7:00 – Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate (March 31, 2019)
Matthew 27: 15-26
7:00 – Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate
We continue our series today on the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life; the 24 hours that changed the world. Today we’re going to be picking up the story as Jesus leaves the high priest’s house. The religious leaders have convicted Jesus of blasphemy at about 3 or 4 AM. They all got up early to convict him. Pilate is not going to get up for them. So they have to keep Jesus in the cellar until Pilate wakes up in the morning; that’s roughly dawn, we’ll say 8 AM. The religious leaders bring Jesus up out of the dungeons and bring him before Pilate.
They charge him with a different crime then the one they convicted him of in their own court they convicted him of blasphemy, at least in their minds, a crime of claiming to be God when he, in their minds, isn’t. But Pilate does not care if he is blaspheming the Jewish God. He really probably wouldn’t have even cared, at least enough to put him to death, if he even blasphemed the Roman gods. Maybe if he blasphemed the previous Cesar, who is considered a god. He probably would’ve cared then. But if Jesus blasphemed Jupiter or something, Pilate probably wouldn’t have even cared then. And so they charge him with insurrection instead; they charge him with claiming to be the King of the Jews, which of course Cesar is the King of the Jews, so Jesus claiming to be King of the Jews would be claiming to be king in lou of Cesar.
Now a couple of things on that. First this is what Barabbas actually did. We’ll get to Barabbas here in quite a bit of the rest of the sermon, but this is what Barabbas actually did. Jesus ultimately gets convicted of a crime that Barabbas committed. Secondly this is also what the disciples eventually do. When the disciples are going around saying that “Jesus is Lord;” it is that Jesus is Lord, meaning that Jesus is the highest authority in your life, and that Caesar therefore isn’t. So while Jesus is innocent of all of this, the very people around the story actually are guilty of it.
Pilate sees right through their facade and does everything he can to try and get out of condemning Jesus, especially once his wife sends her a little message that she had a vision and have nothing to do with Jesus. And so Pilate attempts to get out of condemning Jesus, attempts to get out of doing that what the religious leaders wanted to do. One such way is to present Barabbas to the people and say, “you want this man, who is convicted of trying to incite a rebellion, to be let back out on the streets? Or do you want to man that that I know to be innocent?” Let’s look a little more at that.
Jesus, the word, means “God saves.” Anyone who sought to lead a revolt against Rome to save the people of Israel would actually take the name of Jesus, which in Hebrew was Yeshua or Joshua. And they would take that name because the one who led the people on the original conquest of the Holy Land was named Joshua. The one who leads the people on the revolt against Greece, and successfully throws the Greeks out, and escorts in the beginning of an independent Israel for about 80 years, roughly 200 to 300 years before the time of Christ, was named Jesus Maccabee. Thus people would take this name Jesus. And I read from the Gospel of Matthew because that’s the Gospel to indicate that Barabbas had actually done this: that Barabbas had indeed taken the name Jesus. He had led a rebellion against Rome, and been crushed, and been captured. When Pilate presents Jesus Barabbas and Jesus of Nazareth in front of the people, he is presenting before to them two Jesuses, essentially saying “which Savior do you want? Do you want the military savior, who promises you salvation from the Romans? Or do you want the spiritual savior, promising you salvation from your sins and everlasting life in a afterlife?”
They chose a military savior. They chose Barabbas. And sometimes we judge them for that, but the reality is we still do this. We as a people still push for a strong military. We still defend the bully in school, or elsewhere in life. We settle up next to the powerful, and make friends with the boss instead of the underling when there is conflict between the two. We still try and get ourselves on the side of the powerful; sometimes at the expense of our witness as Christians. Persecution, real persecution, is scary. And it is significantly easier just simply have a physical domination on your side than to face the risk that comes from a spiritual revolution. That’s lesson number one for today. Choose to focus yourself on the spiritual.
One thing I recognize is that throughout these trials, with the exception of one line in the trial for the Sanhedrin where he seems to take pity on them and just give them what they need, Jesus remains silent. In these trials he has seemingly resigned himself to his fate, or at least resigned himself to the will of God, whatever that is, after his prayer in Gethsemane. His silence shows his resignation to his fate. Or perhaps a better way to put it his determination to follow through on whatever the will of God is. After all, Jesus need to only deny claiming to be king; need only say “no I never said I was the Messiah,” and he can walk out of that fortress a free man. He only needs to say that he’s not the messiah and he escapes death. It would undermine his ministry, but he’d have his life. But he doesn’t. Instead he goes to the cross. He dies in Barabbas’ place; convicted of the sins Barabbas committed. Jesus is substituted for Barabbas. And often we find ourselves in this place where Barabbas was. We’re not guilty of insurrection or treason, but Jesus still substitutes in our place. Jesus still takes the punishment that is rightfully ours. It’s important for us to recognize that Jesus does not die in battle leading a insurrection and get defeated. This was his move; this was his decision. Jesus remained unconquered.
