Barabbas Prepares for Crucifixion

None can say that it was the Jewish nation that murdered Jesus; it was all of us, i.e. our sins that took Jesus to the cross. Jesus could have stopped it at any time and called ten legions of angels to His aid (Matthew 26:53). He willingly went to the cross for all of us to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). We all need a substitute to take our place. It took more than a man, though, to pay the price for our sins. Only the sacrifice of God Himself could pay the price for us to be bought out of the slave market of sin where we were trapped. Christ is God in the flesh, and He alone paid the price to free us from sin.

20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 21“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. 22“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” 25All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” 26Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified (Matthew 27:15-26).

Inside the Praetorium, the official residence of Pilate, a man was awaiting crucifixion. Perhaps, he was reflecting over the many sins that he had committed over his lifetime. It was Friday morning, the day of preparation where the Passover lambs would be killed that day. He mulled over his approaching death and the fact that the soldiers would be coming for him at any time that morning. I am sure he had seen people being crucified before and was aware of the painful death that awaited him. Perhaps, he tried to prepare himself for it by praying, but God seemed a long way off to him. He was scared. What would death be like? He had lived a sinful life and had lived in hatred of the Romans for many years. He had been tried as an insurrectionist and for an act of murder, and he was found guilty on both counts. Now, all he could do was await his fate.

His name was Barabbas. In just a few hours, he would be dead by crucifixion, and he was sure that, if there were a hell, he would go there, for he had no hope. What would God do with him? Would he spend eternity in hell because of the murder and rebellion that he had committed? He had heard a commotion in the streets outside his jail cell, but he could see nothing. He knew that something was happening, but he had no idea of just what was going on. All he knew was that he was scheduled to be crucified that morning with two others.

Jewish tradition held that it was defiling for a Jew to be in a building that was not Jewish, so the Praetorium courtyard was used for the place of judgment so that the Jews would not be ritually defiled before the Passover. Barabbas trembled when he heard quite distinctly a multitude of people shouting from the direction of the large courtyard, “Barabbas, Barabbas!” He puzzled over why they would be loudly calling his name. Straining his ears to hear something further, his heart sank when he heard the words, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Ten minutes later, he saw the Roman jailer coming down the corridor with the keys in his hands. His heart skipped a beat. It was time to die. Instead of being crucified, though, the soldier angrily set him free. He found out that another had taken his place.

The Roman jailer came into his cell and unlocked the chains that bound him and, I’m sure, angrily told Barabbas that he was free to leave. Imagine the relief that must have flooded Barabbas’ heart to hear that Jesus would die in his place. Talk about good news! However, this is the reality that Barabbas faced that morning as he watched Christ carry the cross that was made for him. This is the story of a substitute that came to die for Barabbas and for you and me, also. Isn’t it time that you received this gift of eternal life that Christ has bought for you on the cross?

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 62 at this link, Jesus Before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). Keith Thomas

Pilate Tried to Release Jesus

We are meditating on the drama of the hours that led up to the crucifixion of Christ (scroll below for yesterday’s thoughts). When Herod could not get Jesus to do a sign or miracle, he sent Christ back to Pilate, who tried to release Jesus:

13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” 18With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will (Luke 23:13-25).

Pilate did not want to anger the Jewish ruling Sanhedrin; it was not politically expedient for him. On several occasions, he had riled the Jews into sending a delegation to Caesar to complain about his leadership of the nation. Then, he suddenly remembered the Passover custom of releasing a prisoner and showing mercy.

15Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him (Matthew 27:15).

As an act of mercy, at Passover a tried criminal could be forgiven of his crime and released. Appearing before all the people and sitting on his judgment seat, Pilate proposed releasing one person and suggesting Jesus as the One to be released.

Pilate’s last act of trying to appease the Jewish leaders was to have Jesus flogged. Even after the scourging, the crowd cried out for the death penalty of crucifixion. Pilate brought up the ancient law of releasing one person for the Passover feast. He thought that would get Jesus off the hook of the religious leaders. He would have them choose between Barabbas (his name means son of the father) and Jesus, the real Son of the Father. Barabbas was released, and Jesus was led away to be crucified. I wish I knew what happened to Barabbas. Was the death of a substitute in his place something that worked grace in his heart?

