Acquitted

Deep in a dank Roman prison a criminal awaits justice. He has been tried and found guilty. There were multiple witnesses.

“Murderer! Murderer!” He would forever hear the crowd screaming. Thankfully he had not long to live in the torment. The guilt and remorse were tearing at him. He hardened his heart. He would no longer feel emotion.

He had no sense of time, but he knew that the execution had to be in the next twelve hours or so. His hands got clammy. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead and his mouth went dry. A Roman cross was his fate. He had killed a Roman citizen. The Roman’s dealt harshly with murderers.

He heard the guard coming. Not yet! It was too soon. What was happening?

The keys rattle in the door and the guard enters. He has a mean look about him. Or maybe that is just how all Roman guards are.

Roughly jerked to his feet by his own chains, he moans in pain. Where are they taking him? The courtyard, not another beating! He isn’t sure that he could live through another like the last one.

The guard pushes him ahead, down the corridor and up the stone stairway. The blinding sunshine hits his face, leaving the darkness of the prison behind. They come to the courtyard. His pulse starts to race.

Why are there so many people? The courtyard is jammed full. This isn’t just a crowd. This is a mob! And they are angry.

Why? He wonders.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!” Barabbas’ heart pounds even harder. He is already on death row. Why are they again demanding that he be crucified? As his vision clears he sees a man standing before the judgment seat. He has seen this man before.

Jesus, the Nazarene, stands before Pilate, the Roman governor. What has he done? Barabbas begins looking around. He recognizes the Jewish leaders standing with Jesus. He begins to understand. Jewish justice will not crucify this man, but Roman cruelty will. The Jewish leaders are trying to convince the governor that this man is worthy of death.

Pilate stands. The crowd hushes.

“It is my custom that I release one prisoner to you at the feast. Which would you prefer? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called the Christ? Which of the two do you want me to release to you? ”

Barabbas is stunned. It is between him and this Jesus who will live and who will die a horrendous death this day. He can’t breathe.

“We want Barabbas!” the crowd erupts. Barabbas can’t believe what is happening. Will he be freed? What has this man done that would make the people hate him this much?

“What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

“Crucify him!” the crowd turns unreasonable. The governor has just referred to this Man as their Messiah, making Him their Savior. They become angry and unruly

“What has he done to be deserving of death?” Pilate wants nothing to do with this.

“CRUCIFY HIM!” the mob is getting out of hand.

Pilate signals the guard. “You have been freed. You will not pay for the crime you committed.” The guard removes Barabbas’ chains and shoves him away, glowering down at him.

He puts them on the other Man. His hands and feet never felt so light. He chances a glance at the other Man. Expecting anger and hatred, their eyes meet. They hold. Barabbas looks away. Who is this Man?

He sees no anger. He sees no hate. It was the look of his father when he had been hurt as a child, compassion and kindness.

The soldiers lead Jesus away. The mob follows. Barabbas can’t move. Twenty minutes before he had no hope. He was a murderer on death row. Now he is free, acquitted of his offense.

He follows behind numbly, not knowing where else to go. He witnesses a beating more brutal than he had received. Thirty-nine blows with a cat-of-nine-tales. The Romans are cruel in their torture. Jesus utters not a word. Barabbas thinks of his own beating and the string of profanities that he had used.

The solders mock Him and spit on Him. They take a crown made of twisted thorns the length of a finger and press it onto His head. “Hail! The King of the Jews!”

They strap the cross to Jesus’ back. He can barely stand. They find another man to carry the cross. Jesus comes behind, barely walking. Each time He stumbles results in cruel lashes from a Roman whip.

Barabbas continues to follow as they climb the street to the Place of the Skull. It is a Roman death field. With every step, he is reminded that he should be the one carrying the cross.

He tries to find out Jesus’ crime but no one seems to know. Some say one thing and some another. He begins to piece together what he knows. Jesus is a Jewish carpenter and teacher. He is called a Nazarene. He is hated by the Jewish leaders for the things he taught.

Finally a man tells him that the Jewish leaders want Him dead because of His teachings and what they called blasphemy. This makes sense. The Jewish leaders aren’t known for their straight ways of dealing with people they don’t like.

