Hello and welcome to Wednesday’s foundations podcast. It is fantastic to be looking at the Bible and praying together through these podcasts. I’m James and I’m part of the team here at STC. I mentioned yesterday that I was born and raised in the North West… a place called Wigan. I came to Sheffield in 2008 to study at one of the Universities and joined the team here when I graduated. I now lead our work with students. This church invested SO much in me when I was a student; it is an immense privilege to invest in others.
Today we are looking at Luke 23:13-25 – It is part 2 of Jesus is being examined as guilty or innocent. In today’s reflection rather than a focus verse for the day… I’d love to briefly look at the 4 main characters and see how they are responding to the person of Jesus in this moment.
It might sound like a history lesson at first. But stay switched on to this podcast because there is a brilliant plot twist at the end of this reflection.
Ok, the first person. Pilate. He got mentioned yesterday but I didn’t take time to explain who he was. We know from history that Pilate is the governor of Jerusalem. In other words he is the representative of the power and rule of Rome to its citizens. He speaks on behalf of Caesar and is tasked with keeping the peace and collecting the taxes.
He wants Jesus off his plate. He is career focussed and even though he knows the accusations brought against Jesus are void of substance, he hands Jesus over to be crucified. One commentator said it was his “spineless careerism” that handed the Son of God over.
The second person in our story is Herod. He is brought into this story when Pilate learns that Jesus’ enterprise began out of Galilee, part of the Northern province. Again we know from history and through a previous appearance in the Gospel of Luke that Herod is part of the Roman Empire set up in Judea and again subordinate to Rome, tasked with a similar brief to Pilate. When Pilate learns that Jesus was from Herod’s patch he tries to shift over responsibility. However, from our reading yesterday and today, we see that Herod was only interested in the spectacle. He was hoping that Jesus would perform a sign or wonder. He was not interested in the person of Jesus.
The third character is the crowd. They have made their minds and hearts up about Jesus. They have rejected him. Let me read from v20 “Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.”
Finally, there is a character called Barabbas. Barabbas is a murderer and a leader of an insurrection. He is a rebel. So Pilate stands before the crowd and offers them a choice. On a holy day, as was the Jewish custom, the Governor would release a prisoner. When you think about it, there is no comparison. One deserves the crucifixion because he is a bad man. This man made his choices and he is there because he deserves to be. The other has helped people, healed people… how can this be a choice?
“Who do you want?” Pilate asks… “Barabbas” they reply.
Four characters… offering four lessons for us today.
Pilate shows us not to be so focussed on career that we compromise on doing what is right.
Herod shows us to not seek the spectacle but the person of Jesus. I remember Mike Pilavachi, the leader of Soul Survivor – a youth movement here in the UK – used to always say about the power of God… we are looking for intimacy not for entertainment. It is the person of Jesus not just his power that we are interested in.
The crowd mentality is to reject Jesus. From the safety of the majority they yelled crucify. There are moments when we might too reject Jesus in word and actions. Where it is easier to conform than to stand up for what we believe in. Let’s learn to be radical disciples.
Finally, Barabbas. Barabbas gets set free, Jesus had to endure the chains… Barabbas is the story of all of us who have experienced the forgiveness and love of God. I am Barabbas and you can be Barabbas too. Theologians call this the substitution of God. The great exchange. For Barabbas to experience freedom, Jesus had to endure the chains.
We do not deserve it, but this story reminds us of an act of outrageous, generous, sacrificial LOVE.
“For while we were sinners. Christ died for us.”
Keep us ambitious but save us from careerism.
Keep us chasing intimacy but forgive us when we have reduced power to entertainment.
Keep our hearts open to you and your purposes and forgive us when we go with the pattens of the word.
Finally, thank you for your extravagant love, and for taking our place on the cross. We love you God. Amen.
READING: Luke 23:13-25
Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.’
But the whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’
For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.