An Easter Reflection
By Chris Pick, Special to ASSIST News Service
WILLIAMSPORT, PA (ANS – March 9, 2017) — As we prepare our hearts this year for Lent, let us go back in our hearts to that Black Friday nearly two thousand years ago. The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate presented before the crowd two men: One man named Barabbas and the other Jesus. Pilate declared: “It is your custom that I free one prisoner to you at Passover! Which do you choose?”
“Give us Barabbas!,” the angry mob cried.
But why Barabbas? Why did the crowd choose this man over the Messiah? What did they expect?
It is quite possible that Pilate presented before the crowd two men named Jesus.
Some scholars believed Barabbas’ real name was “Jesus Barabbas.” The Greek scholar and early Christian theologian Origen found many early manuscripts of Matthew 27:16-17 which referred to Barabbas as “Jesus Barabbas.” And the name “Jesus” was a common name in first-century Galilee.
So, if Barabbas’ first name was Jesus, then the question could be rephrased, “Which Jesus do you choose?” It’s a question that can still be asked today as we are presented with so many different “Jesus” figures globally. To some, He is a great teacher. To some, a prophet. To some, He is God’s son. To some, a mere man. And sadly to some, just a myth.
Though they may have shared the same names, they were opposites – just as night is from day.
Jesus Barabbas was imprisoned for insurrection, robbery, and murder. He was a messiah to his people, a savior, but his way of salvation was through an armed revolution.
Jesus Christ, on the other hand, was God incarnate — the long-awaited true Messiah — who chose to save the world not just from oppression but from the one thing that separates us from God: SIN. And He chose to accomplish this through sacrificial love.
The people were blinded by oppression, suffering, trials and tribulation to the one thing that was destroying them from the inside out. They didn’t understand that their bondage was actually sin. Sin is “death” – not just a physical death, but a spiritual death (a separation between God and man). In order to free man from his material bondage, man must first be set free spiritually.
The two men couldn’t have been more different. One was a sinner deserving death. One was sinless but chose to become sin. In a sense, it was a choice between love and power. A choice between life and death.
The Jews expected a zealot warrior-like messiah who would rival the Herodians and put an end to the Roman oppression and tyranny. They wanted to force Jesus to define His mission and work politically. And when Jesus didn’t meet their expectations, He was rejected by the people, handed over to the authorities, and finally sentenced to death. The religious elders and teachers of the Law claimed He was a false messiah and thus dangerous in leading people astray from the Temple and its teachings.
Like it was two thousand years ago, we are often presented with two Jesus figures today and left to choose. A different type of Jesus from that of the Bible is often preached today in churches and across the globe.
The Jesus we often hear preached and taught wouldn’t party nor drink wine. He wouldn’t associate with prostitutes, drunkards, politicians, tax collectors, etc. Some believe He has changed in two thousand years and is more tolerable of our sinful selves. And He isn’t the only way, the only truth, and the only life. And for some, He isn’t the one true God.
(Is it any wonder why so many these days reject Jesus or refuse to surrender their lives completely to Christ?)
The Jesus of this day wouldn’t ask us to do anything that makes us uncomfortable. He meets all our expectations and never does anything unexpected. And He answers all our prayers which are formulated correctly.
We often want a Jesus that makes life simple, safe, and comfortable and one that fits our church denominations. We want a Jesus we can step over. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament, we believe we can put God in a box and take Him with us wherever we go – that we can mold Him and shape Him into the image we want. We do this in our own churches. In a sense, we create our own god instead of letting God be God and allowing Him to mold us and shape us into His image. It’s a control issue — even in salvation.
We often say that we invite Jesus into our hearts and lives, when in truth Jesus invites us into His heart and life. And if He doesn’t do what we want or if He asks us to do something that makes us uncomfortable, we seek a Jesus who gives us what we want and tells us what we want to hear — much like 2,000 years ago. I believe this is an issue with the Church today. We have broken the First Commandment in our hearts and minds by creating a false image of God.
