When Tom Hanks plays the merchant mariner Captain Phillips in the 2013 film by that name, he learns something about ransom. Somali pirates, hostage taking, threats, and finally an eleventh-hour rescue keep viewers on the edge of their seats. We understand the concept of ransom. When I have something you want, you can ransom it back by exchanging it for something I consider precious.
As Jesus stands before the Roman establishment, betrayed by His culture, His religious leaders, and one of His own disciples, a ransom is happening. This is no accident. It is not even an event that catches Him by surprise. There is no ransom forthcoming on His behalf to rescue Him from His unjust captors. He Himself is the ransom being offered. It’s the scandal to top all unprecedented feats. There is more here than meets the eye.
Remember the crowds that had met Jesus only days earlier as He crested the Mount of Olives on the back of a donkey? The echoes of their hosannas have hardly had time to fade away. Now they are replaced by cries of ‘crucify him!’ What strange passion has altered the people’s loyalties?
Beaten by guards before being brought to mock trial, Jesus puzzles His captors with His quiet yet powerful responses. He is passed from Jewish elders to Pilate’s jurisdiction. From Pilate to Herod, and back to Pilate, none understand the transaction that will take place.
In confusion, Pilate considers His options. Roman justice requires him to release the innocent. Yet, the crowd of Jews will surely revolt if Pilate lets Jesus go free. The loophole of releasing a prisoner to the people as a Passover concession has closed; the mob demands the release of a murderer rather than Jesus.
So Pilate succumbs. He releases Barabbas and condemns Jesus to crucifixion. Now the shouts of the people line Jesus’ path not with palm branches and hosannas but with laughs of derision. He submits Himself to the humiliation, the pain, and the destruction of His body for one reason. He is the ransom.
Isaiah 53 prepares us centuries before for this day, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
But could we ever be fully prepared for this? Jesus, the Son of God, comes to be the ransom for you and me and every one of the billions of people who have lived on this planet or ever will. He is the only one precious enough in the Father’s eyes to be the exchange. What do we mean by exchange?
Who of us claims to be perfect? None. We’ve all missed the mark by God’s standard. We’ve been taken hostage by sin and Satan and our own self-destructive flesh. There is no limit to the violence and darkness and death with which we’ve allied ourselves. God has not created Hell for us; we’ve designed it for ourselves. But He just won’t leave us to our own designs. And so, Jesus hangs there on the cross to be the ransom for us. It’s more than a fair exchange: one perfect man for countless imperfect ones.
It’s an eleventh hour rescue. We have three days to absorb it all. Let’s use that time wisely. Let’s start by praying, “Jesus, my ransom…”
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons