Hello My Name is Barabbas

John 18

April 15

About 43% of the Bible is told as a narrative—like a story. From our favorite Old Testament heroes to Jesus’ parables, scripture is full of stories. Of course, how we read a narrative is different from how we read one of Paul’s letters or David’s songs.

To take away practical life application from the Bible stories I read, I ask myself two questions: 

  1. How can I see myself reflected in the characters portrayed? By using scripture as a mirror, I see facets of myself reflected—my personality, my tendencies, my sin, my thoughts, my feelings, and my potential.
  2. What can I learn about God’s character? The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humankind. Since God does not change (Malachi 3:6), the God of Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Daniel, and Jesus that we read about is our God, too. 

Let’s practice this process with the story of Barabbas. 

According to Jewish tradition, during the time of Passover, one prisoner was pardoned from their impending execution. Although Pilate was a Roman, to gain favor with his Jewish constituents, he decided to let one prisoner free. Having not found a reason to charge Jesus, he offers Jesus or Barabbas, an actual criminal, to the crowd. (see also Matthew 27:17)

Pilate went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release the ‘king of the Jews’?”

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising (John 18:38-40).

When we hold up the mirror to scripture, we see ourselves in Barabbas. We’ve committed horrible sin, we deserve to die, yet Jesus died in our stead.

Barabbas deserved to hang on the cross, but Jesus took his place. 

You deserved to hang on the cross, but Jesus took your place. 

In this story, Just as we learn about who we are, we also learn about who God is. He is rich in mercy and forgiveness. He fulfills his promises. He longs for our salvation. He sacrifices the one he holds most dear for us. 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Take a closer look at some of the other characters portrayed in this chapter: Judas, Peter, and Pilate. How do you see yourself reflected in their stories?
  2. Examine the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection as a whole. What does God reveal about his character? 

God’s Character

Exodus 2

February 8

In today’s reading, we read what is probably a very familiar story of a Levite woman giving birth to a very fine baby. In spite of the pharaoh’s orders for every Hebrew boy that is born to be thrown into the Nile, she makes a courageous decision to hide him for three months. At that three-month mark, she makes an even more courageous decision. 3 “But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.”

As a mother, I really can’t imagine the horror of being in her position. We are given a comforting reminder though in verses 23-25 that God cares when we go through tough things:

23 “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

A couple of years ago, I heard about a challenge of reading the Bible all the way through with a specific goal of seeing what could be revealed about God’s character. I had never read the Bible through that specific lens—and let me tell you—it was powerful! It brings me great comfort to read in the above verses that the Israelites’ cries reach God and He heard their groaning and remembered His covenant and He looked on the Israelites with concern. I am often awestruck that the creator of the universe is mindful of us and our feelings and what we are going through. The truth is, He cares very much. It is almost incomprehensible to me that His son suffered and died so that we can have the hope of the kingdom and that God had to bear the pain of witnessing it while Christ called out, “My Father, My Father, why have you forsaken me?” God gave us a way out of our mess because He loved and cared about us just that much! Praise God!

-Kristy Cisneros

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How can you use this story to deepen your understanding of the character of God?
  2. How was God working even when it seemed hopeless for this baby left in a basket in the Nile? How was God still working when Moses fled from Egypt?
  3. When have you been reminded of God’s character – even during a scary, hopeless or uncertain time in your life? How has He provided what was needed, even if you thought you needed something else? How did He show His concern for you?
  4. What do you find most powerful in the sacrifice of Jesus planned and orchestrated by a loving Father who loves and cares for His Son and for you?

Tomorrow we will continue the account with Exodus 3

In God’s Flow Zone

Lamentations 3-5

Accomplished athletes, musicians and artists alike are often asked what it means to be “in the zone”. In psychology circles, being “in the zone” is referred to a state of flow – when an individual is completely absorbed in doing a challenging, yet doable, task. They are somehow able to shut out all of the external noise and distraction to focus on the very present moment to do one thing. 

Performers and entertainers are not the only ones who are able to find their flow. Scientists and mathematicians; emergency responders; and everyday average Joes like you and me are able to concentrate so intently on a task that time just seems to slip away and we find ourselves doing something extraordinary.

As I meditated on Lamentations chapters three through five, I couldn’t help but be bombarded with how devastated the author was over losing their home, being held in captivity, and witnessing depravity all around him.

