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Tom Pennington • Mark 15:6-15

  • 2013-03-24 PM
  • The Memoirs of Peter
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Tonight, I am happy for us to return to Mark and his Gospel. We come to Mark's account of the third trial, the third Roman trial of Jesus in Mark 15. It's hard for me to believe, but we're approaching the end of this wonderful Gospel and its record. And it's been a wonderful journey for me, and I trust it has for you.

But in God's providence we find ourselves, at just the right time as we begin this Passion Week of our Lord, looking at the beginning of His passion just before His crucifixion. In specific, we are in the middle of the series of trials of Jesus. We call them trials. In many regards they were really not much more than short hearings. They all transpired from sometime after His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane on-on Thursday night probably around midnight, till about 6 o'clock in the morning or shortly after 6 A.M. There were three Jewish trials and then three Roman trials.

Just after midnight on the Thursday of the Passover, Jesus was taken from Gethsemane to the private residence of the high priest. There was a preliminary hearing before Annas, who had at one time been the high priest and now was the father-in-law of the current high priest. That was followed immediately by a trial before a quorum of the Sanhedrin in Caiaphas' home just across the courtyard from Annas' home. Both of these apparently finished by 3 A.M. Jesus was then probably detained temporarily somewhere in the high priest's house, probably in some sort of holding cell in his basement, for an hour or two. But before the first break of dawn's light, Jesus is taken from the house of Caiaphas to the Temple Mount, to the official chambers of the Sanhedrin.

You'll notice chapter 15 of Mark in verse 1 says, "Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole [Sanhedrin] [the seventy plus the high priest] immediately held a consultation and [then notice] they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate." Two things happened as the light began to creep onto the eastern horizon on that Friday morning. First, the Sanhedrin held a brief but formal third Jewish trial in which they officially found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. Secondly, when that formality was done, they quickly took Jesus to the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, because only he could execute the death penalty that they sought.

With that, the three Jewish trials were done, and the three Roman trials very quickly, in quick succession, took place.

The first Roman trial was before Pilate, really just a preliminary hearing of sorts. Then when he learned that Herod had jurisdiction, and Herod was just across the courtyard there staying at that magnificent place that Herod the Great had built in Jerusalem, he sent Him across to Herod. That was the second Roman trial. Herod then sent Jesus back to Pilate for the third Roman trial. John tells us that all of those trials were essentially over by "about the sixth hour" (John 19:14), in other words, somewhere around 6 A.M. Because there were no watches in that time period, it could have been as late as seven or seven thirty, but probably not much beyond that. Somewhere between six and seven thirty in the morning they were all done.

Tonight, we come to the third Roman trial before Pilate. We've looked at the others, and if you haven't been here, I encourage you to go back and listen on line and catch up, because this is part of a process, and it comes to its culmination in these verses. Let's read it together. Mark 15, and I'll begin reading in verse 6.

Now at the feast [Pilate] used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. The crowd went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. Pilate answered ... saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. Answering again, Pilate said to them, "[What then] … shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?" They shouted back, "Crucify Him!" But Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify Him!" Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

Mark's account of this third Roman trial unfolds in three scenes that I want us to look at tonight. The first scene comes to us in verses 6 to 8, and it is "a gracious custom." And in that custom is a picture of the Passover's story. Notice the custom, it's described for us in verse 6. "Now at the feast [Pilate] used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested." The verb tenses here imply that this was a customary practice.

A similar practice to this was not uncommon throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, Josephus records similar instances of Romans freeing a prisoner as a sort of goodwill gesture, and sometimes in connection with a national holiday as this one was. John makes it clear that it was specifically Pilate's custom to release a prisoner in conjunction with the Passover celebration. In John 18:39, it says, "You have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover."

Now, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. There is no better picture of what God had done in the first Passover in Egypt. He had moved, God had moved, to release His people from their bondage in Egypt to redeem them. And so, it'd become a custom in Israel for the Romans to release a prisoner at Passover: a picture of the Passover story, if you will.

What made this unique was the people had the right to choose who would be released. They were the ones who requested, and to whose request Pilate responded. The Greek word that's translated there in verse 6 "release" is a legal word. It doesn't merely mean "to let out of prison" in the sense of "Look, I'll give you a running start (chuckle), but we'll catch you again next week after the Passover." It's a legal word that means "to grant acquittal, to pardon." Whoever was chosen by the people, whomever they requested, Pilate granted that person a full pardon. That was the custom, the gracious custom that was really a picture of what God had done in the first Passover when He had redeemed His people from their bondage.

