Judging the Innocent Man, part 1

Posted: February 22, 2016 in John, Uncategorized

John 18:28-40, “Judging the Innocent Man, part 1”

It had all the tension of a modern courtroom drama.  Whether it’s the fictional “A Few Good Men” with Jack Nicholson & Tom Cruise shouting at each other: “You can’t handle the truth!” – or the real-life OJ Simpson murder trial, with his attorney (Johnny Cochran) famously quipping, “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit!” – few things put us on the edge of our seats as when we await the arrival of a verdict.  What is the jury going to say?  How will the judge respond?  The questions rush through our minds as we nervously await the outcome.

The same drama was present for the case of Sanhedrin v. Jesus of Nazareth, with the not-so-honorable Pontius Pilate presiding.  The difference was that Jesus was innocent.  Humanly speaking, there was no reason for the trial because Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong.  He was being railroaded.  Neither the priests nor Pilate were interested in the truth, even as the Truth stood right in front of them.

Of course, this had been the case throughout the nighttime hours for Jesus.  There had been no rest for Him, as He went from prayer in the garden of Gethsemane directly to being kissed in betrayal by Judas Iscariot.  From that point, Jesus had been led first to Annas, and then secondly to Caiaphas.  The time in front of Annas (though fully illegal) served as a sort of pre-trial hearing, giving Caiaphas a bit of time to gather the Sanhedrin.  As a former high priest, Annas maintained his title & power, although he had little legal authority.  Despite his repeated attempts to do so, he could not intimidate Jesus & finally gave up & sent Him to the real high priest.

Peter, however, fell to intimidation and temptation.  He faced questioning of his own outside of the house where Jesus was, and he denied knowing Jesus again & again.  Even when faced with undeniable evidence to the contrary, Peter maintained his stubborn sin, denying the truth of his friend, Lord, and Savior.

So now John’s narration turns again to Jesus, as John describes Jesus facing one of His two trials in front of Pontius Pilate.  There is obviously no love lost between Pilate and the Jews, and Pilate quickly sees through what the Jews are trying to do to Jesus.  He knows the truth, but he doesn’t care about the truth.  He sees an innocent Man, and stands by doing nothing.

Pilate’s sin was, of course, all according to the sovereign plan of God.  Jesus was rejected not only by the Jews, but by the Gentiles.  ALL of us are guilty of the blood of Christ.  It was for our sins that Jesus died upon the cross, thus He serves as a sacrifice not only for the Jewish nation, but for all nations…and praise God that He did!  The Innocent King of kings is the righteous sacrifice for you & me.

John 18:28–40

  • Pilate vs. the Jews (28-32). Determining the crime.

28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.

  • In John’s account, the trial by Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin is completely passed over.  Earlier in vs. 24, we are told that Jesus was sent by Annas to Caiaphas, but John tells us nothing of what happened there.  It seems to be more evidence that John was familiar with at least one (if not all) of the Synoptics, and did not feel the need to duplicate what it was that Matthew, Mark, and Luke had already written.  John has already supplemented the account by describing the events in front of Annas; now he will supplement the accounts in front of Pilate as well.
  • The timeframe mentioned is “early morning,” and the obvious question might be: how early?  The term refers to the 4th watch of the night, which places it in the hours between 3:00-6:00am, most likely prior to sunrise when the morning star was still visible.  No doubt it was early as the priests could possibly make it without incurring the wrath of Pilate themselves.  They wanted the “problem” of Jesus settled quickly, in order that they could rid themselves of Him (which, of course, could never be done!).
  • Where Jesus was taken has become somewhat a matter of archeological debate.  The “Praetorium” is really just a transliteration of a Latin word used to describe the governor’s residence.  Some scholars believe it to be the former palace of Herod the Great; others believe it to reference a part of the Fortress of Antonia.  The bottom line is that John mentions it only as the place where the governor lived.  Where exactly it was in Jerusalem makes little difference as to what events took place within it.
  • Wherever it was, the priests refused to enter it.  This was the residence of a Gentile, and it was the Passover, after all.  If the priests were to remain ritually clean, they would not be able to enter the house of a Gentile.  Scripturally speaking, it is difficult to find a Bible verse in the Old Testament forbidding Jews from entering a Gentile house, and this seems to have been a tradition that developed over time.  Even Peter was mindful of it when God showed him that the gospel was to go to the Gentiles (Acts 10:28).  There’s a grand irony in it all.  The priests are consumed with external purity, but care nothing for internal purity.  They refuse to enter the house of a Gentile (particularly the Roman governor), but they have no hesitation conspiring against Jesus to see Him tortured and crucified.  The priests may have had all of the outward signs of holiness, but inwardly they were as corrupt as they come.  (God cares about the heart!)
  • With that bit of scene description out of the way, we find the priests on the doorstep of Pilate, Jesus in hand, demanding Pilate’s involvement in their condemnation.  …

29 Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.”

