On Tuesday, June 27, 2006 a man was executed in Texas. His name was Angel Maturino Resendez, and in July 1999 at the age of 39, years he was arrested after a 2 year manhunt. He was known as “The Railroad Killer” since this illegal alien from Mexico used the railways to travel the United States.
Resendez was guilty of murder and had killed 9 people and was suspected of killing as many as 6 others in Texas and other states. In Texas, this means he earned the death penalty and Tuesday night that was carried out as the penalty for the rape and murder of a doctor.
As you read this man’s last words I want to stress that I believe that he was guilty and that the death penalty was appropriate. I do not quote them to imply that I think he should be glorified for these words; I have a different point to make.
His last words, in Spanish, included a prayer: “Lord, forgive me. Lord, forgive me.” and a statement directed at the relatives of victims who witnessed his death: “I want to ask if it is in your heart to forgive me. You don’t have to. I know I allowed the devil to rule my life.”
I write this because in the Spring of 2001 I was on Death Row in Texas ministering with a national prison ministry and stood behind two other men who were more fluent in Spanish than I am, as they led Resendez in a prayer to receive Jesus as his Lord.
I watched it happen. I heard it happen and I witnessed his tears. I heard the men who led him to Jesus tell of how he owned up to the sins that landed him on Death Row.
I write this because during 10 years of prison and jail ministry I often heard people express doubt about the validity of the ministry and judge born again prisoners based on their past sins (crimes.)
As I thought and prayed about this email I came to the conclusion that there would be several responses to his story and, in particular, his last words.
First, those who are lost will most likely scoff at his prayer and his words to the families of the victims. Nothing of salvation makes sense to lost people.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18a)
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Next are Christians who understand that when we are saved…when all of us are saved we are completely new creations. We understand that although the old creation that was the unsaved Angel Maturino Resendez raped and murdered innocent people and therefore had to pay in his physical body for his crimes, the new creation who is the saved Angel Maturino Resendez is alive in Christ.
“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
I was heartened to see evidence of this in Resendez’s last words as he took responsibility for his actions when he said, “You don’t have to (forgive me). I know I allowed the devil to rule my life” and also in his prayer to the Lord to be forgiven.
Some Christians will respond somewhat like the lost people do. These are people who approach Jesus conditionally in that it is easy for them to grasp the concept of receiving salvation for “minor sins” but not for rape and murder. They will scoff at Resendez’s prayer and his comments accepting responsibility for his life. This will be an opportunity for the Lord to confront their beliefs.
The bottom line is this: is the gospel of Christ really “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16)...or is it not?
What do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus saves?
Or do you believe that Jesus only saves people who committed sins that are minor in your eyes.
I expect to meet the new, improved Angel Maturino Resendez in heaven.