The Israelites were resting on the promise of a Messiah, and when presented with the true Savior, they not only rejected the Son of God, but despised him – sending Jesus to die a grisly death on the cross. And it was there on the cross, where Jesus says, “Father, forgive them”.
It is the same forgiveness we receive when there are times when we are tempted to despise or question our salvation when facing great disappointments, rejection or betrayal in our lives.
Circumstances can change in a hurry. Historically, it is a matter of days when freedom is taken away by approaching troops, or freedom gained when a wall comes tumbling down. Economically, when our savings accounts and retirement plans evaporates with the fall of the stock market. Personally, when illness, injury or the loss of a job — it takes only days and our life isn’t the same as it was. Our response is one of great disappointment. We question God, asking God Why? How can He allow this to happen?
In Jerusalem, we see an example of circumstances changing rapidly.
Only days ago, the promise of the Messiah had come. There was great triumph among the people. Was this not the same Jesus who was doing miracles of healing? Was this not the same Jesus who miraculously provided bread and fish to feed thousands? Is this not the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem like our prophets foretold and will come riding on a donkey? Could it be? Could be this time where the Lord Jehovah was finally going to deliver them from oppression – to grant them freedom.
Circumstances begin to change. The Sanhedrin arrest Jesus, interrogate him, and send him to Pontus Pilate to be punished. His followers have disappeared; his closest disciples have left him. He is left alone to defend himself.
Jesus comes before Pilate, and Pilate begins to question him. Are you the king of the Jews? “Yes, it is as you say” – Jesus replies. “Don’t you hear the testimony of the Sanhedrin and all their charges? But Jesus doesn’t say anything. He wasn’t defensive – when these false charges came against. He didn’t get frustrated to protest His father’s will. Jesus didn’t say anything — which brought great amazement to Pilate
In Matthew 27:15-26, we read:
“Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.“ I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.”
Pilate was in dilemma. This was during the time of the Passover with thousands of Jews coming to the city of Jerusalem. He didn’t want any trouble. All their lives, they had been waiting for the Messiah. They had the desire for salvation, but not the same salvation that was promised in the words of the prophets. They wanted a Savior from Rome! And that was the essence of the Passover – to proclaim to the Romans indirectly to “let my people go”.
Even Pilate’s wife knew Jesus to be innocent and encourages her husband to make the right decision and let him go. So, he attempts to place justice in the hands of a mob. Little did he know that the Sanhedrin has strategically placed people within the crowd to help influence a decision he didn’t want to make. Instead of making the right decision to save an innocent man, he gives the mob a choice — The choice was Jesus Barabbus – Jesus the Murderer vs. Jesus the Savior.
Beaten and defeated, and with an air of arrogance, Pilate is basically proclaiming to the crowd, “This is your Savior? Look at him! This is your Messiah who was going to conquer Rome! Well Rome has conquered your Messiah!” And with anger, intermittent with disappointment and fury, they yell out to crucify Him – the cruelest torture imaginable only reserved for the Jews. He promised to us he was the Messiah and He let us down. We trusted him, and look at him now. He betrayed us! He let our hopes up! He deserves to be punished for failing me! Once you place decisions on an angry mob, there is no turning back. Seeing that he was going nowhere – he washed his hands in a feeble attempt to wash away the guilty of this man’s blood and places it upon the crowd who eagerly responds, “Let his blood be on us and on our children”.
Salvation that was freely offered was utterly despised by the people. Only a few hours later, it is Jesus nailed on the cross who says, “Father, forgive them.”
It’s easy to condemn the Israelites —how can you reject salvation when its’ staring you right in the face. They should know better. Now if I were there, I would of …….What would we say? What would we do? When things go bad, are we tempted to follow the crowd? When we are disappointed, betrayed and rejected – are we not tempted to turn away from God – losing our trust, confidence and assurance that He’s in control. That He has our best interest at heart. Do we question, “Why God” or “If you are God, why are you allowing my life, my circumstances to be so bad. In a sense, are we not tempted to join the mob and tempted to question or even despise our salvation.
