Sermon for Lent Three, Sunday March 15, 2020
Sermon for Lent Three – Sunday March 15, 2020
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Mark 15:6–13 (NKJV)
6 Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. 7 And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. 8 Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. 9 But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. 12 Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?”
13 So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!”
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –
On the afternoon of Thursday November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was a brief speech as presidential speeches go (just 2 minutes long), still it’s one of the most familiar speeches in American History.
President Lincoln began:
“Four score and seven years (87 years) ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
President Lincoln’s closing words are equally familiar, and are still today considered a description of our form of government, a democracy:
“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
We are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. We, the people decide. Yet, that doesn’t mean that since the majority of people decide something that it will be just and right or even good. We the people have approved barbaric and truly ungodly things…like the abortion of our own children, now in some states right up to birth.
The majority…the people…aren’t always right. In fact, in many cases what the majority chooses is wrong, is unrighteous and unholy. In this connection consider the ‘jury of his peers’ that condemned Jesus of Nazareth. It wasn’t a lawfully chosen jury, but a mob…and the decisions of emotionally fired groups of people are rarely, if ever, just.
The choice of Barabbas the insurrectionist and murderer over Jesus of Nazareth is truly remarkable. It’s remarkable because Pilate thought he had rigged the trial in favor of Jesus. It’s remarkable because based on the actual charges…humanly speaking only Barabbas was guilty. It is remarkable because in choosing Barabbas, the crowd made a choice that benefits us.
Let us pray:
Blessed Lord, you have given us the Holy Scriptures for our learning. May we so hear them, read, learn and take them to heart that, being strengthened and comforted by your Holy Word, we may cling to the blessed hope of everlasting life, given us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
6 Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested.
It was a tradition, one whose origin no one knows. It happened at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to which the Passover meal was connected. It seems to have been a Jewish Tradition that the Roman Governors also adopted, seeing its wisdom. It served to place the Roman Government in a positive light. It had a calming effect on people who were known for rebellion. It was observed at a time when the capital city was packed with zealous worshippers.
It was a custom for the Governor to release one prisoner, and for the people to ask for the custom. Still, it was the Governor who decided which prisoner would be released from prison as an act of good will. The people could ask and suggest, but it was up to Pontius Pilate to decide who would be released and when.
On this occasion, it seems that group from among the crowd came forward and reminded Pontius Pilate of this tradition while he was sitting on the Judgment Seat with Jesus of Nazareth standing silently before him. Pilate latched onto the idea. He saw it as a way to set Jesus free. Yes, let the people decide between an obvious criminal and Jesus!
7 And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion.
Pontius Pilate figured that He would rig the outcome. He would ‘generously’ offer them the choice, but it wouldn’t be much of a choice. We don’t know when it happened, but at some point, there was an insurrection, an uprising in the city of Jerusalem. It was led by a man named Barabbas; whose name means ‘son of the father.’ In the course of this uprising they had committed murder. It was what made Barabbas – notorious. It was why they were chained in prison. It’s even likely that their rebellion had personally affected the people of Jerusalem, leading to repercussions by the governor.
Yes, Let the people decide – between Jesus and this murdering rebel. Surely justice will prevail and the obviously guilty will be condemned and the innocent – though hated – will go free. The innocent deserve freedom; the guilty deserve death. So, from the standpoint of human justice in Pontius Pilate’s view, the decision was clear, it was cut and dried.
Oh, right…Human Justice…now that’s a misnomer if I ever heard one. Yes, we clamor for justice. We demand the right and abhor the wrong. We demand that justice be blind…. until there is something in it for us…until blood is involved. Everything is black and white until it’s personal!
We stand on our soapbox and declare, “If you go out in bad weather after being warned by the authorities, you should be fined!” But, if we go out and get stuck, our version of justice changes.
“If you steal you should go to jail!” Then a close relative is caught red-handed, and it’s not so easy.
Cheaters should be expelled from school…until our own children are caught cheating, then it’s the teacher’s fault.
So, and so’s children never come to church…but neither do our own…but that’s different.
We pretend to want justice…until we are condemned.
We claim to be unbiased…and are proven to be hypocrites.
Pontius Pilate was a seasoned judge who knew ‘human justice.’ Still, He thought He could manufacture an innocent verdict for Jesus. He would use his own powers of persuasion.
8 Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. 9 But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.
Pontius Pilate was willing to do as had been done before because He thought he rigged the outcome. He even suggested that the obvious choice was to release the King of the Jews, to let Jesus go. He tried to circumvent the religious leaders who brought Jesus to him – by allowing the people to choose – assuming that they would choose justly.
Honestly, it was an affront to Jesus even to have him stand next to Barabbas! It was an insult to compare the two men, one an obvious sinner and the other a just and innocent man, guilty of no crime.
It is remarkable that the people chose Barabbas over Jesus, because on the basis of the charges alone, Jesus should be set free. When we lay out the facts it seems so easy. Two men; one declared innocent by the judge three times and sent back by Herod; or a murderer and a rebel. Let the people decide…surely, they will make the right call! They can be unbiased. They can’t be swayed by a few rotten apples.
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them.
“Ooops!” Yes, based on the charges alone there was only one innocent man and it wasn’t Barabbas.
Still, I can’t help but wonder how Barabbas felt about all this. He was dragged from his cell in chains in the early morning hours to stand beside a man who was having a far worse day. He may have assumed that He was being taken out to be executed…not set free. I’m sure that Barabbas would have been willing to plead his case before Pilate, to demand that it wasn’t his fault that the rebellion took place. He didn’t mean to murder anyone!
After all, isn’t that what we would do? What did Jesus do? He said nothing. He offered no defense.
So, the people made their choice…they chose the one who was most like them. They chose the one who is most like us…not Jesus, but Barabbas.
12 Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!”
It’s as if Pilate was still looking for a way to release Jesus. “Okay, so you choose Barabbas…fine…take him.” There is still one other matter to decide, what about the quiet one, the one who rode into Jerusalem a few days ago amid shouts of ‘Hosanna’ the one you accuse of setting himself up as the King of the Jews. What about Him?
Today human beings say this was a miscarriage of justice. Human beings cry foul! No fair!
Well, unless…Barabbas was your brother…or your son…or your grandson; what do we know about justice?
Let the people decide!
They made the right decision.
Jesus was the greater criminal than Barabbas, but not because of anything that He had done. He was himself innocent. He was the true Son of the Father. He was condemned because He took all of our sins – and their blackness upon Himself. He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and as the Prophet Isaiah foretold (Isaiah 53:6b):
“…the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
God in mercy used the injustice of men to work for us the ultimate justice. We the guilty go free and Jesus the innocent one goes to the cross and grave so that we may be delivered from eternity in hell.
God chose Jesus to be the Lamb of God, to be the Scapegoat for sinners. The Father chose to affix Jesus to the Cross to fix our relationship with Him and make of us His dear children by faith.
We sinners rightly call this mercy…not justice.
The choice of Barabbas over Jesus was truly remarkable…the mercy of God resulting from it is far more amazing.
O depth of love, to me revealing
The sea where my sins disappear!
In Christ my wounds find perfect healing,
There is no condemnation here;
For Jesus’ blood through earth and skies
Forever ‘Mercy! Mercy!’ cries (TLH 385:4).