“No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.” — William Penn
“Why was there no substitute for Jesus when it came time for him to die?”
There’s a substitute for everything. Put a little lemon in your milk and you’ve got buttermilk. Use turmeric instead of saffron. Sprinkle that artificial sweetener in your coffee. Switch shortening for margarine. There are substitute teachers and substitute quarterbacks. Sometimes mom subs for dad, and sometimes the other way around.
Even the Bible has its share of switches. Seth took over for the murdered Abel. The ram in the thicket took the place of Isaac on the altar. At Passover the children of Israel slaughtered a lamb so they would not die when the death angel passed by. Jesus was crucified so that you and I would not have to die for our sins.
Wait. Why wasn’t there a substitute for Jesus?
So there isn’t a substitute for everything. There’s no substitute for hard work. There’s no substitute for experience. No one can take the place of a good parent. And no one could take the place of Jesus when it came time to die.
Not that we don’t try to put other things in his place. The world says there are many substitutes: Islam, Buddhism, humanism, atheism or whatever path you prefer. But if any path is acceptable, why did Jesus need to die?
No one else was sinless. A perfect, unblemished sacrifice was needed to take the place of our sin, but men inherit the sin of Adam and we all undertake our own sinful lives. Jesus “appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (I John 3:5).
No one else was both God and man. The measure of our sins is the one we sin against. We sin against an infinite and holy God, so only an equal sacrifice can buy our pardon for once and for all and forever. Because Jesus is God, he could pay “for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). Yet Jesus was also necessarily human. “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law” (Galatians 4:4). Human blood was required, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Human experience was needed, so that our savior could sympathize with us, since he was tempted in every way as we are (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was our kin so that he could be our kinsman-redeemer and have the right to buy us back when we were sold into the slavery of sin.
No one else would drink the cup. Jesus met all the qualifications of a savior, but he still needed to submit to God’s will in order to complete the transaction that substituted his blood for yours and mine. Would you have done the same, knowing the suffering that you would endure, and being completely capable of stopping it? I believe no one but Jesus possessed the love and obedient will to choose the cross.
No one else could show us the way. Jesus said he was “the way, the truth, and the life.” He didn’t say a way, but emphatically the way. Peter affirmed it when he said that there was salvation in no one else. Only Jesus came from God and returned to God. No one else talked like Jesus. He was the Word. As the people shouted when they heard him, “no one ever spoke like this man.” As Peter said to him, “you have the words of life.” No one else walked like Jesus, always obediently doing what he saw God doing and remaining sinless. No one else died like Jesus, willfully choosing horrible suffering when he could have rejected it, offering up his perfect blood as God and man.
And no one else rose from the dead like Jesus, never to die again, the first fruits of all believers who will one day follow him on that future resurrection day. Hallelujah! He is risen. He is risen indeed!
Image from Waiting for the Word, by Del Parsons, on Flickr, CC by 2.0