If I Am Barabbas

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:20-22 NAU)

Barabbas’ name means either “son of the father” or “son of the rabbi.” He had taken part in an insurrection that apparently involved both robbery and murder. Beyond these bare facts we know nothing about him except what happened to him on the day he was supposed to die. We do not know who his father was or if he was a rabbi. We do not know when the insurrection happened or how many others were involved. We do not know if the others were killed in the suppression of the uprising or were imprisoned or had already been executed. We do not know if Barabbas was crazy or angry or pathetic. Maybe he was as mean as a snake. Or maybe he was a dupe. We don’t know.

But this we know. He was within a few short hours of death by crucifixion when Pilate put him forward as ‘the other choice’ for death rather than Jesus of Nazareth. Did he know anything about Jesus? Did he care, even if he knew? Did he think what the chances might be that the crowd would vote to let him go over the preacher from Galilee? What were the odds of that? As one of my professors said about the possibility that I would get a good grade, “The odds are Slim and none, and Slim may just be out of town.”

Then, inexplicably, it happened. They were shouting his name, not to kill, but to release. Not only was he not going to die in short order, but he was actually going to walk away free. Free! Released! Nothing hanging over his head! Nothing at all! It had to be surreal to the max.

Here’s the other thing that we don’t know about Barabbas. What did he do with his freedom? Did he have a thought for the man who was crucified? Did he say “O, good! Now I can go home and make amends to my rabbi Father who has been praying daily for me all these years.” Did he say “At last. I will restore what I have taken and apologize to those whose lives I altered forever.” Or did he begin to plan the next insurrection?

The great question is not what Barabbas did, but what would I do if I’m Barabbas. If I am Barabbas, what use would I make of this sudden and inexplicable blessing? Why, of all the insurrectionists, am I the one walking away free? What can this be about?

That’s the great question because this is the great truth. I am Barabbas. Even had I not broken the laws of men, I broke the law of God intentionally and daily. Let me begin at the beginning. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5). That, as they say, settles my hash. What about yours?

I am Barabbas. I have an obligation to my Creator that I have not met. And I find that I cannot meet it. If they turn me loose on my own, I will plan insurrection again.

I am Barabbas. Inexplicably, amazingly, someone has been put forward in my place. My name is being called, not for condemnation, but for release. And the Galilean preacher? Crucified. For me.

I am Barabbas. So what will I do with my new found freedom?

What a wonderful Savior we have!

Living Water

Cades SC is a crossroads community consisting of two blocks and a few straggling lanes. The blocks were appropriately called the big block and the little block, and for a time the Young household occupied a spot right in the middle of the two. Center street would have been a good name had we bothered to name it.

In our front yard, perhaps ten feet or less from the street, a galvanized pipe came out of the ground. At about six inches above ground, it elbowed toward the street and ran for about another foot. Out of the pipe ran a trickle of the coolest, clearest, sweetest water a boy in summertime ever met. You had to get down on the ground to get your hot cheeks under it, or even better, your mouth. That is a humbling experience for an adult, but to a boy, overheated and dying of thirst, it was, well, the coolest, clearest, sweetest water you could ever imagine. In a word, it was pure joy.

That well must have stopped flowing sometime, but I never saw it. We boys called it (we were so clever at naming things) the flowing well. Adults found it hard to get so low, so they would cup their hands and let the water fill them and then splash their hot face or drink. It didn’t matter how you went about it. It only mattered that it was always there, waiting for you. Whatever was needed that a flowing well could supply, it was there, always.

The well really didn’t belong to anyone. It was an unwritten law that the flowing well was community property. Any thirsty passerby had as much right to it as I had. Maybe more! They had no such blessing in their yard. We had no right to withhold the blessing in ours. The flowing well just happened to be under our stewardship. We kept the grass cut around it, made sure you could get to it, and that was about it. We sure didn’t make it flow and no one wanted it to stop.

If you had told me then that someone would one day conceive the idea of bottling water and selling it to thirsty people, I would have said “Why?” Back then bottles broke. Nowadays they crumple and become landfill. Why would you abandon a flowing well of free water for such as that? Appalling idea! God thinks so too, but on another level.

