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)
Prior to being tried by the Roman governor, Jesus had been tried by the Jewish leaders in a trial that was illegal for many reasons. In that trial the Jewish leaders first came up with a verdict of guilty, then sought evidence to support that verdict. They also had a desired outcome – death for Jesus. Today they manipulate events to bring about that outcome.
It was customary on Passover for the Roman governor to release a prisoner as a good-will gesture. The prisoner to be released was chosen by the people [Matthew 27:15]. Pilate had given them the choice of Jesus, who Pilate knew was innocent and whom he knew the people adored, or Barabbas, a murderer. When asked by Pilate “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” the people said “Barabbas”.
They said this because the chief priests and elders had persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. One may wonder how the political and religious leaders could have convinced the people to choose someone like Barabbas over Jesus. But it’s actually quite evident.
Israel was under Roman occupation at the time. They were part of the Roman Empire. But Jews are highly nationalistic; they resented being ruled by a foreign power and longed for the day when God would send them a liberator who would free them from the bondage of Roman rule.
Barabbas had been part of an insurrection – a revolt against the Roman authorities [Mark 15:7]. And while he failed, he at least tried. Jesus made no attempt to overthrow Rome even though it seemed – through His ability to perform miracles – that He would have more success than Barabbas. Therefore the Jewish leaders concluded Jesus was a fraud. And they convinced the people to conclude the same thing.
The Jewish leaders were demagogues, defined as “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”
The Jewish people long desired to be free from brutal Roman rule. But they had an even bigger problem – sin. Roman rule would always be temporary. The penalty for sin, however, lasts forever. Neither the leaders nor the people understood this. In the end they (the people) were duped by demagogues who appealed to their desires – which were earthly – rather than their needs – which were eternal.
We need to be careful of the same thing today. We still have leaders who don’t understand what life is all about. They don’t realize that there is an eternity, with a heaven and a hell. And they certainly aren’t leading people in a way that leads them towards heaven.
Instead they lead under the belief that life on earth is all there is. Therefore, they will offer people what they want, not necessarily what they need. The decision our leaders have taken recently on same-sex marriage is a great example of appealing to earthly desires while at the same time leading people away from God.
More than anything else every individual on this planet needs forgiveness of their sins. Anything on this earth that stands in the way of that is not worth having.
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