Substitutions. We make them all the time. One in place of another. Instead of this can I get that? We usually don’t like the way things are presented. We may not always like the way someone else put something together so we want to change it. We may not even want to do the right thing and often substitute that for the wrong thing. We often even substitute real love for fake love, external love for internal love, temporal love for eternal love. This week is Holy Week and the text I want to focus on comes from Matthews account of the Gospel.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the multitude one prisoner, whom they desired. They had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ?” For he knew that because of envy they had delivered him up. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. But the governor answered them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do to Jesus, who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let him be crucified!” [Matt 27: 5-22]
Let Him be crucified.
Let Him suffer.
Let Him die.
So often we substitute our sins for holiness. We cling to our sinful nature as if its good for us while it is the one that has us by the throat. We take and we take and we take and yet we say we love. Take a look at the world around us. We have substituted rational thinking with irrational emotionalism. We no longer think with rational thought about what’s good for society we just toss up a straw-man emotional argument about “love“. You can’t tell someone that marriage is between a man and a woman or that bathroom use is based on your biology because… “love“. This type of love is a love that takes. The majority must suffer for the sake of a few because “love“. Rational thought must be policed and held captive because “tolerance” and “love“. We divorce and remarry because we aren’t happy so it must not be “love“. We put off marriage and play the field because we have to sleep around to find the right one to “love“. It might surprise you but all of these examples of love are truly examples of love; self-love. Even the way some of us Christians approach God is selfish. We constantly look inward and say “With Gods help I can do better“. We look to Jesus like He is a booster. Just one big push Jesus and I can do the rest. Many churches place so much focus on the Christian that they remove Christ from the Christian. The focus of the Christian isn’t inward, it’s outward.
A love that looks inward is not love at all; its selfishness.
Substitution; one for another. As our text shows the people substituted Jesus for Barabbas. We also substitute things for Jesus. We substitute our sins for Jesus. We want our sins more than we want Jesus. We cling to them as if they were what saves us. We covet, lie, steal, cheat, murder, hate, we toss aside all love for others because we want to break commandments 4-10 because we don’t want commandments 1-3. We hate God. We love our sins more than we love God. It’s in our sinful nature. The glance that lasts too long, the gossip, the stolen item, the coveteousness. These things come easier than, looking at others as they are God’s, helping others to not be seen as a sexual object, talking well about others and elevating them more than ourselves, returning the dollar we found. How difficult are those things. We easily substitute selfless love for selfish love. We are all Barabbas. We are all the lowest of the low. We are thieves and murders with Barabbas. Apart from God we are the one imprisoned. We are all enslaved to sin, death, and the Devil; that is, until Jesus takes our place. God shows us a different kind of love, a real love.
They stripped him, and put a scarlet robe on him. They braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and a reed in his right hand; and they kneeled down before him, and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. [Matt 27: 28-30]
When they had crucified him, they divided his clothing among them, casting lots [Matt 27:35]
God would rather be beaten. God would rather be stripped naked. God would rather be whipped. God would rather be spit on by a mouth that profanes His name. God would rather be laid on a rough cross and have nails driven into Him. God would rather struggle to breath. God would rather die.
God would rather die.
God would rather die.
God would rather die than to hold any anger or wrath against you. God would rather die than for your sins to separate you from Him. God would rather die than to let you spend all of eternity away from Him. God would rather die than to let the devil keep you. God would rather die than to stop loving you.
God would rather die than to not love you.
How is this so simple yet so many people get it wrong? The message of Christ crucified for you is the very power to salvation [Rom. 1:16]. This very simple message is what stops you in your tracks from trying to please God. This very message is what Love is. This very message is what causes your sanctification. God so loved you that He would rather die than for you to feel so lost, so abandoned, so alone, and without hope. If this message was preached there wouldn’t be any need for 12 step programs, support groups, or fill in the blank message notes. There wouldn’t be any need for focusing on your own progress. Love doesn’t look inward.
Love doesn’t look inward
Many people are tempted to stop the Gospel message there, at the cross, at the love of Christ. However, that isn’t the Gospel message. This is a false message of “Jesus paid for your sins but the rest is up to you“. That’s a terrible message, yet that’s the message that’s proclaimed when someone leaves out the resurrection of Christ. You see, without the resurrection all we have is a payment for sins but no way to credit that to you. The resurrection is the key. Christ being raised from the dead tells us that the Father accepts Jesus suffering and death as an atonement for our sins and something amazing happens, something miraculous happens. The sin that you have is credited to Jesus and His perfect obedience is credited to you. He paid, you receive. You have no holiness without the resurrection. Substitution. Instead of wrath you receive love. Instead of being condemned as Barabbas, Christ took your place. Instead of your filthy rags you get covered in Christ’s righteousness. There is love. God loves you so much He sees you as Holy. God would rather die than to leave you in your sins. God would rather die than to have one blemish left on you. This is the Gospel. This is your holiness. This is the message that causes good works to flow. This is the means by which God, the Holy Spirit, works in you; Word and Sacrament, which gives you the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness is what gives you life, this forgiveness is what causes good works. These good works aren’t for you. These good works are for others because love doesn’t look inward.
Love doesn’t look inward
Jesus didn’t exalt Himself. Jesus didn’t come to be worshiped. Jesus didn’t come to rule as a tyrant. Jesus came as a humble servant. Jesus washes feet.
Jesus washes feet.
Jesus washed Judas’ feet.
The very one who would betray Him. He washed his feet. He shed His blood for Him. He shed His blood for you. Love doesn’t look inward. The idea that once you’re saved you have to start working on yourself is an idea of a love that’s pointed inward. It’s an idea born out of trying to be good enough for God. It’s an idea born out of trying to merit something from God. Your salvation is secure because you didn’t attain it, it was won outside of you. It was given to you. The faith you have was a gift and that faith is not something you continue to grow but that God grows within you. The Holy Spirit, keeping you in faith, works in you these good works and these are all pointed outward not inward. Good works are for others because God loves you so much He set you free to truly love. God would rather die than to give you any doubt that He loves you. As we journey though Holy Week remember, God loves you. Remember that Jesus would rather suffer and die than to lose you.