Taking the Place of Murderers

Rev. Mark Buetow

And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will. (Luke 23:25)

We know we live in this world surrounded by the horrors and tragedies of sin. Often, we’re so accustomed to these things that they don’t even strike our conscience. We are not aware of them. Maybe we’ve become desensitized. Maybe we just don’t have the emotional energy to care. Maybe we just don’t want to know what goes on. Every so often the curtain is pulled back and events like the trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell brings these horrors vividly to light. This man ran a clinic that not only provided women with the service of killing their unborn children but in many cases, he murdered babies born alive by cutting their spinal cords. For just a little while, the graphic horrors of sin are made known for all to see.

OK, Kermit Gosnell is a murderer. If we take seriously the teaching of God’s Word that He Himself is the one who gives life and takes it away, we can clearly conclude that taking the life of any child is murder, born or unborn. Many were surprised to hear that these horrors exist in a world where we were promised 40 years ago that legalizing abortion would make it a safe procedure. Are we surprised that when taking the life of an unborn child is made legal and seen as OK it leads to such sadness? It is easy to take the examples and opportunities that such a case presents to stand in stern judgment, wagging our fingers and supposing that now we have a clear example to prove to the world that these evils are real. Here we can point to a man and say, yes, that’s a murderer. A modern day King Herod who would kill babies. If there ever was a murderer, it must look like this guy, Kermit Gosnell.

So take a moment then to ponder the words of St. Luke above. A murderer is just the sort of person with whom Jesus traded places! Maybe Barabbas, the man Pontius Pilate let go, didn’t kill babies. It doesn’t really matter. Somebody died at Barabbas’ hands and for no good reason. And he was on his way to be nailed to a cross for six hours and have his legs smashed to make him hurry up and die. Painfully. Badly. Except he didn’t go. He didn’t make the death march to Golgotha. Pilate released Barabbas and sent Jesus to be crucified in his place. And, what’s worse, that choice was made because people would rather have the murderer saved than the innocent man who never did anything but heal and forgive and preach good news!

Whether or not you’ve followed the trial of these abortion clinic horrors; whether you’ve paid attention to this murderer and his fate or not; ponder this: You are a murderer too. The Fifth Commandment, YOU SHALL NOT KILL, convicts every person of murder because of what Jesus taught us about it. He said that it doesn’t just mean killing babies after they were born or committing homicide. He says it also takes place in the heart. Murder happens in our hatred and anger and rage at others even if we don’t actually act on it. (See Matthew 5:22).

So if you’re a murderer too, then what? Good news! Jesus takes the place of murderers! That’s what He does. That means that Jesus came to trade places with you and people like Kermit Gosnell who kill babies for a living. And here is where true repentance comes: We don’t want to believe that what Jesus did counts for everyone. At least not people like that. We can intellectually acknowledge that, “Yes, I’m a murderer by my attitude or anger” but our thoughts say, “And while that may be true, it’s just simply not the case that I’m as bad as that guy.” It should be a great warning to us not to stand in judgment against a man like that. It should also warn us away from trying to show the world that we think we’re better than such a person merely because we offer hope and life to people where he only offered death.

The only answers to such horrors is Jesus. Jesus who became the murderer so Barabbas, and Kermit Gosnell and you could go free. Our prayer ought to be that what has been given to us by Christ in baptism, absolution, the Gospel and the Supper--the forgiveness of sins--will be declared to this man. And we should give thanks that we are able to hear that forgiveness again and again and over and over. There is a temptation to declare with some relief that this man will get what he deserves for what he has done. But let there be this fervent prayer that while the state will give him what he has coming, the Lord would make known to Kermit Gosnell that he won’t get what he deserves from God. Instead, pray that He would receive what Jesus has earned by taking His place.

Jesus once told His disciples, when questioned about some tragedies in the news, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5) By “repent” Jesus doesn’t mean here “fix your life in such a way that you can avoid the consequences of doing bad things.” Rather, by “repent” He means “believe that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can get rid of our sin except Him.” And that’s exactly what He does when He works things out so that He is the one who goes to Calvary and sinners are the ones who are set free. Thanks be to God for His Son Jesus Christ who came to trade places with the murderers. All of them.

They rise and needs will have My dear Lord made away; A murderer they save, The Prince of Life they slay. But cheerful He To suff’ring goes That He His foes From thence might flee. (My Song is Love Unknown, LSB 430:5)

Created: May 14th, 2013