“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
― C.S. Lewis,
An old godly preacher was dying. He knew that he would have just a few hours. So he called for two members of his congregation to come by his bedside: his banker and his lawyer, who were both members. They were honored to be with him in his final moments. As they came into his bedroom the old preacher held out his hands and motioning for one to sit on each side of the bed and he held their hands as the sat beside him. The preacher grasped their hands and gave a sigh of relief. For a while, everything was silent. They thought what a privilege it is to be with him, this godly preacher in his final moments. They were a little amazed that he thought that much of them since they both remembered his many long uncomfortable sermons about greed and covetousness. Finally the banker got up his courage and said, “Pastor, why did you choose us to come and to be with you during your final moments?” The old man mustered up his last strength and then said weakly, “Well, I’m dying and I always wanted to die like Jesus did, between two thieves! And that’s why I called you.”
Let me tell you, there should have been three thieves on the crosses. There should have been three. Jesus should never have been hung on a cross. There should have been three thieves, three criminals that day, almost two thousand years ago. But the shame about this is: the Jews chose Jesus to die instead of BARABBAS. They made a bad choice. And how people make choices is a very important thing. And so, BARABBAS was allowed to go free. But Jesus had to die on the cross.
In a sense, three criminals did die on those crosses that day because Jesus was a criminal, was He not? In a way. He was sinless, but Jesus was a sinner. All the sins of the world were on Him at that moment. They were there. All the sins of the world. And when Jesus died, He died for us.
I want you to take your Bible and turn to Acts 3. A lot of Christians hate Jews. Do you think that ought to be the case? Should we be anti-Semitic? I don’t think so. And yet, Peter condemns the Jews. Acts 3:14,15. “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” (Barabbas) “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” And so Peter condemned the Jews in a very harsh way: “You killed the Author of life! You bad people!”
Peter is not alone in his feelings. I had a newspaper clipping out of the Chattanooga Times. Jacquelyn Mitchard wrote an article in response to the Pope’s recent Apology for past sins of the Roman Catholic people. This lady says as a girl her “Catholic friends explained the real deal about Jewish people.” She was told that all Catholics were to resist Jews, or even hate Jews because it was thought that they killed Christ. Is this biblical? Did Jews kill Jesus? Were they responsible? Should we hate Jews?
Come to Matthew 27 for a eyewitness account of what really happened that horrible day almost two thousand years ago. (Also found in Mark 15:6-15 and Luke 23:13-25) Matthew 27:15-17. Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” Now, who was Pilate in favor of releasing? Jesus. Because Barabbas was bad.
The people had a decision to make. How fascinating to watch how some folk come to a decision. I think the decision was made out of peer pressure, or mob psychology. That’s what happened that day. This fateful day the peer pressure was a determining factor. That fateful day they decided because that’s what the crowd decided. Everybody went along with it.
I want to speak to that. Maybe some you are a teenagers. Maybe on a Saturday night your group gets together and you decide, “Well, let’s have a great time tonight. One of us here is of age, why not get him to go buy some alcohol and we could just have a good party instead of a mediocre time. We could do it up!” Instantly the whole group decides they’re going to have an alcoholic party. Peer pressure, and they make the wrong decision. If you do that, and you’re part of that crowd, then you basically are choosing Barabbas. Do you see how that works? When you know you ought to do right, and you know that, and you choose what is wrong, you are choosing Barabbas. In choosing Barabbas quickly and carelessly, they made the wrong choice. When you choose wrong, when you fully know what is right you are choosing Barabbas. A hasty decision is often a bad decision as well.
Pilate presented two fathers’ sons to the crowd. Jesus Barabbas and Jesus Christ. Jesus Barabbas means: son of A father.” (bar – son of, abbas – daddy or father) Jesus Christ means: “son of THE Father.” The one, poisoned by the devil, ready for hell. The other, sinless, perfect, ready for heaven. Everybody in the whole wide world was there represented in Barabbas or in Jesus. Look for yourself in this amazing story.
- The contrast was very clear. One was a robber, a criminal. – The other was compassionate, kind, loving.
- When the crowd chose Barabbas they chose lawlessness instead of law.
- They chose war instead of peace.
- They chose hatred instead of love.
- They chose Satan instead of God.
A bad choice!
