When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,
(Acts 3:12-19 NRSV)
One Friday over two millenniums ago, a crowd of people was offered a choice. They could choose between a man who was popular, who was in the eyes of many was a hero. He was a revolutionary who killed in the name of freedom for Israel. A man who wanted to drive the hated Roman out of their country.
Their other choice was a man who taught peace, who preached about loving your enemies, who offered people forgiveness. He was a man who was hated by both the religious rulers of Judea, as well as the Romans who saw him as a threat to the stability of their rule.
These men stood side by side, as Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea offered the crowd their choice of who would live, and who would die on a Cross. While both men had the supporters, it was the people of followed Barabbas who shouted the loudest. They wanted their hero back. A man who fought the Romans like they wanted. For them, it was an easy choice. They only saw their hatred of the Romans, they wanted the one who pandered to their base desires for violence, the one who promised to toss the Romans out, and restore Israel to greatness.
We know, looking back from our vantage point over 2000 years later, that the crowd had made a terrible choice. The Romans were not thrown out, instead only a few decades later Jerusalem had been destroyed.
The people who cried out for Barabbas had made what to them was an easy choice. A choice that appeared at least to fulfill their desires for vengeance against Rome, to free someone who they saw as a rebel leader. Someone who preached action.
Sounds like us doesn’t it? How often do each of us make choices based on satisfying our immediate wants? How often do we make choices in life based on anger? Or desires for vengeance? We make desires based on our short-term interests and don’t stop and think about what would be best in the long term. And then, quite often, we see the disastrous results of those choices.
I wonder how many people in that crowd that called to be given Barabbas, would have given anything to be able to take back their words, once they came to see the error they had made? I know that in my life I too have made many mistakes, many bad choices based on anger, or short-term self-interest, choices that I wished with all my heart I could take back, but couldn’t.
In this passage from the Book of Acts, the disciples Peter and John had through the power of God brought healing to a lame beggar who had asked only for a few coins. The people who saw this miracle where astonished, not believing what Peter and John had done. Peter reminded them that it was not by them, but by the power of Jesus that the man had been healed. Jesus, who in their ignorance they had they had condemned to death, preferring to call out for the life of a murderer to be spared instead of a healer, a peacemaker, the Son of God.
Maybe some of the people who had witnessed this act of healing also remembered being at the trial of Christ. Perhaps many in the crowd had been among those who had chosen Barabbas over Jesus. And I wonder how many, in seeing this beggar healed, where filled with sorrow and the deepest sense of regret and loss when they realized that they could have made a different choice, and continued to be blessed by the presence of Jesus in their lives.
We can’t take back our bad choices in life. But we can learn. We can learn to not always give into the desire to make the easy choice, the popular choice, the choice that seems to promise us instant gratification.
And more importantly perhaps, for those of us who quite often make bad choices, we can learn that even when we mess up, when out of ignorance or greed or any of the reasons that we use to justify decisions that turn out to be disastrously wrong, we are not lost. As Peter reminds us in the above passage from Acts, God knows of our faults, but always is ready to offer forgiveness, if only we are ready to offer our repentance.
Your brother in Christ,