When I was a kid, my older sister Lori and I got into a fight. I don’t remember the details, but one of us was in the right (probably Lori) and the other was in the wrong (probably me). My dad heard about the disagreement, escorted one of the kids into the other room and gave the person a spanking. Obviously this occurred back in the day before spankings were uncool.
But after spanking one of us, my dad walked back to my mom and said, “Honey, I think I spanked the wrong kid.” At that point, he decided to curtail any more discipline for the rest of the day.
How often do innocent people receive punishment for the guilty, and the guilty get away scot-free? Not often—except in the movies…and today’s reading.
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Exodus 34. By creating a new set of tablets, God is re-covenanting with his people. In other words, he’s giving them another chance.
In Exodus 33:13, Moses told God he wanted to know him and know his ways. In verses 4-7, God answers Moses’ prayer. Throughout Scripture, they’re repeated as a confessional statement: God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, and so on. The last attribute, though, seems like an abrupt change: he does not leave the guilty unpunished. This is true of God like the other attributes, but the good news is, Jesus bore our guilt on the cross.
As God stipulates the provision of this renewed covenant to Moses, I’m again struck by the fact that God wants to be the only one we worship. He adds in verse 14 that he is a jealous God. He wants all our worship, all our desire. He wants to be everything to us and for us.
In verse 26, God issues an odd command: “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” The Bible Background Commentary explains, “It is the basis for the prohibition against the mixture of milk and meat in cooking and in sacrifice. It may also reflect a reaction against such practices in Canaanite worship.”
At the end of this chapter, we read that Moses radiated God’s glory whenever he departed from God’s presence. If you’d like to explore this further, read 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.
Matthew 27:15-31. The New Bible Commentary explains that Barabbas was probably a well-known leader who protested the Roman Empire–with likely a bigger following than Jesus. Also, the crowd that called for Jesus’ crucifixion was from Jerusalem, as opposed to the Galilean pilgrims who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:8-9).
Psalm 33:16-19. This passage is good for reading very slowly. God isn’t impressed by our power, influence, or strength. What impresses him is our trust in him. Anyone can do that!
Proverbs 9:1-6. Although more valuable than great riches, this passage tells us that wisdom is available even to the simple. Like our passage in Psalms, anyone can attain wisdom.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
While reading about Barabbas’ release from imprisonment in Matthew 27:15-26, I realized the symbolic role he played in the Easter story. Allow me to explain:
Until 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed, the high priest entered the holy of holies (the inner sanctum of the tabernacle/temple) one day a year, on Yom Kippur. His purpose was to atone for the sins of Israel from the previous year. That’s why it’s called Jewish New Year—the people started the new year with their sins forgiven.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest sacrificed a bull for his own sin. Then he entered the holy of holies and sprinkled some of the blood on the mercy seat. Next he sacrificed a goat on behalf of the sins of the people of Israel. Again, he entered the holy of holies and sprinkled the goat’s blood on the mercy seat.
After purifying the holy of holies, the priest took a second goat—called the scapegoat—and released it into the wilderness, where it symbolically carried the people’s sins into the wilderness. We’ll look at this again in 12 days when we study Leviticus 16.
So Who’s The Scapegoat?
But here’s what stuck me today: Barabbas played the role of the scapegoat. He was guilty as sin for his political terrorism. And I imagine in some ways, he’s the person many of us would choose for our messiah—he sought to change the political system using force.
Jesus, on the other hand, was completely innocent. Pilate’s wife even pleaded Jesus’ innocence.
So two men stood before Pilate…but the guilty man was set free and the innocent man was crucified. Barabbas was the scapegoat.
It doesn’t seem fair—and it’s not—which is good for us, because if we were punished for our sins, all of us would receive the death sentence. We’re all the scapegoat and guilty as sin.
But because of Jesus’ death on the cross, all of us can be set free!
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- How would you rephrase Psalm 33:16-19 in your own words? What does this tell you about God?
- Describe a time when you deserved to be punished for your actions but didn’t receive it. Why does God allow us to get away scot-free? What does “conventional wisdom” say about this?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.