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Lex Talionis and Easter 4

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was split in two from top to bottom.  Matthew 27: 50


Lex Talionis – the law of just retribution - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – let the punishment fit the crime. It dates back to around BC 1300 and was part of the mandate of laws given by Almighty God through Moses (along with the Ten Commandments) to the descendants of Israel when they were about to enter the Promised Land.


In particular it applied to murder – the death penalty - a life for a life. Whatever our personal views towards this today (influenced as we are by many doubts about our ability to reach a correct verdict in the first place) the death penalty remained in Jersey until 2006. In that year the final vestige (the death penalty in the time of war or of an imminent threat of war) was removed from Jersey law.


But let’s go back to AD 33 Jerusalem when the death penalty applied, in particular, in respect of treason against the Roman Empire. Jesus was wrongly convicted of that crime – through false witnesses. Political expediency on the part of the judge came into it as well – so, yes, present doubts about humankind’s ability to judge rightly also have a good basis in history.


Almighty God’s prescription of Lex Talionis remained in Jerusalem in AD 33. After Jesus’ death justice demanded that death be applied to the false witnesses, to the insecure and pragmatic judge, maybe too to the centurion (who was no doubt “merely” obeying orders).......  


How many should die? The Sanhedrin – Jerusalem’s ruling Council – had unanimously decided that Jesus was worthy of death and had, through a Committee that included its Chairman, presented the case to Pilate who alone could actually order the death penalty.


Put another way, many people should now forcibly have their breath knocked out of them. Breath is invisible but essential. The first century Greek word for “breath” was pneuma, the origin of our “pneumatic”.


Look then at the original Greek of the words in bold above. Then Jesus cried again with a loud [mega] voice [phone] and yielded up [aphiemi = separated from] his spirit [pneuma = breath].


This death thing isn’t easy. That’s why we avoid it.


Under Lex Talionis should the Sanhedrin members now, straight away, have their breath, their spirit, their pneuma, their life, taken away? Yes.


But wait one moment. Because the one who died had come into the world to show what God his Father was really like, we can see Lex Talionis here in an altogether more marvellous way.


Members of the Sanhedrin and the Roman judge must give up their breath. But this Jesus has given up his breath. What if that breath of Jesus could pay the breath demanded under Lex Talionis from the “envious-of-Jesus” Sanhedrin members, from the “jobsworth” Roman judge and hierarchy.


See bold above. At that very moment the curtain of the temple was split in two from the top to the bottom. At that very moment Almighty God opened access back to Him through the forgiveness that Jesus died to provide. This forgiveness was for those who took his breath away. Only he, who yielded up his breath to their sin, could forgive them – all of them - freely, when they U-turned to him.


Matthew records, a few sentences later, that several U-turned in that way. One was the centurion who carried out the order to execute Jesus. Within moments of the last breath he said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Another was a Sanhedrin member, Joseph a rich man from Arimathea, who a few hours later buried Jesus’ breathless body in his own new tomb. And a group – a group of women.....


But there’s more. Jesus rose to new life, never to die again. The new pneuma, the new spirit of life within, was (is) one that death cannot touch – Jesus is alive. Doesn’t it take your breath away....
This is Forgiveness+.
For whom?
‘To me there is nothing more fatuous about mankind than the statement that to think about death is morbid. The person who refuses to face facts is a fool.’ (D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Minister, 1899 - 1981).
 ‘The only real answer to death is life.’ (Derek Prime, Pastor and preacher).
Richard Syvret

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