In My Place Condemned He Stood

What is it about the Christian faith that sets it apart as the source of the greatest hope to a lost and dying world? What is it about Christians reflecting on the cross of Christ during this time of year, and then celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? What is it about a Nazarene carpenter being crucified by Romans soldiers to a beam of wood, only to three days later break the Roman seal of burial and cause billions of people through the centuries to believe in Him and follow Him? What’s at the center of all of this?

The heart of the Gospel (which being interpreted means Good News) message is that God saw the plight and predicament of the entire human race. He saw our hopelessness. He saw our being bound in sin and suffering. He saw our need for help, and hope and salvation. He saw, and He provided a solution, in the person of a Savior: one who saves His people.

All other religions and faith systems of the world essentially have people working their way to salvation, trying to rise up to a certain ethical, moral or religious standard, but never being assured of salvation, never being guaranteed life and hope. In Christianity, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, steps down into time and comes into the world—not to make us work for our salvation by our own merit, but to grant us the salvation that we as morally bankrupt and hopeless human beings could not earn on our own. Try as we may to earn our own salvation—as many have throughout the history of humankind—we will always fall short of the high and holy standards of God. So the Bible says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Religious Men and Ruling Men

Men have tried through the ages—religious men and ruling men—to earn and engineer salvation for themselves and their fellowmen. Their efforts have only resulted in more enslavement of the human race.

Among religious men I think of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. As I observe the life of Siddhartha, I can’t help but notice, that his quest for truth and salvation may have come full circle after all that was said and done, so that in the end he seemed to arrive at no better conclusion than when he first began. At the time of his so-called enlightening, he is reported to have said “I am freed . . .”1 and “I abided diligent, ardent, self- resolute.”2 Many years later, on his deathbed, he said, “All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.” 3 Or as another version records, “The master opened his lips a last time, ‘All things individual die—strive earnestly­—to find liberation—’ his last faint words mingled and were lost in the breeze that stirred the sal trees.”4

Several things are conspicuous about Siddhartha’s notion of salvation. First, it is something a person must gain for themselves by abiding “diligent, ardent,” and “self-resolute.” You must “work hard” to gain it, just as he did. But then, once you have, you still have no hope because—in his own words—all things, including the one who has gained his own salvation “die,” they are “changeable,” and “not lasting.” Where then has a person who has worked hard to earn his own salvation arrived, when at the end of his life he comes to die, and is trusting in that same hard work which is “changing” and “not lasting”? If the hard work is “not lasting,” has he not arrived at the same point where he began his quest for salvation, to once again begin that hard work? Isn’t this a circular notion of salvation? Hasn’t the person gone around in circles time and time again, only to come full circle each time, to a point of having no assurance of being saved or liberated?

Among ruling men who tried to be saviors of men, I think of Hitler, who through his fiery oratory, and diabolical media-driven propaganda, made the masses believe the lie that he was building them up, when in reality he was taking them all down with him to the abyss. Said Hitler to the German masses one day,

“All this is your doing. Without you Germany could never have been saved. Your courage and perseverance have earned you the right to consider yourselves the saviours of your people.”5

The flaw of German masses? They were seeking a savior from among men. Hitler told them they were their own saviors and in turn they made him their savior. Hitler did not let them turn to the one Savior of all men, Jesus Christ. And from history we know the results of Hitler’s attempts to save: the massacres, and eventual ending of his own life. No one got saved in the end.

The Righteous Ruler Condemned

The Buddha and Hitler (although perhaps diametrically opposed in their world views) serve as examples of failed attempts by human kind to save ourselves. Any other religious figure, or ruler, amounts to the same, because in the end they are all human. Not so Jesus. He was fully God and fully man, and He came on a mission to save us—we who could not save ourselves. The Bible says, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)

But just how did God “condemn sin in the flesh”—your sin and my sin? He did it by causing His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross what happened is what many theologians refer to “the great exchange.” That is, Jesus took my sin upon Himself, and the sins of all those who would believe in Him, and in exchange God gave us Christ's righteousness. The Bible clearly explains this when it says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) In Christ, an unrighteous sinner such as myself, and such as you, deserving of punishment in the eyes of God, is given the righteousness of Christ, when we believe on Him and receive Him as our Savior and substitute. And the word substitute there is paramount, because not only did God in Christ condemn sin in the flesh, but God condemned Jesus Himself, in my place. In the great exchange, not only was my sin exchanged for Jesus’ righteousness, but my punishment was exchanged for His pardon. That is, I should be the one condemned as guilty (and indeed you are, if you do not have Christ), but I am pardoned as innocent, because Jesus was made guilty in my place. As Philip P. Bliss put it,

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

What a Savior indeed! What an exchange! It is as if all my sins were written in a record book. God opens the book and sees the many thick black blotches of my sin, and that I am guilty, deserving of judgment. God then opens the record book of Jesus, His Son. The pages are pristine white and pure. The record is clean and perfect. Not an iota of sin recorded. Just before the Judge pounds the gavel and declares me guilty, Jesus walks to the docket. He tears all the pages from my record book. He then tears all the pages from His record book. Jesus puts His pages in my book, and my pages in His book. And when God, the righteous Judge opens my book, now He sees the record of Christ. And I am declared righteous, and accepted by God. What amazing grace and love! Who else can give you this?

This state of being righteous—right before God—can be yours today. It is made possible by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, when He took your place and mine, dying so we could live, sacrificing Himself so we could be free. Jesus, therefore, is your only hope and mine for salvation. Won’t you receive this salvation today by trusting Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and give you His righteousness?

© Kenny Damara, 2017

1 Drummond, Richard H. Gautama the Buddha. MI: Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974, pp. 38-39. 
2 Ibid, pp. 38-39.
4 Byles, Marie Beuzeville. Footprints of the Gautama Buddha. IL: Wheaton, The Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Book Edition, 1967, pp. 204-205
5 Bullock, Alan. Hitler: A Study in Tyranny. NY: New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1971. (pp. 4-11)

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