You can the full account there in Matthew 27. Very, very bad. Read a key statement here in Matthew 27:22. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked And that is a key question of life. What are you, fellow McDonald Road member, going to do with Jesus Christ? What are you going to do? Are you going to accept Him or are you going to choose Barabbas? And the crowd, of course, chose Barabbas. In verse 25, all the people said, Let his blood be on us and our children!” And that’s why some people don’t like what the Jews did back then. And for years, fingers have been pointed at Christians saying that in our roots is anti-Semitism. We encourage hatred for Jews because they killed Jesus. The Roman governor was willing to set Jesus free, but the Jews shouted, “Crucify Him!” And Pilate gave in, rather than jeopardize the peace. So it sounds like the vast majority of people who were Jews hated Jesus.
Now is that true? What had happened to Jesus just five days before? What were the crowds doing to Jesus five days before? They were laying down the palm leaves, they were laying down their garments so He could cross over. They were honoring Jesus Christ. And now, all of a sudden, five days later, here they are crucifying Jesus Christ. What a fickle bunch of people. What in the world is happening to this crowd? What had Jesus done in the last five days that had agitated them? Nothing! Nothing had changed.
Let’s take a little closer look at this group. Are these people really wishy-washy? Why did practically everybody suddenly hate Jesus, now, and before, they loved Him? Well, the Bible plainly declares that Caiaphas and his confederates were determined to kill Jesus, not because He was unpopular, but because he was popular. So, the crowds were not against Him. So we can’t say that Jesus was hated by everybody, because He was popular. In fact, verse 18 says that they envied Jesus: they resented His success. So, it’s the opposite of hatred. I think they feared that the people would welcome Jesus as the Messiah and all of the pharisees, all the leaders would be unemployed because He was very popular. So, not everybody hated Jesus. In fact, very few did.
So, we could ask the question: Were Jesus’ accusers even Jews? The crowd that were there that day, were they Jews? Let’s look at this a little more closely as we read here in Matthew 27 you can tell that they were Jews by where they stood. These fault-finders stood out in the courtyard because they didn’t want to be contaminated. To go into this civil court would contaminate them and they would not be able to do anything about it and they would not be able to celebrate the passover. So, they couldn’t go in. Pilate had to go in and talk with Jesus, and go out and talk to the crowd… back and forth. That’s what you see going on here.
Did that zealous, accusing crowd hate Jesus? I don’t believe so. Now, could it be that almost nobody in Jerusalem even really knows that Jesus is on trial? Most of His friends aren’t quite aware of it yet. It’s really in the morning while this trial is going on. The crowds are possibly supporters of Barabbas who have come to get him released.
And so we need to ask, Who was Barabbas? In John 18:14 Barabbas is called a robber. In Mark 15:7, he’s called a murderer. He’s actually an insurrectionist, he’s a revolutionist. This man is a self-proclaimed messiah. That’s who Barabbas really is: he’s a freedom-fighter. He’s trying to get freedom for the Israelites to be free from the bondage of Rome. The purpose of the crowd that day was to get him released.
Jesus was also a freedom fighter. Jesus was trying to get freedom from the devil. They were very similar; Jesus and Barabbas. Jesus’ way involved gentleness, not swords.
- The crowd apparently believed in do-it-yourself liberation.
- Salvation does not come by riot but by surrender.
- Salvation is never by violence, it is by faith.
- Salvation is not delivered by gun barrels and bullets.
- Salvation does not come by works or by swords.
- Salvation comes by yielding your life to your Savior, your God.
And they did not know that.
Both Jesus and Barabbas wanted to save their people. The difference between Jesus and Barabbas was like the difference between a lamb and a wolf: totally opposites
“Both Jesus and Barabbas were brought before the people and stood side by side. Jesus stood there wearing the robe of mockery and the stripes, from which the blood flowed freely. His face was stained with blood, and bore the marks of exhaustion and pain but never had it appeared more beautiful than now. Every feature expressed gentleness and the tenderest pity for His cruel foes. In striking contrast was Barabbas. Every line of the countenance of Barabbas proclaimed him the hardened ruffian that he was. Barabbas was a ruffian. Jesus was tender. Yet they chose Jesus to crucify.
They chose Barabbas to set them free. And what they did: they chose short-term, immediate deliverance from Rome rather than long-term immediate eternal deliverance from sin and the devil.
