Ever had to make a difficult decision? The people of Jerusalem were faced with a decision that seemed really easy, should they release Jesus, a peaceful suffering servant, or Barabbas, a violent revolutionary. It may seem like an easy decision, but it may be a more difficult decision to make than it first seems. When you give at Harmony, you are investing in life change and are Advancing the Kingdom! GIVE TODAY, text any amount to (859) 459-0316 to get started (or give online @ my.harmonychurch.cc/give .
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(FAS) – Let’s Make a Deal
We’re in our series called “The Road to Redemption” as we prepare for Easter. Last week we took a look at Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem. Today we’re looking at another story that takes place a bit after that one before Jesus went to the cross.
Have you ever thought about the sheer amount of decisions you have to make every day? You have to decide when to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, to wash your hair, to wear deodorant (the answer to that is always yes, btw), and on and on and that is only the start of your day. I’m not a big fan of making decisions, which is unfortunate because my wife also doesn’t like to make decisions. Guess which one of us always chooses where we eat. I’ve found that people generally don’t like making decisions, especially when they don’t feel like they have enough information to make a good one, which is why it’s strange that one of the most popular and longest-running game shows in America is all about making decisions without knowing the outcome, Let’s Make a Deal. Instead of telling you all about it, why don’t we play Let’s Make a Deal right now!(Plays Let’s Make a Deal Game)When the choices are that obvious, it’s easy to make a good decision, right? Well, that’s not entirely the case.
Tonight we’re going to look at a story where a crowd clearly made the wrong decision and how we can make the right one.
(Proof 1) – The choice between imprisonment and freedom
Before we jump into the story, I need to set a few things up. So at this point Jesus has been arrested by the Jewish authorities and they’ve handed him over to the Roman ruler of Jerusalem, Pilate. They asked Pilate to crucify Jesus. The problem was that Pilate didn’t think Jesus was guilty, so he didn’t want to kill him. He was kinda in a hard place. He wanted to find a way to please the Jews by declaring Jesus guilty but not punishing him, and he thought he had the perfect plan. The Jewish festival of Passover was happening in Jerusalem. During Passover, the Romans would release one prisoner who was on death row. This is where our story starts. I’m going to read it here so you can follow along on the screen behind me.
Mark 15:6–15 CSBAt the festival Pilate used to release for the people a prisoner whom they requested. There was one named Barabbas, who was in prison with rebels who had committed murder during the rebellion. The crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do for them as was his custom. Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?” For he knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd so that he would release Barabbas to them instead. Pilate asked them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Again they shouted, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What has he done wrong?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them; and after having Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.
So we have these two figures in this story. There’s Jesus, who has only taught people and healed people, and you have this murderous rebel leader Barabbas. These two people and this decision is much more than it seems. During this time the Romans ruled over the Jews in Jerusalem. The Jews were really proud of their kingdom and their way of life, and the Romans were a threat to that way of life. Imagine if the Canadians took over the US and suddenly wanted to ban football and everyone has to play hockey. The Jews really hated the Romans and really wanted their freedom. This led to rebel groups popping up to attack the Romans hoping to win their freedom. In fact, many Jews when they heard about Jesus and how he was the one sent by God to save them, they thought he was going to be a warlord. He was going to be a rebel leader like Barabbas, who was going to lead a rebellion and finally overthrow the Roman empire. He was going to be the one to reinstate God’s kingdom. Unfortunately for them, Jesus did not turn out to be this person. When he arrived and told people that he was going to destroy the temple, that his kingdom was not one of this world, and that the Jews should be humble and submit to the Romans. Is this guy serious?
It’s fitting that the other choice is Barabbas, a rebel leader. Exactly the sort of person they thought Jesus was going to be. Barabbas represented this old Kingdom, the old way of life, life how it was. It was a life where the Jews constantly tried and failed to follow the law. It was a kingdom where people were enslaved by sin. Jesus on the other hand was offering something better. His kingdom was a kingdom of real freedom. A kingdom ruled by grace. The problem was to have that kingdom the Jews would have to give up the current one. That’s really the choice facing the crowd that day. Do you want prison or freedom?