And yet, right in the middle of all those laments, there are these verses that stand out, that give hope and encouragement.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore

I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him;

it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:21-26

How is it that the author, in the midst of all the calamity, is able to break out these words of great expectation?

Maybe, the author was just for a moment, able to quiet his thoughts and instead of focusing on the turmoil he and the other captives were facing, meditated on God’s character. As he penned these words, he found himself in a state of flow of sorts.

Whenever we find ourselves in difficult situations, it is so easy to concentrate on all that is wrong; all that pains us; all that is overwhelming. 

But what if, instead, we were able to quiet our minds, to completely block out all of the negativity, and just simply rest in the quietness of God’s character: his love, his compassion, his grace and mercy, his forgiveness, his holiness, his faithfulness. 

This is the space where we are able to renew our hope, to find the strength to dig deep and do the hard things, to press on through the challenge having complete confidence that God is ultimately on our side; that He is bigger, greater, higher than anyone or anything that we may be facing. 

If you are in the middle of a difficult circumstance, you may be tempted to lament all day long to anyone who is willing to listen. Instead, I urge you to refocus your thoughts and “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”. (Colossians 3:2) Find yourself in God’s flow zone. Here you will experience the peace that passes all understanding.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Lamentations 3-5 and 1 Peter 1

Receive Salvation not Wrath

Isaiah 31-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5

There is so much Paul still wants to say as he is wrapping up his first (recorded) letter to the Thessalonians. Perhaps the mailman is standing at the door ready to take the letter as Paul is finishing up. His writing style is often long winding sentences with many phrases linked together in what English teachers would now call run-on sentences. But he doesn’t have time for that today. He switches to short powerful sentences. “Be joyful always. Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). He has a lot to pack into his final instructions. Many of them deal with specifics on how to please God and how to love others (our two categories from the previous chapter that we are to do more and more). So, read them carefully and take note of how you are doing in these categories.

Paul also takes a final opportunity to remind them/us of the coming day of the Lord. Paul says this day will bring surprise destruction for many. It also becomes a great time to teach a bit on God’s character. Paul writes, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This reminds me of a beautiful passage from our reading in Isaiah yesterday, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18). God longs to see His people saved from the coming destruction. In the time of Isaiah. In the time of Paul. And, in our time. God longs to see His people saved from the coming destruction, but that does not mean that there won’t be a coming destruction for those who have turned their backs on Him, rejecting Him and His Son.

In Isaiah 31 we read of trouble and God’s judgment coming to the wicked and to those who have turned from God. He denounces those who see they need help – but turn to human allies or their own strength instead of turning to God. They have failed to wait on the LORD, and for them, judgment is coming. God’s perfect plan of salvation requires His children to seek God and accept the salvation offered through His Son Jesus. A response on your part is required to avoid the coming wrath and receive salvation instead.

I will end today, as each of the chapters of 1st Thessalonians have ended, with a reminder of the coming return of Christ. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thesssalonians 5:23-24).

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 31-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5

Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76

I will defend this city and rescue it because of Me and because of My servant David._

In Isaiah 36-37, we read more about the good king Hezekiah. Like we learned last week, Hezekiah worked hard to take down the idols in the land and point the people back to God. In Isaiah 36, Judah came under attack from the neighboring nation of Assyria. Hezekiah then undergoes a battle for the minds of the people as he argues against King Sennacherib and the people of the court. In these two chapters, the Rabshakeh, a high-ranking military officer, tries to convince the people to forsake their kingdom and God. In his three speeches, we may see some similarities between what he says and the way that we are tempted today. At the heart of all of his speeches is a desire to turn Judah away from trusting solely in God. 

In the Rabshakeh’s first speech, he points out one of Israel’s insecurities. He says in Is. 36:4-6, ‘What are you relying on? Your strategy and military preparedness are mere words. Look, you are trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff that will enter and pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it.’ Israel and Judah had both sought protection and manpower from Egypt as we read about in Is. 31. Now the Rabshakeh was pointing out that weakness and mocking them for it! We’ve all experienced a time when we have had our insecurities pointed out. I’m a terrible volleyball player. When I would have to play volleyball in gym class, I remember one of the cute guys at my school saying to me ‘You just have to hit the ball like this. It’s not hard!’ You can imagine that in that moment – when a shortcoming of mine was pointed out – all I wanted to do was for someone to take that problem away from me quickly! In my gym class that meant sitting out the next game, but the Judeans didn’t have that option. The Assyrians gave them the option instead to give him 2,000 horses if they could supply riders for them (v. 8). Again, this pointed out the lack of manpower and ability for the Israelites to protect themselves. 

