Response to “Jesus is Loving Barabbas – Judah Smith Sermon Jam”

I keep seeing this video and I guess with this being Holy Week, videos like this one will be popular. I wasn’t sure why at first, but this video just doesn’t sit well with me. I’m sure Judah Smith (the lead pastor of the City Church network in WA) is a good guy, but this excerpt seems to be a bad representation of the text.

First, there is a danger to draw ideas from one part of the text that simply are not there. This is why it’s dangerous to build a sermon or a theology on one sentence. Rev. Smith seems to plead on the basis of emotion (though emotion is not bad) rather than on the foundation of the text.

Secondly, we can’t know how the Jews viewed Barabbas. We only know why he was being held by the Roman government. That reason was insurrection, robbery and murder against Rome: which coincidentally was what the Jews expected from the Messiah. If I’m right, they wanted an insurrectionist to come and free them from Roman tyranny.

Thirdly, this story is not out of place in the text. It seems a natural part of the narrative and to say “I am Barabbas” actually diminishes the spiritual significance of Christ’s substitution. Instead of being free from sin, now all of the sudden it sounds like we are saying that we are free from human bondage. If I remember the message of the Gospel correctly through the New Testament after Jesus’ death; there are many who, because they chose to be free from sin actually submitted themselves to chains and death. Paul of Tarsus is a prime example.

Fourth, the story is made more than it is. An entire narrative is given in this video based on just a couple verses present in Scripture: whether that is the fault of the video maker or the fault of the preacher. What ever happened to not adding anything to the text? What was it that John said about receiving all of the plagues mentioned in ‘this book’ if we were to add to it (Revelation 22:18-19)?

No, the small part about Barabbas was meant to give us a small amount of information (not to be used to manipulate the emotions of people listening). That information is meant to let us know that Isaiah was correct in his prophecy:

“1 Who has believed what we have heard?[a]
And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to?
2 He grew up before Him like a young plant
and like a root out of dry ground.
He didn’t have an impressive form
or majesty that we should look at Him,
no appearance that we should desire Him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like someone people turned away from;[b]
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.
4 Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.
6 We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished Him
for[c] the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent before her shearers,
He did not open His mouth.
8 He was taken away because of oppression and judgment;
and who considered His fate?[d]
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
He was struck because of my people’s rebellion.
9 They[e] made His grave with the wicked
and with a rich man at His death,
although He had done no violence
and had not spoken deceitfully.
10 Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely.[f]
When[g] You make Him a restitution offering,
He will see His seed, He will prolong His days,
and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished.
11 He will see it[h] out of His anguish,
and He will be satisfied with His knowledge.
My righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will carry their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give Him[i] the many as a portion,
and He will receive[j] the mighty as spoil,
because He submitted Himself to death,
and was counted among the rebels;
yet He bore the sin of many
and interceded for the rebels.” – Isaiah 53 (HCSB)

Though we might be able to draw a parallel between our rebellion against God and Barabbas’ rebellion against Rome, we cannot say that they are the same. Our rebellion against God is not the same as Barabbas’ rebellion against Rome because Rome is not God and sometimes serving God rightly will cause us to be rebels in the eyes of the state.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus loved Barabbas, though; but his release was clearly a result of the people’s hatred toward Jesus (and that is the focus of the story). Remember Jesus stood silently and subjected Himself to the slaughterhouse like a lamb to pay for sin. There is a very real forgiveness available to each of us because of that, but again I must claim that there is no reason to extrude the narrative of Scripture to say what it does not. When we do this, we no longer get Scripture, but instead the rhetoric of a mere man trying to convince people of the truth in the text. By trying ourselves to convince people of the truth we lie when we extrude the story! This is no way to preach, even if it does sound good…

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” – 2 Timothy 4:3 (HCSB)

I am not claiming here that Rev. Smith is a false teacher. What I am saying is this is where the fall of sound doctrine and the rise of therapeutic theism begins. Let us never be okay with adding to Scripture. It is sufficient and efficient as God inspired it in its autograph. We may extrapolate in order to explain and apply, but not extrude in order to force the text to fit our message.

If you read this and are a Judah Smith fan, please understand that I wish to address the problem of isegesis, of which many pastors and teachers in America are guilty and people listen because they can make the text out to say virtually anything they want. We will not grow this way and, in fact, we may digress in our spiritual walk if we continue to listen and be moved by messages that manipulate the text rather than declare the message of the text. To the reader, do with this thought as you will; but I have said my peace.

While we don’t need to extrude Barabbas’ place in Scripture, Rev. Smith’s final point is spot on. Jesus truly is enough.


  • I’m mainly Seeing envy here. Not sure what you think he added or translated incorrectly from the text. Please explain. Also, Most non-believers need to be inspired by emotion. Again, explain what “he added” to the text, because IMO he didn’t. Which leads me back to envy. Which is sad as a preacher yourself.

    • To say that we are Barabbas is eisegesis (or, rather, narcigesis) because we read ourselves into the text. It causes us to all fail to see the bending of the text. In this case, the people’s desire for a zealot Messiah is revealed. Barabbas was the sort of Messiah the Jews expected. Nowhere does the text indicate that the Barabbas’s story represents the substitutionary atonement. It does not even insinuate that Jesus was bearing Barabbas’s wrath for his sin. Instead of simply teaching the text, people appropriate the text to teach whatever they want and manipulate people’s emotions all the time.

      Further, when we believe we must resort to worldly manipulation in order to attract people to God, we insinuate that God is not faithful to seek and save the lost like He promised throughout Scripture.

      It is sad when we cover up God’s promise and assume the preacher must manipulate people as if God needs help. God is a Jealous God, my friend, and He hates it when we commit the idolatry of self by assuming the Bible is human-centered and that we must manipulate others into our human-centered religion.

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