Hi and welcome to Friday’s Foundations podcast. It’s been wonderful to read the Bible together this week. Today we are looking at Matthew 27:11-26, Jesus before Pilate. We know from verse 11 that Pilate is the governor of Jerusalem and a representative of the power and rule of Rome to all its citizens. We’ve already read this week about Jesus predicting his betrayal and arrest – yet still being present with his friends at the last supper. We caught an intimate glimpse of him praying to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. We saw the false trial and reminded ourselves yesterday of Peter’s denial and then forthcoming transformation when he encounters the resurrected Jesus.
Today I want to pull out another unlikely character in the story. One we can easily skip over but might just challenge us to think differently. Recently a student sent me a video clip by a guy called Judah Smith, a church leader in America, who wrote about Jesus being loving using this story as his example. It focussed on the parallel between Jesus & Barabbas.
So we read that the governor, Pilate, is to decide Jesus’ fate. And Pilate can’t make up his mind what to do with this man – we read in verse 18 that he anticipated selfish motives had led them to bring Jesus before him. The chief priests wanted him killed. 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.
“Who do you choose?” he said, “Barabbas, who is a murderer, a leader of an insurrection, a rebel? Or Jesus, the one they are calling the Messiah?”
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.
So they unlock the chains and Barabbas walks free – welcome by his friends. There is not even a record of him turning to Jesus and saying “thank you for setting me free – my life is yours.” He just disappears. And Jesus just stands there silent. Why?
For he knew the will of the Father; he had prayed in the Garden as we read on Wednesday. He knew that for Barabbas to be set free, he (Jesus) had to endure the chains. For Barabbas to be treated like Jesus, Jesus had to be treated like Barabbas.
Barabbas thought the people had set him free. No. It was the love of the Father in heaven. And when we look at this story again we realise who Barabbas really is – he is us.
As it says in the book of Romans, in the New Testament, “For while we were sinners. Christ died for us.”
Here is perhaps something we can take away from this for today.
Firstly, thanksgiving. Take some time after this podcast is over just to say thank you again to God. Think about this story. Think about the sentence “For Barabbas to be treated like Jesus, Jesus had to be treated like Barabbas.” Add your own name and simply say thank you.
Secondly, we can remind ourselves of this outrageous act of grace. It’s so easy to think one of two things: “I chose my freedom”, or “I deserve these chains.” Whatever the circumstance we face today, his act of generosity is what set us free and is more than enough to get us through this day.
God, thank you for this week. Your extravagant love. And for taking our place on the cross. We love you God. Amen.
READING: Matthew 27:11-26
Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge – to the great amazement of the governor.
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ asked the governor.
‘Barabbas,’ they answered.
‘What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ Pilate asked.
They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’
‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’
All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.