In America and many parts of the world, the focus is on being “born again, because Jesus told that to a man who wanted to know what he can do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus explains that to be born again we must believe in Him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). It seems simple and comfortable, and so we disregard what Jesus told others who asked what they must do to inherit eternal life. To one, Jesus replied, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22). In Luke 10:25-28, an expert in the law tried to test Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Jesus even goes so far as to say we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).
Jesus’ teachings all seem backward or upside down from what the world teaches. But the truth is, it’s the world that is backwards or upside down from the Way, the Truth, and the Life which is presented before us. In Luke 14, Jesus teaches that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last – that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 14:7-14).
It’s weird for us to think of Jesus as a “scandal,” but it’s true. Jesus is a stumbling block. He declared that He is a stone that makes men stumble (Isaiah 8:14). All the disciples stumbled over Him because He failed to meet their expectations – from John the Baptist to Peter. And if we get close to Jesus, we too will stumble. He will fail to meet our expectations. He will call us to do impossible things or become what we think we can’t become. We will become broken. He will break us into pieces so He can put us back together.
We can easily understand how one could stumble over His teachings, for His teachings are hard to hear and accept at times. For instance, consider what Jesus meant when he said to count the costs: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27, NIV)
In Matthew’s Gospel chapter 8, a disciple who had just lost his father declares that he will follow Jesus but first wants to go bury his father. Yet Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (verse 22).
It’s no doubt, we still stumble over Jesus’ words and teachings. They go against the norm of society. After all, He came to free us from a society which causes trouble, pain, hardships, etc. Jesus was trying to free this disciple from pain and from anything that would tie him down. In a world full of grief, depression, anger, and selfishness, we find freedom in Christ when we follow Christ and die to ourselves in service to others. The freedom found in following Christ is amazing! We can’t focus on our own problems when we are focused on Christ and the need of others. If we want freedom, we need to follow Jesus and allow Him to break us and ruin us for society and the world. Only when He reshapes us to our original state can we find true freedom. It’s also where we find victory!
In a letter Julius Caesar wrote to Amautius describing his famous victory at Zela in 47 B.C., he wrote: “Veni, vidi, vici,” which translated from Latin means “I came, I saw, I conquered.” No doubt, this is what the people wanted in a Messiah during Jesus’ day. They were shocked when Jesus came, saw everything, but surrendered His life to the Father which meant surrendering Himself to the hands of the Romans and Jews who put Him to death upon the cross. True victory is only possible through surrender — surrendering to Jesus that is. There is no victory when we strong-arm our plans and take things into our own hands. It’s something to remember in a day and age filled with protesting. We still seek a revolutionist Messiah to save us and we allow the problems of the day to take our eyes off the one true Messiah who came in peace and love – calling us to surrender our lives to Him.
So, as we prepare our hearts for Easter, which Jesus do you choose?
Photo captions: 1) Jesus and Barabbas. 2) The Passion of the Christ. 3) The Empty Tomb (http://www.live-pure.org). 4) Chris Pick with his wife, Erica and their newborn daughter, Erica.
About the writer: Chris Pick is a singer/songwriter, missionary, and advocate for the Persecuted Church and Native Missionary Movement. He has been involved with several mission projects which have included work in South America, Africa, Asia, and North America (ministering among the Lakota Sioux at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and the Mountain Ute Reservation in Towaoc, Colorado). As a singer/songwriter, Pick’s music has been heard globally and charted on many continents in both mainstream, adult contemporary, and Christian charts. His latest single “Come Back” (featuring Mariah Hostrander) as well as the EP “Tragedies & Miracles” (featuring members of Rich Mullins’ old band “A Ragamuffin Band”) are available on iTunes. You can find out more at www.chrispick.bandcamp.com. Pick resides in Williamsport, PA, along with his wife Michelle (a fifth grade teacher in Central PA) and their newborn daughter, Erica. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow Pick on Facebook (www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Pick-fan-page/310118944421), Twitter (www.twitter.com/pickchris), or at Reverb Nation (www.reverbnation.com/chrispick).
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