“Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. Then Pilate asked Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ He answered and said to him, ‘It is as you say.’ And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, ‘Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!’ But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled. Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, ‘Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, ‘What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?’ So they cried out again, ‘Crucify Him!’ Then Pilate said to them, ‘Why, what evil has He done?’ But they cried out all the more, ‘Crucify Him!’ So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.”
Today we have just read the Gospel of Mark chapter 15 verses 1 to 15. As you see in today’s Scripture passage, Jesus was experiencing a trial in Pilate’s courtyard. It is written that the chief priests, elders, scribes as well as the Jewish council brought Jesus to account and handed Him over to Pilate.
During the ministry of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders, especially the Pharisees, hated Him very much. In their eyes, Jesus looked so humble but because He claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah and performed many miracles that befitted the name, they were displeased with Him. As a matter of fact, numerous people became healed and received favor through His miracles as they followed Him. They were also greatly comforted by His holy messages in a time of great suffering. But despite all this it became a political issue that led to Jesus’ death.
As you all know, Israel of those days was a Roman colony. They were under the same situation as Koreans were, who were suffering under the Japanese occupation during 1910~1945 A.D. During the Japanese colonial rule, Japan naturalized Korean people under the unification policy and enslaved Korean people. They reigned over Koreans and treated our ancestors as slaves unless they were pro-Japanese. They even drafted many Korean girls as comfort women for their soldiers.
Likewise, Israel became a part of the huge Roman Empire as its colony. The Roman Empire sent Pilate as a governor of Judea because they were afraid that the independent movement of the Israelites might try to elect its own leader and free their country’s enslavement. They were most worried and dreaded this thought. They were especially worried that Jesus could be this person and carried out what they had been dreading because He was being called “the King of the Jews” and was followed by so many people. This was a problem not only to the Roman Authorities but also to the religious leaders of Israel such as the chief priests, scribes and the Pharisees. People liked Jesus more than these religious leaders and Jewish teachers, so more people followed Jesus than any other religious leaders.
Hence, the name of Jesus was known to everyone in and outside of Israel, which became a big problem for them. The chief priests and the leaders of Israel in particular were displeased with this fact. Even to the scribes, public servants, the Pharisees and other religious leaders, Jesus stuck out like a sore thumb. There was nothing strange about them being so hateful of Jesus because they used to be held in the highest respect before Jesus showed up but they came to lose this respect and fame completely.
Jesus Really Came to Save Sinners
Jesus had nothing desirable in the eyes of those who previously were respected by the public when a man named Jesus showed up. The Bible also writes about His appearances as such:
“For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). According to this passage, He might be tall, but other than this there was not much to admire. But when the Jewish religious leaders saw a huge crowd following Jesus and praising Him shouting out “Hosanna,” they were afraid their Jewish religion would collapse because of Him. The Israelites used to abide by the Law but they became even more legalistic as they had a new religious leader to contend with; and now they were afraid of losing their positions. The same was true outwardly. Even the huge Roman Empire was worried that there would be a riot around Jesus against Rome.
For this reason the religious leaders at that time did not like Jesus and they eventually brought fake charges against Him before Pilate, saying, “This man claims to be a king and has a lot of followers, which might be a threat to the Roman Empire by starting an independence movement.” Pilate saw through these Jewish leaders’ fake charges for he knew that Jesus was not the type of person who would stir up the public. If Jesus was such a criminal, He should have a menacing look, but He looked very meek and gentle.
The Jewish leaders accused Jesus with all kinds of made-up crimes saying, “He not only claimed to be the king of the Jews but He also tried to start a riot and rebel against the Roman Empire,” but in the eyes of Pilate Jesus was not such a person. Pilate gave Jesus a chance to defend Himself saying, “These people are accusing You of so many crimes, are they not? Why don’t You defend Yourself and say something?” but Jesus remained quite. Pilate was marveled at Him. Common men would accuse the plaintiff back or make excuses for their charges. But Jesus did not fight back even when He was so wrongly accused.
