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The Trials of Jesus II

Luke 23:13-25.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 10, 2016.

The trials of Jesus continue, on the day of his crucifixion.  He is brought before the High Priest, then to Pilate, then to Herod, and now sent back to Pilate.  You would think that Herod’s refusal to do anything to Jesus would bolster the case for releasing Jesus.  But the religious leaders and the crowd who have gathered will have none of it.  They want Jesus dead.  There is a tragic irony on display in this section.  A peaceful healer who merely speaks truth will be put to death, while a murderous robber will be let go free.  Such is the justice of mankind.  Yes, Jesus is on trial here, but so is the justice of mankind.

Throughout the history of mankind getting justice has been at best a slippery target.  Beware of those leaders who cry for justice the loudest because they are usually playing on our emotional desires.  Beware of the crowd that is worked up into a fever pitch seeking justice because all manner of evil will be done by it in the name of justice.  It matters little if it is Jerusalem in the first century A.D. or the French Revolution of the late 1700’s, in which those who helped to execute the aristocrats later found themselves on the chopping block.  Perhaps the Arab Spring, which was so inappropriately named, was not so noble as the crowds in Egypt’s Tahrir square raped, young female journalists while calling for justice from the government.  Even the United States has had its share of mobs out of control in the name of justice committing heinous crimes.  The mob is rarely if ever about true justice because the hearts of mankind are twisted by sin.

Pilate declares Jesus Innocent

Pilate is most likely not happy to have Jesus back in his judgment hall.  The whole purpose of sending Jesus to Herod was to avoid this issue.  Yet, here it is again.  Perhaps we can see the tendency of many today to try and push off the “Jesus issue” by appealing to the judgments of others.  However, you will find throughout life that one way or another, God will bring Jesus back before you.  What will you do with Jesus?  This is the most critical decision of your life because it affects your eternal destiny.

Pilate makes his case before the religious leaders and the crowd.  First, he does not see any reason to execute Jesus.  Second, Herod saw no reason to execute Jesus.  Thus Pilate will have Jesus flogged and release him.

This may sound strange to our ears.  He is innocent but will be punished anyway?  What is going on here is something that happens every day throughout the “justice” of this world.  Decisions are made with an eye to how it will be received.  If Jesus was released without anything done, the religious leaders and the people would riot.  This would require Pilate to use force to quell them, which would lead to the deaths of many.  This would bring Pilate’s leadership under question before Caesar.  Thus Pilate is seeking to appease the religious leaders without executing Jesus.  A public flogging would bring great physical harm to Jesus and social humiliation.  Also, the release is not a normal release.  Pilate is referring to a tradition that had developed in which a guilty prisoner would be pardoned on Passover each year.  Thus Jesus would have the further social stigma of being a prisoner who was guilty and yet pardoned.  Yet, this is not enough for the religious leaders and the crowd.

The Crowd Calls for Crucifixion

The crowd breaks out into loud objection to Pilate’s decision.  Luke takes time to note that Pilate had made three attempts to make a case for letting Jesus go.  I believe this is an intentional allusion back to Peter’s three denials of Christ.  Three times Peter had been given a chance to stand with Jesus and yet he shrunk back and refused to stand with Christ.  As bad as this is, we see a similar thing happening with the religious leaders and the crowd in Jerusalem.  They are given three chances to change their mind and listen to reason.  However, they are not merely refusing to stand with Jesus.   They are actively choosing to punish Jesus with death.  Such is the justice of mankind when its base notions are not kept in check.

When the leaders realize that Pilate intends to make Jesus the official release criminal of the Passover, they quickly counter this by calling for the release of Barabbas instead.  So who is this Barabbas?  Luke tells us that Barabbas was involved in a rebellion and had murdered someone.  In his gospel, John also adds that Barabbas was a robber or bandit.  The word used is not that of a sneak thief who unsuspectingly steals things, but of a thug who takes things by force and violence.  The man they ask to be released is a violent, beast of a man who didn’t have a righteous bone in his body.  Thus, in the name of righteousness, they call for the death of the innocent Jesus and for the release of the guilty Barabbas.  However, the irony does not stop there.  Barabbas’ name literally means “son of the father.”  Thus we have two individuals, Jesus and Barabbas, with two very different lives, and both representing the son of the father.  Of course they are clearly from two very different fathers.  Jesus is the exact image of the heavenly Father.  Barabbas reminds me of John 8:44, where Jesus tells the religious leaders that they are just like their father the devil.  Of course, they are not children of the devil biologically.  Rather, they have spiritually rejected the Heavenly Father and have turned to another spiritual progenitor, the devil.  They are choosing to kill the Son of the Father in heaven while embracing the son of the devil.  This is also reminiscent of John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.   I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”  Why would we choose a killer over a life-giver?  Why are we enamored with the bad guy or the bad girl, when we could choose a good one?  The answer is simple, we have a sin problem and Jesus is the only answer for it.

Under the threat of riot, Pilate gives in to the desires of the leaders and their crowd.  Jesus will be executed and Barabbas will be release.  The phrase in verse 25 is somewhat haunting.  It says that “he delivered Jesus to their will.”  I believe this is intentional by Luke.  Jesus is delivered over to the will of the people by Pilate.  However, Pilate cannot do anything but what the heavenly Father allows.  Thus it really is the Father who is handing Jesus over to the will of the people.  He will not step in and stop them from doing evil.  Neither will he force them to do the right thing.  He will simply let them choose.  Yes, God loves mankind and has created us to sit as glorified sons in His heavenly council.  Yet, he will not force it upon us.  We must choose.

Have you ever realized that in this life God has put the judgment of Jesus in our hands, in your hands?  It is up to each of us to make our judgment of Jesus, yea or nay, up or down.  This is our time to wrestle with the evidence and make a choice.  If you choose against Jesus, fire will not fall down from heaven and burn you up.  And, if you choose for Him, a glorious chariot will not swoop down from the sky and lift you up.  God will give you complete freedom to choose.  But you are not just deciding to choose for or against Christ.  It is a choice between Jesus or the alternative that the world offers.  Before you make such a choice, you should understand the further reality.  Once you leave this life, your judgment will then be in the hand of Jesus.  Take care with the measure you use in judging Jesus and the Father.  That same measure will be given back to you in the afterlife.  Jesus makes it clear how his judgment will be in Matthew 10:32-33.  “Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  Now is your turn to judge, but the day will come when you will wonder, “What will he do with me?”  Choose this day whom you will serve:  the giver of life or the bringer of death.

Trials II audio