Barabbas or Jesus?

Luke 23.

W. T. P. Wolston.

The Spirit of God has said elsewhere that "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). "But," you ask, "how am I to be saved?" By believing on the Son of God. Salvation is yours through what He has done; through nothing that you could ever do. What could man do? What did man do? Listen to God's tale of what he did. Scripture faithfully tells what man is — man's state — what man has become when he can treat the Son of God thus:

"The whole multitude of them arose, and led Him [Jesus] to Pilate." They accuse Him, they set Him at nought, they mock Him, they array Him in a gorgeous robe, they rail on Him, they crucify Him. Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, but they cry, "Crucify him! crucify him!" and they take Him to Calvary, the place of a skull, and Scripture says, "There they crucified him." Whom? Him, the Son of God. The world thought the only treatment Jesus was worthy of was to be crucified in a graveyard between two malefactors! That tells what man is; and it tells what God is also. Could He have delivered Himself? Certainly. Would He deliver Himself? No. What did He do? Did He accuse them? No; no upbraiding, no accusing word is heard. "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted; yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth."

That cross which tells the bitter hatred and enmity of man to God, is the only means whereby God can save man. Yes, it needed that slain Lamb, it needed that spotless Victim on the cross, ere God in righteousness could save man.

But let us turn to Scripture, and see there what man did to the One who had "done nothing amiss." I say it solemnly, the world lies before God this day charged with the murder, the cruel murder, of His Son. I grant there was love in His heart, but that does not excuse man. Scripture brings out plainly what man does, what man is. His thoughts and his treatment of the blessed Son of God show what he is. You cannot deny it, you cannot get out of it, you cannot escape it; man would burn the Bible if he could, because it is the record of what he has done. You say, "Oh! that is not us, we did not live in those days, we did not cry, 'Crucify him.'" You blush for your forefathers? Nay, rather blush for yourselves, ye who are not Christ's; for they who are not for Him are against Him. If you are not Christ's, you side with those who cried, "Crucify him!" Oh, what a blot on the world's history — they slew the Son of God!

What think you is the moral and spiritual state of that world which can refuse the threefold testimony then given to Jesus, the Man of Sorrows? Pilate says, "I find no fault in him;" the thief says, "This man has done nothing amiss;" the centurion says, "Certainly this was a righteous man." But He is crucified!

What is the effect of reading this? Is it not thoroughly to persuade you that the world treated Christ shamefully? But I ask you the question, Have you sided with the world or not? Are you still in the world and of it? or are you among those who are His? There are only the two classes — those who have fled to Jesus, and those who have not. Are you for Him or against Him? Do you side with Him, or are you of those who cry, "Crucify him!" I ask you again, are you His? Does the world take cognisance of you that you are a Christian? Have you confessed Christ? Does your classmate or your fellow-worker know you are Christ's?

"But," you ask, "what is it to be a Christian?" A Christian is one who knows and loves Christ; who follows Him and owns Him as Lord. You say, "I profess to be a Christian." Ah, that won't do, there is nothing so despicable as mere profession. Beloved reader! eternity will bring everything into full light, and if there is a thing that will ensure eternal damnation, it is the empty lip-profession without the possession of Christ now.

I appeal to you — Have you been converted? By conversion, I mean converted to, something and from something: converted to Christ and from the world. He who is converted changes ground, changes states; he is off the ground and state of condemnation. Are you a Christian? The day of the Lord will bring out who are on the Lord's side and who are not; the veil will be drawn down, and you will be discovered, you who are mere empty professors. I beseech of you, shun unreality; let there be real, genuine work; go down before God and own your sin, your unworthiness, your weakness, and He will save you — save you this very moment.

You are either for or against Christ. Are you for Him? One thing is certain, if you are for Him, you must take your stand for the despised, the rejected, the world-hated, the thong-bound Saviour. Are you for Him, or do you side with the world? Where are you? Can you say, Christ for me? Thank God, I can say it, Christ for me. Can you say, I have seen Him in all His beauty, His perfection, His lowly grace, His gentleness and love? Can you say that, to you, Bethlehem, Calvary, and Bethany are sacred spots? Bethlehem, where He was born; Calvary, where He suffered for me and in my stead; and Bethany, whence He ascended, are dear, but dearer far than they is Christ Himself. What think you of Christ? Do you love Him? Is He your Saviour? Is He the object of your heart's desire and love?

