Reading the Word
Matthew 27:15–23 (ESV)
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
Parallel Texts: Mark 15:6-14; Luke 23:17-23; John 18:39-40
Understanding and Applying the Word
Pilate had a custom that he likely used to improve public relations. Each year he would release one prisoner at the request of the people. In this case, he gave them the option of Jesus or Barabbas, who was “notorious, a murderer , and an insurrectionist” (cf. Mark and Luke). We are also told that Pilate knew the real reason the Jewish religious leaders had brought Jesus to him was a result of envy (verse 18). Jesus was drawing crowds and gaining influence among the people. Surprisingly, given the serious nature of Barabbas’ crimes, the request was for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus. When asked what should become of Jesus, the crowd cried out, “Let him be crucified!”
The people were given a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. They chose Barabbas the true criminal and requested that Jesus be killed. At first this seems surprising. Why would the people want Jesus killed? But this is a reflection of the story of Scripture. When given a choice between sin and righteousness, the world chooses sin. Jesus, the righteous, exposes our shortcomings and brings our condemnation into focus. Barabbas, the sinful, is just like us and is no threat to us. He makes us feel better about ourselves. So when the world came face-to-face with One who was truly righteous, we murdered him. That’s how much we love sin. That’s how much we need a Savior.
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