Dear Radio Friends,
As we come today before the narrative of God’s Word concerning the sufferings of His Son Jesus Christ, I would summon you to the deepest contrition and to the most profound thankfulness. If anyone can hear related to them the Lord’s sufferings, or if anybody can hear the cross of Jesus Christ preached and not respond with profound humility and utmost joy, it will go very hard for him when he stands before God in the day of judgment. You will be condemned if you can hear this with but a passing interest or if you can hear this with unbelief and a scoff. Jesus Christ, through the prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations 1:12, asks this question: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me.”
We know that the cross of Jesus Christ was placed by a roadside so that many passed by. And for many of them it was nothing. This same cross of Jesus Christ is preached by the church throughout the ages. And it is preached right now to you. You pass by. You hear of the sufferings of God’s Son upon a cross outside of Jerusalem. Is this nothing to you? Many again would respond, “Yes, it’s really nothing to me. It’s a story that, perhaps, many people have heard about, but I find no particular significance in it for my own life.” If you respond so, you evidence that your eyes have not been opened to see your own sin before the living God. You see no beauty in Christ as the Savior. The call of God to you today is to repent and to be humbled before the cross, which is the power of God unto salvation.
But the child of God, that is, one in whom the Spirit has worked His wonderful work, is known by this, that he is moved in the depth of his being at the contemplation of the cross of Jesus Christ. For it is all our salvation. Before that cross you and I, as children of God, are filled with self-loathing as we see the ugliness of our sin, and our sin acted out for us in its gross forms. But we also stand before that cross with utmost joy in our hearts before the grace. We too may repeat today, with the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20, “The Son of God…loved me, and gave himself for me.” Christ died for us, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. Let us approach the story of the cross, the narrative of the sufferings of Jesus, with utmost contrition, that is, humility of heart over our sin, and with utmost joy and thankfulness, that is, with gratitude to the living God who has loved us and saved us by His grace in the sufferings of Jesus.
We pick up the narrative of our Savior’s suffering as He stands before Pilate and is sentenced by Pilate’s court to death. From the Scriptures we learn that when Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate soon desired somehow to avoid passing any judgment, to rid himself somehow of the case. When he heard from the Jews that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate thought that he could send Him off to Herod’s court and that Jesus would properly fall into the jurisdiction of this man Herod. But Herod, having received Him, and Jesus answering nothing before Herod, Herod is convinced that, in spite of all the accusations that have been brought against Him, Jesus is no threat, and Herod responds by making light of the whole affair. He regards it as a plaything. We read in the Scriptures that Herod, with his men of war, set Jesus at naught and mocked Him and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.
Pilate becomes more desperate. He had witnessed the Lord Jesus Christ as He stood in His majestic silence refusing to answer the taunts, the slanders, and the accusations of the Jews. He marveled that the man said nothing. So Pilate thought that he would make another attempt to rid himself of the case.
He called the leaders of the Jews when Jesus had been returned to him from Herod. He made a declaration to these Jews that Jesus was innocent — that he had found no fault whatsoever in this man — that He had done nothing worthy of death. And now also Herod had agreed with this judgment. What should then Pilate have done? Well, Pilate should have done this: he should have brought down his gavel and declared, “Case dismissed!” But, no, Pilate is a weak man. He knows the hatred of the Jews and he thinks that, perhaps, by having Jesus chastised, this will appease the Jews. And he offers that Jesus will be chastised and then be released. But this does not work either. For the Jews increase their demand. The crowd that has been gathered before Pilate’s judgment seat is stirred by the chief priests into a frenzy. Pilate cannot escape.
Why do these things happen? I said that Pilate was a weak man, yes. Pilate was not a man of principle. But we must see far beyond Pilate. We must see to God. These things are proceeding exactly in this course that Jesus might be sentenced, handed over to the death of the cross, so that it might be declared that God so loved us that He gave His Son. In the words of Romans 8:32, God “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” God is in control. Jesus stands majestically obedient to the Father. And now He will give Himself over. But before He gives Himself over, it must be made plain what really is transpiring. God is giving His Son to take the place of His own elect, to take their place under His judgment, and to come under the full force of having broken His perfect law, in order that we, who are guilty, might go free eternally. And to make this perfectly plain, we will now see in the narrative that the perfectly innocent one, Jesus Christ, is scourged and condemned by Pilate. And the guilty one, Barabbas, is set free.
