A ROBBER … AND A KING.
JOHN 18v39 – 19v3.
1. INTRODUCTION. This Good Friday for most people is just another Bank Holiday – Shopping, Gardening, sport, friends and family – pleasure. Vasts amounts of money will be spent on chocolate eggs and bunnies and anything else the confectionary industry thinks will sell well. If we stood outside Sainsbury’s or Texas stores today and did a survey – asking people what today [Good Friday] was all about most would probably be able to say, “It is the day that Jesus Christ was crucified”. If you had a follow up question,“Why did he die?” I am not sure what response we would get. The majority of people don’t really know why Jesus died nor do they want to know. If they wanted to know they would not be gardening or shopping or doing whatever else they are doing they would be here in Church. Just as there are many today who do not acknowledge who Jesus is, so there were on that 1st Good Friday those who chose to reject him. And they were in the majority – the mob. “Not this man but Barabbas”
2. THE HEART OF MAN WILL NEVER OF ITSELF SEEK GOD, BUT PREFERS THE SINNER. “No! not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. [18v40] We don’t know a lot about Barabbas but what we do know indicates that he was not the nicest sort. He was a murderer. If he was living today he would probably be a member of a violent Terrorist Group. He was awaiting execution – he was on death row. It is that man that Pilate offers to release instead of Jesus, no doubt hoping the people would never choose Barabbas. The mob of course did choose Barabbas! Which is really not surprising because mankind by nature always rejects God. Lest we feel smug that we are here remembering Christ’s death let us remember that it is only by God’s grace and that he choose us! If you or I had been in the mob that day, what would our cry have been, Release Him! or Crucify Him! Those baying for Jesus blood were the very ones who claimed to be religious and to be waiting for the Messiah to come. Their own self-importance, their trust their own knowledge of the scriptures blinded them. They were so busy looking for him that they couldn’t see him even though he was right before their eyes.
“You diligently study the scriptures because you think
that by them you possess eternal life.
These are the scriptures that testify
about me, yet you refuse to come to me
to have life.” [John 5v39-40]
The mob had welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with palm branches and Hosannas only a few days before. Many had seen the miracles he had performed. Only the week before he had rasied Lazarus from the dead. Now their hosannas had changes to shouts of Crucify! Crucify! Away with Him! Everything they needed in a king was before their eyes but they couldn’t see it. They exchanged the Son of God for a murderer! Tradition has it that Barabbas was the deliquent son of a rabbi. Barabbas – lit. “bar” meaning son of.. and “abba” meaning father. father’s son. I wonder if there is any link with what Jesus said of the scribes and pharisees “You are of your father the devil!”
father’s son murderer/destroyer insurrection
God’s Son – Saviour life-giver/healer resurrection
Barabbas through the insurrection brought death and destruction. Jesus through the resurrection brought life and healing. Barabbas was a convenient hero for the Jewish leaders – he would not have been the sort of man they would normal recommend but he suited their purposes now. They whispered in the ears of the mob and turned them against Jesus. The irony was that the Chief priests accused Jesus of setting himself up as a king against Rome. This is what the threatened Pilate with. “If you let Jesus go you are no friend of Caesar’s” The very thing they accussed Jesus of, [and he was innocent] was in fact what Barabbas was guilty of. Barabbas was in rebellion against Rome. Jesus was no political threat to Caesar – his kingdom was not of this world. And to add to that, the Jewish leaders claimed to have no king but Caesar. Wasn’t God their king. How could a Jew accept a pagan as a king. Even Jewish kings were always only vice-regents. Yahweh is King. See how guilt and sin and jealousy blind and turn God’s order upside down. The guilty go free and the innocent are punished. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged [scrouged]
