Caiaphas did not know what he was saying when he famously declared "It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:30). The Easter message, prophesied by the man who was masterminding the plot to kill Jesus! What he unwittingly said was true, but it was far from the whole truth. Not just any man's death would do.

Sadly, many deaths, however altruistic, have been a waste of a life. One such futile death was that of William Stark.

Stark was investigating the problem of scurvy - an ailment estimated to have cost the lives of 2 million sailors between 1500 and 1850. It typically accounted for half the crew on any long voyage, but nobody knew what it was or why so many died at sea.

In the 1760's, Stark, a doctor conducted a series of foolhardy experiments to try to identify the active agent behind these deaths. As Bill Bryson tells us, he did this somewhat bizarrely by depriving himself of it (At Home, p.166), whatever "it" was.

So, for weeks Dr Stark lived on only the most basic of foods - mostly bread and water - to see what would happen. What happened was that in about 6 months he killed himself - from scurvy, but without coming to any helpful conclusions at all.

He who had no scurvy, took on scurvy, but it just killed him. It was of no benefit to those who had scurvy. Just one more statistic. So the key to the success of Caiaphas' prophecy is not simply that there has to be a man who will die. What matters is who that man is. It was vital that when he who knew no sin became sin for us, that he knew what he was doing and that he would be the right man for the job. Heroics and altruism were not enough.

Jesus was the only man for the job. As the Son of God he knew exactly what he was doing. If he had simply been God he could not have died, so it was necessary that he became a man (as he never had been) to stand in man's place. But if he had been simply a man, his death would not have been big enough to substitute for the death of every man who had ever lived, nor would he have been powerful enough to conquer the death he died; so he had to continue to be God, as he always had been. It was the only death that could save the perishing world because he was the only man whose death could count.

It is by his stripes, not by those of the foolhardy Dr Stark, that people are healed.

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