[Rev. Gerrit Vos (1894-1968) was long-time pastor of the Hudsonville Michigan Protestant Reformed Church.]
"Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
"But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. They said, Barabbas." Matthew 27:17b, 20, 21b
It is a well-established custom among us that we present duos or trios to our people. We do so when new office bearers are to be chosen, and also when a new minister is to be called.
However, when we do so, the two or three brethren are very much alike. The very fact that we present our duos or trios to the electorate says, It is immaterial which of the two or three is chosen! Any one of them is acceptable to us.
How different in this judgment hall of Pilate.
There we also see a duo: the strangest duo of all the ages.
Let's look at them, study them. We will see amazing things.
I would like to present to you this duo, and come to the conclusion that Jesus is above Barabbas; then I would point out that they are on a par; and finally that Jesus is below Barabbas.
Jesus is, of course, above Barabbas!
Why, even Pilate thought so.
Incidentally, it was Pilate who thought of the idea to put this strange duo before the Jews. It was some kind of a ruse. He had a plan with this duo. He thought by himself: if I place Jesus on a duo with this Barabbas, I will rid myself of a bad case. I am afraid of this Jesus; I see a strange majesty in this Man; I am sure He is innocent; I hate to proclaim Him guilty. And so, if I put Him on a duo with this despicable murderer and rebel, they must of course choose for Jesus, and I am rid of this unsavory case.
And Jesus is placed before the mob, together with the murderer.
I tremble of that which I am going to say next, and yet, we are forced by God to do so: let's compare these two.
Barabbas is a mere man.
But he has an unsavory character, history, and name.
He is a rebel. He does not belong to the anti-revolutionary party. He believes in improvement through force, pillage, sword, blood, and tears.
And, as is natural, in the course of this urge he became a murderer.
At this juncture I would advise you not to purse your lips, tilt the point of your nose upward, draw down the corners of your mouth, and assume the "holier than thou" attitude.
This "bum" is not so far removed from you and me, the onlookers at this spectacle. Why, do you think, did God place this duo in the world's bulletin of anno Domini 34? I will tell you: He did this in order that you and the world may take a good look at both; come to some definite recognition and acknowledgments; and be saved, or be damned in the process.
Do you think that the making and displaying of this duo is so much "window dressing" of Jesus' trial. Oh no, my brother. But God in His infinite wisdom planned all this - for you and the whole world.
This "bum," this rebel, this murderer is the representative of the whole human race. Oh, the depth!
Everyone in the whole wide world is in this Barabbas. The man born of a human father. That's the meaning of Barabbas. Literally: son of a father. I think God was thinking of Adam, the first father. He is Adam's son, there, standing next to Jesus!
And he represents us correctly.
We, you and I, all of us are both rebels and murderers all through the weary years since the fall in Paradise.
I think that none of my readers will deny this.
Well, for that reason God placed this man on the duo. The whole God-forsaken world is wrapped up in this "bum."
All that Barabbas was waiting for was death as a just punishment, its beauteous justice agreed upon by both sinner and "saint," the world and the church.
And, after all, that's .what the world is waiting for at this very moment. Also we would be waiting for death, everlasting and horrible, if it were not for the wondrous depths of God's mercy.
I tremble again, when I think of the judgment day. Then we all will see this strange duo again: Jesus and Barabbas!
Now look at the other member of the duo: Jesus!
Yes, He is a Man too, but I will write here with capital letters.
He is Man, but He is at the same time the living God, though in human garb.
Now do you understand why I hesitated a while ago to talk about comparing these two?
Yes, you may call this Jesus Bar-Abbas too, for He is also the Son of the Father, or, better put, The Father's Son!
Could anyone ever think that this is coincidental?
We see two fathers' sons. And on a duo.
But what a difference.
The one, poisoned by the devil, ready for hell.
The other the song of angels: God, blessed forever! Hallelujah!
Even as man He is good, wholly good.
God, man, angel, and devil testified to His goodness.
Are we ready for our first recognition? Our first acknowledgment?
It is this; it must be this: Jesus is way above this terrible man. It is really sinful to compare the two. Listen to a beautiful strain of music: "To whom then will you liken Me?" And the whole world should shout: To none! O God!
But now comes the shame of Pilate, of the world.
For a little moment of time Jesus is placed on a par with Barabbas.
When Pilate spends eternity in the place of everlasting torment he will often see his last endeavor to rid himself of this difficult case by the stratagem of placing Jesus on a par with Barabbas.
What a sight!
God next to the devil, on a line with the devil.
Oh how we stammer when speaking about Christ's humiliation. Who is able to fathom the depths here.
Remember that with one word Jesus could have destroyed the whole universe!
His standing there on that platform before the face of the motley crowd is an act! It is a deed! It is not an accident. Oh no. When the Person of the Son conferred in all eternity, He coincided with both Father and Spirit: That duo must be made. It will present the exact truth and relationships.
Pilate drags Jesus from the dizzying heights of glory, and places Him next to the murderer and rebel.
Remember? I said in the introduction that we assume that those put on duos are about alike in capacity and virtue?
What must we say here? Shall we not hide our faces in shame?
To such depths the Lord would bow in order to save you!
But there is more.
You have not sounded the nethermost depths as yet.
The "motley" crowd has taken a good look.
And unconsciously they have recognized themselves in the murderer.
And they are not going back on their race. Have you ever heard the adage, "Like seeks like"? Or this one, "Birds of a feather fly together"?
There is a twofold motive.
The one is this: love of self, of sin, of corruption. And that motive is universal. It rules the entire life of every man, woman, and child of the reprobate world, whether they are the so-called noble souls or the gangster.
The second motive for choosing Barabbas is hatred against God and real goodness. Oh yes, you are right:
they have tasted the heavenly gift. And they must have nothing of it. Who wants Jesus in his company every blessed hour of the day and night. He is terribly in the way. Let's get rid of Him!
That, my friend, is the judgment of the flesh, also of your and my flesh. Wherever our flesh smells the Godhead, spiritual virtues, there you experience repugnance, deep-seated hatred.
And so Jesus must take a place below Barabbas.
Attend to one of my texts, written above this meditation: "that they should ask Barabbas and destroy Jesus"!
In these horrible words you have the pre-advice of the chief priests and the elders. They scurried through the multitude, and whispered, later shouted this devilish advice in the ears of their charges: the church of Jehovah. Yes, He came to His own, and His own received Him not. And that is merely negative speech. Positively they took Him and cast Him off. They judged Him worthy of death.
And the whole multitude cried, Give us Barabbas!
And that is tantamount to saying, Give us a murderer, rather than the melody of heaven, the sweetness of God's heart!
That cry, dear reader, has sounded through all the ages, and in all climes. And that cry shall sound among men until the very last moment. Man will always maintain himself in all his filth and corruption. And at the same time he will spit upon the living God, even as they spit upon Jesus when it was in their power to do so. Sinful man delights especially in trampling upon the blood of the Son of God and bringing Him to an open shame.
Well, they have had their day in the most literal sense of the word.
There He stands: below a murderer and a rebel.
And Jesus had not one vote.
And here is a depth. Try to measure the abyss: God did not vote for Jesus either.
I will ask you one final question: Look again at Jesus, below Barabbas.
If your look is sharp enough and penetrating enough, you will see yourself with all God's elect there. But then in your sin, guilt, corruption, and death.
In the deepest sense of the word, God has set Jesus on this duo. And God has abased Him, for your sake and on your account.
I can but worship such wondrous wisdom!