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“15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. 16 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” 20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” 22 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” 23 Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” 24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” 26 Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” Matthew 27:15-26

After examining Jesus, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, knew that He was not guilty of any crime — especially not of a crime deserving of death. Even his wife knew that Jesus was innocent and begged Pilate to have nothing to do with the condemnation of Jesus. And so, in an attempt to appease the Jews and release Jesus, Pilate offered to do according to his custom at the Passover and pardon and release one prisoner to the people.

Matthew tells us in verses 15-18 of our text: “Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.”

The choice seemed obvious. Barabbas was a notorious prisoner who was a robber, a rebel and committed murder in the rebellion (cf. John. 18:40; Mark 15:6-7; Luke 23:). Jesus’ alleged crime was His claim to be the Messiah, the true Son of God and the King of a spiritual kingdom made up of all who hear and believe His words.

We read in Luke 23:13-19: “Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, ‘You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will, therefore, chastise Him and release Him’ (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast). And they all cried out at once, saying, ‘Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas’ — who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.”

If you were in the crowd outside the Praetorium on that first Good Friday and you heard these words of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, offering to release unto you either Jesus or Barabbas, what would you say? Would you ask that Jesus, who was innocent and without sin, who claimed to be the very Son of God, be released unto you? Or would you join the crowd in asking for Barabbas?

And, what would you say after the crowd asked for Barabbas and Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, who is called Christ? Would you join the crowd in crying out of Jesus, “Let Him be crucified”?

We say that we would not. But, if we remember why Jesus was crucified and condemned, we must admit that every time we sin, we do say of Jesus, “Crucify Him!” When we sin, we add to the burden of His cross!

Now, if you were Barabbas, in a prison cell and chains, expecting to die for your crimes, what would you do if the soldiers came and set you free — if they told you that you had been pardoned by the governor and were free because an innocent man by the name of Jesus was being crucified in your stead? How would you feel?

Isn’t this exactly what has happened to each and every one of us? We are guilty of sin — we have broken God’s Law and are guilty of insurrection (rebellion) against God Himself! Which commandments have we not broken? We deserve to be condemned by God to the eternal fires of hell which He prepared for the devil and his evil angels!

But what has happened? God’s Word of the Gospel has been proclaimed to us — we have been told that God punished His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, in our stead — that Jesus suffered upon the cross the full punishment for all our sins which we deserved (cf. Isa. 53:4-6).

In Galatians 3:10-14, we read: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’ Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

And, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Instead of condemning us to the eternal fires of hell which we deserve, God instead reaches out to us in mercy and offers and gives to us pardon and forgiveness for all our sins. He offers and gives to us eternal life instead of death and damnation.

Now, we don’t know for certain what happened to Barabbas after this, but we might just consider a couple of hypothetical possibilities. What if Barabbas had rejected Pilate’s offer of pardon and forgiveness? What if he had said, “I want to be tried and judged on my own merits”? There seems to be little doubt but that he would be condemned and probably put to death — possibly even on a cross.

What if he accepted his pardon and went back out robbing and killing and rebelling against the Roman Government? Would he not be arrested again and condemned for his new crimes?

What about us? Christ died for our sins and rose again and God reaches out to us with His offer of pardon and forgiveness when we repent and look in faith to Christ Jesus. What if we say, “No, thanks. I will stand before the judgment seat of God on my own merit”? The Bible is quite clear. If we refuse to accept God’s pardon through faith in Christ, we stand condemned on our own merits and will be punished for not believing on the name of God’s only begotten Son and our Savior.

As John 3:16-18 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

And, what if we accept God’s pardon but then use our gift of freedom to intentionally continue on in our sinful ways? Will we not be judged and condemned of God for continuing to rebel against Him?

The Scriptures leave no question about the end result. Hebrews 10:26-29 says: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”

It is true that we by our sins are guilty of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. With the crowd on Good Friday, we by our sins say of Jesus, “Let Him be crucified!”

But because Jesus went to the cross for us, we, who are guilty like Barabbas, have God’s gracious offer of pardon and forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus! When we trust in Christ, God graciously forgives our sins against Him, and He offers and gives to us everlasting life with Him in heaven.

Let us give thanks unto our Savior for bearing upon the cross the guilt and punishment for our sins that we might be acquitted and partake of the everlasting blessings of heaven through faith in Jesus’ name. And, let us use our lives here in this world to the praise and glory of Him who has redeemed us and set us free.

