All four Gospels in the New Testament record the story of Barabbas, a notorious prisoner who was released as a favor to the Jews at Passover. (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23 and John 18.) The Roman governor, Pilate, offered to free Jesus instead, but the politically motivated crowd chose Barabbas. We don’t know what happened to this man after his release, but I see his story as a beautiful metaphor of the substitution which Jesus has offered me. And so this poem (with its imagined ending) is about me. I am Barabbas.
I am Barabbas, a sinner in chains. My heart is a prison of stone. Guilty of murder and sentenced to die, Unrepentant, desperate, alone.
The scrape of a key in the lock at my door Sends chills through my fevered brain. I tremble with fear at the specter of death. I rage at the imminent pain.
What is this judgment: “Another shall die,” And I shall go free in his stead? Who is this sinner more hated than I, Who bears such a price on his head?
Blinded by sunlight, awash in the crowd, I hear them shout “Traitor!” and “Lord!” They say he is chosen, a prophet of God; They will give him a prophet’s reward.
He died like a king, forgiving them all, Refusing the gall and the wine. Could He see that his pain, the terror and shame, Was mine – was all of it mine?
I ran from the mob which would make me a stooge. I ran from the guards, as well. I ran from the one who had taken my place, I hid in my own private hell.
Three days he stayed in the prison of death, And my guilt was only increased. But the grave was undone by the Power of Love – He rose, and we both were released.
I am Barabbas, freed from my chains. For my crimes the Innocent died. Redeemed in His name, forever I’ll serve The Risen and Glorified.
I’ve been studying Psalm 103 with a group of close friends recently. It soothes my heart to read about God’s kindness and love. But it’s even more powerful when you see it in action, up close in real life. I’d like to share one of those experiences with you in the words of my friend, Judy.
When we first started this journey, the familiarity of the verses caught me off guard. I thought it was because of the songs I had sung in church that often contained the words of this passage. But when I opened my personal Bible, I was shocked to find that this psalm had walked with me through some very difficult times in the worst period of my life. How had I not remembered that?
As I read over my journaling and ran my fingers over the highlighted portions, my heart was overwhelmed with His compassion to me, His struggling daughter. My friends have asked me how I have joy after struggling through the long, drawn out separation, divorce and end of my marriage. I had fought so hard to keep that relationship alive that the end rocked my foundations. Psalm 103 was the answer to that question. During those dark, lonely, grief-stricken, paralyzing days, I spent so much time in the Scripture. Motivated by joining a Bible study, by new women friends who were strong in their faith, by my own desperation to find healing, I poured myself into the Word. Reading. Cross referencing. Listening to sermons. Praying. Memorizing. Begging God to heal these broken places of my life. And He did. My marriage ended, but my relationship with the true lover of my soul continued and thrived.
I don’t always remember exactly which verses helped. Healing is not a bullet point list that we can move along in a linear fashion, accomplishing each task to claim that we’ve completed the process. It’s more like a twisted, spiral, conic section of repetitive behaviors, thoughts, processes; moving forward, then backward, then completely turned around and right side up again. It’s a constant choosing to do the next thing. To believe truth. To insist upon writing those truths of God on my mind and heart.
Psalm 103 contained one of those truths. Three times I had returned to this psalm during that season. Three critical times. Wow. I thought to myself what was the number one thing I learned during that time from this psalm of David? This: God’s steadfast love was with me. Four times it is mentioned.
“Who crowns you with steadfast love”
“The Lord is…abounding in steadfast love”
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love”
“But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him”
Steadfast love. In my personal life, human love has proved itself to be elusive and transitory. Yet, there it is in black and white in Psalm 103. Repeated four times. It doesn’t just say “love.” Every single time the adjective “steadfast”’ precedes it. Steadfast is defined as “firmly fixed in place, immovable, unwavering, loyal.” And my heart clung to that character of God as I walked the journey of separation, loss, betrayal.
What comes before each of those four steadfast love phrases in this psalm?
“Who redeems your life from the pit”
“The Lord is slow to anger”
“He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay us according to our iniquities”
“As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more”
Whoa. Four hardest things in life – I’ve gotten myself into a terrible pit I can’t get out of. I’ve done something to incur the anger of God. My sins demand payment. Death. His answer for each one – steadfast love.
