15 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate,10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
(Mark 15:1-15 NIV)
In our last passage, Jesus endured an illegal overnight arrest, trial, and conviction by the Jewish religious leaders and the Sanhedrin.
As we step into today’s text, we see the religious leaders and the Sanhedrin finalize their plan to kill Jesus. This arrest, trial, and conviction has lasted all night; there is very little time before they must try to get on the Romans’ judicial docket for the day.
While the Jewish leaders could pronounce the death penalty on a Jewish person, they could not carry out the execution of that conviction. The Romans held the power of capital conviction and execution for Jews and Romans alike.
The Jewish religious leaders also knew that the Roman governor Pilate would not hear their case based on Jewish religious grounds, so they changed their charges to something that the Roman governor would be forced to hear – the charge of high treason. And what was the basis of this charge? Jesus’ claim to be king.
The Jewish leaders knew the typical Roman governor’s schedule. Pilate would take care of all governmental business in the mornings, starting early in the morning. The afternoons and evenings were then free to enjoy as he saw fit, usually at the Roman bathhouses and pools.
The Jewish leaders got on the docket, presented their case, and Pilate agreed to hear it. Pilate, hearing the charges, asked Jesus outright: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus’ answer was simply, “You have said so.”
Jesus’ reply was neither a yes or a no; rather, it was Jesus saying that there may be some truth to the charges, but not in the way the chief priests made it sound. If Jesus’ answer were a clear yes or no, Pilate would have either passed sentence on Jesus or dismissed the charges altogether.
The chief priests kept bringing other charges against Jesus, but Jesus kept silent. Even Pilate was amazed and asked Jesus if he would respond to the charges. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent of the charges, and wanted Jesus to defend Himself. The last thing Pilate wanted to do was to pass sentence on an innocent man.
One of the customs of the Passover was to request that a Jewish prisoner being held by the Romans be set free. A crowd of people had also gathered for this customary request to be granted. Pilate, thinking he could appeal to the Jewish people, offered two men as their choice – Jesus, or Barabbas, a known insurrectionist and murderer. In Pilate’s mind, this was a no-brainer choice – Jesus was the obvious winner. But the chief priests, sensing the opportunity to sway the people, stirred up the crowd to demand Barabbas be released. This was obviously a totally different crowd than the throngs that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem a few days before (Mark 11).
Seeing the volatility of the crowd, and knowing that a riot could easily erupt out of the situation, Pilate looks after his own self-interests and defers to the demands of the mob. Pilate orders Jesus scourged then crucified.
A Roman scourging was far worse than the thirty-nine lashes of a Jewish disciplinary flogging. A Jewish flogging raised deep welts on a person’s back, often leaving permanent scars. A Roman scourging, on the other hand, was not complete until the person’s back was reduced to torn ribbons of flesh.
In the stories of Barabbas and Jesus, we see our story – a guilty, condemned man goes free while an innocent man is condemned instead. In this Great Exchange, we see what Jesus did for you and me.
Martin Luther, the great church reformer from the 1500’s, wrote:
“That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them… in the same manner as He grieved and suffered in our sins, and was confounded, in the same manner we rejoice and glory in His righteousness.”
–Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608.
The apostle Paul summarizes this Great Exchange in his second letter to the Corinthians:
God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV, bracketed text mine)
Have you accepted Jesus’ Great Exchange of His life for yours?
If not, what’s holding you back?
His offer still stands.