Holy Week Devotionals Day Three:
My Role in the Easter Story
Luke 23: 13-25
Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them,
“You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people.
And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us.
Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.
I will therefore punish and release him.”
But they all cried out together,
“Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas,”
a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.
Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus,
but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”
A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?
I have found in him no guilt deserving death.
I will therefore punish and release him.”
But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified.
And their voices prevailed.
So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted.
He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder,
for whom they asked,
but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
Today, as we continue on our journey towards Easter Sunday, I want to share with you some thoughts from another pastor. David Mathis is a noted author, theologian, and pastor of Cities Church in Minneapolis. Several years ago, David wrote the article below, originally titled “Barabbas and Me,” for his blog on DesiringGod.com. I pray that as you read it God will use David’s insights to point you to the cross of Christ and allow us all to better understand our role in the Easter story.
Year after year, as Christians walk through the Passion week with Jesus, our hearts are knit to him. He is our greatest hero, at the climax of his greatest feat. As we relive the story with him, we pull for him, and against his enemies.
We feel varying levels of disdain for Judas who betrays him, Peter who denies him, the chief priests who despise him, Herod who mocks him, the people who call for his crucifixion, Pilate who appeases the mob and washes his hands, and Barabbas who is guilty but gets to go free.
But wait. Barabbas — the guilty who goes free? Barabbas — the sinner released to new life while the death he deserves is paid by an Innocent Substitute?
Take careful note of where Luke is leading us in his carefully crafted narrative.
Jesus, the Innocent
Three times in Luke 23:15–22, Pilate declares Jesus’ innocence:
First, in verse 15, he says, “Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.”
Second, in verse 20, Luke tell us, “Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus…”
Then, in verse 22, Luke says, “A third time [Pilate] said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.’”
Three times in this short span of eight verses, Luke, through Pilate, points us to Jesus’ innocence. Jesus has done nothing deserving death. Our hero is innocent.
And it’s not only in these eight verses. Throughout chapter 23, Luke draws our attention to Jesus’ innocence. We might even call it the major theme of his version of the story.
Not only had Pilate previously declared Jesus innocent (verse 4), but also Herod had. So, Pilate says in verses 14–15: “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us.”
Then later in the chapter, the theme of Jesus’ innocence is echoed again, by both the thief on the cross and by the centurion.
Why would Luke make so much of Jesus’ innocence? Why at least six clear declarations of Jesus’ innocence in this chapter? Why so carefully tell us that Pilate initially found no guilt in Jesus, then neither did Herod, then Pilate declared Jesus’ innocence three more times, and then not only the thief on the cross but also the centurion recognized this innocence? Luke is taking us somewhere.
Just after Pilate has said, “Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him,” Luke tells us in verses 18–19, “But they all cried out together, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas’—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.”
Barabbas, the Guilty
It is Barabbas who is the guilty, says Luke, “a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.” This Barabbas is the same man called “a notorious prisoner” in Matthew 27:16, and that he was “among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7).
A murderer and a rebel. Rebellion is the precise thing the leaders and the people are charging Jesus with when they say he is “misleading the people” (verse 14) and “saying that he himself is Christ, a king” (verse 2). And murder is an offense that makes it clear that Barabbas not only deserves to be in prison, but he deserves death. According to the Jewish laws, Genesis 9:6 taught, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Barabbas was no mere offender in a rehab program, but a murderer condemned on Death Row.
Luke then reiterates for us Barabbas’s guilt in verse 25. Notice the restatement of Barabbas’s guilt when he says, “[Pilate] released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder . . . .” In other words, he’s saying, remember Barabbas’s sin. He’s guilty as charged.
One way we could summarize Barabbas’s predicament would be to say that he is guilty of rebellion deserving death. Barabbas is the guilty one who deserves to die.
So, not only is Jesus the innocent, but Barabbas is the guilty.
A Horrific and Holy Substitution
Jesus is innocent and has done nothing deserving death, while Barabbas is the rebel prisoner, carrying with him guilt deserving just punishment.
But here’s where Luke means for us to not only identify with Jesus, our Savior, but also to identify in a very real sense with Barabbas who so embodies us as rebels deserving death and our need for saving.
“[Pilate] released the [guilty] man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered [the innocent man] Jesus over to their will.” Luke 23:25
Jesus the innocent is delivered over to the punishment of death; while the guilty one, deserving of death, is released and thus given new life. If you ever wanted to see a clear picture of what the gospel looks like in action, it is right here in Luke 23.
The First Substitution of the Cross
Luke is leading us sinners, in his careful telling of the story, to identify in this significant way with Barabbas. As Jesus’ condemnation leads to the release of a multitude of spiritual captives from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, so also his death sentence leads to the release of the physical captive Barabbas. It’s a foretaste of the fullness of grace that will be unleashed at the cross.
Jesus is manifestly innocent. Barabbas is clearly guilty—just as we also are clearly guilty before God. Rebels deserving death.
Romans 3:23 says it’s not a few of us, or even many of us, but all of us who “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 tells us that “the price of sin is death.”
So, as Pilate releases Barabbas the guilty, and delivers over to death Jesus the innocent, we have here a picture of our own release effected by the cross through faith.
In Barabbas, we have a glimpse of our guilt deserving death, and a preview of the arresting grace of Jesus and his embrace of the cross through which we are set free.
Here as Jesus is delivered to death, and Barabbas is released to new life, we see the first substitution of the cross. The innocent Jesus is condemned as a sinner, while the guilty sinner is released as if innocent.
I Am Barabbas
So, Luke means for us to identify both with Jesus and Barabbas. Jesus, in that through being united with him by faith, his death becomes our death. His condemning of sin is our condemning of sin. And Barabbas in that we are sinners, criminals who have broken God’s law, guilty as charged, deserving death for our rebellion against our creator and the ruler of the universe. But, through the grace of Jesus, giving himself for us and taking our place on the cross, we are released.
As we more greatly understand the depths of our sin, we will more certainly proclaim, “I am Barabbas.” I am the one so clearly guilty and deserving of condemnation but set free because of the willing substitution of the Son of God in my place.
As we enter this year’s holy week, pray:
That God would focus your mind on the love that Jesus has shown to sinners like us.
Thank him for his mercy and grace that we do not deserve.
Ask that, through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, you would never become numb to the sacrifice of Christ on your behalf to show his love for you.
Also, as we focus this week on what Jesus has done to bring salvation to his people, take this opportunity each day to pray for someone who does not know the Lord and ask God for opportunities for you to share the gospel with them.