Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:13-25 – Jesus in Our Place

Grace For The Journey

I often ask myself if I am a receiver or reproducer of God’s Word.  Let me illustrate the difference.  Imagine being in Sudan.  You walk into a thatched hut with a small group of Sudanese church leaders, and you sit down to teach them God’s Word.  As soon as you start, you lose eye contact with all of them.  No one is looking at you, and you hardly see their eyes the rest of the time.  The reason is because they are writing down every word you say.  They come up to you afterward and say, “Teacher, we are going to take everything we have learned from God’s Word, translate it into our languages, and teach it in our tribes.”

They were not

Listening to receive

But to reproduce.

Now journey with me to a contemporary worship service in the United States.  As the pastor begins his sermon, some people have their Bibles open, while others do not have a Bible with them.  A few people are taking notes, but for the most part they are passively sitting in the audience.  While some are probably disengaged, others are intently focused on what the preacher is saying, listening to God’s Word to hear how it applies to their lives.  But the reality is . . .

Few are listening to reproduce.  

We are, by nature, receivers.

Even if we have a desire to learn God’s Word, we still listen from a default self-centered mind-set that is always asking, “What can I get out of this?”  But as we have seen, this is unbiblical Christianity.  

What if we changed the question

Whenever we gathered

To learn God’s Word?

What if we began to think . . .

“How can I listen to His Word

So that I am

Equipped to teach

This Word to others?”

This changes everything.

We left off last week at verse 12, so we will pick up today at verse 13.  You will remember from last time that the Jewish leaders had brought Jesus before two rulers for the purpose of having Him condemned.  They had never been on-board with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and they did not believe Him to be the Messiah.  They brought Him before these two rulers: the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, and the Tetrarch of Galilee Herod Antipas.  Both rulers had found Jesus innocent of any wrongdoing, let alone anything deserving death.  Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate and we pick up at verse 13 with what happens next.

In reading this passage I nearly always find myself identifying with Barabbas.  Barabbas, who is guilty and condemned to die, is set free by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate.  Jesus who is innocent of any wrongdoing is condemned to die.  One could even say that Jesus died in the place of Barabbas.  Jesus died as the substitute for Barabbas.  Jesus died in my place.  Jesus died in our place.  Jesus died as our substitute.

That word “substitute” is generally used “to designate the replacing of one thing for something of lesser or equal value.”  We go to the restaurant and ask if we can substitute one item for another, can we substitute a salad for the grilled vegetables.  Or, in the case of your children, you can we substitute French fries for the grilled vegetables.  We exchange one thing with another of lesser or equal value.

In my High School, a substitute teacher was usually regarded by the class–unfortunately – as a person of lesser value than the regular teacher.  If we walked into class and found a substitute teacher present, we thought we would have a day off – no offense to substitute teachers – I have done a little of that; this is just how many in our school seemed to operate.

The word “substitute” generally designates the replacing of one thing for another thing of lesser or equal value. You can never “trade up,” so to speak.  You cannot go into a restaurant and ask to substitute your grilled vegetables for another slab of ribs or expect to substitute your garden salad for a gourmet dessert – at least I am not aware one can do that.  If you know a restaurant that will do that, help a brother out and let me know!

If you will allow the rough and un-sanctified analogy . . .

There is a substitution

That takes place

In the Gospel

That allows

One to

“Trade up!”

The Gospel message gives us that perspective . . .

In the place of a condemned criminal

Stands a Substitute; not another criminal,

Nor even a person of equal worth and merit. 

But One of far greater worth and

One of inestimable honor,

A Substitute like no other.  

Jesus dies in our place.

I want us to go through this text and then afterward share some thoughts about what this means that Jesus is our substitute, what it means that Jesus is in our place.

First, let’s ground our study in the context of God’s Word.  Look at your Bible . . .

