Back in the 60’s when most TVs were still in black and white, lots of folks gathered around the tube on Sunday evenings to watch The Fugitive, starring the late David Jansen. (Harrison Ford played the movie role many years later.) The story-line followed a young doctor, wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, fleeing from a zealous detective who was certain of the doctor’s guilt. Of course, we all knew that the one-armed man did it. Folks talked about it around the water-cooler on Monday mornings.
It is disturbing when the guilty get off the hook. “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Ecclesiates 8:11). It is the divinely-ordained role of earthly governments “to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).
But it also troubles us when the innocent go to prison, when perhaps DNA evidence or some other testimony proves that a person was imprisoned or even executed for a crime he or she didn’t commit. Recent statistics on such cases are sobering. Proverbs concurs: “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both” (Proverbs 17:15).
Mysteriously, it was out of the greatest miscarriage of justice in all of history that God wrought our redemption. The guilty are acquitted, let off the hook. The innocent One, God’s own Son, is condemned. The disciples are let go that night in the garden. Jesus is taken into custody. The dungeon door swings open and a convict named Barabbas walks, squinting, into the sunshine of freedom. Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, is led away to crucifixion. The princes of the Jewish nation at the foot of the cross said something truer than they knew: “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.”
In Gethsemane, the great “I AM” sends the mob backward to the ground with a mere word. He also issues a command: “I told you that I am He. If you are looking for Me, then let these men go!”
No one argues with Jesus. He is in control. That is why He can take our place. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him,” said Isaiah. “God made Him…to be sin for us,” said St. Paul.
When God said to Pharaoh: “Let My people go,” Pharaoh had to let them go. When God willed to bring His people back from captivity, Emperor Cyrus had to let them go. When Jesus told the soldiers in Gethsemane, “Let these men go,” they had to let them go.
When He who died and rose again says to sin, death and hell: “Let My people go.” They do. They must. At length, He will say to your grave and mine: “Let them go.” It will. It must. Thank God!