  • Despite being inconvenienced in the early morning, Pilate accommodated the priests’ superficial spirituality as he “went out to them.”  Pilate shows himself to be a curious character in all of events surrounding Jesus.  Historically, Pilate is known for being cruel & calculating, and his relationship with the Jews and the Samaritans was so bad that Rome eventually recalled him, replacing him with a man named Marcellus (unmentioned in Scripture).  Biblically, Pilate is shown presiding over the Roman trials of Jesus, and many people have wondered if he wasn’t an unwilling participant to it all.  Some have looked at Pilate sympathetically, almost as another victim in the whole mess.  Be careful not to miss Pilate’s responsibility.  As the Roman prefect/governor, Pilate had the responsibility to maintain order & see justice be done.  There was nothing just about the condemnation of Jesus.  Pilate could tell from the very beginning that the priests were up to no good, and he did nothing to stop it.  In the end, he did not hesitate to condemn an innocent man to suffer death by crucifixion.  Even if Pilate is viewed as doing nothing – his inaction towards Jesus was just as sinful as the priests’ action towards Him.
  • Pilate’s suspicions are seen in his first question.  “What accusation do you bring?”  What’s the charge?  Why has He been arrested?  Pilate wasn’t blind to the events of the week.  He had certainly known about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  He had heard the crowds shouting “Hosanna!” and was undoubtedly aware of the conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leadership.  Remember that when Jesus was arrested in the garden, He was arrested by a combination of Roman soldiers and Jewish temple guards – Pilate would have had to have been involved in that decision.  There was no way Pilate was ignorant to the fact that the Jewish leadership was gunning for Jesus.  So why did he ask?  Pilate needed to know the charge upon which they settled.  What was it that Jesus had done that was so bad that the Romans needed to get involved?
  • The answer?  They had none.  Pilate asked the priests a direct question, and they were unable (or unwilling) to give a direct answer.  Jesus’ true crime (in the eyes of the Sanhedrin) was that of blasphemy.  He had made a direct claim to being the Son of God, and that was enough in their eyes, to put Him to death.  Rome, however, had different standards.  Rome needed more than a religious charge against Jesus; they needed a criminal one.  At first, the priests were unwilling to provide Pilate with one.  They just label Jesus as “an evildoer,” and basically demand that Pilate trust them on this.  At this point, they never accused Him of any specific crimes; they just call Him a criminal.  By avoiding an answer, they demonstrate that they have none.

31 Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,” 32 that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.

