We are so used to hearing the story of Good Friday, that we almost miss one a critical character. On Good Friday, one man didn’t get to carry a cross. But another one did – and it wasn’t Jesus. Understanding him is the key to Christian discipleship.
Barrabas was the man who didn’t carry a cross, of course (Matt. 27:15-26). A criminal who escaped his punishment, he is rightly held up as the example of the effect of the cross. He is a powerful picture of Jesus’ substitutionary death.
But don’t look just at him If you look only at Barrabas, you’ll think Jesus endured shame, pain, guilt, so that I can be holy, innocent and perfect. That is all true, of course. But if you stay there and don’t move on, you’ll think Jesus endured physical pain so I can be healthy; he endured poverty so I can be rich; he endured weakness so I can be strong. which is also true, but….
…Look at Simon of Cyrene, shouldering Jesus’ cross for him (Matt. 27:32). That is the other, twin picture to Barrabas. Look at Barabbas and you’ll see that Jesus carried his cross; look at Simon, and you’ll see he carried Jesus’ cross. The two go together. The Christian is seen simultaneously in both pictures. Jesus carries our cross. We carry his. All the time.
Why is that so important? Because we don’t want it to be true. We want to be Barabbas – free, happy, fulfilled and released. And that’s all we want.
We don’t have to travel far on the web, podcasts or Christian bestseller list to find preachers who will sell us that story, too. Who will articulate our desire to be successful, glossy, wealthy and preened, and who will refuse to let us see Simon of Cyrene.
Those of us who are Christian leaders have a second level of temptation, because we can start to believe that being like the highly-varnished super-preachers is the way of success – the way to proper ministry, rathe than slugging it out in the grime of ordinary people in ordinary churches. Maybe, if we looked like they looked, taught like they taught, tweaked what they tweaked, we would have their impact too.
Forget it. Kill it. Take up the cross.
Why is it hard to see ourselves in Barabbas and Simon at the same time?