The Gospel in a Time of War
Passover was a volatile time for the Romans, the retelling of Israel’s national story: the release from slavery and the rallying call of “Out of Egypt” often promoted a would-be messiah to see the parallels of the enslavement and oppression of the Romans to the Egyptians and take dramatic action.
On this particular day, four men were about to be executed for being insurgents. Two were called murders, but murder is in the eye of the beholder. And when it comes to the law of the land, the only ones with eyes were Romans.
Three were charged with thievery, but to call them simple thieves was to miss everything. It would akin to calling Robin Hood a thief. There was something political about their attacks, something beyond material gain. They brought justice to the masses, returning that which was stolen by conquest and excessive taxation. They were national heroes.
The people demanded the release of a prisoner, and Pilate would comply-- If he wouldn’t there would be a riot. The people began to make their choice known.
Jesus! Son of Abba! They shouted.
Son of Abba!
Son of Abba!
One of the most dramatic elements of Jesus teaching style was that he used common stock stories which everyone knew, and gave them endings that were decidedly unorthodox – and often unwelcome.
However, we often miss so much of what Jesus stories mean (and sadly give them meanings which completely contradict the intentions of their authors) because we do not understand the Jewishness of Jesus’ message.
There was no shortage of Jewish Messiahs in the years of Jesus’ life. In the 80 years surrounding the death of Christ, there are at least 9 men who were known as messiahs, who established a large following, and who were crucified.
When Jesus is mocked by the Sadducees (a powerful group of Israeli politicians during Jesus time who were profiting off of the Roman occupation, and who taught that we should make the best of the situation in which God has placed us; feel free read between the lines as to their motivations for their teachings) for being from Galilee, they make reference to Judas of Galilee, a failed messiah, who founded the Zealots, another group of Jesus’ day—theocratic-nationalists who preached that God alone was the ruler of Israel and that no taxes should be paid to Rome. They believed that only God would redeem their people if a few would show courage, like David, slit a few Roman thoughts and slay the Goliath that was Rome. A few years after Christ they splintered into a more traditional military group representing a political party (the Zealots) and a group of Assassins called the Sicari (named after the concealable curved blades they carried) who acted in splinter cells not unlike terrorist groups today.
The world is truly not that different, now.
Galilee, a poor fishing town, was one of the last places in all of Israel to face taxation since they used mostly a barter/fishing economy. By nature of their very poverty, that the founder of “fourth and fifth sects” of 1st century Judaism was from their area, and the very fact that taxation was still somewhat new to the area (and thus still emotionally charged), that it was a place of meager economic status, caused much of Galilee to be regarded as the recruiting grounds for the zealots (and later the Sicari). So when the Sadducees question Jesus about his hometown, they are, in effect, accusing him of coming from the recruiting ground for failed messiahs.
I want to talk about one such failed messiah. A man known as Jesus, son of Abba. Jesus was the most common name in Israel, and is the name of three characters in the bible: Joshua, the leader of the Israelites as they take possession of the land, Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus son of Abba. Just so there is no confusion, let me translate Son of Abba into Hebrew. Son “Bar.” Of Abba “Abbas”. Bar Abbas. Barabbas.
Yes, it’s an odd historical fact: there were two men on trial on the same day, for the same thing, with the same name. Even more odd, they both made many of the same claims: they both claimed to be the Christ, the messiah, the chosen one who would lead Israel out of bondage, they both proclaimed themselves the son of Abba, the children of a God who was so much closer than ever thought before. And they both positioned themselves above the power of Rome as the rightful rulers of a restored Israel. And they both claimed forgiveness of sins.
We are going to spend two weeks discussing the similarities and more importantly the differences between the two Messiahs. But the question we are going to focus on, the question that I think determines our future is: At this point in the timeline, before the crucifixion and the resurrection, why did the religious leaders of the day choose Barabbas? And most important, which Jesus (either Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Barabbas) looks more like the God we worship?
How the two Jesus are similar
They both claimed the forgiveness of sins.
“Forgiveness of sins” did not, cannot, and will not ever mean to Jesus, a first century Jew, or the people who wrote the words of scripture, simply “the prerequisite to get into heaven.”