  • Pilate saw through the excuse of the priests and called their bluff.  If Jesus’ crime was so obvious, then the Jews ought to be able to deal with Him themselves.  They had laws and a certain amount of authority; they could take care of it.  Besides, if this was a Jewish matter of religion (of which Pilate was certain it was, being aware of the events of the week), Pilate had no reason to get involved.
  • This is when the priests (summarized here as “the Jews”) showed their cards.  What they wanted, they couldn’t get on their own.  They wanted a death sentence.  In particular, they wanted crucifixion.  How do we know they specifically wanted Jesus crucified?  Several reasons:
    • First, and most importantly, John tells us.  It wasn’t just that Jesus would die, but the manner of death Jesus experienced had a direct impact on prophecy, and it needed to be fulfilled.  Obviously the priests did not want to fulfill prophecy for Jesus, but it is directly tied in with the manner of death that they sought for Jesus.
    • Secondly, although the Jews claimed that they did not have the legal authority to kill anyone, they certainly didn’t hesitate to do so when they had a chance.  There were several occasions during Jesus’ ministry when the crowds tried to seize Him & stone Him (though they were always prevented by the sovereignty of God).  Later on, the Jews will take Stephen & stone him, making him the 1st martyr of the Christian church (Acts 7).  So the Jews did kill people; it’s just that in this case they specifically wanted the Romans to do it.  Why?  Because if the Romans did it, it would be crucifixion.
    • Thirdly, it seems likely that the Jewish priests wanted to make a statement about Jesus.  They didn’t just want Him dead; they wanted Him cursed.  Again, if it were just a matter of killing Jesus, they may have tried to do that themselves.  But Jesus had attracted too large a following.  He had performed too many public miracles, particularly raising Lazarus from the dead.  They needed Jesus discredited & disgraced.  One way to do that would be through delivering Him over to the Gentiles, so that they could have Him hanged upon a tree & thus cursed (Dt 21:22-23) – the then-equivalent being crucifixion.
  • Ultimately, the choice of crucifixion does fulfill prophecy (Ps 22, Isa 53, among others) – but as John points out, it fulfills prophecy specifically spoken by Jesus Himself.  When Jesus spoke of the Son of Man being lifted up (Jn 3:14, 8:28), this was a reference to His manner of death – this was a reference to crucifixion.  The Son of Man would literally be lifted up from the earth while nailed to a cross & it was while He was lifted up that He would suffer and die for the sins of mankind.  It was a horrible, torturous death.  It’s no wonder that the person who endured such a thing would be thought of as accursed by God.  How could God allow that to happen to anyone that He viewed as blessed?  And that’s the point.  Jesus is the blessed beloved Son of God, in whom God is well-pleased.  And yet, what happened?  This same beloved Son is accursed for our sake, in order that we would be blessed.  Galatians 3:13–14, "(13) Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), (14) that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."  Because the Son of God received our curse, now we can be made children of God through faith.  Praise the Lord!
    • When was the last time you thanked Jesus for dying on the cross for your sins?  Have you ever realized that He did?  He endured the curse for you, so that you would be free.  Receive that freedom!  Become a child of God today!
  • Pilate vs. Jesus (33-37). Determining the truth

33 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”

  • John doesn’t tell us what happened after Pilate’s encounter with the priests to change his mind about hearing Jesus.  Mark tells us that Pilate consulted with them, and Luke says that they eventually attributed some criminal charges to Jesus that would cause Rome to pay attention.  The priests accused Jesus of “forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” (Lk 23:2)  Of course, Jesus had openly told people the opposite regarding taxes, but it was the identity of Jesus as a King that would have caught Pilate’s ear.  It was at that point that Pilate dismissed the priests for the moment & took Jesus inside his house for questioning.
    • Interestingly, the priests didn’t go inside Pilate’s house for fear of defilement during the Passover week – yet there Jesus was AS the Passover in the house of Pilate.  Being inside the house of a Gentile could not defile the Son of God.  His holiness is total: inside & out!
  • Pilate asked Jesus about being “the King of the Jews.”  He had heard the accusation from the priests, but he wanted to hear it from Jesus Himself.  Pilate knew better than to accept the word of the priests without question (which is a rather sad commentary on the priests).  That’s when Jesus started to converse with Pilate a bit.
  • Before we get to the content, we’ve got to answer a question about the conversation itself.  In Matthew’s account, Jesus is silent.  In John’s, there is a conversation.  Is there a contradiction in the Scripture?  No.  Take a look for yourselves.  , there is a conversation.  Is there a contradiction in the Scripture?  No.  Take a look for yourselves.  Matthew 27:11–14, "(11) Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” (12) And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. (13) Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” (14) But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly."  Keep in mind that different authors can have different emphases & show the same things from different perspectives.  That’s all that’s going on here.  Notice in Matthew’s account, Jesus is silent in front of the priests.  I.e. the priests are still present, spewing out their lies and false accusations against Jesus.  Jesus maintains a dignified silence in front of them.  He doesn’t need to defend Himself.  His defense is God the Father, and God is fully control of the situation.  It’s not until the priests leave that Pilate takes Jesus inside his house (as John writes), and that’s when the conversation takes place.  Thus, there’s no contradiction at all (and there never is, throughout the whole Bible).
  • So Jesus answered the question with a question.  Unlike the priests, Jesus isn’t evading the issue; He’s pointing out what’s really going on.  This was a trumped-up trial, and no one was fooling anyone else.  Did Pilate truly want to know the truth about Jesus, or was he merely reciting the charge back to Jesus as a formality?  Pilate heard what the priests said about Jesus, but what did he think?  What did he believe?
    • What do YOU believe about Jesus?  The difference is quite literally the difference between life and death.