He comes on the hill a little late. The crosses already stand, three of them. Jesus is in the middle with a criminal on either side. Barabbas knows these men.

“If you are the Son of God, come down off the cross.” The men at the cross continue to scoff at him.

Barabbas hears Jesus say, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

The soldiers put a sign above Jesus’ head that says, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The priests and elders of the Jews mock Him even further. “He saved others but He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let God deliver Him if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’.”

Barabbas’ stomach turns. He can stand it no longer. He turns to leave the gruesome scene.

As he turns, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken Me?”  The cry holds such anguish that Barabbas turns one last time to look in His eyes. Then he turns and runs. He runs until he can’t run anymore. He collapses on the side of the street. He sobs. He has not cried in many years. But he can’t help it.

He was to have been executed. And now Jesus hangs in his place. Why? It isn’t right. He is deserving of death and has been released. Jesus is no more than an innocent teacher and carpenter. Or is He? The people called Him the Son of God.

Barabbas picks himself off the ground. The sky is getting dark. He isn’t far from his home. He turns down the alley that leads to his door. He opens it and enters, closing the door behind him. Closing the door forever on Barabbas the murderer and standing as Barabbas, the acquitted.

Adapted from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Discouragement Vs. The Mighty

ImageHe was tired. So very tired. Not just tired but wearied to the bone and those around him could tell. He had been running for years. Literally, running. He tried to remember the last time he had been to his father’s house, the last time he had slept through the night without fear. He could not.

He couldn’t remember the last time he had laid in an open field and stared at the night sky. He loved the stars. He couldn’t remember the last time he had spent more than a day in his beloved hometown. Yes, he was very weary.

A thought entered his mind. If he couldn’t rest in his own country, he would find another one. He would denounce Israel and make his home elsewhere. He began to get excited; to spend a days with his sons, to sleep until the sun woke him.

He knew the king of a nearby country. Achish now ruled in Gath. He would go and ask him for a bit of land in the country side. He began to move, his family and his army. They packed up and headed for Philistia.

Saul wouldn’t go into the heart of enemy country to chase him. He would have to give up the chase. At least David could live in peace.

David sat in silence as the troupe neared Gath. Thirty years old, he had been on the run since… how long had it been? He couldn’t remember.

“Was I sixteen?” he mused aloud.

“What?” Joab rode next to him.

“Nothing.” He continued in silence. Almost fifteen years since Saul first threw that spear. For years he believed that God would spare his life. After all, hadn’t Samuel anointed him? But all for what? To die in a cave? No, Saul would catch up to him one of these days and he would be sorry that he had spared the lunatic king.

Twice, he had not killed Saul when he had the chance. Why? God wouldn’t let him.

“Why God? Why wouldn’t you let me touch him?! I could rest in peace!” He kept these thoughts to himself. He knew how his men felt about Saul.

His thoughts turned to the band of men he rode with. There were six hundred men. Misfits and thieves. Murderers and wanderers. Worthless men. Yet they came and never left. They would follow him anywhere. The things that they learned together in the wilderness and in battle could never be matched by serving in a king’s army.

Was this the right thing to do? Could these men really settle down and just live? Could he?

David quickly dismissed these thoughts. Of course they could! Once they got a taste of shepherding, they would never go back to the glory of battle.

David rolled his eyes at the thought. Maybe they couldn’t settle down. But at least he was out of Saul’s reach. That was all that mattered.

Achish was skeptical at first. What was this vagabond doing in his country. Would he stay out of trouble? He had been at odds with the King of Israel for years. Maybe this could be a good thing.

Achish gave Ziklag to David and his men.  It was a ways from Gath but close enough where he could keep an eye on them. And it was far enough within the boarders of Philistia to make David happy.

Two days went by. The city was quiet. The third day, David began to get antsy. He would go out and ride for hours. He still couldn’t sleep at night. So frustrating! On the run for years, he could finally get some sleep, but his mind wouldn’t be quiet. His men began to fight among themselves. Unrest was everywhere in the city.

