AN EXAMPLE FOR CRIMINALS TO FEAR
There is an idea that many fear: to be made an example out of when we have done wrong. This is to receive a particular kind of punishment that often is severe and unrelenting so that other potential law breakers can see what happened to you and resolve to not follow the same course. For example, say you were caught cheating on a test, but beyond punishing you, your teacher wanted to make an example out of you in order to scare straight the potential cheaters of the future, instead of giving you a zero on the test, he may do something much more severe such as dropping you from the class, suspending you or even appealing that you be expelled. Upon seeing what happened to you, others would be more inclined to avoid cheating given what happened to you for you have been made an example of.
This idea is not new to teachers in today’s age, but has been an important strategy for all authorities in restraining people from doing wrong. In fact, the Roman cross, of the kind that Jesus was crucified on, was meant to be an example maker to the criminals of the ancient world. The cross was designed to be public, gruesome, violent, painful and to take a very long time in killing its victims. In this way, people were daily exposed to the reality and severity of punishment for criminals. The cross was made to make examples of criminals and reveal that Rome will punish with power.
However, although being made an example of often is thought of in terms of punishment and pain, it can be used to the contrary…
AN EXAMPLE FOR CRIMINALS TO CHERISH
Who can think of a greater sinner than Paul (who was called Saul before He was saved, but I will refer to him as Paul for clarity)? Saul cursed God and His people, mocked the cross of Jesus, and even made it his goal to put believers behind bars and to death. No doubt, Paul was one who approved of Jesus’ own crucifixion, who thought about it with glee, but he thought too that all of Christ’s followers should suffer the same fate. For Paul, it was not enough that Christ suffered and died, but His followers must as well.
However, to this man grace was offered and applied (see Acts 9). Why? The reasons are infinite, however I’ll highlight one. Jesus saved Paul so He could show the world how great his patience is; extending even to those who deeply hate Him and His people. When we ask Paul, “Why did Jesus show you mercy?” His answer is…
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16
In other words, Jesus made an example out of Paul. Not in the way of punishment, but in the way of grace. An example to criminals everywhere of the unspeakable grace of the King. Jesus saved Paul so the world may have proof of His great patience and willingness to forgive even the worst of sinners.
What does the world see in the example Christ made out of Paul? In Paul’s salvation, the world witnesses God’s grace to the worst of sinners. The sinners with Christian blood on their hands. In Paul, the world puts it’s hand over it’s mouth and looks on with awe that God, “Would give His only Son, To make a wretch His treasure.” In Paul, the hungriest men see Christ with food in hand, the guiltiest men see Christ willing to pardon and justify, the men who are furthest from God’s house hear Christ say, “I have prepared a place for you in my home.” In Paul, the riches of Jesus’ grace are displayed and the depths of love are revealed. Through giving Paul grace, Jesus speaks clearly to a guilty world, “I freely all forgive.”
The Roman cross was an example to criminals of the punishment that awaits them if they decide to continue in their crimes. The salvation of Paul was (and still is) an example to criminals of the grace that awaits them if they decide to repent and turn to Christ. One is an example of punishment, the other is an example of patient and powerful love. One tells you stop. The other beckons you come. One cries, “Death awaits,” the other proclaims, “Love is here.”