To argue about this, with terms like limited and full atonement ought to seem so silly to us, so very much like a serious argument of what kind of computer Jesus used to write his Sermon on the Mount or what kind of car Paul drove on his missionary journeys. It just doesn’t fit the historical context. And only can make sense when the bible is reduced to a story of Creation, Fall, Jesus, in short a story that removes Israel from the equation and leaves us only with 3 chapters in Genesis, the death of Jesus (but not many of his speeches), selected works of Paul, and the really vicious parts of Revelations. This abbreviated “Creation, Fall, Redemption, Return” is not the story of the bible.
Placed within the robust story of the bible: Creation, Fall, Calling of Israel, Israel’s Slavery, Her Deliverance, Wandering, Conquest, Divergence, Unification, Exaltation, Apostasy, Exile, Return, Exile Again, Promises, Longing, Secularization, Silence, Return to Slavery, Exile a third time, Longing for Redemption, and then Jesus; the term “forgiveness of sins” must take on a more robust meaning.
For a Jew while being oppressed from Rome, an oppression which was said to be sent by God as punishment for sins, to declare the forgiveness of sins is to simultaneous declare the release from oppression. To mean any other thing, would be to speak in nonsense, like a death row inmate declaring that he had been pardoned of his transgression of the law but remaining imprisoned. No one would expect a man who is pardoned to still be punished.
The logic is simple to follow as long as we don’t refuse to read the prophets – which sadly, most Christians hardly read. It works like this: God had called Israel to communicate to the whole world who he is, sometimes she is faithful to the calling; sometimes she refuses, staying within her ivory tower, her community of like minded people (and like-looking). Other times she attempts to reach out, but instead of being a light to the nations, she takes upon some of their practices – performing “acts of worship” that either sexually abuse others or cut or main themselves – as if this is what God wanted. In the book of Isaiah, some Israelites even go as far as sacrificing their own children. So God sends prophets to communicate his desires. Sometimes the people listen to the prophets and sometimes they do not. When they don’t God sends some form of punishment to the people, usually in the form of foreign rule.
So to be under foreign rule, was to be seen by the Jewish people as to be punished for sins. And to declare the forgiveness of sins was to declare the immediate or soon to arrive release from foreign oppression and enslavement. Consider these verses:
I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.' "This is what the Lord says: 'You say about this place, "It is a desolate waste, without men or animals." Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, "Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever." For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,' says the Lord.” Jer 33:7-11
“O Daughter of Zion, your punishment will end; he will not prolong your exile. But, O Daughter of Edom, he will punish your sin and expose your wickedness.” Lam 4:22
Remember, O Lord, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, our homes to foreigners. We have become orphans and fatherless, our mothers like widows. We must buy the water we drink; our wood can be had only at a price. Those who pursue us are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest. We submitted to Egypt and Assyria to get enough bread. Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment. Slaves rule over us, and there is none to free us from their hands. We get our bread at the risk of our lives because of the sword in the desert. Our skin is hot as an oven, feverish from hunger. Women have been ravished in Zion, and virgins in the towns of Judah. Princes have been hung up by their hands; elders are shown no respect. The elders are gone from the city gate; the young men have stopped their music. Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned! Lam 5:1-16
"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh… This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.” Ezek 36:24-26, 33
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that captivity has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.” Is 40:1-2
"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Your first father sinned; your spokesmen rebelled against me. So I will disgrace the dignitaries of your temple, and I will consign Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn. But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Is 43:25-44:3
This is why the ideas of a new kingdom and the claim of forgiveness are so intertwined in the scriptures. They can never be separated; they are the opposite sides of the same coin. The call of Jesus is the removal of one thing: punishment of sin by the means of oppressive foreign rule, and the creation of its replacement: the kingdom of God.
Once again, let me define kingdom. In common usage at the time, kingdom referred to a nation state who was exalted above other nation states. Despite having the word in its title, a kingdom does not refer to rule by a king rather than another form of government; e.g. Rome, a republic ruled by an Emperor, was a kingdom. Today, we could refer to an American kingdom or a Chinese kingdom. To better illustrate the concept of kingdom we might substitute the word for “nation” or “government.” Jesus obviously speaks of starting a new kingdom (or government), and thus can be called a revolutionary. But the kingdom (government) he proposes is so unlike any other.