That brings us to the prisoner introduced to us in verse 7. "The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection." The only thing we know about this man is revealed to us in the Gospels. There're are no other records anywhere, but we are told several things here in the Gospel. His surname "Barabbas" means "son of abba" or "son of a father." Some early manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel tell us that his given name was actually Jesus, Jesus Barabbas. We can't be sure of that, but it is possible. Jesus was simply the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua, and so it was very common in the first century. Again, we can't be sure if he bore this given name Jesus, but if he did, it makes the contrast even starker, doesn't it? Jesus Barabba, or Jesus Bar-Joseph.

We can't be sure of his given name, but we can be sure of what kind of man he was. The Gospel records are very clear. Matthew, in Matthew 27:16, calls him a "notorious prisoner." The word "notorious" in Greek literally means "outstanding." He was an outstanding prisoner. And that word is used in both a good sense and a bad sense, and hence the word notorious. He was outstanding in the extent and the horrific nature of his crimes. John tells us in John 18:40, that Barabbas was a "robber." The word means "a bandit, a brigand." The word describes an armed revolutionary, a guerrilla, in our parlance, a terrorist. Josephus uses this word to describe anti-Roman insurrectionists like the zealots.

Mark tells us a little more about this man in verse 7. "The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection." He had been connected to an event that Mark simply calls "the insurrection." We don't know exactly what this was, but we do know this: between 6 A.D. and 70 A.D., the Zealots, those who were "zealous" to overthrow Roman control and restore the control of Israel to its own people, they led countless armed revolts against the Roman occupying army. Barabbas had been part of one of those armed revolts. The fact that he's singled out here may very well mean that he was the leader.

Notice Mark also tells us that Barabbas had committed murder during his armed revolt. His attacks were probably not against fellow Jews, but against well-placed Romans and against Jewish sympathizers to the Romans, like the tax collectors. This would've made Barabbas a kind of Robin Hood figure, popular among the masses who deeply resented the Roman occupation. Notice verse 7 also tells us that Barabbas had been captured by the Romans along with several of his followers. They had all been convicted of murder and insurrection, and they were all awaiting execution. That's the prisoner.

In verse 8 we come to the request, "The crowd went up and began asking [Pilate] to do as [he'd] been accustomed to do for them."

Now, don't forget where these events are unfolding. John tells us, in John 18:28, that when the-the leaders of Israel led Jesus from the Temple Mount and -the formal trial they'd had that morning, they led Him to the Praetorium. The Jewish word for "Praetorium" refers to the governor's official residence in Jerusalem. On special occasions, Pilate, the Roman governor, would leave his seaside resort in Caesarea over on the coast of the Mediterranean, and he would travel up to Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem he would stay in the magnificent palace that Herod the Great had built years before on the upper west side of the city.

Here is a layout of the ancient city of Jerusalem looking from the south. You can see the Mount of Olives to the far right, the Temple Mount there just to the left of it, but all the way over to the left on the upper west side of the city toward the Mediterranean on a hill (as you would expect the expensive property to be) was Herod's palace. John tells us that the Jewish leaders didn't themselves go into the Praetorium, or the governor's official residence. Because it was the Passover; they stayed just outside.

And Pilate, then, accommodating them, brought Jesus out and sat on the-on his judgment seat at a place called "the Pavement." John 13:19, the Greek word for "the Pavement" means "a stone pavement or mosaic." Josephus describes that "just outside of Herod's palace on that upper side was a courtyard, a large open market paved with stone." Here is Herod's palace in the foreground. It was really two separate palaces built on the same property so that one leader could be on one end and another on the other. And each had its own facilities, its own banquet halls, its own baths, and everything. These were massive structures on each end. Pilate was staying in one at the feast, and apparently Herod was staying at the other.

