Jesus Christ, Barabbas, the Two Goats, and You
Yesterday while reading the bible, the Holy Spirit revealed something to me that I had never quite grasped before. He does that, you know. The Holy Spirit is a person, not just a “force”. He has specific responsibilities; one of which is to explain the scriptures to us. That’s right! If you are a child of God, you get to have God himself looking over your shoulder while you read His word pointing things out to you and explaining what they mean. Jesus described this ministry of the Holy Spirit this way:
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” ~ John 14:25-26
And John says:
“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.” ~ 1 John 2:27
Anyway, back to what He showed me. I was reading through the Gospels and I came to the part where Jesus is about to be crucified. He is before Pilate. Pilate finds no guilt in him and neither does Herod. Jesus is found innocent, blameless, and without fault.
This, of course, I have known from childhood. But, what the Spirit showed me was the amazing sovereignty of God. I was pondering the following verse when this was revealed to me:
“Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.” ~ Matthew 27:15
I was thinking to myself, what a strange custom. Here were people that had done all kinds of terrible, evil and rebellious things. Why would the governor have such mercy? Romans weren’t known for valuing mercy. to a Roman it was generally considered a sign of weakness. Some of these criminals were arrested for starting rebellions against the Roman rule over the Jews. In fact, the man they ended up releasing, Barabbas, was guilty of that as well as murder. It seems like a risky thing for the Roman governor to release people known to have insighted rebellions against the government. So, I was wondering why this was “the custom”. Some may say it was to gain the favor of the local Jewish population. Perhaps, but that isn’t the REAL reason.
As I was pondering this, the Holy Spirit wispered something to my spirit.
“This is because I planned all these events before the foundation of the world. All of this happened in order to fulfill what was written in the scriptures.”
At first I didn’t really understand this idea. I knew that the Crucifixion of Jesus was planned by God and that it fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah. But, I didn’t see what that had to do with the custom of the releasing of a prisoner by Pilate. Then the Spirit revealed to me how even the most minute details, often overlooked, of Jesus’ death were planned and foreshadowed in the scriptures. Then the Spirit reminded me of the Law in the old testament. About the Day of Atonement.
I have recently finished reading the old testament. I was amazed how almost the whole narrative points towards Jesus Christ and what he did. Some parts are difficult to understand, though. One such part is the Levitical Law detailing the required sacrifices. I have long understood that the burnt sacrifices represent the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin, Jesus Christ. However, when I recently read it I had trouble with understanding some of the details. One such detail is what is known as “the scapegoat”.
The “Day of Atonement” (Yom Kippur) was the most sacred and important day of the year for the Jews. This was the day of national mourning and repentance of sin. On this day the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and offer up a sacrifice for his sins and a sacrifice for the sins of the whole nation. It was on this day the the High Priest offered up a special sacrifice (two goats) for the sins of the people. Both goats started off pure and without defect. Lots were cast and one goat was selected as the sin offering and the other was called the “scapegoat”. The scapegoat was released into the desert.
Today, we use the term “scapegoat” with almost the direct opposite meaning as it has here in Leviticus 16. We think of a scapegoat as the one who takes all the blame for a crime, allowing others who are guilty to go free. The Hebrew word here has a different meaning. The “scapegoat” is the one who escapes and goes free while the other goat is sacrificed for the sins of the nation. I think the confusion around this comes from Leviticus 16:20-22:
“. . . he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.”
It is true that in the Levitical ritual the scapegoat does bear the sins of the people upon it. However, it is the other goat that dies to pay for those sins. When I read this part of the old testament I wondered why God had the priest put their sins on the goat that was released and not on the one that was sacrificed.
I feel like I finally understand this, thanks to the Spirit’s work. The point of this ritual is that, while both goats started out pure, the released goat (scapegoat) is now “guilty”, tarnished, and sinful. It is the guilty goat that is released while the innocent, pure goat is sacrificed.
This is a mirror of what happened on the ultimate “Day of Atonement”, when Jesus was crucified for our sins. Jesus Christ, the pure, sinless, holy, undefiled sacrifice is found “not guilty” by the courts, yet he is sentenced to a brutal death (just like the goat). While Barabbas, a guilty man (a notorious criminal, murder, and rebel) was released and set free.
Barabbas is a scapegoat. He is chosen by the crowed to be released instead of Jesus. He escapes the punishment that he rightfully deserves because of the sacrifice of the sin offering.
“With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.” ~Luke 23:18-25
When I saw this and understood it, it was a beautiful thing to my eyes. I praised God. How can anyone not believe in a God so powerful that he can orchestrate governments, rulers, customs, and even the sins of men to work to accomplish his purposes and prove his word true. God had planned for the Roman rulers to have the seemingly strange custom of releasing a prisoner so that He could prove, beyond any doubt, that He alone is God and that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
I have studied the scriptures all of my life and I continue to be amazed that the deeper I look the more they defy reason and prove to me their power and supernatural origin.
“He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” ~ Luke 24:43-25
How could a book written by 40 people have so much cohesion, unity of purpose, singular focus, message, and story if it was not the very words of God? How could man foresee hundreds of years ahead of time, the events of Jesus life, and prophecy about them, set up rituals that symbolize them, and tell stories that mirror the redeemer? It takes SO much more faith to believe that than to believe this book was written by God. There is simply just no other reasonable conclusion I can draw. My God-given sense of reason and logic demands that I except the obvious conclusion.
The character Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is known for saying:
“When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains–however improbable–must be the truth”.
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” ~ John 17:17
But, there is more to this amazing truth than just that God fulfilled His prophecy. There is a message here for us. Do you understand that you are the scapegoat? You are Barabbas. You and I are the guilty ones. Yes, we are guilty. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t a murderer or rapist, or child molester. You are just as guilty because the standard is the pure, blameless, goat with out any defect (Jesus Christ).
OK, time to learn some theology :) . I’m going to throw some theological phrases at you and try to explain what they mean quickly. Of course, to adequately explain them would take much longer than I have .
Jesus paid the price so that you could go free and be saved from the penalty of your sin. This is called “substitutionary atonement“. He is our substitute who atones (pays for) our sins. If you choose to repent of your sin (like the Jews did on Yom Kippur) and follow Jesus, you will be saved as though one saved from the penalty of crucifixion as Barabbas was. In the eyes of God you are now innocent of your sins. Your charges are dropped. You are free. This is called “expiation“, which means to make pious, pure, or clean. You are now clean and free of any fault in the eyes of God. Amazing!
Sin always results in death. The wrath of God must be appeased. Jesus did this. The sins of the one who is a follower of Jesus were cast upon Jesus on the cross. He bore them and put them to death. This is called the doctrine of “propitiation“. This describes the means by which Jesus fulfills the wrath of God (both an emotional response of anger and a moral response of indignation), and appeases Him who would otherwise be offended by our sin and would demand that we pay the penalty for it.
Picture it: God, the creator of the universe, decides to take the penalty of your sin and suffer as you deserved, to die the death you earned. Why? Not because we are anything great. No far from it. But, because for some unfathomable reason He LOVES you in a perfect and complete way that we don’t have the words to capture or the mental capability to understand.
This realization makes me long to spend every moment of my life bringing honor and glory to Him!
But, woe to the ones who don’t follow Him. For they have no expiation. They are not clean. They remain in there filthy, sinful state. They have no propitiation. They have no one to absorb the wrath of the just God. It will fall squarely on them and crush them.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; andwhen it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” ~ Matthew 21:42-43