Holy Week, Part 5: Friday

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Mark 15:1-15, Matthew 27:11-22

Today is Friday.

Jesus has been convicted of high blasphemy by the Jewish courts—claiming to be the Son of God.  The penalty is death.

However the Jewish courts operated under the authority of Rome, and only the Roman officials had the right to carry out executions.  For this reason, the Jewish authorities bring Jesus to the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, requesting His death.  Pilate examines Jesus and is unable to come up with one good reason why He should die.  Understandably so, he is deeply burdened by the idea of condemning an innocent man.  But at the same time, Pilate’s jurisdiction is heavily populated by Jews so he also cares deeply about the Jewish opinion, particularly the Jews in charge.

Pilate is torn.  He doesn’t want to kill an innocent man, and He doesn’t want to upset the chief priests.  Ever the politician, he comes up with a solution—Barabbas.  Barabbas was a notoriously wicked Jewish criminal with a death sentence, and he would become Pilate’s loophole.

During the Passover celebration, the Roman authorities would release a Jewish prisoner as an appeasing gift to the Jewish crowds.  So Pilate’s plan was this: he will take the worst criminal he has, Barabbas, and then take this Jesus guy, and let the crowds choose who should go free.  Of course they will pick Jesus over Barabbas, and then Pilate could say to the chief priests, “I’m sorry, the crowds asked for Jesus to be released and I had to give them their prisoner.”

But then came a shocking development.  The crowds choose Barabbas.  Pilate has no cards left to play and consents to a guiltless man’s death.

Today will bring death to the innocent One and freedom to the wicked one.  Imagine it from Barabbas’ perspective.  Surely he was up all night wrestling with the reality of his death sentence.  He had been counting down the months, then he started counting weeks, then days, then hours, and now it was moments.  The Roman soldiers open the door to his cell.  This is it.  They’re here to crucify him.

They lead him out to what he expects will be Rome’s notoriously brutal pre-crucifixion torture.  Then they unchain him, and say to him, “You’re free to go.”  This has to be a cruel joke.  “The soldiers must be mocking me,” he thinks.  But they insist, “You can go, Jesus of Nazareth is set to die in your stead.”

It’s impossible for us to imagine what it would be like to come to the last hour of a death sentence and suddenly be set free.  But those who trust in Christ will experience it for themselves.

You see, there really is a God, and that God is just, and there will indeed be a day of reckoning.  We will all give an account for every thought, word, and deed.  That is a reality.  And that reality is coming.

What will you do when you are laid bare before almighty God?  What will you do when you face down the prospect of righteous judgment for all that you have thought, said, and done?  I don’t care how good you think you are.  You have to admit that it would be a terrifying ordeal to be utterly exposed and then expected to give an account for everything uncovered.

You can ignore it all you want, you can try to explain God away by science and philosophy, or domesticate God into a god who is not righteous and just.  You can do whatever you feel like you need to do to make yourself feel better, but I know you are deeply unsettled about this whole issue.  And probably deep down you’re afraid.

Do you want to known when those fears will rise up and seize you?  When it’s time to find out.  In those last moments of life when you are about to discover for yourself whether there is indeed divine judgment waiting for you on the other side.  You will feel much like Barabbas felt when his jail cell opened that day.

Would you also like to feel what Barabbas felt when they loosed His chains and set Him free?  That can be yours as well.  The same Substitute is available to us all.  Jesus did it for Barabbas, and He’s willing to do it for you too.

The Christian will cross over into death and be met with words so amazing that they will compel us into an eternity of worship.  “Jesus has died in your stead.  You are free to go.”

I pray your reckoning day will be like Barabbas’.  I pray you will trust in the innocent One who died on behalf of the shameful ones.

If so, your day of death will become your day of freedom.