We are just like them today. We are so short-sighted, we choose wrong, don’t we? Even babies would rather have a pacifier than a one-dollar bill. How crazy those babies are! They’d rather have a bottle than a Bible! Eve chose the apple rather than eternal security. Sometimes the dance seems so more important to us than attending prayer meeting. When you as a teenager go out and you choose to take some illegal drug into your life, you are choosing Barabbas because you are choosing a temporary high rather than an eternal high that you could have gotten. Gentlemen, when you look at some other man’s wife and you choose that pleasure, you are choosing Barabbas rather than what God has designed for you. We choose Barabbas every day. We shouldn’t. It’s wrong. It’s sinful. We’re crucifying Jesus when we choose Barabbas. Do you realize you hurt Jesus when you go on drugs. You hurt Jesus when you look at that “other” man or that “other” woman. That should never happen. Today, we choose Barabbas when we put anything ahead of Jesus. Jesus should be first and best in our lives.
The bulk of the crowd had assembled that morning for the legitimate purpose of extracting their hero, Barabbas, out of the iron grip of the Romans. They had not really come to condemn an innocent man, Jesus, to death.
Does this explain why Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead? Notice John 11:47-50, Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Caiaphas had been around. He knew the Romans would not tolerate revolt. His motive is clearly seen in verse 50. It would be best for Jesus to die than for the entire nation to perish. Caiaphas feared that one more uprising would end what little freedom the Jewish people had left. Perhaps Jesus had a larger following than Barabbas. To kill Jesus was better than to let Him live and lead the nation to oblivion.
I wonder what ever happened to Barabbas when they set him free, which they did? I wonder if he went on to become a freedom-fighter? I believe he did. In fact, I believe that the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. could have been caused by this one man being a freedom-fighter, going out and getting a group together and causing the Romans to come against them. It could have happened.
That mob’s choice of Barabbas over Jesus contributed to the fall of Jerusalem a generation later. Even Jesus stated that in Matthew 23:37-39. So, be careful when you choose the world because it could in fact contribute to your fall. When you go out and you choose to smoke that cigarette, you choose to defile your body by some way, it could also hurt your family. Those who live in Jerusalem could be hurt by your actions. You must be careful what you choose when you choose Barabbas. You are in danger of doing that when you place anything else ahead of Jesus Christ.
Be careful when you chose the world. You are in danger when you place anything above Jesus. There is an old song… “NOTHING between my soul and the Savior.” So be careful.
Jesus came to His own, and His own received Him not. They took Him and cast Him off. They judged Him worthy of death. And the whole multitude cried, Give us Barabbas! Liberation through Jesus Barabbas! He believed in self-redemption, not in redemption through the loving Messiah.
Look at Mark 15:25. All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” What the crowd was saying here is, “We release you, Pilate, from all guilt. We’re not going to hold you guilty. Pilate, if you just destroy Jesus, everything will be all right.” Is that true? Yes, in a way that is true. Everything can only be all right if Jesus is destroyed. If Jesus hangs on that cross, then everything can be okay. That’s what can happen. The people chose Barabbas. And only Barabbas could say to Jesus, “You have physically saved me from death.” Because, Jesus died in the place of Barabbas, didn’t He. And from physical death, Jesus saved Barabbas.
I imagine Barabbas was waiting in his cell. He was there on death row waiting to be crucified on that cross. And they tell me that people that are about to be hung oftentimes their hand goes around their neck and feels their neck. They know that rope is going to be there shortly. They know it won’t be long and they kind of put their hand around their neck and feel it.
And people that are on death row and they’re going to be taken to the gas chamber, I have been told, that those folks practice holding their breath before that event takes place. They know that soon they’ll be in the gas chamber, so they hold their breath. They practice that until their eyes nearly pop out of their heads. Because they know that some day they will be taken into that room and they will be tied in that chair and soon they will hear a little hissing sound, and that death vapor will be coming in. And they know that if they hold their breath, they can elongate their life just a little. But soon they will have to exhale the last oxygen and they will inhale the death vapor.
I think that Barabbas must have looked at the palms of his hands and he realized that soon spikes, big nails, would be driven through his hands and he would be impaled onto a cross and he would die. Every time a hammer struck a blow out in the courtyard he thought, “Oh dear, they’re building a cross for me.” And I imagine that when the soldiers came to his cell that day, that he probably thought, “This is it! This is it.” And yet they came and released him. And they said, “That man over there took your place. See that man over there? That’s Jesus. He took your place. You’re free because of Jesus.” And I want you to know that you can be free because of Jesus. That’s the only person that can set you free.
In Matthew 20:28 we read a fascinating verse: “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Praise God for Jesus. He is the Ransom for many, many people. I’m so glad for that. He came to serve.
Let us pray. Dear Father, Give us wisdom to make the right choices. Give us the courage to stand for you even when the crowd goes the other way. Forgive us for choosing Barabbas in the foolish days of our past. Give us the heart to choose Jesus now and forever.