Capital Punishment?

Recently I heard a pastor tell his congregation that he always destroys his preaching notes right after delivering any sermon lest he be tempted to become lazy and stale in his ministry by repeating that message in some future situation. But it can also be a blessing. I am glad that I had filed lots of mine because, soon after hearing his declaration, I found a message I had forgotten about that I had given over 30 years earlier at the funeral of a family man who had been brutally killed in the home of a couple who had invited him there to sell them a substantial insurance policy. The woman later confessed to the police that she would have benefited by tens of thousands of pounds if her man died and how they adjusted their plans to fake his death when they realised, that evening, that David was the man’s doppelganger; if they killed him they both could escape blame and start a rich, anonymous, new life together overseas.

When David failed to return home a police search was launched and eventually someone found his body far from his home alongside a motorway near the Lake District. Although his assassin/clients temporarily fled their home, they were soon recognised, and from the abundance of the forensic evidence were convicted of his murder.

While playing cricket with fellow Christians on the weekend prior to his death, David told some of them that he eagerly looked forward to heaven because it would be so idyllic there!

Strong opposition to the death penalty

Because of an imminent debate in Parliament about a possible re-introduction of the death penalty, antagonists were active in the media. So I was invited to teach David’s home church what the Bible had to say on the subject just a few weeks before his death!

Roy Hattersley MP, one of the Labour Party’s leaders who had grown up as an active Methodist, pronounced on radio that capital punishment was ‘immoral and basically unchristian’, and the Anglican Synod carried a motion by 407 votes to 36 ‘deploring’ the possible resuming of the death penalty.

What did Moses, Jesus and Paul say on the issue?

[] The first reference to the death penalty preceded Moses’ day by centuries. God ‘told . . . Noah and his sons’: ‘anyone who murders a fellow human must die. If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image’ (Genesis 9:1, 5-6, all references from the New Living Translation unless otherwise stated).

[] The Law given at Sinai prescribed a very few capital offences (in contrast to some 200 in English law in the early 19th century, including petty theft and assault!). They were:

  1. Murder, whether caused by an implement ‘of metal’, ‘of stone’, or ‘of wood’, or ‘with a fist’. ‘In such cases, the avenger must put the murderer to death’ (Numbers 35:17-18,20).
  2. Sexual offences such as adultery, incest, rape and even homosexual intercourse (see Deuteronomy 22:0 and Leviticus 20:0).
  3. Witchcraft: ‘Men or women among you who act as mediums or who consult the spirits of the dead must be put to death by stoning. They are guilty of a capital offence’ (Leviticus 20:27).
  4. Blasphemy: ‘Any native-born Israelite or foreigner among you who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be put to death’ (Leviticus 24:16).
  5. Gross defiance of parental authority (see Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

The death penalty was not applied for offences against property, but for gross outrages against: (i) the human person, (ii) the family and (iii) God himself. And it was a matter of justice, not merely a deterrent or an example to warn everyone to control their reactions when wronged. ‘The Lord loves justice’ (Psalm 37:8), because he ‘is a God of justice’ (Isaiah 39:18, New International Version). Even idol worshippers who, among other unsavoury ways, are ‘full of murder’, and who are ‘haters of God’, and ‘disobey parents’. ‘They know . . . [they] deserve to die, yet they do these things anyway’ (Romans 1:18-32).

[] ‘Everyone must submit to governing authorities,’ because ‘anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God instituted, and they will be punished. … The authorities are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong’ (Romans 13:1-4). The New International Version renders verse 4 according to the raw force of the Greek text: ‘if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers . . .  bear the sword [as] God’s servants, agents of wrath [Greek orge] to bring punishment on the wrongdoers.’

Conclusions

  1. Whoever murdered David deserves to be executed for their fiendish violence and their brutal taking of human life. Indeed, you will surely go to hell for it; for ‘murderers’ . . . fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur . . . the second death’ (Revelation 21:8).
  2. Indeed, there’s not a person in this chapel (who has reached the age of accountability) who doesn’t deserve the same judgment. Jesus himself said: ‘If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment. But I say, if you are even angry with someone’ or ‘curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell’ (Matthew 5:21-22).
  3. But, thank God, there is a Royal Pardon on offer, too. This is because mercy triumphed over judgment in the capital punishment of the completely innocent Son of God at Calvary. The Roman governor Pilate, the repentant thief crucified alongside Jesus, and Judas his betrayer all declared him perfectly innocent. Even in the face of death he prayed for his murderers: ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke 23:34).

So, plead guilty, and claim his royal pardon.

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