At this point, we would probably say, ‘Well, that’s fine! Israel doesn’t need to protect themselves – they should trust in God!’ The Rabshakeh thought of that too. In verse 7, he says, ““Suppose you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God.’ Isn’t he the One whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You are to worship at this altar’?” The Rabshakeh twisted the actions of Hezekiah to make it seem like he had done something against God rather than something that God wanted. He even goes so far as to say in v. 10, “Have I attacked this land to destroy it without the LORD’s approval? The LORD said to me, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’ In his second speech, the Rabshakeh describes how he had destroyed the gods of the surrounding nations, which would just show that God himself wouldn’t deliver the people either (v. 18-20). 

This is some powerful psychological warfare! We know the Judeans had trust issues to begin with. Now, someone is coming and laying out all of their insecurities for the world to see (right before they try to march in and destroy their kingdom)! The heart of all of the Rabshakeh’s temptation can be summed up with what he said in Is. 37:10, “Don’t let your God, whom you trust, deceive you by promising that Jerusalem won’t be handed over to the king of Assyria.” He basically says ‘Did God really say that he would save you?’ which may sound eerily reminiscent of another ancient tempter (Gen. 3:1). At this point, if someone had tried to break our trust in God in this way, we may have caved and believed them. However, Hezekiah does what we all should do when we have people who try to break our trust in God. He prays and then reminds himself of God’s unchanging character. 

God hears his prayer and we read about the victory that God brings in Isaiah 37:36-38 when an angel of the LORD strikes down the Assyrian army and the king is killed in the temple of his god, Nisroch.

When we face temptations and challenges that try to break our trust in God, we need to be reminded that he is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We can trust in what the Bible says. We can trust in the promises of God. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 40-43– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Trusting in the Character of God

Job 32-34

Job 34 10b csb

We are deep into the book of Job, listening to Job’s friends who make pretty poor comforters as Job tries to process his grief. At the heart of all of these arguments which make up Job 3-42 is the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” We saw last week that Job had argued successfully that he had done nothing wrong; he was a righteous man. His friends though just couldn’t believe that God would allow bad things to happen to righteous people, unless it was as a form of discipline.

 

As we get into chapter 32, we hear from another one of Job’s friends. As with all of the other arguments, some of what he says is true and valid, while other parts are not. Elihu feels as though he has to speak because Job had “justified himself rather than God” (Job 32:2). He tells Job:

 

“It is impossible for God to do wrong,
And for the Almighty
To act unjustly
For He repays a person according to his deeds,
And He brings his ways on him.
Indeed, it is true that God
Does not act wickedly
And the Almighty does not
Pervert justice.”  (Job 34:10-12)

 

When we deal with difficult situations, we can be tempted to be like Job’s friends. We want to blame our situation on God disciplining us. When we feel we are righteous in our own eyes, we can begin to be bitter towards God and question his goodness and justice. We know that God is just and good. It’s so important not to lose sight of that fact as we deal with challenging situations. We need to rest in the character of God, rather than allow our circumstances to dictate what we believe about God’s character. The messy truth is that every good thing in our lives is a gift from God (James 1:17). When we receive these things, it’s not that we’ve gotten what we’ve earned. Instead, we have received grace upon grace. When we rest in God’s goodness and justice, we can face those hard days with more strength and peace, because we know that God is good despite what goes on around us.
Cayce Fletcher
You can read, or listen to, today’s passage at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+32-34&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible passage will be Job 35-37.  Print a copy of the schedule and follow along on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Forget Not All His Benefits

Psalm 103

psalm 103 2 b

Yesterday we practiced seeing God revealed in Psalm 100.  Today you can try it again with another great Psalm – 103.  Read through the Psalm and search for what you can learn (or be reminded) about God.

What characteristics of God are you especially thankful for?  His omniscience (all-knowing)?  His omnipotence (all-powerful)?  His faithfulness?  His forgiveness?  His compassion?

