Mark 15:6-15 6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
At this point in the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, Pilate had seen through the chief priests in their accusations against Jesus. It was obvious to the Roman Governor that they were envious of Jesus and wanted him killed (verse 10). Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. The chief priests were only coming to Pilate because he had the keys of death. As the Romans had conquered Israel they had reserved the death penalty for themselves. Pilate knew that he was being used so he decided that he would take back control of the situation. He would show everyone that he was above the chief priests by exposing their impure motives in having an innocent man killed. In all likelihood Pilate knew that Jesus was well liked by the people. Although most of Jesus’ public ministry was away from Jerusalem in Galilee, Pilate must have heard about Jesus and the crowds that He was attracting. Even in Jerusalem, when Jesus came for the Passover in previous years, it is likely that Pilate was aware of His presence.
The Romans would try to keep the favour of the nations that they had conquered. In Jerusalem, one of the practices that Pilate kept was to release a prisoner during the Passover feast. This was a perfect opportunity for Pilate that backfired on him terribly. Instead of just having Jesus released, Pilate offered up His freedom to the people. There was a crowd watching the trial before Pilate. Surely if Pilate presented a Jew who was a murderer before the people they would choose Jesus. All of the Jews knew that murder was punishable by death by the Old Testament Law. Surely they would not choose a man who was guilty by their own law and deserving of death over a man who was innocent and whose only witnesses for a trial were the chief priests themselves whose selfish motives were to have Jesus killed.
So Pilate brings out Barabbas. There couldn’t have been a more striking contrast than Barabbas with Jesus. In all likelihood Barabbas was a strong and powerful man- a man of great strength and stature. He was likely someone intimidating and cunning and who was able to kill a Roman soldier without much difficulty. He symbolized the strength of this world that only leads to destruction as man is corrupt at the core and is in need of salvation. Then there was Jesus. Isaiah 53:2 is clear that Jesus did not appear to be special in any way. He was unassuming and did not have any form of natural majesty or beauty:
Isaiah 53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
The people had a choice. Would they choose the power of this world and the corruption of the human heart or the one who was not of this world? Would they choose the Savior of the world or the one who represents the destruction of this world? Would they choose the One who has unlimited spiritual blessings and the promise of eternal life or the one who represents eternal death? Who would the people choose? Who would you choose? Pilate thought that the choice was obvious. They should choose Jesus. He had presented this scenario to the people in order that he might gain more favor with the Jews. But the unexpected happened. They did not choose Jesus but Barabbas. By choosing Barabbas the people were declaring that they believed Jesus was guilty. By choosing Barabbas, Pilate lost control of the situation.
Why did the people choose Barabbas? Verse 11 states that the chief priests stirred up the crowds. The crowd can always be persuaded. How foolish is mankind that we do not want to think for ourselves. Most people want to follow the crowd. It doesn’t matter what direction the crowd is going. It is no different from anything that is popular or anything that is in the mainstream. If it is popular it must be good. If most people believe something then it must be the truth. There is no better example of why we need to think for ourselves than the crowd choosing Barabbas over Jesus. But there was a greater reason why the crowd chose Barabbas. Early on in Jesus’ ministry He did not attach Himself to the crowd that began to follow Him. They were only following Him because of the miracles that He performed. The Apostle John writes:
John 2:24-25 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
In the events leading up to the crucifixion God was revealing the condition of the hearts of men. The Holy Spirit’s restraining influence upon the unbelieving world was withdrawn and God exposed the true condition of their hearts. All of mankind tries to hide in some way the wickedness that is in their soul. Most people don’t even realize how wicked they truly are. There are many restraints in this world that prevent mankind from revealing their true condition. But God can, at any moment, remove these restraints. This is what He did at Jesus’ crucifixion. The true condition of the hearts of the people in the crowd is that they desired evil and not good. They would rather choose a murderer over the Savior. They loved their sin and didn’t want to be set free from it. The motivation of the crowd that followed Jesus at the beginning of His ministry was impure and at the crucifixion it was revealed what really was in man.
The condition of Pilate’s heart was also revealed. In spite of seeing the wickedness in all that was transpiring he was unwilling to do what was right. In verse 15 we read that he delivered Jesus to be crucified in order to satisfy the crowd. He was not a true judge but a crowd pleaser. He cared more about trying to preserve his power than to let Jesus go. He tried to claim he was innocent as he washed his hands of the situation (Matthew 27:24) but he was still guilty.
Do you choose Jesus or would you rather have Barabbas? It is only as we see the true wickedness of our own hearts that we will ever see a need for Jesus.
Pastor Murray Hack