Donald Henry Gaskins had been beaten and neglected as a child and had been in and out of court to face several burglary, sexual and physical assault charges throughout his life. Then he graduated to raping a twelve year old girl and killing at least 8 people. On September 6, 1991 he was executed by electric chair in South Carolina.
On March 1, 1932 Richard Hauptmann snuck into the bedroom of a 20 month old infant and kidnapped him. He left a note to the boy’s famous and wealthy father, Charles Lindbergh, demanding $50,000 for the return of the child. The money was delivered but the baby was never returned. A couple of weeks later the infant’s lifeless body was found in a nearby field, apparently dead from a blow to the head.
Richard Hauptmann was later arrested and charged with the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby boy. Court proceedings for Hauptmann were called the “Trial of the Century” due to the heinous nature of the crime. Hauptmann was dubbed by the press as the “most hated man in the world.” On April 3, 1936, Hauptmann was strapped into the New Jersey State Prison electric chair (dubbed “Old Smokey”) and executed.
Ted Bundy confessed to at least 30 murders across seven states in the U.S. during the 1970’s. His crimes were so horrendous that they redefined the notion of human depravity. Bundy not only killed his victims but often engaged in sex acts with them post mortem.
He even decapitated several victims and kept their heads as souvenirs. This degree of vicious perversion is usually not even found in horror cinema.
Bundy escaped while on trial in Colorado. He was recaptured in Florida some time later after committing more murders in a college dorm room. His trial and sentencing led to his January 24, 1989 execution in the electric chair.
All of these criminals were executed by electrocution. There is nothing glamorous about the electric chair. No one boasts about a family member that was put through this procedure. As we can see, the unsavory characters that are put through this type of death penalty are not beloved members of human society. Often their crimes are so dreadful that it is sickening to contemplate.
This is where Easter can come into a new focus. Easily the most beloved and revered figure in all of history, Jesus Christ is a man who was, like the murderers mentioned above, killed by a state execution. Yet even the dreadful criminals in our modern times received better treatment than Him. The method by which Jesus was killed was even more gruesome and obscene than the electric chair. He died a death more loathsome than Ted Bundy’s.
Today the Christian cross is a classic symbol of righteous triumph. Yet during Jesus’ generation it was a grotesquely slow and painful method of execution that was reserved for the bottom of the barrel criminals. In comparison the electric chair is a sanitary and dignified death penalty. Crucifixion on the other hand took several days of slow suffocation in which the criminal was exposed in public — often in the nude — and could be jeered at, spat upon and continually mocked until death overtook him due to kidney or heart failure. It was so depraved that Roman citizens were forbidden to be crucified, no matter their crimes.
Perhaps it is easier now to understand the shock of Peter and the disciples when Christ told them that He had to die by crucifixion. Imagine our disgust at having our beloved mentor be put through the same treatment as the 3 criminals mentioned at the beginning of this post. Imagine early Christians using the symbol of the electric chair to happily remember their Teacher. And now, imagine the likeness of electric chairs on every church roof throughout history, or millions of necklaces with electric chair pendants around the necks of grandmothers, fathers, pastors and people attending church.
What a strange and gruesome thought. Yet the cross is much more grotesque and unsophisticated. The only reason the symbol of the cross is palatable to Christians is that it is not the end of the story. No fan of John F Kennedy commemorates him by wearing a rifle necklace. Nor do friends, family and admirers celebrate the day Harvey Oswald shot him (Nov. 22, 1963). Yet the day of Christ’s execution is labelled “Good Friday” and Easter weekend is the single most important Christian holiday.
Absolutely none of this makes sense without the Resurrection.
The Resurrection makes the cross a symbol of the death of death itself. The victory of Life over death. No longer is even as gruesome an execution as crucifixion able to overshadow the size, brightness and power of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The conquering of the grave has inoculated crucifixion and turned the day of Christ’s execution into a Good day. On that day our death and judgment was cancelled.
Praise God for that. Take a moment to really thank Him.