I was shoved to the ground. My hands stung from the impact, but I hardly noticed. My mind was focused on the whip in the thick hands behind me.
“Please,” I begged, “please don’t…”
“Don’t what?” snarled my tormentor, “Don’t give you what you deserve?”
“I don’t deserve…”
“What did you say?” My tormentor planted his foot in the middle of my back, making me sprawl flat on the ground. “Did you just tell me you don’t deserve this?” His voice took on a patronizing tone. “Tell me again who it was who broke the law? Who was it who refused to obey the rules? It wasn’t I.”
“I didn’t mean to….” I rasped, finding it hard to speak while a heavy foot was pressed into my back. I tried again. “I didn’t ‘refuse to obey.’ I just ….” The foot left my back then came back with a hard jab to my side.
“Are you mocking me? You didn’t follow the law, and last time I checked, not following the law is not obeying the law. You. Refused. To. Obey.” I pulled myself to my knees, holding my side. Surly I wouldn’t really be given the punishment. It was unreasonable.
“Alright, I know I broke the law, but isn’t the punishment a bit harsh?”
A fist slammed into the back of my head and I saw small sparks of light.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Was that a bit harsh for you?” he sneered. I blinked a few times to get the stars out of my vision. I reached my hand up to hold my head, but my tormentor beat me to it. His meaty hands grabbed a handful of hair and jerked my head back so that I was facing him. His face was only inches from mine, and I could smell rancid breath coming from his mouthful of yellowed teeth.
“Listen to me,” he said lowly. “When you broke the law, you gave yourself to me. Nothing I decide to do is too harsh. I own you.” His hand released my head, and I heard his heavy foot falls make their way behind me.
I licked my dry lips and said, “You don’t have to do this.” There was no response. Somehow that was more frightening than all his menacing words.
“Get up,” he finally said. I stood up, relieved. “Walk,” he told me. Was I free to go? I started to turn around. “Forward idiot! Walk forward,” he yelled at me. I nervously began to walk forward. If I wasn’t free to go, then where was I going?
Then I saw it: a pole. Lying next to the pole was a rope. I swallowed and my palms began to sweat. My tormentor shoved me to my knees. He took my arms and tied my wrists to the pole in front of me.
“I won’t do it again, alright. I swear I won’t. I won’t even think of doing it again. Just let me off this once,” I pleaded. He didn’t answer. “Please give me a break. Have some mercy.”
The back of his hand smacked my jaw. “There’s your mercy,” he said cooly. Then he walked away, leaving me kneeling with my hands tied above me. My mind refused to believe this was happening.
A whistling sound cut the air and, with a crack, something came down on the ground behind me.
“Are you ready?” asked my tormentor. There was another whistling sound and another crack on the ground as the whip hit. My heart sped up.
“Are you ready to get what you deserve?” The whip smacked the ground beside me, only inches away. My breath became shallow and fast. I closed my eyes.
“Stop.” It wasn’t the voice of my tormentor. I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t see who the voice belonged to.
“What is the meaning of this!?” demanded my tormentor, “I have every right to give what is deserved. You can’t stop me from bringing about justice.”
I heard footsteps, and a knife filled my view. It cut through the ropes that held my wrists.
“What are you doing?!” called my tormentor.
Gentle hands helped me to my feet. My rescuer was a plain man—neither tall nor short, strong nor thin. His eyes were the only thing I noticed. They were different than most eyes I’d seen. They held compassion.
The tormentor glared at my rescuer. “This person,” he jabbed a finger in my direction, “broke the law. There must be punishment!”
“There will be,” said the man. I cringed inside. I thought this man was going to let me go.
“Oh really?” said the tormentor snidely, “Then I suppose you would like to explain to me why you have just freed the person who is to be punished? “
“I will stand in.”
“What?” The tormentor looked genuinely confused.
“I will stand in and take the punishment for them.”
The tormentor’s eyes gleamed greedily. “Well, if that is what you want to do…”
“Wait! You can’t take my place,” I told him, “You don’t know what my sentence is.”
The man held up his hand. “It’s alright. I will stand in for you.”
“Shut up!” The tormentor glowered at me. “It isn’t up to you. It’s too late. He’s made his decision.”
I stood looking from the tormentor to the man who was about to take my place, unsure of what to do.
“You might not want to stand so close. This thing doesn’t have the best aim,” the tormentor told me with a sly grin.
The man gave me a reassuring nod. As much as I didn’t want this man to take my punishment, I also didn’t want to have the pain inflicted on me. It didn’t seem like I had much choice anyway. I stepped back.
The tormentor started to pick up one of the longer pieces of the cut rope to tie the man’s hands.
“Didn’t I come willingly?” asked the man without turning to look at him. The tormentor left the rope and walked behind the man. My rescuer looked calmly forward, waiting. His eyes looked directly into mine.
The tormentor didn’t taunt the man as he did me. Instead, he launched into the man with a maniac pleasure. The man’s eyes steadily held mine as the first blow hit with a sickening sound. The man flinched but didn’t cry out. The next blow came. I wondered if I would have been as composed as he was. I doubted it.
The whip fell on his back again, then again. I flinched with each blow. He was hit a fifth time, and that time, he groan escaped his lips. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his. His gaze was locked on mine. His whole face grimaced in pain as the whip came down on him again. It should have been my back.
The tormentor’s face was contorted in hatred as he brought the whip down harder than before. The man cried out. I wanted to yell for him to stop, but my lungs seemed to have run out of air, and my mouth wouldn’t move. In the corner of my eye, I saw the whip fly back, strike, fly back, strike. Over and over again until I lost count. Sprinkles of blood flew through the air. The man looked into my eyes with steely resolve.
It went on forever. I thought it must be a dream—a nightmare. It was a long nightmare filled with compassionate, pain filled eyes and the sound of a whip hitting flesh. It was the worst nightmare I’d ever had.
The man collapsed. He fell to his hands and knees with a cry. His shirt was completely torn off his back and his skin was a crisscross of cuts. Blood was everywhere. My back should have looked like that. My blood should be everywhere.
The tormentor whipped him again.
“Stop,” I said in a hoarse voice.
He was whipped again.
“Stop,” I said more forcefully.
The whip came down again.
“Stop!” I screamed, “Stop it! Stop it!”
The tormentor looked coldly into my eyes and brought the whip sizzling through the air. The man moaned.
“You can’t do this,” I insisted, “This man didn’t do anything. He didn’t do what I did. He doesn’t deserve this.”
“Do about it.”
My stomach turned. This man shouldn’t be suffering this pain. It was mine. It was my fault; the pain belonged to me. I sank to my knees, no longer able to stand. Tears filled my eyes. I watched in horror as the man who took my place was whipped again, and again, and again.
When his back became so mangled it resembled chewed meat, I could no longer watch. I closed my eyes and hung my head. I put a hand over each ear, but I could still hear the whip. I could still hear the innocent man’s groans.
Finally, all was silent. The man was finished standing in my place. It was over. He took my sentence for me.
My sentence: to be whipped to death.
There are few people who are willing to take a punishment for something they didn’t do, and even fewer people who would give their life for someone else. Thankfully, someone stood in for me and took my punishment. I never feel truly alone because even if I’m surrounded by people who don’t value my life, I know that Jesus does enough to give his own.
What about you? Is there someone in your life who would die for you? Is there someone for whom you would die?