In these final moments, we see politics staring love square in the eye. And winning.
It's the closest thing we have to a showdown between Jesus and the Emperor himself. It wasn’t the kind of showdown the Jewish people had wanted to see just a few days before at all; they’d originally wanted Jesus to be taking over the Kingdom by now.
The scene is chaos. Everyone has opinions, of course. They’re voicing them, of course. And loudly. Pilate the judge is judging the Judge.
He must have considered his next move a stroke of genius. He has two Jesuses in captivity.
Jesus Barabbas, against whom was a slew of charges. Insurrection. Murder. Rebellion. Take your pick.
Or Jesus of Nazareth, the one accused of hoisting himself on a Jewish throne.
He has one cross. Who will hang on it?
Jesus means “God saves,” and there’s an added twist; Barabbas means “Son of the father.” Indeed, that’s exactly who Jesus claimed to be, but his Father was in heaven.
Which son will get saved?
Pilate figures the Jewish people will surely pick a famous insurrectionist to go to the cross over a clearly innocent man, not knowing that the crowds actually revered Barabbas for leading rebellions they’d hoped for against Rome. Jesus of Nazareth didn’t intend to get saved anyway but to be the one saving.
At the height of this dilemma, someone passes Pilate a note. It’s from his wife. She warns him not to have any part in condemning Jesus; she’s had a nightmare about it, and as all religious Romans believed, nightmares were messages from their gods.
Jesus is righteous, she tells him, a word that implies that he is just as well as innocent. Let’s just be safe and leave him alone. We don’t want the gods to get angry.
The pressure is mounting and it’s getting heavy. Pilate poses the question to the people, offering them Jesus Barabbas instead, hoping that he can wriggle free from the responsibility of killing an innocent man before the gods. But the Jewish leaders have gotten to the people first, spreading their rumors of Jesus’ blasphemy.
The shouting is growing intense. Release Barabbas.
And what of Jesus, the one called Messiah? Pilate asks.
It’s a far cry from all the Hosannahs cried a week before as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. False rumors can be powerful motivators; they can spread fear like wildfire and change a crowd’s mind in a moment.
And like he intended, when Jesus dies, the brigand goes scot free. This is undeserved deliverance, a passover lamb serving as scapegoat for the one who actually deserved to die.
And given the choice, I’d imagine Jesus would have released Barabbas too.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
When have you “stood in the gap” for someone else? When have you taken the heat for another person? What did you feel?
Today, make Isaiah 53:1-12 your prayer.
Jesus stood virtually silent throughout this entire scene. Today try to spend at least an hour in silence. Imagine how difficult it must have been to have your life in the balance, literally, and yet say nothing at all.
Pastor Aaron Engler
*Join us tomorrow for worship as Pastor Aaron preaches on the different ways that Caiaphas, Pilate, and Jesus responded to pressure. 9am this Sunday and every Sunday at 211 Bridge Street, Salem.