Jesus dies according to the will of the heavenly Father in order that we, and all the elect of God who are brought to believe in Jesus, though we are guilty and deserve eternal death, are set free, while our Savior is sentenced to death for us.
Pilate had a custom according to which he would grant amnesty to a prisoner at the annual Passover Feast. How this custom began we are not sure. Evidently Pilate, in a gesture of good will toward the Jews, had begun this practice of granting pardon to a criminal on the Passover — either a criminal who had been sentenced and was on death row, or one who was accused and not yet condemned. And he would leave to the people the choice of who would be released. Pilate brought this custom up. He said to the Jews, “Ye have a custom that I should release unto you one at the Passover.” This is yet another attempt to rid himself of the case of Jesus. Having sent Jesus to Herod and having been foiled in that, having offered that Jesus be flogged and having seen that refused, he believes that now, perhaps, he has found another out. He will offer that Jesus be the one to be released, to receive the amnesty at the Passover Feast.
But this, too, backfires. The people bring the very opposite desire. For Pilate had also presented to them Barabbas. And the people begin to cry that he should release to them Barabbas and that he should do to them as he had always done and release whom they desired, not the one that he was trying to release.
Once again we have to marvel at the wisdom and the sovereignty of God. No matter how the custom began, no matter Pilate’s motivations and maneuverings, we see that God is ruling over all things. In His sovereignty God had fixed this custom and had done so with reason. He had done so in order that His own Son might be crucified, that the innocent Son of God might be bound and the guilty might be freed.
But God had also done it for another reason: in order that He might show the depravity and the accountability of man. For in demanding Barabbas to be released, the Jews (mankind) show themselves totally blamable. The apostle Peter, a preacher, is going to declare in Acts 2:23: “Him (that is, Jesus), being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (did you hear those words? God delivered Him over according to His own eternal decision), ye (nevertheless) have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain (Him).”
Pilate thought that by presenting Barabbas he would force the crowd to ask for Jesus’ release. He had picked a man who was most reprehensible, undesirable, the worst man he had in custody. Pilate calculated that there could be little sympathy for a man like Barabbas. Barabbas means “son of the father.” The word “bar” is “son” as you might recall. Jesus said, “Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jonah,” son of Jonah. So “bar” is “son.” “Abba” is the word for “father,” as we are taught to pray, “Abba, Father.” “Barabbas,” then, means “son of father.” It could well mean that this Barabbas was a son of a rabbi, for the rabbis of Jesus’ day loved to be called “father.” They went throughout the marketplaces desiring to be greeted as “Father.” Whatever that may be, this is abundantly plain, that Barabbas was notorious in his day. He was the terrorist of his day. He was the man who was known by all the populace as being on death row and deserving death.
We read in Mark 15:7 that Barabbas “lay bound,” that is, he was in maximum security. He was such a felon that he had not only to be kept behind bars but secured hands and feet. He lay bound because he had committed insurrection. That means that he was involved (perhaps the ring-leader) in a revolt against the Roman authorities. He was a terrorist. He was a guerilla fighter. And he had been ruthless in this insurrection. For he committed murder in the insurrection. He had no regard for human life. Further, we are told that he was a robber. He was a man who would take what he wanted. And he was awaiting execution. He was considered by society beyond any value or any reclaim.
Pilate says, “Whom will you that I release? Barabbas, or Jesus?” A clearer choice was never presented. Barabbas, who all agreed was guilty of crimes against humanity; or Jesus Christ, God’s sinless Son in perfect humanity.
Once again we see that God has brought this to pass. This is exactly the way it had to be. It had to be this way to declare the condescending mercy and the great humiliation of God’s own Son for us. Think about it. How would you like it if you were placed in a duo with some prisoner in the State Penitentiary, a man who was a molester, a man who was a murderer, a man who clearly deserved punishment? How would you like it if you were placed in a duo compared with such a man? You would be outraged, you say, at the very suggestion of it. Well, turn your thoughts away from that and consider this: Jesus is the Son of the blessed God. Hebrews 1 tells us that He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, that all of the angels of God worship Him. And that very night He had challenged His accusers, “Who among you convicts Me of any sin? Testify of it.” He was the sinless Son of God. And now He stands compared with, in a duo with, the grossest of sinners, the man who was the worst specimen of human depravity they could possibly find.
