Barabbas Comparison & Jesus’ Significance

My last post I considered how Western Christianity denigrated Barabbas by taking Barabbas’ ethnicity out of the equation as well as ignoring the socio-political context. This was all compounded by a tradition of sloppy exegesis which distorted the clear depiction of an insurrectionist into a mindless serial killer.

However, I would like to consider why Barabbas is important in the Jesus story. More often than not, Barabbas is the poster child and mascot for those who choose to impose penal substitutionary atonement on every passage, regardless of the biblical context. Why not, Barabbas deserved his crime and Jesus took his place, right? Well, yes and no.

The reality is that Barabbas’ presence in the story is not there primarily to teach us that Jesus is our substitute. Instead, Barabbas is supposed to help us consider Jesus’ significance and mission. Remember that Jesus was Jewish just like Barabbas, and both were born into oppressed bodies under the Roman Empire. Barabbas as noted in my last post was a well known revolutionist who attempted to violently overthrow his occupiers. However, Jesus is actually accused of participating in similar activities when before the Roman authorities. Consider these passages…

Luke 23:2 “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

Luke 23:5 “But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

In fact, in Matthew 26:55 Jesus himself poses a rhetorical question as he is about to be arrested. He asks “Am I leading a rebellion?” However, the answer is not clear cut. In some ways he is, just not a violent one like the kind Barabbas leads. However his proclamations of a new Kingdom being ushered in certainly imply a certain type of overthrow.

So again we have Barabbas and we have Jesus.  In many ways you could say that they are both revolutionaries, just varying in kind. Matthew 27:15-27 goes a bit further and clues us in on Barabbas’ importance in the Jesus story. Barabbas’ name is Jesus Barabbas. Here in Matthew we see that there is a choice between Jesus Barabbas and Jesus the Messiah. Jesus itself means “the Lord Saves”. So the choice for the people comes down what type of revolution they want and who they believe God is going to use to bring them true liberation. They can try to achieve freedom using the same tools that currently oppress them (violence and manipulation) or Jesus’ methods (sacrifice and service).

Unfortunately they choose Barabbas, thinking that the way of force, violence, and oppression will some how turn into freedom and peace (often promised imperial deceptions).  Yet we all have a choice to make, who will you follow Jesus Barabbas the Violent One or Jesus the Crucified One. Do you expect the violent tools of the empire to suddenly create a new world of  peace and justice? Or are you willing to follow Jesus’ way, the way of the cross, as he flips this world upside-down? How does this impact our role as Christians in America, (the modern Roman Empire in the world)?

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Is an Other-Oriented Church Possible?

Last week I had a good conversation with an old college friend on the subject of Church. To be fair, there was a lot of venting and criticizing going down. This was because we both saw American Churches as primarily institutionalized religious organizations that are self-oriented clubs that have lost its capacity to be salt and light in the world because it favors majoring on the minors of doctrinal distinctions.

How distinct are we from the person and life of Jesus as seen in the gospels? Well, Derrick Weston suggests that churches are set up for the A,B,C’s, (focusing on Attendance, Buildings, and Cash). Hard to argue with that. With such energy focused on maintenance and self preservation, how does it affect our call to be the hands and feet of Jesus? How do we faithfully live with a Posture of Service, as Jesus did.

Christ’s Victory In Light Of The Cross


How significant is it that Christ was victorious over the authorities and the empire, which were actually the ones to sentence him to death? American Christians do not often talk about the cross in that type of manner, not being necessarily concerned with the social implications, but rather emphasize the cross’ ability to offer personal redemption and forgiveness from sin. Yet the New Testament writers seem to have no problem talking about both its ability to cover our sin as well as its social implications over power (including, Sin, death, empire, rulers, authorities, and Satan). The cross was a low and humbling death, reserved for common thieves, and those involved in revolutions wanting to overthrow the Roman Empire. In many ways, the Cross contextually is an image of defeat, designed to shame and embarrass its victims, while serving as a visual warning for those who would find themselves with similar values. How then do we interpret Christ’s Victory in a place of utter defeat and shame? How do we in our own lives take up our own cross, going up against all the odds? How do we in wanting to save our lives, basically lose our lives for Christ? What does that look like in the 21st Century? What does that look like in your neighborhood?
I believe that when we find ourselves in that lowly place of despair and hopelessness, that we will most clearly understand Christ’s Victory. The significance of the victory seems to be directly contrasted with the seemingly drastic desperation and bleakness in which it comes out of. It is as though, God is choosing what is low and despised to reduce to nothing the things that are powerful and dominant (1 Cor. 1:28). Therefore by putting his money on the underdog or the impossible situation, God shows himself as sovereign over even the impossible. And so we reflect on the Cross, keeping it as the center point of everything that we do, as we seek to true comprehensive victory in every sphere and realm of life.

“And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

Black History: Focusing in on Bonhoeffer???

It could be seen as a bit strange to be focusing in on a white person during black history month, right? After all, the whole purpose of black history month is to finally learn about the experiences, culture, and heritage of black people in a culture that only values white history, culture, and literature.

