"When the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how He died, he said, 'Surely this man was the Son of God!'"
-- Mark 15:39
Chapter 15 of Mark is full of information. First Jesus appeared before Pilate, and Barabbas was released. Then soldiers mocked Jesus as they beat Him. The pinnacle of the chapter is the Crucifixion and death of Jesus followed by His burial. The death and resurrection of Jesus described in Chapters 15 and 16 are where our faith rests.
We could have a series of lessons just on this chapter. Our theme verse could be a lesson by itself (15:39). I have heard many preachers say, "That'll preach." Yes it will. For this week's lesson, we will focus on verses 1-15 where Jesus and Barabbas were brought before Pilate.
To appreciate the context, we need to attempt to understand Pilate's situation. The Romans ruled by precariously balancing local authority (civil and religious) and the Roman Emperor's supreme authority. As long as peace was maintained, the Roman authorities at their respective jurisdictions maintained a strong military presence with a "hands-off" approach. If anything threatened the peace, the Roman authorities were quick to squelch it. Apparently, Jewish insurrectionists were common and were punished severely by crucifixion.
The event described in these verses occurred during Passover. Tens of thousands of people came to Jerusalem annually for this feast because every "good" Jew was required to attend. With this many people coming into a city which had a population of approximately 90,000, Pilate faced a potentially explosive situation if he did not handle it tactfully.
Jesus appeared before Pilate. He was intrigued with Jesus and found Him guilty of nothing. He was under tremendous pressure from the Sanhedrin to deal with Jesus. He had tried to turn Jesus back over to them to no avail. They wanted Jesus dead and only the Romans could confer that sentence.
Pilate was looking for a way out. The Sanhedrin were forcing his hand. Matthew 27:19 says his wife even warned him to leave Jesus alone. (Now, husbands, if had been smart that would have been enough, right?) The annual custom of releasing a prisoner gave him a way out. He picked out the worst prisoner of all - Barabbas.
Barabbas was a blood thirsty butcher and murderer. The scripture describes him as a cruel beast of a man. Pilate thought this was a sure thing. How could anyone choose Barabbas over Jesus? The Sanhedrin stirred up the crowd, and that's exactly what they did. They insisted Jesus be crucified. Pilate, still conflicted, attempted to remove the blame from himself through the symbolic gesture of washing his hands. We know that was to no avail.
Now I have heard this preached and taught many times…typically one of two ways. First, some speakers/writers have challenged us to consider ourselves as members of the crowd who were either unable to recognize Jesus or who chose evil even though they did recognize Him. Other speakers/writers have challenged us to think of ourselves as members of the Sanhedrin who were so steeped in their legalism that they did not recognize the Messiah when He stood in front of them. Because their positions, beliefs, and traditions were so threatened, they wanted Jesus to be gone.
How about this perspective? Barabbas was saved from death by Jesus. He deserved death if anyone ever has. He was guilty, but Jesus gladly took his place. No one forced Jesus to take the place of Barabbas or anyone else. He chose to give His life. We are Barabbas, deserving death because of our sin. By grace, Jesus took our place. He died in our place. You may be thinking you are not as bad as Barabbas, and that is true. I doubt if there is anyone reading who has committed the atrocities he did, but we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). As a result, we deserve death (Romans 6:23). Jesus died for our sins. Accept Him today.
POINTS TO PONDER: What are some "everyday" ways to emulate the sacrifice of Jesus by putting the interests of others ahead of our own? What limits, if any, are there to doing so? Why?
PRAYER: Father, awestruck before your Son's cross, we honor Him as our true King. Empower us to serve others. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: In Christ's Kingdom, the way up is down.
Grace and Peace,