What Will You Do With Jesus?

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Matthew 27:15-26 | March 29 - Holy Week,

Holy Week,
March 29
What Will You Do With Jesus? | Matthew 27:15-26
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Continuing our reading from Matthew chapter 27, beginning at verse 15.

“Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered Him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of Him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let Him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!””

“So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified.”

What will you do with Jesus, is the question you ought to consider. I wonder what you and I would have done if we were in this scene 2000 years ago. I wonder what role I would have played. I wonder what character in this drama, true historical events, dramatic nonetheless, what character in this drama do you resonate with? All of these characters as they relate to Jesus. Which one might you have been?

We have the chief priests and the elders. We see in verse 18 they wanted to get rid of Jesus. We’re given a bit of their psychology. For them and for the crowd, but certainly for them He was delivered up because they were envious.

Sometimes you hear people say, well, the religious leaders hated Jesus because He was so inclusive, He loved people so much, and there’s an element of truth in that. It’s certainly true many of the religious leaders grumbled when Jesus ate with sinners. But then gospels are clear that though they grumbled against Jesus for that, the reason they hated Jesus, I mean really hated Jesus, is because He made Himself equal with God.

Their objection we see here was not only theological, they considered that blasphemous because they did not recognize who He was, it was not only technological, it was personal. At a very natural, understandable human level, they did not like Jesus because He was more popular than they were. He had amassed a following, crowds, even some of the Galilean pilgrims just a few days ago had cried out, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

You might think, well, of course, that’s not us and we don’t feel threatened by Jesus in the same way because He’s not personally, bodily present among us, but think about it. Isn’t it the case that some of us would rather get rid of Jesus when He seems to be encroaching on our turf?

There have been, sadly, even many parents, even parents who send their kids all throughout life to church on and off again and their kids go off to college and get in some campus group and they come back and they’re on fire for Jesus and sometimes even those parents feel like maybe you’ve gotten a little too carried away with this Jesus. They just want to be rid of Him. Don’t get into our business.

Or maybe you resonate with Pilate’s wife. She didn’t want to be against Him. We see that in verse 19. There’s a lot we wish we did know about her, but we don’t know about her. In the Eastern Church she would later be revered as a saint. According to church tradition, Pilate’s wife’s name was Claudia Procula, whether it was a lawful wife or here called a wife but one of his many women in an entourage. In the Western Church, some have gone to the very opposite end and said that this dream that she received must have been a dream from the devil because the devil wanted to stop this plan of redemption from going forward. More have looked at her positively, though still not a saint. They have said one of the themes here clearly in this passage from the trial before all the way through this scene is that Jesus clearly is innocent. He’s righteous. He is not guilty of the charges against Him and one of the profound ironies then is that this Gentile woman can see things more clearly than the Jewish leaders. In fact, she can hear the voice of God in this dream even when the Jewish leaders cannot.

Yet, before we turn Pilate’s wife into a saint, we must recognize there is no indication that she in a saving way believed in Christ, most certainly did not in any regenerate sense. That’s perhaps why a lot of people can resonate with her approach and that may even describe how you and some of the people you love think about Jesus. Like Pilate’s wife, you have no interest in begin anti-Jesus. That describes a lot of people in this country. They don’t want to be anti-Jesus. He’s a good man, He’s an innocent man, He’s a righteous man, but that’s about as far as they can go. Just don’t get on the bad side of Jesus. Don’t be anti-Jesus.

Or maybe you resonate with Pilate. Famously, this is where we get this expression, you just want to wash your hands of Him as we see in verse 24. Pilate famously, infamously, makes a half-hearted attempt to do the right thing. Now some have tried to portray him as a great hero, an honorable man, who recognized Jesus’ innocence and was desperate to set Him free. Perhaps it’s true he wanted to do the right thing, but he didn’t want to do the right thing if it cost him, if it cost him his popularity or his safety or his authority. So Pilate is no hero. Perhaps, like some of us, we know what the right thing is to do, we even can recognize something about the true character of Christ. But our character is weak, insecure. How many people today are just like Pilate? If someone asks you your thoughts on Jesus, your first instinct before you opened your mouth to say what you thought of Jesus would be like Pilate, to look around. Before I say what I think of Jesus, what do these people think of Jesus? You put your finger to the wind and you’d want to ascertain who’s listening. You might calculate what it would cost you. What could you lose if you said what you know to be true?

Or maybe we’re like the crowd. The crowd cries out two times, likely even more, but recorded twice, crucify Him. Now of all of the people we are least likely to see ourselves in the crowd. We think to ourselves, well, yes, maybe Pilate, maybe Pilate’s wife, I can be weak, but I’m not violent. I’m not bloodthirsty. I don’t want anyone to die. But have you ever known mobs to be rational? Have you ever, have I ever, gotten swept up in a crowd much smaller than this, laughing at something you know you shouldn’t laugh at? Going somewhere you know you shouldn’t go? Looking at something you know you shouldn’t look at?

