Grace Baptist Church Decatur, IL

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Call Me Barabbas

Matthew 27:11-31



Last time we saw the religious phase of Jesus’ trial, in which He was accused of blasphemy.  But that charge wasn’t worthy of death in the Roman world, so they need to try to dig something else up.  How about treason?  Yes, that would get Caesar’s attention.


v. 1-2, 11a       Pontius Pilate was the 6th Roman Governor to serve in Judaea.  He was a cold, calculating man.  He was responsible to Rome for keeping the Jews in this region under control, especially during Passover season w/ millions of extra people in Jerusalem.  He’s already on thin ice due to some other riots.  One of those was quite interesting according to history, because Pilate herded the Jews into a great amphitheatre and threatened to cut off all their heads if they didn’t calm down.  They called his bluff by exposing their necks.  On another occasion he used Temple money to build an aqueduct.  Another riot ensued but Pilate squelched that riot by having many of them clubbed or stabbed to death.

Luke 13:1
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

Pilate had been warned by Caesar that if there was one more incident it was ‘curtains’ for him.  Caesar was well known for executing the ineffective.


1.     Pilate’s conversation.

v. 11b      He’s asking, are you a rival king, are you a threat to Caesar?  Pilate is not prepared for the answer he hears.  “Thou sayest”.  Pilate wanted to get out of this delicate situation, but Jesus has pushed him into a corner.


v. 12-14   This was a new experience for Pilate.  He had hundreds of prisoners stand before him, but usually they denied their charges and defended themselves.  I’ve done jail ministry and can tell you it’s rare that you hear from someone that they were truly guilty and are being treated fairly.  Most play the blame game, and we’re good at it to...we all get it from our parents in the garden of Eden!


Here’s another interesting aspect of this story...look at what the Jews did in a parallel passage as they took Jesus to Pilate:

John 18:28
Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.

Jews believed that if you took 2 steps over a Gentile threshold you were ceremonially unclean...another of their legalistic made up rules.  So, here they are with murder in their hearts, yet worrying about this.  What phonies these hypocrites truly were!  Wickedness inside, but outward conformity intact.


2.     Pilate’s confrontation.

v. 15-16   He’s frantically looking for a solution, a way out.  He knows Jesus is not really a threat, and is innocent of the charges.  Pilate knew what was really going on here...

v. 18        They were jealous and had personal problems with Jesus, and were trying to make it a legal matter.  So right here is Pilate’s opportunity to bite the bullet and do the right thing, but he’s afraid of the crowd’s reaction.  Suddenly it is Pilate on trial, and like today’s politicians, he has a finger in the air checking the wind’s direction, and instead of doing what is right, he does what is easy.


v. 17        It was a custom in those days for the governor to release a convicted felon on the Passover in order to appear merciful and win the favor of the people.  They would give a pardon to a criminal who didn’t deserve to be let free.


v. 16 says Barabbas was a notorious criminal.  His name struck fear in people, like if I said the name Charles Manson or Ted Bundy to you.  So Pilate just knew that if he offered the people the choice between Jesus the healer and Barabbas the killer, they would want Jesus released.


v. 21        What?  Pilate stands astonished as they answer “Barabbas”.  And 2,000 years later the same question is posed to all of mankind.  Jesus or Barabbas?  Sin or the Savior? 


In John it says that the Jews cried out again and again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”


Ill.—years ago in an eastern city 2 business men had lunch on a daily basis.  One was a dedicated Christian, the other a devout Jew.  Every day the Christian would talk to the Jew about Jesus Christ and make His case.  The Jew would never answer a word, but would just sit there and politely listen.  After several months the Jewish man became deathly ill.  The Christian man went to visit him, knelt by his bedside, grabbed his thin hand, and began to pray for him.  After a while there was a change.  His breathing became regular, and a smile came across his face.  He died moments later, but not before he made this statement as he entered eternity:  “Not Barabbas, but this man!”  He chose Jesus Christ.


v. 19        Pilate’s wife gets thru even when he is very busy.  That is true for all of us.  Our spouse gets thru.  It will always be true.  This time next year the president might be in an important meeting, but if her husband, Bill calls, he’ll get thru!  [my apologies!]  Seriously though, does she really get thru?  She has some intuition, but he won’t hear it.  She declares him just, but that wasn’t Pilate’s main concern.


It’s amazing how many of Jesus’ enemies declared Him innocent.  Both this woman and her husband, Pilate.  Also Judas, who said, “I have betrayed innocent blood.”  Even the Roman soldier confessed as Jesus hung on the cross, “Truly this was the Son of God.”


Pilate hears 2 voices, his wife’s and the mob’s, and while he ponders it, look what happens...

v. 20        The religious leaders persuade the people what to call for the release of the guilty!  It snowballed.  The crowd fell for it like dominoes.


Ill.—our kids want to do something that is wrong, but their excuse is, “but dad...everyone is doing it!”  The crowd is almost always wrong.  If Moses had taken a vote at the Red Sea the children of Israel would have returned to Egypt and slavery!  Moses stood alone again when the crowd wanted to make a golden calf.  Joshua and Caleb stood alone when the crowd said, ‘we can’t’.  Elijah, John the Baptist, Stephen, and many others took their stand, standing alone against the crowd. 


Pilate went with the crowd.

v. 22        The same crowd that a few days earlier lined the streets in His honor saying “crown Him” are now chanting “crucify Him”.  Don’t listen to the crowd.  They will take you from hero to zero in nothing flat!  It’s better to be right than to be popular.


Pilate asked the most important question of this life:  What shall I do with Jesus?


Pilate’s conversation, confrontation...


3.     Pilate’s Collapse.

v. 24-25  

·       The neutrality he attempts—but you cannot be neutral about Jesus, you must make a decision, and to make no decision is to decide against Him.

·       The brutality he permits


vv. 26-31

The Roman whipping post was worse than words can express, but let’s try:  Many men died there.  The ‘cat of nine tails’ was a whip w/ glass, bones, and sharp objects attached.  They stripped Him naked, the greatest of indignities.  They mocked and jeered, and drove the crown of thorns into His brow.  And Pilate ordered it all, thinking of himself.


We live our lives in the same way, we think of ourselves, but we need to consider the Savior.  He is the innocent, we are the guilty.  In this story, I am Barabbas!  Call me Barabbas!!  I’m guilty, but I was set free because someone who was totally innocent took my place.



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