Summary: A sermon about all of humanity on death row. (Adapted from Jack Hayford’s sermon: The Last Man on Death Row)
Sermon for Easter Sunday 3/27/2005
The Last Man on Death Row adapted from Jack Hayford
News story on Sunday, January 12, 2003; CHICAGO, Jan. 11 -- Illinois’s outgoing Republican Gov. George Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 people to life in prison today after concluding that the capital punishment system was "haunted by the demon of error."
Friends and foes of the death penalty said the step, which empties death row of 156 inmates and 11 others who had been sentenced but were awaiting hearings, was unprecedented. The action will have ramifications for the intensifying national debate on the issue and came a day after Ryan pardoned four death row inmates who he said had been tortured into false murder confessions. Three were released immediately and are already home with their families.
This is not intended to be a debate about capital punishment. What I want you to do is to think about those inmates who were awaiting that day when their sentence would be carried out. In their hearts they know that they were guilty. Soon they were going to receive the punishment for their crimes. However, the governor announced that they were pardoned and they were free to go. What a new lease on life! No longer did they have to face that terrible day. What a joy it must be to have their slate wiped clean (at least according to the law) and now they can go back to their friends and family and live a somewhat normal life.
Thesis: Let’s talk about the death penalty this morning.
I. The Death Penalty overshadows all of Human Life
A. When I talk about the death penalty, I am talking about the death penalty as laid out in the Bible.
B. In Genesis 3 the penalty for eating from the forbidden tree was death. It was physical death and also spiritual death. Physical Death can be defined as separation of the body from the spirit. Spiritual death is separation of a person from God forever.
C. Romans 6:23- For the wages of sin is death.
D. I suppose some people think that God says these things as an idle threat, because people sin all the time and nobody seems to die. Or they think it’s some kind of a vindictive act: “You sin, and I’ll get even with you.” As if God is sneering in heaven.
E. The fact is that the death penalty for sin is not a vengeful act, but an effort to save fallen human beings. Without the death penalty, mankind would be proud and never seek God. Without the death penalty, we would be doomed to live on this sin sick planet forever and mankind would get worse and worse.
F. This is probably why the ages of human beings have decreased since the flood. We see in Genesis 5 that men lived over 900 years. After the flood, men lived at most 120 years. A few who lived longer but most lived 120 years or less. With all of the years to live before the flood, man was described as wicked all of the time; every thought of his heart was wicked all of the time. I don’t think I would want to live in such a world.
G. We are all fallen. Something in every one of us has been impacted by the entry of sin into our nature, and none of us is flawless. Fallen humanity, given enough time, would lose all sense of restraint and most would give into evil. This is increasingly happening in our world but imagine if there was no death penalty. Nothing gets the attention of people like the death penalty. It humbles us and forces us to consider our future.
H. In the Old Testament, there’s an elaboration of God’s dealing with one nation, the Jewish people. They were the ones who received the promises, the Scriptures, because God was doing something with that people. He made laws that apply to all of us, but He mainly held the Jewish people accountable. The Hebrew nation was to be a model and a message for the rest of the world.
I. First, there was a sacrificial system because man needs a substitute to rescue him from the consequences of his sin.
J. Second, there were many laws that had a penalty of death. For example, adultery, fornication, blaspheming God’s name, witchcraft, gathering wood on the Sabbath day, murder, worshipping an idol, rebelling against or mocking or cursing one’s parents, were things that deserved capital punishment.
K. The death penalty overshadowed all of human life in the Jewish legal system.
II. The Death Penalty affects all of life- draining, diminishing, damaging, and damning.
A. People say, “What kind of a God is this? Just because people get caught in an affair, He says ‘Kill them’? He’s supposed to be a God of love? Sounds to me like He’s on an ego trip.”