Replacing a Murderer: Luke 23:13-25


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After Pilate’s conversation with Jesus, and after Herod has sent Jesus back without finding anything worthy of death, Luke’s gospel describes the shift that took place that transitions from Jesus simply being released to Jesus being crucified. In Luke’s gospel, we discover two fascinating ideas present in this transition.

Our passage for this episode is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 23, and we will be reading from the New International Reader’s Version. Starting in verse 13, Luke tells us that after Herod had sent Jesus back:

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people. 14 He said to them, “You brought me this man. You said he was turning the people against the authorities. I have questioned him in front of you. I have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Herod hasn’t either. So he sent Jesus back to us. As you can see, Jesus has done nothing that is worthy of death. 16-17 So I will just have him whipped and let him go.”

18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Kill this man! But let Barabbas go!” 19 Barabbas had been thrown into prison. He had taken part in a struggle in the city against the authorities. He had also committed murder.

20 Pilate wanted to let Jesus go. So he made an appeal to the crowd again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

22 Pilate spoke to them for the third time. “Why?” he asked. “What wrong has this man done? I have found no reason to have him put to death. So I will just have him whipped and let him go.”

23 But with loud shouts they kept calling for Jesus to be crucified. The people’s shouts won out. 24 So Pilate decided to give them what they wanted. 25 He set free the man they asked for. The man had been thrown in prison for murder and for fighting against the authorities. Pilate handed Jesus over to them so they could carry out their plans.

In this passage, Luke tells us that Barabbas had taken part in an uprising against the authorities and that Barabbas had committed murder. In an interesting, though disturbing twist, the religious leaders are guilty of both of these things. The religious leaders are set on murdering Jesus who has done nothing that would legally warrant death, at least in the eyes of both governors in the area, and the religious leaders and their crowd of supporters are getting so worked up over this one issue that they probably would have started a riot-rebellion in the city, just like Barabbas.

Also, in an odd sort of way, the religious leaders, while claiming to support Rome, are really allying with one of Rome’s enemies. By requesting Barabbas’ release, these leaders say with their actions that they would rather be led by a rebellious murderer than by a loving, miracle-worker who happened to push them spiritually.

Another thing that I find fascinating in this passage is that Jesus willingly takes the place of a commandment-breaker. Not only is Barabbas guilty of murder, which is breaking one of the least contested laws in the Ten Commandments, Barabbas is also guilty of rebelling against the rulers of the land. While there is little that we can redeem from Roman culture that is worth mentioning here, God clearly saw the Roman Empire rise into power, and through Daniel’s prophecies, we discover that God may have even directed some of the events to take place.

While governments are not always positive, and while many things in governments around the world are not redeemable in any way, shape, or form, it is worth noting that these negative governments are only in place because God has let them be in place. While sometimes rebellion makes sense, I think that the attitude David has in the Old Testament may be a better approach to facing human governments.

In the Old Testament, David knows he will ultimately replace Saul as king of Israel. The prophet Samuel has anointed him, and he has the respect of many of the people after defeating Goliath. However, David is unwilling to press forward into the position everyone knows He is destined to be. Multiple times, David has the upper hand against Saul, and every time, David restrains himself and his men from lifting a hand against Saul, the ruler of the people. Saul repeatedly sets out to kill David, and while every time fails, many of these times result in Saul calling off the pursuit after David has clearly shown that he does not wish to harm Saul.

Barabbas is the complete opposite of David. Barabbas would likely have killed the emperor of Rome if he were given the chance. And Barabbas was the sinner Jesus chose to replace that weekend. Since Jesus was part of writing history, He could have picked any time and anyone to replace. Jesus chose to take the place of one of the worst people in society to show us God’s love towards us, and to give us a picture of God’s loving us while we were still rebellious sinners.

There were always going to be three crosses that weekend, and the center cross would have had Barabbas on it if it weren’t for Jesus. Jesus died that weekend not just for Barabbas, but for every rebellious person, every sinner, and everyone who has broken God’s law at any point in their past and at any point in history. With Jesus’ death, He is able to promise us a new life with Him and a future eternal life with God forever.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As always, be sure to seek God first in your life. Thank Jesus today for what He did for you and I on the cross that weekend, and thank Jesus for the gift He offers to you and me when we place our faith, belief, and trust in Him.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and discover the truth that God has for your life. While pastors, speakers, authors, or even bloggers or podcasters can give you ideas to think about, always filter what you hear, see, and read through the lens of the Bible. The Bible has stood the test of time as a reliable guide for our lives, and when something in our lives doesn’t make sense, the Bible should be the first place we look to for an answer.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or rebel away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 41: When the religious leaders demand that Barabbas be released, we discover that Jesus loved humanity enough to step into the punishment of a rebellious murderer. Jesus was willing to take the worst possible punishment of the worst reputable person in society on Himself, because God loves each of us that much.

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