Let’s be honest. With the darkness in our own hearts, is there anyone you hate so much or a group of people, a class of people, a kind of person politically, ethnically in your past, a way that they’ve betrayed you, are there any types of people you so despise that if you were in a group of people and all of them started to cry out, “Let him or her be killed,” you might just find your voice crying out the very same thing?

Think about it. This crowd was persuaded, it says, by the chief priests and the religious leaders. Not persuaded in that they had their minds made up to release Jesus. No, they were already well on their way, but they are egged on by the leaders. Think about it. These are people that they had grown up to trust, these are their, we might say, professors, their pastors, their religious leaders, people in authority, people that have positions and look the part of those who are spiritual and religious and these people are saying very plainly, “I think you want to let go Barabbas. You don’t want that Jesus, you want to crucify Him.”

And they certainly were not going to pick the person that the Roman governor, they’re not fans of the Romans, and this is the local Roman official and this Pontius Pilate is suggesting to them that maybe Jesus the Christ should be released. Surely to a crowd like this, whipped up into a frenzy, that told them right away that’s not the person.

That’s how negative polarization works. There are certain political people, there are certain news stations, there are certain media organs that if they said X you would know you believe Y. Ah, they want me think that? I know that’s wrong.

So when the Roman governor says what about the One who’s called Christ, surely they thought that’s absolutely the person that must be put to death.

They chose the wrong Jesus. Maybe someone’s pointed this out to you before, the name “Barabbas,” bar abbas, you think about even the language today, a bar mitzvah; it’s a son of commandment that a Jewish young boy would undergo. Well, “bar” means “son,” “abba,” “abbas,” means father. Son of the father.

But there’s another connection with this Barabbas. In many ancient manuscripts, you could go and pull out a Greek Bible and if you know how to work the apparatus you could see this for yourself, many of the ancient manuscripts say that the first name of this Barabbas was, in fact, Jesus. Now we don’t have that here in our Bible because the best manuscript tradition doesn’t include this, but the fact that so many do have that suggests it’s very likely historically accurate because you can understand why a scribe might not want to include the name Jesus, that’s confusing and seems blasphemous. It’s hard to imagine why some ancient manuscripts would of their own volition insert the name Jesus, so it’s almost certainly reflective of historical accuracy that this man Barabbas also had the name Jesus. It was a very common name, like Mike or Bill or John. It was a very common name among first century Jews.

It actually helps us to make sense why Pilate asks the question in the way that he does. Verse 17 – “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus,” he doesn’t just say Jesus, “who is called Christ?” He’s putting before them there’s two Jesuses here. You’ve got Jesus called Barabbas, and you have Jesus who is called Christ. Which one do you want? Let me be clear. Which Jesus do you want? And they chose the counterfeit Jesus.

Isn’t it the case that many of us would like to choose a different Jesus? Oh, we like Jesus well enough as long as we can shape Him in our own image. We don’t want him to be too demanding, too intrusive. We’d like a Jesus a bit less controversial. Maybe even we’d prefer a Jesus like Barabbas who will come and overthrow the government, a man of action.

What will you do with Jesus? Can you see yourself in one of these characters? Perhaps you just want to get rid of Him. Or you’re not against Him but you’re not ready to commit yourself to Him. You want to wash your hands of Him. Or stirred up you want to crucify Him.

Where do you see yourself in this drama as it revolves around Jesus?

But of course, you may have noticed that I’ve left out one of the characters in this scene, and that’s Barabbas himself. He’s called a notorious prisoner, like a zealot, a freedom fighter. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s insurrectionist. If I had asked you at the beginning of this message to circle the person you most identify with in this scene. Okay, you’re not going to put Jesus, you know that, that’s like, well, what grade would you give yourself? I never liked when teachers did that. I felt bad putting an A+, I was always I better put an A-, I guess. I mean, I think it’s an A but I’ll try to be humble. You wouldn’t have done that.

But if I had said which character do you resonate with? Which one would you circle? Maybe not the crowd. Maybe not the chief priests. Maybe Pilate, maybe Pilate’s wife. But I doubt that very many of us would have read through and thought you know which character I most identify with? It’s Barabbas.

But in a powerful way, Barabbas is the very character that we should identify with. Because Barabbas is the picture of the Gospel in this story. There were three crosses built for three criminals on that day. The middle one should have been for Barabbas. For all we know, the other two brigands were fellow insurrectionists with Barabbas, his friends. They may have all thought well, I’ll see you there on the gallows on the cross.

But Jesus Christ hung on the middle cross while Jesus Barabbas walked free. What clearer picture is there of the Gospel, of Christ substitutionary, atoning death in our place? That He dies and we’re free.

I’ve been asking the question, what will you do with Jesus? But the more important question may be this – what did Jesus do for a sinner like you?

Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, give to us grace to read Your Word, apply it, and that we who deserve to be cursed, who deserve to be crucified on that middle cross, that You might give us faith to believe and to trust so that clinging to Christ His life may be ours, His death for our sakes, and three days later His resurrection for our life. In His name we pray. Amen.