A thousand miles of pain I’m sure
Led you to the threshold
Of my heart’s screen door
To tell me what it is I’m dying for
Like a cold cold rain
To lead me to the rope again
But someone is standing in my place…
These words are a stanza from John Mark McMillan’s Carbon Ribs. More famously the author of the Christian culture standard How He Loves, JMM writes lyrics which hold their own as poetry. (Look up Ten Thousand sometime.) His lyrics are so good they don’t need the music, but the music is just about sublime sometimes. The words punch me in the gut and bring tears to my eyes; the music puts me in another place.
I experienced actual worship through music for the first time, almost the only time, at a JMM concert. We were outdoors on the lawn of a church. It was June, and all around us the sky was full of darkening clouds and distant lightning. But there was literally a circle of clear sky over our heads. The storm never reached us.
As JMM sang praise and love to his Savior. What allowed me to worship wasn’t the weather, but the music shared together in praise of Someone else. For once the music was not just for my listening pleasure.
I want to think about someone standing in my place.
It’s all about love. Jesus said:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15: 12, 13
Not luck and lollipops, not a panacea, not a magic gesture which makes everyone happy in the chick flick or the Disney. Not fair-weather love. Love which I can know is genuine because it costs.
Love is love when it costs the lover to love. What can the cost be? It can be self-determination, self-interest, turf…my time, my schedule, my priorities…my things, my personal space, my comfort…my goals, my dreams, my plans…my self-esteem, my truth, my pride…my safety. My life.
Jesus gave up every one of these things. He gave up all self-interest in a way no one else ever has. He never, not one time in his life, made a choice because it was what He wanted, because it made him comfortable, or because he preferred it. He always chose what His Father wanted, every time, every minute of his life.
It is the literal truth that He went to his death in my place, and in yours. He rejected the credit, the adulation and the power, all he had every right to claim. He truly deserves all the glory, honor, love and obedience that there is. Instead he chose loneliness, ridicule, rejection, humiliation, torture, and excruciating death.
That humiliation is what I have earned. That death I deserve.. I must let this sink in and really believe it, or I let it become a catchphrase with no real meaning. I deserve the grotesque punishment he received. Me.
Cause I’m a dead man now
With a ghost who lives
Within the confines of
These carbon ribs
Remember facing something overwhelming. That awful thing looms over your every minute and you can’t forget it. You want with all your might to go back to your careless mundane everyday life; you’ll be so thankful if you can ever be there again. Or you’re going to have major surgery and you’re imagining all possible ways that something could go wrong. You’re imagining dying. You can’t forget your anxiety til it’s over.
Then someone knocks on your door. You open it and it’s an acquaintance you haven’t thought much about for weeks. He tells you that he will undergo the surgery in your place. In fact, he’ll take your cancer from you and put in in his own body, and then he’ll have the surgery for you. And he’ll make certain you never have cancer again. He can do all this.
Imagine your reaction.
Imagine you’ve committed terrible crimes. You’re repulsed by what you’ve done to fellow human beings. You’re horrified that what you’ve done can’t be undone. Your guilt is real; any hopes for your future, all your comfort with yourself, all gone. You are tried, convicted and sentenced. The sentence is death, right now, and you deserve it. You’re led up the stairs to face the noose.
Then someone knocks on the door. The door is opened and it’s that acquaintance again. He walks decidedly to the stairs and climbs up to the platform. He looks you in the eyes, gently but firmly pushes you aside and stands in your place. He puts the rope around his neck and falls through the trap. He is executed.
Yes, he can do this too, though He has committed no crime; because He has committed no offense. Your crime is recompensed. Justice is satisfied. You are redeemed to live free and without guilt.
All of these hypotheticals are true; I am guilty enough to die. I have callously offended God and his invaluable human creations. Self-cancer is eating away at me. I cannot save myself in either case. But that Someone is able to do all the rescuing, and He did.
And one day when I’m free
I will sit
A cripple at your table
And I sit beside you