35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”

  • Pilate’s reply: “Don’t change the subject.  This is about You; not me.”  To Pilate, he didn’t think it mattered whether or not he believed Jesus was the King of the Jews.  Pilate wasn’t Jewish, so who cared?  He was wrong!  What we believe about Jesus matters greatly!
  • What did matter to Pilate was that the Jewish priests did not think that Jesus was their king, and the evidence was that they had rejected Him.  It was Jesus’ “own nation” who “delivered” Jesus to Pilate.  For the Jews to deliver one of their own over to the Romans was truly unusual, and Pilate understood that he wasn’t getting the whole story.  He’s curious.  What had Jesus done do make the priests so angry?  What was His crime that the Jewish leaders actually wanted one of their own to be crucified?  The Jews hated Pilate.  If they were asking for his help, something is off.
    • You can tell a lot about a person from his/her enemies.  In this case, the enemies of Jesus were the religious hypocrites.  They were afraid of the truth!
  • That the Jewish nation would reject their true Messiah King is not something unexpected; it was prophesied.  Isaiah 53:3 says that “He is despised and rejected by men…and we did not esteem Him.”  Daniel 9:26 speaks of the Messiah being “cut off.”  Psalm 22:6 shows the prophetic author David writing of being “a reproach of men, and despised by the people,” and the list could go on.  The Messiah of Israel is a King who was long-awaited by Israel, but was always prophesied to be rejected by Israel.  One day they will see Him for who He is, and they will realize that He is the one whom they pierced (Zech 12:10).
    • Knowing this rejection awaited Him, Jesus still came.  This was His purpose & mission.  He had to be rejected if He was to be sent to the cross.  But it is through the cross and resurrection that we can be saved!  Now, we need not reject Jesus, but receive Him & receive the right to become children of God (Jn 1:12).

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

  • What was one reason the Jesus rejected King Jesus?  They rejected Him because He had a different kingdom.  Is Jesus the King of the Jews?  Yes.  Was He the King of those Jews?  No…not in the same sense.  They rejected Him because they did not recognize His kingdom.  Those Jews were obviously not His servants.  They were of the world & the system of the world; Jesus was not. 
  • What Jesus says about His kingdom is monumental: “My kingdom is not of this world.”  That’s monumental, but it can still be misunderstood.  Does this mean that Jesus’ kingdom is not a literal kingdom?  No.  Jesus is real King, and He rules a real kingdom.  Notice the preposition used here: of.  Jesus’ kingdom is not OF the world.  The world (whether created stuff, or carnal system) is not where Jesus’ kingdom originates & is not a part of the kingdom’s makeup.  Physically speaking, Jesus’ kingdom will be IN the world.  It already is today (among the church), and will be in the future (in the literal Millennial Kingdom of Israel).  But Jesus’ kingdom is not, has not ever been, and will not ever be of this world.  The kingdom of Jesus did not arise out of the dust of previous empires (like Babylon or Rome), or out of the dreams and aspirations of men (like the United States), but out of the Person and will of God.  The kingdom of Jesus is unlike any nation or kingdom ever known in history.
    • Be careful not to confuse the kingdom of God with the culture of today!  (Especially in an election year!)  Our national citizenship is temporary; our kingdom citizenship is eternal.  Our national citizenship is of this world by default – it is where we were born.  Our kingdom citizenship is what we’ve been given when we were born again by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.   Our ultimate allegiance lies to the King of kings, who made us His own through the sacrifice of His own life for us.
  • What is a major evidence of the different nature of Jesus’ kingdom?  His servants.  If Jesus’ kingdom was like any other kingdom, Jesus’ “servants would fight” for Him, and none did.  The fact that King Jesus was now on trial in front of Pilate shows just how different His kingdom is.  – Objection: “What about Peter?  He may have failed, but at least he tried to fight for Jesus.”  Actually, that’s the point.  Peter was not supposed to fight.  Jesus was meant to be delivered to Pilate.  They way Jesus instituted His kingdom was completely different from any other kingdom in history.  He would not conquer another empire; Jesus would conquer death itself!  The way Jesus instituted His kingdom was for Him to be delivered to the Jews, to the Romans, and to the cross.  That was all part of the sovereign plan of God
  • Keep in mind that any time Jesus wanted to be free, He could have been.  It’s debatable whether or not Jesus’ “servants” mentioned here (literally, the “under-rowers” ~ the ones under His authority) are His disciples or the angels of God.  Peter tried to fight, but again, he wasn’t supposed to.  But if Jesus had so desired, He could have called down 12 legions of angels at any time (Mt 26:53) – the potential power of which could decimate the entire planet.  Jesus is indeed a King with true power, but His power was willingly restrained in order to be a sacrifice for you & me.

