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The First Easter

Posted: March 26, 2008 - 17:56 CT

I heard several excellent sermons this past week, and wanted to comment on two characters from the first Easter, Pilate (original thought from Alistair Begg) and Barabbas (got the idea while listening to Chuck Swindoll).  I couldn't think of a better subject for our first blog post than the first Easter (scripture references: Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 18).

First to Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor of Judea), as he entertains the trumped-up charges leveled against Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders.  I believe Pilate, unlike many of his portrayals, was probably a very intelligent, capable politician, who could have risen to a position of power in most eras or regimes.  He immediately saw through the falsehoods of the accusers, proclaimed Jesus to be innocent and attempted to release Him.  Although he had found no guilt in Jesus, Pilate wavered when the crowd threatened to report him to Caesar.  The Roman government did not have a large number of troops in Judea at the time, so one of Pilate‚Äôs main duties was to do whatever was necessary to maintain peace.  We know from historical records that he had previously been warned about other uprisings in his region.  As governor and judge, he was bound to protect the innocent and administer justice, but gave in to the demand of the Jews to avoid an uproar in his region. Thus, he hands Jesus over to be crucified.  Begg states that Pilate intellectually discerns the truth, but has neither the courage nor the moral ethics to do what is required.

Many of us today face similar situations to the one Pilate faced 2000 years ago.  Do we follow our conscience and do what is right, or do we go along with the crowd?  There are also many people today who intellectually acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God.  They are smart enough not to buy the argument that all religions are the same, or that all roads lead to heaven.  They realize that two religions with conflicting teachings can't both be true, but they won't take that critical step to surrender to Jesus as Savior and Lord.  They have a spiritual, moral or ethical problem rather than an intellectual one.

Moving back to Jesus' trial, we find another interesting character, Barabbas.  As a last-ditch effort to release Jesus, Pilate invoked a Passover custom in which the Roman Governor could release a prisoner.  He gave the crowd a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer, thinking the crowd would surely choose to release Jesus over Barabbas.  However, urged on by the religious leaders, the crowd asked for the release of Barabbas.  Pilate then asked what would they have him do with Jesus.  The crowd called out "Crucify Him!"  Pilate attempted to reason with them but they kept screaming louder, "Crucify Him!"

Now, during this time, Barabbas is sitting in a dungeon cell, unaware of the proceedings.  All he can hear is the crowd screaming "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!", so he would think the crowd is referring to himself.  We can only imagine the thoughts and dread racing through his mind as he hears the crowd screaming and possibly the taunts from the other prisoners saying, "Barabbas, they're calling for you".  Next, as he hears the guards coming, the keys clanging in the lock, does he cower in the corner or defiantly stand with his knees trembling?  He then hears one of the guards tell him that he's being released and probably thinks it's a cruel joke, but they insist that it's true, that another is to die and he is free to go.

Barabbas' first thought was probably to run far away before they discovered their mistake or change their mind, but I believe he could not resist seeing the man who was dying in his place.  He most likely followed at a distance as Jesus carried the cross along the Via Delarosa.  I wonder if an involuntary gasp escaped his lips when he saw Jesus for the first time, broken and beaten, disfigured with strips of flesh hanging from His body from the Roman flogging.  When they arrive at Golgotha (Hebrew meaning "the place of the Skull"), I try to imagine the thoughts of Barabbas as he watches Jesus being laid on the cruel wooden cross.  Could he feel the spikes as they were driven into the wrist and feet of our Savior?  Did he feel horror, remorse or relief as he watched the soldiers raise Jesus up between the two other condemned men, most likely members of his gang of robbers, on a cross that was originally prepared for their leader, Barabbas himself.  How shocked he must have felt to hear Jesus forgive those responsible for his crucifixion, to witness the darkness at noon, and the Roman soldier confessing that "Surely, this was a righteous man."

I wonder if Barabbas remained long enough to watch the Messiah's lifeless body removed from the cross.  I wonder when and where he was when he heard the news that Jesus rose from the dead.  I try to imagine Barabbas... and then it occurs to me... I am Barabbas!

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