As we all know, Jesus chose to be crucified to pay for all our sins on the Cross because He took over the sins of the world when He was baptized by John the Baptist. He never ever dreamt to be a political king or a religious leader by stirring up the public. He had no desire to build a new religion and become its leader. Since Jesus Christ, who is God Himself, came to this earth to save all people from sins, He stood in the courthouse of Pilate to fulfill His mission. That is why He did not answer Pilate.
Brothers and sisters, every country has its own traditional holidays. Each country has special laws to discharge criminals on holidays. As you may all know, our country also practices a special pardon by the President to release some criminals on holidays. Israel was about to celebrate a holiday called Passover. This holiday was to commemorate the day of the Exodus out of Egypt, and it was one of the biggest holidays in Israel. So there was a tradition to release a criminal on every Passover. People who gathered in the courthouse asked Pilate to release a prisoner according to their custom. They tried to persuade the governor to do so, saying, “It has been custom to release a prisoner on every Passover, so should you not do the same?”
Then Pilate said, “Do you want me to release to you the so-called king of the Jews?”
“Then whom do you want me to release to you?”
“Give us Barabbas.”
Barabbas was an infamous murderer, who led a riot and started a rebellion against the Roman Empire. He convinced the people and did things very much like robbery, by setting fires; recruited soldiers to rise up against the Roman Empire. He was a very brutal man compared to Jesus. But the public said something totally unexpected when they were asked if they wanted Jesus to be released to them. They rather shouted loudly, “Crucify Jesus, who claims to be the king of the Jews. Give us Barabbas instead.”
Pilate decided to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas and scourged Jesus and delivered Him to be crucified. Pilate finally gave in to the voice of this mad crowd.
Why Did Jesus Stand in Pilate’s Courthouse as a Sinner and Why Was He Crucified?
The people’s accusations were not totally incorrect. Jesus did call Himself the King of Israel. Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” He answered and said to him, “It is as you say” (Mark 15:2). When Pilate heard people accusing Jesus by claiming to be the king of the Jews, Pilate asked Him if this was true.
“It is as you say.” The Lord plainly admitted it.
He was found guilty at that very moment. It was logical for the Israelites to say, “The Jews have only one king, the Roman Emperor. How can they have another king? He is a rebel and deserves death. He needs to be executed.” Even though Jesus admitted to it by saying, “It is as you say,” Pilate already knew the real picture. We also know who was telling the truth once we get to meet the person face to face. As soon as he saw Jesus, he knew that Jesus was not the type of person who would start a riot or rebellion.
Politicians listen to the public to gain their popularity. At that time Pilate was the governor of Israel, and he was in a situation where he could not turn down the requests of their hearts. He had to please the crowd who were shouting to release Barabbas as well as the Roman Emperor who had appointed him as the governor of Israel. That’s why he handed Jesus over to be crucified and released Barabbas instead even though he did not think He was guilty.
What Does It Mean That Jesus Died for a Brutal Criminal Like Barabbas?
Jesus is the King of the Jews. This means He is the King of everyone including you and me who seeks God. Jesus Christ, who is God Himself, is the Savior who came to save the human race from its sin. He is the Savior, who came down to this earth in human flesh to save His people, who were bound to go to Hell due to their sins. To save us from our sin He took all our sins by being baptized, and He took the punishment for all these sins in our place.
In Pilate’s courthouse, Barabbas was released instead of Jesus, and He was going to be crucified. Before His crucifixion, He received the forty stripes minus one, and His flesh was scraped away each time the hooks on the tips of the whip scourged His body. Our Lord received such horrifying punishment only brutal criminals deserve. And He was hung on a cross, which was designed to execute the most atrocious prisoner. According to the Old Testament, whoever is hang upon a cross is accursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:23). From the Roman judicial point of view, Jesus was the most evil man for He claimed to be the king while the Roman Emperor was still alive. This is why they crucified Jesus.