Adjacent to the palace, though, was this courtyard, this large open market which was "the Pavement." Just outside the palace courtyard and into that agora, Pilate apparently set up his Bema Seat, his judgment seat. The events of Jesus' trial before Pilate alternated back and forth with Pilate privately interrogating Jesus just inside the grounds of the palace, and then stepping out back into that open marketplace, back into that square called the Pavement. While Pilate was sitting on the Bema Seat just outside of his palace compound inside that large, open market, notice verse 8 tells us that a group of people (We aren't told who specifically.) approached Pilate and asked him to do what he had customarily done during the Passover season: to pardon a criminal. Now that brings the first scene "a gracious custom" to a conclusion. In Pilate's gracious custom was a beautiful picture of the Passover story, a story of redemption from bondage.

The second scene picks up in verse 9. It's "a graphic choice," a graphic choice that Pilate presents the people with. And in this choice is a picture of man's sin. Pilate, the consummate politician, sees in the request he's just received in verse 8 an opportunity, an opportunity to get out of this dilemma he finds himself in and to release Jesus. In fact, we know that Pilate had already decided to release Jesus. In Acts 3:13, Peter tells us that Pilate had "decided to release Jesus," but the Jews would not let it happen.

You can see in what Pilate does next (in the biblical record) the kind of man he really was, because he treats Jesus, a man he believes to be innocent of all charges, as if he were in the same league as a condemned murderer and a terrorist; because in verses 9 to 11, Pilate presents the leaders and the people with a graphic choice. Notice verse 9: "Pilate answered them, saying, 'Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?'" Now, Matthew makes it clear to us that Pilate was offering them actually a deliberate choice between two alternatives. Matthew 27:17: "When the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, 'Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called [Messiah]?'"

He gives the people a choice. He gives the people and the leaders of Israel a choice: a choice between a king and a rebel, between justice and injustice, between a godly man and the worst of sinners, between a healer and restorer of life and a murderer, between a respecter of authority and an insurrectionist, between a man innocent before the law and a convicted felon, between a man who claimed to be God and a man who utterly rejected God and His claims.

The choice was really clear, but Pilate is trying to get rid of Jesus in the sense that he doesn't want to carry out the wishes of the Jews, and he sees this as a way to escape. He knows what they're trying to do. Notice verse 10: "For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy." The chief priests were Caiaphas, the current high priest; Annas, his father-in-law, who had served as high priest before; and between Annas and Caiaphas there were three other men who had served as high priest. So, living at that point, just as we now currently have several presidents living, there were several high priests: five of them alive, at least. And the high priest, the chief priests, had handed Jesus over because of envy.

These were the men, along with their powerful families, who controlled not only the high priesthood, but the temple and all of its commercial enterprises, all of its money-making ventures. They were the power brokers in Israel, and Pilate understood that the real source of their concern with Jesus was not that He was an insurrectionist, but their own envy. What's envy? Envy is anger and resentment caused by seeing someone else experience success. They resented Jesus. They resented His popularity with the people. They resented the size of His following. They resented that He taught as one having authority and not as the scribes and the rabbis and the leaders. They resented His miracles.

Pilate knows what's going on. He was a savvy man—not a righteous man, but a savvy man. He understood that he was being used. He despised the Jews. That's clear from the secular records as well as the biblical ones, and he knew that the Sanhedrin wasn't there because they were loyal to Caesar. This was not about protecting Rome from insurrectionists. Pilate understood that they simply intended to use him as a pawn to do their dirty work, to get rid of someone they didn't like, and so he has a plan: I've been asked to extend grace to a prisoner; surely because of the popularity of Jesus, if I offer them Jesus, that's who they'll want.

But before the people can respond to Pilate's question, Matthew tells us that Pilate was suddenly interrupted. The proceeding was interrupted because a message was delivered through the back gate in his compound out to the Bema Seat. It was a message that came from his wife. Matthew 27:19: "While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, 'Have nothing to do with that righteous Man, for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.'"

While Pilate is dealing with this note from his wife, the religious leaders are canvassing the crowd. Notice verse 11, "But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead." Now we don't know what arguments they used to try to convince the people, to stir up the crowd. Maybe they told them that Jesus had actually blasphemed before the entire Council that morning. Maybe they talked about the courage of Barabbas, the freedom fighter, as he stood up to the Romans. Maybe they used intimidation as they had many times before, threatening to excommunicate them from the synagogue.

Whatever it was it worked, because Matthew records the people's answer. Once Pilate is able to get his attention back from the note from his wife, once he's able to ask and receive an answer, Matthew tells in verse twenty-one, "The governor said to them, 'Which of the two do you want me to release for you?' And they said, 'Barabbas.'" Barabbas.

