Jesus, Barabbas, and You

When Jesus was on trial, Pilate found no evil in Him. Pilate, acting on the custom of the time, offered to release Jesus or Barabbas. The people chose Barabbas even though he was clearly guilty and Jesus was innocent.

The point made is typically about justice and people-pleasing and how dumb the people in Jesus’ day were. However, there’s another point lurking here, which may mean something.

One must be careful not to overanalyze Scripture and make it say things it does not say. At the same time, there are many passages of Scripture interpreted by other passages of Scripture that let you know there are deeper meanings we miss. However, speculation is no basis for doctrine.

There’s a point laying here that seems to fit with other biblical statements.

What was the evil that Barabbas was guilty of? John 18:40 says he was a robber. Luke 23:19 says he was guilty of sedition and murder. Mark 15:7 says he committed murder and insurrection. Mathew simply says he was a “notable prisoner.”

Barabbas apparently stole stuff and killed someone during an insurrection. Insurrection is sometimes called sedition in the Bible. Both mean trying to overthrow the government.

So, here’s the buried point: People prefer a violent political agitator to the King of Kings suffering and humbly and quietly giving His life to serve people.

We like violence and intrigue. We enjoy some political wrangling, taking sides, and party factions. We don’t mind a little rioting and killing if it’s for the right cause.

What we don’t like is meekness, service, and humility.

Power is demonstrated by violence in our world. Jesus Christ exercises His supreme power by being a suffering servant to save undeserving sinners.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we enjoy the idea of a suffering servant doing the nasty work for our benefit! But when it comes to us and “our guys,” well, we like to see some power play action.

One of the main reasons Israel did not recognize their Messiah is because they thought he was going to overthrow the bad guys, wipe out the occupiers, take over the government, and restore Israel to glory. It was all about power, violence, and political wins, not some mamby-pamby meek dying stuff.

We can bring this down to the church today: who do you hear talked about with more fervor: Joe Biden and Donald Trump, or Jesus Christ?

Want to get immediate reactions out of people? Bring up the big name politician of the day. For em or against em, people will have an emotional reaction. Our society is overrun with violence and anger and political wrangling. We can’t get enough.

People choose political agitators over Jesus regularly; this wasn’t a one-off incident with Barabbas. I’ve warned Christians for years about getting too involved in politics. This has been met with confusion, dismissal, or outright hostility. Rarely has it ever been met with consideration.

People inherently think government is the solution to our problems. In reality, government is creating most of our problems. The true answer to our ills is faith in the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. Until we start promoting our King more than the latest political supposed messiah, we will lose and decline into gross sin.

“Put not your trust in princes” the Bible warns.

“Nah, we’ll be fine” we insist.

We are slow to learn. Guess we’ll have to keep learning the hard way over and over and over again.

Choose Christ over political actors. It’s hard to do because you’ll be lonely, but it’s the answer.

If God Is Doing All the Stupid, How Can We be Comforted By Him?

Calvinists often say they believe God directs every detail of life because it comforts them. Kids can walk away from the faith, politicians from the other side get in office, people die tragically, and other terrible things are couched with, “God is in control and His plan will not be thwarted. He knows what He’s doing.”

People console themselves with this notion that God is behind all the pain and evil in the world.

I, for one, do not understand how this gives anyone comfort. If God does all the evil then the character of God is undermined. If God is the doer of all the evil, then how can I trust Him? How is He one I’d go to for comfort if He’s the cause of my discomfort? Where is the comfort of the Comforter if the Comforter is making me uncomfortable? I find no solace here. I find the problem has just been exacerbated and there is nowhere to go to escape stupid.

I believe God has given a certain amount of freedom for humanity to be stupid. We take Him up on the offer frequently. The reasons why people die, bad politicians get power, kids walk away from the faith, and other bad things happen, is not because God is making it happen; it’s because sin has messed stuff up.

If I were to say all the stupid in the world is a result of God’s will and His plan, I gotta tell ya, I’m not comforted by that at all.