Nevertheless our Lord received the punishment on the Cross instead of Barabbas for a different reason. In other words, He was not crucified according to the Roman judicial laws. Since Jesus took away all our sins by being baptized by John the Baptist, He had to take the punishment for those sins. It was inevitable for Him to die on the Cross and to rise up from the dead so that He would bring us complete salvation. He chose to be hung on the Cross to save us from sin, destruction and eternal punishment, and to give us new life and to remove our sins away completely. Here is the reason why Barabbas was released instead and the Lord was crucified.
Barabbas in today’s passage was an evil man with a feeble mind who was standing against God and sinning everyday. Spiritually speaking, this man Barabbas refers to you and me. He represents every human being. Just as He saved Barabbas by being hung on the Cross, Jesus also saved you and me. It is written that He took all our sins away by His baptism and we are healed by His wounds. Jesus is actually God and at the same time He is the Savior, who came to save the human race. Because Jesus bore all our sins, He was able to carry these sins to the Cross, shed all His blood in His heart to death for our sins. Barabbas also was a man who could not have avoided dying for his own sins, but Jesus saved him also. I believe that we were all like Barabbas.
To save the Barabbas’s from all their sins completely, Jesus had to go through the suffering and death on the Cross. That is why Jesus could stand this trial so calmly. From a human point of view, it was not a fair trial, but in a spiritual sense it was fair. Because the Lord took over the sin of the world, He had to be scourged, crucified, and raised back to life to give us complete salvation. That is why He did this.
Jesus came to this earth to save people like Barabbas, took over the sins of the world by being baptized by John the Baptist, died on the Cross for all these sins. Because of this, He did not have to defend Himself before Pilate like this, “No, it is not true. When I called myself a king, I meant a spiritual king, not a political king. What they are saying is not true. I don’t have any intention to reign over these people. They accused me out of religious jealousy.” If Jesus had defended Himself like this, He might have avoided being crucified. But it is written, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Since He took over the sins of this world, He had to follow God’s righteous law to be crucified and to be raised back to life from the dead to save us. That was the only way to fulfill the complete salvation for us.
Do you still wonder, “Did Jesus have to be crucified?” Yes. It was proper for Jesus to die on the Cross to save you and me from the sins of the world since all those sins were passed onto Him when He was baptized. After that He was resurrected from the dead. And so whoever believes in this can be liberated from all their sins and receive salvation. Jesus is our true Savior. He is the believers’ Savior, but not the unbelievers’. It is a fact that Jesus indeed saved us from all our sins, but it is effective only to those who believe in this; to those who do not believe in this, Jesus cannot be their Savior.
Who is Jesus, who was hung on the Cross? We should have a correct knowledge of and faith in this part. There is nothing more important than this. Jesus Christ is God. As the King of all kings and the true God, He came down to this earth in human flesh, took all our sins by His baptism, died on the Cross, rose up from the dead and saved us completely. We should not forget the fact that Jesus Christ, who is God Himself, saved us through the baptism of the water and the Spirit.
Jesus Christ who is God did not have to go through such a great suffering, be despised, humiliated and suffer extreme pain. He went through all these pains and contempt for one reason only. It was to save the entire human race including you and me from sin and punishment. He knew that His people would suffer from sins, so He came down to this earth, bore the sins of this world and died on the Cross so that He could save everyone from all their sins and recover us to become God’s holy people.
Here Is an Illustration
Once upon a time, there was a country where people were so sinful and corrupt. The king and his servants finally gathered together to discuss this problem. At the end of this meeting, they came to a conclusion that they should reinforce their laws since the people commit so many crimes. Therefore they made new laws. These new laws said that as a result of stealing, hands would be amputated, and for the adultery, gouging out of the eyes. They made such strict laws and issued them before the people. These laws were effective on the day they were issued. In every corner of the streets were posters announcing this warning that they would face the most horrifying consequences for their crimes. People were afraid. Picturing the punishment in their minds, those who used to commit crimes without guilt started to tremble with fear.
