*** double click video to view full screen***
Description: We don't question that man has brought a lot of chaos and evil into this world. Do we have any ability to fix that? Is death to punish murder unkind?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I am going to mention a word, and then would you notice what you think of immediately when you hear
the word — paradise. So what do you think of when you hear the word paradise? Eden?
Certainly a place where you get everything you want — we always think of the skiers as having
miles and miles of beautiful powder snow to ski in, and all the baseball fans having world series
end-to-end with all the big players playing — and so you go, on and on. Yet our initial reaction is
kind of a joke, isn’t it? Because the truth is, when we reflect for a moment, however enthusiastic
you are about anything you do, however enthusiastic you are about baseball, however enthusiastic you
are about skiing, one thing you’re sure of: you couldn’t keep on doing it forever and ever. And
you realize that even you would get fed up with world series end-to-end forever and ever.
Why do we use that imagery then? I think because of the idea we have of Eden; that it’s a place
where all our inner desires are satisfied fully by the surrounding environment. And actually the
moment we try to imagine that, we begin to see that maybe some of the desires we have that we’re
living to fulfill, and that we would want with all our hearts, are pretty immature.
That’s kind of the problem we live with, now, in our own lives. We think to ourselves, “Now, wait a
minute, the things that I am living for and the things that I want above everything else, I don’t
really think I could stand wanting those things and living with those things forever. Even if I had
all the cars in the world, if I had all the motorbikes in the world, if I had all the ski slopes in
the world, if I had all the food in the world, if I had all the money in the world, I still think
that I would get bored after a while.” We might prefer this ever changing kaleidoscope of time and
space and finite life that we have here, to the kind of steady state of eternity that might drive us
crazy. We begin to wonder, “I wonder if I could take eternity?”
Yet loved ones, that is what eternity is; it is an active, satisfying peace, where all our inner
desires are fully satisfied by the environment and the surroundings that we exist in. Part of that
is because our desires are no longer in conflict; they are at last at peace. Because I think you’ll
agree — one of the problems we have is that one moment our desire is one thing, one moment it’s
another; one moment we want peace and satisfaction and rest, and the next moment we want excitement
and stimulation and exhilaration.
It’s true that part of the satisfaction in eternity comes from the fact that our own inner desires
are at peace. For instance, in the paradise, and the word in the Greek is really “parkland” so in
the “parkland” of Eden that God first used as an environment for the first man and the first woman
that he ever made, in that parkland, Adam was at peace.
He loved God his Creator, and he wanted with all his heart to help him to complete the earth that he
had made, through developing and disciplining the natural resources in it, and his own natural
resources. So there was real peace in the valley, there was just great peace.
You know the way you have a relative or a dear friend, and they know you so well that they know what
you’re thinking without you having to tell them? Adam lived each day of his life in that kind of
intuitive closeness with God, so that the moment God decided some seeds should be planted, or some
trees should be pruned, or some iron ore should be mined, that same moment Adam knew it, and he
willingly did what he knew God wanted him to do. So he had a real sense of fulfillment in the
exercise of his own unforced will, and he had real peace as he did that.
Then loved ones, something happened to shatter that harmony. Adam hesitated — just for a second —
in his trust of God. The thought occurred to him, “What will happen after I finish this job? What
will happen to me? What will happen to me after this earth is completed?” He suddenly thought, “I’d
better provide for myself and my wife and my children for when that moment comes.” And at that
moment, his trust in God was shattered. At that very moment the peace disappeared from his heart.
He lost any sense of identity or direction in his life, and he began to preoccupy himself with
mining enough iron and silver and coal to make sure that his wife and his children were provided
Of course, that had real problems. For one thing, he could never mine enough silver or coal or
gather enough corn or enough oranges to secure his wife’s life and his children’s lives against
death. So all the time he was filled with great anger and frustration that it didn’t matter what he
did — here he was; he didn’t know why he was here, didn’t know what he was doing, it didn’t matter
what he did — he felt he couldn’t win.
Then there was another problem. Everybody else was at the same thing. Everybody else in the world
was doing the same thing, because there were other people in the world then. There were other sons
and daughters of His sons and daughters, and they began to populate the world. Everybody else was
at the same thing, so the world became like a great gold rush where everybody was trying to register
their claim to make sure they had enough of the world’s products.
Loved ones, the whole thing became a hell. In fact it’s described in the early chapters of the
Bible in Genesis 6:11-14: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with
violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way
upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth
is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an
ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.” And God in one
stroke wiped that whole spirit off the earth.