I believe God is above this world, sitting in righteousness, and watching us blow ourselves up with a mournful heart. This is seen repeatedly in the Old Testament prophets. God is not happy about sin and it’s results and never once does He say, “I’m the one making you worship Baal and commit adultery. Don’t worry about it. I’m still on the throne.”

Nope. Instead His consistent message is, “What in the world are you doing? Knock that stuff off and listen to me.”

If the level of stupid in our world is due to God, if He’s the one that’s making people do stupid stuff, then in what sense is He holy, righteous, or trustworthy? If God makes kids walk away from the faith, then why would I trust Him with my kids? I’d be better off without God in relation to my kids.

Furthermore, and the main point, is that nowhere does Scripture require you to believe that God is doing all the evil and nasty stupid stuff down here. In fact, the Bible tells us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. The only way that request makes sense is if God’s will is currently not being done on earth.

Asking for God’s will to be done is not simply asking God to push a button. It’s my desire to do God’s will, to teach it, and represent it, to promote it and encourage it. It starts with me.

Much of the talk of God’s complete control of all things is simply a rejection of responsibility. If everything is God’s doing, then I’m not ultimately responsible. It’s some bizarre mystery why my kids walked away from the faith, rather than possibly something I did or something my kid did.

If what happens is due to us, then we have a shot to make things better. If what happens is up to God’s arbitrary, unsearchable will, then we have no shot and I’m not sure why we would worship God for having made such a mess down here with His very odd, holiness-defying will.

The Bible clearly says we have a shot to make things better. Blaming God for all the stupid in the world is not a good look. It’s blasphemous and I don’t think God will take it kindly on judgment day. When we give an account for every deed done in the body, whether it be good or bad, and our defense is, “It wasn’t me; It was you doing it,” good luck with that one.

“Be not deceived, God is not mocked, you will reap what you sow.” We are reaping what we have sown. People die because we chose to go against the one who gave us life. Kids walk away from the faith because youth is curious and adults are hypocritical. Bad politicians get in because generally people who desire control and power are bad people.

Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. We live in a fallen world because humanity decided to disobey God. The world is a mess precisely because we’re not doing God’s will, not because God’s will is being done.

Knowing that people do the stupid and God is outside of it and above it is what gives us comfort. He’s not part of the problem; He is the solution. Stop blaming Him for our stupidity. He’s not the dumb one here!

Eternal Perspective and Decision Making

The follower of Jesus Christ bases decisions on the Word of God and an eternal perspective.

The Christian is not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of the mind, being taught scriptural and eternal truth. There is no way someone living life based on Scripture and eternity could have a life that looked like the world around them.

Much of scriptural truth for decision making can be summed up in two words: love and eternity. Do the thing that looks like Christ dying for sinners, and do the thing that will get eternal reward rather than temporal accolades. With these two simple concepts in the mind, decision making can be fairly simple.

Basing decisions on an eternal perspective might be harder to grasp than Gospel love. Love might be harder to do, thus making love appear more confusing than it is! But love, following the example of Christ’s death, is pretty simple, we just don’t like what we have to do, so we pretend it’s confusing!

Eternal thinking is hard to grasp. The best way to grasp it is to look at its opposite: Short term thinking. There are three examples of short term thinking that pop into my head immediately:

1. Get Rich Quick Schemes. These scams offer easy money with no labor and no time. You just send in the money and tons of money comes back. Easy. Easy fast money is possible, but it is unlikely. Even more unlikely is that your easy fast money won’t end you up in legal trouble.

2. Kids. Kids have no perspective on time, let alone eternity. Their decisions are made for the moment. That’s why they melt when there’s no more milk or they don’t get the candy bar. They have no concept of waiting. Everything has to happen now. They have not been on the earth long. Waiting until tomorrow is a large percentage of their entire lifetime! For someone who is 89, waiting for tomorrow is like nothing. Probably just sleep until it shows up. Kids have no concept of delayed gratification or how long time is. They routinely make stupid decisions. Car insurance premiums for a 16-year old is a case and point.

