I’ve been obsessed with Lauren Daigle’s song “How Can It Be” since I first heard it two months ago. The whole song is powerful, but I find a section of the chorus particularly moving:
You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
Not too long ago, the words I’d been listening to appeared before my eyes on the pages of Scripture. “Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God, who pleads the cause of his people…” (Isaiah 51:22).
A quick survey of a concordance showed that this expression occurs many times throughout the Old Testament. The Hebrew phrase can be translated several ways, such as “contend” or “defend,” but the connotation is often forensic. In these instances, the idea is that God makes our case for us. But what case? And to whom does God plead?
Sometimes God pleads the cause of the fatherless and poor, pledging protection and provision (Proverbs 22:23, 23:11). Sometimes God pleads the cause of His people against their enemies, taking vengeance on those who harm them (1 Samuel 24:15; Jeremiah 50:34, 51:36; Micah 7:9).
These truths point to a greater reality, namely that God offers His people eternal protection from condemnation and ultimate provision for sin because of the efficacious sacrifice of His Son. For example, the rest of Isaiah 51:22 says that God will no longer make His people drink from the cup of His wrath. In its immediate context, this verse speaks to the judgment Jerusalem endured because of sin. Although the people experienced God’s wrath, He eventually removed the dreadful “cup of staggering.”
This event in Jewish history foreshadows another biblical mention of the cup of God’s wrath, when, instead of being removed, it’s received. Knowing the time of His arrest and subsequent crucifixion was near, Jesus begged His Father to let the cup pass from Him. Excruciatingly aware of the implications, Jesus went on to say, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Not long after His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and tried. When he stood before Pilate – the Roman governor who had the authority to condemn Him to death – Jesus was surprisingly quiet. “When he was accused by the chief priest and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed” (Matthew 27:12-14).
Soon after this, Jesus was sentenced to death. As He hung on the cross, the physical pain was surpassed by the anguish of being forsaken by His Father as He drank the cup of wrath. Because of Jesus, we who were “by nature children of wrath” become recipients of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us” (Ephesians 2:3,7).
This is better news than I know how to articulate, and it sheds light on our understanding of God’s promise to plead the cause of His people.
Every person is guilty of violating God’s law and is deserving of judgment. When those of us who are in Christ by faith face the Almighty God – the One who has the authority to condemn us to hell – Jesus is anything but silent. His silence at His own trial makes it possible for Him to be the Advocate at ours. By refusing to respond to a single charge against Him, He is able to negate every accusation against us.
In a sermon on Lamentations 3:58, Charles Spurgeon imagined the scene in “the court of divine law” where we have been charged with failing to do what God commands and choosing to do what He forbids. After the charges are read, the time comes for us to enter a plea. Of this moment Spurgeon said:
We are asked if we have anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced upon us. We are silent. Well may we hold down our heads, for what reason is there why we should not be punished for the sins which we have committed? There was a time when we would have pleaded, “Not guilty,” but we know better now. We know our guilt; it stares us in the face. We cannot plead the force of temptation, for we know that often we have tempted ourselves, and have, without any incentive beyond our own hearts, run greedily after sin. The law sits upon its throne of judgment, and since we cannot plead, it makes proclamation, “Is there anyone in court who will act as advocate for this rebel, whose silence and shame witness to his guilt? If there is none to show cause to the contrary, I will open the Great Book and read his sentence; I will put on the black cap, and he shall be taken to doom.” Up stands the bleeding Savior, the great Advocate for sinners! What does Jesus plead? “O Justice,” He says, “I plead not that these men have not sinned – I do confess on their behalf that they have grievously sinned; but I plead for them that their sin has been punished – punished in Me. All the curse of their sin was laid on Me. I loved them from before the foundations of the world; and having loved them I took their sin upon Myself, and therefore, it is not on them. I suffered in their place, and therefore, Justice, you cannot punish two for one offense – having struck Me for them – you cannot now strike them! I plead My blood – these wounds of Mine, once opened by the cruel nails – this side of Mine, once torn with the spear – I plead these – My groans, My tears, My agony, My death – for these I suffered on their account. Their sin was punished in Me – let them go free!”
And we’re free indeed. In this way, God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Since God’s charges against us were borne by Christ, we can live today as those for whom there is “now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1). As for anyone else who would dare accuse us – be it our own consciences, other people, or Satan himself? The charges don’t stand because the only One with power to condemn has chosen to plead our cause instead (Romans 8:-33-34).
To borrow words from Lauren Daigle, “How can it be?”