The Lord has taken away your punishment . . . Zephaniah 3:15 (NIV)
In the days when corporal punishment was commonplace in the schools, there were four boys who were sent to the principal’s office to be reprimanded for bullying. While they were nervously waiting for the principal, another boy arrived with a message from a teacher. The messenger boy conscientiously stood beside the four bullies as he waited to pass on the note. After awhile, the harried principal appeared at the door and ushered them into his office. The four bullies traipsed in while the messenger boy remained outside. But the principal had noticed five boys so he barked at the fifth boy to move it up and get inside. Thinking that the principal was going to take the note before dealing with the bullies, the fifth boy dutifully entered the office.
The messenger boy’s feet had barely touched the carpet when the principal told the bullies to prepare for two switches each. “And you!” said the principal to the messenger boy. “But, but . . . Sir!” began the boy. “Don’t but me!” interjected the principal, “Bend and take your punishment. You can make your excuses afterwards!” Totally intimidated, the messenger boy did as he was told and received the two lashes. It was only when the principal had finished meting out the punishment that the boy managed to explain that he’d brought a letter from the teacher. To which the principal responded, “Okay. That means you’re in credit for the next time!”
I suspect the story of the messenger boy may be apocryphal. What’s true is that Jesus, an innocent man who “was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), was unjustly condemned and received a punishment He never deserved when Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem, handed Him over to a Jewish lynch mob “to be crucified” (John 19:15).
So what? Innocent people are sometimes unfortunately punished or killed. There have been miscarriages or abuses of justice before and there’ll be miscarriages or abuses of justice to come. So why is Jesus’ crucifixion such a big deal? Because, unlike other wrongful deaths, Jesus’ death accomplished what no other death could do. For Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him . . . and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Pierced, crushed and punished – our wickedness piled on Jesus. It’s remarkable, amazing – more than words can ever tell. His death puts us in right standing with God. Isn’t that fantastic? Because Jesus took the punishment that was meant for us, it’s been credited to our advantage!