At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.
Matthew Chapter 27 See all the readings
There are two Jesuses at the trial before Pilate. One of them is on trial because someone said he was King of the Jews. He's the one we remember, the one it says was innocent and had been handed over for reasons of jealousy. The other one was a notorious prisoner… Barabbas.
The crowd wants Jesus Messiah to be crucified, and Jesus Barabbas, the notorious prisoner to be set free.
The story is not primarily history as we know it. It's not written to tell people what happened in the way we give evidence of who was driving where in a traffic accident. It was written and told to make a point about Jesus and how to live as one of his followers. So the names are chosen carefully, and with purpose.
In English we miss what the names mean. Jesus Christ means Jesus Messiah. Christ is a Greek translation of Messiah. Messiah means the one anointed and sent from God.
What does Jesus Barabbas mean? Well, it's not "B'rabbas" as we Australians have learned to pronounce it. It is Bar Abbas. Bar Abbas means Jesus the Son of the Father.
So, in the words behind the words, Pilate is asking the crowd, "Which Jesus do you want? Jesus the one sent from God… the King of the Jews or, Jesus the Son of the Father?"
They chose Jesus the Son of the Father. Sounds like a good choice…. who here would not put their hand up if I asked who was a disciple of the Son of the Father?
Who would we have chosen on the day?
Life is full of decision. It is full of cross- roads and times of crisis. Life is full of crowds crying for blood… The 7.30 Reports and 60 Minutes and the talk back hosts cry out seeking our attention. Even if we are thinking in less sensationalist environments there is a call on us to vote, to have an opinion, even to act, on a multitude of events around us. How will we choose? At each time like this there is a Pilate calling to each of us… Which Jesus do you want?
In our own lives, too, the same tumult can occur. "Will I stay or go?…." "What will I do for my child…." "Do we stay on the farm…?" And the voices can be every bit as clamorous as in the big political issues of the nation.
Often the issues are not clear. There is crowd and emotion tugging at us. Terrorism has turned its fearsome face on us. Border integrity and protection are real issues. And yet the plight of traumatised children in desert prisons cries out against them. Which is the choice of the real Christ and which is the choice of the counterfeit Jesus which goes under the name of the Son of the Father? Do we support the government or the refugees?
Will we lobby for harder sentences in our jails, or put our energy into a UCare or a Gaby's? Do we listen to the conservationists, or to our farmer neighbours when there is a dispute over development? Should we repair the church tower for our heritage, or use the money to help the poor?
So often there is a power, a Pilate, asking us to choose which Jesus we will follow.
The answer lies in that simple phrase, "What would Jesus do… if he were in our shoes?" … except that there are often two Jesuses to choose from. How do we choose the right one? Are you are like me, often feeling as though you don't understand all the issues, or have all the facts? Is there a guiding principle we may use in times of hard decision?
One Jesus was a Jesus of compassion and caring for others. A man of healing and goodness. A man who loved people before doing the letter of the law. A man who would suffer rather than use violence against people, or enforce what was right.
The other Jesus was a man of violence, according to tradition: a murderer. He was used by cynical political power (Pilate) to buy the mob off from of doing the right thing by an innocent man. (Doesn't Pilate's washing his hands and giving in sound like the political expediency of today… not what is right, but what the noisiest people want.� He could have rushed any riot.). The name Bar Abbas is chosen as a way of reminding us that evil often claims to be God's son.
We live in a time of crisis. If we are Christian we will choose the way of the real Jesus: compassion and justice for all, regardless of race or colour. We will stand on the side of the poor and the disadvantaged, not the powerful and the rich. We will be Christian before we are Australian, read the prophets as much as we read the pundits in the paper, and pray for the children before we worry about the keeping of law. We will be Christian before we are Liberals or Labor party. We will fear God before we let the newsreaders make us afraid. We will imagine our children living on the streets of Gawler or our grandchildren languishing in the prison camps before we jump to easy judgement.
Living like this means that when a Pilate, or a Prime Minister, a TV personality, or even a parson are calling us to choose between two ways we will more easily see the way of the real Jesus, and the call to a counterfeit faith in a counterfeit Christ will be clear.
Choose Well, and live in peace. Amen
Deuteronomy 10:17-21 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.
Hosea 6:6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.�
Jesus quotes this verse to the Pharisees who felt he was not keeping the Mosaic Law properly. He said: "God and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, not sacrifice."
James 2:6-9 But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Mat 27:11-26 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so."
But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer.
Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?"
But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted.
At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.
So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?"
For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him."
Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.
The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas."
Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!"
Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!"
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves."
Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!"
So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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