So why would anyone choose prison over freedom? Well, there’s at least one person who did. Roy Murphy had what he would consider a normal childhood in his small rural town. His troubles started around the time he became a teenager. At around 16 years old he had committed his first burglary and at 19 he was serving his first prison sentence. He would continue for the next 14 years being in and out of prison. Like many inmates who do time and are then released, Roy had a rough time of it. He had no permanent address, which makes having a job hard, which is why so many released felons end up back in jail. Life can be tough after getting out. Fortunately for Roy, up to this point in his story, he was over a year and a half out and had no intentions of going back. Things were starting to look up for Roy. He got a job from a kind minister who also owned an inn. He was offered a position doing maintenance at the inn and even a temporary place to stay. Things were really turning around for Roy. Maybe this time he will actually stay out of prison.
A few weeks after taking the job, he decided to travel a few towns over to visit his sister. That’s when a terrible ice storm hit and practically froze the area. There was no way he was going to be able to make it back to the inn for his next shift or really any of his shifts for a little while. With funds dwindling, his next full paycheck far away, and since he was going to be missing a lot of work, he figured he had also lost his job. He felt hopeless, again. That’s when he resorted to an option not many people would consider. Then next morning he grabbed his jacket, walked down to the corner gas station, and robbed them. This wasn’t like a typical robbery though. He arrived and calmly asked the lady behind the counter the empty the register. He was unarmed. He even asked the cashier if she would like him to put on the ski mask he brought. She asked him to leave and picked up her phone. He even asked her to call the police. Once she did, he walked out of the store and sat by the curb. Ten minutes later the police arrived and arrested Roy.
Roy’s story is unfortunate but even more unfortunate is that it’s not uncommon. Many inmates who receive their freedom have a difficult time adjusting to life on the other side of the bars. Because of this, they may be freed from prison but they don’t ever really feel free. They end up committing crimes to end back up in jail because that’s where they feel most comfortable. That’s really what’s happening here between Barabbas and Jesus. Barabbas is offering a return to the way things were for the Jews, living in bondage to sin but comfortable because it’s what they know. Jesus’ choice was a life of freedom and grace, but that can be scary. It’s different and unfamiliar, so that’s why they chose Barabbas. I’ve seen the same thing happen to people. When they are offered a chance, a real freedom in Christ, they often see a world that is uncomfortable, because Jesus guarantees that following him is going to be uncomfortable. You have to live differently, love your neighbor, serve others, live selflessly, pray for those who persecute you, and those things seem so different from the way they’re living that they choose instead to reject Jesus’ freedom.
(Proof 2) – The choice between which Jesus
I get it though, doing those things is hard. What if I told you that there was a way that you could still follow Jesus but not have to worry about all that loving others and serving people stuff. You could follow Jesus and live however you want. The trick is that you have to make Jesus into whom you want him to be! This is the other choice the Jews made that day when Pilate asked them whom to release. Back in those days, they did not have last names like you and I have. Instead, they would usually say something else to identify you like you’re Trent of Georgetown or you’re Stephanie of Thomas. Using your hometown or father’s name was how they identified others. See, Barabbas wasn’t really his real name. Bar was the Hebrew word for “of” and “abba” was the Hebrew word for father. This meant that he was likely some sort of rabbi or something. So his “last name” was of a father. What was his first name? Early manuscripts seem to indicate it was Jesus. That’s right, the name Jesus was actually a common name back then, like how John is common today. So here we have Jesus Bar Abba and Jesus King of the Jews. The first Jesus was a murderer and revolutionary and the second Jesus was a humble suffering servant.
Does the crowd get to pick which Jesus they want to follow? Well, understanding how the Jews felt about the Romans who were oppressing them, of course, they chose the violent revolutionary! You mean this other Jesus wants me to love the Romans, to submit to them, to pray for them, and even serve them? Absolutely not! This other Jesus wants me to take up arms and kill them! That’s what I want to do so that’s the Jesus I’m going to follow.
Here’s the good news for all of you. You get to make the same decision today. You can pick which Jesus you want to follow. In case all that loving your neighbor stuff is kind of a bummer, you can follow a Jesus who doesn’t care if you love your neighbor. In fact, maybe your Jesus wants you to hate your neighbor. You can make your Jesus any way you want him! It reminds me of this show that was on MTV when I was growing up. It was called “Made.” The central premise of the show was that they would take a teen who was usually not very popular or they weren’t very happy with who they were and they would make them into someone they wanted to be. For instance, they would take someone dorky and unpopular, like me, and I would say “I want to be made into an athlete!” Then the whole show would focus around the subject who wanted to be made and their experience working with professionals to help them realize their new identity. I would probably meet with some famous football players, they would try in vain to help me become a better athlete. Perhaps there would be a segment where I would be at the gym with a personal trainer and they would have me doing exercises. At the end of the show, they would have some sort of big party or something to show off the person’s progress and see if they actually made it. For me wanting to be an athlete, they would probably have some sort of football game set up where I’d get to play and you’d probably watch someone like Tyler steamroll me and put me in the hospital. That’s how my episode would end.