Then after about a year, he allowed the flood to subside — and God started again with Noah, and his
three sons and their wives, to populate the earth. But his sons and their wives were tainted with
the same kind of acquisitive desires and greed that Adam originally began to spread throughout the
family of mankind. So the urge to be violent, and to get your own way, and to destroy everybody in
order to obtain it was still inside men. God realized that unless he could change them radically,
the whole thing was going to come to an end again. So he did that great work in eternity. He put us
into his son Jesus, and he destroyed us, and he remade us new, and filled with unselfishness and
And then he gave men the opportunity to realize that, and enter into it by faith. But how on earth
are you going to keep them from slaughtering each other while they have a chance to realize what God
has done? That was the problem that the Father faced. How do you stop men and women destroying each
other, in order to give them enough time to realize that they could be changed by the thing that he
wrought in his son Jesus?
That’s when God established civil authority and political government in order to keep us from
destroying each other so that we, each one, would have a chance to be changed in Jesus. And that’s
when God established the death penalty. You might want to look at it, because you probably have not
been aware exactly where that started. It’s in Genesis 9:6. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man
shall his blood be shed.” So that’s when God established that. It’s actually the third of three
laws of nature, we’ve learned to call them down through the years, that God established then.
One of the things he did, for instance, was he separated the rotation of the earth from its mystical
connection with man’s relationship to God. Do you realize that he had to do that? At the beginning
we all had a mystical connection with the world of nature, so that when we rebelled against God and
did our own thing, the earth began to bring forth thorns and weeds, and earthquakes began to occur
because there was a mystical connection with you and me.
You and I were put here as the rulers of the earth, and we had a mystical, spiritual connection with
the natural world. So when we fell out of relationship with God, the world itself fell away. Now if
God had allowed that mystical connection to continue, then as we went up and down in our
relationship with him, so the world would have gone up and down. So he separated that.
He guaranteed, first of all, the rotation of the earth separate from what men and women did towards
him. After the flood he made this promise in Genesis 8:22: “While the earth remains, seedtime and
harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” In other words, he
determined, “I will give you a stable environment, independent of how you behave towards me.” And
then you realize that we had a mystical authority over the animals. I don’t know how many
pterodactyls there were in those days, but we had a mystical authority over them. We were able to
hold them back from killing us.
Now that was lost when we fell out of God’s fellowship. And he therefore had to replace that with
an authority of fear over the animals. So we once had the kind of relationship with them that St.
Francis supposedly had. That was lost when we rebelled against God so God replaced that, and this
was the second law of nature. It’s in Genesis 9:2, “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be
upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the
ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.”
That’s one of the reasons why the fish fly so fast from us, while we have to go to all those
complicated techniques to catch them. And it’s why all the birds and the animals and fish, on the
whole, are very naturally afraid of us. That’s a second law of nature that God built in to preserve
us, especially in our childhood, and mankind from being destroyed by the animals.
The third law of nature was this one that we just read, Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of
man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Loved ones, the fact that that is a law of nature, that it’s
built into us, just as really as fear of mankind is built into the birds, or just as really as the
rotation of the earth is a law of nature, this is a law of nature. And it’s evident, isn’t it?
Think of the hideous, unreal, situations that we have watched so often on television. You have all
the humanists and the religious people holding a vigil outside the prison or outside the governor’s
residence, trying to get reprieve for the convicted murderer. And you’ve got the convicted murderer
— it hasn’t been on every occasion, but it has been in an amazing number of occasions — you get
the convicted murderer pleading that he be executed and receive the just return for his crime. It’s
as if nature itself is crying out for the mercy of order and justice. It’s as if somehow the law of
nature is so operating in the dear guy that he feels, “There is some hope for me if I can be allowed
to bear the wrath of God. There is some hope for me.” It’s as if there’s something deep that is
crying out from inside the man.
Lenski, a Lutheran commentator, has put it this way. “Where the consciousness of God is still found
in a criminal, he will realize that the penalty inflicted on him by the state is God’s punishment
for his crime and sin; the evidence of God’s wrath.” In this statement there is an obvious belief
that death is no more the end for a murderer than it need be for us, if our hearts come into
repentance. Wherever consciousness of God is still found in a criminal, he will realize that the
penalty inflicted on him by the state is God’s punishment for his crime and sin — the evidence of
God’s wrath. For those of us who want to be kinder than God in this issue, and that’s often our
situation — we think, “Oh we’re being kinder than God”, (by fighting against the death penalty) God
wrote into the books of history a clear illustration of how redemption can be wrought as a man is
allowed to bear the just punishment for his crime. It’s a very famous instance and it’s in Luke
23:39 — it’s for those of us who tend to say, “Oh, it’s all right for you talking but when a man is
dead, he’s dead.” But there is more than physical life, loved ones.
