By Andrew Laird

Death: no going back

Andrew Chan letter
Three days before his execution Andrew Chan wrote this letter to his nephew Kai, the eight-month-old son of his sister Mary

All eyes in Australia have been on Indonesia over the past few days, many watching with horror, as Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have been executed. Whatever the rightfulness of what has taken place, in such times it is always right to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).

It is also worth reflecting in this time of weeping on a truth about which all sides of the argument agree: with death, there is no going back.

It is the haunting finality of death that all sides of this discussion will not dispute. Death is the end. Which is why some are so opposed to capital punishment. Capital punishment is final and cannot be repealed once it has been done. Many of us know the reality of final goodbyes, the last look back into the room of a loved one who is dying, the finality of a coffin lowered into a grave. No one disputes this. With death there is no return.

Two thousand years ago another man faced capital punishment. A man who in the face of death said, "I'm not turning back". As Jesus of Nazareth stood in the Garden of Gethsemane in the days leading up to his death it is recorded that he said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matthew 26:38). The finality of death was weighing heavy. But He went on to say, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39).

These were the words of a man facing capital punishment. The stark reality of death was before Him. And yet in the face of death He says, I'm not going back from it. I'm going into it.

Why this determination to go towards His death? Why no turning back? For one reason, and one reason alone. Jesus knew that His death would open the way to us escaping the finality of death. Because it would be a death for you and me.

Ultimately we are all facing death. Unlike Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran we are just less sure of when. Yet there is a way of escaping the finality of death: if another stands in the place of condemnation, taking the final penalty of death for us, and in its place offers life.

And there is one who claims to have done that – Jesus.

"I stand for mercy" has been the catch-cry of those opposed to the death penalty in the past few weeks. In Jesus, God extends mercy. Death is no longer the end - there is now hope beyond the grave.

It is reported that in the months and years leading up to their executions Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran got to know this man Jesus, who like them, faced capital punishment. It is reported that they put their trust in Him. Indeed as I was watching the news last night it was reported that some of Andrew Chan's last words to his supporters were Matthew 10:28, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell".

The fact of their conversion does not make the haunting reality of their executions any less real. It does not take away the incredible pain and sadness that their families are experiencing right now. It does not quell the horror that many Australians feel today at the manner in which they were killed.

Yet what it does mean is that if that is the case, this death was not the end for them. There was hope beyond the grave. And if Jesus is right, then death does not need to be the end for us either.

If we know Jesus there is hope beyond the grave for us too.

This shortened article was first published on City Bible Forum Melbourne blog

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