When two New York City police officers were ambushed and killed in January, thousands of officers, standing shoulder to shoulder, gathered solemnly to honor their fallen comrades.
Downtown Manhattan was a sea of blue, as police cars stretched for miles. Officers from across the nation as well as several foreign countries joined in the moving scenes outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The widow of Detective Jason Rivera wept as she spoke of her husband. He was 22, and they had been married only three months. But she also clearly called out the district attorney of New York City, whose leftist policies have put first responders at terrible risk from repeat violent offenders.
Officer Wilbert Mora’s sister, Karina Mora, also spoke and asked: “How many more officers will have to lose their lives for this system to change?”
Sadly, in cities across America, crime rates have soared due to liberal prosecutors’ misguided policies on issues such as bail reform and defunding the police.
Violent criminals are allowed back on the streets—sometimes as quickly as a day after their arrest—many of whom commit yet more crimes and continue to harm and threaten innocent people. Unbelievably, some in our justice system now bestow more rights to criminals than to their victims.
What has happened in our country, that rising crime is now one of the top concerns of citizens and voters? It’s even a bigger concern than the COVID-19 pandemic, according to one poll.
I believe the fundamental cause of this problem—which I thought I would never see—is the absurd notion that crime and criminals don’t deserve to be justly punished. The foundation of our justice system has always been punishment that fits the crime, but apparently it is now turning into crime and no punishment.
Leading this charge in cities such as Portland, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are delusional, progressive officials who believe that every criminal will be magically reformed and rehabilitated if only given the chance. Even death row at the infamous San Quentin prison in California is being dismantled as the far-left governor, Gavin Newsom, takes steps to turn that section into a “positive, healing environment.”
In the 13th chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul lays down the primary premise of civil government. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. … If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (verses 3-4).
Government is ordained by God to “punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14).
For centuries, the moral code for our justice system has relied on the fundamental concept of punishing transgressors of the law. Obey the law, and you have nothing to worry about. Disobey the law, and you will receive the bitter fruit of your disobedience. Any attempt to change that equation will ultimately result in the kind of chaos we are witnessing now. Criminals who no longer fear proper punishment will simply continue to commit yet more offenses.
Because evil lurks in the hearts of men. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV). “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11, NKJV).
God’s justice and holiness demand that evil be punished, not just here and now but in the eternal state as well. Upon His glorious return, our Lord Jesus Christ will mete out judgment for those who have refused His gracious offer of salvation and instead lived as rebels on earth. For such people, the Lord will come “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
But if this is true, and it is, what about those who have turned to Christ in faith and repentance from sin? Since God is just, does He punish even the sins of believers, since we all sin every day?
Well, here is the incredibly good news of the Gospel: Christ has suffered for our sins once for all on the cross at Calvary. In our stead and in our place, Jesus undertook the punishment for sin that we so clearly deserve. The Father who sent His Son to rescue us from sin poured out His wrath on the Savior so that we might be forgiven. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
In God’s mercy for sin-stained humanity, His justice was executed upon His one and only Son at the cross. The punishment for our sins was completed, so that we who believe on His Name might no longer be condemned. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
This is the cornerstone of the Gospel.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
In the words of 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon: “Wonder ye heavens! Be astonished O earth! That very justice which stood in the sinner’s way and prevented his being pardoned, has been by the gospel of Christ appeased; by the rich atonement offered upon Calvary, justice is satisfied, has sheathed its sword, and has now not a word to say against the pardon of the penitent. Nay, more, that justice once so angry, whose brow was lightning, and whose voice was thunder, has now become the sinner’s advocate, and itself with its mighty voice pleads with God, that whosoever confesses his sin should be pardoned and be cleansed from all unrighteousness.”
Thanks be to God, who delivers us from the wrath to come!
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. The Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Above: A mourner holds a photo of fallen officer Jason Rivera on Jan. 28, the day of Rivera’s funeral.
Photo: John Lamparski/ZumaPress/Newscom