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God wants to transform our mess [Crime & Punishment – Deuteronomy 21, part 5]

18 Jan
Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

From our murder mystery in part 1, into the bizarre dead body ritual of part 2 and part 3, and through the messiness of crime in part 4, what have we learned about God’s heart through the teaching of Deuteronomy 21 about crime and punishment?  God is serious about the purity of the land, and the purity of his people.  Because he is so passionate about purity, of course his heart beats for justice.  Even if the perpetrator of the crime is not discovered, as we saw in this passage, there is still a process for justice and atonement.  God’s justice and purity, therefore, are interrelated.  When impurity has occurred, he not only wants impurity to stop, but he also wants to bring justice to the situation. 

So how do we Christians apply these principles of purity and justice to our lives?

First, remember that this is not our covenant!  We are not the Old Testament nation of Israel, and thus we are not bound by their covenant.  Christians don’t have observe ancient Israelite rituals for handling dead bodies.  We don’t stone disobedient kids.  We are the church of Jesus, and we are bound by his New Covenant, which is the teaching of the New Testament.  What we can do with this Old Testament teaching is focus on those underlying principles of purity and justice. 

Let’s take a look at justice first. Christians should be actively pursuing a just society.  Justice in society touches many more issues than we can discuss in this one post.  Since Deuteronomy 21 is about crime and punishment, let’s talk briefly about crime and justice.  Crime is unacceptable in a just society, and it needs to be dealt with.  Right out of college I worked on staff for three years at what was then called Barnes Hall, Lancaster County’s Juvenile Detention Center.  During those years I got to have an up-close and personal view of the justice system, particularly the juvenile justice system.  We saw kids go to a variety of placement and treatment centers, including some who went to jail.  I was shocked to learn that almost nothing helped most kids.  80% would come back, eventually committing more crimes. 

I did some research this week on adults and prison, and here in Lancaster County, PA, 4 out 10 will return to prison in the first year after their release.  Thankfully, Lancaster has some very successful re-entry programs for people coming out of jail.  In the town of Leola, for example, the Potter’s House is a transitional discipleship ministry for former convicts.  Potter’s House and other similar organizations in the county have proven effective, dropping the recidivism rate to 15% for those who successfully complete their programs.  Lancaster’s model is so successful it has caught the eye of counties state-wide, including the city of Philadelphia.  It is amazing to see Christians actively involved in providing alternatives to crime and punishment.  This is right in line with God’s heart for justice.

But Deuteronomy 21 also reminds us about God’s heart for purity. There are many places in the New Testament that affirm that Christians should pursue holiness and purity. I am not saying that unless we are perfect all the time, something is drastically wrong with us.  We must remember that Christ is our atonement.  His birth, life, death and resurrection is the work of making things right.  Jesus defeated sin and death and the devil, and thus he set us free to pursue holiness. 

This is what Paul teaches in Romans 5 and 6. I encourage you to read that this week.  Paul says what Jesus did out of love for us is amazing.  God’s grace in our lives is wonderful.  God’s grace has come to us in the person and work of Jesus, and that has set us free to pursue righteousness!  In other words, disciples of Jesus do not abuse God’s grace, but we seek to purge the evil from among us.

So many people have experienced this transformation.  I recently heard the story of Carla Faye Tucker who was transformed from a killer on death row to an imprisoned preacher.  I also encourage you to read the Testimony articles at end of each issue of Christianity Today.  These are stories of God at work changing lives.  Finally, ask yourself: What impurity is there in your life?  What do you need to remove and deal with?  What will it look like for you to pursue God and his holiness?