Marcel Chevalier had a job most of us would shun. He was the last chief executioner in France. His career spanned the years 1958–1981, after which capital punishment was abolished under President François Mitterand. The guillotine was the method of applying the death penalty from 1791 to 1981, and Chevalier performed forty executions. Disliking the sensational nature of the press coverage he received, he eventually refused to speak of his work.
Executioners have traditionally been shunned by their neighbours in Western Europe. The profession often ran in families, and it was usually sons who were trained as future executioners. In some cultures, these workers were thought to be unclean and their homes were placed outside the city walls and painted a distinctive colour so people would not accidentally knock on their doors and become contaminated.
Before the apostle Paul gave his life to Christ, his name was Saul and he vehemently attacked Christians. Luke clearly associates him with Stephen’s executioners and he himself describes how he “persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). Saul was not only a gifted pupil and a “Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians 3:5) who studied under a widely respected teacher of the law named Gamaliel (Acts 5:34), he was extremely zealous and jealous of his Jewish beliefs. He concluded that the survival of Israel depended on wiping out the followers of a divisive sect who followed a man called Jesus who had claimed to be the Messiah.
Saul eventually became Paul and others soon tried to execute him. Paul was affected by his former work and it made him very humble. He wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9).
In a deeper sense, everyone who comes to Christ is guilty of executing Him because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Dear Jesus, my sins nailed You to the cross. You took my guilt upon Yourself that I may be clean. Thank You!
For Further Study: Acts 7:54–8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Timothy 1:12–15