April 10 – Matthew 27:15-23

This week we pick up on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. The night before he was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and interrogated at least twice. In the morning he was sent to Pilate having stayed up all night, having suffered abuse at the hands of his Roman guards, and being certain of the events ahead of him. It was a matter of time until he would die an agonizing death at the hands of the lawless men who held him captive.
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And then a shocking opportunity surfaced: Pilate offered to have Jesus released. Matthew tells us this was an annual custom at the feast, by which he means Passover, and likely a way for Pilate to smooth out relations between the Jews and their Roman overlords. Pilate offers them Jesus and the other notorious prisoner he has at his disposal, a man named Barabbas. We’re told by the four gospels that he was a robber, murderer, and insurrectionist, so it’s highly likely he was a religious zealot who had kicked at the goads of Rome.

The contrast couldn’t be clearer. On one side the crowd had Barabbas, a participant or leader of attempted insurrection who had fought in some way to restore the kingdom of Israel. On the other they had the actual king of Israel, whose eternal kingdom would be ushered in not through inflicting violence but through being afflicted. On one hand they had a legitimate criminal, on the other the sinless Son of God. In this instance we see a choice set before them between the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. And Jesus knew which they would choose.

But we’ll take some time in discussion to think through what this moment was like for Jesus. By this point in the story, based on his confessions (Matt. 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18), he has known he would suffer death for some time. Most likely Jesus went into this moment with no question in his mind about the outcome. However, consider the toll of such a public rejection, of hearing the crowds whom he has wept over (Matt. 23:37), who welcomed him with cries of “Hosanna!”, shout, “Crucify him!” Here he experienced at the hands of his own people the very thing he wept over. And consider what it was like for him to experience the choice set before his people between the kingdom of man and his own Kingdom. Here was a dramatic portrayal of the whole of human history from Genesis 3 to Jesus’ day, a redux of mankind’s rejection of God and his goodness. Here is the reason Jesus came in the first place, the reason he must inevitably head to Golgotha with a cross on his back: mankind has refused their God and is hopelessly lost in sin.

Right here is the reason for Good Friday. Jesus will go on to suffer many things, and these all in our place: the injustice, rejection, pain, suffering, insults, loneliness, and more that we ourselves have both suffered and caused others to suffer. All this Jesus bore on the tree ultimately because of our rejection of his rule and reign. At the end of discussion we’ll take a moment to consider what we all would like to gain out of celebrating Easter this year. Whether that’s greater intimacy with God, a greater understanding of Jesus’ suffering, or a renewed faith, our celebration of Easter must always start at the horrible news of Jesus’ rejection and death. But his death in our place is also the wellspring of all our hope because Jesus suffered for us, took our suffering and bore it himself, so that our rejection might be forgiven and so that we might be welcomed into his Kingdom. Here we see weeping to last the night. But joy will come with the morning.
Questions for Discussion
• Can someone read Matthew 27:15-23 for us?

• What stood out to you in the passage?

• What do you think is significant about the injustice of this scene?

• What do you think this moment was like for Jesus?

• Why do you think the people rejected Jesus?

• What emotions does this story stir up in you?

• How does this scene help us better understand Jesus’ suffering in our place?

• Easter is this coming Sunday–what do you hope to gain out of Easter week this year?