Nonetheless, today on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday, we briefly stop and remember this man who literally gave his life because of his Christian convictions.  However, I will not spend most of your time on what he did to resist Nazi Germany (which you probably already know), but rather to remember his time in Harlem, NY.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and also attended Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Very few white Christians in America have been willing to place themselves under black spiritual leadership (the opposite is much more frequent), yet Bonhoeffer did just that and was shaped significantly by those experiences. He not only loved the Negro Spirituals and culture there (which he admitted he did), but he also had his faith impacted dramatically has he began to see life “from below”.  It was here that he  fully grasped the Church’s call to pursue justice and its unfortunate participation and perpetuation of racism and segregation.

So why Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Because he offers a model for what can be. People in the dominant culture can indeed emerge themselves into black culture and community, and more than that… they can actually learn and grow from that opportunity. So, I invite you to take the Bonhoeffer challenge, and immerse yourself in black culture, community, and history this month and see how it might impact you. Let me know if you are up for the challenge.

Other Religions

I am currently in a World Religions course at Biblical Seminary (a great place to learn for anyone interested in studying in the Philadelphia area, especially if your interested in the urban context.) Anyway, one question that I am forced to wrestle with over and over again while thinking about folks all around the world who are seeking after God (or gods)  through alternatives means than Christianity, is how, if at all, has God been revealing himself for generations to the world.  If I assume, which I do, that God is revealing himself to all humanity and that he is close rather than afar from everyone, then in what ways had God’s wisdom, truth, and presence shaped even the most antichrist religions.

I imagine that wherever we can find God’s wisdom and truth no matter the source, we can find opportunity to build bridges from where they are at to the Crucified One.

A Child is Born

We don’t know exactly what Jesus looked like, in the Occident most portrayals of Jesus are blond haired and blue eyed. Some scholars are describing him as Afro-Asiatic in descent given his background, geography, and the common ethnic mixing of that particular time. While we don’t know exactly what he looked like, I always appreciate various African and Black expressions of Jesus.  While many are offended by such pictures (while never giving a second thought to European depictions of Jesus), I think it is important for those who have been oppressed (socially and psychologically) to be able to identify with the God who came down and incarnated to identify with us.  It is not a visual message of colonial oppression, power, and dominance, but rather of liberation, empowerment, redemption, solidarity, and love.

The Cat and the Toaster

This is a great book I’m reading… this is the second book in a row that I have posted without finishing it.  Nonetheless it is a great read.  I do plan to finish, but I also have school stuff I’m working on now that class has started back that will “distract” me from the real important stuff 🙂   Definitely check it out and let me know what you think.  It is a christian writer talking about the complexity of living and social organisms, and how we can apply Christian principles to address solutions within our society.  Sounds dull when I describe it but he is a great writer and has great insight into Kingdom work.

Urban Retreat Center…

Why is it that when we go on retreats it is always to rural areas? We always go out into the country to meet and hear from God, but why don’t we ever retreat in urban contexts? Can’t we also take time to intentionally dwell in the city to hear God? Does God only speak to us when we go to less populated and less developed spaces? Or is it just a Christian bias that we all have bought into…

Maybe instead of retreating from the city we could actually retreat to the city. There might actually be some advantages to retreating in the urban context! What can God teach us in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of life? How might we see Jesus anew surrounded by poor and systemically oppressed people? How might God shape and transform His people in the urban setting? What could an individual or communities time look like as they seek God submerged in the hood? I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives on this. Freestyle with me…

Unleashed…

Most churches seem to have their members on a short leash. Think about it, while most churches “teach” that the members need to go out and witness to others, they have everyone shackled and busy inside the church.  Who are considered the most faithful people in the church? Usually they are the ones who commit the most time serving and ministering inside the church.  Shoot, there is Sunday service, and of course if you are good you also attend communion and Sunday School. Most churches have a wednesday night bible study at their church.  Of course, if you are really serious you will give up your time and serve on some committee, comission, church board, or meeting once a week.  Don’t forget rehearsal for the choir, worship teams, band, drama, etc. Then we got our fellowships for the men, for the women, for the young adults, for the youth.  We also got singles stuff and stuff for married folks too.  If you are a “faithful” church member, then you are lucky to have even a few evenings home with the family.   At the end of each week, surprisingly we find no time to reach, serve, and love neighbors and strangers in our community. (I don’t blame the members, I blame us leaders for this problem).

This doesn’t seem to be what is going on in the New Testament.  And please, don’t get me wrong I am not saying that all those things are inherently wrong. However, I believe the primary role of the church is to equip and unleash the Church for mission locally, regionally, and globally. And when I say that I am not thinking primarily of evangelism events and missions programs. What I mean is that the Church ought to be released to go out and interact and engage the community naturally as God’s people.  Whether individually or collectively we are to be the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus in our community.

For the neighborhood I live in I imagine people spending time with neigbors on the block or on the corner.  I imagine Christians out at the basketball courts hanging out, or choppin it up about current events in the barbershop.  I see christians having their favorite local bar where everyone knows their name and where they are building relationships with people that most church members would never encounter regularly.  This can never happen if we are on a tight leash spending most of our time keeping church programs afloat.  More than ever I think it is time for the church to disciple and equip its people in sacrificially minded community (opposed to consumer minded communities) so that it may be unleashed to bear witness to Christ to a world that needs it.