Why so? Because if not for Jesus Barabbas would’ve been doomed. According to the Gospels he was a criminal awaiting execution. A “notorious” troublemaker who’d been part of a cadre of rebels bent on insurrection. He’d been found guilty of complicity in a murder committed during a riot they’d incited. Then one Friday the Roman guards hauled him out of his cell and, before he knew it, he was standing in front of a rowdy crowd of Israelites next to a man governor Pilate was declaring innocent of any wrongdoing. Barabbas couldn’t help noticing the badly-beaten fellow wasn’t pleading for mercy. In fact, he wasn’t protesting the gross injustice at all. To his befuddlement the majority of the throng shouted they preferred the bleeding man beside him be crucified and that he, Barabbas, be the one pardoned and set free. His shackles were removed and he probably wasted no time getting the heck out of the immediate vicinity ASAP. Barabbas is never mentioned again. But it’s reasonable to assume that, in case he didn’t already know, he eventually learned the man the horde opted to have killed was the controversial rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Most likely Barabbas adopted either of two views about what’d occurred: (1) He was the luckiest man on the planet who just happened to be in the right place at the right time and that poor Jesus was no more than another misguided dreamer with a messianic complex who’d soon be yesterday’s news. Or (2) he heard that Jesus rose from his grave and, since people he trusted saw Him alive, he came to accept a life-altering truth – that the long-prophesized Son of God willingly took his place on the cross.
I’m Barabbas. You’re Barabbas. All of us are Barabbas. We’re sinners who’ve broken God’s laws and deserve the capital punishment of eternal separation from His holy presence. Then, at some point, we were informed we’ve been granted a pardon. That Christ stepped in and purposely allowed Himself to be executed in our stead. We’re free to go and do as we please. And, like Barabbas, we have a choice to make about who Jesus was and what He did for us. We can either (A) cop the attitude He was a disillusioned but charismatic religious martyr who, though he died for nothing, his followers subsequently turned into the God/man savior or (B) that He was, indeed, the promised Messiah whose shed blood washes away the sins of mankind. As much as some folks may desire it, there’s no fence to straddle. Jesus took our place. He cancelled our debt. One either believes He had the authority and ability to do that or He didn’t. Our Creator allows each of us to decide for ourselves. But the consequence of that personal choice will determine the permanent status – and location – of our soul forevermore. Therefore it’s vital that every person be told about Christ and what He did for them. Nothing’s more important.
In my previous 14 essays I’ve done my best to present a convincing argument for believing Jesus was precisely who He claimed to be – the sacrificial Lamb of God who is the way, the truth and the life. I took on every aspect of Christianity I could think of and defended its veracity by bringing forth not only solid scholarly evidence but also convincing circumstantial evidence to back up my contention. I showed the biographies of Jesus found in the four Gospels of the New Testament are the honest recollections of men who walked by His side and witnessed His miraculous ministry firsthand. That the Gospels are deemed accurate because they’ve been dated to within a few years of Jesus’ ascension. That means the bottom-line belief that He was the Messiah who was killed, buried and then conquered the curse of death through His resurrection has good reason for being the foundation of Christianity from the beginning. I showed the Gospel writers didn’t balk at including their less-than-admirable behavior in their reporting. I showed the fact they aren’t identical lends credence to their authenticity. Because they were authored and copied relatively quickly there was plenty of opportunity for people who knew the truth to denounce their accounts as bald-faced lies. That didn’t happen. I showed the number of copies of the Gospels and Epistles that’ve been scientifically proven to be nearly as old as the original manuscripts is unprecedented compared to other ancient documents. What we read in the New Testament today has been established as being 99.5% discrepancy-free. Furthermore, not one of the basic Christian tenets is in dispute. I also showed those who determined which books were included in the canon did so after years of dedicating themselves to thoughtful deliberation, lively debate and sincere prayer for divine guidance.