In this second scene at this Roman trial, the third phase of the Roman trial, Pilate and ultimately God Himself presents the people with a graphic choice. They have a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a choice between a king and rebel, a choice between a righteous man and a thoroughly wicked man. And the choice they make is a profound picture of human sin and depravity, because both the leaders and the people were complicit in choosing sin over righteousness. And their choice is the same choice sinful humanity always makes. It's the same choice you and I would have made apart from grace and did make before grace came. It shows mankind's unwavering commitment to choose sin and self over righteousness. You see, they were driven by something other than a desire for justice and righteousness. In every case they had ulterior motives.

What were the motives going on here? Well, the motive of the people is clear: they are stirred up by the priest and the chief priests and leaders. For some of them it's undoubtedly, I'm thinking, spiritually indifference: they just don't care, and they respond to-to what they're urged to do by their leaders. For others, they're thinking, because they're part of the entourage that are there with the religious leaders, here's my chance to sort of brown nose, to advance in my culture, in my society; here's my chance to make sure that my commercial enterprises aren't affected by being blackballed by one of these powerful men. It was all about them. The motive of the religious leaders? It was envy. You see that not only here, but you see it in other places as well. You remember in John eleven, just a few weeks before, Caiaphas had said, if we let Jesus keep doing what He's doing, we're going to lose both our position and our nation. They were driven completely by self and sin.

What about Pilate? Well, he was driven by the fear of-the fear of man, self-promotion, and personal advancement. In fact, if you want to see what really drove Pilate, what changed his mind, you can see it in John 19. (And we'll look at it in just a moment.) It was completely himself. That was what was going on here. These were the motives that drove this decision between this graphic choice. It was all about self. It was all about sin. It was all about personal ambition, selfish gratification. That's the same reason people choose sin over Jesus today. Nothing has changed. The graphic choice that Pilate presents the crowd with paints a dark portrait of their sin and ours as well.

Now, verse 12 introduces the third and final scene in this great drama. Let's call it "the great exchange, a picture of Jesus' substitution." The great exchange, a picture of Jesus' substitution. Look at verse 12: "Answering again, Pilate said to them, 'Then what shall I do with Him whom you call King of the Jews.'" Now, it appears that Pilate fully expected the people to ask for Jesus, and when they don't, he's left with a dilemma. And so, he asks them, so what should I do with Jesus? Now that is utterly the wrong question for a righteous judge to ask, but that's what he asks.

In fairness, Pilate may have been giving them an opportunity to ask for Jesus' release as well. He's already decided he wants to release Jesus. And so maybe here's his way of saying, "OK, I'll be especially gracious this year, I'll ask them again what they want me to do with Jesus now that they've requested Barabbas; and maybe they'll ask for Jesus too, and I'll be gracious and release Him as well." That's possible. Pilate may have had that in mind. We don't know. But in response, verse 13 says, "They shouted back, 'Crucify Him!'" The word shouted means "to cry out in a loud voice" even "to scream." It's used of a woman in childbirth. It's used of Christ's death cry. It's used of a person in the Gospels who's mentally disturbed.

Now there's an important question for us to consider here. This is something we often hear and even say: how could the crowd that on Sunday at the Triumphal Entry was shouting Hosanna, now less than five days later be shouting for His death? It's an important question. But I think it's answered. First of all, it's not exactly the same crowd. That's important to understand. Most of those—read the Triumphal Entry. If you've already read it today, or if you'll read it tonight in sorting with us through the Passion Week, you'll see that most of those involved in the Triumphal Entry were either His disciples and followers or those who had some interest in His ministry. That was not the crowd gathered at this marketplace at 6 A.M. that Friday morning.

This crowd was a different crowd. It was clearly composed of the Sanhedrin and their entourage. Remember, the Gospel record tells us the entire Sanhedrin came: seventy, seventy-one counting the high priest, plus their entourage. They would have had servants and-and others and the temple police to guard them and protect them and to bring Jesus without His being captured. There would've been quite a crowd solely with the Sanhedrin and their entourage.

In addition to that, remember, this is a marketplace early in the morning in a culture in which the day started early, at the very break of dawn and even before. So, there were those there in this agora, this large, open market who were there to buy and sell. One of the busiest days of the year: remember it's Passover, and all of the crowds have come. Josephus and other historians tell us that the population of Jerusalem swelled by hundreds of thousands at Passover time. So, you have the buyers and sellers at the market.