Jeremiah 2:12-13 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

The church is the steward of living water. We can’t make it flow. We don’t want it to stop. It is our business to make sure that any who are thirsty have access. We can’t make them drink and don’t want to. It isn’t about making. It’s about being thirsty.

Let us pray that the church does not forget her stewardship of living water. And may she be ever so careful to offer no substitutes, however cleverly packaged. May she never dream of selling what has come to her for free. And may she always know that what she offers, she also needs… living water from the living God that we might live for his glory.

Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:37-38)

What a Savior!

Priceless Words

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Matthew 5:3

Some begin their speaking with an illustration or a snappy title. Some find a way to ease their audience toward their point. Some talk and talk and never arrive at their destination. Jesus began the greatest sermon ever preached with a thunderclap. His opening volley was as counterculture then as it is now. And make no mistake, it is as counter to our culture as can be heard.

The kingdom does not belong to the ‘you can be anything you want,’ ‘everybody loves a winner,’ ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ ‘I’m OK you’re OK,’ ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going,’ ‘I believe I can fly,’ ‘just as long as you’re happy,’ crowd.

Rather, it is to the ‘I’ve never felt so empty,’ ‘will this misery ever end,’ ‘I just can’t go on,’ ‘how will I ever look HIM in the face,’ ‘Lord, have mercy on this sinner,’ crowd that he bestows the most massive of riches, admission to the kingdom of God.

That last crowd we are told are like the words of Jesus, rather few compared to others. Even Jesus’ stories were not wordy. It was as if he did not have a jot or a tittle to spare, as if every word was just so priceless and so significant that nothing else would do. No ornament need be added. No stroke dare be taken away. Priceless. Priceless, because they are his words, enduring, never shaken, always so.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

What a Savior. What a Savior. Oh, what a Savior!

On a Snowy Day

He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day.
2 Samuel 23:20

I have loved this text for the longest time but I never knew what to do with it. It is the record of one of David’s mighty men named Benaiah. Among David’s mighty men there was a group called THE THREE and a group called THE THIRTY. Benaiah excelled among the Thirty but he never attained to the Three. He faced off with an armed and impressive Egyptian soldier only to steal the man’s sword and kill him with it. He was the Steven Seagal of three thousand years ago. King David made him captain of his personal guard.

So what do you do on a snowy day? Sit around and write blogs? Watch TV and hope the power doesn’t go out? Wash a few cloths and dream of Jamaica? Not Benaiah. He finds a pit with a lion in it. (By the way, what is the lion doing in the pit? Probably slipped in the snow.) Benaiah finds this unfortunate lion and, having nothing else to do on a snowy day, jumps in and kills him. They did not call them David’s mighty men for nothing.

So what do you say about such a biblical text? I have long wanted to preach a sermon from it, but there you are. I have already told you all I know.

I was once told of a missionary who labored in a place where Roman Catholicism was very strong. He was forever addressing the subject of infant baptism. Eventually he returned to his native land where he took up the pastorate of a local church. But he just couldn’t break the habit of preaching on infant baptism. Every sermon had something to say about infant baptism.

The deacons of his weary church came up with a plan to help the man or at least to have one sermon that didn’t mention infant baptism. They requested a sermon from a very specific passage of the Bible that they were sure could not be used to talk about infant baptism. Genesis 3. They asked him to preach on Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden of Eden.

The pastor was impressed that his congregation would ask him to preach on such a subject and he happily agreed. On Sunday morning he rose to preach and read the passage from Genesis. “My message this morning has three points,” he said. “Point number one: everybody is somewhere. Point number two: some of us are in places we ought not to be. And point number three: I would like to say just a few words about infant baptism.”

Perhaps I could do the same with 2 Samuel 23:20. Point number one: there is much good to be done every day. Point number two: but apparently some people just don’t have enough to do. And point number three: I would like to say just a few words about Jesus.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

And Jesus Stopped…

What do you want me to do for you? (Luke 18:41)

When Jesus stopped what he was doing to attend to the cry for mercy from a blind man, he called for the man to brought near. Then he asked a question. “What do you want me to do for you?” There was no doubt what Bartimaeus wanted and he asked straightway. “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Bartimaeus did recover his sight that day and he immediately employed it in following Jesus and glorifying God.

