The danger with character studies

What was it like for Barabbas as he walked out of that prison cell, not to his execution but to freedom? What motivated the women to stick close to the cross and be the first at the empty tomb after the men fled? What happened to the centurion who called Jesus  ” Son of God.” Did he become a believer? And what about Simon of Cyrene? What was it like to carry the cross for Jesus? Have you ever wanted to step into the shoes or get into the heads of those at the Cross. 

What about when you go back to the Old Testament? Why did David stay in Jerusalem when his army went out to battle? Who was telling the truth, Ziba or Mephibosheth? Was David wrong to mourn Absalom? Or are there clues that we are not to trust Joab too much?

The risk with each of these questions is that whilst there may be some clues in the text which point us in a certain direction but apart from that we have little to go on. For all we know, Barrabas may have been quickly locked up again no sooner had he gone free. You don’t get the feeling from history that Pilate as that big on respecting customs or showing compassion. I suspect he is more likely to be the kind of guy who says ” Look at the power I have, I can kill any of your supposed rebel kings. I can kill Jesus or I can kill Barabbas, either way your puny rebellion dies. What’s more, if I release Barabbas, I’ll probably pick him up next time we round up some of your revolutionaries and execute him next week.” That of course is mere speculation, but that’s exactly the point, we are straying into speculative territory. I can talk for hours about why Simon of Cyrene, was there and how he felt but the Bible is silent on this. The gospels treat him as a bit part player, he merits a verse or two.

I’m not saying that you mustn’t do character studies. One of our congregations is planning to look at the people at the Cross. What I am saying is handle such studies with care. This means making sure what you say about the person comes directly out of Scripture (exegesis) and isn’t read into it. It means that you should be careful not to give more attention to the character than Scripture does and it means that you must strive to ensure that your sermon first and foremost points to Christ.