You also have, apparently, a group that had come to seek the release of a prisoner. Remember verse 8? They come specifically asking Pilate to do what he always did at Passover. It's even possible that these were in some cases friends of Barabbas, ones who'd come there perhaps to seek his release. We can't be sure of that. But certainly, there was a group that had come to seek the release of a prisoner.

Of course, there were also undoubtedly some there who had been present at the Triumphal Entry on Sunday. Perhaps for them the fact that Jesus not only didn't fight Rome, (He'd come in riding as a king.) but now He not only didn't fight, He's a prisoner. Maybe this proved to them that He wasn't the kind of Messiah they were expecting or really wanted. D. Edmond Hiebert, in his commentary, writes,

The people were receptive to-to the high priests and their plan, because it was a deep shock to them to see the One they had expected to overthrow the Romans and establish the Messianic kingdom standing before the Roman governor as a helpless prisoner. No true Messiah, they felt, would endure such indignities. Disappointed in His failure to act as they had anticipated, they turned fiercely against Him. If He was such a helpless King of the Jews, they wanted nothing of Him.

And of course, we can't underestimate the pressure and the intimidation that the high priest and the Sanhedrin brought to bear on these people.

Regardless, they all cried out for His death. Verse 14, "… Pilate said to them, 'Why, [Why?] what evil has He done?' But they shouted all the more, 'Crucify Him!'" [Pilate still seems to be shocked at their response to Jesus. This is not what he'd planned. This is not what he figured would happen. He assumed that if he offered Jesus as the prisoner, because of His popularity, He would immediately be received. And so, he's trying to understand. He's saying, why do you want me to crucify Him, what has He done to call this kind of hostility forth? "But they [screamed out] all the more." That Greek expression that's, or the Greek word that's translated "all the more" is a word that means "beyond measure, an exceptionally high degree on a scale of intensity."

Hendrickson captures it this way. He says, "Over and over again, these terrible words are yelled until they become monotonous refrain, an eerie ominous chant, 'Let Him be crucified! Let Him be crucified!' The crowd has become a riotous mob, an emotion charged screaming rabble." Wow.

There is in this account an intentional contrast. In reporting to us the inner weaving of the life of Barabbas and the life of Jesus, the Gospel writers go out of their way to describe the contrast. First of all, the contrast between the innocence of Jesus and the guilt of Barabbas. Let me just remind you of what this looks like in this contrast. In the innocence of Jesus, turn with me to Luke 23. Luke 23 and notice verse 13. This is between the two trials, between the two of the second Roman trial before Herod and the third Roman trial before Pilate.

Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and [he] said to them, "You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. [That was Roman trial number one.] No, nor has Herod, [Roman trial number two] for he [has] sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving [of] death has been done by Him."

There is Pilate's summary of the first two Roman trials. He said there is nothing. He is innocent, there's nothing at all. Matthew goes on to describe that that note from his wife in which she calls Him "that righteous Man." In John 19:4, Pilate brings Jesus out, and he says, "I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him." We just read in verse 14 of Mark 15, Pilate said, "What evil has He done?" And in Matthew 27:24, Pilate, at the very end, remember, takes water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood." He doesn't deserve to die, He's innocent, and I'm no part of it. Very clearly Jesus is innocent.

In the same context the writers go out of their way to establish the guilt of Barabbas. In Matthew 27:16, he's called the "notorious prisoner." In Luke 23:19, he's the "one [who'd] been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder." In John 18:40, he's called "a robber," a brigand. And in Mark 15: "The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists [who'd] committed murder in the insurrection." He was a terrorist, an insurrectionist, and a murderer.

You see the contrast? It's intentional. Listen carefully, here's the key. Barabbas had been convicted and condemned and was living on death row for the very crime of which Jesus had been pronounced completely innocent. Remember, they brought Him on the charge of insurrection; and Pilate, four separate times, says, I find no fault in Him, I find no fault in Him, I find no fault in Him. And so, they-he delivered Him up to be crucified. That's the way the Gospel record reads. It's an intentional contrast between the innocence of Jesus and the guilt of Barabbas on exactly the same charge.

