the community. I was also a regular churchgoer. I've never committed a crime, never schemed or plotted or took a bribe, never consorted with criminals--in fact, I washed my hands of their whole ilk." By this point in your testimony, you might be feeling pretty good about yourself. But unlike David, who was up on only a handful of charges--all of them false--your whole life is on trial here. And the judge knows our every unworthy thought, every selfish motive, every unkind word, and every secret deed. James 2:10 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
Point by point, your defense falls apart. The opinion of humans counts for nothing. It is God's opinion alone that matters. All your self-righteous deeds are no better than filthy rags. And you did consort with criminals--other sinners like you. As for that hand-washing thing, Pilate tried that, too, and it didn't work out so well for him, either. The verdict is rendered: guilty. The sentence is automatic: death. But, before the judge can hand down this sentence, a voice says, "I am here to speak for this defendant." It is your Advocate, our Paraclete (from the Greek parakletos, "one who pleads another's cause"). It is Jesus Christ.
"Your Honor," he says, "I know this one has sinned against you. But they are no longer under the Law; they are under grace by their faith in me. Whatever offense they have committed has been forgiven. Whatever debt they have incurred has been paid in full by the blood I shed on the cross."
The judge smiles and brings his gavel down. "Case dismissed."
God, you are a holy and righteous judge. We know that you cannot bear to look upon our sin, and that you are wholly justified in your judgment against us. We thank you that, out of your great love for us, you sent your only Son, Jesus Christ, to be our advocate, to save us from the great judgment. Amen.