For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. —Isaiah 9:6
Believers today are facing many unique challenges—repression of biblical values, advocacy of abortion, rejection of truth as a transcending paradigm, devastating sexual confusion and behavior, shameful abuse of children and the poor, and rampant hostility toward specific people groups. These challenges manifest themselves not only in the culture at large and in the media, but also in the legal system. Yet we need not despair. Even though many believers do not know how to engage the legal system today, Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, stands ready to help us understand the seemingly impenetrable and often frustrating areas of God’s Law, human law, and lawyers.
Jesus also encountered manifold challenges during his earthly ministry. Many came from the legal and religious systems and leaders of His day. Instead of being discouraged, He used those challenges as opportunities to build God’s kingdom. I believe Jesus wants us to confront the challenges we face in ways similar to how He confronted the challenges He faced in Israel two millennia ago. This book, therefore, explores what it means to be a “citizen-disciple,” to be a follower of Jesus who participates in fighting for justice and mercy not only in the culture and society at large, but also in the legal system. Faithful citizenship is part of our discipleship. Jesus cared about the legal realm, and so should we. After all, law—and ultimately God’s Law—were given to humanity to promote and maintain human flourishing. Unfortunately, many laws today detract from human flourishing by perpetuating injustice and evil. In this book, you will learn how the assaults on our faith—and ultimately on God’s good and perfect Law—not only require us to defend our values, but also afford us incredible opportunities to go on the offense to turn hearts toward truth, to explain the unseen God, and to advance His kingdom. He wants to equip believers to win these battles—whether in the Supreme Court or at a local city council.
Isaiah 9:6 communicates a profound truth relevant to believers in every land and every time. As you read this book, you will discover that the Wonderful Counselor promised long ago is not only a spiritual guide, but also a legal advisor, a lawyer, an advocate, an extraordinary strategist. As Jesus taught God’s Law, He not only provided an accurate understanding of God’s Law, but also modeled how that understanding should both inform and reform human law. He is “Jesus in the courtroom.”
A sound biblical worldview shows us that God wants followers of Jesus to implement His dominion over the realms of law and politics—not in ways triumphalistic, but in ways that turn hearts toward God. The Bible tells us Jesus is returning—perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in the next millennium. In the meantime, we must prepare ourselves and help the world prepare for that event through acts of justice and mercy, with a firm dedication to sharing the gospel. Satan will surely attack us and our efforts, and will try to thwart the Messiah’s return. This book, and ultimately Jesus Himself, will show us ways to engage both God’s Law and human law to defeat Satan and evil—and win the hearts of some who now hate the Light.
Because law is so critical to many of the challenges against truth that we face today, I have used my experiences as a religious liberty attorney and insights as a Bible scholar to help us see how all believers, not just lawyers, can influence the seemingly mysterious realm of law to rescue and redeem our society. While I write as an American attorney in the twenty-first century, I hope that most of the problems addressed and solutions offered in Jesus in the Courtroom will transcend cultures and time. While we will certainly visit what happens in actual courtrooms and in lawsuits, we will go beyond to meet lawyers, judges, children, churches, and others in pursuit of God’s justice so that we may better understand how law affects every area of human life and how each of us can be an effective citizen-disciple. Along the way, you will be introduced to many ways in which the legal tools and biblical-spiritual arsenal that God has given us can be combined effectively to this end.
After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, I began practice in 1972, concentrating primarily in real estate. In 1985, I received a distinct call from God to engage in zoning litigation for churches. After learning how to apply constitutional principles to land use, my practice, in partnership with other believing attorneys, has grown to represent clients in the areas of religious liberty, free speech, and defense of life. In the process, God has taught me essential lessons on how to achieve kingdom objectives. I also wrote the award-winning Paul on Trial (Thomas Nelson, 2001), which argues that the book of Acts was written originally as a legal brief to defend Paul as he awaited trial before Nero. There you will find legal and biblical scholarship throughout.
Jesus in the Courtroom addresses our engagement on both individual and corporate levels, emphasizing how our respective individual calls from God coalesce into in an effective collective response to the trials we face. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father . . . thy kingdom come.” In this book, I aim to help you understand what answer to that prayer looks like in the legal realm. In so doing, I also intend to help you develop—if you do not already have one—a healthy attitude toward law, lawyers, and others in various legal contexts, especially those affected by oppression, abortion, child exploitation, and unbiblical sexual ethics. Then, with assurance from our Wonderful Counselor, you will be offered new strategies to address those and other challenges to bring the gospel to our hurting nations.
We begin with insights showing how the Gospels reveal Jesus’ plan to influence the lawyers and politicians of Israel during his earthly life and ministry. As I was completing the proposal to Moody Publishers for this book, I happened to meet Wayne Grudem, a leading evangelical theologian and author of Politics According to the Bible, by being seated next to him at a family values breakfast. I explained to him one of the themes of this book: that the Pharisees and Sadducees with whom Jesus interacted and debated should be thought of primarily as lawyers instead of merely as religious leaders. Operating within the scope of Jewish Law—Torah—these religious leaders were also lawmakers, judges, law professors, and politicians. With this fresh perspective, we will more fully understand Jesus’ ministry to Israel. Grudem immediately encouraged this approach by commenting how understanding the intense involvement of the Pharisees and Sadducees with the Law would increase our awareness of the number of verses that could give insight into our twenty-first century world of politics and law.
Understanding Jesus’ love of Torah and His engagement with legal and political professionals of His day will enable us to better cooperate with our Wonderful Counselor, God’s Son. Looking at the Gospels through a legal lens, we will see new ways that love for and strategic engagement with the legal system, can bless our lives and our nations.
