Pilate Delivers Jesus to be Crucified
March 3, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Midweek Lent 2021: The Passion According to St. Mark
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 15:6–15:15
Midweek Lenten Worship
March 3, 2020
“Pilate Delivers Jesus to be Crucified”
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, is dealing with a mob and things are starting to get ugly. Pilate is trying to do what he can to get Jesus released because, as Scripture reveals, “he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up” (Mark 15:10). Pilate saw things for what they really were: jealousy that led to an innocent man on the verge of being executed. Roman law allowed for two forms of amnesty: acquittal of a prisoner not yet condemned (abolitio), and pardon of one already condemned (indulgentia). “The history of the paschal amnesty has been disputed often, primarily because Josephus [first-century A.D. Jewish-Roman historian] offers no evidence that such a custom ever existed. There is, however, a parallel in Roman law which indicates that an imperial magistrate could pardon and acquit individual prisoners in response to the shouts of the populace” (The Gospel According to Mark, by William L. Lane. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974; pp. 552-553). And so Pilate attempts to have Jesus released, but it is not to be.
Following the events which unfolded in our nation’s capital on January 6, we may now understand on a very different level that word “insurrection” (στάσις) found in the text from Scripture. We know nothing about this particular occurrence mentioned in Mark 15. We do know that there were numerous revolts against Roman rule (see Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII.i.1;iii.2), so it would appear that this was one of many that took place. The same holds true with the man identified as Barabbas, whose name means only “son of Abba,” or “son of the father.” We don’t know his real name or identity, except that he had committed murder in the insurrection. Whoever he was, he has gone down in history as the guilty man who was set free so that an innocent man could be put to death.
There was no love lost between Pontius Pilate and the people of Judea whom he governed. He regarded them as stubborn and rebellious, while they regarded him as an ungodly Gentile who represented foreign domination of their homeland. Pilate was no fool, and he understood that the chief priests who represented the Sanhedrin, the official ruling Council of Judaism, were using both Pilate and the Roman legal system to get rid of this troublesome Jesus of Nazareth. When Pilate tried to turn the tables on the chief priests and get Jesus released, it backfired. The crowd would never agree to Pilate’s plan because it would be seen as collaborating with the hated enemy who occupied their heritage and land. Barabbas would have been viewed by the crowd as a freedom fighter who tried valiantly to overthrow Roman rule. Because of this, it is not surprising that Pilate’s offer was rejected, and instead the mob shouted for Barabbas’ release. The text tells us more: “But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him [Pilate] release for them Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:11). As Pilate learned, and as we learned on January 6, it is impossible to reason with an angry mob. The leaders of the people and the mob itself demand not only capital punishment, but the most humiliating, shameful, and degrading form of capital punishment allowed under Roman law: crucifixion.
Pilate then does the expedient thing: he gives in to the demands of the angry mob. Pilate sentenced Jesus to death for high treason as the “King of the Jews” (Mark 15:9, 12). What would have happened if Pilate had not done this? Would a full-on riot have broken out? Countless people killed in the ensuing blood bath? Would Pilate have been demoted and exiled for his role in this? We’ll never know. What we do know is that Pilate released Barabbas and sentenced Jesus to be crucified in order to satisfy the crowd. Not only this, but Jesus was also scourged before his crucifixion. Authorities tell us this about scourging: “A Roman scourging was a terrifying punishment. The delinquent was stripped, bound to a post or a pillar, or sometimes simply thrown to the ground, and was beaten by a number of guards until his flesh hung in bleeding shreds. The instrument indicated by the Marcan text , the dreaded flagellum, was a scourge consisting of leather thongs plaited with several pieces of bone or lead so as to form a chain. No maximum number of strokes was prescribed by Roman law, and men condemned to flagellation frequently collapsed and died from the flogging” (Ibid, p. 557).
All of this is not merely a miscarriage of justice, but as the apostle Peter preached in his sermon on Pentecost, all of this took place “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). This was not just some terrible injustice in which an innocent man loses his life. That continues to happen all too often in our world, even to this very day. In delivering Jesus over to be crucified, unknowingly Pontius Pilate was fulfilling his role in God’s plan of salvation. The sinless Son of God is condemned to die in our place as sinful human beings. The justice of God that rightly condemns our sin and iniquity is satisfied only with the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Like Barabbas, we are released; set free. Let the profound mystery of this great exchange sink deeply into our hearts and minds in this Lenten season.
Join us for Midweek Lenten worship next Wednesday evening when we will hear of how Jesus is mocked (Mark 15:16-20). May the Lord who has begun this good work among us bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Amen.