Words cannot do justice to the tragedy and devastation our nation has experienced over the past month. Within the pressure-cooker of the Coronavirus pandemic we continue scraping at the festering wound of sinful racism. My heart breaks for my fellow black neighbors and for every police officer out there. Yes, the Christian heart pulses with compassion for all people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9-10); every human life is made in God’s image and equally precious in his sight (Genesis 1:27).
Which is why I get equally angry when anarchists with a political agenda hijack our national tragedy to serve their self-destructive end. Make no mistake, these rioters add insult to injury on those in the black community who rightfully pursue justice and peacefully protest. They undermine the very fabric of peace and order in our society and unnecessarily place our law enforcement officials in harm’s way. And I have to wonder—is peace even possible for our country?
There are rare moments in American history when we may have more in common with certain historical parts of the Bible than less. I think now is one of those rare moments. I’m referring to the crucifixion of Christ in Luke 23. In it, the gospel writer makes a point to establish Jesus’s innocence.
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”
It seems like the case would be closed. But the Jewish leaders have insidiously incited the people to condemn Jesus, so the crowd unanimously cries out with the most shocking of demands:
18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.
There he is—Barrabas, the Insurrectionist. Does that name carry new meaning for you now? It’s the insurrectionists keeping us awake at night. It’s the insurrectionists burning our businesses, spray painting our monuments, and slashing police tires. It’s the insurrectionists who murder for the sake of anarchy. There seems to be no greater contrast than that of Barrabas and Jesus. The irony is the Jewish leaders had already accused Jesus of insurrection, but they failed to provide the evidence. Now Pilate, ready to release innocent Jesus, faces the inexplicable dilemma of unjustly substituting an innocent man for one already condemned to die. We read the gut-wrenching conclusion.
20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
Injustice. Shame. Insurrection. Do you see the substitution God made on the cross for us? Innocent Jesus bore it all. Why? To pay the penalty your sins and for mine.
And it’s no secret that racism was an equally divisive and explosive sin-problem in 1st century Israel. Romans, Samaritans, Jews, and the surrounding nations harbored deep-seated hatred towards one another. So when Jesus, a Jew, died for the sins of mankind, it was very difficult for Israel, God’s chosen people, to understand God had thrown the door wide open to people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” In the book of Acts, the companion book to the Gospel of Luke, we read of the gospel spreading from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-40) to Rome (Acts 8:16-31). When this new reality sank in, it left even believing Jews speechless (Acts 10:1-11:18). God’s gospel is a global gospel.
Peace with God results in peace with each other. Jesus Christ bore the injustice, the shame, and the guilt of insurrection on the cross that we might confess our sins and be forgiven. But he also died on the cross to tear down the racial wall that has separated our country. So yes, peace is possible. Our generation needs Jesus to “tear down this wall” that runs through the heart of America. He’s the only one who can do it. Think about this truth in light of one final passage in Ephesians. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that they, as uncircumcised Gentiles, were at one time considered outsiders to the promises of God. But God tore down that wall and made peace between Jew and Gentile.
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
We can only have peace with one another by first being at peace with God. When we confess our sins against God and repent, claiming Jesus’s innocent death and resurrection on our behalf, Jesus makes us into “one new man in the place of the two, so making peace.” We join together with those “from every tribe and language and people and nation” to praise God for his unmatched mercy and forgiveness poured out on us sinners. Oh how desperately we need this gospel truth in our world. How desperately we need it in our nation. How desperately we need to model it in our churches. If we are to find peace, we can only find it in Jesus.