In verses 13 to 15, Pilate is calling court to order.  These verses say, “Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people (He’s convening the court case against Jesus), and said to them, ‘You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people.  And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.” 

Luke’s main point in giving his account of the details is that Jesus is innocent of any wrongdoing.  This is his main emphasis.  

What is true of Jesus historically

In this criminal trial is also true

Of Jesus theologically in His Person.

He is innocent of any wrongdoing.  The Bible says in 1 Peter 1:19 that Jesus is, “a lamb without blemish and without spot.”  On this basis He is a fitting sacrifice, a fitting Substitute, a fitting Lamb who, as John 1:29 puts it, “takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

This is the greater story,

The meta-narrative,

Going on here.

But Pilate does not know this greater story.  He simply finds Jesus innocent of any wrongdoing, but he also feels the pressure of having to do something to satisfy the anger of the Jewish leaders.

Verse 16 tells us what he decides to do, I will therefore chastise Him and release Him.”  I know it is easy to find ourselves trying to feel some sort of compassion for Pilate, but we should resist that notion.  Pilate cares far more for how this situation plays out politically than he cares about doing the right thing.  Note the irony of verse 16 – Pilate finds Jesus innocent of any wrongdoing, but what does he say he will do in verse 16?  “I will therefore chastise Him – punish Him – and release Him.”  This was like throwing a bone to a dog.  

Pilate did not care for Jesus

As much

As he cared for himself,

For his political success,

For his legacy.

He reasons to himself, “Maybe this will satisfy these rabid Jewish leaders who are bloodthirsty for this innocent man’s death.  I will just have the man beaten.  Surely, that will do the trick.”

Verse 17 says, “(For it was necessary for him to release one of them at the feast).”  Some translations do not have verse 17.   In the older Greek manuscripts that statement is not present, and some feel the reason it is included in many newer manuscripts of Luke is simply because the scribes wanted Luke’s readers to know this fact about releasing a prisoner during the Passover.  The other Gospel writers report this tradition of releasing a prisoner during Passover.  Admittedly, it helps explain why the crowd replies as they do in verse 18, “And they all cried out at once, saying, ‘Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas’”there is this tradition, apparently a means by which the Roman authorities desired to show a bit of mercy by allowing the crowd to determine which prisoner may be released during their Feast of the Passover.  Pilate thinks they will be pleased with his releasing Jesus, but they cry out, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas.”

Luke tells us what Barabbas had done to get locked up in verses 19-22, “Who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.  Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them.  But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”  Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.”

Again, remember that Luke is stressing the innocence of Jesus.  Three times, in verses 4, 14, and 22, Pilate says something like, “I find not fault in this man.”  Verse 23 says, But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.”  The other Gospel writers tell us that the Jewish leaders actually stirred up the crowd in order to get their way.  They told the crowd what to say and so there was this large noise of people crying out to Pilate, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.”  The people shouted Pilate down, yelling their demand that Jesus should be crucified, and their shouting won the day (Luke 23:23-24).

Verse 24 tells us, “So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested.”  Pilate caves-in to their request.  Sermons and Bible studies that deal with the failed leadership of Pilate and how important it is for leaders to not cave-in and to not compromise and so forth are sermons and Bible studies that miss the mark of Luke’s intended purpose here.  

This is not a lesson on leadership.  

This is a lesson on the death of Christ.

Verse 25 says, “And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will.”  Rather than releasing the innocent One, Pilate releases the guilty one.  Jesus stays.  Barabbas goes free.

I wonder what that scene looked like when the jailer told Barabbas he could go.  He had been found guilty of leading a riot in the city and for killing someone.  He had been sentenced to die and yet the jailer comes to his cell and tells him, “Hey, Barabbas. You are free to go.”  The jailer opens the cell door and motions for Barabbas to exit.  And I do not think for a moment that Barabbas hesitated or said something like, “Well, there must be some mistake.”  He is a criminal!  I think he got up as quickly as he could and ran out of that jail cell, out of that building, and out onto the streets, laughing all the way.