They Both Expressed Opposition to Rome
First, it’s a kingdom opposed to the kingdom of Rome. Jesus consistently subverts the terms and phrases of Roman rule. When Jesus proclaims “Good News” he uses the phrasing and style of a military announcement from Rome. To claim to be born under a star was a sign that one was destined to become an emperor, and when Herod makes the bloody decision to exterminate all boys in the area of the star, he attempts to quash the threat to the throne. Even the terms for church are subversive; a literal translation would be “provinces,” the name for Roman quadrants. A translation of the word “church” in today’s vernacular might be “states.” Besides the term for the section of Roman land as a whole, the word also for church also referred to the place within those states where one was granted official citizenship.
Even the terms that we have come to think of as purely religious have a startling political dimension, “Jesus is Lord” the profession declaring conversion to Christianity must be juxtaposed to the phrase “Caesar is Lord,” the very words that granted a Roman citizenship. We must therefore say that Jesus is propagating a new type of citizenship in a new nation.
Jesus’ parables as well tell of political opposition to the Roman oppressors. In one of Jesus’ parables, Jesus weaves a tale of a Jewish collaborator with Rome, a shrewd manager (Luke 16).
Taken out of context as a story about morals and values, it sounds morally anarchic, like Jesus is advocating fraud and “cooking the books.” But in order to understand the moral message in this story, we must understand the political climate that this message composed and the very real political message of this parable. In Jesus day, stewards were not nice professional fund managers. He’s the intermediary between those who have profited from the roman occupation and those who have suffered from it. He’s the guy whose job it is, (a job granted by Rome) to give the loan to the poor farmer so the farmer can pay his taxes, but much like our payday loans today: he’s giving loans with exorbitant hidden rates designed so that the farmer cannot repay them and will lose his property. The steward in this parable is someone who is not directly oppressing others, but is certainly benefiting from it. And the parable is told as one who switches sides, one who writes down the debts of his Jewish brothers; one who works for the oppressor but subverts, from inside, the oppression of his people, and loses his livelihood for it. All of this leads to the conclusion: Jesus certainly takes on the roll of a revolutionary. But Barabbas, as well, was a revolutionary; one who opposed Rome and proclaimed the forgiveness of sins and the closeness of Abba God.
But Jesus takes the roll and runs with it to an unforeseen direction as we discuss the differences between the messages and ways of both Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Barabbas. Especially when we see what Barabbas kingdom includes and what Jesus’ kingdom does not.
However before we progress we must consider the ironic fact that there are two Jesus’ on trial during the same day and allow us to have it lead us to the conclusion that the gospel must be something far larger than simply getting God’s name right. When the gospel gets reduced to simply religious beliefs (personal salvation) and we exclude Jesus’ very political message, we face a crisis. We run the risk of hearing about only the things that Jesus and Barabbas have in common, and thus painting a picture of Jesus of Nazareth that may look more like Jesus Barabbas.
As we begin to address the difference between the two Jesus’ we must ask ourselves a key question: What if the reason Jesus came to earth was not just about forgiveness but also about demonstrating something? What if he came down to do what no messenger could do on his behalf: demonstrate who is I AM. To proclaim and show the life of a God so unlike what we had thought.
The differences between the Jesus’
1. Barabbas, and especially the Pharisees who backed him, preached an eschatology centered around the destruction of enemies, and proclaimed the theological justification for violence by demonizing those who would “defile” the community.
Rather than an exclusive membership concerned with defilement, Jesus’ kingdom is a welcoming, mercy offering community of shared meals and good wine. And rather than the dominant eschatology of the times, where becoming the true Adam had more to do with destroying the evil hordes rallying against God and his people, Jesus sides with the minority who claimed that Israel’s vocation is complete when the Gentiles come to join the people of God (like Ruth), listen to its wisdom (like the Queen of Sheba), join in the celebrations of the Jewish festivals (as in Zech 14:8-9), and otherwise join in the Halakha of the people of God (The Halakha is Hebrew for “the way to go;” it a way of speaking about the beautiful way of life that God wishes for his people).
Jesus’ claim of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy was not that they failed to live up to their commitments. The Pharisees piety was unmatched; their personal morality was perfect. Their hypocrisy was that they could not see the contradictions of their religion and their public and nationalistic policy– their underground support of violent revolutionaries while claiming to have kept the commandments. And most importantly of all, Jesus' opposition to the religious leaders of his day was not that they did not understand the concept of grace, but because they failed to apply it, blatantly ignoring the contradiction between grace and their theology that saw the killing of foreigners as the way to fulfill the promises of Yahweh and the sins of their countrymen; the prostitutes, drunkards, and tax collectors; not their backing of violence, as that which was preventing peace.
