August 12, 2013
From the desk of Dr. A.J. Higgins
The Thief and not the Shepherd
“Not this Man but Barabbas.”
In John 10, the Lord Jesus spoke of the Good Shepherd in contrast to the stranger, the thief, and the hireling. The sheep did not recognize the voice of the stranger; they were not cared for by the hireling; and they were abused and used by the thief. In contrast, the Good Shepherd cares for the sheep, is known by them, and ultimately lays down His life for them.
As Pilate brought the Lord Jesus forth that day to the gaze of the crowd, they had a choice to make: would they choose the thief and robber or would they choose the Shepherd? Earlier in His ministry (Luke 13:31-35), the Lord Jesus had lamented that Jerusalem and its leaders had chosen, to their own folly and self-destruction, to side with the fox (Herod) instead of the hen (Christ).
Now another choice confronted them. This time, however, the populace is involved as well. Swayed by the leadership of the nation, their cry rang with no uncertainty: “Not this, but Barabbas.” Tragically, solemnly, they had chosen the thief over the Shepherd. Only a few moments later, they would make another choice and opt for the stranger (Caesar) over the Shepherd. By siding with the leaders of the nation and allowing them to influence their choice, they were choosing the hireling and not the Shepherd. Their rejection could not have been more complete. There was total repudiation of all that Christ was.
From our vantage point, we can hardly conceive of a greater insult to the Son of God than this. After three years of gracious and kind ministry to the people, after displaying grace in all its fullness to them, they summed up the value of His life and ministry and chose a man notorious for taking both possessions and lives.
To us, it was an insult to the Son of God. What would be an insult to us was something different to Him. Yes, there was grief in His heart; His heart must have wept in its “secret place” (Jer. 13:17) for the choice they made. He was still the Shepherd; and as He observed the choice they were making, His heart must have been deeply grieved for the future and the fatal blow that Rome would strike and the grief they would know. He gave vent to some of that grief when He spoke to the women on the via dolorosa (Luke 23:28). But here standing before the crowd, He felt grief – but not for Himself, but for them. A Shepherd’s heart is always true and has no other interest than the sheep. He had come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and they had fatefully chosen the thief and the robber; only tragedy and sorrow could follow.
1. Look at all the choices that were made by the people, the leaders, Judas, Pilate, and Herod on that fateful day.
2. Why do you think that John adds so succinctly, yet so tellingly, the final words of verse 40: “Now Barabbas was a robber”?
3. Taking all the Gospel accounts together, it seems that Pilate searched for the worst prisoner he could find to make the choice of the people easier and to relieve him of a tight political situation. How does that heighten the tragedy of the choice they made?