Verse 12 gives a little teaser of what was yet to come in God’s perfect plan of salvation. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”  At the time this was written God’s people were still living under the Old Testament law with it’s system of sacrifices and priests.  There was a plan in place for forgiveness but it required strict adherence to a detailed list of sacrifices and who could perform them for what sins.

Sin was – and still is – a big deal because it causes separation from God who can not be in the presence of sin.

And so, in the New Testament a new gift from God was given!  A new path to forgiveness – one not just for the Jews, but for all who would believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ – the Son of God!  The giver of all good gifts gave us His one and only Son – first to teach us how to live and to point us to his Father – and then to die so that we can be saved from our sins.  But God still wasn’t done gifting.  He raised Jesus from the dead.  And today he is in heaven at God’s right hand, interceding on our behalf and serving as the mediator between God and man.

Let us forget not all his benefits…and thank Him for His Son.

-Marcia Railton

God Revealed

psalm 100 5

Yesterday we were discussing keeping God at the top of our thankful list – above all the great gifts He has given.  And we said it was easy to let God slip from this spot if we didn’t work at knowing Him more and more.  After all, it’s impossible to be in a thankful relationship with someone I barely know – or rarely think about – or only sporadically spend time with.

And so, daily digging into His Word where He reveals Himself to those who are seeking Him is the best way to deepen our understanding and appreciation of who He is and what He has done for us.  And, as an extra bonus, we also can receive valuable instruction on how to live to please Him when we dive into the 66 love letters He has sent to us.

If someone isn’t used to opening God’s Word to get to know Him better, it might seem a bit daunting.  It is indeed a big book.  A big book written many generations ago.  But still written with YOU in mind.  And written to show you who your Heavenly Father is and how to have a relationship with Him.

Let’s pull up our Psalm for the week and see what we can find out about God in these verses.

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

So, what do we learn about God…
verse 3 – The Lord is God.   He wants to be known.  He created us.  We belong to Him.  He watches over us.
verse 4 – He has gates and courts – like royalty.
verse 5 – God is good.  He is loving and His love lasts.  He is faithful – forever.
That’s a lot to learn about God in just 5 short verses!  Whether we are reading a short psalm of 5 verses or the historical account of the Israelites escaping Egypt, God is revealing himself in His Word.  And He wants to meet you there.
-Marcia Railton

Blessings or Curses (Deuteronomy 8-11)

September 15
Blessing, Curse Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Blue Sky and Clouds.

By Joseph Partain

Are you enjoying this book as much as I do? There is so much truth and a true picture of the loving God we serve. There is also the realization that we need to conform our lives to his words and commands for our benefit.

Chapter 8 stresses the importance of being humble and remembering that God disciplines us because he loves us.  Verse 6 gives us a glimpse of the promised land – God laid out a land that they can enjoy and work on and be prosperous. God wants us to have good things but to always remember who is the giver of every good thing. This chapter reminds me of Prov.30 v. 7-9 where Agur asks for neither poverty nor wealth but only his daily bread. He does not want to become rich and in turn have a proud heart. The humility that comes from God allows us to praise the one who has given us everything and especially his Son.

Chapter 9 has God preparing themselves to again enjoy the spoils of his victory against a powerful foe. He tells the Israelites he is giving the land to fulfill his covenant with Abraham and not for any good thing they had done. Moses then warns them not to reject God but to turn to him. It seems like the only time the Israelites and we turn to God is in a time of distress but how good would it be to just praise him instead of having a rebellious heart?

Chapter 10 gives us a glimpse into God’s character. Verse 14 states that even though he owns everything in heaven and earth, he set his affection on you. How blessed are we to have a God that loves like this. How could we change if we take our eyes off ourselves and love those around us like this. This chapter also states that God loves the ones who are in need, the widow, the orphan and tells us to love them also. Look around and it won’t be too hard to find someone that you can share the love of God with.

What a choice God gives us in ch.11 v 26 . A choice between blessings or curses. Who in their right mind would even have to think twice about that choice but every day since Adam and Eve, man has chosen curses. Gal 6:7-10 says God will not be mocked, a man reaps what he sows. If we sow to ourselves we reap corruption, but the good news is if we sow to God we reap eternal life. The choice is before us today curses if we disobey but blessings if we choose to obey God’s word. Now start today making a choice to allow God’s blessings in our speech, relationships, and activities.

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