Guilt by association is defined as “guilt ascribed to someone not because of any evidence, but because of their association with an offender.”
The next level occurs when the individual is not only compliant, but demonstrates the element of being an accomplice, aiding, abetting, or assisting in the commission of a crime.
This is where Matlock or Perry Mason comes up and stands with the defendant to prove him or her innocent—worthy of a rerun for the next sixty or seventy years.
Now, put this same definition to the test and visualize a purported follower of Jesus Christ on the witness stand, and the witness is you or me. Would there be enough evidence to prove that we are guilty by association and also assisting in the commission that Jesus gave us at the end of His earthly ministry? “Go into all the world and make disciples.”
I hope that in our court case when the jury foreman reads the verdict, we are found guilty, guilty, guilty. Ooh, a shiver just ran down my spine!
It’s so easy to say “Sure I would! I’d stand with Jesus. Nothing would dissuade me from jumping on a soapbox in Columbia Center and preaching his name.” I’m thankful He hasn’t called me to do the soapbox thing. But He has called each one of us to be His witnesses.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Peter. In Luke’s account, this should have been a slam dunk case of guilt by association. After all, the twelve disciples have shadowed and learned from Jesus for over three years. But Jesus has been arrested and his disciples scattered. Peter follows from a distance and blends in with the others around the fire. Some Nancy Drew in the crowd spots him: “This man was with him.”
Oh boy, go get em’ Peter! “Woman, I don’t know him.” What! Come on fisher of men. Matthew 4:19
Later, a second accusation hangs in the air from a witness for the prosecution: “You also are one of them.”
This is when Peter has the chance to be the original “Rock,” pun intended. Peter should stand up and declare, “He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:18
Peter, don’t blow it. “Man, I am not!”
Peter, you’re doing it all wrong!
Once last chance to prove your guilt by association. An hour later here it comes.
“Certainly, this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter curses like the crusty fisherman he used to be and says, “Man, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about!”
In my mind’s eye, I see a judge (Pharisee) enter and all rise. Peter stands. “Simon Barjonah, the only evidence found is all circumstantial.” The judge waits for the crowd to settle down. “Even though witnesses claim to have seen you in a boat pulling in a large catch of fish with this Jesus, and roaming the countryside hanging around lepers and beggars,” some in the courtroom gasp, “this is not enough to prove your guilt. You are found innocent of all charges of associating with the man they call the lamb of God. You are free to go.”
Peter is free, or is he? A rooster crows, Jesus’ eyes meet Peter’s, and his world comes crashing down. Oh, don’t worry about Peter. After a good cry, he’ll be back. His faith one day soon will rattle the very gates of hell—and hell will never prevail.
Matter of fact, so much that on the day of Pentecost, Peter was the one who stood as mouth-piece to announce the age of the Messianic fulfillment had arrived. Acts 2:29-35. Peter, along with the other apostles were used by God and wonders and miraculous signs were done. Acts 2:43. Peter, on the way to the temple, prayed for a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Acts 3:1-10
Wait a minute, is this the same guy who fifty-days earlier, during Passover, had run away with his tail between his legs—defeated, humiliated, and embarrassed? You bet!
If his trial had been held the weeks following Pentecost, Peter would’ve stood in the power of the Holy Spirit and said, “I’m guilty, not only by association, but also in aiding, abetting, and assisting in the commission of my Lord, Jesus—to spread the news that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Take a breath. I want to share a timely experience that happened to me in my world this last Friday. Nothing like personal experience to slap you upside the head. Especially me. I had the seeds of this piece (Guilty or Innocent) on Thursday and shared it with our Bethel Writers Group that evening. Little did I know that before the next sunrise, it would play a part in my own story.
Cue Friday morning, 5:30 a.m. I need a little back story here. I love Friday mornings! Our (need I say great) Bethel Men’s small group meets at a closed, local restaurant at 6:00 a.m. For being a faithful groupie, I reward myself with a blended, almond-milk chai on the way every week. Can I get an amen? As moods go, I’m usually sporting a nine. During Spring, this can go to a ten. Happy, smiley, slap-you-on-the-back life is good mood.
So, this last Friday I float in to my favorite coffee joint, offering my usual, “Hey cousins, it’s Friday”—not really my cousins but that’s just me.
This is where it gets dicey. I visit with the two baristas and when my blended is delivered, she throws me under the bus with a compliment. “I want to tell you that we love it when you come in because you’re always smiling and. . . .” I was totally caught off guard. Comebacks filled my Ruby brain. I was partially embarrassed, some pride—what do you expect after just winning the Mr. Congeniality award. Don’t you think I would use this as a God-moment to plant a seed that could be watered later? “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Peter 3:15.
Think again. Wait for it. My response? “Guess my mama taught me right.” She laughed, walked away to finish my order, and I stood there with the biggest spiritual L on my forehead you’ve ever seen. I knew the opportunity had slipped away, leaving me cleared of all charges—no guilt by association today.
I sat outside in my Subaru dazed. What just happened? Guess my mama taught me right? Really? I had become Peter’s doppelganger; afraid to put myself out there to be vulnerable, possibly rejected, my Mr. Congeniality award ripped from my hands. Don’t you wish sometimes as adults, we could yell “do-over” like we did as kids? If I could, I’d give credit where credit is due, that Jesus is making me a better version of myself, because He’s my Lord.
Sometimes I’m a slow learner, but that Friday, I got a Holy Spirit slap upside my head. Next time, I want to be ready—ready to share the hope that lies in me.
When I stand in front of the Judge of all creation one day, my salvation already accomplished because of Jesus’ blood applied to my life, this is what I want to hear: Bryan, you have been found guilty by association, guilty for being my accomplice in reaching out to the lost and wounded, guilty for taking the opportunities I gave you to plant eternal seeds in hearts that I love.
Then, the Judge will reveal all His glory before my eyes. His arms will open wide and with heaven’s welcome, He’ll say, Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.
How about you? Are you ready to be a part of a Spirit-led crime spree, leaving no doubt that you are guilty by association, of being an accomplice, of aiding and assisting in Jesus’ great commission? Don’t wait for the Holy Spirit’s slap upside your head.