Give Us Barabbas
Yesterday was my birthday. I don’t really enjoy birthdays like I once did. I don’t find much use for celebrating getting older. It is nice to receive messages from folks during the day. For the few Facebook folks that take the time to write the message, it is appreciated. I’m not great at remembering birthdays and even worse at using social media to encourage others, and yesterday was a good reminder.
Yesterday was also the State of the Union address and social media was booming about “the snub” and “the rip”. Fact checks and opinions were flying and frankly I try to avoid most of that. Outside of a snarky comment from time to time, I try not to engage too much on politics anymore. Mainly because I don’t handle the criticism/arguments very well personally. And I’m quite sure I will lose friendships over politics as I am sure I have already been blocked/hidden by quite a few folks on Facebook.
But for some reason, something I saw yesterday hit me hard which has prompted this post. I saw a former pastor of mine post about last night’s speech and how wonderful he thought it was. Of course, there were multiple folks jumping on board heartily agreeing including a simple response of “MAGA”. That’s to be expected from those on the political right, but I was taken aback that these people were pastors and members of my former church.
For many years I loved that church because I thought they did such a good job of teaching theology. They were very careful to go verse by verse through the Bible, taking multiple months and even years to get through one book of the Bible. To this day I joke with friends about my “heresy” meter which I credit to my time in that church. Sound theology is important to me which is why the comments from these people shook me so much.
One comment in the thread said something about how the current President has done more for Christians than any other president. I don’t know how you could prove that statement. Like most political comments these days, it’s heavy on opinion and light on facts. But that particular comment stuck with me. Why are Christians so concerned with what a political figure can do “for them”? Since when are Christians supposed to rely on politicians for favor? And more than that, when exactly did Christians start wanting things done for them and not for others?
These questions are at the core of what is wrong with the church in America. And let’s be clear, by every measure the church in America is broken. Membership has been steadily declining for years. Young people are less and less likely to go to church which has resulted in more people in our culture that have no church background at all.
In the church’s brokenness, it can turn to God or it can turn to people. We see both in scripture. Israel demands a king and they end up with a string of bad kings. In Nehemiah, the people turn to God after a long exile and there is revival.
Again we are at a crossroad, this time in America. The church is scared. They see culture changing and after many years of being the dominant culture, Christians and christian culture are in decline and they feel cornered. The church feels like it is losing and they must do something about it. It is at this point that the church must decide who can save them.
Barabbas was a Jewish freedom fighter in the time of Jesus. He had been captured by the Romans and sentenced to death. There was a Passover custom of the time that the Roman governor, in this case Pontius Pilate, would free a prisoner on behalf of the Jews. Pilate was looking for a way out of sentencing Jesus to death, so he turned to the crowd hoping they would choose Jesus for him to free. Picking up the story in John 18:38…
“I find no basis for a charge against him (Jesus). But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’? They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!”.
The crowd is given a choice of a political figure who was trying to set them free from Roman occupation, or the Son of Man who was offering to set them free from their sins. The crowd chose Barabbas.
Like the crowd, the church in America (especially the white church) has chosen Barabbas. I believe the church has made the same decision because the church does not understand what they are being offered. The church believes they are losing a war that they do not need to win or even fight. They have forgotten who Jesus is and what we wants his church to be. Jesus did not leave a church behind in order to dictate culture or law. He left behind a church to reflect his image to a lost world.
While the church is busy trying to get laws changed it has forgotten that people decide with their hearts, not by laws. Jesus knew this all too well and spent the majority of his ministry trying to steer us away from laws.
And while the church is worried about their rights it has forgotten that Jesus has called us to give up our rights as citizens of earth. To live sacrificially for the sake of others. To love others more than ourselves, even our enemies.
And while the church tries to keep out the alien and the stranger it has forgotten that Jesus himself said that we would be judged by the way we treat the alien and the stranger and that what we do to them we do unto him.
The church likes to paint themselves as the oppressed, even going so far as to label themselves martyrs. But turning to political power to maintain their cultural dominance is not the act of the oppressed but rather the oppressors. The church does not look like the Jews of Jesus’ day or even the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The church has taken the position of Rome.
We think we are choosing Jesus but we have chosen Barabbas. At best, Barabbas can try and change the system. Barabbas can change the law of the land. But Barabbas cannot change hearts.
I know there is an election coming and each of us will be pressured to vote. Some will even say it is our God-given right and privilege to vote. But my response to them and my encouragement to you, Christian, is to remind you that you are called to follow Jesus, not Barabbas.
Maybe that means you choose not to vote in the election because you don’t believe in any candidate. Or maybe it means you re-think how you choose to vote. Maybe you will consider issues that Jesus clearly thought were important, like poverty, equality and the treatment of the marginalized. Maybe you will choose to not respond out of fear but out of a desire to serve those not like you.
Each of us must choose. Not between political candidates, parties or even ideals. But between Jesus and Barabbas.