37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

  • In all that Jesus said, Pilate heard the word “king” and not much else.  He now had it from Jesus’ own lips that He was a king – even if Pilate ignored or couldn’t make sense of anything else He said.  It is times like this with the Scripture that we’d love some video to go with it.  How exactly did Pilate ask?  With disbelief – a sneer – amazement?  We don’t know & John doesn’t tell us.  By the way he asks, Pilate obviously expects Jesus to answer in confirmation, but what it is that was going on inside his heart & mind, we’ll never know.
  • But Jesus does confirm…kind of.  Jesus affirms that Pilate rightly acknowledged Jesus as a king, and that it was a valid conclusion.  At the same time, Jesus knows that Pilate didn’t understand everything else He said about the nature of His kingdom, so He clarifies.  It’s not that Jesus thinks that He will change Pilate’s mind (He knew He was going to the cross…it’s what He came to do!), but Jesus definitely left Pilate without excuse.  When Pilate did eventually sentence Jesus to death, Pilate would realize exactly what it was he was doing.  He would be sentencing a true king to be crucified – an innocent king & man of God.
  • Jesus was born to be king!  This is the reason He came to earth.  This is the reason for the incarnation and the cross.  The cross makes the kingdom possible.  Without Jesus’ death, we would have no resurrection.  Without the resurrection, we would have no forgiveness & no hope.  Without forgiveness, we would have no eternal life.  Thus this was central to Jesus’ kingdom mission.  He always was the King, but the way He would achieve His kingdom is through the cross and empty tomb.
  • As the King, Jesus speaks the truth about His kingdom.  He IS the truth (Jn 14:6), and thus He bears witness to the truth as He bears witness of Himself.  He speaks, and we respond.  Those who are of the truth hear His voice & recognize the truth.  We hear the call of Jesus & receive Him as our true King.  Just like sheep respond to the voice of their shepherd, those who are of the truth respond to the voice of Truth Incarnate, King Jesus.  This is why neither the priests nor Pilate received Jesus.  Their lack of faith proved that they were not (nor had ever been) of the truth.  Our ultimate response to Jesus is evidence of our makeup.  Do we belong to God?  Then we will respond to God.  We will demonstrate our allegiance to King Jesus through our faith.
    • If you hear His voice, respond!  I remember hearing the call of Jesus & quashing it.  I know God wanted me to respond, but I didn’t want to believe.  How much time did I waste?  I wasn’t guaranteed another opportunity to respond, and neither are you.  Take the opportunity you’ve been given!
  • BTW – this particular verse of Scripture has incredible historical and archeological value.  What is known in scholarly circles as P52, the John Rylands papyrus is a tiny fragment of ancient papyrus paper that was found in Egypt, containing fragments of John 18:31-32 on the front & 18:37-38 on the back. What makes this so significant is that it dates to 125-150AD, being the very oldest surviving manuscript of any book of the New Testament, and it dates only 30-40 years after John originally wrote his gospel.  It shows not only the historical proof of the book, but it demonstrates that the books of the New Testament were already being widely copied and distributed.  John likely wrote his gospel from Ephesus (Asia Minor), and 30+ years later, it was being copied in Egypt.  Works of legendary fiction didn’t travel that fast; the gospel truth did.
  • Pilate vs. the Jews II (38-40).  Determining innocence.

38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.

  • Pilate responded once more to Jesus with a rhetorical question meant to end the conversation.  Once more, what went on within the mind of Pilate is impossible to know, though it seems likely that Pilate dismisses Jesus out of hand.  He didn’t want to acknowledge the truth, and implies that truth is indeterminate.
    • By his answer, Pilate predated postmodern relativism by roughly 2000 years.  People today claim that truth is relative, with truth individually varying from person to person.  What is true for you may not be true for me, etc.  The problem here is that truth is confused for preference.  Preferences vary; truth does not.  You might prefer pizza over pickles, but that doesn’t change what pizza is actually made of.  One is preference; the other is fact.  Truth does not change – it is the same for all people, at all times, in all cultures.  Skydivers are well aware of the fact that the standard gravity for something in freefall is 9.8 m/s2 – something that doesn’t change whether you’re jumping out of an airplane over Texas or Rwanda.  That is simply a truth and truth is constant.
    • We might not know the truth, but that doesn’t mean that truth cannot be known.  In Pilate’s case, he asked about the truth, and the Truth was standing right in front of him.  Truth can be known, and His name is Jesus.
  • With his first interview of Jesus completed, Pilate returns to the Jews & declares Jesus’ innocence.  It abounds in irony.  Pilate saw Jesus’ innocence, but He couldn’t see the truth.  He found no fault in Jesus, but neither did he find salvation.  Why?  Because although Pilate heard Jesus’ words, he didn’t hear His voice.  (Listen for the voice of Jesus and respond!)
  • So now there’s a problem.  Jesus had been delivered to Pilate by the Jewish priests, who wanted a death sentence.  Yet Pilate saw no reason for Jesus to die.  An honorable governor would have acquitted Jesus & freed Him, but Pilate wasn’t honorable.  He also knew that he had a political problem on his hands, in the stubbornness of the priests.  That’s when Pilate decided to hatch his own plan for Jesus’ release…