The Israelites were looking for Savior to save them from Roman oppressions — to bring back the glory days of wealth and power during the time of Solomon and King David. The Israelites were looking for a Savior, but they missed the point. What is more important our body or our soul? We all have a tendency to look at our present and not the future.
Think of Jonah. Remember him? Swallowed by a large fish – He ran away from God, because God wanted him to do something he didn’t want to do. So he fled the other direction. Until God allowed a storm to come upon his life and he was literally tossed overboard and swallowed by a fish. He did go to the great city of Nineveh to preach a message of repentance and the city responded. Now we see Jonah upon a hill, pouting over God’s grace on undeserving, unbelieving people. Then, God allows a vine to grow up and provide him with shade. And that was nice. Then, God allowed the vine to shrivel, and Jonah is beside himself that he wanted to die.“God, how can you do this to me? How can you take away your blessings?”But God said, “Do you really have a right to be angry about the vine? You have been so concerned about the blessings of this vine, even though you did not tend it or make it grow.” God allows things to happen – that are according to His will. He showers upon us the blessings of good health, good family, a job – but he can also take it away.
When difficult circumstances come into our lives, don’t we tend to react the same way as Jonah?
God isn’t fair! He’s our Savior – shouldn’t He save us from pain and discomfort. He’s not keeping His promises! But, are they promises that He never actually made? Sometimes, we are tempted to think that as being God’s children, we deserve better lives. Doesn’t our God have the power to do so? Shouldn’t our pathways be smooth? Why does He let me be sick? Why have all these money troubles? Why do we have trouble making good friends? Why can’t God make things a little bit easier on us.
This can be a poison that attacks our faith and we perhaps begin to despise or question our salvation. What He came to bring us through His death suddenly doesn’t seem as important as the list of things we wish he would do for us in the here and now. And we begin to feel a little betrayed. We begin to draw a little closer to that angry mob in Jerusalem with their cries of anger and rejection. The same mob that desired freedom and blessings right now, but Jesus was not going to deliver them. Out of anger, they rejected Him. God never promised them a hero to save them from Rome, He had promised and had sent his Son to save them from the devil.
But doesn’t the Lord promise that he will provide? Doesn’t He promise that he will take care of our needs? Yes! He provides all that we need. He also promises life isn’t going to be easy. However, when we fix our eyes on the earth – when we look for comfort and security on what the earth provides which is so fleeting — it is never enough, is it? Our Lord is far more interested in what we need the most – that is Jesus – eternal life with Him. And since He is a God – our Heavenly Father – he uses circumstances as opportunities to be disciplined as any loving Father would discipline a child – so that we may get our attention. Discipline gives us the opportunity to repent and change our focus, our direction, and recognize the need to fix our eyes upon Jesus. We learn what the Bible teaches and that is to trust and wait patiently for the Lord.
When our eyes our fixed on Jesus, we recall what God tell us in Romans 12:2;
“Do not conform any long to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”Don’t follow the crowd – be transformed by the renewing of our trust. A trust not based on our own comfort and security, but on God’s perfect wisdom and will.
For God’s people, how are we going to respond?
I believe this is going to be the Year of Opportunity — A time of preparation for some challenging days ahead. These times provide unique opportunities to deepen our trust in Christ – to be salt and light — to be open for opportunities to convey our trust. No matter what happens, we fix our eyes upon the cross. The same Jesus who substituted Himself for us. The same Christ who declared Father forgive them and won our freedom from sin, death, and the devil so we may dwell eternally with our Father in heaven.
“Father, as we come to you in prayer, depending on your mercy and grace, let us never demand blessings you have not promised and let us never fell mistreated when, in your wisdom, you say no to our prayers, reserving for us greater blessings elsewhere. Fix our eyes upon Jesus Christ, our Savior from sin, death and the devil. May we honor his love and his sacrifice by gratefully claiming him as our Lord and our God. Amen.”