Posted on April 6th, 2012
Many of you have read The Hunger Games trilogy, or seen the movie based on the first book. I haven’t seen the movie, but that’s on my list for after Easter Sunday. For those of you who haven’t read the book, it is set in a post-apocalypse America, the country being renamed Panem – Latin for “bread.” But bread is in short supply. A small group of elites lives prosperously in the capital city, while the people of the twelve districts are slaves of the state. Every year two children, a boy and a girl, are chosen from each district to compete in the Hunger Games, where the 24 contestants kill each other until only one is left.
Now this isn’t the sort of literature we’re assigning at Immanuel Lutheran School, but I’m fairly certain that didn’t stop most of my students in the upper grades from reading the books. The protagonist of the novels, Katniss, has a little sister named Prim. Prim is small and vulnerable, and when she is chosen for the Hunger Games, she will certainly die. So what does Katniss do? She volunteers to take her sister’s place. She gives herself on behalf of Prim. And what a terrible thing it is for them both! Prim, saved from death, watches her sister whisked away to her likely doom.
Do you see the shadows of Jesus in all this? Katniss goes to what she assumes will be her death to save her sister. She makes an exchange – her life for Prim’s. Likewise Katniss’s friend Peeta serves even more as a Christ-figure: he takes a stab-wound meant for Katniss, and he lies in a cave on the edge of death for three days, before coming out—back, as it were, to life. After three days. Sound familiar?
But think about this: would Katniss or Peeta have died for President Snow, the tyrant who terrorizes all Panem? No. And that is where the story of our Lord Jesus Christ—which is a true story—trumps The Hunger Games and every other story, true or fiction, ever told. For our Lord Jesus does not die only for His friends. He dies for His enemies, those who betrayed Him, cursed Him, abused Him, mocked Him, spit upon Him, crowned Him with thorns, whipped Him, pierced Him.
The apostle Paul writes in Romans, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” That’s not just a description of the villains in popular fiction, or the person in real life who is mean to you or hurts you. When the Bible says, “Christ died for the ungodly,” it means you. And me. We are the ungodly.
But Paul goes on: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5.7f). Maybe you would die for your best friend. Probably you would exchange your life for the life of your child. Perhaps you would die for your parents, your brother or sister. But die for the worst person, the person who hates you, die for the person who would never dream of doing the same for you? Hardly.
But this is what Jesus does. We call it the “happy exchange” – Christ takes our death and gives us His life. He takes our sin and gives us His righteousness. He takes our filth and gives us His beauty. He takes our sorrow and gives us His joy. He takes our hunger and gives us a feast! Everything miserable and destructive, hateful and spiteful, Jesus takes into Himself, and gives you everything wonderful and creative, glorious and glad.
Jesus goes into the arena to die, and you are set free to live. That is the happy exchange. Because of this day, because of Jesus’ death, death itself has lost its strength. You are now in Him, so when you go to your own death, you can know and be certain that death has no power over you. Christ has made the happy exchange with you, He has died your death, pardoned your sins, and gives you even His resurrection. Even though you die, yet shall you live.
That is why we call this Friday of all Fridays “Good.” +INJ+