So, in your mind’s eye, Jesus is passing by you today. Like Bartimaeus you cry out to his mercy. He stops. You draw near. He is asking you “What do you want me to do for you?” What do you want Jesus to do for you? Bartimaeus did not make a list and check it twice. There was an urgency that brooked no delay. Do you have an urgency that brooks no delay? Is there something so needful, so important that you dare not miss this opportunity?

If you can identify that most urgent matter, is it something that you can and will use to follow Jesus and glorify God? Bartimaeus did. If God grants what you ask of him this day, will it make a difference in the life you are living?

Then consider that, unlike Bartimaeus, Jesus is not passing you by. He is always with the believer, always. That’s his promise, not mine. (Hebrews 13:5) You are free to bring your urgent requests to him daily, hourly if need be. It is, in fact, stronger than that. You are not just free to do so, you are commanded to do so. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Another question. What would you ask for your church? What is the great urgency that brooks no delay? What is the thing that your church dare not miss and, if granted, will propel her into a fresh encounter with the Lord and a renewed commitment to follow Jesus and glorify God?

And Jesus stopped… “What do you want me to do for you?”

What a Savior!

And Jesus Stopped

And Jesus stopped. Luke 18:40

Mark gave him a name, Bartimaeus. On the Jerusalem side of Jericho, he plied his trade, begging. Honest begging is hard work. And Bartimaeus was an honest beggar. He was blind. Yet, rather than have others bring him a piece of bread, he took such measures as he could. By the side of a well-traveled road, he made his own case for the charity he needed.

On a particular day, and aren’t they all particular, he heard the rumble of an unusually large crowd making its way toward him. If it was a religious crowd, it might well be fruitful for him. There was always one in such a crowd who needed to impress others with their compassion. A little competition among the self-righteous never hurt a beggar’s feelings at all.

Then Bartimaeus caught wind of a name. Jesus. And a place. Nazareth. Men who can’t see do well to learn to listen. Bartimaeus had been listening to the chatter about this Jesus. From north to south, the rumor of him had run the length of the land.

Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was the son of David. That wasn’t just any title. It was a title of the Messiah. Concerning him, they all knew that “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2)

“Have mercy on me.” It was the simplest of prayers from the most desperate of hearts. And it moves God like no other. And Jesus stopped…

To be continued…

What a Savior he is!

Vision

Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (ESV)

I have a vision problem. My right eye does not focus with my left eye. Unnoticed and uncorrected, this condition led to a curious act on the part of my brain. Faced with perpetual double vision, my brain favored the stronger signal from my left eye and began to ignore the weaker signal from my right eye.  By the time anyone noticed I was either too old or too ornery for correction.

Imagine my predicament if my brain could no longer sense which signal was stronger and processed both signals all the time! Two roads! Two trees! Four ditches! Two wives and twenty-four deacons! Vision matters.

Jesus said (Matthew 6:22-23), “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”  Jesus was speaking of a spiritual condition, not a physical one. The KJV strikingly translates “if thine eye be single.” Single, as in whole or clear, not confused by multiple signals.

The writer in Proverbs believed that God’s Word provides people with the kind of vision that guides them into his blessing. Without it, each one does what is right in his own eyes. It doesn’t take much vision to see that each one doing their own thing is bound for conflict and ends in tragedy.

Even so, our world’s rejection of God’s Word is bound for tragedy. But you don’t have to go with it. You have the prophetic vision called the Word of God. Don’t let the signals to your brain get confused. Let the ‘prophetic vision’ be first and strongest. The other signals will take their proper place or perhaps disappear altogether.  Then blessing will be your destiny.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

A Reading Lesson

 

Luke 6:9 – Have you not read…

Sometimes I read without comprehending because I am so distracted. At other times I am just too tired to comprehend. Whatever the cause, I have often looked up only to realize I had no clue what I just read.

