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But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas” – a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder....... So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.        Luke 23: 18, 24, 25


On Wednesday last week three men were murdered during the riots in Birmingham. On Monday of this week three men were arrested in connection with those murders.


The human heart cries out for “Justice”............ Can “Mercy” be combined with that “Justice” which is so strongly sought?


On Sunday last in Jersey six people were murdered, apparently by one man. The question again arises. Can “Mercy” be combined with “Justice” – the “Justice” that we inwardly feel must be meted out to all who are found guilty of murder? And the “Mercy” we long for also.


The answer may be in AD 33 Jerusalem. There a man who, during a riot, had committed murder was released? See bold above. “Justice” clearly failed with regard to this murderer. And Barabbas, most likely, rioted again and possibly even murdered again.


But was it “mercy” that freed Barabbas, the murderer? In a way, yes, because Pilate, on behalf of Rome, was showing “mercy” by releasing a prisoner. But in a way, no, definitely not, because the reason that he was being shown mercy was so that another man could be crucified – a man who (according to Pilate and repeated by him three times to the riotous crowd) was without evil and guilt free.


Pilate delivered Jesus over to their will – the will, the desire, of the crowd. This was “mercy” to Barabbas at the expense of “Justice” to Jesus. And it introduced new murderers into the picture. What about “Justice” for them? More to the point, what about “Mercy” for them?


Luke, Jesus’ biographer, wrote another book besides that biography. In it he recorded another man speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem a few weeks after Jesus had been crucified – and had risen from the dead.


That speaker was a former fisherman. He was rather like Tariq Jahan, father of murdered 21-year-old Haroon Jahan, who addressed the Birmingham crowd (and the nation) last Sunday. His name was Simon Peter.


This is what he said: “The God … of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses….


“But what God foretold by … all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out… God, having raised up his servant Jesus Christ, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness….


This, then, is “justice” and “mercy” combined. The guiltless Jesus is murdered. Justice demands that the murderers be brought to justice. The murdered man – no one else – is able to blot out the sin of his own murder.


This is offered to the murderers. “Mercy” is now free – true mercy, even for murderers – who are blessed by Jesus himself when they turn.


What about “Justice” for them – for murderers? This is the miracle of “Justice” and “Mercy” combined. Those who turned to Jesus are forgiven by him, by the Son of God, because he bore their punishment by himself being murdered in their place. “Justice” is satisfied in their case.


And those who don’t turn? Well, he won’t have been murdered in their place. So “Justice” will again be satisfied. Those who don’t turn are, of course, those who effectively silence Jesus through all their days.

‘Each man’s sin is the instrument of his punishment, and his iniquity is turned into his torment.' (Augustine, Philosopher and Theologian, 354-430)
‘Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.’ (Thomas Jefferson, Third US President, 1743-1826)
Richard Syvret

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