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Your Loving Substitute

A little girl named Liz, was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed. The doctor explained the situation and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. He hesitated for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.’ As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister, and smiled, as they all did, seeing the colour returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, ‘Will I start to die right away?’ The little boy had misunderstood the doctor. He thought he was going to have to give his sister *all* of his blood in order to save her. This boy loved his sister so much that he was willing to die *instead* of her – as her substitute. This story (possibly fictional) is simply an illustration of what loving substitution means. God loves you. The amazing and wonderful message of the Bible is that God came to this earth in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and died in your place. Words, images, metaphors, pictures and illustrations (such as that of the five-year-old boy) can help our understanding, but they can never perfectly describe the indescribable love of God. Jesus died to remove all the bad stuff. He died instead of you and me (Mark 10:45).

Psalm 51:1–9

My sin

David cried out, ‘Have mercy on me, O God’ (v.1). I have often used this psalm as a prayer of confession. David wrote this psalm when the prophet Nathan came to challenge him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba (and then sinned greatly in trying to cover up his initial act).

  1. To whom do you pray? This prayer for God’s mercy and forgiveness is rooted in David’s understanding of God’s character. He prays, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion’ (v.1).

  2. What do you confess? David confesses his iniquity (v.2), transgressions (vv.1b,3a) and his sin (vv.2b,3b). He says, ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (v.5). This prayer is in response to a specific sin, but David recognises there is a deeper problem as well. Sin is not just an occasional act. It is something deeply ingrained within all human beings from our very earliest moments.

God desires truth ‘in the inner parts’ and ‘in the inmost place’ (v.6). He wants you to be honest, open and real with him about yourself and your sins. 3. What do you ask for? David cries out for mercy. Ask to be washed: ‘Soak out my sins in your laundry’ (v.2a, MSG). Ask for cleansing: ‘Cleanse me from my sin’ (v.2b), ‘cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean’ (v.7a). Ask for your sins to be wiped out: ‘wipe out my bad record’ (v.1c, MSG), ‘blot out all my iniquity’ (v.9b).

Pray that your sin will be completely removed, so that God will not see any sin: ‘Hide your face from my sins’ (v.9a). 4. What will the result be?

David says, ‘Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice’ (v.8). There is nothing like the joy, gladness and rejoicing that follow total forgiveness. David knew that God, in his mercy, love and compassion, would forgive. What he did not see clearly, and what only the New Testament reveals to the full, is how God made that possible.

Thank you, Lord, that when I confess my sins, you wash me clean and forgive me because Jesus died for me.

Luke 23:20–25

Jesus’ sacrifice

Luke’s account is not just about recording the facts about Jesus’ death. He also seeks to show us the amazing truth of why Jesus died. Unlike that five-year-old boy, Jesus did actually give his life to save you and me. Luke helps us to understand this act of substitution:

  1. What did Jesus endure for you? Jesus was mocked (22:63; 23:11), beaten (22:63), insulted (v.65), falsely accused (23:10), ridiculed (v.11) and eventually crucified (v.23). Luke sums it up with the chilling words that Pilate ‘surrendered Jesus to their will’ (v.25).

  2. Who was responsible? Luke makes it clear that everyone is responsible. The council, chief priests, teachers of the law (22:66), the whole assembly (23:1) and Herod and Pilate (22:66 – 23:25) all played their part. (The death of Jesus was what made Herod and Pilate friends – ‘as thick as thieves’ (v.12, MSG) – before that, they had been enemies. Sharing a common enemy can result in unlikely bedfellows!) Luke says the chief priests, rulers and people (v.13) were of one mind: ‘With one voicethey cried’ (v.18). We cannot blame the Jews or the Romans or anyone else. Ultimately, we are allresponsible.

  3. Who is it that died in your place? This was not some innocent ‘third party’ whom God punished instead of us. Rather, God himself came in the person of his son Jesus to die for you and me. God was doing what was completely unexpected. The Jews hoped for a messiah and saviour, but no one imagined it would be God himself.

The New Testament church, filled with the Holy Spirit, came to realise just who Jesus is. We see the uniqueness of Jesus in the titles he used of himself.

He is the Son of Man. The Son of Man who will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God (22:69) is clearly used here by Jesus as a messianic title.

He is Christ the King (23:2) – the ‘king of the Jews’ (v.3) – the long-awaited Messiah.

Most remarkably of all, he is the Son of God: When they asked, ‘“Are you then the Son of God?” [Jesus] replied, “You are right in saying I am”’ (22:70). It seems likely that Jesus was actually using the name of God here (‘I AM’) – a direct claim that Jesus is God – which may be why the elders are so angered by his response (v.71). 4. What is substitution? The innocent dies instead of the guilty. Jesus is innocent; we are guilty.

Even Pilate, who condemned him to death, said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man’ (23:4). Again he repeats, ‘I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him… he has done nothing to deserve death’ (vv.14–15). A third time he says, ‘What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty’ (v.22). Luke makes it clear that Jesus died precisely because he was the innocent son of God (22:70–71).

On the other hand, Barabbas, like us, was guilty. In his case, Barabbas was guilty of insurrection and murder (23:19,25). Luke hints at substitution: ‘Away with this man [Jesus]! Release Barabbas to us!’ (v.18). ‘He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will’ (v.25).

Lord Jesus Christ, how can I ever thank you enough that you, the Son of God, died in my place – the innocent on behalf of the guilty.

Joshua 8:7

God’s sovereignty

God has a purpose for your life. He is in control of the universe. He is able to take even bad things you have done or have been done to you and turn them for good (Romans 8:28).

In this passage, we see an example of this. The people of God had failed in the past to take the city of Ai (Joshua 7:4). Now God uses their past failure as part of the victory plan (8:6–7). Sometimes God uses even your past sins and mistakes for good (although this is not an excuse for repeating them, as Israel did by not asking God about the Gibeonites, 9:14).

Supremely, of course, God turned the sinfulness and the failures of humanity that led to the crucifixion of Jesus into the greatest victory of all time. The cross was not a mistake. It was part of God’s sovereign purpose to make possible our forgiveness and the cleansing, washing and covering of our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross for us. God is a God of love: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us’ (1 John 3:16).

Lord, thank you that in all things you work for the good of those who love you. Thank you that you can even use the bad things for good. Thank you for your amazing love revealed to me in Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for me and died in my place as my substitute.

Pippa Adds

Psalm 51:1–9

This is a great psalm if you’re feeling bad or have failed or made some terrible mistake. There is no self-justification in this psalm. We need to take responsibility for the mess in our lives, with no excuses, and let God clean it away. It is also a great comfort to know that David, who had sinned so badly, was forgiven and was described as ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).


Introductory illustration from David Wiles, *Stories from the Edge*, (Monarch, 2010). Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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