Which Jesus Do You Want?
Mark 15.1-15 - Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate
STORY OF THE TRIAL BEFORE PILATE
A. Jesus and the Temple leaders have been up all night. As soon as it was daylight, about 6:00 a.m., the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. Someone said at Bible study this week that this council when fully assembled amounted to 71-men. The point is that this was not just a few ruthless leaders; this was the whole group agreeing together that Jesus must die. Further, it is not just a lynch mob stirred up by emotion; it is a considered, official decision.
This is an example of the hearts of all persons being revealed through their response to Jesus. As Simeon said when he blessed Jesus when he was 8-days old in the Temple,
"This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed" (Luke 2.34f).
B. It is still early in the morning. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate is the Roman procurator or governor. This was most likely a short walk to the Fortress Antonia, located at the edge of the Temple. Pilate has Jesus brought into the hall where he does official business; this would be similar in purpose to a modern courtroom. Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"
Now, this question from Pilate is not a request for information; it amounts to an accusation of insurrection. Herod is the Roman-approved ruler of the Jews; Pilate is the Roman proconsul. Jesus has been accused by the Jewish leaders of being a revolutionary – a charge which no Roman ruler will tolerate. For Pilate holding a hearing on that Friday morning, it is a legal question. In the legal sense, an answer, Yes or No will determine guilt or innocence. At another level, there is a different meaning to this question: For Christians, reading through the eyes of faith, this is a call to answer, "Yes!" It is a call to confess Jesus to be the Lord. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom of heaven or the Kingdom of God. Of this kingdom, faith knows that Jesus is the king.
C. But, according to Mark, Jesus answers only one this time: He answered Pilate, "You say so." What Pilate hears is courageous contempt. Jesus stands before Pilate as a beaten, exhausted Jewish peasant. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responds with a non-answer: “You say so.” Jesus is not defending himself. He is doing nothing to help Pilate make this decision.
Once again, though, hear the double meaning. Pilate asks, "Are you the King of the Jews?" To which Jesus responds: "You say so." Faith hears the Roman governor acknowledging aloud the reality that Jesus is the King of a kingdom that is not of this world.
D. 4 Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
For one who is charged with a capital crime to refuse to respond to Pilate's authority is contempt. Jesus will not speak again until his dying words from the cross. The defenseless silence of Jesus in the face of all the questioning by his interrogators, all the sly accusations of the religious leaders, and all the shouting of the mob speaks volumes. It proclaims that Jesus suffers deliberately and willingly, knowing what lies before him better than any other actor in this drama. I am not suggesting that Pilate and the Jewish leaders were puppets in Jesus' plan to make himself a martyr. I am suggesting that, like any wise person, he could see the direction of these events and realize the obvious destination. I am suggesting that, like the obedient Son of the Father, he believes that this is necessary and is willing to go to the cross.
E. Now, the events around Jesus take an unexpected turn. The scripture tells us that at the festival Pilate had a tradition of releasing a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. This is a most unusual custom considering how rebellious this province was.
Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. In the Gospel according to Matthew, there is a textual variant which names him "Jesus Barabbas." This raises an interesting parallel: that both of the prisoners were called "Jesus." There is a sermon here: Pilate brings out both Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Barabbas and says to the crowd: "Which Jesus do you want?" It is a question that Lent asks of us also.
Pilate asks them,
"Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.
POINT: This strange clemency offer suggests that Pilate was not the worst actor in this drama. As Mark's gospel was circulated among the churches of the Roman Empire, it had the effect of softening the accusation that the Romans had caused the death of the Messiah. It is has had the opposite effect of pinning more of the blame for the death of Jesus on the Jews. This story has been the unfortunate source of much anti-Semitism across the centuries. //
F. Pilate speaks to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" While this is an unusual question for the occupying authority to ask a vassal people, it again emphasizes the responsibility of the Temple leaders in Jesus' death and plays down the responsibility of the Romans – a nice touch in a gospel directed to Roman Christians. And they shout back, "Crucify him!"
Pilate is presented as powerless before the crowd. To the eyes of faith, Pilate is the real prisoner while the condemned/Jesus is the most free. So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
NOTE: There is one note before we move on. In the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ (though not stated in the Bible), there is the scene which shows the moment when Barabbas is released. As he exits the Palace, Barabbas looks back. His eyes and Jesus’ eyes meet for a brief moment. It seems that Barabbas understands that Jesus of Nazareth stays behind in his place. He gets it: he deserves to stay behind and see Jesus of Nazareth released. His freedom is bought at the cost of Jesus’ life. Barabbas gets it.///
II. Now, think with me about these two: Jesus Barabbas (as Matthew called him) and Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior whom we all know. Which Jesus do you want?