39 “But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

  • Although the details are vague in John’s gospel, the other gospels show Pilate not only appealing to the Jewish priests here, but to the Jewish multitude overall.  He figured that if he could get the crowds of people on his side, then the priests would have to back down.  That’s why Pilate gave the people a choice, and it should have been an obvious one.  He presented to them either Jesus or Barabbas.  Apparently this was an annual custom Pilate personally had with the Jews.  There’s no historical record of any other Roman governor doing something similar, so it probably was just a way for Pilate to bribe the affection of the Jews from year to year.  (And it goes to show how little Pilate cared for justice, if he either kept political prisoners who could be easily released, or if he was willing to let dangerous people go free at the request of the masses.)  But again, this should have been an easy choice.  On one hand, there is the peaceful (but curious) King of the Jews: Jesus.  If the Jews wanted to receive Jesus, they could – if not, they could do with Him as they wished & Pilate would just turn his head the other way.  On the other hand was Barabbas: a “robber,” or more descriptively, a dangerously violent criminal even perhaps more along the lines of a terrorist.  In Pilate’s mind, the choice was like presenting someone who was perhaps eccentric, but peaceful – or giving back a potential suicide bomber.  Which one would the people rather have back with them on the streets?  Pilate thought he had done an end-run around the priests…he was wrong.
  • Spurred on by the priests, the crowd shrieked out their preference for the terrorist.  They wanted Barabbas.  It didn’t matter who they might have received, the crowds blindly followed the lead of their priests – even if it caused them harm in the process.  Sin makes us blind – it makes us delusional.  Everyone saw the innocence of Jesus that day, but His innocence convicted them of their own guilt, and they had to get rid of Him.
    • How many of us did the same thing?  We see the holiness of God, and we shrink back.  We saw the light of Christ, and we ran back to the darkness. The darkness was more comfortable – that’s what we knew, no matter how bad we might have hurt ourselves in the process.  Don’t run from the light; run TO it.  Recognize the holy innocence of Jesus for what it is, and grab hold of the grace that He offers.
  • Even in this horrid exchange of Jesus for a murderer is a picture of His glorious sacrifice.  Out of the three crosses that later went up that day, one of them was originally meant for Barabbas.  Jesus became his substitute.  Jesus went on that cross in the place of Barabbas, instead of him.  Interestingly enough, “Barabbas” could potentially be translated “son of the father.”  IOW, it’s a generic name, which could refer to anyone.  Every son is A son of his father, and likewise with daughters.  WE are Barabbas.  We are the sinners deserving of death.  We are the ones who sinned against God and who are deserving of the full weight of the curse of the law to fall upon us…and Jesus is our substitute.  Jesus placed Himself in our place, so that we can go free.

Jesus was shown to be innocent that day.  He was the only one in the mix who was.  The priests were guilty of railroading Jesus to His death, hypocritically worried about external purity but disregarding what is truly holy.  Pilate dismissed Jesus, not wanting to be bothered by Him, but not caring enough to set Him free.  The crowds saw their Innocent King in front of them & formally rejected Him, quite to the opposite of what they had done days earlier.  And Barabbas was obviously guilty, having already been rightly convicted of his crime…yet he is set to go free based off of the innocence of Christ.

Beloved, that is what we have done!  We are free because our Jesus is the Innocent King.  The one we ought to have served, actually served us.  He died for us on the cross as a pure, innocent sacrifice, paying the price that we could never pay.  When He did, He instituted the kingdom of God, in which we have the privilege to live today.  So live as a subject of King Jesus!  Be a part of the kingdom now, even as we look forward to the fulfillment of the kingdom later.  And tell others of the King who has come.  May we be royal heralds, proclaiming the message of our King Jesus!


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