Mark 15:6-15

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.

Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Mark 15:6-15

Now the crowds get their say in this Jesus matter. Pilate, magnanimous guy that he is, gives them a choice.

Who will be set free?

Barabbas? In Mark’s account, he was a rebel in prison as an accomplice to murder in a revolt against Roman rule. Such revolts weren’t uncommon. Call them freedom fighters or terrorists or guerilla soldiers, such resistance had been shown against the Romans from the very beginning. It never ended well for them. That Barabbas was being held in prison was a very temporary thing – the authorities were just waiting for the right time to make a public spectacle of his punishment. The penalty for such civil disobedience was crucifixion.

Jesus? We know who Jesus was and what he did. And we know that, as far as Pilate was concerned, Jesus was innocent of anything except riling up the animosity of the superstitious religious leaders. They were jealous and Pilate knew it.

The crowd chose to free Barabbas. Jesus would die in Barabbas’ place, suffering as Barabbas had been destined to suffer. Jesus died for us.

Why did the crowds reject Jesus?

I suppose the easy answer is that it was God’s will. It was what was required for Jesus to complete his mission on earth. It was his destiny. He embodied Isaiah’s Suffering Servant “by whose stripes we are healed.” That’s the common answer. The easy answer. Easy for us.

Another possible answer is that the crowds were just as jealous of one another as the religious authorities. Rather than marveling at the Jesus who fed huge crowds or healed the sick, most in the crowd probably thought, “Where was this Jesus when I was hungry? Where was this Jesus when MY child was sick?” Or perhaps, “I thought the Messiah would defeat the Romans and restore our rightful place as the most powerful people on earth. This guy? He’s no Messiah.”

The crowds rejected Jesus because he didn’t deliver the goods. That he was the very embodiment of goodness didn’t matter to them.

The crowd didn’t care about what was good or right or just or true for anyone else but themselves. They sent Barabbas home for dinner and Jesus to the cross.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, it was selfishness, self-centeredness, and resentment that sent you to the cross. It was sin that rejected you then and rejects your ways now. Open our eyes and hearts that we no longer choose the ways of Barabbas over yours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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