It is an important part of the game for us. The guys who are sitting out want in… and the guys who are not in as good of shape want out!
I mention this because the words before us here resonate with this theme of substitution. Jesus here does a little switch-er-oo in his family.
To begin with, Jesus looks at Mary and says, “Behold your son.” And in these words I want you to see that Jesus isolates himself.
I. He isolates himself
What you see going on here is something akin to an athletic event where one athlete is substituted for another. When you have a substitution on the basketball court, one player steps in for another. But the one who was substituted must now leave the game. He must take his seat on the bench. In a sense he is isolated from the rest of the players.
What we see here at the cross is that sort of thing taking place. Christ is removing himself from the union he has with his mother. He isolates himself by formally breaking the familial tie he has with her
As he does this we see him willingly taking upon himself the wrath and curse of God.
Isolation is a curse. When God created us, he designed us to have communion with one another. I know that this may be hard to understand for you. We live in such a fragmented and broken society. But that is not the way it is supposed to be. We were created to have communion with one another. True happiness is found being in the presence of other people with complete peace and unity. There is no quarreling in heaven. No factions. Those are characteristics of hell because hell is a place of isolation.
The story of Cain and Able is so telling on this. Do you remember what happened to Cain after he killed his brother? The passage in Gen. 4 tells us that God punished Cain by making him a “fugitive and a wanderer on earth.” His punishment was isolation. His lot in life was to bear the curse of loneliness. And he recognized how miserable that would be because his reaction was one of complete despair! He cried out, “O my punishment is too much for me.” “It is greater than I can bear!”
You’ve no doubt experienced the misery of isolation. How many of you have been in a church that has been ruptured for some ungodly reason? (there are godly separations. But rarely do they happen for godly reasons.) When that church split, you suffered, didn’t you? You were cut off from other godly people. You lost the opportunity to share in their gifts and graces. It was as if there had been a real amputation in the body of Christ. That isolation is a curse. And that is why it is a foul thing to have the peace, purity and the unity of the church rent asunder.
Our society is a miserable place today, isn’t it? You know why? It is because there is so much isolation. Studies say that 36% of children today are born without fathers in the home. That’s not counting those fathers who leave soon-there-after. Kids are isolated.
Even those places that we would not call broken homes are most often places that are fractured. Whole families live in isolation from one another. Mom and dad go opposite directions in the morning. Kids are shipped off to day care or school or to who knows where afterwards. That’s not the way it was meant to be. The two are to become one. The family unit was to be one of the strongest bonds on earth. Home is to be where communion and happiness is found.
And here at the cross you have a severing of the most intimate of earthly relationships. The tie to the home is cut. Christ isolates himself from his own mother.
We know that Jesus is the Son of God. But he was also the son of Mary, according to the flesh. He was nursed at her breast. He was nurtured by her daily affection. He was cared for just as any other human son.
Jesus was not a stoic. He was very man of very man. And to formally have to cut his ties with his mother would have been mentally excruciating. To have to watch her weep over him at the foot of the cross and then see her walk away under some other man’s arm would have been a hell in itself.
Yet, this isolation was the work of the obedient lamb. He willingly broke up his own family so that he might descend into hell for YOU and bear the awful curse of isolation in your place.
You will notice too that as he steps away from the family, he forces another person to stand in his place. That’s the flip side of a substitution. One is not just removed, he is replaced.
II. He replaces himself with his beloved.
Let’s go back to our basket ball illustration. When a sub comes in, what does he do? He replaces one of the players on the court, doesn’t he? He takes his place and stands in his stead. He now has all of the responsibilities and he gets to enjoy all the privileges of the one he took the place of.
Perhaps a better example may be found in the 2008 Summer Olympics. The event was fencing. Italy and China were competing for the bronze medal. Late in the match Matteo Tagliariol, the Italian star, pulled a muscle and had to bow out of the event. His replacement, Stefano Caozzo stepped in and, with only two touches, sealed the medal. What is amazing is that Caozzo got to go home with the medal while the only thing guy who did all the work got to go home with was a terrible limp!
That is a great illustration of how a substitute gets all the blessings that are due to another. And that is a beautiful illustration of what happened right there at the cross.
When Jesus looks at John and says, “Behold, your mother,” he says you now have my spot! You are my replacement. You are going to stand in where I am supposed to be, and you get to enjoy what I am supposed to have.” What was he supposed to have? It was life, of course!
I don’t think it is by coincidence that John is at the foot of the cross at this moment. I don’t think that it happened by chance that Jesus appointed him as the one to stand in Jesus’ place. He is chosen to be because he is the beloved disciple. And as the beloved disciple, he represents every disciple that is beloved by Christ.
Therefore we see in this replacement what kind of death Jesus is dying. It is a vicarious death. It is the fulfillment of all the bulls and goats the priests had sacrificed up to this point. Everyday a family would enter the temple and they would bring their animal. They would lay their hands on it and then give it to the priest who would then slay it. In doing so the family was saying, this animal is dying as my substitute. It will stand in my place as the one who deserves death, and I will be the beneficiary. I will stand in its place as the one who shall live.
Jesus here says, you beloved disciples are the beneficiaries of my life. You get to stand in his place. Just like the Italian guy who got the bronze medal, you get to go home with the prize—You get to go home with everything.
Though you did nothing to deserve it, Christ has thrust you into his place. He has given you access to the Father. He has given you an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade. Though you were a not-so-innocent bystander, he has given you the chance to live forevermore in Paradise.
It is no wonder why we are made to listen in here. The words were no doubt uttered with the utmost pain and with almost inaudible volume due to the agony of crucifixion. Yet they reverberate through history with seismic thunders. They point us to the fact that Christ has become our Great Redeemer. Christ isolated himself in the pit of hell, so that we may walk through the gates of heaven.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.