3. Government. Politicians promise the sky. They will do the immediate thing to gain some poll points, while selling the next generations down the river. But they don’t care. Election is in a couple years. Who cares what people will think of me 20 years from now or how terribly my policies that sound and feel good, will actually work out in reality. Politicians are always motivated by the election cycle. Countries always implode when politicians get more power. They will drive you into the ground and no one will win an election by telling people, “Hey, we have to quit giving you stuff.” Not going to happen. Laws and taxes will always increase, so will the spending. There is no coming back. Term limits guarantee short term thinking.

Eternal thinking is the opposite of these three examples. If you want to make better decisions, ones that will agree with Scripture, think about eternity. You will give an account to God for every deed done in the body. God rewards certain behavior. Delaying your payoff until eternity, until your next life, seems stupid here. Our world thinks after death we disappear. But we don’t. It’s appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment.

Do you think of eternity when you spend your money, or how you earn it? Do you think of eternity in your relationships? Do you think of eternity in how you spend your time? Do you consider giving an account for what you’re about to do? Or are all your decisions based on immediacy and what will benefit me now?

The flesh thinks about short term gratification; the Spirit thinks about eternal reward. Sin is typically a knee-jerk reaction; walking in the Spirit involves discipline, thought, and sober mindedness. Sin is short term pleasure with long term hard consequences. Spiritual behavior is hard in the short term, but long term it has spectacular consequences.

Be careful not to get sucked into get rich quick schemes, not just financial either. There are get rich quick schemes about health, beauty, being cool, and even false teaching in spiritual areas. If it sounds too good to be true; it is.

Be careful not to get stuck in immaturity, acting like a kid with no concept of time. Kids don’t consider long term consequences; they just go for it in the now. This might seem cool, but if you live beyond your stupid decision, look for many long term harmful consequences.

Avoid politicians! Don’t get sucked into the political game. You will end up hating people and isolating yourself. You will get sucked into short term battles that will end relationships and get you sucked away from eternal perspectives. Politics is the ultimate conformity to the world. It’s where conformity is legalized. Be very careful with it.

We are here to make Christ-honoring decisions. You do this by living out the love of the Gospel and thinking of eternal reward. Think wisely with your renewed mind. If you do, you won’t have to worry about conformity to the world because the world bases decisions on selfishness and temporal gratification. That’s not who followers of Christ are. Fight that fight. Lay hold of eternal life.

How Does a Person Glory in the Lord?

Clearly the opposite of glorying in the Lord is glorying in something else. How’s that for deep? Think of the Tower of Babel: they gloried in their awesomeness and got judgment. Think of Nebuchadnezzar who looked out at his kingdom he ruled: judgment came after that.

Anytime we glory in our awesomeness without a humble heart of dependence on God, we are glorying in something other than the Lord. Think of the rich guy who build bigger barns. Pride goes before a fall.

Paul mentions “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord,” twice. Here are the contexts of both passages.

The first mention is in 1 Corinthians 1:31. This is the last verse in the chapter. Chapter one is all about how man’s wisdom is foolishness with God and God’s wisdom is foolishness with man. Not many wise, mighty, or noble are called. God uses the base things, the despised stuff, of this world to show up the wise and mighty. He does this so no one can glory in the presence of God (1:29).

Think of it this way: if God only used smart people or rich people or beautiful people, then those people could boast about how God used them. If God only used people who were humanly spectacular, then God would be dependent on spectacular humans, and those people deserved to be used. But if God uses low things, the not-wise, not-noble, and not-mighty, then no one can boast. “Ha, I’m uglier than you, I’m so ugly, God could use me!” Just doesn’t sound right.

We see examples from the Old Testament of God using the lowly to beat the mighty. Think of Gideon going out at night to chop down the statue, so timid he’s hiding in a hole to thresh his grain, needs God to do multiple signs. Yet Gideon wins when his little army is whittled down so it’s obvious God did the delivering.

Then you have a guy like David, the lowly shepherd who defeats a giant with a sling and a stone. David gets much success and later gets proud and sins in devastating ways that lead to judgment. David went from humble to proud, glorying in the Lord to glorying in himself.

