Most of us learned about that event in high school history classes, including the name of at least one of the men killed, Crispus Attucks. But do we really know what happened? The actual trial transcript still exists, and therefore the testimony of all those involved, including a deathbed statement by a colonist who was shot but lingered a bit before he died. He stated that he understood why the soldiers fired. Somehow, no one gave me that tidbit in high school.
The times were already tense and edgy. An eleven year old boy had been accidentally killed by an American when he entered his yard at night, evidently acting suspiciously. Then on March 5, 1770, a lone British sentry was standing guard in Boston. A group of colonists either led by or incited by a group called the Sons of Liberty began heckling him. Before long, snowballs were thrown. Captain Thomas Preston heard about what was going on and fearful of how the situation might escalate, gathered eight men and went to his sentry's defense.
The situation did indeed escalate. The crowd grew larger and the snowballs became chunks of ice and oyster shells. The colonists crowded in until one soldier was separated from the others and hemmed in by a wall. Finally his elbow was jostled and fearing that the worst was about to happen, he fired. Another soldier hearing the shot, assumed the order to fire had been given and that in the shouting he had not heard it, so he fired, too. According to the trial notice, five colonists were killed. The British soldiers were charged with murder.
John Adams led the defense. Yes, one of the Founding Fathers, the second president of the United States of America, and the cousin of Samuel Adams who is thought to have founded and led the Sons of Liberty, defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. Why would he do such a thing? Because, he said, it was about law and justice and whether the upstart new country that many were hoping for, would begin their claim of liberty and justice for all with a failure in exactly that regard.
And so the trial began. Witness after witness reported the facts, unadorned with the passion and emotion that fed the mob that night, including the deathbed statement given by the doctor on behalf of the slain man, one exception to the hearsay ban in courtrooms. Then Adams patiently, and completely, led the jury through the law, including the definition of murder, which involved "malice."
Captain Preston and six of his men were found "not guilty" of murder. The other two soldiers, the two who had fired, were found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. The people of Boston were somewhat confused, but they accepted the verdict without demonstration of any kind. America had passed its first test, five and a half years before it even became a country.
Isn't a fair judgment what we want from God?
But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness (Ps 9:7-8).
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness (Ps 96:11-13).
The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob (Ps 99:4).
God is a fair and righteous Judge. The Psalms are filled with praise for his justice. But when it comes right down to it, fair is not really want we want from God, folks. If God were being fair, we wouldn't stand a chance. On the scales of justice, nothing we do can counterbalance the weight of our sin. Our salvation does not come from equity but from mercy.
It's a downright shame when a Christian faces a downturn in his life, no matter how severe, and shouts, "This isn't fair!" Our salvation certainly is not fair to either God, who gave His Son, or Christ, who made the sacrifice. Stop talking about fair because if suddenly you received fairness, you would never again experience anything good in your life at all as the evil simply overwhelmed and crushed you. Now that would be fair.
Somehow, in America, we still believe in fair trials. That's the way it's supposed to be. But be careful what you wish for on Judgment Day.
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isa 64:6).