Having joy even on death row
In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was charged with the murders of two restaurant managers. It was a set up — he’d been miles away when the crimes happened — but he was found guilty and sentenced to death.
At the trial, Ray forgave those who lied about him, adding that he still had joy despite this injustice.
“After my death, I’m going to heaven,” he said. “Where are you going?”
Life on death row was hard for Ray. Prison lights flickered whenever the electric chair was used for others, a grim reminder of what lay ahead for him. Ray passed a lie detector test, but the results were ignored, one of many injustices he faced getting his case reheard.
Finally, on Good Friday in 2015, Ray’s conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court. He’d been on death row for nearly 30 years. His life is a testament to the reality of God. Because of his faith in Jesus, Ray had a hope beyond his trials and experienced supernatural joy in the face of injustice.
“This joy that I have,” Ray said after his release, “they couldn’t take that away in prison.”
Such joy proved his faith to be genuine.
JOY on death row! Community, it don’t get no worse than this. I mean there are a lot of things that could cause us to lose the joy of our salvation but nothing to this extreme. Death row is as low and as close to death that a person can get and know it; and by that I mean we all could be close to death and don’t know it; there are dangers all around us that we are not aware of; so it’s easy for us to talk about Christian joy and “praise the Lord” at the same time; but when you are facing death and you know it, that’s a different ballgame.
If you can have JOY then what this says is that Jesus joy is genuine and it surpasses anything that this world could ever offer or throw at us. Let me say to every Christian reading this morning that every Christian ought to have this kind of JOY; it’s our spiritual birthright; the kind that supersedes anything; and if we don’t have it we are living beneath our privilege.
This testimony from Ray Hinton is a reminder that this JOY is beyond the norm, and it supersedes the power of Satan and every evil thing he throws at us; the kind that goes beyond our present circumstances; the kind that Jesus told his disciples about when he said, “Blessed are you, when men shall hate you, and when they separate you from their company…and cast your name out as evil, for the Son of man sake.” He said, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for JOY: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven (Luke 6:22,23)”… it is not based on good circumstances; and it is something that we should have in spite of; now I’m talking to Christian believers when I say this JOY that I’m talking about has nothing to do with anything that’s going on in this world; it is a result of having a relationship with Jesus Christ and nothing else.
“When HE is the source of your joy, you have it no matter what is going on around you. In fact, you will have it in the worst of times.”
I have JOY this morning because I am saved by grace and that’s all; it’s something that I can’t explain; and it’s not ordinary; see community, ordinary joy is what we have when our first baby is born or our first grandbaby is born; the joy of new life being born in the world; but notice, that this kind of joy is based on good circumstances; and that’s not good; because it’s conditional; when things are good you’ve got JOY; but when things go bad you don’t have it! that’s not what I’m talking about; don’t need that kind of Joy; I need an “in spite of” kind of JOY; a “death row JOY!
This joy that I’m talking about reaches and goes beyond the ordinary; and you can’t buy it out of a store; and it’s something the world don’t know about; Jesus said “These things have I spoken, that my JOY might remain in you, and that your JOY might be full (John 15:11).” This is what we call “Jesus Joy!”
Community, glad will be the hour when we exercise rejoicing and the JOY of our salvation; and tell Satan “You can’t have my JOY!” and you can’t take it away!”
Friends, I don’t care where you are this morning; don’t care what kind of bad news you’ve heard; it may rock you to the core of your soul; I don’t care how bad things look; your pain may be severe and you are tired of dealing with it; I don’t care what’s going on in your family, don’t let it take away your JOY; for as long as you have JOY you have strength (Neh. 8:10b)!
Show me a Christian that don’t have JOY, and I’ll show you a Christian that don’t have any strength! “Death row Joy” is what you have all the time and despite the circumstances; Paul and Silas had a “death row joy!” after being whipped they prayed and sang praises to God in prison (Acts 16:25). A “death row joy” says “I don’t know the outcome of this negative situation; but I got JOY in the midst of it.
Community, declare today that nothing will take away your JOY!
The Rev. George Ellis is the pastor of Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church.