“Where is my peace and quiet?” David dealt with his men. But they were irritable and jumpy. They couldn’t sit still. They weren’t used to country life. They wanted to live. Wicked, ungrateful men can’t sit still for long.

They began to go out and raid surrounding kingdoms. And David led them. They brought back loads of spoils and left not a living soul to tell what had happened.

These nations had been around for generations. Probably since the time of Joshua. David and his men would just claim a little more promise land. After all, God had given it to them.

David returned home with a load of gold one day. There was an escort outside his home. Achish had questions. Where had David been? He wanted to know. He had a nation to protect. Things were getting ugly with Israel and he had to know where David’s loyalties laid.

David’s mind raced. Judah. They hit an outlying section of Judah and raided some farmers. There were no survivors left to call David the liar that he was. Of course he was loyal to Achish. He lied and told him that he had turned on his own people, sick of the treatment he had received at their hand.

Achish was satisfied. The gifts David brought helped to pacify. David continued his raids. He and his men were no longer defenders but offenders.

The runner reached David’s house early one morning. Philistia had proclaimed war. David’s heart was hard. He didn’t care that it was against Israel.

Again, Achish was at his door. “You will fight with us. You obviously have no ties with Israel. You and your men will fight with me.”

It wasn’t a question. It was a command. David didn’t care. He would fight alongside the Philistines. He would turn traitor to the people of God and ally himself with the people he had once sworn to destroy.

David, the man after God’s own heart, had turned a lying, thieving traitor. He was now sworn to destroy the very people he loved. And would lead his men to do the same. Why? What turns a man to forget everything he knows, everything he holds dear? Discouragement. David was weary and discouraged.

The Philistine lords would have none of it. “He will turn on us!” they protested. “He will flank us from behind and we will have to fight on two sides. NO! send him and his men back. We will not fight with a Jew.”

Achish was overruled. David and his men were sent home. It was the first time that they were denied a fight. Things were more than a little tense on the way home.

They crested the hill they saw smoke. The men began to shout. Ziklag was burning. Their homes. Their wives and children!

They raced into the city. Amalekites. David loathed Amalekites. They had done their dirty work and left the city in flames. Empty. There was little hope that their families might still be alive.

The men wept. Such a mournful sound had never been heard. They were exhausted and  discouraged and now everything they held dear was gone.

They turned on David. This was, after all, his fault. A stone was reached for. The men began to shout. It was no longer an army of David’s mighty men, but it was now an angry mob. An angry mob that wanted relief. They wanted their families back or someone would pay. David would pay.

David was desperate. “God! Where are you!!” he cried in distress.

“No, David. Where are you?” David heard it as clearly as if it was aloud. He had grown distant from his God, his Strength and Fortress. His soul was grieved. He had allowed discouragement to drown out the comfort that he received from his times in God’s Presence. He had been so busy raiding that it had been weeks since he had sought the Lord. At least in the wilderness he had to turn to God almost daily.

He turned and walked out of the mob. They men were astounded. He had not even acknowledged them. He walked a little ways past the gate post and dropped to his knees.

“Abiathar! Bring me an ephod!”

Abiathar, the priest, brought it to him.

“Oh Lord, God of my salvation. I turn to You in my trouble. Give me the strength to lead. Give me the courage to face my men who have lost so much because of my own stupidity. Be my Strong Tower. I put my trust in You. Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them? Will we prosper in battle?”

“Yes, pursue and overtake them and without fail, recover all.” God doesn’t make his beloved wait in anguish.

David stood. His strength renewed. His courage restored. He knew that God was with him once again.

He rallied his men. This was the David they remembered. The David that had led them time and time again to death’s door and back again. The man that stood, not in his own strength but in the strength of his God. They would follow him anywhere.

Four hundred pursued. They recovered everything and more. God was with them. In a short time, David would be proclaimed king, first of Judah, then of Israel as well.

Beware of discouragement. It will make you turn your back on the things that mean the most to you. The convictions that you have will be destroyed by discouragement and make those closest to you want to kill you.

Take your courage in the Lord. Let him be your strength and you song. Take your joy from His Presence. He will sustain you through the longest seasons of wilderness.

Adapted from 1 Samuel 27-30.