He Took Our Place
RUMC 11 March 2018
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil
Ronald Rand, the founder of Up Building Ministries, told a story about this unusual family: A man named Michael would take his family out each week to see a movie or some sports event. Afterwards, the family would gather together at the home, to put logs in the fireplace and pop some popcorn.
During one of those family get-togethers, little Billy made a real pest of himself on the ride home, so he was punished with a time out and had to sit in his bedroom while the rest of the family sat around the fire and ate popcorn. Then Michael the father did something unheard of; he went into Billy’s room and said, “You go out with the others. I’ll stay here and take your punishment.” What the father had done was a vivid example of what Jesus did when he took our punishment for our sins when he died on the cross.
My text is John 3: 1-17; it is the story about when Nicodemus talked to Jesus about the New Birth.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This is the Word of God.
Nicodemus came to Jesus in the evening so he could talk privately. As an influential member of the Jewish ruling council, or Sanhedrin, Nicodemus had to be careful because Jesus had many enemies. But at the same time he was spiritually hungry, and it was important that he see our Lord. Although he was outwardly religious, apparently there was no inner satisfaction.
I think many of us at one time or another can identify with Nicodemus; we too had looked for answers to life or tried to find inner satisfaction of our souls. But when we found Christ and invited him into our hearts, we were made complete and the search was over.
Our scripture text focuses on faith and belief. On individual merit, our righteousness or individual morality is not good enough and does not meet God’s standards. However Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross for us was enough to pay the debt.
Dr. Samuel Weinstein, a surgeon of the Children’s Hospital section at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, is an example of someone who acted on behalf of another. In 2007, Dr. Weinstein went to the country of El Salvador with a group called Heart Care International to provide lifesaving operations for the poor children of El Salvador.
In one surgical operation, 8 year old Francisco Fernandez was the patient. After 12 hours in the operating room, Francisco began to experience internal bleeding. Unfortunately, the hospitals in El Salvador didn’t have the medicines to stop the bleeding, nor did they have extra blood for a transfusion. Complicating matters even further, Francisco’s blood type was a rare B negative, which is found in only 2 percent of the population.
Fortunately, Dr. Weinstein had the same blood type. So the 45 year old doctor set aside his scalpel, took off his gloves, washed his hands and forearm, and had his blood drawn. When he had given his pint of blood, Dr. Weinstein drank some bottled water and ate a pop tart. After twenty minutes, he rejoined his colleagues and together they watched the newly donated B negative blood flow into the boy’s small veins. Francisco made a full recovery.
Back in Biblical times, if someone had sinned, they would go to the temple with a lamb, or purchase one, and offer a blood sacrifice. The priest would have to kill that innocent animal and place it on the altar where it was later burned. The blood from that sacrifice was God’s way of symbolically covering a person’s sins and making us righteous in His sight.
Hebrews 9:22 tells us: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.”
In the grand scheme of salvation history, God offered his own lamb, Jesus, and animal sacrifices were no longer needed. The equivalent in a courtroom would be if someone paid the fine for another person who was found guilty of a misdemeanor. Very rarely does that ever happen. However in the spiritual realm, that is what Jesus had done. In return all God asks is for us to accept what he has done as the payment for our sin and place our trust in him.
Another example of someone who paid the debt for another was Maximillian Kolbe during World War II in a Nazi Concentration Camp. Maximilian was a Roman Catholic priest in Poland when he was arrested in February 1941 and sent to Auschwitz. The life expectancy for a priest in that prison was about 30 days. During his imprisonment at Auschwitz a prisoner escaped, which meant everyone in Father Kolbe’s barracks was punished.
The first punishment the Commandant set was to make all the prisoners of Barracks 14 stand at attention the entire day. Many passed out; but Father Kolbe endured. At the evening roll call, the Commandant then changed the terms of the sentence: ten men were selected at random to die in the starvation bunker.
One man selected cried out, “My poor wife. My poor children. What will they do?” It was at that point that Father Kolbe broke ranks and said, “I would like to die in place of one of the men you have condemned.” He was permitted to die for prisoner 5659. Father Kolbe was taken away, stripped of his clothes, and marched with the other nine into the hot and dark starvation bunker.
In that basement, the prisoners were given no food or water. As the days passed, the usual screams of starvation were not heard; instead the guards heard the faint sounds of prisoners singing praises to God. Fourteen days later, Father Kolbe was still alive. He looked like a living skeleton, but it was said that he had a slight smile on his lips with his eyes wide open as though they were fixed on some faraway vision. The guards grew impatient and finally gave him a lethal injection.
Father Kolbe was a type of Christ when he took the place of a condemned prisoner. He did it so that man could be with his family. On the cross; Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
There is another word we hear in church circles: grace. Grace is when God takes the initiative and restores a broken relationship. AW Tozer once said, God will take nine steps toward us, but he will not take the tenth. He will incline us to repent, but he will not do it for us.
Let me close. A price had to be paid for our salvation, and Jesus was the one who satisfied that debt. Billy’s father served his son’s punishment, Dr. Weinstein gave his blood to save an 8 year old boy, and Father Kolbe exchanged places with a condemned prisoner. These are examples of what a father, a doctor, and a priest had done to help and save others. Remember what Jesus; the son of God, had done so we could have eternal life.
So in this Lenten season, this may be a time to renew our relationship with the Lord and thank him for his gift to us.