The word translated as “Counselor” in Isaiah 9:6, from the root word yâ’ats in Hebrew, means “to advise, consult, counsel.” And that word certainly has legal connotations. The same word is used for “counselors” in Isaiah 1:26: “I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city” (Isa. 1:26, nkjv). Because Isaiah used yâ’ats in context with “judges” and “city of righteousness,” we can confidently appreciate and celebrate the legal implications of Isaiah 9:6 and what it says about the promised Messiah, the Wonderful Counselor, who may also be thought of as our Extraordinary Strategist. But even more is packed into that powerful title, as we shall discover.
In every age, God challenges His followers to love and serve Him in the midst of trials, to confront and overcome evil. In the twenty-first century, He has placed believers throughout the world in times of trouble when many laws impose evil. Our Extraordinary Strategist wants us not only to better understand law, the legal system, and how He relates to it, but also to defeat evil and impact the nations with the awesome message of God’s mercy. He will help us become defenders, rescuers, and restorers for the abused and wounded.
Included in our trials is the social decay that inevitably results from the rejection of God and His truth. These trials have grown to international scope. Refugee crises seem to affect more and more nations. World leaders appear ineffectual. I believe God is summoning the citizen-disciple to step forward and fill the moral vacuum created by the abandonment of truth and by the legal chaos created as rebellious humanity has purported to displace God as the ultimate source of authority.
Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Rom. 13:1). In America and other democracies at least, the authority in place means neither local nor state government, nor the president, nor federal law, but “we the people” who have “ordained and established the constitution.” Thus, in a democracy, the people—the citizens—are responsible under God to adopt, and when necessary, reform laws to reflect God’s love of mercy and justice. Disciples of Jesus have a special responsibility because of the multitude of spiritual resources Jesus has available for us. Jesus in the Courtroom gives us the opportunity to open our hearts to the numerous practical ways that we can use those gifts in the legal realm. And I hope you will be encouraged and energized when you see the number and power of the spiritual weapons and legal tools God has made available to us.
As we understand better the work of our Wonderful Counselor, Jesus in the courtroom, we will gain a clearer vision for how to move forward in fighting for justice and mercy. Let’s start the journey.
We all can point to many spheres of life in which believers are regularly active, seeking to make an impact for the kingdom—business, media, entertainment, education, sports, medicine, global aid, and more. While many of these areas of human endeavor overlap with law, many believers tend to shy away from engaging the law, even though it is critical to the advancement of truth in our world. Why are we not engaging the law to a greater degree?
One answer is lawyers. Some people do not love the law because they do not love the law’s most visible proponents: attorneys and politicians. Others fear the law because they do not understand how the legal system works, or simply because the idea of judgment in general scares them. And are not lawyers wicked? Does not Jesus’ statement “Woe to you lawyers!” sum it up for all lawyers for all time?
American history provides much ammunition against lawyers. Consider Roe v. Wade in which seven of the nine US Supreme Court judges approved abortion, which legalized the killing of millions of children by wiping out the protection provided by law in fifty states. Justice Byron White, one of the two dissenters, wrote:
The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes. The upshot is that the people and the legislatures of the 50 States are constitutionally disentitled to weigh the relative importance of the continued existence and development of the fetus, on the one hand, against a spectrum of possible impacts on the mother, on the other hand.1
Justice White goes on to call the decision “an exercise of raw judicial power.”2 As a result of the ruling by the Court, woe upon woe has been inflicted upon unborn children, young mothers, America, and probably the judges themselves. Yet in contrast to the woe from Jesus, consider that two judges dissented in Roe v. Wade and also that lawmakers, including many lawyers across the fifty states, had first erected protections of unborn children. Not all lawyers deserve opprobrium.
In the US Constitution, the evil of slavery was institutionalized by counting slaves as three-fifths a person. In the 1857 US Supreme Court Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, a runaway slave was forced to return to his master. In 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approved a motion to annul Israel’s claim to its holiest site, the Temple Mount, as well as the Western Wall and the Old City of Jerusalem. Whether this resolution is law or a harbinger of law (see Zech. 12:3), the point is that a political agenda created a legal rationale for coercion by purporting to “annul” a claim and “authorize” violence. In legal systems that are based on truth and justice, litigants are allowed to make claims, and competing or conflicting claims are allowed. This resolution regarding the Temple Mount and the Old City appears to be an attempt to subvert the truth by making a law that rewrites history. Anyone who reads the Bible can see Israel indeed has a valid historical claim to these sites and that city. In these three examples, we see that law is a tool that can be wielded for good or evil.
Many Christians join Jesus in proclaiming woe upon lawyers. But that one particular statement that Jesus made does not sum up what all of Scripture teaches about law and lawyers. Why do we have in the Bible Psalm 119, the longest psalm, which extols God’s Law for 176 verses? Consider vv. 18–20: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me. My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” If we are to love God’s Law, it means that we should love those who handed down God’s Law as well. Think about these three men, who functioned in many ways as lawyers:
All three were key builders of God’s kingdom. Apparently God found something in their legal work that could be utilized in their ministries.3 Moses, Luke, and Paul wrote significant portions of the Bible. Jesus—who rightly interpreted and taught the Law handed down from Moses, who commissioned Paul, and who, as the Word of God, inspired Luke by the power of His Spirit—is not against all law. Nor is His woe directed to all lawyers or even to all law professors, “teachers of the law,” whom He repeatedly excoriates in Matthew 23. As Paul explicitly emphasized, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). While Jesus does not oppose the Law per se, neither does He suggest that all laws are good simply because someone with power has promulgated them. Jesus’ warning is directed toward those who misuse their legal authority to put heavy burdens on others. He exclaims, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt. 23:4). How, then, are we to discern which laws, lawyers, and legal systems are good, are of God? How should we, both non-lawyers and lawyers, relate to the legal realm? As we pursue those questions, let me introduce you anew to a law professor you already know…