“The crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do for them as was his custom. Pilate answered them, ‘Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?’ For he knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd so that he would release Barabbas to them instead.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever read or listened to someone else read the Bible out loud? Forget about the Bible for a second, have you ever read or heard someone else read any story out loud? How does that usually sound? If we’re being honest, pretty dull and lifeless. Most people read out loud with a monotone voice. Have you ever noticed that? That’s really interesting to me. I don’t know many people who talk like that. When you’re telling someone else a story you care about, you put all kinds of emotion and feeling into it. Your face is animated, you move your hands, you alter the pitch and tone of your voice for emphasis. It’s engaging for others. But when we read something someone else wrote, all of that goes away. I’ve never really been sure why exactly that is. Now, come back to the Bible with me. When we read the Bible out loud like we read everything else out loud, what gets conveyed to the listener is that this is really boring stuff. There’s no life to it. There’s no excitement. There’s no real story. It’s just…blah. The thing is, though, the Bible is anything but blah. Here’s a story that proves it.
One of the things I’ve always had in mind about how the story of the cross went is that the crowds all turned on Jesus in the end. And they did. That’s true and we see it right here. I had never really been clear in my mind, though, as to exactly when that happened. After all, when Jesus rode into town a week before this moment, He had all the crowds in His hands. They listened with rapture and excitement as He debated with the religious leaders during the week. The chief priests were terrified to arrest Him publicly because of how the crowds might react. And yet here, when given the chance to secure Jesus’ release from Pilate, the crowds picked Barabbas. Why?
Because they had turned on Him. But again, why? Because the chief priests managed to turn them on Him. What we see here is just how committed the chief priests were to seeing Jesus put to death. They were almost naked in their ambition. They were so obvious that Pilate could see right through them. He was an astute enough politician that he could see they were driven by envy of Jesus. He could see that Jesus was innocent. He was fully prepared to release Jesus. This was probably both from a desire to give them a hard time and his recognition of Jesus’ innocence. The drama here really is intense.
Put yourself in the crowd that morning. It was still pretty early in the morning, not too long after sunrise. But it was the Passover. The crowds knew Pilate had Jewish prisoners in his custody. They also knew that Pilate had a custom of releasing some of these prisoners during the Passover as a gesture of goodwill. They had gathered to demand he follow this custom and to see who he would release. Pilate knew the chief priests were unjust in their opposition to Jesus. He could see it all over their faces. And so, when it came time to give the crowd what they wanted, Pilate gave them a choice: Jesus or Barabbas. Jesus was the one they had all been celebrating and clamoring to see and hear more of during the past week. Barabbas was a murderer. He had participated in a recent revolt and had killed some folks in the process. Now, Barabbas was just the kind of person the crowd might call for being released in another situation just to express their approval of his goal if not his actions. But compared with Jesus? There shouldn’t have been any contest.
Yet when Pilate put the choice before them, a voice shouted from the back, “Release Barabbas!” Everyone was shocked. Jesus was the obvious choice. How could someone be shouting for Barabbas? Then a murmur began going through the crowd. The chief priests had their agents mixed in among the people. They were whispering among the people about how Jesus wasn’t really all He seemed to be. After all, He put on that grand show of riding into town like He was the Messiah, getting all the people’s hopes up, and what had He done since? Barabbas, on the other hand, put his money where his mouth was. He was a real leader of the resistance. He was the one they needed to pick to put a stop to Rome’s dominance over them. “Release Barabbas!” more voices shouted. Then it became a chant. With one voice they demanded Barabbas be handed over to them. That sealed it. Jesus would remain with Pilate and eventually go to the cross. Barabbas would walk away free and to be lost to history.
Once again, then, don’t miss the drama of the story here. The drama and intrigue of the cross was incredible. Hollywood couldn’t have made up a story as good as this one was. The whole time things were unfolding they were balanced on the blade of a knife. Pilate could have decided to stick it to the chief priests out of spite and set Jesus free. The crowds could have refused to turn on Jesus and the chief priests would have had no leverage. Pilate chose Barabbas as an alternative to Jesus on purpose. He wanted to offer up the least sympathetic figure he could to make it as hard on them to demand Jesus’ death as possible. It’s almost like Pilate just didn’t want to play ball with the chief priests and he was genuinely intrigued by Jesus.
And God’s plans continued to unfold.
The plans of God here were all unfolding just like He wanted them to go. It seemed like things were spiraling out of control, but God always had things perfectly well in hand. He did then, and He does in our own lives as well. Your life or the circumstances around you may seem to be flying apart at the seams, but if you will entrust yourself to the One who is bigger than your circumstances, He will not fail you. He’s got a plan, and He’s guiding things to see that plan perfectly fulfilled. Stick with Him and the results will always be better than anywhere else you might go.