As I listen to the doves calling out in the tree outside – I am aware of the fact that You said Your whole creation will praise You. All your works will praise You.
“Against the background of all the events of Christmas, I have wanted to remind you of My great love for you and all of My creation. My love for you is so great that I have given and continue to give all of Me. This sacrifice has only one acceptable response. I want all of you in return. As you have been singing words asking to walk closer to me – I am using all of life to make you aware of how close I am already to you. You already have all I have to give. You are in Me and I am in you – we are one, yet I am taking you forwards, using all of life to make you more and more aware of that. I am allowing you a glimpse of glory – My glory – but also the glory I have prepared for you. So walk into the New Year looking up at the bright shining light which represents me.”
As I read through the account of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion in Matthew 27, I need to stop and take stock. Much of this is so familiar that it may just lose its impact on me the reader. So I try and visualize the scene. I have never been in a riot, but there are plenty of reports of riots in SA at the moment in the media. Very quickly the temper out of control, born along by the bravery of anonymity. So I imagine this scene of a perfectly innocent man being accused of crimes He did not commit, the crazy crowd baying for His blood, calling out their blood-thirsty cries of, “Crucify, crucify Him”!
As they mock Jesus, painfully hurting Him as well as insulting Him, I am reminded of experiences I had as a young boy at boarding school, where the bullies would gather around me and taunt me, pinching and pushing and punching me. I remember the feelings of helplessness and fear. God gave me a tiny window into what Jesus must have been feeling here.
Pilate tries to use the practice of releasing a criminal to get Jesus released. “Who should I release, Jesus or Barabbas?” “Barabbas,” they cry! Barabbas, Barabbas. Then the truth strikes me, “I am Barabbas”. I am that criminal who deserves to die and be eternally separated from The Father and everything that is good. I am the one who should be calling out, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” But because Jesus called those words out, on my behalf, I can go free. A sinner, condemned, on the edge of the death penalty, set free. The doors of the prison thrown open by a mighty hand who has stepped in to take my sentence.
Matthew, with divine skill calls us to make a choice. Who is this Man? Is He a common criminal, that deserves to die? Someone who was trying to impersonate Yahweh? What an almighty cheek, if in fact that He is not who He claims He is. Or is He the figure which is painted by several other parts of the picture. Was He, is He, “The king of the Jews”? He surely wants us to stand next to the centurion in v 54 and call out, “This Man really was God’s Son”. “This Man still is really God’s Son’!
Who does the reader identify with? Pilate, standing aloof, washing his hands, not wanting to be involved? One of the fickle crowd who could adulate Him and a moment later call out, “Crucify, crucify”? Or like the women, following, be it at a distance, and Joseph of Aramathea, prepared to lay His life on the line for identifying with the “criminal”?
The telling of this story should never become usual, because one has heard it so often. It should fill us with wonder every time we read it. The words which struck me as I read it stay with me. “I am Barabbas”. That is how I am going to enter the New Year, with that realization.