And rather than demonize others Jesus constantly weaves tales like the parable of the Good Samaritan. A story which works best because Jesus’ listeners would have assumed that it was a Samaritan that was the thief, the assumed villain in the story – not the hero – not the one who we are to emulate. The story would work much in the same way for us today if we could tell a tale of two prominent American politicians rushing past a man, assumed to be dead, who was the victim of a roadside bomb, and then had a Palestinian come to his aid! (As a historical note, Samaritans is the historical name for the people of mixed blood who lived east of Jerusalem, so the cultural translation of Palestinian is more right than we first may perceive.)
But the story doesn’t end with just breaking down presuppositions, like many of our modern tales. Jesus finishes the parable with the poignant question: [culturally translated] “which one of these is the injured man’s countryman?” (the word “neighbor,” was a hotly debated term that some Rabbinical schools of thought considered to mean “those in your direct family who lived near you” and which others considered to mean “all Israelites.” Obviously, the way that one defines the word neighbor has great implications to how one reads the great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”) Jesus, weighs in on this debate with the most unusual answer, your neighbor is a person in a nearby country, or in another part of the world, he says. Or put another way, Jews and Palestinians are in fact neighbors, who must love each other. The point of the parable is that national differences are irrelevant in the kingdom of God, and that we are to treat people who are as irreconcilable to us as Palestinians are to Jews, the very way that we would wish to be treated.
Nearly all of Jesus stories are like this: bending national and political boundaries. Below are 4 more examples:
a. There’s the tale of the woman at the well, the only time we are ever told that all of Jesus disciples were surprised at what he had done. And it’s no wonder that they were: Jesus is alone, at a well with a woman (every time you see a couple meet in the bible it is at a well, the well is the Jewish place to find a wife – or a prostitute – as Proverbs warns… As an interesting note: we have the historical artifact of calling a bar a “watering hole” because wells we so well known in the ancient world as the place of the “hookup”).
So, Jesus is alone with a woman at a bar (culturally translated), he knows her checkered past, and yet he speaks with her (itself a bold move in that day and age), they exchange a series of words with double meanings in Hebrew (hardly able to be reproduced in English): the words he uses for living water (water that is alive, as in water with constant movement, like a spring) she interprets sexuality (the same word can also be translated as “squirting water”). The words she uses for sexual partner he interprets religiously (“Lord” was a term both for the leader of a country or area, the husband or sexual partner for a woman, or as a name of God). And they have this sort of dance with words, similar to the kind of dance a prostitute must have with someone who may turn out to be a john or a cop: two people talking to each other with one using veiled references that may very well be about something else entirely. This is about that.
The disciples walk in during the middle of all of this, unsure what is being said. But it’s obviously something is going on. And they are started!
It’s the defining demonstrative act of adultery! One could easily imagine the disciples saying to each other “Jesus is starting a relationship with a woman, and one outside of Judaism!”
In the end, though Jesus does not go home with this woman, the parable enacted before their eyes was not about physical adultery. But adultery is the very image Jesus had intended for his disciples to see: in any Jews eyes, when God had claimed they had committed adultery by chasing after foreign gods, there was an implied assumption that God would not chase after foreign peoples. Jesus uses shocking and jarring Jewish imagery, with a style so similar to the prophets, to make the dramatic point that their assumption was flawed. God cared about more than just one people group. Jesus’ shocking demonstration of adultery, albeit not a physical one, was that God was nationally “promiscuous,” caring about more than just the people the disciples, and the whole nation, thought God should.
b. When Jesus clears the temple, it is not because Jews had some sort of wrong religion based on works (concepts not based on a historical understanding of Judaism at all, but rather reflecting current debates – The concept of work based salvation in either Jewish or Christian thought did not develop until the rise of the Roman Catholic Church) but because the temple was a “den of bandits,” a den of “lestes.” (λῃστής lēstēs)
“Lestes” is a technical term used by Rome for military revolutionaries, which directly translated means "thieves" or “bandits,” yes, but was not the word for one who stole generically, instead it was a political term for those who attempted to steal something very specific, namely the glory and power from Rome.” “Lestes” was the technical term for those who Rome crucified for armed resistance, if Jesus had meant common thievery he would have used the term Kleptes (κλέπτης kleptēs) from which we get the word kleptomaniac. See the appendix for usages of the two terms.
