With the justifiable death of any great criminal (Genesis 9:6), under the authority of a recognized government (Romans 13:1), the Christian’s heart ought to rejoice in truth (1 Peter 2:14). We love justice, it is an innate and unalienable emotion that each of us possesses. Think back to the last time you said, "That's not fair!" Who was it not fair to? Our love of justice drives our life because we count ourselves far better than we ought.
It is then no surprise when mankind dances in the street over the death of a manifestly evil person. It is also not much to be faulted, if the celebration is done from a pure motive. After all, the Psalmist says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” (Psalm 58:10-11) I will certainly save my outright rejoicing for Judgment Day in order to ensure that I have interpreted that verse, and about a dozen like it, correctly.
Where this rejoicing goes askew is from the motive of human exaltation. When an enemy of peace is removed from the land of the living, it can be a very dangerous event spiritually because we have the tendency to see their death as proving our own goodness. Just like a natural disaster can convince survivors that they have the favor of God, so can the justice poured out on a single man as an example lead the survivor to see themselves as safe from the judgment of the Almighty (Luke 13:1-5).
One of my favorite contexts in the Bible is oft overlooked because we've become convinced that the Bible is a collection of verses and not of coherent thoughts. Take a moment today to read Romans 1:16 through to at least Romans 3:23. In this contextual progression we see that Paul describes in chapter 1 something we all already know, that those who do not worship God are evil and reprobate (fit to be thrown away). Many in the world who have some foundation in a Judeo/Christian worldview can, and do, look at those people, like Muslims, Animists, Evolutionists, and we can easily condemn them as enemies of righteousness. But the progression does not stop there, in chapter 2 Paul turns it towards the person who follows the living God, and he shows them to be as evil (even moreso possibly because of their rebellion in light of their knowledge of God) as anyone in chapter 1. And in chapter 3 he puts it all together, that there is not a single person alive who lives up to God's standards, we have all gone astray, our souls are the proclaimer and proliferation of death, and none of us fears God; indeed we have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
If, then, everyone is a rebel to good, and an active participant in destruction of creation, justice would mean a complete end to mankind. From here we must look to God as an example, for he declares, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live." (Ezekiel 18:32) A myriad of attributes of God are on display in this short sentence; his patience, kindness, forbearance, justice, grace, lovingkindness, and authority. Above all, we see that God desires for sin to cease, he has two ways of accomplishing his will; death or conversion. Clearly this passage points that the preferred way is through conversion, though equally as clear is that a very viable option is death.
Pause for a moment and contemplate one of the most radical verses in scripture, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15) Have you thought about it? On this day the Christian is loosed both from the power of sin, and the ability to sin; he has ceased sinning forever (1 Peter 4:1). Now pause on the death of a reprobate, they have stepped out of any measure of grace straight into the hand of an angry and living God, which is a terrifying thing which no man can stand (Hebrews 10:31, Psalm 7:11, Isaiah 33:14). This person too has ceased from sinning (1 Peter 4:1, Philippians 2:10-11), but there is no pleasure in God for this person (Psalm 5:4-6).
What then ought to be our response to such people while they still live, while salvation is still at hand (Acts 17:31)? The New Testament is filled with commands to go and take the gospel to them, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Christ's name, to immerse them in the saving power of the Holy Spirit, to turn them from the world to the Risen Christ, and to snatch them in pity from the flames, loathing both them and anything they've touched (Jude 23), but knowing that if they turn we have delivered a brother from death (James 5:20). It sounds hard. It is hard, we need an example. While we were yet sinning, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). While we were enemies (Colossians 1:21), usurpers (Psalm 58), destroyers (Romans 3:15-17, 6:23), Christ loved us and gave himself for us. It is a gospel worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Timothy 1:15). He is our perfect example. He has put away our sins.
What then should be our response? Should we turn from justice and forgive every wrong? By no means (against ourselves, yes (Matthew 5:38-41), against God and humanity, no (Romans 13:3-4)). In Psalm 69 it says we look at the cross and are glad. On that cross the justice of God was met perfectly; every sin we have ever or will ever commit was repaid in full by the Lord of Glory. In Psalm 85 it says that two radically different things met, kissed, each other on the cross, the wrath of God and the love of God. We are not saved from the justice of God, we're saved by the justice of God proving Christ to be both just and justifier, therefore we uphold the law, knowing that through Christ's perfect obedience we have received grace to stand in the presence of God as though we had lived the most perfect of upright lives. The Son of Man, the Son of God, was accursed and cut off from God for the sake of his brothers, crushed for our iniquities, and raised for our justification.
What then shall we do? Perfect saints in Heaven have given us an excellent example, they pray, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10) We see that the perfected saint has the mind of Christ, just as we have here on earth, though not perfectly; the saint in Heaven desires justice and for sin to cease. We ought to be praying likewise, that God would be hastening the day of justice, when sin will cease, and that prior to that that he would be saving many from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
While we have different spiritual fathers, all of mankind has a single lineage to the man Adam. We are, in the most literal of senses, all relatives, kinsmen, according to the flesh. We may be able to trace this to different lines, lineages, and differentiate ourselves into ethnicities, for I am Saxon/Nordic, Paul was an Israelite, Osama Bin Laden was an Ishmaelite, but we are all in the lineage of Adam. So then, let us have the mind of Paul, imitating him as he was of Christ, as he stated, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:3) Let us have such compassion on the perishing that they would be earnestly compelled to turn to Christ and live. Charles Spurgeon put it this way, "If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for."
But when God’s patience runs out, when he puts an end to a sinner, not through conversion, but through crushing, we rejoice that there is indeed a God who judges on earth, a God who will not contend with men forever, a God who loves righteousness and hates wickedness. While someone lives under the wrath of God, we pray, we love, we hope for their conversion, but as soon as they fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31, Deuteronomy 32:39), they step out of hope, and we praise the One who saved us from so great a condemnation, and bless his name for preparing such vessels of wrath so that the riches of his glory and grace are made known to his vessels of grace (Romans 9:22-23).
Apart from the love of God, each of us would glorify God only through his justice, but by the amazing grace of the Just and the Justifier, we glorify God through the justice that was poured out on Calvary’s cross for our sins, and for the grace that abounds in the love of the Righteous and Resurrected Saviour. He has proved beyond a doubt that he is the Only God, the Only Living Saviour, and the Perfect Judge, there is no other;
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly.
For the LORD will vindicate his people
and have compassion on his servants,
Then he will say, ‘Where are their gods,
the rock in which they took refuge?’ – Deuteronomy 32:35-37