Apr 8th, 2018
Hello and welcome to episode 68 of The Berean Manifesto brought to you by The Ekklesian House. This is Pastor Bill and over the next 10 minutes or so we’re going to talk about Jesus and the Death Penalty.
Proverbs 12:28 says, “There is life in the path of righteousness, and in its path there is no death.” The original language for righteousness there comes from the root Hebrew word:
H6663 צָדַק tsâdaq tsaw-dak' A primitive root; to be (causatively make) right (in a moral or forensic sense): - cleanse, clear self, (be, do) just (-ice, -ify, -ify self), (be, turn to) righteous (-ness).
This word describes the state of life that we as Christians strive to live our lives, right? No matter how you cut or translate this scripture, the message seems pretty straight forward. To be righteous, you have to choose life. This scripture always reminds me of the speech in Joshua 24:14-15, “Therefore, fear the Lord and worship Him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods of your fathers beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord. But if it doesn’t please you to worship the Lord, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship – the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living? As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
It’s a less popular stance than it used to be and seems to be losing traction, but I am personally 100% unapologetically pro-life; whether we’re talking about a convicted felon, terrorists, or an unborn fetus. The book of Jeremiah in chapter 1 tells us that God chose us before He formed us in the womb, that He set us apart before we were born, and Jeremiah 29 tells us that He has plans to give us a future and a hope.
Legally speaking, Jesus was given the death penalty, and for nothing more than making religious authorities uneasy about losing their influence over the people. We’re going to look at two different times in Jesus’ life where He encountered someone that was sentenced to death and hopefully we’ll inform our belief concerning the death penalty.
First we’re going to look at the woman caught in adultery in John 8, starting in verse 2 it says, “At dawn He (Jesus) went to the temple again and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
In the law of Moses, specifically in Deuteronomy 22, to be a “woman caught in adultery” the woman would either have to be married or a young woman who is engaged to be married. Specifically for her punishment to be stoning she would have to be the young woman who is engaged to be married. The law also reads that the man involved in the adultery should be stoned to death as well. My first question when reading this has always been, “Where’s the man caught in this adultery?” The catch here that they seem to be trying to catching Jesus in is that in this situation, in practical application, the young woman who was caught in the act was given time after the act to make it known if she had been forced. In the case of this young woman, her accusers said they caught her in the act. If Jesus declares her innocent before her accusers then they could accuse Him of not upholding the law of Moses, but if He declares her guilty then they could accuse Him of condemning a potentially innocent young victim to her death.
No one knows for sure what Jesus was writing in the dirt. A humorous explanation I like to suggest is that He was writing a list of the names of the men accusing the young woman alongside a list of people they’ve committed adultery with. Regardless of what He wrote or the legal implications of how the young woman was being handled, Jesus doesn’t seem to think the death penalty is a good option here.
Let’s take a look at Barabbas. Pretty clear cut, this was a bad guy right? A notorious rebel sentenced to the death penalty for committing murder. Pilate would release one prisoner every Passover and wanted to release Jesus. He chose an option that was so bad the people couldn’t possibly choose to release him over Jesus. In the end Barabbas, the murderer, is released and Jesus, the innocent, is given the death penalty and is executed. We look at that part of the Passion story and we rationalize it that this happened to Jesus right? That there wasn’t anything He could do about it, that it was out of His hands; He was just a passenger being carried along in this portion of scripture. But what if He wasn’t? What if this was part of the plan all along, and not just adding insult to injury?
Consider the parallels; Barabbas had no legal claim on a continued life. The law demanded that he face the death penalty, and yet…he is released, and Jesus dies instead. In Romans 3 Paul tells us that we’ve all sinned and because of this the law demands our death; …and yet… Jesus died in our place. In Barabbas case, and ours, it was so that as John 3:17 puts it, we “might be saved.” Someone who has been executed has no more chance of salvation.
If, as a Christian, I’m to choose righteousness and life; if I’m to truly seek God’s will then personally, I have to believe that the scriptures point to all human life being sacred from before conception and to impose death on anyone is an affront to God. Before Christ we were all subject to the law of sin that required death as payment. But, just as with Barabbas we have been released from the death penalty that was handed down as our judgement and Christ has paid the penalty instead. I encourage you to find your own personal stance on this topic informed by scripture and faith, separate from cultural or even religious influences.
This is Pastor Bill saying, “Until next time…”