Oh, dearest Jesus, we thank and praise You for bearing upon the tree of the cross the guilt and punishment for all our sins that we might be pardoned and forgiven through faith in Your name. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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Dear fellow-redeemed sinners, ransomed by the shed blood of Christ Jesus, our Savior. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Abraham Tested

1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5 And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” 6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. 9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” 12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” 15 Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba. Genesis 22:1-19

Why would God tell Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, whom he loved, and take him to a mountain in the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt sacrifice? How could God tell Abraham to give up his only-begotten Son of promise?

The first and often overlooked answer is that sin demands it. The Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) and “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). What Abraham deserved as a sinner, and what Isaac also deserved, was to die for his sin. And that is also what we deserve for our sins.

We remember the words God spoke to Adam in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate of the forbidden fruit: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (v. 19).

And Moses wrote in Psalm 90:3-10: “You turn man to destruction, and say, ‘Return, O children of men.’ For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night. You carry them away like a flood; they are like a sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up: In the morning it flourishes and grows up; in the evening it is cut down and withers. For we have been consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are terrified. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance. For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; we finish our years like a sigh. The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

One thing is certain in the recent coronavirus outbreak: ultimately, the disease and the death suffered by many is a part of God’s curse upon sin and the sinner. Death is the result of sin — not that those who die are somehow worse sinners than those who live, but death is the result of sin and all of us have sinned and deserve to die — and not only temporal death but eternal death and condemnation in hell!

Again, the Bible tells us in Galatians 3:10: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” If we have not kept every commandment in God’s law perfectly in our desires, words and actions, we are condemned and cursed by the law, and the just punishment is death, temporal and eternal!

Secondly, God’s test points ahead to what God would do for the sins of the world.

God had promised in the Garden, in the words to the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). And to Abraham God promised: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (22:18).

And God fulfilled His ancient promises when He sent Christ Jesus into the world, “born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power” (Rom. 1:3,4). “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God sent His only-begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary and a descendant of Abraham, to be the perfect and holy sacrifice for the sins of the world (cf. Luke 3:23ff.)

The Bible clearly tells us in Psalm 49:7-9 that none of us “can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him — for the redemption of their souls is costly, and it shall cease forever — that he should continue to live eternally, and not see the Pit.” Therefore, God Himself had to provide the Lamb — a perfect and sinless Lamb, His only-begotten Son — to be sacrificed in our stead and to suffer and die upon the cross to make atonement for our sins.

And Jesus is called “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” in John 1:29. He is described as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” in 1 Peter 1:19.

Hebrews 9, in verses 11-15, compares the priesthood in the Old Covenant to that in the New. As the Old Testament priests entered into the Most Holy Place once each year, on the Day of Atonement, with the blood of a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people, so Christ, our high priest under the New Covenant, has entered into the very presence of God with His own blood, shed upon the cross, to atone for the sins of the entire world.

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason, He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

And it is certainly significant that God commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac on a specific mountain in the land of Moriah and there provided a substitute ram, caught in a thicket, to be offered up in the stead of Isaac.

First of all, the location is the later site of Jerusalem, where Christ Jesus was offered up for our sins. Consider 2 Chronicles 3:1: “Now Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.”

And, as God provided a substitute ram to be offered up in the place of Isaac, so God provided a Substitute for you and for me – He gave His own Son to die in our stead and make atonement for our sins and the sins of the whole world (cf. 1 John 2:1,2). “…The-Lord-Will-Provide [Jehovah-jireh]; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided’” (Gen. 22:14).

In faith, Abraham took his son Isaac and was ready to offer him up as a sacrifice, trusting that God could indeed raise him up again and fulfill His promises to Abraham to bless all nations through the Seed of Abraham and Isaac (cf. Gen. 22:18). And, in a figure, Abraham received his son back again alive from the dead.

So also Christ Jesus, who suffered and died the just punishment for the sins of the world, was raised up again on the third day. As the Bible tells us, Jesus Christ “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25). His resurrection is proof that God accepted His sacrifice as full payment for the sins of the world, and that through faith in Jesus Christ we are justified and counted righteous and acceptable in God’s eyes. Because Christ died for our sins, in our stead, and rose again, we who trust in Him have the assurance that our sins are paid for in full and forgiven and that we too will be raised up on the last day to life eternal!

O Gracious and merciful God, we thank You for giving up Your only-begotten Son to suffer and die in our stead that we might have forgiveness and life eternal through faith in His name. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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“And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven … and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written.” Daniel 5:23,24 (Read Daniel 5:1-31)

What would you think if you were at a party or celebration and enjoying all your successes in life, and then, suddenly, a man’s fingers appeared and wrote words on the wall — words you did not recognize or understand?