Pilate tries to defeat him anyway. Barabbas was an attempt to thwart Jesus; to get out of it. He offers them Jesus free; released back as a goodwill offering for the Passover. But they choose the other, worse prisoner. The religious leadership will not let Pilate off the hook. Here they start chanting that Jesus be crucified. The crowd begins to chant along with them: “crucify him. Crucify him. Crucify him.”
The crowds probably began at 8 o’clock in the morning with the religious leadership; maybe some of the money changers that Jesus had flip the tables over earlier in the week looking for some revenge; maybe some of the street riffraff or something like that; and that’s about it. But it doesn’t stay only that group. By the end here, by the time they shout “crucify,” there certainly are some of the same people that had shouted out “hosanna” five days earlier. And this is the group I want to look at here.
Within this group that had chanted “hosanna” on Sunday and shout “crucify” now on Friday, there certainly are some who are just looking to make sure they’re in the majority; who want to make sure that the largest crowd is not against them. So it doesn’t really matter what the crowd is saying, they just want to be a part of it. They want to at least not be the target of the majority, of the target of the mob. That is human nature. And there are certainly some within this group that flipped sides because of that reason; because now it looks like the other side is winning, and I want to be on the side that’s winning.
But there are others who adamantly believe in both chants; who were shouting “hosanna” because they thought that was what they needed to be doing. They thought that was what was right. And now they were shouting “crucify” because they thought that’s what was right. These are the people that were looking for a Messiah; but they were looking for a very specific kind of Messiah, a very specific kind of leader, the kind of leader that Barabbas was. It is at the moment when Jesus doesn’t do that, when Jesus takes the mantle of leadership and then tries to lead them in a different direction from where they were headed in the first place, they turn on him. And I know there were people in this group because they exist today. And they’ve existed all through history. There is human condition in this as well. We do this to our leaders. We elect our leaders and then when they try and lead in a way that maybe we wouldn’t have tried to lead, we turn on them and we don’t follow. It makes me wonder what we really define as a leader, and if we really are after a leader half the time, or if we’re just after someone else to take the blame; if we just want to make sure that if it all goes wrong, someone else is getting crucified instead of me.
Whatever the reason these people are shouting crucify, what Pilate knows is that he now has a riot forming. And here’s the thing: up until now this hasn’t really impacted Pilate. He’s had his wife’s vision, and he’s trying to not have anything to do with this man, but it doesn’t really impact him. But now it does. You see, Rome doesn’t really care what he does in an inner dispute among the religious leaders in Jerusalem (and remember, Jesus is a rabbi, and so far is Rome is concerned Jesus is a religious leader in Jerusalem). Rome does not care what he does to stop a dispute amongst the local leaders. Rome does care if there’s a riot or a rebellion. Rome does care if Pilate is unable to maintain control to the point that they have to get involved. If there’s a riot, Pilate would certainly get fired from his position. Even if Rome lets the city live, Pilate will take a fall. So Pilate must stop the riot, even if it means a miscarriage of justice.
Pilate takes one last chance, one last attempt at absolving himself of the blame for Jesus death. He goes and he washes his hands. He says “I wash my hands of this man’s blood. It be upon you.” He’s trying to say that that he believes Jesus to be innocent, but is going to go along with their demand; he is going to step out of their way, they can do it if they want to. It’s their fault. They did it.
And that’s true; and it’s not true. Yes, they are pushing for it, but Pilate has the power here. Pilate could stop it if he wants to. But he doesn’t. Pilate can bring all the soldiers in and say, “I believe this man innocent. He is going to walk out of the city a free man and you will not stop it.” And they would have. But he doesn’t. He surrenders. In what might be some of the saddest words of the Bible, “wishing to satisfy the crowd, he handed Jesus over to be crucified.” And yes, the world is saved because of that action. But don’t miss the tragedy of this moment. In order to save himself, Pilate hands God over to be killed.
What would you do to save yourself? Would you have sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver; especially if you’re just going to use that money for charity anyway? Would you have allowed anger to overcome you and broke even part of the 10 Commandments in order to condemn someone who is innocent? Would you have ultimately sacrificed a man you knew to be innocent, but a man you only met about three hours before anyway, and what was he to you? What would you do to save yourself? What would you do to satisfy the crowd? What have you done? Think on it this week. Amen.