God’s Death Row

by Joseph Franks

In the Scripture, God declared the value of capital punishment. Those who unjustly took life, were to have their life taken in return. Following the flood, God communicated this law to Noah:

Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning … From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed. For in the image of God he made man.   (Gen. 9:5-6)

Later, right before entering the Promised Land, God instructed Moses to instruct the Israelites:

If he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he strikes him with a stone in the hand, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.   (Num. 35:16-17)

Moses must have felt like the biggest hypocrite. He was one who was guilty of unlawful killing, and yet he still lived. How could he communicate this decree? Perhaps this is why Moses was the most meek man on the planet. He was always aware that each breath was one more undeserved blessing from God.

However, the question must be asked, “How could God declare the necessity of capital punishment for sins like adultery and murder, and allow individuals such as Cain, Lot’s daughters, Rahab, David and Moses to live?” One must conclude there is an unstated undercurrent of mercy and grace running through the Law. Somehow, those who sinned and remained unrepentant, were granted justice, while those who sinned and begged for God’s mercy and grace received divine pardon.

This same undercurrent of mercy and grace grew throughout the Old Covenant, and it became an overwhelming tsunami during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. The Messiah turned the other cheek, loved his enemies, and was regularly seen granting pardon to the worst of adulterers, liars, thieves and murderers. From the woman caught in adultery to the thief on the cross, Jesus offered pardon to those deserving earthly, civil, capital punishment.

Even more importantly, he preached mercy, grace, and pardon to all rebellious convicts who had broken God’s Law. This included every man, woman boy and girl. All were guilty. All were unrighteous. All were sentenced to hell, and were living on borrowed time on God’s death row. Jesus recognized this eternal reality and made it his mission to preach eternal pardon to those who had earned eternal death.

Jesus died for such sordid individuals. Then after rising from the grave, Jesus commanded his church to go present the possibility of pardon to all God’s convicts. One can read the Great Commission of Jesus in the various Gospels. One can sense the missional mercy of Jesus in a sermon from Dwight L. Moody:

I can imagine when Christ said to that little band around him, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,” Peter said, “Lord, do you really mean that we’re to go back to Jerusalem and preach the Gospel to those men who murdered you?” “Yes,” said Christ, “Go! Hunt up that man that spat in my face, tell him he may still have  seat in my kingdom yet, if he repents. Yes, Peter, go find that man that made that cruel crown of thorns placed on my brow, and tell him I will have a crown ready for him when he comes into my kingdom, and there will be no thorns in it. Hunt up that man that took a reed and brought it down over the cruel thorns, driving them deep into my brow, and tell him that I will put a scepter in his hand and he shall rule over the nations of the earth with me if he will accept salvation. Search for the man that drove the spear into my side, and tell him that there is a nearer way to my heart than that. Tell him I forgive him freely, and that he can be saved if he will accept salvation as a gift.”   (Moody Church Media News, Vol. 15:1, p.5)

Jesus was the friend of adulterers, liars, thieves and murderers. From the Jewish populace, to the Roman Centurion, to Saul of Tarsus, Jesus desired that such spiritual felons would find mercy and grace from him and his church.

Therefore, never despair over the depth of your sin. Come to Christ and have your sin ledger erased. Come to Christ and be dressed in his garment of righteousness. Come to Christ and be called a “saint” though you are in fact a “murderous sinner.” Come to Christ and be ushered off God’s death row and into the household of faith. Come join the rest of us who, though we are guilty, are required to preach God’s Law, while we swim in God’s grace.

Then take Christ with you into your neighborhood and marketplace. In the highways and byways of life, there is no shortage of “murderous sinners” whom the Son longs to pardon. The Law of God damns them. The love of God saves them. With humble boldness, go communicate this glorious truth today.

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