Why does Jesus allow this? We see the Scriptures fulfilled: Philippians 2, “He became of no reputation for us. He humbled himself. Though he was in the form of God, he emptied himself for us.”
But behold how clearly God makes the choice. There can now be no mistake. That is always the case. People of God: children, parents, youth, who will it be — Jesus or Barabbas? Which one, by nature, from your own natural heart, which one do you desire? Jesus, who is consummate devotion to God, submission to God’s rule and rights, dedication to God from the heart? Or would you have Barabbas — insurrection to God, ruthless, self-determination, enthroning man upon the throne of your own heart? The choice could not be clearer.
And the choice that was made could not be clearer either. Release unto us Barabbas! Do you hear your sin? There is our sin and depravity. Oh, sin sometimes likes to make us think that it is deceptive. But sin is not deceptive. Let God put your sin out in the sun so that you can see it and cannot miss it. Sin, sometimes, makes us say, “Well, it’s not really clear. It’s a little murky. Should I be chaste as a young person? It’s just once. Should I be honest in this case in the business? Will it really hurt? May I not indulge one night in these lusts of mine? Can there be any harm in that? Is it all right that I go there? I shouldn’t go there, but I won’t make it a habit. Is it all that serious? Is it all right if I drink and become drunk?” And we begin to think that the lines between sin and obedience to God are somewhat murky at certain points. But God says, “It is not so, and now I will make it plain to you so that you may never, ever say that again. Don’t ever say with respect to your sin, ‘I didn’t mean it, I didn’t understand it.’ Here is the choice: Jesus or Barabbas. Which one?”
And the people cried out, “Release unto us Barabbas. Away with this man. Crucify Him.” Sin, for which Jesus came to lay down His life in our place, our sin is the deliberate, willful, spiteful choice of what is clearly evil. And it is the deliberate rejection of what is clearly right and good. The people make the choice: Barabbas.
Do you weep? Are you shocked in seeing your own sin? Do you see yourself? Do you hear yourself?
Yesterday when you wanted that way of evil; yesterday when as a young man you were angry against your mom, in fact, you thought if you had a knife you’d kill her; yesterday when as a man you lusted after that woman; yesterday when you had those thoughts of your brother or sister and you hated them; yesterday when as a little boy you thought that you would lie to cover up your tracks; and yesterday when you were ashamed of the name of Jesus to confess Him before men — do you hear what you were saying? Do you know now what sin is? Do you know the human heart, your own heart? Do you understand the definition of total depravity, of the human nature? Let us hear it! Release unto us Barabbas. Crucify this Jesus Christ!
That is our sin. And do you see the amazing grace of God who spared not His own Son but gave Him over for the likes of such sinners whom He had chosen eternally of His grace?
Following the narrative, once again, we see that the people’s choice was emphatic, it was repeated, and there was no misunderstanding. Emphatically they said, “Release unto us Barabbas.” And Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them and delivered Jesus to be crucified when he had scourged Him.
Let us turn our attention away from Barabbas. Let us turn our attention also away from Pilate. Let us see the gospel that God spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us. God’s own Son is scourged. That was terrible! His back was laid open to the bone. He was whipped with a scourge — leather thongs to which were fastened pieces of bone or metal to make great furrows of blood and gore in His back. And He was handed over to the cross.
This is the gospel. This is why Jesus came. He came for His people, for you and for me, for all who are brought to repentance. He came in order that He might take our sin, our inexcusable sin upon Him. The gospel is clear. Who is condemned? Whose back is laid bare? The innocent one, declared by God to be innocent. And who is freed? The guilty one, the one who is justly condemned, the one who has no worth. We are the guilty. We have fallen in Adam. We are guilty of insurrection against God. But God gave His Son to endure the penalty and guilt that belong to me. By His stripes we are healed.
How do you hear of the sufferings of Jesus Christ? With indifference? Or does the Holy Spirit now work within you profound contrition over your own sin, profound wonder and joy over the grace of God? Do you see your sin? Do you see what God is like? There is no place to see what God is like as at the cross. This shows Him — the God of grace and glory, who saved us miserable sinners in His Son.
Then let us respond to this gospel in the words of the apostle, once again: “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. Humble us before the gospel. And may we find the power of the cross and the adequacy of that work of Jesus to be the comfort and rejoicing of our hearts throughout all eternity. Amen.