“They cried out therefore again, saying, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas.’ now Barabbas was a robber.” John 18:40
What would compel people to choose to free a robber instead of a righteous man? What would compel them to choose a robber instead of a man who had healed so many and taught about the love of God? Were they driven by the money that the Pharisees offered them? Were they driven by the acceptance of the religious leaders of their community? What Jews were gathered there that day? Did they know Barabbas was going to be offered to be released? Were his followers there? Were “good” men there? Because, if there were “good” men there, they weren’t very loud. Because what stood out to John was that they, the whole crowd, seemed to cry out for Barabbas.
But what if it wasn’t the money they were offered. What if it was something deeper? What if there was something in their own hearts that chose to detest what You, Jesus, stood for, and chose to let Barabbas slide by? What if that sin nature that effects us all, had to show itself. What if You designed that day, to make our nature so apparent. Because every moment is divinely orchestrated by You. This moment had to happen and it had to happen like this. Barabbas the robber had to be freed so that You would be crucified. Why? Because we are all robbers. And though we think we can free ourselves or one another, we can’t. Only You can.
Barabbas was a robber. But this word, “lestes,” doesn’t just mean that he stole from others. It means he did so violently. I remember when You went through the temple courtyard, angry that it had become a den of robbers. It’s in the Old Testament too, “Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it, says Jehovah.” (Jeremiah 7:11) So, religious people were guilty of stealing and violence? Extortion was violent?
In the Old Testament, the equivalent verb is “priyts.” It’s interpreted as a destroyer, a ravenous beast, and a robber who sheds blood. “And in those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south: also the robbers of thy people shall exalt themselves to establish the vision; but they shall fall.” (Daniel 11:14) Now, this is an end time prophecy about the kingdom of the North and the kingdom of the South coming against each other. But notice that the robbers, the violent ones “exalt themselves to establish the vision.” Well, I wonder whose vision they are estabilishing? Do they know? And since this is prophecy, Your vision is being established. So what if You are using them to establish Your vision? But what if they don’t even see Your vision? What if they are only looking at their own vision? What if it’s all about what they want to accomplish at all costs. And it’s all about exalting themselves? But even in the midst of their own selfish ambition and violence to achieve their ends, You are using it to establish Your vision and they don’t even realize it?
I wanted to read on in Jeremiah 7. You are so angry at how the people are treating You. It’s as though they are trying to provoke You to anger. Like, maybe if they taunt You enough, they can make You act the way they want You to. This is such a sad chapter. You ask, “Do they provoke me to anger?” Yes, they do by the way they mistreat You by esteeming You of such little value. But then You go on to say, “do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces?” They turn themselves to idols and shame themselves because they follow a powerless lie instead of the God of power and love, and they do so by their own desire, by their own choice. They are even adamant about this choice, to the point of violence. They violently rob You of Your glory and exalt themselves.
The sad part is that You had spoken to them and they were there to hear. “Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people: and walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.” But what was there response? “But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” You even persistently sent Your servants the prophets and now, this day with Barabbas, Your own Son. But what was the response? “Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.” They didn’t outright listen. They didn’t even lean in to hear for a second. They totally disregarded You. Jeremiah was to speak Your words to Your people but they wouldn’t listen and they wouldn’t answer.
And what do You think about people who won’t listen, who adamantly choose not to hear and answer Your voice? Over and over in the Old Testament You called them “stiff-necked.” Stephen, in Acts 7:51, quotes Scripture and then points to his own accusers. “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” Do I want to be seen as stubborn, untractable, and refusing to be led? Do I want to be seen as violently exalting my self and my own ambitions above Yours? Because isn’t that what is going on here?
Am I blatantly robbing You of Your glory? Is there anything in my life that I am putting before You? Am I putting my own fears, desires, ambitions, dreams, in front of You and exalting them in my life, and therefore debasing You? Is Your guidance worth everything to me or am I valuing another’s guidance more. And the thing is, I can choose to cling to my own guidance, the world’s guidance, or even some other believer’s guidance more tightly than I cling to Your guidance in the Holy Spirit? Am I a stiff-necked robber in Your eyes? If so, when will I see myself for who I am?
Lord, I want to lean into You until I am so close we can’t be separated. I want to not only hear Your voice to me, but I want to listen with every part of my being, and I want to do what You say. I want to listen so intently that I understand and know Your heart and follow hard after it. Well, there are only two choices, Lord, because You detest those who choose to sit on the fence and not make a choice. I can choose to violently oppose You and choose my own way, or I can choose to passionately cling to You. And here’s the funny thing about passion, it’s root is in suffering. I can be guaranteed that just like You, if I cling to God, the outward agents in opposition will inflict suffering on me. But the Inward Agent will fill me with His presence, love, power, and more.
So, what are You worth to me? I think You are worth suffering every violence for. And I think that You are worth crying out that You would remove my stiff-neckedness. You are worth every change I need. You are worth everything that I ever thought better, because it’s not. Only You are Good. Only You are Best. But thank You beyond measure for setting free a stiff-necked robber like me by paying the price for my crimes. I owe You everything. Consider me Yours. Continually remake me by the power of Your shed blood and Your resurrection.