Some of the president’s recent pardons have elicited angry responses around the world. USA Today called the pardoning of the Blackwater security guards “egregious and disgusting.” A headline in China’s Global Times announced, “Trump pardons allies, crooks and Kushner’s father, sparking fresh outrage.” India’s Hindustan Times carried an almost identical headline: “Trump pardons more allies and Kushner’s father, sparking fresh outrage.”
In previous years, other presidential pardons elicited angry responses.
As Bill Moyers wrote, “Other modern questionable pardons include Jimmy Carter’s pardon for all those who evaded the draft during Vietnam War, Bill Clinton’s pardon for his half-brother Roger, who was convicted on drug charges, Clinton’s controversial pardon of donor Marc Rich, who had been convicted of tax fraud (Rich’s ex-wife was a mega-donor to the Democratic Party), George W. Bush’s pardon of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief-of-staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who had been convicted of perjury and obstruction for lying about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, Barack Obama’s pardoning of Private Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of releasing classified documents …”
President Obama was also widely criticized for pardoning (or, technically, commuting the sentence of) former terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera, to mention just one of many other, controversial presidential pardons.
Some now claim that Trump has taken the presidential pardon privilege to a new low, while Moyers, writing before Trump’s most recent wave of pardons (and addressing whether the president would pardon himself), wrote this: “we would argue that the all-time worst presidential pardon ever was granted by George H.W. Bush to former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger.” And he argues that, “in pardoning Weinberger, Bush was able to keep his activities secret, and in effect give himself a pardon.”
And so, he asks, “Was this the first presidential self-pardon? In a way, yes.”
But none of these pardons, however egregious some of them may be, compares with the most outrageous pardon in history.
It was not granted by an American president but by a Roman governor. And it did not take place in modern times but in ancient times, around the year 30 AD.
As the Gospels record, at the time of the Passover, the Roman governor, in this case the notorious Pontius Pilate, would grant clemency to a Jewish man slated for execution.
In this case, he gave them two choices. One, named Barabbas, who “was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising” against Rome (Mark 15:7). The other, named Yeshua (Jesus), who was called the Messiah (Christ).
The crowd called for Barabbas to go free and for Jesus to be crucified. And so it was that the innocent Son of God died in place of a murderer.
What makes this story all the more striking is that, in some ancient Greek manuscripts, Yeshua (Jesus) is also the first name of Barabbas, which means “son of the father” in Aramaic. So, Pilate is asking the crowd, “Which of these two Yeshuas do you want me to release to you, the one called the Messiah or the one called son of the father?” (Jesus, of course, was both Messiah and Son of the heavenly Father.)
As rendered in the TLV, Pilate asked, “Which one do you want me to release for you? Yeshua who is Bar-Abba, or Yeshua who is called Messiah?”
So, on that fateful day, a violent revolutionary named Jesus was pardoned at the expense of the sinless Messiah, also named Jesus.
But something else happened that day, a day that we can all relate to. That was the day that the Messiah took our place as well, the day that our pardon was secured. And it was God Himself who issued the pardon.
That was the day that God offered David Berkowitz a full pardon, despite his being the infamous Son of Sam killer.
That was the day that God offered Rene Martinez a full pardon, despite his years spent as a violent gang leader.
That was the day God offered Bashir Mohammed a full pardon, despite his being a murderous jihadi.
That was the day that God offered me a full pardon, despite the sinful and rebellious ways of my youth.
And that was the day that God offered you a full pardon, despite every ugly and evil and embarrassing thing you have ever done. (You can be assured that the Lord knows every single one of them, including the ones you’ve tried to bury or forget, along with the sins you don’t even realize you committed.)
As the Scripture states, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, NASB). Yes, God “canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14, NLT).
Your pardon was secured, in full, at the expense of the crucifixion of God’s own Son. But you must receive that pardon for it to be effective.
You can do so today by turning to God in repentance. (This means acknowledging your sin and asking for freedom and forgiveness.) And you can do so by putting your trust in Jesus. (This means believing He died for your sins and rose from the dead, then acknowledging Him as the Lord of your life.)
The moment you do, you will feel as if your pardon was the most outrageous pardon of all time. That is the incredible mercy of God.
I urge you to receive that pardon while it remains available. One day, the offer will expire.
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