Whom do you want?  Why!?  And what shall I do with Jesus?
These were the questions Pilate asked.


 

At the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing one
prisoner. At that time they had a notorious prisoner called
Barabbas. Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to
release to You? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For
he knew they had handed Him over because of envy.

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to
him,
saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for
I have suffered
many things today in a dream because of Him.
" But the chief priests
and elders persuaded the multitudes
that they should ask for
Barabbas and destroy Jesus.

The governor said to them, "Which of the two do you want me
to
release?" They said, "Barabbas!" Pilate said to them, "What
then
shall I do with Jesus?" They all said to him, "Let Him be
crucified!"
The governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?"
But they cried
out all the more, saying "Let Him be crucified!"

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail, but rather that
a tumult
was rising, he took water and washed his hands
before the
multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of
this just Person.
You see to it." And all the people answered,
"His blood be on us
and on our children." Then he released
Barabbas to them.

                                               Matthew 27:15-26 NKJV, condensed


                                 What Evil Has He Done?

Pilate wanted to release Jesus because he truly believed Jesus was
innocent of the charges against him. But the riled up crowd that
had gathered outside his portico demanded a death sentence.
Pilate was a Roman through and through. The crowd outside was
Jewish. Pilate didn't understand them. He didn't care much for
them. And the feeling was mutual. So Pilate wanted to act with
haste and bid this whole affair good riddance.

Among his options was the Passover tradition, whereby he
released a prisoner of their choosing. This year, it just could
work to his own advantage. Pilate offered the persistent crowd
a choice. Barabbas or Jesus, called the Christ? Barabbas was
well-known for his vindictiveness. Some considered him a folk
hero who bravely fought the Romans by inciting people to
resist the foreign occupation.

This text identifies what Pilate already knew-- Jesus had been
turned over to him not because he endangered the lives of his
fellow Jews, but because the religious authorities were envious
of Jesus. Jealous of the way people loved and responded to him.
Begrudging Jesus' power to attract, heal and influence. Resenting
his profound sayings, witty stories, and unconventional deeds.

It was a nasty trick Pilate played, telling them, "If you guys want
to see someone who is really a danger to your nation, just look at
Barabbas. I'll stand these two men side by side and let you pick
which one you want!" The contrast between Barabbas and Jesus
was obvious. One was brutally fierce; the other calm and peaceful.
One lived by his sword; the other taught lessons about the
kingdom of God. One killed; the other restored life and health.
One used violence to get what he wanted; the other intended to
give up his life to save the world.

Matthew includes an antidote not found in the other gospels.
Pilate's wife tried to intervene on behalf of Jesus. But to no avail.
Pilate, who thinks he has the religious leaders over the barrel, is
in for a real surprise. When Pilate came back to the crowd and
asked them for their decision, he was shocked by their response.
The whole situation had spun wildly out of control. Pilate was
trapped. Since he had asked for their input, he must now grant
their request.

That raised a further dilemma. His new prisoner was unique and
distinctive. Non-violent, mystical, harmless; yet creating such a
stir among his own people that their authorities went to these
extremes to get rid of him. Pilate didn't know what to do next.
So he left the decision-making to the crowd. What shall I do with
Jesus? The reply was swift and merciless. Crucify him! 

The holiday crowd was in an ugly mood and nothing but blood
could satisfy them. The seat of power shifted momentarily to
the streets. In a frenzy, the shouting people accepted full
responsibility. Symbolically Pilate scrubbed his hands but no
amount of washing could get those hands clean. Barabbas, the
evil one, was released. Jesus, the holy one, was sentenced to die.

We find it hard to believe no one came to his defense! None of
those people whose lives Jesus had touched in a myriad of ways 
came forward to stand by his side. Jesus stood there bruised,
bleeding, submissive--like a lamb at Passover time about to die
for the sins of the people. The Jewish leaders thought they were
accomplishing their purposes, but the picture was much bigger
than they could see. It is God who is accomplishing God's
purposes.

The blood of Jesus would be upon them all, but not in the way
the chanters had meant those words. His blood would be upon
them as a demonstration of God's mercy, grace and forgiveness.
Blood shed in general terms to cover a multitude of sins. Blood
shed for us all to cover our own specific sins. His blood be upon
us, not to condemn and send us to hell, but to raise us up to
newness of life in a spiritual kingdom where compassion, peace
and joy reign. Which takes us full circle, back to the first line Jesus
preached, "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent! Do a 1-80, and believe the good news."

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker:  Relate a time in your life when you, like Pilate, had
                      too many questions and too few answers.

 

Jesus, who drew crowds everywhere he went, stood alone during
his trial.
            Why did no one come to Jesus' defense.
            Do you fault his contemporaries for not standing by him?
            How does the idea of a silent majority apply to this story?

 

To what extent was Jesus alone in Pilate's judgment hall?
            To what extent was he not alone?

 

There was no way for Pilate to understand what was happening in
his open-air courtroom. Jesus did nothing to safeguard his own life
during this trial.
            Did Jesus want to die!?
Neither did Jesus say anything to protect his image.
            Does that mean he didn't care what people thought about him?
Unlike Jesus, most of us are very careful to protect and defend our
public image.
            Why is that so important to us?   And not to Jesus?

 

Pilate used a method many parents practice--laying out the choices
from which children may choose. It's a win-win for all. Children gain
experience at decision-making and are more likely to cooperate
with the outcome, while parents control the parameters.
            But it wasn't a win for Pilate.  What went wrong?

 

The Apostles' Creed, which has been used regularly in churches for
many centuries, includes the phrase, "suffered under Pontius Pilate, . . . " 
            Does Pilate deserve this notoriety?   Why or why not?
            What was Pontius Pilate guilty of?
What do we learn from Pilate about how to judge, or not judge,
another person?

 

The choice between Jesus and Barabbas was partly a matter of
distinguishing good from evil. You would think the choice should be
easy. But people everywhere have difficulty discerning good from
evil and then choosing the good.
            Give some examples which illustrate this point.
            Why is it hard to reach a consensus about the rightness of
                    our decisions?

 

A common perception at the time was that anyone who was crucified
was cursed by God. Therefore crucifixion discredited a person in the
eyes of the general population and may have been the reason why
the religious leaders demanded that form of execution.
            Describe the ways in which Jesus transformed the image of the cross.

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