I presented solid evidence there’s more reliable historical documentation for Jesus than exists for the founders of the other ancient religions. Non-biblical sources corroborate a great number of people firmly believed Christ was the prophesized redeemer and that, despite His seemingly ministry-ending public crucifixion, they continued to follow and worship Him as God. There are as many as 39 independent historical sources confirming over 100 facts concerning Jesus’ life, proclamations, death and resurrection. I’ve shown that archaeologists continue to enhance the credibility of the Bible via their discoveries and that nothing they’ve come across in their work has yet to disprove a single Scriptural reference. It’s their unbiased investigations that’ve identified Luke (credited with writing almost a quarter of the New Testament) as being an extraordinarily careful and detailed historian. I showed the controversial Jesus Seminar of the late 20th century that generated so much media attention at the time is all but forgotten now for a reason. The radical-fringe “scholars” that participated in it failed miserably in their attempt to discredit what was written down and preserved concerning Jesus because they built their heretical theories on documents of extremely dubious quality that couldn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. Inadvertently, they only succeeded in reinforcing the widespread belief that the Jesus of history is the same as the Jesus of faith.
I’ve shown Jesus harbored no doubts whatsoever that He was the Son of the living God. That He was well aware of His deity. That He held an unshakable, transcendent understanding of who He was and why He was here. That He repeatedly referred to Himself as the Son of Man, a distinguishing moniker Daniel prophesized would personify the Messiah centuries earlier. While a person who considered themselves God would be summarily diagnosed as being crazy as a loon we have no evidence whatsoever to indicate Jesus was anything less than the sanest human being who ever lived. He never exhibited inappropriate emotions. He never lost contact with reality. He had a genius intellect and an uncanny ability to see through people’s facades. He interacted with folks from all walks of life and consistently formed and maintained close, abiding relationships with those around Him. Nothing about Jesus gives a hint He was prone to displaying eccentric or neurotic mannerisms, the usual tip-offs that someone’s mentally unbalanced. Not only that, He backed up His claim of deity through His inexplicable healings, through His ability to teach even the illiterate complex moral lessons by employing the most relatable of illustrations and, of course, through performing miracles that defied the laws of physics. I showed that, being the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal, immutable God of the universe that He is, He was able to voluntarily empty Himself of the independent use of those divine attributes in order to accomplish His mission of presenting to mankind the way of salvation. I showed that the specific prophesies of the Old Testament prophets made it impossible for anybody but God’s Anointed One to fulfill them. Jesus alone met every criterion. The odds of a phony Messiah coming along and matching up with every prophecy are beyond our ability to imagine. It’d be like winning the lottery a trillion times in a row. No joke.
I showed that Jesus’ death on the cross was no ruse and that His resurrection is not a fabricated myth. Given what we know the Romans did to our Savior on Good Friday any medical doctor will tell you there’s no possible way a man could survive the horrendous whipping, the brutal beatings and the gruesome rigors of the crucifixion process Christ was subjected to, much less the gaping wound caused by having a spear shoved through his lung and heart. The notion that Jesus merely “swooned” on the cross is preposterous. Roman executioners had seen it all and nobody came down from the cross alive. They knew if someone were to “fake them out” they’d pay with their own life so no such errors of judgment are known to have ever been made. I showed that even if Jesus somehow managed to survive His torturous ordeal and escape the tomb He’d been sealed inside, His mangled and grotesque physical appearance surely wouldn’t have inspired the disciples to go out and proclaim their Master was victorious. It makes more sense that, if they truly loved Him, they would’ve been busy trying desperately to save His life.
I showed the tomb Jesus was laid to rest in was empty on Sunday morning. It wasn’t a secret. The Romans, the Sanhedrin, the disciples and followers of Christ knew it was true. The vacant sepulcher became the cornerstone acknowledgement in the earliest of Christian creeds. It’s no fanciful legend because those, by their nature, evolve and take shape over decades and centuries of storytelling. There was no false narrative manufactured about the tomb being empty because the writers would’ve no doubt quickly eliminated any mention it was a group of women who discovered it so. In the Jewish culture of the day a female’s testimony wasn’t even allowed in a court of law. Plus it would’ve been easy enough for anyone to stroll out and see for themselves that the sepulcher still had a huge stone covering its entrance with Pilate’s official “no trespassing” seal plastered on it and a cluster of no-nonsense Roman soldiers continuing to stand guard. But not a single soul ever claimed Jesus’ lifeless body was still in the tomb. Not the Roman authorities. Not the Jewish High Priest. Nobody. What they did claim, though, was that some of his followers covertly evaded all the precautionary measures taken and stole the body while the supposedly slothful, incompetent Roman soldiers took a nap. No one believed that then or now and Jesus’ body was never found.
