“But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:11).
Barabbas had been imprisoned for participating in a revolt in the city. Mark actually refers to it as “the revolt,” implying it was a memorable incident – at least for the time. Mark and Luke tell us he was a murderer, and Luke tells us the murder happened during the revolt.
Jerusalem, a large city, built on a hill, home to a great temple, was always in need of fresh water. Pilate determined to build an aqueduct to provide additional water, and who better to pay for it than the single greatest user, the temple? Every year Jews from all over the world sent money to pay for the administration of the temple and Pilate, rather heavy handedly, took that money to build the aqueduct. A revolt ensued and all this about the time of Jesus’ death.
Two things capture my attention:
First, Mark says the two crucified with Jesus were “revolutionaries” (though the word sometimes means “robber”). I’ve wondered if those two were Barabbas’ accomplices.
Second, it’s interesting that the name Barabbas, reduced to its parts, means “son of the father.” It’s even more interesting that some manuscripts give a fuller name: “Jesus Barabbas.” So here we have two men named Jesus, both called the “son of the father.” One was guilty of sedition and a murder. The other, innocent of any crime. And yet, it was the innocent who took the place of the guilty on a cross. What became true for Barabbas has become true for us all: Christ has taken our guilt, borne it Himself, and given us a new start. I wonder what Barabbas did with his?
What are you doing with yours?
“Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Mark 14:42).
I think I’d have said it differently.
The disciples would run of course – but not Jesus. Years later, Peter described the unfolding scenes of the following hours this way: “When they hurled their insults at him [Jesus], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23).
Jesus didn’t want to die. No serious reading of Mark’s Gethsemane account can miss the terror that tore at his soul. Running would have made absolute sense. But when Judas arrived with his unruly band of brigands, Jesus stayed. He rebuked the crowd for treating him like a criminal, rebuked his disciples for adopting the same posture as the mob, and healed the wounded.
He may have been led “like a lamb to the slaughter,” but he was no pushover.
Before the High Priest he demanded witnesses be brought to substantiate the charges against him. When criminally assaulted for insolence, Jesus demanded proof he had spoken improperly. Before the Jewish council and Pilate he admitted his identity as the Son of God and king of the Jews. He did not flinch.
Christian people are called to “show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, and honor the king.” But it doesn’t mean we roll over and play dead in the face of opposition. We must speak out in favor of the oppressed, against injustice, and against sin, bringing light to the darkest of places – even if they are high places. But we cannot adopt the weapons or vocabulary of the powers of darkness. Never denying who we are, we follow the one nailed to a cross, entrusting our lives to Him who judges justly.