We are Barabbas
- Written by Jody Vickery Jody Vickery
- Published: 07 April 2017 07 April 2017
If he had lived in another time and place, Luke, the author of the third gospel and Acts, might have been an Academy award winning screen writer. His characters are vivid, accessible and authentic, a feat few historians achieve. In chapters 22 and 23 of his gospel, he puts us not just in Jerusalem for the final hours before the crucifixion, but in the story itself.
He invites us to witness the event through the eyes, from the perspectives of those who were there. We see Jesus from every angle. And if we stay in the story long enough, we see ourselves, too.
Sometimes, I am Peter. (Luke 22:31 – 62)
My heart is all for Jesus. My lips make extravagant boasts, especially when the church gathers to worship. “Nothing on earth will compete for your throne,” we sing, and I join in lending my assent to our bold promise. “You are my all in all,” I say. “The riches of your love will always be enough,” I profess. And in those moments I mean every word.
But a day or two later I may as well be warming myself by the fire in the high priest’s courtyard. My Sunday bluster vaporizes the first time I am challenged to identify with Jesus. In a thousand different ways, the culture accuses, “This man was with him. You are one of them. Certainly this fellow was with him.” I never come right out and say it, but my choices, my priorities, my ways of living reply, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Then I remember some Bible verse or catch myself humming the tune to one of those Sunday morning songs, and I know how it felt to hear the rooster crow. Sometimes, I am Peter.
Sometimes, I am Pilate. (Luke 23:1 – 25)
Any politician will tell you that what is just and what is popular are rarely the same thing. And usually, it isn’t all that hard to figure out which is which. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent and said so three times – an ironic echo of Peter’s three denials. Still, when push came to shove, Pilate caved. Luke says he surrendered.
I surrender sometimes, too. Like Pilate, my problem is not that I can’t tell the difference between what’s right and what’s politically expedient; it’s just that justice takes a lot more courage than I have. In the contest between a winning approval rating and a principled stand, the shouts of the crowd prevail. Because sometimes, I am Pilate.
Sometimes, I am Herod. (Luke 23:8 – 12)
When Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee and thus under Herod’s authority, he astutely surmised a single solution to a double problem. He could avoid having to deal with a politically vexing issue and he could stroke the Galilean tetrarch’s infamous ego by voluntarily removing Jesus and his accusers to Herod’s jurisdiction. Herod, of course, was delighted. It was high time the big city procurator acknowledged his authority. Plus, he’d heard of the wondrous miracles Jesus was said to have performed. Perhaps he’d put on a show for Herod.
But Jesus disappointed. No dazzle. No razzle. He wouldn’t even speak. Bored but grateful for the acknowledgement, Herod handed Jesus back to Pilate.
I wish I could tell you that my interest in Jesus is only and always motivated by awe at who he is. That I praise him simply because he is worthy. That I pray primarily because I value the relationship. That practicing my faith is a response to what he has already done.
The truth is that I sometimes evaluate worship by how much it entertains me, not by how much it exalts Christ. My prayers are often more habitual than heartfelt. My obedience is not always a grateful response, but a tactic to win approval – God’s or someone else’s. Jesus is often a means to my end because sometimes, I am Herod.
Always, I am Barabbas (Luke 23:18 – 25)
Thumbing through my Bible I see my character flaws reflected in other well-remembered stories. Here is Esau, willing to trade his birthright for a bowl of instant gratification. His hunger feels familiar. Here is David on his dangerous rooftop, looking in the wrong direction, leaning too far out and finally falling. I know Naomi’s bitterness, thinking she has been forgotten by God. I have been as certain as Saul on his Damascus road trip. Felt as righteous as a Pharisee watching a sinner pray. As smug as a party host wincing as a sinful woman weeps at Jesus’ feet. As unsure as Thomas. As indignant as the Sons of Thunder. I have been all of these people at some point in my life.
But, praise God, every day and always I am Barabbas. Accused, justly condemned and sentenced. Then graced with forgiveness and set free. Another has taken my place. Every failure, flaw and fatal decision I ever made has been charged to His account. My record has been expunged and I have been given a new identity.
Next week, we will rejoice because the tomb is empty. Today, we are relieved that the cross was occupied. Today and every day, we are, every one of us, Barabbas.