Because Judea was occupied by Rome, only the Roman procurator could issue the death penalty that the religious leaders so wanted. In the foreknowledge of God, it was not just the Jewish nation that was complicit in the death of Jesus. It was non-Jews, too. Because Passover was the biggest celebration of the year, there were people from all over the known world in the courtyard also calling for the death of Jesus. In the viewpoint of God, though, it was the need for our sin to be forgiven that required a substitutionary death in place of us. Thank you, Lord.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 62 at this link, Jesus Before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). Keith Thomas

Jesus Before Pilate and Herod

We are continuing to meditate on the last hours that led up to the crucifixion of Christ (Scroll down for yesterday’s thoughts). When the elders and priests brought Jesus before Pilate, the Roman governor, the accusations had changed from blasphemy to one of insurrection against Rome and the refusal to pay taxes to Caesar.

2And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” 3So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. 4Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” 5But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” 6On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies (Luke 23:2-12).

The priests knew that they could not get Pilate to render judgment on Jesus with an accusation of blasphemy, so they accused Christ of subversion against Caesar and teaching the people not to pay taxes to Caesar. This was an outright lie. Jesus had answered earlier to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s (Luke 20:25). They also added that Christ claimed to be a king (Luke 23:2) and that He had been subverting the nation (v.2), the very thing of which Barabbas had been found guilty. Barabbas had been accused of murder and insurrection and was being held in Pilate’s residence, the fortress Antonia.

Pilate wasn’t stupid. He knew what was happening. He knew that the actions of the religious elite were out of envy (Mark 15:10), but he was put in a difficult position. He was under pressure to quell any riots that could arise against Rome, but he also saw the deviousness of the Jewish religious leadership in trying to get him to kill Jesus when he could see no wrong in the man. Added to this moral dilemma with which he was wrestling, his wife came to him with a bad dream. Her dream was concerning this condemned Man, Jesus:

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19).

When the ruling priests let it slip that Christ was from Galilee, an area known for subversion to Rome, Pilate thought that he could pass the buck to Herod Antipas, who had jurisdiction over that area. He thought to let Herod be the one who would convict Christ. He saw this as his way out of a difficult decision, so he sent Jesus to be questioned by Herod (v. 7). However, when they dragged Jesus before Herod, Christ answered none of his questions.

After Herodias, Herod’s wife, had manipulated him into killing John the Baptist, something had died in Herod. His heart had grown hard, and, whereas, once he would listen to spiritual things with John the Baptist, now all he wanted was a religious show. After Herod had tried for some time to have Jesus astound him with His miracle-working power, he finally gave up and sent Him back to Pilate. Herod had seared his conscience by his rejection of truth (1 Timothy 4:2). It is a sad day when our conscience is no longer open to hear the truth of God’s Word. Pilate, at least, was open to spiritual things, saying to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). If you have an enquiring mind concerning spiritual things, consider the fact that God has put that questioning and enquiring mind in you because He is calling you to Himself.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 62 at this link, Jesus Before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). Keith Thomas

The Death of Judas

We are continuing our meditation on the hours before the conviction of Christ (Scroll down for yesterday’s devotional). The high priest had issued the decision that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy because He was saying that He was and is God. When Judas heard of the conviction, he was struck with guilt and the enormity of what he had done. The demons that controlled him now plagued his mind with condemning thoughts. Perhaps, he tried to assuage his guilt by dwelling on the last three years and trying to think of some sin in Jesus that could justify his action, but he found none. Jesus was totally innocent.

 3Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” 5And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. 6The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” 7And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. 8For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; 10AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER’S FIELD, AS THE LORD DIRECTED ME” (Matthew 27:3-10).

