Back in elementary school, our teachers would read books to us quite frequently. It would always be a special time for the class, as we could forget about work and just lose ourselves in this other world for a few minutes, eagerly awaiting for the story to continue. In particular, I remember one book the librarian had read to us, The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman. I don’t really remember the plot of the book, but I do remember this book introducing me to the concept of a “whipping boy.”
Back in Imperial England, princes’ fathers, the King, were often absent for much of their lives. But it was also believed that kings were chosen by divine selection, and this gave no one except the king the right to hit the prince, even as discipline. To remedy this problem, princes were assigned a whipping boy, a boy their same age that would get spanked instead of the prince whenever the prince did something wrong. Now the prince and his whipping boy were generally the best of friends, having grown up and lived life together, and the prince seeing his best friend being hit for his wrongdoing was typically very effective.
So the prince is not punished for doing wrong, and yet in seeing his friend being whipped it makes him want to change his ways. But it is right? Should the kings have allowed this to happen, or should they have punished the prince, the one who had done the wrong?
Should God have punished us for our sin, instead of Jesus?
As horrible as the practice of a whipping boy sounds, isn't that exactly what Jesus did for us? Isn't he our whipping boy? Romans 3 tells us that “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood--to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” I am the prince, who has sinned against God. I am the one who deserved punishment, who deserves death. And yet, neither of these things I received, because Jesus took the beating upon himself. Jesus loves me enough to have humbled himself to being obedient to death--even death on a cross! But he didn't just do this so that we wouldn't be punished: like the whipping boy, he did this to teach us a lesson, to encourage us to change our ways and stop sinning.
As I was thinking about this, I imagined myself as a prince in 15th century England who had a whipping boy. It is hard enough for me to see another person being hit or beaten, even if they deserve deserve it. How much harder would it be to see my best friend being hurt for something I did! To know that my best friend was being hurt in my stead would be so much more painful than to receive the punishment myself. I would want to change, I would want to stop doing bad things. I would want to grow closer to this man, and only by thinking of him more than me would I find the strength to stop sinning against him, so that a stronger relationship would grow.
Jesus, I want you to be my whipping boy.