They crucified Him! You weep as you hear of His sufferings and His sorrow; but I would have you rather weep for the sins that caused His suffering; I like when the ploughshare of conviction goes deep down in a soul, and when it gets broken down and is in tears for its sin. Whitfield used to put this question to awakened souls, "If God cast you into hell for ever, would He be right in so doing?" If they answered Yes, he was satisfied they had a right sense of sin, and God's judgment thereof.

The perfection of Christ is brought out in His sufferings; as the sugar-cane has to be bruised before we can have its sweetness, and the fragrant plant rudely shaken ere it yields its perfume, so the more we see Christ subjected to, all the more strongly His perfection is manifest; the more He passes through, the more is His intrinsic worth fully known. He was bound, blindfolded, set at nought, and mocked. He is asked, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" He answers, "Thou sayest it." Pilate finds no fault in Him, but "they were the more fierce." Pilate wishes to be quit of Him, he has heard of all He has done, how He had healed the sick, raised the dead, made the blind to see, the lame to walk, the dumb to speak, and he does not wish to be responsible for this Man's death, so he sends Him to Herod.

This strange Person is brought to Herod, and the cry is, "He is a King." Herod was glad to see Jesus: "He was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him." He wished to see the One who could raise the dead, cleanse the leper, and give sight to, the blind; but there was no sense of need in Herod's soul, he knew not that it was better far to see the Saviour Himself, than to see any miracle performed by Him. He sees Jesus, he questions Him, but mark the dignity of the Lord: He answers the usurper nothing. Jesus answered Pilate, because in him He recognised the deputed power of God, even though that power was misused.

And now mark what follows: "Herod, with his men of war, set him at nought." Have you? Tell me, have you not? Herod made light of Christ, and, dear soul, have you not made light of Him, too? If you have never come to Him and believed in Him, you and Herod are the same, you have both equally "set him at nought." "He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him." Did Herod believe on the Son of God? No. Do you? If you do not, you are on the same ground as Herod.

In verse 12 we read: "And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together." That day they were made friends over the determined slaughter of the Son of God! Dreadful thought! Pilate is glad to make friends with the king; but, oh! what an unholy compact. Those two newly made friends will find themselves side by side through a long, endless eternity. And where? Oh, soul! Spend not your eternity with those who murdered the Son of God. You will if you do not believe on Him: if you are not brought to Him you will surely spend your eternity with His foes. A long dark eternity without the Lord! — is that your choice?

"I find no fault in him." Oh, why did Pilate not act on this? We are told he tries to release Him, but the cry of the multitude is no! Pilate wishes to set Him free, but he does not wish to lose the world's favour. And you, are you not afraid of this, too? Afraid of losing the world's favour! Beware, rather, that you lose not your own soul. Pilate, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them, but they cried, "Crucify him! crucify him!"

Barabbas or Jesus? becomes now the question. They cried out all at once, "Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas!" Pilate is defeated; they choose Barabbas. In a moment "they were instant with loud voices requiring he might be crucified." And mark what follows: "And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed."

Jesus or Barabbas? This was the question which divided them. Surely some will be found for Jesus. Not one! I fancy I hear you say, "I would, had I been there." Well, show yourself on His side now. Side with Jesus, and let the world know, too, that you have done so.

The cross that should have been for Barabbas was used for Jesus! There was plenty of wood to have made Jesus a cross, but He who had done nothing amiss was crucified on that cross which should have been for Barabbas, the murderer! Plenty of wood to make a cross! Ah, yes; the fear of that made poor Peter deny his Lord. And does not the fear of the cross, the ridicule, and the taunt of the world, make you deny Jesus too?

Barabbas' friends must side with him, and Jesus' friends must side with Jesus; but there was not one for Jesus. Yes, it was really so; not one for Jesus, the Son of God. In a moment they cry, "Crucify him! Release Barabbas!" They have indeed divided — divided to a man, and all, all are for Barabbas, the murderer, and not one for the Man in whom they could find no fault.