Yet, Jesus had died in his place.  What happened to Barabbas is symbolic of what has happened to every Christian?  The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:19a, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”  Jesus in our place” means the just has died for us, that He might bring us to God.  

Jesus died as our Substitute

. . . Jesus died in our place.

This is the heart of the Gospel, summarized succinctly in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus died in our place,

Paid the debt we owe,

And

Fulfilled the law

We broke.

Jesus in our place.

I want to share some important implications of “Jesus in our place.”  What does this mean?

Number one . . .

1. Jesus In Our Place Means God Loves Us.

A phrase is often used in the contemporary church without any theological underpinnings.   So many preachers, teachers, and Christians of all stripes believe if we just say, “God loves you” that people will somehow “get it” and “be moved” and change the world.  Maybe if we just keep saying it, people will feel it: “God loves you, God loves you, God loves you.”  Well, what does that mean?  How does God love me?

The Bible says in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  How does God demonstrate His own love for us?

While we were sinners,

Christ died FOR us,

Died as our Substitute,

Died in our place.

The Bible says in Romans 5:6. 9-10, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ dies for the ungodly . . . Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”  At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

There Is The Depth Of God’s Love!

I am guilty of sin . . . I am a law-breaker . . . I have broken God’s perfect law . . .

  • I hear Jesus say in Matthew 5:21-22, You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment,’” and I say to myself, ‘I am guilty of murder.’”
  • I hear Jesus say in Matthew 5:27-28, You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’   But I say to you that ‘whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,’” and I say to myself, ‘I am guilty of adultery.’”
  • I hear Jesus say in Matthew 5:44, “’Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,’ and I say to myself, “You do not do what you are supposed to do, Terry. I am a law-breaker.”
  • I hear Jesus say in Matthew 5:20, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”   

And I think, “How will I ever get in?!  The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “The wages of sin is death.”  I deserve death, judgment, and hell for my sin, God help me! 

The Bible says in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  

Christ, who is innocent,

Is reckoned guilty

So that we, who

Are guilty, may be

Reckoned innocent.

This is the truth symbolized the weekend Jesus died on the cross in Passover, a holy day celebrated for hundreds upon hundreds of years as God’s people offered a lamb without spot or blemish as a substitute for their sin.  Every Passover lamb pointed forward to a more perfect sacrifice, a more perfect Substitute for our sin, the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus who lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.

This is the theology undergirding the phrase, “God loves you.”  This is the theology that anchors the truth of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son–gave to die–that whoever believes in Him should not die, but should live forever.”   How is that possible?  

Jesus in my place.

Jesus took my sin

Upon Himself,

Bore my punishment,

Bore God’s wrath, Died for me that

I might be saved.

He takes what belongs to me

– Sin –

And gives what belongs

to Him – righteousness.

This is the theology behind the phrase, “God loves you.”

It is important to think about what we mean when we tell people, “God loves you.”  Let’s be sure we are talking about a God who demonstrates His love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  That is a love I can understand.  You just say to me over and over again, “God loves you,” that does not really mean much to me.  But . . .

When you explain to me

That I receive His love

Even though I am a guilty

Transgressor, sinner, lawbreaker,

Murderer, and rebel against Him,

Well now I begin to sense

How great His love is.

And . . .

When you tell me

That I deserve death

Because of my transgressions,

Sins, lawbreaking, murdering, & rebellion,

But that God takes my place on the cross

For my transgressions, sins, and rebellion,

I am overwhelmed by that kind of love!

Jesus in our place gives meaning to the phrase,

Secondly . . .

II. Jesus in our Place Makes Possible God’s Acceptance of Us.

If I trust Christ and receive Him as my Lord and Savior, it means that I will always and forever be found “in Christ Jesus.”  I am in Christ.  This means God always sees me “in Christ.”  This means God looks upon me and sees my sin covered by the righteousness of Christ.  This means . . .

