Jesus Our Substitute
When I played football, everyone wanted to be a starter. Whether our position was forward, defender, or mid-field, to 'start' - to be one of the players on the field at the beginning of the match and be entrusted with the bulk of playing time - it was both an honour and a responsibility.
Some people never made it in to the game, but some people - a group of 3 or 5 players - they tended to be substitutes. Although they weren't good enough to start, sometimes they could come in for the second half or later and give the team a boost. With fresh legs and energy, sometimes a timely substitution could turn the outcome of a match.
But make no mistake: even though substitutes could sometimes be heroes, they weren't as good as the starters. So the substitutes were always a step down: if they were as good as the starters, they would be starting!
When Abraham istested by God (Genesis 22), he promises Isaac that God will provide a lamb for the sacrifice, and indeed God did. This points to Jesus, who is our substitute: he lived the life we should have lived; he died a death in our place - the death we should have died. And three days later he was raised from the dead demonstrating his victory over sin and death.
Paul teaches us about Jesus as substitute in several places:
Romans 5:6: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:8: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 Corinthians 15:3 Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures
Christ died for our sins, he died for the ungodly, he died for us: the death of Christ was on behalf of us, to deal with the problem of sin, to resolve the issue separating us from God.
When God sent Jesus to be our substitute - he wasn't sending in the second team. Rather, we, the first team - the starters - displayed our utter incompetence on the pitch. The score was a gazillion to none - we were losing, we were behind, and there was no way we could win on our own. When God sent Jesus to be our substitute, he sent the best: Jesus completely defeated the opposition and invites us to participate in his victory.
We all have a choice: we can keep trying to win on our own, or we can relinquish our spot and let the substitute take our place. Trust me: Jesus is a better player than we'll ever be; the substitute can do what we can never do. That's why the essence of the Christian life is a perpetual looking to Jesus, trusting in Jesus, and thanking Jesus for what he has done for us. Jesus is the perfect substitute.