Why is freedom such a tough sell? In his farewell address to Congress on November 14, 2012, Ron Paul had these words to say in his speech entitled, Farewell to Freedom.
“I have thought a lot about why those of us who believe in liberty, as a solution, have done so poorly in convincing others of its benefits. If liberty is what we claim it is- the principle that protects all personal, social and economic decisions necessary for maximum prosperity and the best chance for peace- it should be an easy sell. Yet, history has shown that the masses have been quite receptive to the promises of authoritarians which are rarely if ever fulfilled.”
Though he was talking about the results of America’s decisions affecting it socially, economically and personally for each citizen, the principles can be applied to our spiritual lives. Why is freedom such a tough sell? Why is that Christians can’t seem to convince the rest of the world that faith in Jesus is the way to go? Those of the Muslim faith have no problem convincing multitudes of people that their way of thinking is the way of living despite the obvious proofs that peace is anything but the ultimate objective.
HIstory is laden with examples of the human race choosing captivity over freedom. The trial of Jesus is one of the most profound examples of this. As was customary during Passover a prisoner would be granted release. During Jesus’ trial Pilate had offered the crowd the option of releasing Jesus, the innocent, giver of life, or a notorious scoundrel, Barabbas, a known terrorist and the taker of life. I find the entire exchange fascinating as it brings to light the different players involved in the release of Barabbas over Jesus.
Motivated by one of the deadliest diseases in human nature, envy, the religious leaders couldn’t stand Jesus’ popularity. Just like Jesus refuses to share space in our hearts with anything or anyone, so Satan isn’t doing it either. Not without a fight. The chief priests were losing their hold on the people. This quiet meek individual was walking around the streets of Jerusalem preaching faith and salvation apart from the Law.
Though Barabbas represented a physical threat, Jesus represented a much bigger one: the minds and souls of the people. He came to bring freedom from the Law with its rules and regulations, and the chief priests simply couldn’t have this. Tradition was at stake. Barabbas could be controlled. He could only hurt one person at a time. Jesus on the other hand could affect many at once with His words, His ideas, His love.
To say Pilate was a wimp would be an understatement. During Jesus’ trial he sent Jesus to Herod hoping he would deal with it, implored the people on three different occasions to reconsider their insistence on His death, got a note from his wife demanding he walk away from the case, and finally washed his hands publicly of the whole thing. He chose Barabbas to keep the peace, appease Caesar and avoid a bigger uproar than what was already brewing. Pilate had the power to release Jesus but not the courage. What choices do we make out of fear rather than courage?
Finally, the crowd, a representation of every emotion run amuk. Some in the crowd were afraid to call for anything but Jesus’ death as a result of the Pharisees worming their way through the crowd persuading them to do so. Sometimes the right mixture of threat and manipulation from an authoritative figure is all it takes to clamp shut the mouth of truth. I’m sure there were others in the crowd who were passive onlookers not realizing their passivity spoke just as loudly as the chanting around them.
Lest we walk around self-righteously as we read the story, I would like to suggest that every time we sin we have chosen Barabbas over Jesus. Think about it. He was a known killer. That’s what he did. He took life. Sin is the same. We are always choosing righteousness or evil, freedom or captivity.
“Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin'” (John 8:34, NIV).
Every choice we make represents a choice for the life-giving freedom that God longs to give us or the stifling chokehold of sin.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NIV).
As I’ve said before we can’t possibly hope to change anything around us if we aren’t first addressing the private sin of choosing Barabbas in our own lives. At one time or another we have represented one or all of the players of that day. Some days we align ourselves with the religious leaders and their refusal to die to self. At other times, we move with the masses knowing what’s right but not having the courage to do it. And finally we’re the crowd either insistent on our own way or quietly trying to live around the frustration of the culture, fussing about it and doing nothing, therein making our choice.
I have found in my own life that it takes courage to choose correctly. To choose to die to myself takes courage to believe that Jesus has my best interest in mind and has much better things for me than I have for myself. To stand for what is right despite the manipulation of authority or peers also takes courage. The higher the cost, the more courage it requires. It also takes courage to not be passive with sin, to not just accept that “it is what it is” and try to carve out the most comfortable existence within the circumstances.
What is your Barabbas? What motivates the choice? Do you have the courage to choose freedom?
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV).