Which Jesus Do You Want?
Here’s where we’re at in the book of Luke:
- Jesus has been betrayed by one of his inner circle
- He has been arrested in the middle of the night by the religious leaders who have enlisted the help of some Roman soldiers
- He’s been through a joke of an overnight trial in front of the religious leaders and elders who have already decided a long time ago that if they got their hands on him they would kill him.
- And just before morning, He has been denied three times by one of his closest friends - one of the top 3 in the inner circle.
But we also have been continuing to say that Jesus is walking into this trap on purpose. He was not caught by surprise; not a single second of this was left up to chance. It is all going exactly as the Old Testament prophets had spoken 100s even thousands of years prior. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is not just one more story. It is all tied together, all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and all the way forward to the kingdom of heaven fully realized in a newly restored Earth.
And so, what is happening here in these scenes MUST happen. It has to. It’s exactly what has been planned. So he says to the religious leaders, in 22:53, go ahead – now it’s your time to do what you’ve been wanting to do.
So the religious leaders are here in verse 1, since they can’t enforce the death penalty themselves, they need the Roman governor. The very person they hoped Jesus would ride into Jerusalem and knock off of his throne, they now are relying on to help seal the deal. They would have had Jesus there already if it weren’t the middle of the night. So, they have been eager for the sun to come, and first thing in the morning, they head over to where Pilate is stationed.
Pilate is the Roman governor responsible for finances in the region and for maintaining law and order (Bock, 1808). Normally they would have had to travel to another city for this. Pilate did not live in Jerusalem. But he was here in Jerusalem for Passover to help maintain the peace, since the crowds were huge during this particular holiday. You’ll see how this desire to maintain peace plays out as our text goes along today.
Since the Jews want Jesus killed, they have to put the evidence against Jesus in such a way that it’ll catch Pilate’s attention and give him reason to grant them the death penalty. If they can convince Pilate that Jesus is a political threat (Bock, 1813), then they have him right where they want him. So as the self-appointed prosecution, here is the religious leaders’ case against Jesus in verse 2:
- We found this man misleading our nation – a) we have nothing to do with him. He is in no way tied to us – we found him doing this and b) He is perverting our nation, twisting the truth, lying to the people.
- Secondly, we found him Opposing payment of taxes to Caesar This one is patently false, right? Back in chapter 20:25, Jesus said give to Caesar what is Caesar’s in response to the question about taxes. He doesn’t oppose taxes at all. But, with Pilate in charge of finances, this accusation means Jesus brings financial risk to Rome (Bock, 1811). Pilate, you know it will reflect poorly on you if you lose money because you let a guy live who tells people to not financially support the empire.
- And thirdly, He calls himself the Messiah, a king – Using the word “king” also was meant to ruffle Pilate’s feathers, and make Jesus sound like a revolutionary. He’s trying to take your job. This one at least caught Pilate’s attention, because in verse 3 – …Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews? ”
Is this true? He answered him,“You say so.” Jesus isn’t really saying “yes, that’s right” because Pilate’s picture of a king is not at all Jesus’ picture of a king. Pilate’s mind goes to armies and power and land – Jesus has none of those, from an earthly standpoint. So in Pilate’s mind, he’s not really a threat to Rome. And, besides that, if Jesus really is a king of the Jews, then killing him in a city full of Jews is probably not a great idea. He’s not worth disturbing the peace.
4 Pilate then told the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no grounds for charging this man.” 5 But they kept insisting, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he started even to here.”
They now bring to Pilate’s attention that Jesus isn’t just some local yokel who is living out his 15 minutes of fame during Passover. This guy has been all over the region teaching these things. In other words, he threatens the peace of Rome everywhere for 100 miles! Pilate, you are insane if you let this guy go!
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 Finding that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem during those days.
We learn back in chapter 3:1 that Herod was a tetrarch, which means “ruler of ¼.” While Pilate would have been governor of the region, Herod served under him, overseeing ¼ of the area. This is Herod Antipas, the same Herod that killed John the Baptist; He is also ¼ Jewish so he likes to think of himself as the king of the Jews – something not a single Jew agreed with him on.
Herod was responsible for overseeing the region of Galilee, which is where Jesus did most of his ministry, and was also in Jerusalem for Passover. It was only a 10 minute walk over to where Herod was staying…might have even been in the same building complex… so Pilate sent Jesus over to him. It might have been out of spite, because as you can see down in verse 12, Herod and Pilate weren’t really on good terms. Maybe Pilate wants to push the decision off onto someone else so he doesn’t look like the bad guy. Maybe he smirks a bit, and sends Herod a note – you think you’re the king of the Jews, well, he’s another king of the Jews. You guys work it out.
Whatever Pilate’s motive, Herod loved it. 8 … for a long time he had wanted to see him because he had heard about him and was hoping to see some miracle performed by him.
Herod wasn’t the first person to want to be entertained by Jesus. Back in chapter 4, Jesus’ own hometown wanted to see some signs from him. But he knew they weren’t really interested in him per se, they just wanted to be entertained. One of the longest running headliners in Las Vegas is the Penn and Teller show. We still love to be entertained by things that seem otherworldly. If a person in your community group told you they were a magician, you probably wouldn’t just smile and say, Oh, cool. You’d say prove it. Can you do a trick for us? I’m guessing that is what Herod keeps pestering Jesus about in verse 9 – that among other things – But Jesus did not answer him. Isaiah 53 that talks about Jesus’ suffering also says “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth. Jesus continues to fulfill prophecies made 700 years earlier.
But an important piece of Jesus being silent is that it puts 100% of the blame for his crucifixion on the people begging for it. Jesus does not talk his way into being crucified. He does not make bold statements. He doesn’t try to defend himself. He silently waits for the inevitable.
The religious leaders aren’t here for the show, like Herod is. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him.
The religious leaders are getting aggressive now because Pilate and now Herod aren’t cooperating with their plan! The very people they need to stamp the death sentence won’t do it. But Herod is frustrated too, because after waiting so long to see Jesus, hearing so much about him and his miracles, now Jesus won’t do one for him. Won’t even talk.
11 Then Herod, with his soldiers, treated him with contempt, mocked him, dressed him in bright clothing, and sent him back to Pilate.
Fine, get out of here, Jesus – If you don’t perform for me when I ask you to, you are useless to me. I’m going to step out on a limb here, and say I think it would be safe to say that at some point in our lives, we, like Herod, have found Jesus to be a bit of a disappointment. Can we just be honest about that?
- Jesus – I appreciate the grace, I really do…but what I really need is a raise. Or a surprise note on my desk at work with a suitcase full of 50s. And instead of you giving us extra, we keep scraping by paycheck to paycheck. I don’t get why I have to always be stressed about finances.
- Jesus – I appreciate you dying for my sin, I really do, but I’m actually doing pretty amazing right now. What I really need is for you to work on my spouse, work on my kids, work on my boss, work on my landlord, work on my neighbor. But it seems like praying about it isn’t really helping. You’re not changing them at all. Things may have even gotten worse.
- Jesus – I know you talk a lot about the kingdom of heaven here on earth, and that you care about what’s in my heart, but what I really need from you right now is for all the things in my daily planner to go perfectly today. Because if things go well today, then I can get done tomorrow those things that need to be done tomorrow so we can do the project we want to do this weekend, so that by early next month we can move the thing over there by the driveway and move the other thing back over here so that by fall we can put the new stuff here and add onto this and then put the patio around both of them so that by the year after next we can have people over and relax by the fire and be missional with them, and yet I keep getting interrupted, I can’t get supplies, and we’ve already bumped the timeline back a couple times, and I’m just not sure you’re really as concerned about this as we are. You don’t seem to be answering our prayers, and that’s weird to me because we’re doing all of this for you.
Those are three from my journal. I’m sure you could probably add your own.
Herod wanted a show from Jesus and didn’t get it, so he sent him back to Pilate. 12 That very day Herod and Pilate became friends. Previously, they had been enemies. Luke doesn’t say it, but I’m guessing what brought about their friendship was that they both stood in positions of authority seeing this situation the same way. But though they agreed that Jesus was innocent, neither one of them released him. Neither one used their authority to break up the crowd and move things along, which makes them both accomplices to Jesus’ death, and which also fulfilled scripture.
- Acts 4:27 – This is the apostle Peter praying: In this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your will had predestined to take place.
So Peter sees Herod and Pilate as complicit in the death of Jesus, but also sees it as all part of God the Father guiding these events with his hand and his will to make sure that his Son is crushed for the sins of all who would believe. So back to Pilate for round 2.
13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You have brought me this man as one who misleads the people. But in fact, after examining him in your presence, – once again in an effort to keep the peace – I have found no grounds to charge this man with those things you accuse him of. 15 Neither has Herod, because he sent him back to us. Clearly, he has done nothing to deserve death. Herod and I are on the same team on this one – we see eye to eye, because we are friends now… you guys are crazy, but to hopefully shut you up so I can get back to what I was doing …16 Therefore, I will have him whipped and then release him.”
In the actual timeline of events here, according to the other gospel accounts, it would appear that the religious leaders are having none of it. They won’t be satisfied with a beating. They want death. Pilate realizes he’s losing control instead of keeping it, so he tries something new. Matthew 27:15 tells us that it was an annual tradition that Pilate would release one prisoner every Passover. The people could discuss among themselves and pick which one they wanted, Pilate would grant the pardon and release him.
It just so happens there is a Jewish guy in prison, whose last name is Barabbas. When we put the gospel accounts together, we learn that this man was a fighter, a murderer, Matthew’s gospel calls him a notorious prisoner, and verse 19 says he was part of a rebellion in the city. A Jewish person who murders someone in a rebellion means he is actually in prison for all the things they are accusing Jesus of – stirring up trouble in the region, speaking out against Caesar, and so on.
The name Barabbas means “son of the father”, and after doing a little digging, it seems the reason he is referred to here by his last name (Barabbas) is because some early manuscripts of the Bible include that his first name is the popular Jewish name Yeshua. Or in Greek – Jesus.
If that’s true, then according to Matthews' account, Pilate pulls Jesus Barabbas out of prison and puts him next to Jesus the Christ and asks: “Which Jesus do you want me to release? The one who has actually stirred up the people against Caesar, the one who actually wanted to make himself powerful? Or the one who hasn’t?” I think it’s Pilate’s clever way of determining if these are real charges or not. If they really care about the peace of Rome, they won’t want to release Barabbas.
But beyond that, this is so important for us to understand – as we said at the beginning - Jesus’ life and death and resurrection is part of a much larger story. Jesus is the key to the whole story of Israel, from the Garden of Eden to the fully realized kingdom of heaven. He fulfills the covenant promises made to the nation of Israel as prophesied over thousands of years. Ever since the first sin in the Garden of Eden, God has been building the story of redemption, and Jesus is the pinnacle. So nothing is random – not even Jesus being pitted against a prisoner by the same name.
So Pilate presents Jesus the murderer and Jesus the king, and in verse 18 of Luke 23: Then they all cried out together, “Take this man away! Release Barabbas to us! ”
That’s not what Pilate was hoping for: 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate addressed them again, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify! Crucify him! ”
“Crucifixion was the harshest form of capital punishment in the ancient world. The purpose of crucifixion was to keep order and maintain security by publicly executing criminals in a way that promoted fear of committing a crime, and so rebels, slaves and foreigners were often executed in this manner. Death came by suffocation through exhaustion or by loss of blood and body fluids. This was the death the crowd insisted Jesus must go through” (Bock, 1830-1831).
To qualify for crucifixion, you had to be found guilty of either treason or evading due process in a murder trial.” And so a third time, verse 22, Pilate pleads with the crowd, this kind of death is not necessary. Jesus has done neither of those. But so that he thinks twice before he goes around preaching and what not…
…. Therefore, I will have him whipped and then release him.” 23 But they kept up the pressure, demanding with loud voices that he be crucified, and their voices won out.
This is mob rule if nothing else. But because Pilate probably figured by this point it would be better for Jesus to die than for a massive riot to break out… 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand 25 and released the one they were asking for, who had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder. But he handed Jesus over to their will.
And with that, the innocent is treated like a criminal, and the convicted criminal is set free. The king trades places with the prisoner. The convicted and condemned walks, while the sinless is sentenced to die.
This scene is so powerfully a picture of the gospel that I pray you don’t miss it this morning. Barabbas was paying the penalty for the record that stood against him. He’s not brought up out of the prison because he has been on good behavior and he’s up for a review. When he woke up that morning, he was a condemned criminal. And in the blink of an eye, he had been set free because another man stood in his place, another man was condemned for the sin of Barabbas.
I hope you’re already way ahead of me on this, but let’s go here anyway.
The good news of Jesus always had to start with the bad news, and the bad news is unbelievably tragic. Just like an entire football team pays the price for one lineman’s penalty for holding or whatever, the entire human race was penalized for Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Because he rebelled against God, like Barabbas, everyone who would be born from Adam and Eve’s family (100% of us) would have rebel in our blood.
In other words, and this is HUGE for us to understand: when you were born, you were born guilty of Adam’s rebellion. Romans 5:12 – Therefore … sin entered the world through one man… in this way death spread to all people …Why?... Because ALL SINNED! We are all born guilty of Adam’s sin, spiritually dead!
That is exactly why you can look me in the face and say, but I’m a good person. I try to be a decent human being, do what’s right, be good to others, give where I can… Yeah, well according to Isaiah 64, when you try to be a good person but you don’t let Jesus run your life, all your good works are just polishing your own casket! You might as well be saying, “I know I’m dead in sin, but I’m trying to be a good corpse! I’m doing the best I can!” – THAT’S THE PROBLEM! That’s the bad news.
