Matthew 27:11–54 (NRSV)
Pilate Questions Jesus
(Mk 15:2–5; Lk 23:2–5; Jn 18:29–38a)
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Barabbas or Jesus?
(Mk 15:6–14; Lk 23:13–24; Jn 18:39–40)
15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified
(Mk 15:15; Lk 23:25; Jn 19:16)
24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
The Soldiers Mock Jesus
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
(Mk 15:21–32; Lk 23:26–43; Jn 19:16b—27)
32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’ ” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
The Death of Jesus
(Mk 15:33–41; Lk 23:44–49; Jn 19:28–30)
45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
For the past few weeks we have been walking with Jesus through the last year of his ministry. Last week we went with Him and His disciples to Bethany to the estate of their friend Lazarus who had died. And when Jesus left Lazarus was a bit less dead. How would you react if you had witnessed this event? Have you ever actually considered your reaction?
Well there were a couple reactions to this event within the religious circles in Jerusalem. The first was crown him King! The second was just as emotional but had a more negative look kill him before they make him king.
Today’s passage takes us into the last week of Jesus life. Jesus leaves Bethany and he goes into Jerusalem for the Passover feast. If we were to look at all the accounts of this last week of Jesus’ ministry we would see that Jesus road into the city on a donkey’s colt and the crowds cheered and worshiped him laying their cloaks and palms down before him. This only caused the group that opposed Jesus to push harder. They convinced one of Jesus’ own disciples to betray him. This betrayal is something I have often contemplated, in the chapter previous we can get a hint into why Judas betrayed his teacher, he was upset that Jesus allowed a woman to anoint his feet with costly perfume when she could have sold the perfume and given that money to the poor. Of course, Matthew tells us that Judas was not concerned with the poor just the money, but it causes me to pause because Judas’ argument could have been pretty convincing.
Jesus was betrayed, He was betrayed by someone within his own inner circle, and the seeds of that betrayal had religious highlights. We give Judas a bad rap and rightly so, but have we faced similar situations and failed just as bad?
Jesus stands before the governor accused. The man asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” This question is a political question, one that would require a yes or no answer. If yes, Jesus would be charged with treason and executed. If no, Jesus could be charged with starting a riot and again executed. The governor was not one that was opposed to the death penalty and mastered it as if it were an art form. Jesus answered, “You say so.”
What type of answer is that? It is a plea of no contest. Pilate, no matter how Jesus answered, would lay that title on Jesus because as far as he is concerned any leader or teacher within the Jewish population is a threat to his position. But Pilate had a custom according to Matthew to release one prisoner during the Passover Feast. He chooses two men to stand before the people, both carry the name Jesus. This is something that is very interesting. The name Jesus is a Greek translation of the name Joshua which means Jehovah is salvation. Two men named Jesus stood before the crowd which will you choose?
We do not know exactly what the crimes of Barabbas were but legend would state that he was a militant leader, who reminded the people of Israel of the Maccabean revolts which freed them from their overlords which gave them liberty for around three hundred years. Jesus Barabbas would have been a potential military leader, or a king who would lead them into battle. If this were the case Pilate presented the people with two kings.
But he also presented the people with two sons. It is always important to remember that there are real lives attached to every story we read. Connected to these people are others, and everything that happens deepens the story with each person affected. There is always more to a story than what meets the eyes. The brutal governor of Jerusalem, Pilate, acted the way he did for reasons because he was connected to people and his behavior reflected the relationships he had. Pilate was charged with keeping order in province of the Empire that did not want to be subjects of Rome. He was a political appointment to this post and the one that appointed him was losing favor in Rome so Pilate needed to prove his loyalty by keeping Israel off the radar. He did this through quick and heavy handed judgments. The offer he made before the people is an oddity to his personality. It is a concession, it is offering the people of Israel an olive branch of peace. I will be merciful and give you back a leader if you will only subject yourselves to the rule of Rome. Jesus Barabbas is also a son, he is connected to others and has family and friends who would do anything to keep him alive.
There is a deeper story being played before us. Jehovah is salvation, but where does our salvation rest? Barabbas or Christ? The name Barabbas means son of a father. We have a son of a father and the son of God standing before the crowd. Jehovah is salvation through a father or man, or Jehovah is salvation through God. We have a picture of faith and where our faith lies right before us. Is our faith, our hope of salvation resting in the hands of men, or is it in the hands of God. Do we put our trust in the hands of mankind or do we entrust our lives to God?
How we answer that question is very important. Look at the lives we see in this passage. Pilate the Governor of Jerusalem seeks to release all guilt from himself and pass it onto the people. The soldiers act with mockery and brutality. The crowds react with self-interest. And Jesus enters a plea of contest. Why is there violence and a protective attitude on one side and not the other? Because deep down we all know that this life is short and that within a heartbeat we can lose everything. In one moment, the stock market can crash and our financial security can vanish like smoke in the wind. Look at world news and we can see once secure leaders of nations are being toppled by their own people or more vicious rebels. In the kingdoms of men our faith is placed on ourselves, and our security is in how well we can defend what we claim. The larger the empire the more violent the empire must become to protect itself till it no longer cares for the people living under its rule but is instead interested in preserving the empire.
Two Jesuses stood before the people. Two Jesuses whose name points to where salvation lies. Where will we place our hope? One of those men walked free that day, the other was led away, flogged, mocked, forced to carry a cross through the city and up to the top of a hill, and was nailed to that cross and left to die. Two Jesuses one was the son of a father, the son of a man the other as far as the Romans were concerned was no one. History will tell us that the personality of Barabbas led the people of Israel into a revolt invoking the wrath of the Empire and ultimately the destruction of everything the people held dear. The soldiers knew that day was coming when they let Barabbas walk, but the other Jesus they did not know how to read and it terrified them. He did not lead a rebellion in the same ways. His weapons were mercy, charity, and healing. His arsenal was food and prayer. Yet when he died they said, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”
Two Jesuses stand before us. In them is the image of our hope for salvation. In which do we entrust our lives?