Summary: Either Jesus molds us or else we mold a false Jesus
We Don't Serve a Plastic Jesus
Last week, we talked about Jesus' being delivered over by the Jews to Pontius Pilate for judgment. This word "handed over" is the same Greek word used by John to describe Judas' betrayal of Jesus to the Jewish authorities. We also noticed that Pilate who was known to be heartless and cruel was taken back by the appearance of Jesus. Something about Jesus was different. Even though it would have been perfectly in character for Pilate to have been cruel to Jesus, Pilate shows a lot more humanity to Jesus than the Jews who were supposed to be witnesses to the mercy of God. This indeed was a further indictment against the Jewish nation. God, who is not willing that any should perish, showed more concern for Pilate than Jesus did for His own life. We read earlier in the gospel that the "Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). And Jesus goes even the extra mile. He gave His life for His enemies as well (See Romans 5:10). So Jesus, out of love, challenged Pilate to come to the Truth, Himself.
Exposition of the Text
v. 38. We covered the first half of this verse last week. Pilate after asking "What is Truth" led Jesus back outside saying "I find no fault in Him at all." It was the job of the priest to inspect the sacrifice to make sure it was offered without blemish. But the Jews refused to act on their responsibility, but passed this unto the Gentiles. By doing so, they pronounced the final judgment, not on Jesus, but themselves. The Jewish sacrificial system had proven its utter bankruptcy. God was now introducing the better way through Jesus, salvation to the Gentile as well as the Jew.
v. 39. The other gospels give a little more information. John only makes mention of whether they would release Jesus as part of the Passover tradition. In a sense, Pilate was pronouncing Jesus' guilt. You don't release an innocent man out of custom. You release him because of justice. So Pilate says he is innocent and guilty at the same time. But no mention is made in John about Pilate's presentation of both Jesus and Barabbas. Perhaps John wanted to emphasize to us that Jesus the one we must give account to God for. Barabbas was hardly worth mentioning.
v. 40. Barabbas is mentioned in all four gospels. But just who is this Barabbas? In some Greek texts of Matthew, his first name is given as Jesus. How interesting! Barabbas comes from the Aramaic word "Bar" which means "son of" and "Abba" which means "father". So both people being presented for the crowd to choose were called "Jesus Barabbas" or "Jesus, the son of the father."
John calls Barabbas "a robber". The Greek word ëῃóôÞò (lee-stees) describes a person who robs or steals by violence as compared to a simple thief who steals by stealth, êëÝðôçò (klep-tees, from which we get "kleptomaniac" from). That word is used to describe Judas in John 18:6. The word used to describe Barabbas could also be used to describe one who started an armed revolt. In fact, Luke's account gives support to this understanding. He states that Barababbas was involved in a óôÜóéò (stah-sis, revolt) and had committed murder in that revolt. Many preachers when preaching about Barabbas tend to emphasize that the Jewish people chose a thief or robber. But I feel that this isn't quite the complete picture. We must remember that the Roman understanding of things was at times vastly different than the Jewish people. One man's terrorist is another man's hero. I feel that the different vies of Barabbas is crucial to understanding what is really going on here.
To Pilate and the Romans, who distrusted the Jewish leaders, and held the common people of the land in utter contempt, any insurrection was a threat to Roman authority as well as the establishment of Roman civilization among the subject people. Barabbas would have been seen as supporting an "Axis of Evil" and barbarism. This is the same fatal understanding of America when it tries to spread American style democracy to the Middle East. There is an assumption that once these people see our "shock and awe" as well as all the advantages of our culture that they will immediately drop their weapons and come over to "our side". The Romans generally tried to show at least some degree of tolerance to the Jews, including the unprecedented grant of liberty to them to practice Judaism in the entire empire and not just Palestine. But the Jewish, and later the Christian belief in absolute monotheism made them irreconcilable to Romanizing. Simply put,
Barabbas was a terrorist in the Roman eyes, one that would stab you in the back in a crowd when you weren't looking.