– Thus Jesus’ call becomes clear, he was emptying the temple, not its religious properties (after all the early church continued meeting there and worshiping with other Jews until persecution drove them out), but because it was being used as the recruiting ground for militant nationalists who used the temple as the visual motivation for their violent mission. Jesus was faulting those who used the temple to spread nationalistic and religiously motivated hatred and violence.
c. In the parable of the Vineyard, Jesus declares in no uncertain terms that he will tear away that which he has given the Jews and give to others. Why? because they had kept all of it to themselves. They had considered those outside their nation as not worthy of their God.
d. In the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus declares that the fig, the national symbol of Israel, has been unfruitful in her mission and will be soon destroyed unless it repents.
2. Jesus Barabbas promise to free his people from their bondage by becoming a political and military hero and by forming armed militias to oppose Rome.
Jesus advocates non-violent resistance and commands his followers not to return violence with violence but to love their enemies and to do good to those who hate them.
In Josephus' autobiography, he states that he met with a nameless hot-headed rebel leader in AD 66 and told him to give up on his own agenda, his own war, and to trust him and his way. He used these exact words: metanoesein kai pistos emoi genesethai, exactly translated as "repent and believe in me." These words, so often taken as simply religious must be embraced in the entirety of their meaning: a large part of which must deal with war and institutional violence.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his followers that their “accusers must be faced and reconciled (5:25-26), the soldiers who commandeers the services of a Galilean villager must not be resisted or resented, but must be met with astonishing generosity (5:41)” and rather than returning hostilities to the occupying forces, Jesus’ followers are told to “turn the other cheek” a transcendent, counter move that requires the aggressor to face the oppressed by having the struck look the aggressor in the eye. Either causing the aggressor to acknowledge the humanity of the oppressed or to strike the oppressed, not with a condescending blow –a backhand to the left cheek, but with a blow on the right cheek – a blow meant for a legitimate threat. All three of these statements make the incredible case that “enemies of the state are not enemies in the eyes of YHWH, and if Israel is really to imitate her heavenly father she must learn to love them and pray for them (5:44).” (NT Wright)
But Jesus strongest statement, when he says: “Do not resist evil” puts his whole sermon into focus. It undoubtedly a phrase that will make him no friends: the word he uses for resist is “Antisternal” (ἀνθίστημι anthistēmi) a technical very specific term meaning a revolutionary resistance of a military variety. By using that very technical term, the phrase undoubtedly would equate Rome and evil, but also forbids armed resistance to Rome. A statement like this would enrage both occupying forces and also those in the resistance movement.
Jesus forbids institutional violence because every person in the world are ultimately related. We are all sons of the same God. All wars are civil wars. His kingdom causes us to think of Jews and Palestinians, Tutsi’s and Hutus, Americans and illegal aliens, Christians and Muslims, as neighbors who we treat with utmost respect and honor, the very way we want to be treated ourselves.
It’s not a kingdom like the ones in this world. Jesus speaks of the founding of Christianity not like founding a religion but as founding a sort of borderless, transcendent nation, with a nationality based upon the profession “Jesus is Lord” –a subversive remix of the phrasing of allegiance to Caesar, not unlike a group of revolutionaries today declaring “I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ” every time the American flag was raised.
3. The way of Jesus Barabbas, was peace through conquest, through the sword – through the bomb.
Jesus, on the other hand, miraculously heals those on all sides of the conflict. Barabbas offers up redemptive violence, Jesus offers peace through healing. When Jesus proclaims in Nazareth, that he has come to fulfill the prophets and lead the people out of oppression he says he gives that claim proof by healing the sick. We should again remember the political expectations inherent in Israel at this time, and with this remembered it should strike us as a very strange proclamation: like a man saying he was qualified to lead Tibet out of oppression because he works in a hospital. The beauty and brilliance of that statement is then immediately clarified, as the very next act in his ministry is to heal a Centurion’s servant – to the militaristic Jew this must have seemed like blasphemy: Jesus was claiming he would fulfill their national promises on behalf of their enemies!
