“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate, asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.”
“Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked, Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ Fore he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15:1-15)
There is no other ancient biography that is so preoccupied with the death of their subject as are the gospels. Jesus’ demise is clearly the most famous death in all of history. The end of his life has exercised an incomparable hold and even fascination over the minds and the imaginations of people through the centuries, all around the world and those of many different cultures and eras. The gospel of Mark has been called a passion narrative with a long introduction. Everything written in it leads directly to the cross of Jesus.
The nature of Jesus’ identity as the suffering Messiah is illuminated as Jesus is sentenced to death and crucified. In response to Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answers ambiguously: “You say so”. The title points to a fundamental truth about Jesus, he he is indeed the royal Messiah, yet clearly neither Pilate nor the religious leaders understand how this man of sorrows could be a king of anything or anyone.
Jesus is then accused of many things and Pilate is astonished that Jesus does not speak in his own defense. Jesus will remain silent until his cry from the cross. He exemplifies the uncomplaining acceptance of the suffering servant found in the prophet Isaiah. Truly Jesus was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)
It was a custom at the time of Passover, the feast of liberation, that a Jewish prisoner be freed. Assuming the people would want Jesus released, Pilate placed the fate of Jesus in the hands of the crowd. When Pilate asked what he should do with the man they called the king of the Jews, the crowd shouted, “Crucify him”. The last time a crowd shouted in the gospel was at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, to the shouts of “Hosanna”. The sudden change in the crowd’s response to Jesus, from praise to condemnation, is brutally shocking, even to Pilate.
Pilate finally handed Jesus over to be crucified because he wanted to “satisfy the crowd”. In choosing Barabbas, a rebel and murder, the crowd demonstrates that they fail to understand the identity of Jesus. They join the cast of characters throughout the gospel who are scandalized that the Messiah should suffer, a scandal which is the heart of the contradiction called the cross. Truly we are all Barabbas, a name which literally means “son of the father.” Jesus was crucified in our place. As he did for Barabbas. Jesus took our guilt upon himself, and let us go free.
Imagine the reaction of Barabbas as he watched Jesus being condemned in place of himself. What might have been some of his thoughts and feelings?
Innocent Jesus, you offered yourself so that I might live. Your cross unshackled the bonds of my captivity and set me free. Help me to give my life for others and to love as you have loved.