It happened during the reign of the last king of Babylon, King Belshazzar. He threw a great feast for a thousand of his lords and, while he tasted the wine, he called for the gold and silver vessels Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and used them as drinking vessels in which to serve wine to his guests. “They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone,” verse 4 says.

Daniel 5:5-6 tells us: “In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.”

No one could be found to interpret the writing until Daniel the prophet was called. Listen to what he tells the king before he interprets the writing and reveals to the king that his kingdom would fall that very night: “You have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven … and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.”

Who is it who holds our breath in His hand and owns all our ways? The Lord God who created the heavens and the earth!

I think of the words of Psalm 100:3: “Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”

We like to imagine that our lives are our own and that we are in control, and then there is the writing on the wall to remind us of the truth: it is the almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, who created us in the beginning and breathed life into our bodies and made us living souls (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7,18ff.; Psalm 139:13-16). He holds our life, our very breath, in His hand.

What Daniel said to Belshazzar is very similar to what St. Paul said to the Athenians at the Areopagus who had altars to many gods and even an altar to the unknown god, just to be safe. Paul said, “The One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’” (Acts 17:23-28).

The current coronavirus pandemic which has caused fear and panic around the world is another form of writing on the wall. It reminds us that God holds our very breath in His hand and, with something so small that we cannot even see it without an electron microscope, He can take it away.

And the writing on the wall in Babylon? “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.”

What does it mean? We read in Daniel 5:26-28: “This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”

And these words could very well be applied to people today who fail to give glory to the God of heaven by humbling themselves before Him and hearing and heeding His Word. MENE, God has numbered your time and your life in this world and finished it. TEKEL, You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. PERES, Your earthly kingdom and wealth will be divided and given to others.

What’s my point?

God is in control and holds our lives and our every breath in His hand. He gives us life that we might acknowledge Him and bow before Him by repenting of our self-centered and sinful ways and looking to Him for mercy and forgiveness through faith in the Savior He provided for us — Christ Jesus, who died for the sins of all and then rose again in triumph on the third day.

If we continue to imagine that we are in control and go on in our self-centered ways, refusing to repent and look to Him for mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, the handwriting is already on the wall. The current virus scare is just one more reminder to all of us of who really holds our breath in His hand.

Have mercy upon us, O God, for failing to acknowledge and glorify Your name by true sorrow over our sinful and rebellious ways and Spirit-wrought faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus, Your Son and our Savior. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. Matthew 27:3-5

Dear fellow-redeemed sinners, ransomed by the shed blood of Jesus, grace, mercy and peace be unto you through faith in Christ Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

True repentance has two parts. One is that we see our sins against God and sorrow over them because we have broken God’s holy commandments and justly deserve His eternal wrath and punishment (contrition). The other is that we trust in God to be merciful to us and forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake (faith). And, where there is true repentance, there will also follow the fruit of an amended life.

The Augsburg Confession, in Article XII, confesses this truth when it says: “Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.”

We see this in David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51. David acknowledged his sin and guilt and he sorrowed over his transgression. He said (v. 3-5): “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight — that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me….”

But David also looked to the LORD God to show him mercy. He prayed (v. 1-2 ): “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” David trusted that God would deal with him in mercy and grant him forgiveness for the sake of the promised Messiah and Savior who would “redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Ps. 130:8).

It was then that David prayed (v. 10-13): “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.”

Judas, when he realized what he had done — that he had betrayed “innocent blood” and that Jesus was now “condemned” — was remorseful. He saw his sin, was sorry for what he had done, and even tried to return the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. Judas had sorrow over his sin, but did he trust in God’s mercy? The answer is quite obvious. He did not!

And how the chief priests, as servants of God, failed Judas! When Judas confessed his sin to them, they should have proclaimed to him the Gospel — the good news of God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sake of the Messiah and Savior who would be offered up as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. But, since they did not believe in the Messiah themselves but rejected and condemn Him, they cared nothing for the eternal welfare of Judas and told him, “What is that to us? You see to it!” So, Judas despaired of God’s mercy and “went and hanged himself.”

Could Judas have received mercy? Consider the examples of David in the Old Testament, and Peter in the New. David committed adultery and murder, yet God forgave him. When David, after being confronted regarding his sin by Nathan the prophet, acknowledged, “I have sinned against the LORD,” Nathan told him, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13; cf. 2 Sam. 11-12; Psalms 51 and 32).