1 Corinthians 1:30 says that Christ has been made wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is those things on our behalf; we have nothing to boast of before God. I can’t stand before him in my wisdom and impress Him, nor my righteous deeds or how holy I’ve become, and I have no idea how to redeem myself. Therefore, if I boast, I have to boast in Christ because I got nothing else.

Paul goes on in chapter two talking about how he came with humble speech, just preaching Christ and Him crucified. He didn’t come in with slick speeches and marketing skills. Just humble Paul pleading for people to come to Christ.

The second context is in 2 Corinthians 10:17. Paul says that he went where no one else went so that he wouldn’t borrow another man’s work. In other words, to go where the skids were greased and then brag about how great he was. You see this all the time in ministries today. People get big success and claim God was in it and blessing it, when in reality they just used human means to get humanly impressive results.

In verse 18 Paul says it’s the Lord who commends, it doesn’t matter what people think of his ministry.

I think it’s interesting that the two contexts of “if any man glory, let him glory in the Lord,” are to the church in Corinth. I think that’s because this church thought they were kings and rich and awesome. They despised lowly Paul and the apostles. They constantly questioned proofs of Paul’s apostleship. Paul lists all his failures as his proof! Which is awesome.

Glorying in the Lord means to rejoice that your name is written in heaven. It means to not boast in external attainments, impressive stats, or other measurably proofs that you’re better than others. The Lord is the judge, so judge nothing before the time. Paul said he didn’t even judge himself, so your opinion of his ministry wouldn’t bug him; he serves the Lord Jesus Christ and His judgment is all that matters.

This sort of thing can come across weird in practice. I’ve heard Christians upon being complimented say, “it was all God.” Meh. That doesn’t sit right. Paul is not talking about some false humility, claiming that you’re awesome because God is working mightily through you. I don’t know if that’s the case, and you probably don’t either.

The Lord is the judge. When you’re complimented say, “thank you,” and then forget the compliment as soon as possible. If you listen to compliments too much, you are susceptible to criticism defeating you. Ignore the cheers and the boos, glory in the Lord. Keep serving Him. Get your heart lifted up in the Lord’s ways—His salvation, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Do your job and let the Lord judge.

That is humility and that is glorying in the Lord.

The Good and Bad of a Heart Lifted Up

Pride is our biggest problem. God resists the proud, yet we can’t help it. I can be proud for knowing pride is our biggest problem. Knowledge puffs up.

Pride is mentioned a lot in the Bible, but even more so if you include its synonyms: puffed up, haughty, willful, and arrogant. There’s another one that is used primarily of kings and rulers “his heart was lifted up.”

Deuteronomy 8:14 is a general warning to the people of Israel that when they get the comforts of the Promised Land they will be lifted up, which will lead to their destruction. The rest of the usages are all kings and rulers: Amaziah, Uzziah, Hezekiah, the prince of Tyrus (some think he is a type of Lucifer, Satan; Ezekiel 28), Pharaoh the king of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel’s “king of the south.”

Typically their heart was lifted up because they had success. They won some battles, got some loot, and enjoyed prosperity and greatness. You can’t help but feel good when the stuff under your control goes well.

In all these cases however, their success was determined by how well they obeyed God. It wasn’t their strength or intellect that got the success; it was their humble obedience to God.

As soon as they took credit for it; success disappeared.

“His heart was lifted up” means pride had overtaken his thoughts. He took credit for everything going well. The bad results? Not me, but all the good stuff is definitely me!

As soon as you get proud that you understand what “his heart was lifted up” means, the Bible throws you a curve. I love how the Bible isn’t consistent! I know, lots of people argue that there are no inconsistencies in the Bible. These are clearly people who have not read it.

For everything there is a season. Faith doesn’t have a black and white list of what to do or not do all the time. Faith often chooses between two options of behavior. Should I scatter or gather right now? Should I build or tear down? Both options are viable and cases can be made for both. So, what do I do?

There is even a season when “his heart was lifted up” was a good thing! I love that! Here’s a verse talking about King Jehoshaphat:

And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.