(Remember, as I said at the beginning, Lent is not finally about us and how we feel. Lent is a season to focus on Jesus.) So, which Jesus do we want? The choice while obvious is not as easy as it looks. If they made a TV movie about each, Barabbas would probably get the better ratings from the viewers.
A. Jesus Barabbas is a revolutionary. He was caught and found guilty of murder. I get the impression that he is the man of action that we all admire or hate depending on which side we are on. Curiously, the Bible does not tell us who Barabbas murdered.
1. Did he murder a Roman or a Roman sympathizer? This would be the obvious choice. As a revolutionary, he would deal with anyone who took Rome’s part; he would stop at nothing to stop the Romans. He would be the partisan hero like many others:
–John Hancock. You might not know that most of the 58 men who signed our Declaration of Independence were hunted by the British. To Americans, these are heroes; to the British, they were the enemy to be destroyed.
2. Or, did Barabbas murder one of his own kind? One of the facts of armed conflict is that we are willing to take up arms against our own. What do you do with deserters? What do you do with those who are willing to negotiate before you have achieved your goals? When passions are high, friends can become enemies.
3. The details about Barabbas’ crime are few. Josephus simply calls him a bandit; there is nothing else known about him.
Barabbas is the man of action, the partisan man, whom we admire. He is willing to take a stand; he is willing to take a side; he is willing to risk his life to further his cause. And we admire such strength of conviction. We admire the soldier who is willing to risk everything to win the battle.
–The basketball player who is willing to stand in the lane and take the charge.
–Our American fighting men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
–Presidents who take firm action, even it requires the sacrifice of war.
–Or very specifically, the Pentagon security officers who returned fire this week when an intruder ran past them, shooting two of them.
All of these gain our applause and our trust. Barabbas never did anything to hurt Jesus; he is a bit player in this drama. And Barabbas is only a bad guy if you’re standing on the other side of his conflict.
B. Jesus of Nazareth is the one who is harder to understand. He will not take up arms to fight the Romans, even though he was encouraged to do so. He will not stand and fight the Romans even though it appears that they could have been a threat to him as they were to John the Baptist.
Think about it:
–“Turn the other cheek”
–“Go the second mile.”
–“Love your enemies and pray for those who hatefully use you.”
–“Forgive 70 x 7 times.”
It was the message he taught and it was the message he lived – even as it took him to the cross and death. We watch the cross begin to loom over him and wonder when he will change his tactics. We wonder when he will call down legions of angels to join him in the battle. We savor the great battle of the Book of Revelation, even though it is completely contrary to anything Jesus himself did and taught.
Think about it: those who call for change without calling for arms are hard for us to understand.
Illus: Adam Hamilton in his book, 24 Hours that Changed the World, makes a distinction in his book between Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. Malcolm X did not disavow violence if that is what freedom from racial segregation required. He quotes Malcolm-X:
“I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man's problem - just to avoid violence. I don't go for non-violence if it also means a delayed solution. To me a delayed solution is a non-solution” (2).
On the other hand, Martin Luther King, Jr. called his followers to work without and against violence. He believed that human rights and equality come only by changing people’s hearts though encounters with nonviolent resistance and sacrificial love (3). King took inspiration from Jesus of Nazareth.///
What do we do with a Savior who will not take up arms? Frankly, most Americans, even Christians, do not believe that non-violence will win the battle. You can see evidence for this conviction in Avatar, where the sweet, peace-loving native peoples finally have to take up arms against the corporate invaders. What if John got it wrong in Revelation and the final battle is not one of power and might, but willing and sacrificial suffering beyond reason?
Which Jesus do you want? Which Jesus will you follow? I know this is church, and the answer is supposed to be Jesus of Nazareth. But, in our heart of hearts, we stand amazed (and maybe dumbfounded) in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.
CONCL: Maybe we have had the wrong idea all along about Lent.
+Giving up something.
+Spending extra time reading the Bible.
+Getting to church more often – all focus on us.
Such disciplines are for people who think they get it – which they/we do not. Maybe the response of those who truly get it is to stand in immobilizing silence.
I know that when the end of the service comes, the message is supposed to find a destination, a tidy ending. But, this time, we watch the Savior go to the Cross that we could not face, and we have to stand in silenced amazement. “O Lord, my God, what hast Thou done?”
Which Jesus do you want?
1. The man of action: Jesus Barabbas?
2. Or the man of sacrificial and complete love: Jesus of Nazareth?
Think about that on your way to the end of Lent.
2. Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm-X, quoted in Hamilton, Adam. 24-Hours that Changed the World, p. 73.
3. Malcolm X, quoted in Hamilton, Adam. 24-Hours that Changed the World, p. 74.
4. Allen, Robert L. His Finest Days: Ten Sermons for Holy Week and the Easter Season, CSS Publishing Company.