I am accepted by God

Not on the basis of

My personal performance,

But on the basis of

The infinitely perfect

Righteousness of Christ.

Pilate found no fault in Him.  He is, as the Bible says in 1 Peter 1:19, “a lamb without blemish and without spot.”  Because there is no fault in Him, then we who are “in Him” are faultless too.  There is no fault in Christ and therefore God looks upon us who are “in Christ” and says, “I find no fault in you.”

The Bible says in Romans 4:25, “Who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”  He died for our sins and was raised that we may be justified, declared righteous, declared “not guilty” of sin, accepted by God.

We are accepted by God forever.  We are always and forever acceptable in God’s sight. We can do nothing to lose this acceptance, nor can we do anything extra to make us more acceptable.  Our acceptance is found in Christ alone.  Again, “I am accepted by God not on the basis of my personal performance, but on the basis of the infinitely prefect righteousness of Christ.”

God’s love for me is a love that pours through His perfect love for His Son Jesus and what Jesus Christ did on the cross as my substitute.  When I sin, God does not love me any less, because His love is a perfect love that pours through His Son Jesus.  When I sin God does not love me any less and when I do well, God does not love me any more. Watch that tendency to legalism!  Our performance does not increase God’s acceptance of us!  God’s love is perfectly constant because it is a love bound up in His Son Jesus Christ, our Substitute.

What a joy to know that when we are “in Christ” we are forever accepted by God!  The devil wants us to doubt that acceptance.

Some of you struggle constantly with guilt and shame.  Guilt is the feeling we have that says, “I have done a bad thing.”  Shame is the feeling, “I am bad person.”  Jesus died and made us acceptable before God for both guilt and shame.

But some of you hear Satan whisper in your ear, “You are a bad person.  You are an unfit mother, you are a bad father.  You are a teenage failure.”  It is at these moments, Christian, you must look to the cross and see Jesus there who is your perfect Substitute, the Perfect One in your place who made an end of all your sin and made you acceptable to God forever.

As the hymn-writer puts it:

When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there

Who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free.

For God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.

Jesus in our place makes possible God’s acceptance of us.

Thirdly . . .

III. Jesus In Our Place Is The Content Of Our Gospel Witness.

This is the message of the Gospel.  This is what we are to share with our friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors.  When we share the Gospel in order to make known God’s glory from the community to the continents, we must tell the story of Jesus in our place.

It is not enough to . . .

Tell our neighbors

God loves them

Or

Even that God

radically changed

Our lives.

We must tell them more than that if we are going to tell the Gospel story . . .  

We must tell them about

Jesus in our place.

This is the content of our Gospel witness.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This verse is the climactical conclusion

Of Paul’s teaching about

Sharing our Gospel witness.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Do you hear that?  

This is the message we share with the lost.

It is the message of Jesus in our place.

It is not, “God just loves you and wants you to be happy,” it is, “God is doing something He does not have to do.  As people accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, He is reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them which is what they deserve, but reconciling lost sinners to Himself through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, Jesus who never sinned, Jesus who was made to be sin for us – in our place as our Substitute – that we might become in Him the righteousness of God.”

Jesus in our place is the content of our Gospel witness.

It is hard to read Luke 23 and not wonder what happened to Barabbas after he fled that jail cell.  Did he find his way back into the mob, the crowd that cried out, “Crucify Him?” Did he follow the crowd as they followed Jesus, carrying His cross, condemned to die? Did he watch from a distance as they drove the spikes into Christ’s hands and feet and crucified Jesus?  Did he wonder, “He died in my place?”

Have you seen Jesus there on Calvary’s cross?  Have you come to the cross as a guilty sinner and affirmed the truth of, “Jesus in My Place?”  Trust Him this very moment.

Pray a prayer like this, Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.  I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment, and offering forgiveness.  I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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