Do you assent to this? No! Then let there be this day from you the confession that you are Christ's, that you are on the Lord's side.

The world may do what it likes with Jesus, He is "delivered to their will;" man does what he will with the Son of God; Christ allows man to do his worst to Him: they scourge Him and crown Him with thorns. He says, "Do your utmost, do your worst, I shall not complain; and when you have done your worst to, me, then I shall do my best for you." When they had nailed Him to the cross, He dies for them. He died in their stead, He dies as a victim to meet the claims of a righteous God. He bears the judgment that ought to have been theirs. He drinks the bitter cup of wrath, that they might not have to drink it. He says, "Father, forgive them." Oh, what love! No love like His. I would that you knew Jesus, my Jesus. Oh! confide in Him, trust Him, love Him.

"Unmoved by Satan's subtle wiles,
Or suffering, shame, and loss,
His path, uncheered by earthly smiles,
Led only to the cross."

In verses 27-31 we are told that "there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children; for, behold, the days are coming in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us; for if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"

Do tears fall from your eyes for Him? Weep for yourselves. What does He mean? He means there will come a day when there will be the world's prayer-meeting! "Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us!" They are in sore need, but what is it they want? It is a place of refuge, of security, a shelter. "The great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Rev. 6:15-17.) The world is frightened, and betakes itself to prayer, but it is too late. Oh, beloved one, you can find a shelter from that wrath now in the bosom of Jesus; not in the mountains and the hills, but in Jesus — Jesus who died on Calvary.

The last the world saw of Jesus was with a crown of thorns upon His head; the next it shall see of Him will be when He is crowned in glory with many crowns.

But, "if they do these things in a green tree, what shall he done in the dry?" Christ was the green tree; the unsaved soul is the lifeless, leaf. less, fruitless, dry tree. I saw a man the other day with an axe in his hand laid at the root of a tree. It was winter-time, and the tree looked much like the others around: they were all leafless, and there was nothing outwardly to denote any difference, nor to make the passer-by doubt that when spring-time came it would, like the others, burst forth into leaf; but it had been tapped, and found hollow; a cumberer of the ground it was cut down ready for the burning! Are you this tree?

Christ was the green tree in all His dependence on God, in all His beauty and perfection. He was a green tree going to judgment, going to be cut down in the midst of beauty and verdure. What, then, will overtake you, you unsaved soul, you who are a dry tree? "If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Cannot you see your own case? You have not forgiveness, you have not pardon. Oh, what shall be done in the dry? See it cast into the fire. Look at the rich man of whom we read in Luke 16. In a moment cut down, and being in a torment, he lifts up his eyes and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and he cries, "Have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." A dry tree ready for the burning! But, thanks be to God, because the green tree suffered, many a dry one will escape.

If man has done these things to the Son of God, if He gets this treatment from man's hand, what, think you, will the treatment be that man will receive from God's hand in a day of righteous retribution? If you are among the doomed, you will remember that you once heard of a way of escape, but you would not receive it. Oh, unsaved soul, come to Jesus, come now!

We go to the cross, and see Jesus forsaken and in darkness, but the darkness is only from the sixth hour to the ninth; it passes away from Him; but oh, unsaved, lost soul, there will be no ninth hour for you; no passing away of the darkness for you, it will he for ever.

"Away with him!" was the world's prayer; His was, "Father, forgive them." They revile Him and say, "Come down from the cross; if thou be King of the Jews, save thyself." He says, No; I will not come down, I will not save Myself, I will die for you. Oh, what love! Is not this love indeed? He dies, but He does more than that: when He is risen He tells His disciples to begin at Jerusalem, the place where He had been put to death, and to the very people who had cried, "Crucify him! crucify him!" He bids them preach the forgiveness of sins through Him — Jesus. And now I write as an ambassador from Him to proclaim to you the forgiveness of your sins, and salvation through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Will you believe in Him? Will you accept salvation?

As you drop this paper, are you on the world's side, or Christ's? Barabbas or Jesus?