1 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. 6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
In 1975 Bob Dylan wrote his song “Hurricane.” The song is about Rubin Carter, a boxer who was convicted in 1966 of murder. (You may recall Denzel Washington playing Carter in the 1999 film, “The Hurricane.”) Dylan’s song was a protest song against the widely-perceived injustice of Carter’s case. Ten years after it was written, in 1985, a New Jersey Circuit Court judge granted a writ of habeas corpus and Rubin Carter was set free.
The song is a blistering indictment of the perceived injustices of our justice system, an opinion that many believe was finally confirmed by Carter’s release. In the song, Dylan lays out the evidence for Carter’s innocence and, in general, lampoons the courts for convicting Carter of a crime he did not commit. Dylan sings:
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game
Those are powerful words and stinging words! A land where justice is a game.
In truth, those words are a phenomenally apt description of the “court” proceedings recorded in the gospels in which Jesus was ultimately condemned to death. Furthermore, these proceedings are cautionary tales that reveal lasting traits about the nature of man.
In handing Jesus over to the state, the priests revealed the blindness and envy of man.
The priests wanted Jesus dead, but the Jews were not allowed to carry out a capital sentence. For this reason, they turned their eyes to the Romans, and, specifically, to Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea.
1 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.
What was this “consultation” of which Mark speaks? It was a meeting of the religious elites in which they discussed how to execute their plan. Their concerns were religious and institutional. They were religious in that they were offended by the vision of God that Jesus represented. And their concerns were institutional in that Jesus was threatening the survival of the religious system as they had constructed it.
The problem, however, was that Rome cared nothing about what they would have considered the intramural religious squabbles of the Jews. What they did care about was challenges to Roman political rule. As we will see, the priests deftly played this card. We can tell this by Pilate’s question to Jesus about whether or not He was truly a King.
The priests, in handing Jesus over, demonstrate the blindness and envy that rest at the core of the unregenerate human heart. It reveals their blindness because they are literally plotting to employ the pagan political machine to execute the Son of God. In their blindness, they thought they were serving God when, in reality, they were committing the ultimate heinous blasphemy against God by delivering His Son over to be killed.
Why do we say that their turning Jesus over reveals their envy? Envy was what Pilate perceived in their motives.
10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.
Why were they envious? From their perspective, there was much of which to be envious. For one thing, they saw how the people loved Jesus. They envied how the people flocked to Him. They saw the crowds, the adulation, and the peoples’ desire to be near Jesus, and they envied it.
They envied His authenticity. Jesus had a radical honesty and authenticity that frustrated their own carefully crafted images. Unlike the priests themselves, Jesus never postured, never preened, never posed. He did not have to. He was exactly who He appeared to be. He had an integrity and a transparency of which the priests could only dream.
They envied His authority. Jesus spoke as one who had authority and the priests resented and envied it (Matthew 21:23-27). Their own authority was the product of manipulation and fearmongering. Not Jesus’. It was real. It was His. He did not have to cajole people into recognizing it.
The priests represent the blindness and envy of man. In their shallow jealousy and refusal to see what was right before their faces we see our own envy and blindness. Which of us can say that we have never missed the truth of God that was right before our very eyes? Which of us can say that we have never wanted to guard jealously the time, the agendas, the ego, the possessions, and the comforts that we think following Jesus might cost us?
The story of the priests is the story of us all!
In giving in to the priest’s murderous demands, Pilate revealed the self-preservationist impulse of man.
So, too, is the story of Pilate. In Pilate we see our own selves as well.
2 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15a So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd…
Pilate represents the self-preservationist impulse of man. But first, who was this Pilate? R.C. Sproul offers the basic historic outline.
It was the Roman custom to appoint governors over the lands conquered by the legions. Pilate was the fifth governor of Judea. He held the office for eleven years, from AD 26-37, the longest tenure of those who served in the post. The governorship of Judea was not a political plum; it was one of the lowest rungs on the ladder for a Roman administrator, so staying in that outpost for eleven years was not so much a sign of success as it was a sign of failure. Pilate’s tenure finally ended when he was fired and banished from government by the Emperor Caligula.
The ancient historians Philo and Josephus tell us that Pilate was inflexible, stubborn, and cruel. During his tenure in Judea, he put down several insurrections or protests by the Jews in a brutal fashion. There were times when he deliberately provoked them. For example, he invited the legions of Rome to enter Jerusalem and the temple area with banners that proclaimed the Roman Caesar, which was seen as blasphemous to the Jewish people. On another occasion, he built an aqueduct that ran for twenty-three miles, bringing water into Jerusalem. That was the good news. The bad news was the he confiscated money from the temple in order to build his aqueduct.
