15 Now at the feast, the governor was accustomed to releasing to the people a prisoner whom they chose. 16 They had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that they had handed Him over out of envy. 19 When 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 today in a dream on account of Him.” 20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and kill Jesus. 21 The governor answered, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” 23 The governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, “Let Him be crucified!” 24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail, but rather that unrest was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous Man. See to it yourselves.” 25 Then all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But when he had scourged Jesus, he handed Him over to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium, and gathered the whole detachment of soldiers before Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, 29 and when they wove a crown of thorns, they put it on His head and put a staff in His right hand. They knelt before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spit on Him, and took the staff and hit Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. Matthew 27:15-31
After examining Jesus, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, knew that He was not guilty of any crime — especially not of a crime deserving of death. Even Pilate’s wife knew that Jesus was innocent and begged Pilate to have nothing to do with the condemnation of Jesus. And so, in an attempt to appease the Jews and release Jesus, Pilate offered to do according to his custom at the Passover and pardon and release one prisoner to the people.
Matthew tells us in verses 15-18 of our text: “Now at the feast, the governor was accustomed to releasing to the people a prisoner whom they chose. They had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you — Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over out of envy.
The choice seemed obvious. Barabbas was a notorious prisoner who was a robber, a rebel, and had committed murder in the rebellion (cf. John. 18:40; Mark 15:6-7; Luke 23:). Jesus’ alleged crime was His claim to be the Messiah, the true Son of God and the King of a spiritual kingdom made up of all who hear and believe His words.
We read in Luke 23:13-19: “Pilate called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You have brought this Man to me as one who incites the people. And truly, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him. No, neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing worthy of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him.’ For he was obligated to release one man to them at the feast. But they all cried out at once saying, ‘Take this Man away and release Barabbas to us!’ This man had been thrown in prison for an insurrection in the city and for murder. Therefore Pilate spoke to them again, desiring to release Jesus. But they cried out, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’”
If you were in the crowd outside the Praetorium on that first Good Friday and you heard these words of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, offering to release unto you either Jesus or Barabbas, what would you say? Would you ask that Jesus, who was innocent and without sin, who claimed to be the very Son of God, be released unto you? Or would you join the crowd in asking for Barabbas?
And, what would you say after the crowd asked for Barabbas and Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, who is called Christ? Would you join the crowd in crying out of Jesus, “Let Him be crucified”?
We say we would not but, if we remember why Jesus was crucified and condemned, we must admit that every time we sin, we do say of Jesus, “Crucify Him!” When we sin, we add to the burden of His cross!
Now, if you were Barabbas, in a prison cell and chains, expecting to die for your crimes, what would you do if the soldiers came and set you free — if they told you that you had been pardoned by the governor and were free because an innocent man by the name of Jesus was being crucified in your stead? How would you feel?
Isn’t this exactly what has happened to each and every one of us? We are guilty of sin — we have broken God’s Law and are guilty of insurrection (rebellion) against God Himself! Which commandments have we not broken? We deserve to be condemned by God to the eternal fires of hell which He prepared for the devil and his evil angels!
But what has happened? God’s word of the Gospel has been proclaimed to us — we have been told that God punished His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, in our stead — that Jesus suffered upon the cross the full and just punishment for all our sins, the punishment that we deserved (cf. Isa. 53:4-6).
In Galatians 3:10,13, we read: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under the curse. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the Book of the Law, to do them.’ … Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us — as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”
And, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read: “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Instead of condemning us to the eternal fires of hell which we deserve, God instead reaches out to us in mercy and offers and gives to us pardon and forgiveness for all our sins. He offers and gives to us eternal life instead of death and eternal damnation because Jesus Christ, His own dear Son, suffered our punishment for us!
Now, we don’t know for certain what happened to Barabbas after this, but we might just consider a couple of hypothetical possibilities. What if Barabbas had rejected Pilate’s offer of pardon and forgiveness? What if he had said, “I want to be tried and judged on my own merits”? There seems to be little doubt but that he would be condemned and probably put to death — possibly even on a cross.
What if he accepted his pardon, walked out of his prison cell and went back out robbing and killing and rebelling against the Roman Government? Would he not be arrested again and condemned for his new crimes?
What about us? Christ died for our sins and rose again and God reaches out to us with His offer of pardon and forgiveness, calling upon us to repent and look in faith to Christ Jesus and His cross. What if we say, “No, thanks. I will stand before the judgment seat of God on my own merit”? The Bible is quite clear. If we refuse to accept God’s pardon through faith in Christ, we stand condemned for our sins and will be punished because we did not believe in the name of God’s only begotten Son and our Savior.
As John 3:16-18 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned. But he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
And, what if we accept God’s pardon but then use our gift of freedom to intentionally continue on in our sinful ways? Will we not be judged and condemned of God for continuing to rebel against Him?
The Scriptures leave no question about the end result. Hebrews 10:26-29 says: “For if we willfully continue to sin after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation, which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who despised Moses’ law died without mercy in the presence of two or three witnesses. How much more severe a punishment do you suppose he deserves, who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded the blood of the covenant that sanctified him to be a common thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
It is true that we by our sins are guilty of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. With the crowd on Good Friday, we by our sins say of Jesus, “Let Him be crucified!”
But because Jesus went to the cross for us, we, who are guilty like Barabbas, have God’s gracious offer of pardon and forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus! When we trust in Christ, God graciously forgives our sins against Him, and He offers and gives to us everlasting life with Him in heaven.
Let us give thanks to our Savior for bearing upon the cross the guilt and punishment for our sins that we might be acquitted and partake of the everlasting blessings of heaven through faith in Jesus’ name. And, let us use our lives here in this world to the praise and glory of Him who has redeemed us and set us free.
Oh, dearest Jesus, we thank and praise You for bearing upon the tree of the cross the guilt and punishment for all our sins that we might be pardoned and forgiven through faith in Your name. Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]