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March 6, 2024

Reckless Grace

Passage: Matthew 27:21

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our meditation is based on the release of Barabbas. You will see that though Jesus’ self-sacrifice can seem, to
our human way of thinking, completely reckless, such absolute grace is the only way our reckless ways of sin
can be eternally put out of the mind of God. Again, Pilate presents the people with a choice:
“Whom will ye that I release unto you?  Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?”
O Lamb of God, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.
It is an understatement to say that confusion is a running theme of the passion narrative.
A close friend betrays Jesus with a kiss. Peter, once willing to die with Him, denies, cries, and runs away.
Conflicting witnesses cannot get their stories straight. The Jews collude with their arch-enemy, Roman
invaders, to put an innocent Man to death.
But the confusion of Jerusalem these final few hours of Jesus’ life hasn’t come out of nowhere, nor has it just
begun with the frenzy of Palm Sunday. It’s been the sad state of the city for the last several decades.
A chaos and confusion we find embodied in a man named Barabbas.
Not every person and event gets recorded by all four evangelists, which is why we have and read this
compilation of every detail, the Passion narrative. But Barabbas, not only do each of the four name him by
name, he is given a wild variety of epithets, a “robber,” a “murder(er),” a “notable prisoner,” an
A murderer, an assassin for hire, who will to take a dagger to the gut of whomever you need – for the right
A robber, a near professional at stealing out in the open – not that he needs anything he takes – a thug who
shows up to rough a business up a bit and teach them a good lesson.
An insurrectionist, a word you’ve unfortunately heard over and over in recent years, as we sadly have more than
a few contemporary examples of this sort of behavior.
And as is the case with any truly subversive movement, a good insurrectionist, it’s hard to figure out which side
he actually works for. Both left and right equally delighted to cash in on the disorder in order to secure their
Proud Boys, Antifa, QAnon, Black Lives Matter, take your pick. Confusion is the name of the game.
And Barabbas is a “notable” one, as recognizable to the people as the QAnon Shaman who walked about the
Capitol in his headdress and horns. As familiar an image as the Minneapolis rioter running about with armfuls
of electronics and name-brand shoes with which to feed his hungry children.
Why, when looters are to be considered undocumented shoppers, when you show up to the Capitol guns in
hand, and they unlock the doors to offer you a walking tour of the facility, I’m pretty sure there’s something
fishy going on here.
Same goes for Pontius Pilate, who unlocks the jail cell and parades his inmates out in front of the crowd
assembled for just such occasion: “Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a
prisoner, whom they would.”

Not every inmate. Just 2: “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas or Jesus?”
Rigged in that Pilate knowing Jesus’ popularity, the impromptu ticker-tape parade of His Palm-Sunday arrival
and having interrogated Jesus himself – “I find no fault in Him at all” – Pilate convinced Jesus is only in his
custody on account of trumped-up charges – “For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him” – Pilate puts
Barabbas out there to make this choice a no-brainer.
The known looter, visibly standing before them – with no remorse – if not making a fist bump into the air, at
least the look in Barabbas’ face, making clear what he’d be up to immediately upon release – who would ever
choose him?
“Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?”
They said: “Barabbas.”
“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?”
“Let Him be crucified.”
Don’t let that second shout “Let Him be crucified” drown out the first: “Barabbas!”
“Crucify Him!” tends to get all the attention here. And for good reason, for here the Lamb of God is sent off to
slaughter. But there’s something else they ‘know not what’ they’re doing with the very same breath.
Because whether they know it or not, when they shout for Barabbas’ release, they cry, “Go ahead, let Barabbas
murder and steal! Let Barabbas influence our children! I’d like my nation and society a touch more confused
than it already is. Let Barabbas do whatever he wants… to us!”
Because letting Barabbas loose – especially in this fashion – he learns no lesson. What “notable prisoner” and
“insurrectionist” would not instinctively go looking up old friends, rough up a few others to shake out of them
what they thought they’d no longer have to owe him, and get back on the payroll of Jerusalem and Roman elites
alike, and get back to work.
That work? Bedlam and chaos, which in just a few years will come to a head. In a standoff between Jewish
and Roman forces, where insurrectionists like Barabbas and his friends will be recruited, by someone, maybe
both sides, to start a few riots and storefront fires, which eventually grows out of control and burn Jerusalem,
temple and city as a whole, to the ground.
This is what they’re asking for with the cry: “Barabbas!” And this they will get.
All because in this pivotal moment of the passion, Jesus being bound to a cross means an insurrectionist is let
loose, free and wild.
How reckless a choice! How fitting an image for your life under grace!
Surely you know what it’s like to sit on the brink of having your sins exposed, brink of getting what your
misdeeds deserve, and then all of sudden, out of nowhere, you get off scott-free. In the moment, you might
resolve never to get mixed up in that trouble again. But in reality, that pious turnabout is no different from
everyone I’ve ever visited in jail, who’s resolved to turn their life around: “Pastor, can you bring me a Bible,
two or three? I’ve been talking to everyone else in here about Jesus too.” But once he’s out, never to be heard
from again.

