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Lazarus [Part 1]


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The Thief and The Friend

“Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” Mark 15:6-15

I am a creature of habit. I have routines and most of my days look nearly identical. I am often stuck on certain songs or certain Scriptures for weeks at a time, unable to move on and let them go. Something stirs inside of me when I listen to Jason Upton’s song “The Thief and the Friend.” I want you to keep these lyrics in mind as we move through this piece together.

Many men are brave
And many men are strong
But few men have I ever seen
Who fight for who’s right
And then fight for who’s wrong
Fight for the friend and the thief.

Most of the world knows, whether fully or in part, of the crucifixion story. I think we all, whether we like to admit it or not, have selective memories when it comes to our own recollection of events. Such is the case with the cross. Perhaps we forget how many narratives exist within the larger over-arching story of Jesus’ death. Undoubtedly, all are of equal importance, because the sovereign hand of the Lord predestined that “‘the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain…the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ – for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:25-28). All of this, so that we might share with Christ in communion and relationship with the Father.

So, given that, I want to draw special attention to the narrative of Barabbas. All four Gospels mention him (Matthew 27:15-23, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:18-25, John 18:39-40). He is probably the last person anyone thinks about when they ponder the crucifixion. After all, this is about Jesus. As a murderer and a leader of an insurrection – a fancy word for rebellion – against Rome, Barabbas was on death row. And yet, here he stands on the same stage, next to Jesus, as Pilate presents the two of them to the crowd.

How did we even get here? Barabbas is a proven criminal with a track record of evil. He DESERVES to die. But Jesus? All he did was bring hope to the hopeless, good news to the poor, healing to the lame and the sick, sight to the blind, and forgiveness of sin to all. Jesus has no record of wrong, no stain, no sin. Fault-finding is Pilate’s job description, yet, he holds his arms out in front of the blood-thirsty crowd with a shrug and says “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:39).
The crowd bellow for Barabbas. They want to see him set free. Pardoned, liberated, and released. This has gone too far! Seriously? Everyone knows the works of these two men, it is not even up for debate. It is nothing short of egregious injustice. Jesus could have blasted everyone in the crowd to smithereens. He could have put Pilate flat on his face. But he didn’t. He said nothing. He stood there, silent in front of his accusers, because he knew the will of the Father. Yes – his good and perfect will.
God desired this and this alone to take place. A God of perfect justice saw fit to purpose injustice. Listen.
“It was God who did the cross. The Bible is real clear on that. God isn’t wringing his hands in heaven saying oh dear, look at what they are doing to my Son when they put the thorns in his head and drive the nails through his hands and thrust the sword up into his side and spit on him and pull out his beard and put a mask on and slap him and ask him to prophecy and put the robe on him and hit him with rods and strip him and make him shamed. That was not an accident. God sent him so that that could happen. So that I, the guilty sinner who deserved to be treated like that, can go absolutely free in heaven forever” (Undoing the Destruction of Pleasure, John Piper).
The Father had to treat Jesus like Barabbas deserved to be treated so that he could treat Barabbas like Jesus.
We need to realize that we are Barabbas. We are on death row. We deserve that cross. We stand across from an innocent man.
When we put ourselves on that stage with Jesus and Pilate, we want to cry out. We want Jesus to go free. We should die. But Jesus looks over at us with love in his eyes, and silently says, “I love you – go, live your life, you are forgiven.”
And still, how many times do we talk ourselves into believing that the cross isn’t enough for us? It is good to take sin seriously, but come on! To say that you have messed up one too many times is not the Gospel! Jesus picks you up and says “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He saw your whole life before the foundation of the world and he chose you in love. Quit accusing yourself when he does not accuse or condemn you (Romans 8:1). You are free, just like Barabbas. You can go on with life as if nothing ever happened.
There is no record of Barabbas thanking Jesus. No. He probably went down into the crowd and was treated like a war hero returning home. Slaps on the back. Well-done’s. Fist bumps. Jesus watches on, and he knows he will suffer at the hands of men and die. He knew Barabbas wouldn’t choose him and wouldn’t follow him. But, Jesus loves Barabbas. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me.
Many men are brave
And many men are strong
But few men have I ever seen
Who fight for who’s right
And then fight for who’s wrong
Fight for the friend and the thief.
Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me, a thief. Thank you for fighting for me, because I am wrong. Thank you that you would call me friend.
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Jared Odenbeck

Jared Odenbeck is a professional soccer player from Charlotte, NC. Jared graduated from Wake Forest University in December 2016 with a degree in English and Journalism. His greatest desire for his writing is that it would awaken the western Church to pure Gospel-centered truth and recapture the essence of unadultered Christianity.

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