I know this sounds like a really weird show, but it was real. In fact, they shot an episode at a high school in my hometown while I was in high school. I was at a different school, but my wife, Samantha, actually went to the same school as the person in the episode. The kid wanted to be made into a lady’s man and they planned this big dance at for the end of the show. The goal was to get this kid a date to the dance. The film crew even approached Samantha and asked her if she would go with him to this dance. She said no, she didn’t even give them permission to put her in the show, so don’t go trying to find the episode to see what Samantha looked like in High School. I know you’re all disappointed, so I have pictures right here! I’m kidding. Almost ended up on the couch for a month. The kid did not end up becoming a lady’s man, because if he did I’m sure Samantha would have ended up with him instead of me. In fact, if I remember correctly, most of the episodes failed. They couldn’t make these kids into what they couldn’t be.
And I have some unfortunate news for all of you. You can’t make the real Jesus into something he isn’t either. Now you can take a fake Jesus, like Jesus bar abba, and he can be whatever you want. The problem with that though is that fake Jesus didn’t die for you. Sure he doesn’t care if you love your neighbors as yourself, but he also doesn’t love you either. He doesn’t care if you lie or steal, but he doesn’t actually see you in your pain. He doesn’t care if you hurt other people, but he doesn’t hear you when you cry out to him. Fake made-up Jesus doesn’t care if you never spend time with him, but he doesn’t really want to spend any time with you either. You can follow a fake Jesus, just like the Jews decided to do on that day, but that fake Jesus is literally nothing in comparison to the real Jesus.
The good news though is that there is a real Jesus who did die for you on the cross. There is a real Jesus who loves you. There is a real Jesus who sees you in your pain. There is a real Jesus who hears you when you cry out to him. There’s a real Jesus who wants to spend time with you. There was a real Jesus who did all of this for you. The real irony of this story is that Jesus the son of the father got to walk free, but Jesus the son of God, who should have walked free, ended up suffering the punishment that was reserved for the other Jesus. In the same way, Jesus the son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, took the punishment reserved for all of us. That is how much he loved us all. When we should have been the ones to die, Jesus loved us enough to die for us. Through his death we now have freedom, but only if we take it. The Jews couldn’t understand that sort of freedom. They were comfortable in the broken world they lived in. They didn’t want the new beautiful world Jesus was creating and rejected him. I’ve seen that happen to people all the time when faced with the opportunity to follow Jesus. They’re comfortable in their broken world. The drugs give me happiness. The hate gives me meaning. The selfishness gives me protection. They’d have to give those things up to follow Jesus, so they don’t. They can’t understand just how good the freedom Christ can give you is. Don’t make that mistake today. If you’ve been holding off on following Jesus, let me tell you that nothing compares to the love of Christ. Absolutely nothing compares to it. Don’t put yourself back into prison because you’re afraid of what real freedom is. Choose Jesus. I know that some of you today have chosen Jesus or at least a kind of Jesus, but your Jesus isn’t the real Jesus. You’ve created a fake Jesus. A Jesus that is ok with you lying, with fighting, with your addictions, with self-harm, with selfishness. Your Jesus is of this political party or that one. He’s ok with you playing on your cell phone during service. He doesn’t care if you don’t worship because you’re afraid it’s weird. He’s ok with your mediocre faith. He’s cool with the sin in your life and he is ok with you not ever spending time with him or reading his word. The funny thing is that if you were to spend some time in scripture you might just encounter the real Jesus. The Jesus who is selfless, who loves others, who prays for his enemies, who is serious about his followers becoming more like him. Maybe the reason that you feel so empty even though you constantly show up here to church and you talk about Jesus all the time is that you have yet to have an experience with the real Jesus. The Jesus who wants you to take your relationship with him seriously. The Jesus who will help you overcome your addictions. The Jesus who wants you to be a truthful person. The Jesus who thinks your worship is beautiful. The Jesus who wants you to take your faith seriously. The Jesus who loves you. The Jesus who died for you. You have to abandon your fake Jesus and choose the real Jesus. Choose Jesus.