Because somewhere deep down, we plot and plan throughout any unfortunate incarcerations exactly what you’ll
get into once you’re out.
Self-destructive behaviors you know are no good for you, but seem to get you what you want in the moment.
That which whenever close to getting caught you resolve never to do again until the coast is clear. Because as
long as you can get away with it, does it really need to bother the conscience. All largely unknown to most
others in this crowd, but in divine court, all quite notable.
Yet you get to walk away from your time before the Judge this evening as outwardly free as the manifest
insurrectionist named Barabbas.
That rigged choice between those two, then, it was no naïveté on Pilate’s part by which it went down, but
according to the true behind-the-scenes moving and shaking of the saving hand of your God. Which makes
Jesus’ condemnation, not just Barabbas’ freedom. No, by Jesus’ suffering and death, God sets you free too.
The Apostle asks, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
This is no mere rhetorical device. If the boundless grace of God in Christ Jesus doesn’t make you ask these
kinds of questions, I don’t think you get just how reckless grace is.
Because if the manner your Savior releases you from the debt of sin does not to some degree make you
question, “Who would do this?” you are the one taking it for granted. It’s not absolute grace, if it doesn’t make
you at least a touch uncomfortable.
Holding back, waiting to see how someone acts, keeping people under mental probation, that’s how you and I
*don’t* forgive one another. If it were up to us, no one would make it to heaven.
Which is precisely why it’s not up to you at all, but up to Jesus.
The Savior who sows His seed onto the wayside, thorns, and rocks, as much as the good soil.
Who pays each laborer in the vineyard the same exact wage.
Who heals ten lepers, and when only one returns, is almost surprised he got that much.
Who tells the woman caught in adultery: “Go and sin no more” – as if that’s ever worked!
And tells the paralytic, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” before He says, “Arise and walk,” before He gets to find
out what he would get up and into, or rather, since this is the all-seeing God, knowing full well what he would.
Who died for the sins of the whole world whether they’d believe or not.
It’s this Jesus who sets you free based on no merit or worthiness on your part, solely on account of His
condemnation in your place.
Thus the Apostle declares: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Again, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
And once more lest you miss the point: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.  That as sin hath
reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Because it is only by a grace so reckless to human reason that our reckless ways can be eternally put out of the
mind of God.
What? Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound? That was Barabbas’ plan. Let it no longer be yours.
In Jesus’ trial, they accuse: “This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three
days.” That first part was coming, and the likes of Barabbas would bring it about. But Jesus was talking about
“the temple of His body,” which means His victory over sin and death is your strength to rise above: “Therefore
we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of
the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
That pivotal point of the passion, the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, it’s an exchange you get to relive
each time you encounter the life-giving Word of God, as Jesus gave us commission: “Whatsoever ye shall bind
on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Each time the Gospel is preached – if preached well – you are bound and released. A Law which openly indicts
you of your sins until you can only plead guilty… until, all of sudden, out of nowhere, comes Jesus and you get
off scott-free. A Gospel which boldly declares forgiveness full and free to whatever soul dares darkens these
Which means, right here, right now, His grace just set you loose anew. Off and running the right direction
toward heaven. Not a thing to keep you here… except maybe one more hymn.
Now the peace that passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.