Back in the 1980s, when I was a young believer, I heard a sermon called something like “Three of the Most Frightening Words in Scripture.” I don’t remember who the pastor was, but the message was incredibly powerful. In this post, I will share some of the things I remember from that sermon, as well as adding some of my own thoughts.
If you’re a Christian, you probably recognize the name Barabbas because of what happened on Good Friday. All four of the Gospels tell us that Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion against the Roman empire. Mark and Luke tell us that he had committed murder; Luke also reminds us in Acts 3:14 that Barabbas was a murderer. Matthew, Mark, and John all tell us that it was the custom for the Roman governor (at that time Pilate) to release a prisoner at the time of the Passover Feast. When Jesus appears before Pilate, he finds nothing to charge Jesus with, so Pilate wants to release Him. In John 18:39, Pilate asks the Jewish mob, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” In verse 40, they respond, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” If you look at Matthew 27:20, you will see that the chief priests and elders had persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
One of the most frightening things about the mob asking for Barabbas, not Jesus, to be released is that just 4-5 days earlier, the “great crowd” (John 12:12) of Jewish people were shouting something very different when Jesus entered Jerusalem (verse 13): “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” Yes, even calling Jesus their King! Now, I’m not saying that all of those in the Jewish crowd did a complete about-face five days later, but the implication is that the vast majority of them did. Acts 1:15, for example, tells us that before Pentecost, there were only 120 believers. Even taking into account I Corinthians 15:6, which says that Jesus appeared to more than 500 brothers at the same time after His resurrection, that still doesn’t sound like the “great crowd” in John 12:12. Some have studied mob mentality in regard to what happened; while I find that interesting, it is beyond the scope of this post.
A second frightening thing about the Jewish mob asking for Barabbas instead of Jesus is what we read in Matthew 27:24-25: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and our children!'” Ponder those chilling words from the mob for a moment; truly frightening–and prophetic. Israel ceased to exist as a nation just two generations later, in 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.
I believe the most frightening thing of all about the mob’s desire to have Barabbas released rather than Jesus is this: it reveals the human heart, not just at that time, but for all time. Obviously, people don’t consciously think of it in terms of choosing a criminal rather than our Savior, the perfect One, but whenever people reject Jesus, that is in essence what they are doing. I suppose thinking of it in a slightly different way may make it clearer: most people choose sin instead of Jesus; they choose to follow the crowd rather than the Lord. Here are the words of Jesus Himself, from Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Indeed, following Jesus is becoming increasingly hard in today’s world.
Thankfully, the death of Jesus a few hours later was not the end of the story! And even though following Jesus is not the easy road, people put their faith in Him every day. There’s a message by S.M. Lockridge called, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Comin’!” Short, but powerful. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gx6_rGLz20
Speaking of Sunday’s comin’: A year ago, I wrote a post about evidence for Jesus’ resurrection; here’s the link, if you’re interested: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/03/24/evidence-for-the-resurrection/ The beginning of Holy Week is just a few days away; may you have a most blessed one, culminating in the celebration of Easter! And if you’re not a Christian, may this be the time you put your faith in Jesus Christ.