I showed many people staked their lives on their unwavering belief that they’d seen the post-Resurrection Jesus in person. As with the empty tomb, this part of the story didn’t slowly develop and become enhanced over time like a myth would but was a central proclamation of the early church from day one. In the Apostle Paul’s inclusion of the church’s earliest, most fundamental creed in 1 Corinthians 15 he not only names specific individuals who encountered the risen Christ but avers that a congregation of at least 500 saw Jesus at once. He even invited/dared skeptics to look them up and hear their testimonies for themselves! The book of Acts contains many affirmations of the risen Jesus being seen and the ones cited in the Gospel accounts are described in detail. The respected British theologian Michael Green concluded, “The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity… There can be no rational doubt that they occurred.”
Speaking of being rational, I showed there are an abundance of irrational, stubborn-as-mules skeptics in this world who don’t care how much solid evidence is placed before them. They refuse to believe in Jesus because they don’t believe the Bible is anything more than a collection of folklore and fairy tales. For them we must, as a last resort, rely on the circumstantial evidence to convince them of the truth that Jesus conquered the grave. First off is the fact the disciples willingly suffered and went to their deaths insisting the Resurrection wasn’t fiction but a truly miraculous event that actually happened. Nobody in their right mind would undergo persecution and torture to perpetuate what they know to be a hoax. The disciples weren’t nuts, they were convinced. Secondly, confronting the risen Christ is the only thing that could’ve turned hard-core cynics like James (the half-brother of Jesus) and Saul of Tarsus into men willing to give up their life for the Lord. Thirdly, shortly after the Resurrection tens of thousands of Jews suddenly abandoned the deeply-rooted, sacred social practices their ancestors had successfully preserved throughout successive generations. Why? Their belief Jesus was the promised Messiah was stronger than their fear of being wrong about Him and ending up in hell for it. Fourthly, the early and unprecedented sacraments of Communion and baptism were palpable affirmations of Christ’s resurrection and deity. And fifthly, the exponential emergence and spread of the church despite the harsh resistance and vile hatred it encountered throughout the Roman Empire is difficult to account for without accepting that God was intervening in the affairs of the world in order to offer hope to the downtrodden and oppressed. The unexpected, rapid expansion of Christ’s church “rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection,” to quote C.F.D. Moule. These five points of fact aren’t based only on the Bible. They’re substantiated historical facts the skeptic must either accept as proof of the Resurrection or come up with a logical alternative explanation for.
But the reality is they don’t have to offer any explanation at all. They can ignore Jesus, God, the Bible and theology in general if they want. I have two adult offspring. Neither of them believe in Jesus because He said “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and they can’t accept the politically incorrect exclusivity of that declaration. They’re convinced if God is as merciful and loving as I claim He is then, as long as someone’s a nice person, they’re good to go. They opine that if there is such a thing as heaven then everyone will spend their afterlife happily bounding from one cloud to another. Any other outcome would render God unfair. But they don’t want me to preach to them. The way they see it, religion and faith are just not that important. It’s an understatement to say this situation pains my heart. I reveal it to you so you’ll understand that no amount of logic or reasoning will change a closed mind. I can’t make them be Christians. What I can do, however, is to be knowledgeable enough about God’s Holy Word and my beliefs to answer any questions they may have about Jesus – when and if God opens their eyes and ears to see and hear the truth. This applies not just to my children but to anyone who realizes their “lostness” and starts earnestly seeking God. We must be ready to tell them why we’re positive Jesus is the Son of God. That His teachings aren’t simply clever motivational sayings spoken by a wise man ages ago but divine insights upon which one can build a fulfilling life. That, since Christ rose from the grave 2,000 years ago, He’s still alive today and longs to invade their hearts.
The renowned Cambridge University professor and acclaimed author C.S. Lewis was, in his younger years, an atheist. But, in spite of his reluctance, he eventually got won over by the incontrovertible evidence for Jesus. He wrote in his excellent book, Mere Christianity, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” Perhaps Barabbas never grasped the profound truth of what Jesus did for the sake of his soul – but we Christians do. And we must try our best to help everyone to grasp it.