But then in a sermon or a conversation or a song or in a dream, the Spirit of God shows up on your porch unannounced, and opens your eyes to see what Jesus has done. And what you see that what he’s done is that he’s changed places with you, and willingly allowed himself to be condemned for the crimes YOU committed — not because you were a good prisoner with good behavior, and he wanted to do you a favor – but because from before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1 says, he chose you to be holy and blameless in love before him, he predestined you to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself – why? – according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, LAVISHED on us in Jesus.
It was the eternal plan of your heavenly Father that it would be by GRACE that you are brought from death to life, by GRACE you would be saved, by GRACE you would be set free!
Romans 5 goes on to say that in the same way that one man’s sin brought judgment and death into the whole world (that’s Adam), through one man’s obedience - even when obedience meant willingly enduring a brutally punishing death on a cross and having God the Father turn his back on him – through one man’s obedience, the many are made righteous = NO LONGER GUILTY!
After this exchange with Christ, Barabbas could walk down the street anywhere he wanted to go. If people saw him on the street after this, they might have said, Oh man, remember that guy and what he used to be like? Man he used to stir up the people, remember how he killed those people? Remember how he was always fighting? They can sit there and reminisce about what he used to be like, but if they went to the courthouse and pulled up his record, all they’ll find is that it’s been wiped clean as if he never killed anyone, never participated in the rebellion, never was sentenced in a court of law. There’s nothing there. He’s free and clear. Jesus took Barabbas’ record on himself!
Again, that’s the message of the gospel! People can look at you and say oh man, I remember what she was like in high school. I remember what he was like in college. I love what 1 Corinthians 6:11 says about that – it lists off a whole bunch of sin and then says, yeah, some of you used to be like this (you were accused and found guilty of doing some pretty disgusting or rebellious things, or someone did some pretty disgusting or rebellious things to you) – But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The gospel frees you to say, oh man – the things you heard about me in high school or college? You didn’t even hear ¼ of what I was really like. It’s much worse than you heard. But then Jesus showed up and I’ve been washed, I’ve been given new clothes to wear, I’ve been given a new name. That old me died, and what you’re looking at is a new creation washed in the blood of Christ. Say whatever you want about how I got into prison – I remember those days all too well – but if you want to dog me about who I was, you’ll have to do it from memory, because if you look for my record of sins in the courtroom of heaven, you’re going to find a note that says “see Jesus” and because on the third day, he got up out of that grave, everything in his folder has been applied to me. No condemnation anymore. Not now. Not ever.
That’s the gospel!
It’s the good news, it’s the reason we gather on Sundays, it’s the reason we sing, it’s the reason we pray, it’s the reason we put effort into our marriages and our parenting, it’s the reason we strive to be sexually holy, it’s the reason we’re putting a cafe downtown, it’s the reason we teach our young people the truth in KidCity and don’t just play games with them for 45 minutes, it’s the reason we get up early to read our bibles, it’s the reason we forgive the people who’ve wronged us, it’s the reason we rejoice when we suffer trials of various kinds, it’s the reason we endure persecution, it’s the reason we plant churches and partner with others, it’s why we open our homes and our tables to strangers, it’s why we give away our money as if we don’t need it anymore, it’s we go crazy when someone gets baptized — This is what we’re being told every time we pick up the bread and the cup for the Lord’s Supper. We did nothing, Jesus did everything. All that’s left is for us to act on our freedom, to enjoy and delight in the person who stood in for us, to praise him and live for him and know him.
Normally right here, I would give you a couple things to pray about and confess to the Lord, but before we get there, let’s sing a celebration song together that our rescuer has come and we are free!
DEATH WAS ARRESTED
Feel free to sit if you’d like or if you want to stay standing, we’ll only be a minute.
The story of Barabbas is such a tiny little blip in the story of Jesus, isn’t it? It was his 5 minutes of fame. Literally. If you’ve ever watched Mel Gibson’s movie, the Passion of the Christ, I really like how this scene is portrayed. Barabbas thinks the crowd has come to rescue him. He thinks his people have shown up for him… the Jews are calling his name. They have demanded his freedom, and look, he goes free! Power to the people, right?!
But in the movie as he rushes down the stairs of Pilate’s courtroom, he runs into the crowd expecting hugs and high fives and love, and basically everyone pushes him away with disgust. They don’t want him. They never did.
And then his story ends with a question mark. Or a dot dot dot. We have no idea what happened to this man. Did he find himself alone in his house one night going, “wait a minute… what actually happened there?” Did he happen to walk out to the hill called Golgotha where that same Jesus who stood next to him on the platform now hung on a cross? He certainly would have experienced the same earthquake and darkness in the middle of the day that everyone else did.
But Did he ever make the connection? Did he ever think of his fellow prisoners and think, why me?
Did Barabbas ever put the pieces together that Jesus died for the things he was guilty of?
Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)
Jason D’Ambrosio, (https://www.soh.church/who-was-barabbas/)