If you are in a prison where you are beaten every day, and kept there in very bad circumstances, wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone passing by the prison stopped and offered to take your place?
That you were released and the other person was installed in your cell where the beatings take place? Surely this would seem too good to be true. Yet this is what Jesus did for us.
Now the prison guards would not, in the normal course of things, allow this to happen. The original prisoner, you, had a name and number and a list of offences that caused you to be there in the first place.
What was keeping you in that prison? If we look at Adam when he was kicked out of the garden, he was prevented from re-entering the heaven he had left. What was stopping him was his own guilt, his own guilty conscience. Because he knew he was in the wrong, this knowledge was at odds, was contrary to, the knowledge of his original guilt free condition. Once made guilty, he could not become “un-guilty”.
The angels or the thorny hedge that now surrounded the garden he had been forced from, was a hedge created by his own guilt. The thing was done, it could not be undone. The thorny hedge represented his guilt.
So Adam was in a prison (earthly) of his own making, from which he could not escape, his guilt prevented him from leaving, he was in the place he rightfully deserved to be, and there could be no rightful, legal, justification for him to be excused from that prison, which his guilt had created.
Someone now approaches the prison and offers substitution of themselves for you. The guards, representing that thorny hedge and the flaming angels or whatever, insist that you cannot exit the prison without the sentence having been thoroughly carried out. And you agree, your sense of justice, your God given knowledge of what is right and wrong, agrees with this – even though you long to be released, you cannot accept this unless you have been well and truly exonerated by your release being completely justiified, done “according to the book”.
Only when your conscience can agree with the legal process being “above board”, will you dare to accept release and dare to enter the outside, the place of free men, and be able to hold your head high, so as to see heaven again. The only thing that will validate this position is that a true person of authority will, for the right motives, make the necessary adjustment to the books, showing and proving that there were extenuating circumstances, based on your immaturity at the time, and that you were in the keeping of the greatest authority of all, God.
This means there must be an answer to the appeal of your heart, this longing for release. You will only accept reconciliation with justice, if the highest authority of the land is present and signs the release order himself. Even though you know you must bear responsibility for your actions, you can’t help feeling that your position is somehow also partly because of the authoritative environment that was your lot in the first place.
And so the apparent stranger enters the prison area, and you have a stirring of recognition, that you know this person as being someone you long ago left behind. The image seems to be that of yourself, in close company with one who appears to be the keeper of the garden. This person is ushered into your prison cell, and without a word, the guards undo your chains, and chain this other one in your place.
Dumbfounded, you can only watch on, as the guards commence to beat him, causing him the same pain that you yourself endured, only now the punishment seemed even more intense, as if he was receiving the beatings for many men. You are shown the exit door, and a pathway leads to a gate set in the thorny hedge, where the keeper of the gate hands you a freedom pass as you leave.
This hedge of thorns, this impenetrable wall of guilt, is now behind you. As you look back on the prison precinct, you can see through a window into your previous cell, where you were kept for so long. You see the man, bent low under his suffering, and wearing a crown of thorns on his head, your guilt is bearing him down, increasing his pain and sorrow. Though you are released from your former guilt, a new wave of it sweeps over you, a fresh burst of consternation in your heart, that you were responsible for all of it.
It becomes apparent that his motivation was always love, that he loved you from the beginning, and was always watching, waiting, and preparing for your return. You now know this love that he is, that you were a part of, and the loss of which caused the pain and the guilt.
Thomas was a man who wanted proof that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. He wanted to make sure it was real, and he could only do that by seeing if the marks of pain were genuine. The wounds in the healing hands, the spear thrust to the loving heart, that they matched his own “marks of pain” which sin had inscribed on his heart, that they were the genuine article.
God, Christ, was there all the time. The hedge of thorns had been one of our own making, and he could only watch on until the time appointed to intervene in such a way that we might finally recognise his loving care and concern for us. Now we see our pain as his own. We recognise the sign of the one in authority, we recognise the royal seal of LOVE.