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Introducing Barabbas

“During the feast, it was the tradition of the governor to release one prisoner to the crowd which they desired.”

(Matthew 27:15)

“During the feast, he would release to them one prisoner for whom they asked. And there was one called Barabbas with the rebels in prison who had committed murder in the rebellion.”

(Mark 15:6-7)

 

There is record of a Roman custom of releasing a captive to the people on certain festival days. It does not seem to be something that was widely practiced, but there are certainly documented cases of this taking place in other parts of the Roman empire. Reasonably, it ought not be too surprising that in Judah, Pilate would have practiced this as a way of placating the people. In this case, Mark and Luke both refer to an insurrection that had taken place in the city of Jerusalem in which Barabbas was a participant (and likely a leader). In the chaos that comes along with such a rebellion, Barabbas had murdered a man and was in prison for that action.

As we introduce this man, it is important to note that there is an irony found in names — another sign of God’s providential superintendence of these events. In Aramaic, Barabbas means, “Son of the Father.” Jesus was the true Son of the Father — the divine Father — yet the people will choose one whose father is a fallen man, not one whose Father is God himself — embracing the world and not God.

And how often we choose to do the same. We embrace the things that this world offers us and tempts us with, but when it comes to God’s call on our lives we struggle. The world says, “hold a grudge;” Jesus says, “forgive others.” Which do you do? The world says that money exists and blessings are there so that you can live comfortably. Jesus says that these good things ought to turn your heart toward the Father’s grace and then be used by you to turn the hearts of others toward the Father as well — blessed to be a blessing. Which characterizes your life?

Oh, beloved, God offers us salvation by his mighty and abundant grace and by grace alone — no works of ours can merit this gift. But as children who have received this gift, shall we not live thankfully? It is the spoiled child, miserable to be around, that is not grateful for the gifts he receives — may we not be like that child in the Master’s house, but be thankful people who have been ushered in by grace and who communicate that grace to all who we encounter.

Come and See the Deeds of Yahweh!

“Come and see the deeds of Yahweh;

How he has brought destruction upon the earth.

He causes wars to cease unto their end;

The earth and bow are shattered;

And the spear is smashed to bits.

The wagons he burns with fire.”

(Psalm 46:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English translations})

 

Come and see the deeds of Yahweh! Indeed, the psalmist calls to us to witness the power and the might of our Lord. Usually, when you hear this kind of language, the images that come to mind are images of grace and mercy given to the undeserving, yet that is not the direction that the psalmist takes as he challenges us to come and see. Instead, he speaks of the destruction brought by God’s judgment. The word he uses here is hDÚmAv (shammah), which is a term that is always used to refer to the destruction that follows judgment. Sometimes this word is rendered as “atrocities” to give it more force from the perspective of those under said judgment.

And indeed, God’s wrath is horrific for those under his judgment. Think about those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day or in the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of the plagues that God set upon the Egyptians and even the judgments against those like Korah who rebelled in the wilderness wanderings. In the Israelite entrance into the Promised Land, God commanded entire cities be put to the ban; bringing death to every living thing that dwelled within the city. And then in God’s own judgment poured out against his Son, Jesus, when he was on the cross of Calvary. Indeed, these are horrific events, but events with a purpose.

Often Christians shy away from the language of God’s wrath, but in doing so, they leech the Gospel of its power. If we do not have a clear-eyed-view of what it is that we are being saved from, we will not appreciate the salvation that is extended. James says that the demons tremble at the name of God (James 2:19); unbelieving men and believing men alike rarely give God’s wrath a second thought. Why this contrast? It is because the demons know the justice of God is poured out in wrath and that they are bound to receive it in full; men have deceived themselves into thinking that God is little more than a senile grandfather who dotes on his grandchildren. What a rude awakening many will receive.

So what is the purpose of such events? On one level they are meant as a warning to us to drive us to our knees in repentance. In addition, they are a reminder that God is a just God who will not allow sin to go unpunished. Sometimes, when we look at judgment, we may be tempted to cry out as children so often do, “not fair!” Yet, were we to really grasp the magnitude of our own sin we would be forced to concede that God indeed is fairness defined. It is only through and because of the work of Christ that we have any reason to hope for an escape from judgment because he took our judgment upon himself.