Unexpectedly the king’s son committed adultery. The prince was the first person who violated these reinforced laws since it was issued. The king said, “If we make exceptions, the laws will not very effective. Bring the prince in and do as the law says.” Now the prince was about to get his eyes gouged out. The king was very depressed as his father. He should show his subjects a good example but at the same time he could not bear to see his son losing his eyes. After agonizing over this, he made a decision. He suggested one of his own eyes and one of his son’s eyes be taken out, since the prince would not be able to reign very well without his eyes. According to their law, they held a trial and carried out the punishment in front of the people. As a result, the laws of the country became solid and the number of criminal offenses decreased dramatically.
As it was done in this story, punishment for all sins is supposed to be done according to the laws. That the Lord was crucified was the righteous verdict of God, which is based on His law, “The wages of sin is death.” God gave us the Law to keep a very long time ago. For example, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exodus 21:24). This was His Law.
However we humans born as sinners could not keep the Law entirely. Even though humans were created in the image of God, people fell prey to Satan’s temptations and sinned against God. But God could not send us to hell, so instead He sent His Son to this earth to recover His people back to righteous people through His Son’s baptism, crucifixion and resurrection.
Why was Jesus crucified? Because He was baptized by John the Baptist to save you and me from sin, He had to be crucified. Why did Jesus have to come down to this earth? Why was God clothed in human flesh and came down to this earth? He did this to save us in a righteous way, adopt us as His children and bestow upon us everlasting blessings. We the people of faith should understand the real reason and the meaning why Jesus was crucified. We should realize that Jesus Christ took such a horrible punishment, indescribable sufferings to save us from sin. We should know that none other than this is God’s love. All this process was God’s righteous salvation for us.
When we believe in Jesus Christ, who saved us by the gospel of the water and the Spirit, Satan can never harass us again. In spite of our weaknesses, we are still God’s children and His holy people just because Jesus Christ took all our infirmities, pains and died for us and rose up from the dead, and through all of this He saved us fairly.
This is the main point of today’s sermon. The abettor, Barabbas was the chief of all the criminals. That he was released and Jesus was crucified implies that Jesus saved us by being baptized and by taking the punishment for all our sins. You probably already know all this. However, even if you do know this well, I want you ponder upon just how much sacrifice Jesus made for you and me. Even so-called faithful people do not care much about the fact that Jesus sacrificed Himself for them. They take the gospel of the water and the Spirit for granted, and know that they were saved by believing in this gospel; but they do not think about how much suffering Jesus went through, and how great a love this was. We should focus on this aspect from now on.
How much love did it take for Jesus to be striped naked, to be scourged by spiked whips, to be covered with bloody wounds and to walk to His execution ground with the crown of thorns sticking into His skull? His body was covered with wounds. Roman soldiers used to set up the cross after binding the bleeding body onto the cross and nailing down the hands and feet. Skin begins to tear up and a gush of blood flows every time the heart pumps, every moment He breathes. As the blood of His body keeps flowing, He was literally dying from the excessive bleeding. “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Leaving this one last word behind, He gave up His soul.
The reason why Jesus died so quickly might have been because He was not very healthy. It is not important whether He died quickly or slowly. All we need to remember is that the Lord died to take our sins away. We should meditate on this part and be thankful for it. I give praise to Jesus for suffering for us out of His infinite love. I cannot thank the Lord enough for taking on this suffering for us and saving us wholly.
Let’s all say this with mouths wide open: “Thank You for taking on all my sufferings!” Good. We should be able to express our thanks with our lips before God. It is natural to feel grateful and to say, “Thank you!” and to remember the grace all the time.
The Lord who saved us lives in our hearts always. Our Lord might say, “Thank you for acknowledging Me” whenever we remember His ministry of salvation, and thank Him with our lips as we hear His Word. Let’s thank God from our hearts in this sense.