Friday, May 22, 2015

Devotions: The Irony of "Jesus" Barabbas

Barabbas. He was the man Pilate offered to the crowds in the hope of setting Jesus free since it was the custom to set one political prisoner free during the Passover. But it didn't work. The crowds had already been stirred up to call for Jesus' crucifixion.

Ever since I was a little boy I sensed the irony of this. Samuel Crossman, in his beautiful hymn "My Song is Love Unknown," captured it with these words:

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suff’ring goes
That He His foes
From thence might free.

There is, however, more to the irony. The New International Version tells us that Barabbas' name was actually "Jesus Barabbas." A lot of translations leave out "Jesus" from Barabbas' name because there is a little debate about it in the ancient manuscripts. 

More than twenty ancient manuscripts of Matthew have the words "Jesus Barabbas." But Origen, one of the greatest Bible scholars who ever lived, argued that this must have been a mistake. In his commentary he said, "“in the whole range of the scriptures we know that no one who is a sinner [is called] Jesus.”*  But great Bible scholars aren't always right. Origen didn't want the name of "Jesus" sullied by allowing it to stand for a criminal. But I think that is exactly what God wanted. 

If it is true that they both have the same first name, we can see all the more clearly how Jesus came to take our place on the cross.  St. Peter said, 

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3.18).  

Paul said, 

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5.21). 

Jesus did allow His name to be sullied. He allowed His entire being to be showered with our sin when He went convicted and condemned to the cross. When you feel guilty, worthless and weighed down by sin, remember who became a substitute for you.

Prayer: God of Grace, I give You my thanks and praise when I remember how Jesus stood in my place to be condemned. Help me to remember that, though undeserving, I have been set free from the condemnation of my sin. I am forgiven. I am free. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

*Metzger, Bruce M. "A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What Does the Gay Community Really Want and What Does It Mean?

I wish I didn't have to address the sin of homosexual behavior again. It is no different from any other sin. Indeed, we must be concerned about all sins. But we must be most concerned about the sins that people insist are not sins. 

During the recent Supreme Court hearings on gay marriage Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verilli if religious institutions can maintain their tax exempt status if they are opposed to same-sex marriage.  Verilli responded:

“You know, I — I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I — I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.”

In an earlier post I asked if it will still be possible in our culture to believe and to say publicly that homosexual behavior is sinful? 

Right now the main item on the gay community's agenda is the legal right to marriage, but coupled with that is the insistence that this lifestyle not only have legal status but that it also have full acceptance by all. This is why some would consider it illegal for institutions, especially educational institutions, to oppose gay marriage.

Why are bakers and photographers being forced to participate in gay weddings? Why do gay activists purposely single out Christians for these services? It's not just about their right to be gay, it's about their offense that someone does not approve of their lifestyle. This they can't stand. 

What does this mean? Different people consider different things to be sins. Muslims think that I am sinning and blaspheming against God by believing that God is three persons in one God. But that does not mean that I think they should be forced to believe or speak  otherwise. Even more, it really doesn't hurt my feelings that they believe this way. It doesn't hurt me personally because I am at total peace with my faith in the Triune God.

I cannot see into the hearts of gay people, but I suspect that one of the reasons for their instance that their lifestyle be accepted might be because they are not at peace with it themselves. 

This is a very sad thing. There are not enough laws, affirmations, or celebrations that can be implemented to take away this internal dissonance. Even if every voice of opposition to the gay lifestyle were silenced by force, there would be one last voice - the voice of conscience and nature that would still be saying, "This is not right." 

This is the same voice that I hear in my head when I sin. This is the voice I hear when I have evil thoughts or words or when I fail to live up to God's high expectations of righteousness. The difference is that I don't try to suppress this voice for long. I agree with Solomon: "He who covers his sin will not prosper; but he who confesses and forsakes them will have mercy" (Proverbs 28.13). 

This is why, although we are concerned about all sins, we must be most concerned about the sins people say are not sins. 
God have mercy. Give us true repentance. Give us forgiveness in Christ. Amen.