–2 Chronicles 17:6

Isn’t that great?! And, just so there’s no confusion, this is the exact Hebrew phrase that is used elsewhere when “his heart was lifted up” is stated. It’s not a textual difference, it’s just another context.

“Lifted up” literally means exalted, lifted up, or to soar. Figuratively, and in most contexts, it means proud, haughty, above everyone else. God is exalted and lifted up, but that’s not pride, that’s just who He is. He is above all else and should be viewed that way. If a king thinks he’s above everyone, now we have issues! That’s what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, who after patting himself on the back, soon crawled on all fours with long hair eating grass!

But Jehoshaphat’s heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord. The ways of the Lord were held up highly. His heart was entirely enthralled with the Lord’s ways.

This is reminiscent of the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:17, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

Be proud of who the Lord is and of His ways. Boast in that. If you have to glory, don’t glory in your own little perceived awesomeness. Glory in the abundant awesomeness of God.

So many kings of Israel and Judah fell on their faces because their heart was lifted up in themselves and not in the Lord. Good old Jehoshaphat was a tremendous exception. He knew what was worthy of honor and his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord. May our hearts be as well!

Being Better than Others Doesn’t Make You Better Before God

“I haven’t missed a Sunday of church for two years.”

“It’s been four years since I had a day when I didn’t read my Bible.”

“I taught Sunday School for 13 years.”

“Spiritual” attainments feed pride. Accomplishments make us better than other people. Motives for what we do can get complicated. Are we going to church to edify and be edified, or are we going so we can hold it over others or “be a good example” to people you’ve deemed worse than you?

I’ve read the Bible a lot of times. I really want to tell you how many because you’d be impressed. I desire to let people know how many times because it is impressive! You’ll fall down before me and worship my awesomeness and stuff. I’ve also memorized a lot of verses. At one point I could quote entire books of the Bible. You’d be wowed.

I wanted to do these things because I wanted to know the Bible and deeply understand it. These two things helped immensely. You should do both things; it will help you. One of the things the Bible says is that “knowledge puffs up.” It does. So does all the stuff you have to do to get that knowledge.

When I stand before God, I’m curious what things that I’m proud of that He’s going to say, “Uh, yeah, I didn’t really care so much about that.” I also wonder what other things I’ve completely neglected that He’s going to say, “Uh, with all the time you had to do those things, how come you never got around to this?”

Is God as impressed with your church attendance as you are? Does your Bible reading wow Him? Are there other things we’re missing?

I know there are because Jesus Himself said that on judgment day many will say “Lord, Lord” and list their spiritual attainments they are most proud of. He will tell them He never knew them and to depart from Him. That’s rough.

Minimizing Bible reading or church attendance is not the point. I’m not saying that if you don’t do these things you’re better off somehow. Not the point at all. I’ve heard some people say that since good works can lead to spiritual pride, they’ll refuse to do them and do sin instead, as it keeps them humble and dependent on God’s grace. That’s just silly. It flies in the face of Paul’s repeated question, “Should we sin that grace may abound?”

The point is not to stop going to church or reading the Bible.

The point is about pride. If you think your spiritual attainments make you better than others and more impressive to God, well, that will probably not be the case. Humility is one of the big things God wants us to work at. Humility will then lead to bearing other’s burdens and doing love things.

I do believe my impressive Bible reading and memorizing feats have helped me love people better, but they can also quickly delve into pride, self-righteousness, and judgmentalism. Pride must constantly be fought off. Fight that fight. You don’t win the fight by doing nothing; you win the fight by doing the right things for the right reasons. Figure out what that means and walk that way.

Does Grace Give F Students an A?

I’ve heard many times that law and religion say “do,” but grace says “done.”

I understand the point, and in many ways it’s true. The law was all about do, but the law was never given to save anyone. It was a covenant between God and the racial nation of Israel to abide in the Promised Land. No one was ever saved by the law. Anyone who has ever been saved has been saved by the Gospel. Genesis 3, right after the first sin, reveals the Gospel—a seed of the woman will come and crush Satan’s head. People have always been saved by grace through faith. Jewish people of faith in the Old Covenant would endeavor to keep the law still as that was the terms of the covenant they were in. Unless they wanted to get wiped out, kicked out of the land and live in slavery, they kept the law.