But that's not the only contrast. Not only is there the contrast between the innocence of Jesus and the guilt of Barabbas, but there's also a contrast here between the pardon of the guilty and the condemnation of the righteousness one. The pardon of the guilty and the condemnation of the righteous one. Look at verse 15 of Mark 15. "Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified." In an unthinkable act of injustice, Pilate sacrifices an innocent life on the altar of his own personal ambition. What had changed Pilate's mind? He'd decided to release Him. Let me show you what changed his mind. This is from John 19. John 19:12,

As a result of [their comment "We have no king but Caesar") Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out [and they said], "If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who make himself out to be a king opposes Caesar." [And then John records these words.] Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, [and the crucifixion follows. This is what changed his mind. This is what made him decide he had to have Jesus crucified.]

Now what was it that they said? Well, implied in their words here in John 19 is this threat: if you let Jesus go, we will file a complaint to Caesar against you, and we will argue that you have actively condoned treason against Rome, you have freed a man who has made Himself a king; and that is a direct affront to Caesar himself. That's what they were threatening. Now you have to understand, if you know anything about the history of Pilate, that he was already on shaky ground with Caesar, and he could not afford another problem. One author says, "In his feverish ambition and imagination, he saw how he was about to lose his prestige, his position, his possessions, his freedom, and even perhaps his life." You see, Pilate had spent years working himself up through the ranks of the Roman army, and he was not going to let one little life, even the life of a man he knew to be righteous, get in the way of his career.

Matthew tells us that when it became obvious to Pilate that he would not be able to spare Jesus' life without great personal cost to himself, he does something completely ridiculous. In Matthew 27,

When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves." And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!"

Pilate's trying to offload the responsibility for what he's about to do, but understand this, it was Pilate's decision, and it was Pilate's decision because of his personal ambition, because of his desire to protect himself and his future.

Then Pilate commits the greatest travesty of justice in human history. I want you to let the words of verse 16, verse 15 rather, sear into your soul. Notice verse 15 again, "Pilate released Barabbas for them." In other words, Pilate pardoned Barabbas for his crimes, and he released him in answer to their request. Verse 15 goes on to say, "After having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified." It's really amazing to me how the Gospel writers exercise so much restraint in describing the physical sufferings of our Lord. Mark simply writes "after having Jesus scourged."

But there is, in fact, hideous torture and unimaginable suffering contained in that single word "scourged". The Greek word is actually a loaned word from Latin. It comes from the Latin word "flagello". It describes a horrific punishment to which Romans citizens were exempt but punishment that was inflicted on slaves and provincials after they had been sentenced to death. It was inflicted with the "flagellum". It was a short wooden handle with a number of leather straps attached, and woven into those straps were pieces of lead and brass and shards of stone, or excuse me, of bone. That's a picture of a reproduction from a relief that was done in the time of the Romans. The victim was stripped to his waist; he was bent over a short pillar, either tied or held in place. Usually two men administered the punishment, one stationed on each side of the victim, lashing him from on one side and then the other. Roman law was completely silent about how many stripes could be given, unlike Jewish law, and so it was fully at the discretion of the commanding officer.

The first few blows softened and lacerated the back like a meat mallet does to a piece of meat. The following blows cut deeply into the flesh leaving it in ribbons. The historian Josephus claims that when he was a Roman officer, he had some of his enemies in Galilee scourged until their organs were visible. He also writes that the procurator, Albinas, had a man scourged until his bones lay visible. Eusebius, the church historian, describes those who "Were torn by scourges down to deep seated veins and arteries, so that the hidden contents of the recesses of their bodies, their entrails and organs, were exposed to sight."

But the point here is not the physical suffering. You see, there's great spiritual significance behind the scouring of Christ. Seven hundred years before, Isaiah had written these words in Isaiah 53:5, "… by His scourging we are healed." Peter, in his first letter, makes it clear that he's talking about spiritual healing rather than physical healing. By His scourging, by His suffering, He produces spiritual healing for us.

But when you look at this text, when you look at verse 15, don't miss the great exchange that takes place, because it is by God's design a picture of Jesus' substitution. It portrays the condemnation of the Righteous One in the place of the guilty and condemned. Think about this for a moment. You remember that Barabbas had been imprisoned, condemned, and ordered to be executed along with his followers. The Greek word that's translated "robber" in John 18:40, describing Barabbas, occurs here in Mark 15.

