Trading Places With The Man On Death Row

Trading Places With The Man On Death Row

A few years back when I lived in California I took the family to see the Fresno Grizzlies baseball team play on a Saturday night. It was a pleasant spring evening in the city of Fresno for the big match up against their rivals from the city of Reno under the big lights. We were all relaxed and enjoying our expensive ice cream, and I was blissfully distracted by the ‘take me out to the ball game’ spectacle (very different from cricket).

As I sat back I realised my three kids were all sitting on my right hand side, and I wanted to enjoy the action by sitting in between them.  So, I asked my youngest, Verity, to switch and I took her seat and she then took mine –

we traded places.

I then put my arms around my two kids and hugged them close. But within a few seconds I started to hear a commotion rising up from the crowd. I tried to tune into the game but couldn’t figure it out. I thought to myself, “What is going on?”. Something was going on in the game, but I’d been distracted and had no clue what it was. The crowd began to roar more intensely and I looked up and all of a sudden it was right there.  What was right there? The ball. A white leather meteorite rushing towards my head. So, in a momentary act of self-defense, I reached out towards it, but it was a clumsy knee-jerk survival attempt to fend off the ball that was descending towards my face. It ended up hitting me.

On reflection I wish I had been with it enough to be the ‘Champion Dad’, you know, the one who is the Hero and catches the ball and then awards their son with the ball as a trophy, all the while being filmed for TV for the sports highlights. The reality is, though, that there was no time for a father-son highlight reel, for I was just trying to prevent this UFO from invading the earth. Then, in an instant, the ball collided with my thumb and bounced in the rows above us. Out of a different section in the stadium a human rat scampered over and grabbed the ball like a piece of cheese, scurrying off into the darkness. Just like that it was all over, and all I had was a sore thumb and pride to match. Of course I would have liked to have caught the ball, but as I think about the mayhem that just transpired I realised something, and much regret gave way to being filled with gratitude, for I was glad I was able to protect my children from harm. You see, if I hadn’t traded places with Verity, she would have been in the direct firing line and would have gotten smashed in the face by that ball. I gave thanks to God that it was me that took the hit for Verity by trading places with her in the stands in the seconds before the ball hit.

This Easter, as we reflect on the cross of Jesus, let’s take note of a greater switch (substitution) that happens spiritually through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Would you trade places with a prisoner on death row?

In 2018 in Nebraska a twin brother tried to do just that: he attempted to switch places during jail visiting hours with his identical twin brother, all so that he would be executed instead. He wanted to switch places with the man on death row. Would you? Jesus said, ”Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). But that’s for a friend, my question is “would you die for the man on death row?”.

The Bible says,

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:6-8).

It’s a strange thing for someone to willingly die for an ungodly person, but it’s what Jesus has done on the cross. For we are just like those two criminals either side dying in crucifixion, and they are justly getting what their deeds of crime have earned. Like them we are prisoners to our sin and in desperate need of a savior. Jesus in the Easter event is crucified between those prisoners. One of the prisoners mocks him as the savior saying why don’t you save yourself (Luke 23:39), and the other in contrast believes in Jesus as His savior! In that moment Jesus dies for the ungodly man who also dies next to Him. He spiritually trades places with the man on death row.

We are as guilty as those prisoners on the cross, but we can be as free as the one who believed. Jesus takes our place and took the hit by taking all our sin and guilt on the cross, and in exchange we get His perfect righteous standing before God that enables us to live with God forever. Give thanks this Easter for the One who trades places with the man on death row.


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