Just a reminder: people got saved before the Mosaic Law existed. This is a big point in the Book of Galatians.

The New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant (read the Book of Hebrews for more details). The Old Covenant is gone. You don’t have to keep the regulations of the law to stay in the Promised Land. It’s over. You can keep those laws all day and the land of Israel is not going to flourish, especially since odds are you don’t live in the land of Israel. We are in the New Covenant. We are still saved by the Gospel. We are still saved by grace through faith. The New Covenant also has commands.

This is where most explanations of grace fall apart. Grace does say “done” when it comes to how God provides for your salvation—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing you can do to make a road to God other than The Way laid out in Jesus Christ.

But that grace was available just as much before the resurrection as it is now after the resurrection. No one can work their way into heaven. No one can impress God through effort. We need God Himself to intercede for us, which is what He does through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God and has always been in existence. Jesus Christ eventually became flesh and dwelt among us, died, and was raised again. This has always been and will always be the only way to salvation, in both the Old and New Covenant.

Here’s the big shocker: the New Covenant has things in it you’re supposed to do!

If you were a person of faith in the coming Messiah in the Old Covenant, you would demonstrate that faith by keeping the Law. Lay keeping did not save you. Lay keeping meant Israel could stay in their land.

If you are a person of faith in the already come Messiah who already died and rose again, you will demonstrate that faith by keeping the commands of the New Covenant.

Grace brings salvation and also teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, so we live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. Grace saves us through faith and also makes us Christ’s workmanship to do good works, which God has always wanted us to do.

How do you know you have God’s grace? Because it makes you do better things.

That’s the test. Works won’t save you. They can’t. They never have and never will. If you’re saved, you will do good works. Grace gives you enough from God (all things that pertain to life and godliness) to completely transform your life. Grace doesn’t just save you; it changes you into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Often the illustration given for grace is about taking a test. The Law tells you to study and then take the test. Your grade will determine your salvation. Grace, however, gives everyone an A whether they studied or not.

Again, I understand the point and when it comes to salvation it has some truth to it. However, I fear it goes too far and makes people think that I don’t have to do anything at all ever and God just gives me A’s while I keep living it up in sin! Sounds like a good deal.

But if this is true, if I can do everything consistent with an F student and yet get A’s, in what sense is Galatians 6:7 true: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a person sows, this he will also reap.” If I sow an F, I’m guessing I’m going to get an F! If I sow to the flesh I will reap flesh results; if I sow to the Spirit I will reap Spiritual fruit. Paul commands Titus to tell his people to do good works that they be not unfruitful.

If, however, I’m told that grace means I don’t have to do anything, and can in fact continue to act like an F student, how do any of those verses make sense? In fact, why would God have written a New Testament? If you read the New Testament you will find many, many commands. Why? “Well, if you really want to be a special disciple you can do all that, but you don’t have to.” Are there upper tier believers, or are their just believers all called to grow into the perfect man Christ Jesus?

There is one kind of believer. There is one Gospel. There is one body. There is one Spirit. Believers may look different as far as their giftedness and the roles they are to play in the Body of Christ, but all of us are equally in submission to the Head of the Body, Jesus Christ.

Grace is not F students acting like irresponsible F students but magically getting A’s. Grace is taking F students and making them progressively into A students doing A student things. Grace transforms us into the perfect man Christ Jesus. If this transformation isn’t happening, if instead you find yourself still acting out F student traits, there’s a good chance you have not come into contact with God’s grace.

You don’t work yourself into being an A student to get God’s grace; you humbly recognize your failings (because God gives grace to the humble), and call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In His grace He will save you, and then that very same grace will begin to transform you, from glory to glory, into Jesus Christ.

That’s what grace does. It’s not F students getting A’s while they continue to be F students. It’s F students being transformed, taught, corrected, instructed, and trained into being A students.

%d bloggers like this: