IN MY PLACE
Ian Rees, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Luis and Sebastian were twins and their home was a flat-roofed white house outside the walls of a little mountain town. Their parents had died but had left them a small inheritance and the boys lived on in their old home. They were so alike that no one in the town could easily tell them apart, but as the years passed the boys developed differently. Sebastian held a good job; he was kind, steady and hardworking, and everyone spoke well of him. But Luis was lazy and would not work. He was fond of nightlife and drank hard.
Late one night Sebastian sat at the window, strangely uneasy, his eyes fixed on the white ribbon of road that led to the city gates. Luis, as usual, was not yet home, but somehow tonight his brother could not sleep.He spotted the running figure even before he heard the beat of his feet on the road, and he went to the door. Luis was running alone, and pushed past him into the house. By the light of the lamp Sebastian could see that Luis’ face was deathly pale, his clothes were torn and blood-stained and he trembled so that he could hardly speak.
‘Sebastian, hide me! hide me! They are coming to take me and it will be death for me’, he panted. ‘What do you mean?’ asked Sebastian, running to the window. Sure enough, a crowd of people were making their way from the town to the house.‘We drank too much’ cried Luis.‘We fought . . . I didn’t mean to . . . he fell backwards and died.O Sebastian, hide me! What shall I do?’
But Sebastian already knew what to do and was tearing off his shirt. There was not a moment to spare. ‘Put on these clothes and take off yours’, he said hurriedly. ‘Now quick! Stop trembling and go. Out through the back door and up into the hills, and don’t come back for a long time. Run, brother, I’ll sort this out’.
Luis disappeared through the back door just in time. The crowd was already surging round the house as he disappeared in the dark up the hill behind the house. The town guard hammered on the door and burst in as Sebastian opened it. Sebastian was standing very still, breathing fast, his hair dishevelled, his face dirtied, wearing his brother’s blood-stained clothes. The guard handcuffed him, but he offered no resistance. He walked quietly to the town gaol. Several weeks later he was tried and condemned to death for murder.
‘How quiet he stood!’ commented the men and women in the bars and homes of the town. ‘He did not say a word to defend himself. He pleaded guilty, and made no attempt to hide his bloodstained clothes. And where was that fine brother of his? He was not at the trial nor has he been to work for days.He has disappeared and let his brother down. A fine family! Is he ashamed of his brother? Is he to let him die alone?’
Luis hid in the hills and small villages around the town for several months. He worked for a farmer during the day, but was afraid to leave his lodgings at night. He dreamt frequently of those running feet, of the fight, of his fear.He regretted killing his comrade, and longed to see his brother again. He resolved, at last to return home. By now he had grown a beard and was not afraid of being recognized.
He walked into his home town on the next market day and mingled with the crowd. He overheard some speaking of the murder case and, in particular, of the brother, Sebast i a n , who had disappeared into his house. Some said it was because of the shame of what his brother, Luis, had done.‘I hear the killer got away’, Luis interrupted. ‘Are they still searching for him, or have they given up?’ ‘Given up!’ someone replied. ‘Did you not hear that they caught him the same day, in his own house, still dressed in his bloodstained clothes? He pleaded guilty at the trial, which was therefore over quickly, he was sentenced to death, and was in fact executed last week. He died bravely, there is no doubt, which is more than can be said for that coward brother of his, Sebastian, of whom we all thought very highly at one stage.He has not been seen in the town since, and didn’t even come to bid his brother farewell’.
Luis hardly heard this last comment. With a desolate groan he turned from the market place and made his way, half-blinded with tears, to the Governor’s mansion and demanded an entrance. The Governor came to see what the commotion was all about. ‘You have killed an innocent man’, cried Luis. ‘It was my brother, Sebastian you killed, not me. I killed the man in the fight. You must arrest and punish me’. The Governor withdrew. After much consultation he reappeared. ‘The law says a life for a life’, he announced.‘If your brother was innocent we did not know that. He looked like you, he wore the bloodstained clothing, he pleaded guilty, he was found guilty and was sentenced. The case is closed, and we do not want to kill two men for one. Go and keep your mouth shut, and see that you make no more trouble’.
As Luis turned blindly away, the Governor said, ‘Are you his only brother?’‘Yes’, replied Luis.‘Then I have a letter for you’, said the Governor. ‘Your brother asked to be given pen and paper before he died, and then gave this envelope to me to give to a brother of his should he ever come for it. Here it is. Take it and go’.
Alone in his old home that evening, where he and his brother had spent many a pleasant evening in childhood, and many an angry one in later years, Luis sat with his memories, the unopened letter in his hand. It was nearly midnight before he opened it. It was short, and he read it over and over again.
‘My dear Luis,’ ran the letter. ‘This morning I shall die, of my own free will, in your place and in your bloodstained shirt. Now I plead with you, live in my place and in my clean shirt. I send you my love, as always. May God bless you. Sebastian’. And Luis understood. The waster, who had lived for himself, and had drunk hard, fought and murdered, must be counted as dead in the prison. The man who had loved and suffered and sacrificed must go on living. It should be so. If his brother had died for him, he must live for his brother. He sat alone for a long time, his head in his hands. When morning came, he washed, shaved, dressed himself in clean clothing, and went out, as his brother would have done, to face a new day and a new beginning.
This is an old story from Spain which took place many years ago when law courts were not as thorough as they are now. The story is an illustration of what Christ did for sinners. That Christ died in the place of others is the clear teaching of scripture. To a far greater degree than Sebastian for Luis, Christ suffered, ‘the just [instead of ] the unjust’, 1 Pet. 3. 18. He was a willing substitute, a good shepherd who came to give His life for the sheep, John 10. 11. He bore the just judgement of a holy God for sin He had never done. He ‘was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all’, Isa. 53. 5-6. This God did, so that all who believe in His Son Jesus Christ, accept His death on their behalf, and determine to live for God as Christ would have done, might know peace with God.
Do you know the reality of this in your life? That Christ died our death, taking the place of guilty sinners, bearing our punishment, is the clear teaching of scripture. That we who believe this ought to live a new life for God is equally the clear teaching of scripture. He ‘gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from this present evil world’, Gal. 1. 4. ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’, Gal. 2. 20. As we identify ourselves with the death of Christ in our place, and as we ‘were buried with him by baptism into death . . . even so we also should walk in newness of life’, Rom. 6. 4.
Go on. Do what Luis did: live the life of the One who died in your place.
This is an edited version of a story originally written by Patricia St. John and published in a book called,Would You Believe It?
AUTHOR PROFILE: IAN REES saw an assembly planted in Francistown, Botswana, having served the Lord there for 13 years. Now based in the UK, he was in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, one of his commending assemblies. He has now moved to establish a new assembly in Tenby, West Wales. He is married and has seven children.