The Innocent Gave His Life for Us – Romans 5:6
By: Northern Seminary
The year is 1746. The place is my homeland of Scotland. Bonny Prince Charlie had crossed over from France because he wanted his family – the Stuarts – back on the British throne instead of the House of Hanover. After much fighting, his campaign came down to a decisive battle on April 16, 1746 at Culloden, near Inverness, in the north of Scotland. That battle could not have gone worse for the prince’s Jacobite troops who were slaughtered by the government forces. Bonny Prince Charlie fled the battle ground and went on the run.
A huge sum of money was offered for information that would lead to the prince’s capture. In today’s money it would come to over $6 million. Government forces scoured the hills and glens of northern Scotland looking for the prince who was in hiding, but no-one betrayed him.
Then they found him in Glenmoriston. He was surrounded and questioned, beaten, and finally killed. The government forces withdrew. Bonny Prince Charlie was dead.
Except he wasn’t. The government troops had not captured Charlie but Roderick Mackenzie, a man who looked very like the prince. Roderick Mackenzie could easily have saved himself. All he had to do was tell who he really was. But he didn’t. He wouldn’t. Mackenzie knew that every hour they questioned him and every hour those government forces stopped searching, the real prince who had been hiding nearby in the glen could escape and find safety. Roderick Mackenzie accepted death so that another could live.[i]
The Good Friday message of Easter is that Jesus Christ did exactly that – not for a royal prince – but for us. He died so that we could live.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
The key phrase is “Christ died for the ungodly”.
First, that means he saved us when we could not save ourselves. We needed a Savior.
When I was a child I loved old western movies. Sometimes they’d have a scene where someone had stumbled into quicksand. I would shiver with terror. Probably even now, if I had a list of ways I would not like to die, sinking in quicksand would be near the top. I would watch those old movies scared through and through for the quicksand’s victim. The more the person struggled the deeper they sank. But even if they stayed still they’d sink lower and lower, the sand getting up to the chest, the neck and eventually they’d disappear under. Unless, that is, Lassie, Champion the Wonder Horse, the Lone Ranger, or someone had fetched help. Then – with help – there was a chance – a rope was thrown – pulled around the struggling figure – and out he was pulled. On his own, certain death. The only chance of survival, a rescuer.
Paul writes that we were “powerless” – we were the “ungodly.” We got ourselves into spiritual quicksand and our own failings – our sins – were dragging us under. We had no goodness to save ourselves and we had no power to save ourselves. We would have been lost forever without a Savior. But there is one, and his name is Jesus.
“Christ died for the ungodly” is what is good about Good Friday. Jesus has saved those who could not save themselves.
Second, Paul is saying that Christ took the penalty that was ours.
Here is my simple and personal way of thinking about what that means. Christians often talk about the ‘cross of Christ.’ Well, it is but also it isn’t. Jesus certainly died on that cross and the Romans certainly intended to crucify him. But from God’s perspective there was something deeper, something very significant going on – that he was hanging there for me and for you. He was suffering there for sin, but it was not his sin. Jesus did no wrong. Every thought, every word, every action of his was right. But not my thoughts, my words, my actions. I have done plenty wrong. I am the one who deserves to die for sin (Rom. 6: 23), but it was not me but Jesus on the cross.
So, in that sense, it was not the ‘cross of Christ’, but the ‘cross of Alistair Brown’ – and you could put your own name in that sentence.
Because of that truth – because Jesus died for us – our lives are transformed. Paul says a few verses later that “we have now been justified by his blood” (v. 9). We are free, but only because he paid the price. He suffered and he died so we would not have to.
When I was ten and my brother Alan was twelve we entered a rowing boat race. The boating lake was not long, only about 150 yards. We reckoned we’d win. We were strong. We would row the length of that lake faster than any others. Our parents along with a large crowd were standing on the bank cheering. We’d show them. We certainly did.
A signal sounded to start the race, and Alan and I pulled hard on the oars. Off we set, fast and furious just as we planned. But we had gone only ten yards when we realized we had the worst boat on the lake. It leaked! Under our weight, and rowing so hard, our leaky boat was quickly filling with water. We thought we might make it to the end of the race, but the water was soon over our ankles. A few strokes later it was nearly to our knees. That boat was going down. And we were going down with it.
Our Dad and Mom had seen what was happening. Now they were not cheering but shouting frantically for us to row to the bank. Desperately my brother and I turned the boat that way. The lower it got in the lake the harder it was to row. The level of water in the boat rose and rose. Twenty yards to the bank. Ten yards to the bank. The boat nearly full. Five yards. Two yards. It was sinking! But one last desperate thrust with the oars and we made it.
My Dad was crouched over to grab the edge of our boat as it came alongside the rough concrete wall. But somehow he timed his reach wrong, and his hand got trapped between the boat and the jagged concrete edge. But desperate to secure the boat for his two boys, he dragged his hand out from between the boat and the rough edge, and then gripped firmly on the boat while our Mom helped us scramble to safety just before it finally sank.
My Dad had been suffering from serious eczema for some time, and now his hand, crushed by the impact and with the skin scraped off as he pulled it free, was pouring with blood. The pain for him was excruciating. Even now, as I think of it, I can picture Dad walking and walking in circles trying to survive the agony of his bleeding hand.
But he would never have let go. That boat sinking was not his fault, but he would pay any price to save his sons.
God would pay any price to save his children from sin. He did. The price was death, and “Christ died for the ungodly.” He died for you and for me.
Jesus did not have to do it. He was innocent. He could have walked away. But he chose to stay and chose to die. It was a dreadful death, but it was his gift of love that we might live forever.
The innocent gave his life for us. On Good Friday, at Easter, we have so much for which to be thankful.
[i] In Glenmoriston today a plaque reads: “At this spot in 1746 died Roderick Mackenzie an Officer in the Army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart of the same size and similar resemblance to his Royal Prince when surrounded and overpowered by the troops of the Duke of Cumberland gallantly died in attempting to save his fugitive leader from further pursuit”. After months of fleeing from place to place throughout the Scottish Highlands, the Prince eventually escaped to France and never returned to Scotland.