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  • Edwin Shank

Not this man!

Not this man!

by Edwin Shank

This morning I’d like to share a true story from the year I taught school (link could take a minute to open). Even though it’s been a few years, the experience impacted me so greatly that I remember it like yesterday.

As background, you should know that in our plain-people Christian schools, the first thirty minutes of each day is what we call devotions. To keep it age-appropriate, each teacher has devotions with their own class.

I taught the upper grades, and our standard practice was to sing a hymn together, read a chapter of the Bible and discuss it and then pray together before getting into the rest of our studies.

Our Bible study was open and spontaneous.

We’d pick a book of the Bible and read it straight through... one chapter per day. There were eight of us—seven students, plus me—so we’d divide the chapter into eight equal parts and we’d each read our section, going around the room, three to five verses at a time until the chapter was finished. Then we’d discuss the chapter, just opening our hearts to what truth God had for our class that day.

To keep everyone included and spiritually growing and maturing together, I did have one class requirement... that each student contribute at least once to the discussion. They could comment on a verse, share their inspiration from the passage or simply ask a question about a word meaning. Most did more than once but the minimum was at least once.

As I recall, we read through Acts, John, Revelation, Job, Proverbs and maybe more. Always a chapter per day. We must have read 150 chapters or more together that year.

I think we all enjoyed these times of sharing. I know I did. It honestly was my favorite part of the day. The memories the students and I made during morning devotions together I'll always hold special. Maybe it’s because the Bible is God’s Word and at some times the presence of God felt very near.

Of course, we know God is always near, but I believe you know what I mean. There are times when we feel His nearness more than others. And we cherish those times.

This was one of those times.

Earlier we had been reading from the gospel of John, chapter 10, where Jesus first used the analogy of a shepherd to explain His role in caring for and protecting His people (His sheep).

It’s in this passage where Jesus says the familiar words: “I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” And another verse He says, “I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” v11

In contrast to Himself as The Good Shepherd, Jesus also spoke of the thief and had this to say: “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” v10

The thief, of course, is the evil one or those who do the work of the evil one. As Jesus says, the thief is interested in the sheep, but for no other reason than “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” v10

As a class we discussed that when we’re tempted to do what we know is wrong that if we keep this truth in mind, it will help us to make right choices. We must remember and believe Jesus that no matter the situation, our tempter, the evil one, the devil, is always robber. He’s up to no good. His goal is always our destruction.

On top of that, he's a liar.

Jesus calls him the Father of lies. (John 8:44) In fact, since by the design of God, the evil one can never force his way in... lying and deception is the only way the thief can ever destroy us.

Since he cannot break in, his only way of entry is to make us want to let him in. He seduces us in hopes that we are gullible enough to make a conscious choice to unlock and open the door.

So, getting to the impactful day...

I’m sorry that this preamble has gotten so long. But I really wanted you all to fully connect with our class's John 10 meditations so you can also experience the truth impact that I and the students felt a week later while reading Chapter 18.

The eighteenth chapter of John is an emotional chapter. As was our custom, we were reading around the class.

This is the story of the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. It’s the record of the dark day the rulers of Jesus’ own people forcefully reject Him. It’s the day they publicly mock Him, spit on Him, whip Him and scream for His crucifixion.

The powers of the universe are set against each other. God and His angels are intently watching. The devil and his demons too. The divine powers of love and light are arrayed against the demonic forces of darkness and hate. The powers of heaven against the powers of hell.

And the people... ah, the people... They get to choose.

Pilate desperately wants to release Jesus. He has told the mob more than once that “I find in him no fault at all.”

But the crazed crowd, under the dark power of the lies of the evil one is insane with rage. They incessantly scream out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

In the midst of this, Pilate has an idea... born perhaps of desperation, but nonetheless worth a try. Will it work? Can he pull it off?

He calls out to the people.

As his imperial voice rings out from the judgment hall balcony... out over the courtyard below, a hush falls over the crowd.

Pilate says, “Ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?” v39

The question hangs in the air... we hold our breath. Time seems to stop. Eternity hangs in the balance. What will their answer be?

Then it comes!

“Then cried they all again, saying, “Not this man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.” v40

These 5 verses had been my turn to read. As I read that last sentence, "Now Barrabas was a robber" a tingle went up my spine... a holy hush fell over the room... it just seemed like God’s presence came down and was right there with us. I think we all felt it.

I was too moved to talk. The students were looking, waiting for me to say something, but I couldn’t trust my voice.

Finally, I spoke.

“These people had a choice. It was either the Redeemer or the robber. And they chose the robber!”

I had read these verses countless times before and they likely had too. But the truth had never before impacted as it did this day. Somehow and for some reason this time and at this place it was right for us to receive this message.

The class and I soberly and with new understanding discussed how this choice of the people 2000 years ago, the choice between the Redeemer and the robber is the very embodiment of the choice each one of us face every time we face a temptation.

The Redeemer is here. He is looking on in love. He is the Good Shepherd and He has already given His life for us. The robber is here and because of his hate for Jesus, he is desperate to lure us to choose him so that he can do his thing.

And his thing is 100% predictable... It's always the same... to take advantage of us, to steal, to kill and to destroy. Every time.

We have a choice. It’s up to us. Jesus allows us to choose. What will we do? What will we say? Who will we honor? Who will we dishonor?

Every time we stand in a temptation, it’s the choice of the ages all over again.

The Redeemer or the robber?

If we dare to be so bold as to say, "Not this man"... we know what we've chosen.

Think about this the next time. I will too.

Peace and Light,

Your plain Mennonite Christian friend,


P.S. As I was retelling the experience above my memory was drawn to a thought-provoking song that we used to sing in church when I was growing up. It's in a book called the Christian Hymnal. I'm sorry, but I failed to find a recording of it to share. Maybe we can sing it as a family sometime and record. If we do, I promise to share it with you. Until then, may the message and question of the words touch and move our hearts.

What Will You Do with Jesus?

Jesus is standing in Pilate's hall -

Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all:

Hearken! What meaneth the sudden call?

What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus?

Neutral you cannot be;

Someday your heart will be asking,

"What will He do with me?"

Jesus is standing on trial still,

You can be false to Him if you will,

You can be faithful through good or ill;

What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus?

Neutral you cannot be;

Someday your heart will be asking,

"What will He do with me?"

Will you evade Him as Pilate tried?

Or will you choose Him, whate'er betide?

Vainly you struggle from Him to hide:

What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus?

Neutral you cannot be;

Someday your heart will be asking,

"What will He do with me?"

Will you, like Peter, your Lord deny?

Or will you scorn from His foes to fly,

Daring for Jesus to live or die?

What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus?

Neutral you cannot be;

Someday your heart will be asking,

"What will He do with me?"

"Jesus, I give Thee my heart today!

Jesus, I'll follow Thee all the way,

Gladly obeying Thee!" Will you say:

"This will I do with Jesus!"

- Albert B. Simpson (1905


P.S. Feel free to share our emails in any way you want. Food for the Soul posts are free for all. We do not copyright any of our material nor are we possessive of its use. Freely we have received... so freely we give! More Questions about Mennonites or faith? We welcome them! We can't promise to personally answer each, but we will try to address your question in future post. And we just may get back to you personally, too.


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