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FIRST-PERSON: Stepping down to help others up

MELISSA, Texas (BP)–John Quincy Adams, the son of President John Adams, was elected the sixth president of the United States in 1824, after serving as an ambassador, senator and secretary of state. After his first term as president, he ran for re-election but was defeated by Andrew Jackson.

In 1830, after leaving the White House and retiring to his farm, Adams was unexpectedly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Plymouth district of Massachusetts, and he served 18 years until his death.

It must have felt strange for the former president to stand before Congress simply as the representative of one district in Massachusetts. He must have often compared his experience in the House with his previous role as chief executive.

Adams did not rest on the laurels of his impressive political résumé. Instead, he was presented with an incredible challenge. He recognized a tremendous need and decided to use his influence to affect the outcome.

In January 1841, Adams chose to fight for a group of people who could not defend themselves. In a case that in recent years became the basis of a film, Adams argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that African slaves taken from Sierra Leone should be freed and allowed to return to their homeland. The slaves, illegally abducted by Portuguese slave hunters in February 1839, had revolted against their masters and taken control of the Amistad, a Cuban schooner.

Because of their revolt, the slaves were charged with murdering the crew. The charges were eventually dropped, and Adams then argued before the court that the Africans were human beings who deserved freedom, and were not property that could be claimed by any of the parties in the slave trade. In the end, the court accepted Adams’ argument, and 35 Africans were allowed to return to their homeland as free people.

Adams, a former president, used a lesser job and diminished influence to accomplish a heroic and controversial act. He believed that the goal of saving innocent people required him to fight for their cause. Adams did not stand before the court as president, or even as a member of Congress. He represented the Africans as an attorney fighting for their rights.

Adams chose a lower place to meet the needs of the others. He chose to fight for a group of people who could not win the battle on their own. Without him, the people aboard the Amistad may have been declared slave property and given to one of several parties that claimed ownership.

In eternity past, God the Father determined to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to fight for the lives of people who could not win the battle on their own. Romans 6:23 tells us that the “wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Because we are all sinners, we are all sentenced to die. Without a heavenly advocate, we have no hope for salvation. None of us measures up to the standards of sinless perfection; we need someone to represent us before the Judge of the universe.

Jesus Christ willingly left heaven and came to earth as a helpless baby who would grow to become an apprentice carpenter and then a traveling evangelist. If a move from the U.S. presidency to U.S. Congress seems a drop in stature, consider the change from sitting at the right hand of God in heaven and then going to the arms of a teenage mother near a feeding trough in a small barn.

The Bible teaches that Jesus of Nazareth came to earth as the Messiah (in Hebrew), the Christ (in Greek), the Anointed One (in English) to deliver human beings from the penalty of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God the Father. To escape this fate, mankind needed an advocate who would represent us before the Heavenly Judge, God the Father. But instead of simply arguing our case, as Adams did on behalf of the slaves, Jesus chose to plead guilty on our behalf and accept our corporate punishment, namely death on a Roman cross at a place called Golgotha.

In whose hands have you placed your life? Will you keep trying to represent yourself, or will you seek someone with greater stature to defend you? May we all remember the promise of 1 John 2:1-2: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
Trey Graham, a writer, speaker and the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Melissa, Texas, is the author of “Lessons for the Journey” (America House, 2001) and “Light for the Journey” (PublishAmerica, 2004). He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • Trey Graham