Luke 23:39, “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him saying, ‘Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under
the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our
deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into
your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
Loved ones, it seems to parallel Schaeffer’s point. Those of you who have read Francis Schaeffer
will remember that he says that the old-fashioned method of justice whereby a man or a woman was
given a definite prison sentence that they could serve and pay their debt to society and then be
free and go out and get on with the rest of their life, was far more merciful than our present
practice of referring them to eternal institutionalization in psyche wards from which they can never
get free. In other words, that even in justice there is a power to redeem.
And loved ones, the responsibility of actually executing a human being who had murdered another
human being is given by God to the civil government, to the state, to the political authority and
you find that in Romans 13:4 and it’s the end of the verse that we’re studying today. “For he is
God’s servant for your good”, and then the middle of the verse runs, “But if you do wrong, be
afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the
The sword was denoted by the Greek word “makhaira”. It’s the short Roman sword that was used to
execute Roman citizens, so it’s not just a symbolic thing, but it actually refers to the actual
weapon that was used to execute Roman citizens. It’s the very sword that was used to execute Paul
himself, and yet even he, who suffered that execution, even he, in his defense before Festus said
you ought to bow to that if you justly deserve it. You find that in Acts 25:11, “If then I am a
wrong-doer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death;
but if there is nothing in these charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to
Cesar.” And it’s as if he, and all of them, realized that this death penalty, and the right to
execute justice in regard to all other crimes, is part of God’s common grace that he has given to
all of us in this world, to prevent us from destroying each other and therefore preventing each
other coming into any relationship to Jesus.
Now loved ones you can see then, that kindness for the individual and concern for the individual is
often quoted today as, “a reason for opposing the death penalty”, but do you see that it’s those
same motivations that are at the base of the activation and the practice of the death penalty and of
capital punishment? Except in this case, it’s concerned for the victims of the criminals that have
already been released. And if you read “The Wall Street Journal” or “New York Times” you see the
list of murders committed by dear guys who had been taken in for a murder and released on to the
So it’s concern and kindness for those individuals and then it’s concern and kindness for the many
guys and the many girls who will pick up the “Saturday Night Special” [a gun] and use it quickly
because there is absolutely nothing that deters them from doing that. So it’s kindness and concern
for them. And finally, its kindness and concern for a convicted murderer himself, who has something
inside his conscience that is crying out for the order and justice and the reward and the return for
his crime that God has built into his own heart, and that, if he responds to that, can still be used
to redeem him.
The truth is this. The reason for the capital punishment, or the reason for the death penalty, or
the reason for justice for all other crimes (which in a strange way, are built on that one, do you
realize that? When you give that one up, it’s just a short distance until justice disappears from
the earth completely) — but the reason loved ones, is greater than society’s needs.
And this is where I think we get outside the realm of politics completely. Why did God initiate the
death penalty? Look back to the time when he did it and you’ll see it. It’s Genesis 9:6, “Whoever
sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” In other words, whoever murders — because
that’s the distinction, whoever murders, just because of his own selfish will — “by man shall his
blood be shed.”
He will be executed judicially, and there’s all the world of difference between those two. One is a
selfish desire on your own part, the other is obedience to what God has set down, “Whoever sheds the
blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Why? “For God made man in his own image.” That’s
it. And when you destroy a human being, you destroy an image of God. You destroy a person who is
the only expression like that of God on the earth.
Each one of us is different and unique. We are a unique expression of God himself. And when you
destroy another human being, God says, “You destroy an expression of me that cannot be duplicated
and cannot be repeated on this earth. You destroy part of my own nature because in fact, my Spirit
is in that person.” So loved ones, when you cause that expression of God to cease to exist, you are
no longer dealing with human beings, you’re no longer dealing with society, you’re no longer dealing
with laws of this state and that state. You’re dealing with God himself. You’re putting yourself
against the very God of the universe. You’re undoing to his very face what he has done, and from
that moment on, you must deal with God. That’s why the death penalty has to be practiced. Because
you’ll notice in this verse in Romans, you’re expressing — not the wrath of the state — but it
says, “The state or the political authority is God’s servant to execute his wrath against the one
who does wrong,” that is God’s wrath.
