When Jesus was arrested and condemned to die, everyone seemed to be terribly confused. Peter was so confused that he denied even knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. Judas was so confused that he betrayed Jesus, with a kiss!
The Jewish religious leaders had so much hatred for Jesus that they were willing to lie, cheat and murder. They condemned Jesus then tried to convince the Roman governor, Pilate, that Jesus was a threat to Rome, hoping he would execute Jesus.
Pilate interviewed Jesus and concluded that he was no threat to the Empire. He knew that the religious leaders had turned Jesus over to him out of envy. They were jealous because Jesus was so popular with the people of Israel.
Pilate also got a note from his wife urging him to have nothing to do with “that righteous man” Jesus. Why? Because in a dream that very day she suffered much because of Jesus. Romans took dreams seriously.
So, from his interview of Jesus, from his knowledge of the Jewish religious leaders’ real motives, and from his wife’s dream and warning, Pilate was surrounded by evidence that Jesus was innocent. What would he do?
The governor had a custom to release one prisoner to the crowd during the feast. Pilate brought out a notorious prisoner named Barabbas and gave the crowd a choice between him and Jesus. Pilate hoped that they would choose Jesus over such a dangerous man. Then he could set Jesus free.
The crowd surprised Pilate by choosing Barabbas. They were persuaded by the religious leaders to insist that Jesus be crucified. They threatened to riot. So, in a pathetic attempt at absolving himself of responsibility, Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd and proclaimed himself innocent of Jesus’ blood.
Surprisingly, the crowd accepted responsibility for Jesus’ death, saying “His blood is on us and on our children!” Just days earlier, on Sunday, the crowds accompanied Jesus into the city with palm branches and praises, shouting, “Hosanna!” By Friday morning they were persuaded to shout, “Crucify him!”
The crowds were fickle and foolish. Pilate was worried about his political power. The religious leaders were worried about their personal honor. Politics, religion, and popular opinion all turned against Jesus.
If Jesus came for political power, he failed. If he came for religious honor, he failed. If he came for popularity with the people, it didn’t work. What was Jesus’ goal?
Barabbas was a man guilty of murder and insurrection, worthy of death. A Roman cross had his name on it. But Barabbas was unchained and released. A guilty and unworthy man walked away free.
Jesus, a man everyone knew was innocent, allowed himself to be taken and condemned. He died on a cross that had Barabbas’ name on it. Jesus came to die for the unworthy. Jesus came to die for sinners, for us.
If we chase political power, religious honor, or popularity, we have parted ways with Jesus. Jesus’ mission is to save lost sinners.
May God’s Holy Spirit keep us focused on our kingdom mission,