And so Jesus defines this path out of oppression in this new kingdom; he, alone, is qualified to lead the Jewish people out of oppression, precisely because of who he heals. He will lead them out of oppression by winning over their enemies, healing them both physically and, much more significantly, healing the rifts between the two groups. He will release the oppressed by disarming the oppressor.
So he shows that His new kingdom is one not built by coercion by but inclusion—one that expands not by bombs but by the willingness to sacrifice – the willingness to suffer rather than to cause harm. His kingdom is a nation that can never understand valuing one type of life over another; it cannot fathom killing others to save lives. It does good to those who would destroy it; its response to threats is more and more aid, healing, and sacrifice – never bombs or attacks.
If all of this sounds unrealistic, impossible, naive… remember this kingdom claims no land, defends no space, its cares not for political systems. It does not need to pass laws to take care of the needy; it just assumes the responsibility: in a way that is decentralized, organic, sustainable, and local. It looks to serve and to place others before itself; it is content in recession and prosperity. It fasts to feed the needy. It opens its home to let the homeless in (Is. 58:7). It expects persecution; it anticipates being crushed and to grow by its very blood. It is like a seed which must die to bear fruit. Its helpless death conquers oppression and topples regimes.
Jesus’ kingdom creates no coinage, has no positions of power, and has no army. It values servitude and mundane, unnoticed acts of kindness, not the plays of political and religious power brokers. It is a new kingdom (or nation or government) working quietly within the old ones; not trying to change laws through powerful conventions, but simply living as if that kingdom’s rules and freedoms were already existing, now, in the present. It lives as if that reality were there already. Or to use the language of Jesus, “The kingdom of God is here now!”
It does not try to “take back” a nation by force, using coercion or laws to regulate, but it works quietly within, like the way that yeast makes its way through dough. It does not seek a pat on the back or an accolade but does acts of mercy and justice in secret without asking to be noticed, not letting the left hand know what the right is doing. As it simply, quietly, secretly brings about a better world.
And yet, it expects to be crushed, it is like the Chinese man rolled over by a tank that will free his people not the violent revolutionary. The persecuted church's prayer and candle vigils in eastern Europe that ended communism. The forgiveness and willingness to be trampled that let Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa heal. It was Martin Luther King’s willingness to die for what he believed in -- and unwillingness to kill for it-- that brought and still is bringing our nation together.
Good cannot win; it can only lose. For Good to wage war with evil, using evils weapons, would have good become evil. So Good must lose. But that’s the thing about Good, when it loses, it resurrects.
And so at long last, we return to the phrase “forgiveness of sins.” For a first century Jew to say the phrase “Christ died for our sins,” was to publicly acknowledge a failed course of action. It was to repent – to provoke the response intended in the cursing of the fig tree; to proclaim that religiously motivated political and military action can never achieve peace. The phrase “Jesus died for our sins” gives words to the deep irony that Jesus was crucified for the very insurrection and unrest that they had caused.
Friends, that repentance is the very type that is needed today. It is relevant still.
So we come to my point:
That inner political story of Jesus’ day
is the story of our day,
and the story of the world,
the story of all of history.
It must be told.
The suicide bombers,
the Jews who believe that their nation will not be restored until they posses all the land,
and will use any means to take it,
the Muslims who believe that as long as there are military bases in their lands they cannot see the fulfillment of their prophesies
and who seek to kill to see those prophesies fulfilled,
the Christians who place their own safety above the life of a foreigner
who view peace as an impediment to the second coming of Christ,
who value an American life above a Mexican or Iranian one,
who claim the term servant while seeking political positions of power,
Yes all those who seek to use force to accomplish the type of peace it never can
they are all waiting on the same thing:
the second coming of Barabbas. A Christ whose wine is placed in all the old wine skins.
And their God will be shown for exactly what he is:
one who has the same name,
but an entirely different identity than the true one.
The NT uses Kleptes in these verses:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.
"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
"Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed."
The NT uses Lestes in these verses:
"It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"
At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me.
Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: " 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
"Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?
They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.
In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
"It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?
"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
They shouted back, "No, not him! Give us Barabbas!" Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
Notice that the first list has to do with actual thievery and Jesus and Paul use the word κλέπτης kleptēs and the second has to do with revolutionary violence and Jesus and Paul use λῃστής lēstēs. Notice in some passages Jesus uses both (which would be a very redundant thing to do unless their meanings were different).