In other words, it’s like what was said by Hamlet; “The very stones would weep.” It’s like Jesus
said, the very stones would cry out if you don’t cry out in order to prevent the earth splitting
apart, psychologically, spiritually, morally, and physically, at such an affront to reality as one
little human being destroying what the God-Creator has made. God’s wrath has to be expressed, it
has to be. In other words, God can endure much, but he cannot endure that. He cannot endure one
little man or one little woman wiping His face with his feet. He cannot. And so the reason for the
death penalty is because you’re beginning to tamper with the God-Creator himself, and with an image
of himself that he has lovingly made. You’re pitting yourself directly against him and you’re
Loved ones, if you wonder where we have got off so badly on this issue, the reason is the same as
what is destroying discipline in our own lives, in our homes, in our schools and in our legal and
commercial life. It is a self-deification by which we say that everything can be fixed. We think
everything can be fixed. There’s a good side to that, but when it comes into this realm where
you’re challenging God and saying, “It can be fixed; nothing is so bad that we cannot remedy it here
on this earth.” There’s no question it can be remedied in heaven, but our self-deification is
involved because we say, “There’s nothing so bad — sure murder in the old days — the person had to
be executed, but look, murderers can be redeemed here on this earth.”
God doesn’t challenge that they can be redeemed. He proves it by Jesus’ words to the thief on the
Cross. But what he does challenge is that you can’t redeem murder on this earth. And loved ones,
we’ve got off so badly because we’ve spread our pragmatism so far that we’re convincing each other
that even murder and the murderer can be helped and his crime can be remedied in some way other than
execution. That’s where we have begun to take over God’s place. Wherever we puny men and women are
beginning to take over God’s prerogative and use our silly little judgments to say, “Nothing is so
bad that it cannot be put right here on this earth” — the death penalty is us admitting our
humanism, and saying, “No, there are some things that you cannot remedy here on this earth. You
cannot thrust another human being off this earth and not endure the ultimate punishment for it.
Nobody has that right.”
Nobody here on this earth knows what you’re pushing another human being into, nobody knows. Even
those of us who have been out in space, we don’t know what’s beyond, and none of us have the right
to thrust another human being out of this earthly life, because we can’t tell what he is facing and
therefore we haven’t that right. We have to insist to our other brothers and sisters that if you do
that, then that must be done, judicially, to you. Because at death, your power as a human being
ceases and you move into another realm that is God’s realm, and you dare not touch that.
So loved ones, I know it may seem like hard words but there’s stability in it, there’s security in
it. There’s the final, moral authority that we so desperately need in our schools and our politics.
And you and I know our dear society is falling apart because there are no Martin Luthers left; there
are no men who will nail a thesis to the door and say, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” A few of
us will stand up and say, “This is wrong; this is an absolute.” Do you know that the psyche wards
would empty if we began to stand by even one of God’s absolutes? And see why he made it? He made
it, loved ones, to preserve our sanity and to give even a murderer a chance to be redeemed.
I would ask you not just to think about it, but to ask God yourself, in your own life, is there
anywhere you are deifying yourself — you’re making your own rules, and your own laws, and you’re
trying to prove that you have a way that’s better than God? Loved ones, if you are, you’re heading
towards futility and destruction of yourself.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we have no doubt of your love. When we look at these lakes and flowers, little birds
and rabbits, then we look at little babies and realize you have made them. And we look at smiles on
people’s faces and realize you made the smile, and laughter, and joking and fun. Lord, you even talk
about the great gathering of all of us together at the end of this life as a great marriage feast.
So Father, we have no doubt you are a happy God and you are a dear God and a loving God.
So Father we cannot doubt that. Lord, we bow before you not only in regard to this matter of
capital punishment — but in the matter of justice, and in this matter of seeing that there are
certain things in our own lives that cannot be remedied on this earth, and that there are certain
things that we dare not do, otherwise it will cost us life itself.
Father, we would bow before you and we know that if you have been so loving in so many other ways,
then even your wrath here must be part of your love to keep us on this side of sanity and this side
of the possibility of being redeemed and changed and saved in Jesus. So Father, we would not only
accept your judgment on this civil issue, but Lord we would begin to change our own lives and bring
back the old absolutes, and the old-fashioned principles which kept us sane, and kept us within your
dear reach and the reach of your Holy Spirit.
Lord, we do pray for men and women who may be in death row here in the nation. Lord, we ask
forgiveness for the pain and agony that we commit them to, to spend years in such a situation. And
Lord we pray for them now, that you will move in their dear hearts and convict them deeply of their
sin and enable us, as far as we are able, to continue to mirror to them the kind of God that you
are; just and stern, but loving and forgiving, whenever we repent. Lord we thank you for this day.
We thank you that there is stability in this universe. We thank you Father that you are there and
you will not move. We thank you for that, Lord. We thank you that we can depend upon you.
The grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each
one of us, now and evermore. Amen.