#Jesusstoodformercy: reflections on the death penalty and the #Bali9

The collective grief of many Australians has poured itself out in barrels of ink and millions upon millions of flickering pixels today. What is one more post in this ocean of emotion?

I did almost everything I could to try to emotionally isolate myself from the fate of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran, and the other seven people who were due to face the firing squad last night. I know enough about their case to know that I know very little about Indonesia, its politics, its laws, its culture, its courts. I know very little about the scourge of drugs on Indonesian society and the associated loss of life. I know enough about what I don’t know to know that while I was moved by the lengths Australia’s politicians went to to orchestrate a bi-partisan approach to lobbying for the release of our citizens, I had no idea if enough was being done (but I’m certainly sure I have about as much an idea as the band of indignant celebrities who got together to shame our politicians at the 11th hour). I know that the combined efforts of Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek were inspiring, as were Malcolm Turnbull’s words on Q&A. These were inspiring words.

“It is not a sign of weakness to spare the lives of these men. Yes, they have committed very terrible crimes and, yes, they knew that the death penalty was there if they were caught and found guilty. But it is not weak to spare their lives. It is a sign of the strongest love, the greatest mercy, when you extend it to those who least deserve it. That is a sign of strength. President Jokowi can be so strong, so strong that he does not have to take the lives of two men but to give them life to continue to rehabilitate, to repent for the rest of their days.” — Malcolm Turnbull

But they weren’t enough.

Not nearly enough.

There aren’t many words that are enough to overturn a death sentence. Or to end the grief many are feeling in the wake of this, and other, tragedies.

I tried to isolate myself until about midnight last night. My son woke up. Crying. I tried to settle him. I turned on my phone wondering if mercy had triumphed over justice. It had not. The execution was scheduled for 3am. So I prayed. Fervently. I woke again at 3:30 and learned that shots had rung out, and these men, plus six other people, were dead. One condemned woman was spared. We should be thankful for such small mercies.

There aren’t many words that can undo the grief associated with death like this. Just three.

“It is finished.”

The words Jesus uttered as he hung on a cross. Experiencing the injustice of the death penalty, an unjust penalty for the one truly innocent life. Words that marked the end of his loving stand. He stood for us. He stood for mercy. And if reports are correct – he stood for many, if not all, of those who were executed in Indonesia last night. A striking contrast to the approach to power and might on display as Indonesia’s armed forces tied these guilty ones to crosses and fired bullets at them.

Jesus stood for mercy.

I was reluctant to write about these executions at all. It seems, on one level, like opportunism at its worst to capitalise on this tragedy to advance the faith that brought such comfort to the afflicted. But having read a text message exchange between Andrew Chan and Australian pastor Brian Houston, I suspect this sort of contribution and discussion is exactly what he would have wished for.

“It is not easy to love our enemies and those who persecute us. But what good is a testimony without the test in it” —Andrew Chan, text message

“It is finished”

With these three words of Jesus, death lost its sting for Andrew Chan and those with him who shared his faith in Jesus.

I wasn’t going to write anything about these executions until I read the media coverage of the last moments, in this life, for these eight people. Their courage in the face of death. Their clinging to hope. This is a testimony to the truth that death does not represent the last moments of life for those who trust in Jesus, but the beginning.

In the still night air of Nusakambangan island, condemned prisoners sang Amazing Grace just after midnight. They also sang Bless the Lord O My Soul before their song was cut off by the crack of gunfire.

Pastor Karina de Vega said the voices of all eight members of the group cut through the air.

“They were praising their God,” Pastor de Vega said.

“It was breathtaking. This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God.”

Here are some of the words from those songs. Here is the final testimony of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and the others killed alongside them.

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore — Bless The Lord O My Soul

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace. — Amazing Grace

They don’t have the last word on death. Jesus does.

“It is finished.”

It is finished because Jesus stood for mercy. He stood for justice – taking the death penalty each of us deserves. Giving us a second chance, even a millionth chance, at redemption. He stood for Andrew Chan, and he’ll stand for you. That’s Andrew Chan’s testimony, that’s what the manner of his death testifies. That’s what it seems he hoped his death would mean for those of us looking on in despair.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.