Look down at verse 27. "They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right hand and one on His left." The exact same word that's used of Barabbas is used here of these two men. You understand what happened? Not only was Barabbas pardoned and released and Jesus condemned, but Jesus literally died in Barabbas' place between two of Barabbas' accomplices. He died on the cross that Barabbas was supposed to die on. And that was by divine design, because God intended to picture forever the reason behind the atonement. And that reason was substitution. Don't ever get tired of that concept. Don't ever get over the reality of what's described here. Jesus was dying literally in the place of a guilty, condemned sinner who was on death row, and that's exactly what He was doing for us. There is in this story, in this great exchange that takes place, a picture of what God was doing at the cross, and what He was doing, not for Barabbas, but what He was doing for you and for me.

The great events unfolding in this paragraph are happening at two separate levels, both here on earth as well as in heaven. On the literal level, the Jews and the Romans conspired to condemn the innocent in place of the guilty, to condemn the one found innocent of insurrection in the place of the one already found guilty of insurrection. But there was something else happening as well. On the spiritual level, this paragraph traces the reality that God was condemning His own Son in the place of guilty sinners. Jesus was and is perfectly righteous. We, on the other hand, are guilty and condemned before God and His law, and we live our lives on death row. Do you understand that?

Look at Romans 3. Romans 3. You're familiar with the indictment that Paul makes here of all mankind. Verse 10,

"THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE'S NOT EVEN ONE." [THEY HAVE MOUTHS AND THROATS THAT ARE DECEPTIVE AND BITING AND CURSING AND BITTER. THEY ARE DESTRUCTIVE.] "THERE FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD." [THIS IS US.] "DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, ... THE PATH OF PEACE [THEY'VE] NOT KNOWN. THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES."

And then he summarizes this indictment of the first three chapters in Romans with these verses, verses 19 and 20. Folks, this is us. This is me; this is you. "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, [That's all of us.] so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God." The idea behind these expressions are legal ones. He is saying, you stand before the judge, before the law you've broken, and you have no defense to offer: your mouth is shut, your hand is over your mouth, there's nothing to say to defend yourself, and you have become accountable to God. And the implication is you have been found guilty, and you are living your life here on this planet on death row. That's where we all were when Christ found us. That was the reality. But through the Gospel, God planned a great exchange: the Righteous One is condemned and executed and the guilty are completely pardoned. Look back at Isaiah, Isaiah 53:6.

"All of us like sheep have gone astray." [This is comprehensive, there are no exceptions. We have all left the path, we have all left the path of following the Shepherd, the path of righteousness.] "Each of us." [This is individual. Without exception, every one of us] "has turned to his own way." [This is an act of rebellion. We have deliberately exercised our will, and we've left the way laid out for us by our Creator.] "But [Yahweh] … has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him," [on the Suffering Servant. Literally, "to strike Him." He's caused our sin to strike Him.] Verse 8: "By oppression and judgment He was taken away." [That's what we have just studied together.] "And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living [He was executed, He was found guilty and condemned.] For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?" [That's the great exchange.]

I don't know if Barabbas ever came to faith in Christ or not (whatever depiction Anthony Quinn might have of him) but I can tell you this, I can tell you this for sure. Every day of his life, Barabbas woke up in the morning reminded that someone who was innocent of the very crimes he had committed, died in his place. That's how we ought to live. That's how you ought to live. That's how I ought to live. We ought to wake up every morning aware of the fact that someone who was innocent of the very crimes we've committed had those crimes credited to Him, and He suffered and died in the great exchange: the Righteous One in the place of the guilty. First Peter 2:24, "… He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed," by His scourging you were healed. First Peter 3:18, For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, ... that He might bring us to God…." This week and every day of our lives, may we wake up remembering the great exchange.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we thank You for the magnificent picture You've given us in this text, for how You providentially arranged the death of Your Son so that He would literally die in the place of a condemned and guilty sinner, and He would die for the very crimes of which He was innocent, but which the one whose place He took was guilty. Father, thank You for this high-definition picture of the substitutionary atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, wake us up every morning remembering that we live, we are alive spiritually and will live in Your presence forever, because of the great exchange, because the perfectly Righteous One was condemned by You for "the transgression of [His] people to whom the stroke was due."

We thank You, O God. We love You. We adore You, and we want to live our lives in faithful love and obedience to simply say thank You.

In Jesus name, Amen.

The Memoirs of Peter