3. THE MIND OF MAN KNOWS ALMOST NO LIMIT TO INFLICTING SUFFERING ON BOTH THE KING AND HIS SUBJECTS. Human beings are ingenious when it comes to inflicting pain and suffering on other human beings. Jesus suffered and so have his followers throughout the history of the Church and even today. We know little of suffering for the sake of the gospel in our comfortable, tolerant Engilish society. Jesus was scourged – none of the gospel writers describe it. It is as if it is too painful to remember. A scourging was very servere. A whip with many tails into which were fixed pieces of bone and metal. Josephius, a Jewish historian, wrote,”… a certain Jesus, son of Annaias, was brought before Albinus and flayed to the bone with scourges.” Eusebius, at the time of Polycarp, wrote, “… certain martyrs were torn by scourges down to the deep-seated veins and arteries, so that hidden contents of the recesses of the body, their entrails and organs were exposed to sight.” Small wonder that men frequently died from a scourging! Having been whipped Jesus was then crucified and spent 6 hours hanging on the cross having had iron spikes driven through his hands and feet. BUT inspite of all the physical pain it was not that which was the most agonizing. He could even pray Father forgive them they don’t know what they are doing. It was the spiritual separation from his father that was the most painful experience. It was that which caused him to cry out “MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” Why? Because there was no other way! Without a sacrifice there was no forgiveness. It is only in the death of Jesus that God’s love and justice meet and are satisfied. And Jesus is not the unfortunate victim of a capricious God. NO! he willingly when to the cross. He set his face towards Jerusalem. He knew what he was doing. It is by his stripes we are healed [Isaiah 53] After he was flogged “The soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “HAIL! KING OF THE JEWS!” and they struck him in the face” [19v2-3]
4. THE SPIRIT OF MAN STILL MOCKS THE SON OF GOD WITH A CROWN AND A ROBE BUT DOESN’T MAKE HIM TRULY KING. It is all too easy and Easter and Christmas and other religious occassions to pay token homage to God. “After all, you must be balanced! Don’t go over the top about this Christian stuff. Why make such a big thing about the cross it is after all just a religious symbol. Every religion has a symbol. Christians have the cross, Muslims have the star and crescent, Jews have the star of David. “We will all get there in the end. Don’t be so fanatical and exclusive about the cross being the only way. We believe in Jesus and the cross but it doesn’t mean that that is the only way. We need to be tolerant” Yes we do need to be tolerant. We can’t force people to believe what we do. BUT there is a big difference between tolerance and compromise. When the cross of Christ is reduced to just another religious symbol its a mockery. It distorts its message and destroys its meaning. Anything less than Jesus Christ the Son of God, crucified for the sins of the world as the only means of salvation makes a mockery of his death. The soldiers gave mocking homage. They knelt before him and spat upon him and hit him. When our worship of Jesus is insincere and superficial it is as if we spit in his face. “Yes I believe in God but he mustn’t interfer in my life” Where is the cross today? We have cleaned it up. Decorated it. Made it smooth and covered it in gold. It is on steeple and pulpit and around our necks. It is reproduced in glossy magazine format to make it palitable. NOTE: I am not saying we mustn’t have the cross as a symbol. It is the symbol of of faith and it should be. BUT there is the danger that our celebration of the cross can become nice and clean and comfortable and respectable. That is the last thing it was. It was crude and cruel and vicious! We talk about putting Christ back into Christmas! YES! What about the CROSS back into Easter? Easter is not chocolate eggs and bunnies!! Easter is about the excruciating suffering of God’s Son on the cross. The cross is not just a symbol. Jesus didn’t die as a martyr. His death was real! He died for real sin! to satisfy the real justice and righteousness of God because his LOVE for us was real. If we downplay the cross then we downplay sin. Sin then doesn’t seem so bad. Jesus didn’t downplay sin – NO, he saw its seriousness and gave his life to to rescue us from it. Jesus took the place of Barabbas! Jesus took your place! Jesus took my place! Like Barabbas we are all by nature guilty of insurrection – Not against a human govt. BUT against a HOLY God. And like Barabbas we face certain death eternal separation from God in Hell, UNLESS by God’s grace and we accept, by faith what Jesus did for us on the cross. LUTHER “You [Christ] became what you were not so that we might become what we otherwise could never be. You have taken what was mine and given me what was yours”
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering …
… he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities,
the punishment that brought us peace
was upon him,
by his stripes we are healed [Isa. 53v3&5]
Like the mob on that day before Pilate we all have a chose. Barabbas or Jesus? A Robber or a King. Jesus said,”If you are not for me, you are against me.” There is no neutral ground! Jesus Christ God’s son came into the world to save sinners by dying for them in their place! That is the message of Easter!
Saviour of Calvary,
and Eden restored;
born as a man to die;
nailed to a cross on high,
cold in the grave to lie –
Jesus is Lord!