By Matt Recker
The Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been found guilty of thirty counts against him of which seventeen are punishable by death according to federal law. The guilty verdict declares Tsarnaev responsible for the death of three people as well as a police officer who was killed during Tsarnaev’s attempt to flee from his crime on April 15, 2013. 260 others were injured that day from the exploding shrapnel near the finish line of the marathon.
The guilty verdict is not surprising as Tsarnaev’s lawyer even confessed his client’s participation in the bombing and all the carnage that resulted. The next phase of the trial, however, is anything but a foregone conclusion. The big question that now looms is simply, will Tsarnaev die for his atrocities? Will these same twelve jurors now unanimously agree that he should suffer the death penalty for his actions? If Tsarnaev is going to die for his heinous acts, the jurors must be unanimous. Although the state of Massachusetts outlawed the death penalty in 1984, this case is being tried in a federal court which does allow death for such crimes. So now a new trial begins as the jury must decide Tsarnaev’s fate.
Many social architects in our nation vehemently reject the death penalty. They argue that the death penalty is not a true deterrent to crime, that it is often unjustly applied, and that murderers should be cured and not killed. Others argue that Jesus Himself revoked capital punishment when He said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). Jesus however was not nullifying the death penalty but exposing the hypocritical motive of those who brought this woman to Him. Jesus also was not in the position as a ruler or governing official to adjudicate this proceeding.
God authorized capital punishment upon earth after the days of the world-wide flood for the overall good of human society. The flood was God’s death penalty upon a world wholly corrupt before our holy God. God Himself told Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen.9:6). This command predates the Mosaic Law and it was given to uphold the dignity and value of every human life. The death penalty often led to a more peaceful society such as when Athaliah the murderous queen was put to death for destroying any threat to her power. “And all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was in quiet: and they slew Athaliah with the sword beside the king’s house” (2 Kings 11:20). Governmental powers are “ordained of God” and do bear a sword “to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:4). This includes a government’s right to wage war as well as to punish those who have done the ultimate evil of murder. The Apostle Paul when being charged with a crime said, “If I be an offender, or have committed anything thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die” (Acts 25:11). Paul agrees that some crimes are indeed worthy of a death penalty.
The ultimate death penalty was born by the Lord Jesus Christ who Himself died for the sins of the world. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This much is certain: all of us are under the penalty of death because of our sin against God. Christ’s substitutionary death reminds us that God agrees with the death penalty, for the Lord Jesus Christ in mercy died for our sin, that we might be forgiven, have the righteousness of God imputed to us, and receive eternal salvation. Thank God that Jesus Christ “came into the world to save sinners” and show mercy to all who “believe on Him to life everlasting” (1 Timothy 2:15,16).
Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.