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Posted by on Mar 23, 2016

Holy Week Devotion – Jesus Sentenced to Death

Luke 23:13-15

Of course the politician in the congregation gets this text….

What is the story of the “trial” of Jesus?

Luke informed us earlier in verse 2 that the Sanhedrin (who apparently all came along to bring charges) pressed three charges against Jesus, all of which were political (against the state), and none of which were religious. The charges against Jesus were:

1. stirring up unrest and rebellion: “subverting our nation”
2. opposing taxation by Rome
3. claiming to be a king.

These, of course, were very serious crimes against the state, crimes which could not be brushed aside, and crimes which would have brought the death penalty.

Pilate saw that this was a power struggle and had no interest in being used by one Jewish faction against another. He saw Jesus bloody from the abuse the Temple guards inflicted the night before. In many ways Jesus did not look very awesome or dangerous as a political power broker.

As the religious leaders came crying for Jesus’ death, Pilate tried hard to get out of making a decision. He found a loophole and sent Jesus off to Herod because his teaching and preaching centered in Herod’s domain. Herod and Pilate were not political allies and Pilate may very well have been pleased to send the controversy Herod’s way. Herod was a masterful politician and when Jesus would not speak or perform miracles at his command he sent Jesus back to Pilate for sentencing. While Jesus was being interrogated by Herod, Pilate’s frightened wife shared her dream that Jesus was innocent and urged her husband to show mercy.

Pilate spoke to the assembled crowd stating that he found no guilt deserving death. Pilate offered to punish Jesus to try to pacify the crowd to no avail.

At the time there was a tradition that at Passover the Roman rulers would release one prisoner. Pilate thought that was his out – he could convict Jesus to please the crowd and release him as a gesture of goodwill. Pilate made the angry mob an offer he couldn’t imagine they would accept – to let Barabbas, a violent and dangerous man, free rather than Jesus. Surely the people would not want Barabbas back on the streets.

As the Rev. Robert Deffinbaugh describes in Luke: the Gospel of the Gentiles, “Here was the shocker, which I don’t think Pilate expected at all. How could these people possibly prefer the release of Barabbas to that of Jesus? Barabbas was a thief, a revolutionary, a terrorist (it seems) and a murderer. Jesus, while He may have had some misguided delusions of grandeur (or so Pilate may have thought at the time), was not a dangerous or violent man. He was a man of peace, a man who had done many kind and wonderful things to help His fellow-countrymen. The offer of Barabbas was, it appears, an offer no sensible Israelite could accept; the offer of Jesus’ (release), was one no sensible Israelite could turn down. If Pilate thought thus, he was very mistaken indeed.

The crowds, incited by the chief priests and scribes, called for Jesus’ death and for the releasing of Barabbas. I suspect Pilate could hardly believe his ears. Why did they hate this man so much? Pilate wanted very much to release Jesus (23:20). While it is not said plainly, surely Pilate did not want to release Barabbas. That man was nothing but trouble. His kind deserved to stay in confinement. And so Pilate pled, once again, for the release of Jesus. Again the innocence of Jesus was reiterated, and Pilate’s intention of beating Him unmercifully and then releasing him was repeated.

The Jews who were present would not hear of it. With loud shouts they demanded the crucifixion of Christ and the release of the revolutionary. And Pilate caved in, giving them their way. The final verses tell it all. Pilate released to them the man who was a danger to society, Barabbas, while he kept Jesus in custody, so that He could be hung on a Roman cross, crucified for crimes Pilate knew He did not commit.

Luke thus informs us that his gospel account was intended to historically establish and document the collaboration between Herod and Pilate, and in a broader sense between the Jews and the Gentiles, to put Jesus, the Messiah, to death.”

What do we learn from the “trial” of Jesus?

Pilate chose political power over what he knew was just. After declaring him an innocent man, yielded to the shouts of the mob crying for the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate was a weak leader who experienced trouble trying to impose the will of Rome over the Jews; indeed, he had been reported to Roman authorities before and was anxious to hold onto his position. He turned to the people seeking support to let Jesus free but found not even one voice on behalf of Jesus. Judas had already killed himself, the disciples were dispersed…

So today when our political leaders turn to us, the people, when the choices are hard, when the pressures are great where are we? How can we stand for Jesus today even when an angry mob cries out to keep people from our country because of their religion or national origin, when loud voices scream to punish people we do not understand, when so many refuse to invest in the education and safety of our next generation in order to build wealth of their own?

Prayer: When people of faith are silent, political leaders respond to harsh voices of division. In these trying times, we must speak out – in love.

 – Jane Campbell