Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
(Matthew 27:15-23 ESV)
All the events we’ve been studying over the past couple of weeks have taken place during the feast known as Passover. Apparently a tradition had started sometime before wherein the Roman governor would release one prisoner, of the people’s choice, as an annual good-will gesture to placate a suppressed population in an occupied land.
Pilate saw this as another opportunity to release Jesus. Jesus had already been declared innocent three times (twice by Pilate, once by Herod). Pilate certainly had to be previously aware of Jesus and the people’s adoration of Him so he undoubtedly expected the people to choose Jesus to be released. But instead they chose a notorious prisoner called Barabbas, a violent criminal who today would be called a terrorist [Luke 23:25; Mark 15:7; John 18:40].
This has been the way the world has always operated. Man’s natural inclination has always been, and will always be, to resent Jesus and assail against Him.
The reason for this is simple and is one we’ve seen many times in our study: Jesus exposes our sin. This makes people emotional and angry. We don’t like to be told we’re no good. But it’s true. [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23]. We don’t like to be told we are evil. But it’s true [Genesis 6:5; Psalm 51:5; Mark 7:21 et. al].
Emotions, when blindly followed, often lead to bad behavioral choices. And certainly, the facts about ourselves and the facts about Jesus often bring out very strong emotions in people, often not good ones.
Pilate knew that it was because of emotion, not facts, that Jesus was brought to Him. Roman leaders didn’t tolerate those who threatened their rule. If Pilate considered Jesus a threat He would have had no problem executing Him. But he kept looking for a way to release Jesus because he knew Jesus was no threat to him. Nor is Jesus a threat to anyone today.
Interestingly, the name “Barabbas” is derived from “bar” and “abba” which means “son of the father”. Jesus was the son of God. The crowd rejected the true Son for a false one.
People today continue to do the same. They express anger and hate towards the one who created them and loves them so much that He would leave heaven, come to earth, allow Himself to be mistreated by His own creation, including being nailed alive to a cross of wood. Instead they are enamored with a political leader, entertainer, or athlete. Instead they seek fulfillment in career, fame, substance abuse, or sex.
Either way, they are exchanging lies for truth; evil for good; hell for heaven.
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