Judas went back to the meeting place of the Sanhedrin to try and turn the decision, but they would hear none of it. The elders of Israel had paid thirty pieces of silver, i.e. the price of a slave that had been gored by an ox (Exodus 21:32). That’s how much the leaders of Israel valued their Messiah. They saw Jesus only as a blasphemer and a trouble-maker. Judas then threw the money through the doors of the temple as a sign of disgust against the priests. This brought the fulfillment of prophecy spoken more than 500 years previously by the prophet Zechariah. The reason Matthew says that it was the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 27:9) was because the prophetic books in Hebrew began with the prophet Jeremiah. The prophetic word was clear as to how much the Jewish leaders of Israel valued Jesus:

12I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. 13Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD (Zechariah 11:12-13).

Matthew tells us that Judas was seized with remorse (Matthew 27:3). It is possible that he was expecting a different outcome to his betrayal. If a false witness in a capital case like this was found guilty, it was punishable by a sentence of death. Perhaps, thinking that he would find relief from the spiritual condition in which he was, i.e. having a condemning conscience, Judas went and hanged himself. After he died, his body fell from the tree, and his entrails burst out (Acts 1:18). Even though he was filled with remorse, we never read that he fully repented. He did not seek for restoration; instead, he was driven to self-destruction. I pray that situation does not fall on any that read these words. May each of you find forgiveness for sin by turning in faith to the Lord Jesus on the basis of His substitutionary death.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 62 at this link, Jesus Before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). Keith Thomas

Jesus Willingly Bore the Curse We Deserved

We are continuing our meditation on the drama of the hours that led up to Christ being crucified (Scroll down for yesterday’s meditation). At Jesus’ words saying that He was and is the Great I AM, finally the high priest thought he had enough to condemn Christ for blasphemy. He ripped open his outer shirt. The tearing of the clothes of the high priest was a pictorial way of stating that something blasphemous had just happened. In this case, the Jewish leadership clearly understood that Jesus was making the statement that He was (and is) God in the flesh. After they reached the verdict, they continued the beating and humiliation. Luke describes the beating with these words:

63The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65And they said many other insulting things to him (Luke 22:63-65).

It is possible that Peter was a witness to this game of blind man’s bluff with a difference, at least for a time. They used Jesus for a punch bag, but the Lord did not retaliate. He suffered nobly in silence. Peter later writes that, “When he was reviled, He did not revile in return; when he suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). It must have been hard for Peter to watch what they were doing to Christ, especially after he had just denied even knowing Him. Matthew tells us that they took turns beating him with their fists and spitting on Him: 67Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:67-68). If Peter was there, he did not have the courage or the will to try and intervene. It was probably at that point that he left. We don’t know how long the beating went on. By this point in time, Jesus would have been already weakened by having no sleep and also by the struggle in the garden of Gethsemane.

Having convicted Christ of blasphemy, the Jewish elders now began to think of how to kill Him. To the Jewish elite, it was not enough to stone Him, the normal method of execution of a condemned criminal in Israel. In the book of Acts, we read of Stephen being stoned by the Jews (Acts 7:54-60), and the woman caught in the act of adultery was to be stoned to death (John 8:4-7). If stoning was a common way of dealing with those pronounced guilty, why was Jesus crucified instead of being stoned?

The ruling elite plotted how they might curse Jesus by having Him lifted above the earth to die on a tree. In their minds, a man that was cursed by hanging on a tree would dispel any notion that Jesus was the Messiah. They may have referred to the Scripture in Deuteronomy: You must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23). Jesus allowed Himself to be cursed, for He would take the curse that we deserved. Later, He was to be crowned with thorns, the symbol of the curse (Genesis 3:18).

There was now only one problem. The Roman government had taken away the option of capital punishment from the Jews, so they had to get Pilate to condemn Him, too. The ruling leaders led Jesus off to Pilate:

1Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate (Luke 23:1).

We must stop to consider this verse of Scripture because we see the whole assembly abandoning the place of judgment, i.e. another illegality. No one stayed to see if any late witnesses would appear. It was after the Sanhedrin had disbanded that Judas came back to testify of his lie and the innocence of Jesus. This was not about justice; this was about murder.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 62 at this link, Jesus Before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). Keith Thomas