Peter three times denied even knowing Jesus, and he too received mercy and went on to serve his Savior. Jesus had told him in Luke 22:32: “When you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” And Jesus, asking Peter three times if he loved Him, recommissioned him to feed His sheep and His lambs (cf. John 21:15ff.).

Could Judas have received forgiveness? Certainly; for Christ died for the sins of the whole world, “the just for the unjust” (1 Peter 3:18; cf. 2 Cor. 5:19,21; 1 John 2:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:3,4). As John the Baptist had said of Him, Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)!

But Judas thought his sin was too great. He did not believe that God could or would forgive him. He despaired of God’s mercy and died in his sin and unbelief. How tragic!

What about you? Have you ever betrayed or denied your Lord Jesus? Have you ever turned aside from following Him and broken His commandments? You know that you have — we all have! The Bible tells us that “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6a).

Have you felt sorrow over your sins? Are you saddened over the fact that you have broken God’s holy law? Do you fear God’s judgment and wrath? Does it bother you to know that it was because of your sins (and mine, too) that Jesus was condemned to suffer and die on the cross?

Have you ever felt like Judas must have felt? Have you ever felt that your sin was too great or that you have sinned too many times for God to forgive you yet again? Do you fear that this time God will not forgive you and that you are hopelessly headed for hell?

If so, you are despairing of God’s mercy! You are forgetting the fact that “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6b); that Jesus has paid in full the penalty for our sins and that, when we turn in faith to Jesus, we “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

Remember the truth expressed by the Psalmist in Psalm 86:5: “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.” When we look to Jesus and His cross for mercy, God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” because “Jesus Christ the righteous … is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 1:9 and 2:1,2).

Remember also that our Lord Jesus tells us in John 6:37: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” Look to Jesus and receive God’s mercy, pardon and forgiveness.

Dear Lord Jesus, we know that we have denied and betrayed You by our sins. By Your Holy Spirit, bring us to see our sinfulness and repent, having true sorrow over our sins and the just punishment we deserve, but also true faith in You, trusting that for the sake of Your holy life and innocent sufferings and death upon the cross, we have pardon, forgiveness, and the eternal joys of heaven. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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“Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5

As Isaiah prophesied, some 700 years before the birth of Messiah Jesus, He bore and carried in His sinless body the curse of our sins against the LORD God. He bore our griefs and sicknesses. He carried our pains and sorrows.

Yet the people of His day, and especially the religious leaders of Israel, viewed the sufferings and death He endured as the just punishment of God upon Him for His claims to be the promised “Son of man” (Daniel 7:13-14), the Christ, the very Son of God and Savior of the world (cf. Matthew 26:63ff.). And there are, yet today, many who still view His execution as just because of His messianic claims.

But the real reason for His wounding (literally, his piercing) was our transgression of God’s holy commandments. We have not kept God’s holy and perfect will. We have transgressed in our thoughts, desires, words and deeds. He was bruised and crushed — even forsaken by God the Father — upon the cross because He was bearing in His sinless body the just punishment for your sins, my sins and the sins of the whole world (cf. Matthew 27:46).

It is as the old hymn states: “The sinless Son of God must die in sadness; the sinful child of man may live in gladness; man forfeited his life and is acquitted — God is committed” (Herzliebster Jesu, Johann Heermann, Tr. Catherine Winkworth, TLH Hymn #143).

The chastisement — the punishment — that we deserved on account of our sins was laid upon Him that we might be pardoned of God and forgiven. Through faith in Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death in our stead, we have forgiveness for all our sins and peace with God our Father. The stripes we deserved were laid upon His back; and because He suffered the punishment we deserved on account of our sins, we who trust in Him are healed and made whole, forgiven and cleansed!

As the Apostle John writes: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin … Jesus Christ the righteous … is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:7; 2:1, 2).

While the world passed by the cross of Jesus, seeing only the judgment of God or that of a cruel Roman empire upon a Jewish rabbi who dared to challenge the existing religious system of the day, Jesus, the very Son of God and promised Messiah and Savior, was suffering and dying to make atonement for the sins of the world. He was paying the price for your sins and mine that we might look to Him in faith and have pardon and peace and live forever with God our Maker!

Jesus, Son of God and Savior of the world, thank You for bearing in Your sinless body the sufferings and death that I truly deserve on account of my sins and transgressions. Grant to me pardon and forgiveness and a place in Your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

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