We’re entering a season of the church calendar when we reflect on the final days of Jesus leading up to his death and resurrection. In light of this time of the year, I’ve been reading a little in the Gospel of Matthew. And while reading the portion prior to Jesus’ death, I was struck by the audacity of the crowds. I was struck with conviction in my own heart too.
Imagine you’ve followed this man around, a philosophy and theology teacher who seemingly came out of nowhere. You’re pretty certain he’s something special, but you just can’t put your finger on it. You also know you’re looking for a rebellion to start to remove the oppressive Roman government from ruling over you. Maybe this Jesus guy is that guy.
But all of a sudden he starts talking a little crazy. He’s saying things about tearing down the temple where everyone worships, including you and your family. The major religious teachers you respect and follow on Twitter are saying he’s blasphemous. He calls himself the Son of God, which might mean he’s actually God somehow? You’re not really sure what to do, or think, or say.
You just want to follow God.
Then everyone around you gets riled up. Let’s kill this crazy man. He’s making bold claims, but he’s not delivering on a political revolution. So you get swept up in the frenzy. You’re sold, this man is a blasphemer. He’s distracting people from God. He might be the Adversary himself!
Everyone gathers around Pilate, who is going to give you a choice of who you want to be freed from prison on behalf of your annual festival. And this happens (Matthew 27):
15 At the festival the governor’s custom was to release to the crowd a prisoner they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Who is it you want me to release for you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”
You listen. You consider the options. The religious authorities speak up.
20 The chief priests and the elders, however, persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to execute Jesus. 21 The governor asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”
“Barabbas!” they answered.
This is your preference as well. It’s the first of three preferences you will get to make this day. Pilate speaks up again.
22 Pilate asked them, “What should I do then with Jesus, who is called Christ?”
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 Then he said, “Why? What has he done wrong?”
But they kept shouting all the more, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas to them and, after having Jesus flogged, handed him over to be crucified.
Another preference. Let’s crucify Jesus. You’re fired up, you’re certain this is what God would like. Let the one who deceives be judged and condemned.
A little while later you finally see Jesus led to Golgatha, the mount where criminals are crucified. And you look up and see Jesus and two others hanging there. You join in the festivities, mocking Jesus, who is getting what he seemingly deserves.
38 Then two criminals were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him and said, 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue him now—if he takes pleasure in him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him taunted him.
Everyone was taunting and mocking Jesus. You and I would have done the same if we were there. How do I know that? Because we still taunt and mock Jesus with our words and actions. If you’ve mocked another human, an image of God, then you’ve mocked God. If you’ve cursed yourself, an image of God, then you’ve cursed God.
Some of us are bold enough to have even mocked and cursed God in the midst of prayer–whether we believe in God or not.
And we’ve wanted our preferences all along the way.
Our first preference as part of the crowd was for Barabbas to be freed. Our second preference was for Jesus to be crucified. Our final preference was for God to save himself instead of us.
We are so foolish.
Our preferences are twisted and corrupt because we are sinful. Our default is sin.
And we are so deceived by sin that we think we can dictate how God should show up in our lives and in our world to save it. We think highly of our own plans and our own wisdom, a wisdom that is mere foolishness to God.
I don’t even know what to do with this. I’m still processing what it means to be so foolish. I’m still processing my own preferences, even for what following God is supposed to look like. I’m processing my own preferences for what makes a good life.
But I’m praying for wisdom. I need eyes to see the mystery of God’s work in this world.
I don’t want to be foolish enough to claim Jesus as my savior but my own self as lord.
I don’t want belief on my own terms.
Please pray for me.
– Matt Welborn