Scripture Reading: John 18:28-40
Last week we when we left Jesus, he was being interrogated by Annas, the high priest. When Annas couldn’t get anything out of him, they sent him to his son-in-law Caiaphas. Well, Caiaphas couldn’t get anything out of him either, so this week they have sent Jesus to the palace so he would be judged by Pilate.
Now when I say they couldn’t get anything out of him, I mean they couldn’t get him to say anything which would incriminate him. They were looking to find him guilty, but weren’t having any luck in finding evidence to back their claims, other than the fact they just didn’t like Jesus very much.
The Jewish leaders are now hoping Pilate will take care of their problem for them.
The funny thing is when Pilate asked them why they sent Jesus to him, asking what his crime was, they don’t actually give an answer. They simply say, “Why else would we be here if he weren’t a criminal?”
Pilate tries to hand Jesus back over to them, he has no time for dealing with these Jews and their petty problems, he has a government to run and wants to get to it. After all, the city is full of visiting Jews who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, and he has a lot to keep an eye on. Dealing with an unsubstantiated claim against one man seems pretty minor when he looks at all he has to do today.
But then again, whatever this Jew has done, it must be somewhat important because they seem to think it’s serious enough to have him executed.
I picture Pilate rubbing his forehead and sighing. Maybe even looking for some Tylenol because this has to be a bit of a headache for him to deal with today, of all days.
Pilate takes Jesus inside and begins to question him. And he asks pretty good questions. He’s either been hearing about Jesus or he’s been well briefed by his staff about some of the claims going around the city in regards to who people think Jesus is.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks.
Jesus replies, “Where did you hear that?”
Pilate really doesn’t have time for any of this back and forth talk, he needs to figure this out fast and deal with it. He has a city to run!
“Am I a Jew? What have you done? Why are you here?” Pilate demands to know.
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, people would be fighting for me, but they aren’t. My kingdom is somewhere else.”
“Aha! So you ARE a king!”
“You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Pilate snorts, “What is truth?” and goes back outside.
He confronts the Jewish leaders and says, “I find no guilt against this man. It is your custom that I release one prisoner on the Passover. Shall I release the ‘king of the Jews’?”
And there it is. So far no one, not Annas, not Caiaphas, not Pilate, none of them have been able to find a single reason why Jesus must be executed. Not a single reason has been named in any of these interactions. Yet, the Jewish leaders are determined to see Jesus die at the hands of the Romans.
When they are asked who they would like to have released from prison on the Passover, they call out the name Barabbas. Barabbas has plenty of evidence against him as a criminal, one who is guilty of his crimes, he is the one they call out. He is the one they want set free. Not innocent Jesus.
So, as per the custom, Barrabas is released back into the public.
And Jesus is sent back inside for his punishment.
You have to wonder what kind of circus court this must be. Jesus, without a single piece of evidence found against him is the one who is going to die while Barabbas is set free.
Let’s think about this for a moment.
Barabbas, a felon, has been set free while Jesus is sentenced to die.
Also remember the thief on the cross, hanging next to Jesus, is told by Jesus he will join him in heaven. In other words, he has been set free as well, although not on this earth, but is set free from his sin to enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom.
What does this say about Jesus? What does it tell us today?
Barabbas was in jail, we’re told, because he took part in an uprising, likely against the government. A riot if you will. He was to be punished for his crimes, the Romans like to keep a tight leash on the people. They won’t stand for any troublemakers. Yet because of Jesus, he is free to go and live out the rest of his life.
I kind of wish we knew what happened next for Barabbas. Did he take advantage of his new freedom? Did he turn away from his past life or did he continue to cause problems? It’s hard to predict of course. We know nothing of this man other than he was a criminal who was set free. And as a result, he was free to choose how to live the rest of his life.
I want you to think for a moment about your own life. Have you always been the perfect person? Have you always been the one who follows every single rule? Are you perfect?
None of us are perfect, not a single one of us here. We have all done something wrong at some point in our lives. We have all broken a law. We have all hurt someone. Each of us has something in our past that maybe we aren’t too proud of.
Maybe that thing is keeping us from fully experience freedom in Jesus Christ.
Here’s the thing. Barabbas was a prisoner because he committed a crime against the government. He was in prison to pay the price for that crime.
Along comes Jesus who is also under trial, and the interrogators cannot find a single thing to charge him on.
Who is the one who should be set free?
Is it Barabbas or Jesus?
Yet who is it that walks away a free man?
It should be Jesus, it has to be Jesus! But it isn’t. It’s not Jesus at all. It’s Barabbas. He’s the one who is set free.
Barabbas is the first to be set free by Jesus for his sins. Barabbas is the first who has handed his sin to Jesus, although somewhat unintentionally, and Jesus paid the price for his freedom.
If we read what was coming next, we’d know Jesus was then sent to be brutally beaten by the Roman soldiers. It should have been Barabbas who underwent the torture, but instead it was Jesus.
Barabbas is us. When you look at this story of Pilate, Jesus and Barabbas, and if we place ourselves in the scene, we are Barabbas. We are the ones who are guilty, we are the ones deserving punishment, we are the ones who are unworthy of God’s love because of our sin, yet Jesus sets us free.
Because Jesus died for our sin, because he took our punishment, we are free to live our lives.
We have two choices. We can choose to live however we like. We can take advantage of our freedom and keep on sinning, we can keep on thinking to ourselves, “I’ll do what I want, Jesus will take care of it.” Or we can live in gratitude for what Jesus has done for us and help others realize the gift of freedom he bought for us on the cross.
I don’t know if Barabbas knew who Jesus was, we don’t even know if they’ve ever met. Yet I’d like to think that Barabbas was told what happened later on, and he realized what Jesus had done for him to set him free.
But I’m just hoping… dreaming big.
But I’m hoping because it is my hope that we all realize the freedom we have earned in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said he came to “testify to the truth.”. And he did. He taught us many things in his life. He taught us about the truth of God and how we have relationship with him through Jesus. He taught us to love one another, as he loves us. As we read about his life, we learn many, many things about how to live in this world and how to relate to one another.
But that’s only part of the story. It’s only part of why he came.
The truth Jesus speaks about is more than just his own words and actions while he is walking with his disciples. The full truth is revealed in what comes next.
His death. And his resurrection.
All Jesus teaches, it’s good, very good. But without the cross, without his death; without the empty tomb, without his resurrection, they are just words. Without these things, Jesus isn’t much more than a good inspirational speaker or a good life coach.
But if you add in his death and resurrection, then there’s so much more being offered.
Jesus goes from being just a good man to being the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. The one who sets us free.
This is the truth. This is what we come to know in his life, his death and his resurrection.
And as he says, if we are on the side of truth, then we listen to him. And we live our lives according to him. We live as people set free from the bondage of sin and live in the freedom of our Father’s love shown in Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is truth. This is what sets us free.
We no longer need to be prisoners of sin and shame, but live in freedom as God wants us to live.
Let us pray,
We’re getting closer to Good Friday. And as we think about how you were sacrificed on the cross, well… we get a little uncomfortable. We start to see our own sin more clearly and we start to wonder if we were part of the reason you were hung there.
Help us to see, Jesus, that you want us to see your death. You want us to realize our sin, but at the same time you want us to see the victory of the cross and the resurrection. You want us to see that despite our sin we have been set free by your love and your sacrifice.
Thank you Lord Jesus. Thank you for this message that we may be redeemed by your blood which took the place of our blood. You pain took the place of our pain. Your death took the place of our death.
And we are free in you.
We love you Lord Jesus, and we submit ourselves to your love. We pray this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.