Indeed, come and see the justice of our God! To you who believe, know that in our God we have a strong refuge but to you who stand firmly in your own arrogance and pride; beware, for the judgment of God is horrific indeed. Hell is a place where the fires burn and are never quenched, where the worms consume and never go away, where we are eternally in the process of being torn down and are separated from anything that is good. Such is the just punishment for our sins against a Holy and Righteous God. Praise be to God for the redemption that is given in Jesus!

Jesus Paid it All–All to Him I Owe…

“And you, being dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, forgiving us all trespasses.”

(Colossians 2:13)

 

“And yet God demonstrates his own agape love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:8 )

 

We who have nothing to bring to the table, we who have no righteousness of our own, we who stand guilty in our sin, we who stand as gentiles without the law, we who deserve God’s wrath and the fires of hell, it is for us that Christ died.  We initiated rebellion; God initiated restoration.  We sinned; Christ bore the punishment for our sins.  We have hated and despised the good and righteous law of God; Christ has loved us with a sacrificial love that loves regardless of whether that love is reciprocated and has fulfilled the law on our behalf.  In the fall, we rejected the earthly paradise that God has prepared; Christ prepares for us a heavenly paradise that cannot be spoiled.  Beloved, what more can I say?  Jesus did it all, how is it that we so often do not feel a compulsion to honor him with all of our beings in our worship and our lives?  How is it that we as believers so often live for ourselves?  Loved ones, give all of your life to Christ, holding nothing in reserve.  You cannot hope to pay him back for what he has done, but oh, how you can glorify him as you live out your lives in this world!

And when, before the throne,

I stand in him complete,

‘Jesus died my soul to save,’

my lips shall still repeat.

Jesus paid it all,

All to him I owe;

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

-Elvina Hall

Teaching Rebels God’s Ways: Psalm 51 (part 14)

“I will teach rebels your ways,

and sinners will return to you.”

(Psalm 51:15 {Psalm 51:13 in English Bibles})

 

What then should be the outward response of the believer to the forgiveness of God?   While praise is usually the first thing that comes to mind—and it is an essential response, and part of David’s psalm—there is another response that is oftentimes missed.  That response is to begin to work to teach others of the ways of God.  And notice, this is not just telling others how God has blessed you, but it is teaching them God’s ways.  That means deliberate application of God’s holy law as a teaching tool to guide others in the ways of holiness.

Yet, there is a catch—how is it that you can teach others to live a holy life if you are not modeling it yourself?  How is it that you can model it if you do not study the scriptures and diligently apply them to yourself?  Beloved, be well aware that God is a forgiving God, but never forget that in repentance, our God expects us to turn from our sinful ways and walk a path that glorifies him in every way.  And then, in walking on that pathway, teach others the ways of God—by word and deed.

Friends, spend some time thinking about what it means to be genuine in your testimony before the world.  What do unbelievers believe about God as a result of getting to know you?  What would your co-workers or your neighbors say about the way you live out your faith in all aspects of your life?  What would your spouse or children say?  Do your actions match the words that you speak?  Dear loved ones, so often in our lives there is not parity between our words and our actions, yet Christ needs to be the reason and the motivation behind everything we do.  It is our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that defines who we are, down to the very fibers of our innermost being, and it is this relationship that must define all our actions, and our actions need to be visible enough to point others to Christ.

One last note on sin and transgression:  it is rebellion against God.  Do not downplay sin in your life or in the life of those around you.  Don’t simply say, “well, it was just a little lie” or “everyone else does it.”  When you justify sin like this, what you are really communicating is that God is as capricious as you and I are, and were he capricious, he could not be holy.  God cannot condemn one sin as rebellion and pass over other sins as if they were not, that is the behavior of sinful men and not of a holy and righteous God.  Sin is sin and it must be condemned and punished, and loved ones, if you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, he bore that punishment for you.  When you say that your sins are not so bad, you are also saying that Christ’s sacrifice and death is not so important, and oh, loved ones, what a wretched statement that is.  Such a statement can only come from the pits of hell and the children of the evil one.  Do not let your actions make you smell of the sulfur of the Lake of Fire.  Live for Christ and His holiness and proclaim his righteousness and grace in all that you do.  Let your witness guide others in the paths of righteousness for Jesus’ name’s sake—Amen!