This week I received a call from my ex-husband asking if we could meet. We’ve had very little contact over the past year, and he has never before pursued a meeting with me. My mind has run amuck with all the possibilities – and not in a calm, reassuring, confident way. This morning as I meditated on this psalm, my question to God was how could I glorify Him in this meeting. And His answer – rest in the knowledge of My steadfast love. Take the bedrock of truths that I have built into my heart, mind, character and walk confidently toward whatever this meeting holds. No matter what the news is or how it affects my future, one thing is unwavering, firmly in place, immovable, loyal – the love of God.
A blog for Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, which occurs twelve days after Christmas on January 6th
The mystifying magi appear in just one Gospel, Matthew, Chapter 2. That doesn’t give us a lot to work with, and much of what we may believe about these sages is myth or conjecture. For example, Scripture says nothing about camels or the number of magi. Did you know they followed the star sign for two whole years, finding baby Jesus in a house, not a stable? And they were not kings. Because I have a habit of trying to see myself in all the characters of Scripture, I want to look at the little we know about these shadowy figures and what they might tell me about myself.
The magi were gentile astrologers, foreigners in possession of great material wealth. The word “magus” can mean wise man, magician, advisor or even wizard and comes from the Persian language. These mystery men traveled a long way to bring their inappropriate gifts to an anonymous child in a backwater village. There is no specific prophecy of these messianic visitors in the Bible nor even of the star which brought them. The magi don’t belong in this story. And neither do I.
The magi were rich, and this story is about the poor.
Whether Christ’s visitors used their own resources or worked for a rich benefactor, they possessed the means to leave their homes for over two years on a romantic quest and then return again. They (or their unmentioned pack animals and servants) brought rare and valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the Christmas story no one and nothing else lives in a world of wealth. Mary delivered her Son in an animal stall. Joseph was a common carpenter who offered a poor man’s gift at Jesus’s consecration in the Temple (Luke 2:24). Christ came to earth on a mission to and among the poor (see Luke 4:18, II Cor. 8:9, etc.). The magi don’t belong in this story because they were rich.
The magi were gentiles, and this story is about Israel.
The wise men were not Israelites. They implied their non-Jewishness when asking Herod about, “the king of the Jews,” and their profession was outside the usual range of Jewish vocations. They were visitors from a far country and a foreign culture, outsiders to the story they were helping to write. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the long-awaited savior of God’s conquered but chosen people. Jesus Himself proclaimed his responsibility to “the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Even if they happened to be Jewish converts, these magicians were not of the house of Israel. The magi don’t belong in this story because they were gentiles.
The magi were influential, and this story is about the powerless.
As well-resourced astronomers or astrologers (the two studies were often one discipline in the ancient world), the wise men served as advisors to the powerful. They held influence over important decision-makers. While they did not, apparently, seek out King Herod, news of their mission carried to him, and he took it very seriously. The words of a common tourist would not have aroused so much concern. The magi were connected. But Jesus did not come to the powerful. He invited shepherds to His birthday party. He touched lepers and consoled prostitutes. Jesus came to the poor, the oppressed, the humble, the outcasts. The magi don’t belong in this story because they were powerful.
I don’t belong in God’s story for the same reasons.
Anyone living in a western country today, even in the bottom 5%, “is richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants,” according to Forbes. I can rightly say that compared to everyone in the world now, as well as those who lived in Biblical times, I am rich. It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for me to be saved. I am also a gentile. As far as I know there is no Jewish blood in my veins. God’s story is not the story of my people. And I am connected, even powerful. There is the fact that I am white, which unfairly advantages me, giving me social power I do not earn or even understand. My American passport, the technology I wield, the political and vocational connections I could muster, all give me more influence than most in the world possess.
Like the magi, there is no reason I should know anything about Christ, that He should get my attention or I should get His. I don’t belong in His story. And yet, according to God’s great mercy, He mysteriously chose me out of nowhere, guided me to His Son and bids me worship Him. I don’t want to be like ‘the three kings’ because they were rich, powerful gentiles. I want to be like them because they were willing to risk their privileges and step outside their heritage for something much more important. Against all odds, they were chosen to worship King Jesus, and “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:10).