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The Gospel Is for Murderers

broken world

If you live in the Baltimore area, you know by now of the tragic violence that erupted in Perry Hall on Monday afternoon. Four high school students, a burglarized home, and a young female police officer named Amy Caprio senselessly struck down, her life unjustly taken from her.

And by now you’ve probably seen the Facebook rants: angry citizens cursing the young men responsible for the officer’s death, insisting on harsh retaliation, often including racial slurs and uncharitable generalizations. I won’t lie; it can be tempting to enter the Social Media Warpath. Sometimes venting your fear, anger, frustration, and sense of justice – all with the world listening in – can be cathartic. 

But I don’t think such rants make great Facebook posts (and not just because the grammar and punctuation are usually terrible). I think, actually, that they represent some uncareful thinking, and, quite honestly, just a lack of perspective. So if you’ll allow me, I’d like to share three suggestions, three ideas to consider, before you post your opinion for the social media world to see.

1. Don’t Be Surprised

The four boys who committed these terrible crimes – burglarizing a home and murdering a police officer – have broken more than the laws of the United States; they have violated the eternal decrees of a holy God. This is infinitely more severe, with unspeakably dreadful consequences.

We should grieve this, but we should not be shocked by it. This act of violence is not out of character with our broken world, or with fallen humanity. Ever since Adam decided to disbelieve God and seek control for himself, human beings have been violating God’s commands without rest. All humanity is fallen, stained by sin, and bears the very same guilt. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18).

Senseless acts of violence like this, heartbreaking and unsettling as they are (especially when they happen in our own backyard), are not surprising. This is life in a fallen world.

2. Don’t Believe You’re Better 

The social media warriors demanding severe consequences for the young men guilty of these crimes, and decrying their wicked actions with strong language and profound disdain, clearly value justice. In one sense, their outrage is justified; the anger that stems from concern for the goodness of God’s law, and disgust over seeing it trampled upon, is a righteous anger. However, they seem to forget an important truth: They’re sinners, too.

Don’t fall victim to the classic trap of comparison. “Well, I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not robbing houses and killing people!” We comfort ourselves with thoughts like these, duping ourselves into thinking that we’re better than those who commit such heinous deeds. But the Bible tells us that even if a person kept God’s entire Law, and failed at only one point, he would still be guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10)! Therefore, the very same consequences of human rebellion against God earned by the most serious of sins (such as the unjust taking of human life), belong to every one of us. I haven’t killed anyone, but I have cursed people in my heart.

Remember the standard of Jesus? “You have heard that it was said, “Whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22). He takes the outward code of God’s command (“You shall not murder”) and drives it with piercing force into the realm of our inward feelings and desires: Hateful anger toward another human being earns the very same penalty as murder. I recently heard Andy Johnson, a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, say, “Sometimes the only gulf between our anger and murder is opportunity.” We’re sinners, too, just as guilty before a holy Judge as the four young men who struck down Officer Caprio. It’s difficult to look too far down your nose at someone else’s sin when you keep in view the darkness that lurks in your own heart.

3. Don’t Forget the Cross

Against the pitch-black backdrop of human sin and the brokenness of our fallen world, the gospel of Jesus Christ shines like a brilliant diamond. He knew the depths of our sin, the vastness of our offense against God, and the desperate reality of eternal judgment we had secured for ourselves – and he entered our brokenness. Indeed, he took that brokenness upon himself by becoming a man, and he carried our brokenness with him all the way to a criminal’s cross outside Jerusalem, where he hung for lawbreakers and rebels. For us.

When you zoom out enough to get the cross of Christ into the frame, suddenly the image provides some helpful perspective. Suddenly the sins of others don’t occupy the foreground. No sin at all occupies the foreground. In fact, we’re not in the foreground at all, but in the periphery somewhere. At the center of the frame is a crucified Christ, bearing in his body the penalty for sins – whether murder by hand or in heart – and shining forth the love and justice of God. The cross is big enough even for Amy Caprio’s killers. If they would recognize their sin, their need for a Savior, and would turn to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance, the same grace that has rescued murderers at heart (like me) would reach them as well. As Christians, I believe we should pray for that very thing.

So what about you? Do you recognize that your rightful place in the divine courtroom is right alongside these young men, and every murderer in history? Have you confessed your sin to God, believed upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and invited him to rescue you from sin and make you new? The Bible assures us, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Believing the gospel is the only thing that gives stories like the one that unfolded in Perry Hall this week any hope. It’s a hope worth believing in. A hope worth sharing.

And it makes a way better Facebook post.