But there is another way to miss what we read. It is possible to read in search of one thing and thereby to miss the thing that is truly there. The men to whom Jesus spoke in Luke 6:9 were of this last type. They searched the Scriptures to prove the rightness of their deeds. They looked for themselves and they found themselves. They looked into the divine mirror, not forgetting what they saw, but actually liking what they saw. They were not looking for God. Little surprise then that they did not find him.

Jesus asked an important question. Have you not read the Scriptures? And did you read them as another exercise in justifying yourself, a kind of celebration of your own holiness? Or were you hungry to find him who alone is holy? When we approach the Scriptures to hear rather than to prove or to tell, we begin to discover that he who alone is holy is also full of the most amazing grace.

I cannot know what those men saw when they read the passage about David eating the sacred bread reserved for the priests. But I do know what they did not see, what Jesus saw so plainly, that God’s compassion for his servant was far, far greater than man’s mistaken idea of what constitutes holiness.

God’s laws are designed to lead us to him, not to separate us from him. They do indeed shine the light on his holiness and our sin. They do so in order to drive us to the cross. There we may fall down in adoration of a heart so pure, a grace so complete, and a love so enduring that we may rise to think less of ourselves and more of him.

For what a wonderful Savior he is!

 

 

 

 

Ought

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)

There are two worlds, the world that is and the world that ought to be.

Nearly every person on the planet believes there is right and there is wrong.  The handful of stragglers who claim not to believe in right and wrong will prove themselves liars as soon as their wallet is stolen.  Suddenly, as if be revelation, they will know what is right and who is wrong.  If we are nothing more than a collection of atoms, right and wrong are foolish notions.  Yet nothing could be clearer to most of us than the truth that there is right and there is wrong.  There is a world that ought to be, but is not.

Here, then, is the real dividing line of the world, not whether the world ought to be different, but what the difference ought to be.  Even the foolish one who claims there is no such thing as right and wrong believes the world ought to be different.  If nothing else, he believes the world ought to be rid of people like me who keep insisting that there is a God, that he has spoken, and that he and he alone defines what OUGHT ought to look like.

Who defines OUGHT?  That is the question.  The western world has spurned God as the one who defines right and wrong.  In so doing, it has undermined the very foundation that made it great.  If God is not allowed, then what is left to define what ought to be?  A vote?  Social media?  A handful of leaders whose guidance is the limits of their own minds?  Frightening, isn’t it, this life without God?

But God is not mocked.  We are already reaping the bitter harvest of the folly we have sown.  And we are not finished, for we have not turned back.  And did I mention that God is not mocked?

That little word ‘ought’ is one of the biggest signs you will ever see that there is a God.  How is it that people groan every day over what ought to be and yet cannot see him?  But in spite of our blindness, God looked upon these two worlds, the world that is and the world that ought to be, and God chose to make the two into one.  He sent his only begotten to do the job.  On the cross, what is and what ought to be came together.  Jesus, who was ever and always what ought to be, took the world as it truly is into his death.  Resurrected, he offers himself as the reconciliation of what is to what ought to be.  What no vote could accomplish, what no social media could shape, what no gaggle of leaders could coerce from the world, Jesus did in one mighty act of obedience to what ought to be.  For what ought to be is God.  Nothing less.  And certainly nothing more.

To God be the glory!  What a Savior!

The Lord’s Song

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  Psalm 137:4

The exiles in Babylon hung their lyres on the willows. Their broken hearts could not sing the songs of Zion in a strange place. The taunts of their enemies only made their silence more certain and their resolve grow deeper. They would not forget and they would not sing.

The New Testament faith is built solidly upon the old, but here is one striking difference. Old Testament faith was attached to a specific piece of geography. When separated from that parcel of ground, hear how the heart mourns!

By contrast, stand outside a jail cell in Philippi and listen. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, (Act 16:25) Faith is alive and the servants of God are singing. The disciples’ hearts were not fixed on a city in this world. Rather, they were like Abraham whose heart was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

And the prisoners were listening to them. Take your lyre down from the willows, O believer, and sing your song. You are not home and the prisoners are listening!

What a Savior!