Jesus was innocent but he died the death of the guilty. He stood in our place, taking on our life so that we might have his. There is no greater act in all of history.
In this part of the story of Jesus, we find Jesus on trial. The innocent Son of God is condemned to die while a guilty man who deserved to die goes free. This exchange, made strictly for political purposes, inadvertently expresses the heart of the Gospel. For the truth is that all humans are in the position of Barabbas, and Jesus died in our place to set us free. He became our guilt so we could become his righteousness.
It’s the most fundamental truth of the Gospel, one that is preached so often that we can become numb to its radical truth. While it may be a common teaching is, the problem is that it is hard to get this truth on the inside of us. There are two obstacles we face getting this foundational Gospel truth on the inside.
1. Many don’t feel that they can relate to Barabbas and see themselves as sinners in need of the great exchange. We may believe we are sinners, and we know we’re not perfect, but we don’t “feel” like it that big of a deal. The problem is that, how we FEEL at any given moment is influenced by a multitude of factors that have nothing to do with truth. The fact that we don’t accurately assess the gravity of our sin and our need to be rescued is evidence of how jaded we are. We have to realize its possible for us to be self-deceived and not aware of our real situation.
Jesus taught that every sinful thought, word and action puts us in danger of destruction. The Bible teaches each and every sin alienates us from God, puts us in bondage to Satan, and destines us for destruction.
2. The second problem that hinders this truth from getting on the inside is that many find it hard to understand this truth. How does Jesus dying on the cross save me? Why did Jesus have to die for me to go to heaven? The problem is that many of us in the west are taught to frame this in terms of a court of law. This image of the law court plays out something like this: I the defendant was guilty. The Judge was filled with holy rage toward me. He was about to sentence me to eternal death, but Jesus stepped in and took the brunt of his wrath instead. This raises huge problems that seem to undermine the plausibility of the Great Exchange.
To grasp what Jesus did, we shouldn’t think of it in terms of a court of law. Instead, we should think in terms of a covenant of love. God created humans to enter into a marriage-like, one-flesh relationship with us by becoming human so we could eternally participate in the bliss of his divinity. Tragically, we rejected his offer, we turned from God, went our own way, put ourselves in bondage to Satan and the powers. But God, who is perfect love, did not give up. He wasn’t going to let our rebellion or our bondage to Satan stop him… so he proceeded with his plan. But now, to be united with us means he must join himself not only to our humanity, but to our sin and bondage to Satan.
This is what Christ does with us. He united himself to us, despite our baggage, our rebellion, sin, and bondage to Satan. He left the bliss of heaven and entered into our hell and this unprecedented act of love broke the bondage we were under, wins our heart and begins the process of healing that eventually makes us holy and blameless in his sight.
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