If Pilate was anything, he was a politician, and if he was any kind of politician he was a survivor. He had drawn the vocational short straw, to be sure, but he was still in the game, and he was determined to stay there. And here was this Jesus. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate was intrigued and fascinated by Jesus. “Have you no answer to make?” Pilate marveled at the enigma that Jesus represented. Here before Pilate was something that he could not understand, could not make sense of, did not have a category for. He was amazed at Jesus’ lack of pleading, lack of explaining, lack of begging. He was, in short, confused by Jesus’ lack of political maneuvering.
Pilate may have been initially amused but very quickly this amusement gave way to perplexed fascination. Even so, while there was no evidence that Pilate had any particular animus towards Jesus, neither was he willing to stand by Jesus. When the chips were down, Pilate was ultimately about Pilate. He was lord of his own life and there was no room for another.
See here the whole story of man! How many people turn from Jesus because they rightly perceive that following Him will change everything, will require them coming to the end of themselves? How many people reject Jesus because they believe their lives are better off in their own hands?
Jesus stands as a perpetual threat to our plans, our egos, and our ways. He calls us rather to His plans, His mind and heart, and His ways! And the cross stands as the definitive response to man’s self-preservationist impulse.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)
See Pilate and heed the warning of his life! See what happens when your own survival, your own advancement, and your own security becomes the dominant theme of your own life. Do you want to save your life? Then lose it in Christ!
In being set free while Jesus was detained, Barabbas revealed the substitutionary work of Jesus.
There is another figure in our text. His name is Barabbas. He too stands for something bigger than his own particular story.
6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Let us begin with Barabbas’ name. New Testament scholar Joel Marcus has pointed out something profoundly ironic about Barabbas’ name.
…The name given here is a patronymic meaning “son of Abbas”…Since Abba itself means “father,” the narrative may intend to imply a contrast between Barabbas = “son of the father” and Jesus, the true son of the (heavenly) Father…Some texts of Matt. 27:16-17, mostly of a Caesarean type…read “Jesus Barabbas” rather than Barabbas,” and Origen acknowledges that some of the manuscripts known to him attest this reading…Many scholars think that “Jesus Barabbas” was the original reading in Matthew and that the forename was later suppressed by reverential scribes who felt, as Origen did, that no sinner should bear the name of Jesus…This theory is made more plausible by the observation that the forename has been erased from several manuscripts…Some exegetes…even argue that “Jesus Barabbas” may have been the original reading in Mark, since “the once called Barabbas” is awkward…
How astonishing! Barabbas’ name certainly means “son of the father” and it possibly was “Jesus son of the father.” What an unbelievable development! Standing there on the platform, on either side of Pilate, was Jesus, the Son of the Father, and Jesus, son of the father. Similar names but very different people. Jesus was truly the Son of the Father. Barabbas bore the name but not the reality. He was an insurrectionist. He was a murderer. He was a criminal. He was a bad man.
Jesus was innocent. Jesus was righteous. Jesus was perfect. Jesus was holy. Barabbas was the polar opposite in every respect.
And Pilate offered the Jews a choice: which “son of the father” do you want? Which Jesus will you choose? The true Son or the criminal son? The true Jesus or the anti-Jesus? God or man?
Astonishingly the people cry out for Barabbas! Amazingly, they choose the criminal over the Savior!
When we read this our minds reel in confusion and outrage! How many of us, when reading this, want nothing more than to step into this story and run to the front of the crowd and shout at the top of our voices, “What is wrong with you people! What are you thinking?! Do you not see that you are choosing a criminal over the Son of the living God, a murderer over the only innocent one on the earth? Look there! Barabbas gets to come down from the platform of judgment while Jesus stays there? What is this madness? Look! Look! The guilty one is proclaimed innocent while the innocent one is proclaimed guilty? Has the whole world gone mad? It is not right! It is not just! Why should the guilty be declared innocent while the innocent are declared…guilty…”
And then it hits you. Then you see it. This is the gospel. This is the whole point. Imagine Jesus’ eyes meeting your eyes and you hear Him say, “The guilty are declared innocent and the innocent is declared guilty because that is why I came. Because such is the love of God!”
Such is the love of God.
See the love of God.
See the gospel.
Jesus takes the judgment that should fall on us upon Himself.
We are Barabbas.
We are the insurrectionists.
We are the murderers.
And through Jesus we are declared forgiven and free.
See the love of God.
See the love of God standing there, next to Pilate, His eyes fixed on a hill just outside of the city. He scans the baying crowd and thinks, “I have come for this. I have come for these.” He sees the grinning horde of Roman soldiers and thinks, “You do not take my life. I give my life.” He sees Barabbas descending the platform and thinks, “There is the whole human race. I will pay your price Barabbas. I will pay the price for all of you.”
See the love of God.
See Him and come.
 R.C. Sproul, Mark. Saint Andrews Expositional Commentary. (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2011), Logos version.
 Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16. The Anchor Bible. Vol.27A (New Haven, CT: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2009), p.1028.